Prayer Breakfasts – Richard Nixon
Remarks at the 17th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
January 30, 1969
Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Agnew, Senator Carlson, all the distinguished Members of the Congress, representatives of the administration, and particularly to our distinguished guests from other countries and those listening on radio and those who may see bits and pieces on television:
I am honored to be here on one of the first public appearances since the inauguration; and particularly so because I have had the opportunity to share with you in these very eloquent moments in which we have heard from people in both parties, in which we have also heard from a representative of another nation. There is, however, a common theme that runs through it all. That theme is religious faith which, despite the differences we may have, brings us together–brings us together in this Nation and, we trust, may help bring us together in the world.
As I was preparing my Inaugural Address, I did what I am sure every President who has had that responsibility did-I read all the ones that had previously been made. They were very different. Some were much longer than others. One was an hour and 40 minutes. Another, the shortest, was 10 minutes. Some spoke of all the great issues, as the State of the Union Message does, and others were rather brief, speaking only of the principles which were to be held to by the next President of the United States.
But there was one theme that was common to every one of them. That was that each President, as he was being inaugurated, in his own way, recognized the spiritual heritage of this Nation and asked for the blessing of God on this country, in not only its affairs at home, but its affairs abroad.
In talking to Billy Graham, who has spoken to us so eloquently today, he told me he had made a study of the Presidents of the United States. He had reached an interesting conclusion. Some of them came to the Presidency with a much deeper and more basic religious faith than other, but however they may have come to that awesome responsibility, all had left the Presidency with a very deep religious faith.
Yesterday, Speaker McCormack gave me a striking example of this. One of the early great Presidents, Andrew Jackson, came to the Presidency from the battlefields. Perhaps those who had read history were not aware of the deep religious faith which he perhaps had then but had not expressed, but which in his later years-and particularly after he left the Presidency—he often attested to.
The Speaker referred to an occasion when President Jackson was asked to participate in a dedication ceremony marking the Battle of New Orleans. He refused because the ceremony was set for Sunday.
Those who were inviting him said, “But, Mr. President, you fought the Battle of New Orleans on Sunday.” And President Jackson answered, “Well, that was a matter of necessity. I am speaking now from choice.”
During these past few days, as is the case with any newly inaugurated President, I have found very little time to do what I would like to do; to meet people, to read the thousands of letters that come in from all over the country. But each evening at the end of the day I try to read a few, to get a feeling of the country, so as not to get out of touch—in that Oval Room–with all of the deep feelings that people around this country have about the Presidency and our Nation.
I found one common theme that ran through a majority of those letters. I was somewhat surprised that it did so. In these days in which religion is not supposed to be fashionable in many quarters, in these days when skepticism and even agnosticism seems to be on the upturn, over half of all the letters that have come into our office have indicated that people of all faiths and of all nations in a very simple way are saying: “We are praying for you, Mr. President. We are praying for this country. We are praying for the leadership that this Nation may be able to provide for this world.”
As I read those letters I realized how great was my responsibility and how great was your responsibility, those who share with me these days in Government.
I realize that people whom we will never meet have this deep religious faith which has run through the destiny of this land from the beginning.
I realize that we carry on our shoulders their hopes, but more important, we are sustained by their prayers.
I say to all of you joining us here today in this Presidential Prayer Breakfast that in the many events that I will participate in, none will mean more to me, personally, none, I think, will mean more to the Members of the Cabinet and the Congress, than this occasion.
You have inspired us. You have given us a sense of the continuity of history which brings us together from the beginning to now. You have told us in a very simple and eloquent way that, great as the problems are which now confront us, with faith, faith in our God, faith in the ideals of our country, and also with a deep dedication to what our role is in this Nation and the world, we are going to be able to make these next years great years for this Nation and great years for the world.
I believe that and it is to that end that we dedicate ourselves today. That objective transcends all partisan considerations. I am proud to stand here today in the presence of those who by your being here, indicate that you have not lost faith in this Nation. You have not lost faith in the religious background that has sustained us.
As a matter of fact, we are entering a period when, sustained by that faith, we will be able to meet the challenge which is ours–a challenge which comes to very few people in the history of man. It is America’s now. Whether we succeed or we fail will determine whether peace and freedom survive in this world.
