April 30th, The Lost Holiday

A little-remembered anniversary occurs this April 30 -- the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Constitution being put into operation.

Many might remember that April 30, 1789 was the day that George Washington took the oath of office and gave his inaugural address. But lest we forget, this very act also marked the launching of the American Constitutional System. 

Those living at the time knew what a landmark day it was and the details surrounding the events of the day show this depth of understanding. Through the process of time, neglect and the active rewriting of American history, these details have been buried to our detriment and shame.

For instance, at 9:00 A.M. on Inauguration Day, church bells throughout New York City [then the seat of the national government] rang out calling the citizens to pray for the new government. The papers of New York City stated it this way:

“[O]n the morning of the day on which our illustrious President will be invested with his office, the bells will ring at nine o’clock, when the people may go up to the house of God and in a solemn manner commit the new government, with its important train of consequences, to the holy protection and blessing of the Most high. An early hour is prudently fixed for this peculiar act of devotion and . . . is designed wholly for prayer.”

Around 12:30 P.M., Washington made his way to Federal Hall, near the present day New York Stock Exchange, where the Congress had already gathered. After some greetings and congratulations, Washington took the oath of office out on the balcony in view of tens of thousands of people who had gathered.

The oath of office prescribed by the Constitution is as follows:

 “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

After repeating this oath, Washington kissed the Bible his hand was resting upon and purportedly said “so help me God”. 

Although today, the cultural bullies who want to run God out of every public aspect of life debate these two claims, the actual documents of history and the nature of oath taking in New York State at that time confirm that both of these things happened.

Then sometime after 1 P.M., Washington gave his inaugural address, where he offered a prayer as his first official act, acknowledging our dependence on God and asking his blessing on our national endeavor.

“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being Who rules over the universe, Who presides in the councils of nations, and Whose providential aids can supply every human defect – that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States.”

It seems that the President and the Congress had not been enlightened by the current federal judges of today and their novel doctrine of the Separation of Church and State, where the State gets to say when and where you can talk about God.

Finally, in an act that would absolutely send today’s secularist into orbit, the President and all the members of Congress proceeded to St. Paul’s Church for a dedication service that included, hymns, scripture reading, prayer, and a message about God’s purposes for civil government and our need to rely on Him.

This is how the Congressional Record describes it:

 “The service at St. Paul’s was conducted by The Right Reverend Samuel Provoost -- the Episcopal Bishop of New York, who had been chosen chaplain of the Senate the week preceding the inauguration. He performed the service according to The Book of Common Prayer, including prayers taken from Psalms 144-150 and Scripture readings and Bible lessons from the book of Acts, I Kings, and the Third Epistle of John”

It is worth noting that St. Paul’s church sits right at the base of the twin towers, and miraculously suffered no damage from the tower collapse and became the place of refuge for family, friends, 9-11 responders, and cleanup crews. This truly is holy ground.

In my research, I have found sermons which were preached in State Houses on the Commencement Days of State Constitutions. These were not lightweight, ten-minute devotionals. They were strong and challenging and could be well over an hour in length. They set forth powerfully and plainly the nature of freedom and liberty, the purpose of civil government, the limits of civil government, the need for character in public office, and the accountability before God that every elected official has for their actions in office.

What a refresher course we need on these truths today for both public officials and the citizens that elect them. And boy do we need the clergy to wake up and teach these truths to their congregations again.

After the service, various social gatherings and festivities took place. Then finally, as night began to fall on this historic day, a brilliant fireworks display got underway. 

The American Constitutional System had been launched.

Remarkably, April 30, 1789 was not forgotten for the first hundred years of United States history. The New York Historical Society helped sponsor a 50th Anniversary event [1839] that drew tens of thousands of people, and the 6th president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, came and gave the keynote address that was over two hours in length.

The 100-Year Anniversary [1889] was even more remarkable. New York again had tens of thousands of celebrants and the sitting president, Benjamin Harrison, provided remarks. But what took place in Chicago was simply astonishing. Over 300,000 people commemorated the event. A holiday was declared. Churches held services at 9:00 A.M. in the morning to replicate the churches of New York City, a century before.

Then children went to their schools (even though it was a holiday) and had special lessons, speakers and song on the Constitution, American History and Civics.  For many this was the culmination of weeks of study on these topics.

In the afternoon, hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans went to events that were held in every large hall and public park that could be used to accommodate the citizens that were interested in celebrating this landmark day.  

These stories from the past serve as a “wakeup call” to jolt us from our slumber and to show us how far we have fallen. We need to learn this history again for ourselves and then be active in sharing it with others.  

As patriots today. we hope and strive for a revival of interest in the principles of freedom and liberty. We also hope and pray that we might see a spiritual revival of faith in the hearts and minds of men and women who would seek after the God “Who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect”

See: www.USConstitution225.org – for lots more information on this profound Anniversary Day.

Craig Seibert is a writer, speaker, teacher, and trainer.  As the director of www.USCivicsTraining.org, www.ChristianCivicsTraining.org and www.USContstitution225.org he trains tens of thousands of people in History, Civics, and worldview each year.   You can reach Craig and get lots of free resources through any of these websites.