History of the National Day of Prayer
Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. – Thomas Jefferson, 1808
The National Day of Prayer is a vital part of our heritage. Since the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation, the call to prayer has continued through our history, including President Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863. In 1952, a joint resolution by Congress, signed by President Truman, declared an annual national day of prayer. In 1988, the law was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May. Each year, the president signs a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. Last year, all 50 state governors plus the governors of several U.S. territories signed similar proclamations.
Significance of the National Day of Prayer
The National Day of Prayer has great significance for us as a nation as it enables us to recall and to teach the way in which our founding fathers sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions. It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people. The unanimous passage of the bill establishing the National Day of Prayer as an annual event, signifies that prayer is as important to our nation today as it was in the beginning.
Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, this day has become a national observance placed on all Hallmark calendars and observed annually across the nation and in Washington, D.C. Every year, local, state, and federal observances were held from sunrise in Maine to sunset in Hawaii, uniting Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation. It is estimated that over two million people attended more than 30,000 observances – organized by approximately 40,000 volunteers. At state capitols, county court houses, on the steps of city halls, and in schools, businesses, churches and homes, people stopped their activities and gathered for prayer.
The National Day of Prayer is Ours
The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences, bringing together citizens from all backgrounds. Mrs. Shirley Dobson, NDP chairman, reminds us: “We have lost many of our freedoms in America because we have been asleep. I feel if we do not become involved and support the annual National Day of Prayer, we could end up forfeiting this freedom, too.”
- 1775 – The first Continental Congress calls for a National Day of Prayer and Fasting.
- 1863 – Abraham Lincoln calls for a National Day of Prayer.
- 1952 – Harry S. Truman declares a National Day of Prayer and signs into law an annual observance there of – United States Congress passed Joint Resolution 382 on April 17, 1952/ President Truman signs Public Law 82-324 (Public Law 82-324; 66 Stat. 64—April 17, 1952).
- 1988 – Ronald Reagan signs into law the designation of the first Thursday in May as the annual observance for the National Day of Prayer – President Reagan signs Public Law 100-307 January 25, 1988, in the Second Session of the One Hundredth Congress (Public Law 100-307—May 5, 1988).
- 1998 – Pub. L. 105-225, August 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1258: The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals. This law was signed by President Clinton.
1) There have been 143 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the President of the United States (1789-2014).
2) There have been 66 Presidential Proclamations for a National Day of Prayer (1952-2014). Gerald R. Ford (1976), George H. Bush (1989-91) and Barack H. Obama (2012) are the only U.S. Presidents to sign multiple National Day of Prayer Proclamations in the same year.
3) Every President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.
4) 34 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed proclamations for National Prayer. Three of the Presidents who did not sign a proclamation died while serving in office. Two Presidents, not included in the count – William Howard Taft and Warren Gamaliel Harding, signed proclamations for Thanksgiving and Prayer.
5) Records indicate there have been 1,310 state and federal calls for national prayer since 1775 and counting.