We will meet the challenge. We will meet it because we are going to devote every hour of the day to seeing that we meet it properly. But we will meet it also because we will be sustained and inspired by the prayers of millions of people across this world. Those prayers do mean something. Through the medium of these words I wanted to thank the people of this Nation, the people of this world who are praying for us. We trust that we can be worthy of your prayers and worthy of your faith.
Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
October 22, 1969
THIS MORNING we begin the National Day of Prayer. As I was determining what would be the most appropriate appearance for the President on this occasion-as you know, this is an annual occasion through the proclamation of the President of the United States–it occurred to me that it would give me an opportunity to participate again with many of my old friends and many who came to the Congress and the Senate years after I left it, from the House and Senate prayer groups. So, today we have the Wednesday group, the Thursday group, and the Friday group. And now and then I see some of you here on Sunday.
I simply want to say that I am most grateful for the fact that over these months that I have been here that you have invited me to come down to the prayer group. I was not, perhaps, as regular an attendant as I might have been, or should have been, when I was in the House and Senate.
I was a member of both groups, and I found it particularly helpful and particularly inspiring to meet with my colleagues and take that bit of time off on either a Wednesday, as it was in the House, or a Thursday, as it was in the Senate in those days, for the purpose of an inspirational meeting.
This morning we thought that all of you would like to have participation from both the House and the Senate.
We are going to have for our invocation, a Californian. That is only a coincidence. It just happens that he was selected by his colleagues as being one who could best participate–Del Clawson of California.
[Representative Clawson gave the invocation. The President then resumed speaking.]
For the Scripture reading we turn to the Senate side and to an old friend. I have served with him in the Senate, when I was presiding over the Senate and prior to that time–Wallace Bennett.
[Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah read selected Scripture verses. The President then resumed speaking.]
Before we turn to Billy Graham, who will be here to bring us our message this morning, the script calls for some remarks by the President of the United States, by your host.
I have been trying to think of what would be appropriate. Last night we had a great state dinner with the Shah of Iran, as is often the case in this room, and today we have a very different kind of a meeting, and yet it has very great meaning to all in this room.
This is truly an ecumenical meeting. There are Catholics and Protestants here; and among the Protestants, all the various groups or most of them are represented: the very large groups like the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists are in this room, some of the smaller ones like the Mormons, or medium-sized the Mormons grow, I find.
I imagine I am the only Quaker in the room. No, there is one other. Well, the Quakers have a tradition of worshiping in silence. I suppose that is why so few of them ever got to the Senate.
But, nevertheless, it seemed to me that I could bring you two thoughts before Billy Graham speaks to you that would be very appropriate this morning.
Over that fireplace when Franklin Roosevelt was President, an inscription was carved into that marble. Those of you who are close enough can read it. I think it is a very memorable inscription, particularly because of the historical significance.
As you know, George Washington never lived in this house. The first President to live in it, and he lived in it even before it was completed, was John Adams. When John Adams, just prior to the completion of his term in office his only term–returned to Washington, he was thinking of the future of this house and all who might live in it, and I am sure he, even with his great faith–as all had faith among those early founders–in the future of the Republic, would not have been able to predict what would have happened now to the strength of America and how strong we are, this great Nation.
But he wrote a prayer, a prayer about the Presidency, this house, and what it means. I think it is well that it is inscribed there and perhaps it might be well to read it now.
It says: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
Now, as we look over our Presidents through the past 190 years, I think most of us would agree they were honest men, and history will perhaps have a considerable debate as to whether all of them were wise men, or at least as to the extent of their wisdom.
But no matter how honest or how wise they were, I think all of us realize that at times of great challenge to our Nation, whether during the bitter War Between the States or whether during the other military challenges and economic challenges which this Nation has faced, particularly in this century, we know that during those periods there had to be something more than honesty and more than wisdom in the leadership of this country, whether it was in the President of the United States or in the Members of the House and the Senate.
There had to be, we believe–some call it destiny–I would prefer to say there had to be that spiritual quality which we can feel in this room this morning as we meet with this group of Senators and Congressmen who recognize the spiritual heritage of America, how important it is, that there are times that we need help beyond ourselves, beyond what any man can give us in order to make the right decision for the Nation.
Now among the Quakers–not all–but among the Quakers, at least as my mother and my grandmother on my mother’s side knew them, there was a different tradition. The Quakers worshiped in silence. Well, the modern-day Quakers, most of them, have ministers just as do Methodists, the Baptists, and the rest, but even they always turn to silence now and then as the medium where each in his own way could think of his relationship to the problems around him and to the spiritual relationship he had with his Maker.
