One Noteworthy Invocation of Divine Guidance in American History
As religion plays its now nearly routine role in American politics during this silly season, we recall the words of the man who would become our first President, General George Washington.
John Marshall (1755-1835), who served in the Continental Army and went on to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, completed the first serious biography of George Washington eight years after Washington died.
Marshall's five-volume work has been described as "the only comprehensive account by a great statesman of the full founding of the United States-of the founding of an independent people as well as of its government." The executor of Washington's estate chose Marshall to write the biography and granted him access to Washington's papers.
In Volume IV is found a 4,000-words letter dated June 8, 1783 that Washington wrote to the governors of various states. The occasion was his complete retirement, he assumed at the time, from public service.
Here were his last three paragraphs:
I have thus freely disclosed what I wished to make known, before I surrendered up my public trust to those who committed it to me, the task is now accomplished, I now bid adieu to your excellency as the chief magistrate of your state, at the same time I bid a last farewell to the cares of office, and all the employments of public life.
It remains then to be my final and only request, that your excellency will communicate these sentiments to your legislature at their next meeting, and that they may be considered as the legacy of one, who has ardently wished, on all occasions, to be useful to his country, and who, even in the shade of retirement, will not fail to implore the divine benediction upon it.
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the state over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation." (Vol. IV, Life of Washington, John Marshall, p. 167.)