McKinley On Washington's Religion
( Originally Published 1902 )
ON the 22d of February, 1898, at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, President McKinley made an address to the students of the University of Pennsylvania, which contains the following beautiful and appropriate reference to Washington's faith in Divine Providence in the establishment of the nation :
" And how reverent always was this great man; how prompt and generous his recognition of the guiding hand of Divine Providence in establishing and controlling the destinies of the colonies and the republic ! Again and again—in his talks, in his letters, in his state papers and formal addresses—he reveals this side of his character, the force of which we still feel and, I trust, we always will.
"At the very height of his success and reward, as he emerged from the Revolution, receiving by unanimous acclaim the plaudits of the people and commanding the respect and admiration of the civilized world, he did not forget that his first official act as President should be fervent supplication to the Almighty Being who rules the universe. It is he who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aid can supply every human defect ; it is his benediction which we most want, and which can and will consecrate the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States. With his help the instruments of the citizens employed to carry out their purposes will succeed in the functions allotted to public life.
" But Washington on this occasion went further and spoke for the people, assuming that he but voiced the sentiment of the young nation in thus making faith in Almighty God and reliance upon his favor and care one of the strong foundations of the Government then inaugurated. And, proceeding, Washington states the reasons for his belief in language so exalted that it should be graven deep upon the mind of every patriot :
" ` No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished, in the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the events resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seems to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.'
" The Senate of the United States made fitting response to its appreciation of this portion of the President's inaugural address, when its members declared that ` a review of the many signal instances of Divine intervention in favor of this country claims our most pious gratitude,' and that they were ` unavoidably led to acknowledge and adore the Great Arbiter of the universe, by whom empires rise and fall.' Congress added its sanction by providing that `After the oath shall have been administered to the President he, attended by the Vice-President and the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, proceed to St. Paul's Chapel to hear divine service to be performed by the Chaplain of Congress, already appointed.'
" Not alone upon days of thanksgiving or in times of trial should we, as a people, remember and follow the example thus set by the fathers, but never in our future as a nation should we forget the great moral and religious principles which they enunciated and defended as their most precious heritage. In an age of great activity, of industrial and commercial strife and perplexing problems we should never abandon the simple faith in Almighty God as recognized in the name of the American people by Washington and the first Congress."
It was a fortunate thing for the young Republic that its first Chief Executive was a man of such simple, sincere faith in God and devotion to his cause; for he was not only the exponent of the religious sentiment of his time, but was also a model for those who should come after him.
Nearly all of his successors in the Presidential office have been men of faith and prayer. It is a beautiful thing to see President McKinley holding up for admiration and imitation the religious views of Washington and unhesitatingly indorsing them; and the picture is more encouraging from the fact that in so doing he expresses the Christian faith of the American people in God's special providence over the nation from the beginning until now.