I am not going to suggest this morning that we worship in the manner of the Quakers, because those silent meetings, my mother used to tell me, would last for an hour, an hour when all would gather in the meetinghouse and would sit without a word being spoken during the whole period.
I do think this morning, though, that before Billy Graham speaks to us, that it would be appropriate if all of us, for a few moments, would sit in silence. I would not try to suggest what we would think about, except to say that at such a time we can think of our Nation and we can think of those who try to defend it abroad. We can think of its tragedies, and we can also think of what we can do to make life better for those who will follow us in this house and in the Halls of Congress.
But most of all, we can think of our own relationship to our colleagues, our own responsibilities, whether they not only have the ingredients of honesty and wisdom, but whether sometimes they have that extra ingredient of a spiritual quality–a spiritual quality which history tells me every President who has ruled in this house has turned to or has exemplified when very difficult decisions were before him.
So if we could have that moment of silence in the manner of the Quakers now, and then Billy Graham will speak to us.
[A moment of silence was observed. The Rev. Billy Graham then addressed the group.]
Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
February 5, 1970
Congressman Quie, all of the distinguished guests here at the head tables, in the audience, and listening on radio and also television:
When I was preparing the State of the Union Message I did something that I usually do in preparing an important speech, I read for several days the background of all such messages that had been delivered by Presidents from the beginning of this country. And I found many interesting things:
The fact, for example, that from the time of Thomas Jefferson until Woodrow Wilson none were delivered in person. They were all sent in writing.
The fact that they were varied a great deal in length. Woodrow Wilson’s was the shortest when he resumed the practice of delivering them orally in 1913. He spoke for only 12 minutes. And the longer ones ran as long as 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 words. That, of course, would be on occasions when they did not have to be delivered in person. Even those delivered in person usually averaged an hour or an hour and a half, depending upon the circumstances and depending upon the time.
The content of the messages varied, too. The messages really present a history of the country, how its problems changed and also how some of the problems remained the same through the whole 190 years’ history of this country.
But while lengths were different and styles were different and the men were different and the content of the messages were different, there was one theme that ran through them all. The author of the book on State of the Union Messages-and somebody did write a book about State of the Union Messages–the author pointed out that almost without exception each President at some point in his message called upon divine guidance for himself but more important for this Nation.
Now, let us be quite candid. All of our Presidents were not the same in their religious faith. I mean by that, they did not belong to the same churches and for some religious faith was deeper, a different experience than for others.
But yet every one, whether he was a churchgoer or, as in Lincoln’s case, not a churchgoer, every one recognized in the awesome position of power of the Presidency the necessity for divine guidance and also the fact that this Nation is a nation under God, and that this Nation some way from the beginning has had a spiritual strength far more important than the enormous economic potential that we have now developed or the military strength that we now possess.
So, consequently, this morning I am very honored and very privileged to be here and to have the opportunity, with you, to listen to Members of the Senate, Members of the House, the Commissioner of Education, the Secretary of Defense speak very deeply, very sincerely, with regard to their own religious faith, and also with regard to this Nation’s fundamental unifying strength: the fact that regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of what religions we may have, that this is a Nation which, from the beginning, has had a spiritual value which all of us in positions of leadership in varying degrees have recognized and on which we have relied.
This Nation has had many problems. Reference has been made to perhaps the most difficult experience of all–the War Between the States, brother against brother. But perhaps never in our history has the Nation had a greater challenge and greater problems than when we were the most powerful and the richest Nation in the world, something we had no reason to dream we could become when we were 13 States and 3 million people, and poor economically and very weak militarily.
And so here we stand, the last third of the 20th century, rich and powerful and with the fate not only of the people who live in this country, 200 million, in our hands, but with the fate of hundreds of millions all over the world who cherish freedom, who want peace, depending upon what we do.
So it is well to be reminded of this thread that runs through our history: That men will work hard, they will lead as well as they can, they will be as wise as they can, but that we recognize our own inability to do it alone; that we need the spiritual strength which unites us and the spiritual strength which gives us an extra power, perhaps that needed vision that we need, to look beyond the material problems that seem to be so overwhelming and see the promise of a better life for us and all the peoples in the world in the year ahead. And what a really wonderful free to be alive for that reason, with all that we have and with all that we can become and what we can mean not only to ourselves but to the whole world.
Reference has been made to the White House church services to which many of you have been invited and many of you have attended. There were a number of memorable statements on those occasions. I think one that particularly is appropriate to refer to this morning was Cardinal Cooke’s 1 quotation from St. Augustine, when he told all of the assembled people from Government on that occasion, in the words of St. Augustine, “Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.”
1 His Eminence Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York City.
That is the message I would leave here this morning. We must work as if everything depended on us. We must pray as if everything depended upon God, recognizing that America is a Nation under God.
We do have a destiny, not a destiny to conquer the world or to exploit the world, but a destiny to give something more to the world simply than an example which other nations in the past have been able to give of great military strength and great economic wealth, to give to other nations of the world an example of spiritual leadership and idealism which no material strength or military power can provide.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
February 2, 1971
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, Senator Jordan, all of the distinguished guests at the head table, and all of the distinguished guests in the audience:
Senator Jordan very, it seemed to me, efficiently introduced all of those at the head table, except one. The lady on my left is Mrs. Jordan.
When Senator Jordan indicated those who were present at this breakfast, I was reminded of a letter I received right after the State of the Union Message from a very disturbed listener who had viewed it on television. He did not comment upon the content of the speech, but he commented upon his fear as to what might have happened had some madman or somebody even deliberately come into the Chamber and detonated an explosive, because as he very properly pointed out, all of the power of government was there, as far as the National Government was concerned–the Congress, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, with, of course, a few listeners in the very, very limited space provided in the galleries.
As I heard the list of those who were present at this breakfast this morning, I thought what would really happen if an explosive were detonated in this room, because we have virtually all of those who were present at the State of the Union. This audience is four times as large, but not only four times as large, but a hundred countries are represented here, many cities, many States with their Governors, many representatives of great private institutions, of educational institutions, representatives of all segments of American life.
Perhaps it would be impossible to find any audience in America in which more power, in the best sense of the word, was gathered in one room than here at this prayer breakfast this morning.
This tells us something, it seems to me, about the strength of America. All of us are talking these days and thinking these days a great deal about what America will be like when we celebrate our 200th birthday just 5 years from now. We know, as one of the previous speakers indicated, that America will be the richest country in the world then; we know that America, if it wants to be, can be the strongest country in the world then; and we also know, if we have listened carefully to the theme that has run through the prayers and the remarks this morning, that wealth and strength alone do not measure the greatness of this country or of any country for that matter.
The question of whether America on its 200th birthday will be the hope of the world, as it was at the time of its birth, will depend not on our strength or on our wealth, because then we were very poor and we were very weak. But America was a good country. America stood for spiritual and moral values that far transcended the strength and the wealth of the nations of the Old World.
And that is what we all want America to be on its 200th anniversary, not just big, not just strong, and not just rich, but a good country in every sense of the word–good at home, good in our relations with other nations and the world.
That is why we are gathered here. That is why these prayer breakfasts here in the Nation’s Capital and all over this Nation tell us something about America, that the cynical observers would overlook sometimes; and that is, there is a great deal of goodness in this country, a great deal of moral strength and fiber still left in this country and that, in the end, is what really matters.
I was trying to think, after the eloquent words of the Chief Justice, what prayer I could leave with this very distinguished audience and with those who are listening on television and on radio all over the world. And I was reminded of one of the favorite stories from the Old Testament. You will recall that when King David died and when Solomon ascended to the throne, God came before him in a dream and asked him what he wanted. And Solomon did not ask for power and he did not ask for wealth. He said, “Give Thy servant an understanding heart.”
And so, let that be our prayer. Let us have an understanding heart in our relations with other nations, an understanding heart in our relations between races and religions and parties and generations, and in our relations with each other.
And if America can have an understanding heart in the very best sense of the word on that 200th birthday, we will be very rich and very strong, but more important, we will be truly a good country and the hope of the world still.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
February 1, 1972
Congressman Quie, and all of our distinguished guests:
Perhaps at no time or no place in America could we find a gathering which more symbolized the strength of America than this meeting this morning.
Perhaps it says it best in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, as amended, “… one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Look across this room, look at this head table, remember those who have spoken and you will see those words all represented right here in this meeting this morning–one Nation under God. There are different parties here, there are different faiths, there are different races and different colors, there are different philosophies, but it is still one Nation, and it is under God, with liberty and justice for all.
Then as we hear those words, we realize that words can mean nothing unless our thoughts go with them. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
So, we think of our thoughts, and we realize that, as Mayor Washington1 has so eloquently indicated, we have made great progress, but we have a long way to go. “Liberty and justice for all” is a magnificent ideal. America has come further perhaps than most of the nations of the world. We would like to say perhaps we have come further than any other nation. But we also need humility in order to understand how much further we have to go.
1 Walter E. Washington, mayor of the District of Columbia.
But what is very important about this gathering is that we would not be here unless we all recognized in our hearts that we were not perfect, that we were seeking to do the very best that we can in our brief stay on this earth to achieve goals that are bigger than all of us, bigger than our differences, differences between parties and faiths and philosophies, all the rest of which we are aware in this great cosmopolitan country of ours.
And now that brings us to the moment that we have now very great responsibility for.
I spoke at this breakfast 3 years ago and 2 years ago and now this year. Each year then, you remember, I spoke of peace, peace at home and peace in the world. The year 1972 is the year of opportunity for peace such as America has never had in its whole history. I say “never had.” There might have been a time when America could have exerted its power for peace in a very aggressive way.
One of our very distinguished guests today is the Secretary General of NATO, the former Foreign Minister of Holland, Mr. Luns. As I was talking to him yesterday, he remarked about the fact that immediately after World War II the United States, because it had a monopoly on nuclear weapons, could have imposed its will on any nation, any place in the world. It did not do so.
We helped our former enemies until today they are our major competitors in the free world. We helped our allies and we poured out our wealth, too, to all of the underdeveloped countries of the world.
We shouldn’t stand and brag about that in terms that make the others feel inferior. We shouldn’t stand here and expect that they should say thank you. Because it was right to do so, we thought. We thought it then, we think it now. That is our way. That is our way to show our dedication to what the Nation has stood for from the beginning: liberty and justice for all, not just in America, but throughout the world.
Mention has been made of the fact that I shall be traveling on two long journeys with Mrs. Nixon, one to Peking and one to Moscow. And all of the people in this room are aware of the fact that while these journeys have never before been undertaken by a President of the United States, this does not mean that we are going to find that instant peace will follow from them.
We have to realize that we have great differences, differences between our Government and that of the Government of Mainland China, the People’s Republic of China, differences between our Government and the Government of the Soviet Union. And it is naive to think, or even to suggest, that those differences will evaporate if we just get to know each other better. I wish it were so, but it is not so; it has never been so.
In fact, the differences that we have with those great powers, their governments that is, is not because we do not know them or they know us, but because we do know them and they know us. The philosophic gulf is enormous. It will continue.
But there is, on the other hand, another factor, a very pragmatic one, which brings us together. We all realize that because of the new sources of power that have been unleashed in the world that we all must learn either to live together or we shall die together.
That is putting it in its most negative and harsh terms. I could perhaps put it in other terms.
I recall the many visits I have made to countries around the world and what impressed me the most: the great leaders, the historical monuments, all those things that impress a visitor from abroad. And then when Mrs. Nixon came back from Africa, it came to me again what impressed me, and what, of course, had impressed her on her visits.
She told me about the leaders, impressive men and women working in these countries for liberty and justice for all in their way–far from it in many instances, but trying.
But what impressed her the most were the children–children, eyes wide with wonder and hope, love, very little hate. Oh, differences, of course, because children have their differences as we know. But those children–they happened to be black–the children that I have seen, Chinese children, Russian children, by the hundreds of thousands in capitals around the world, make us all realize that that is what it is all about.
In this country, before we can help to bring peace to the world, we, of course, must have peace among ourselves, and Mayor Washington has so eloquently addressed himself to that subject. And as we have peace among ourselves, then perhaps we can play a role, imperfect though it may be, at this historic moment in the history of nations, to bring a period of peace between great nations that are very different, not just racially but, more important and more deeply, philosophically.
Then before we become too arrogant with the most deadly of the seven deadly sins, the sin of pride, let us remember that the two great wars of this century, wars which cost 20 million dead, were fought between Christian nations praying to the same God.
Let us remember now that fortunately Christian nations in the world live in peace together, and we trust will in the future. Let us remember that as a Christian nation, but also as a nation that is enriched by other faiths as well, that we have a charge and a destiny.
No longer do we have a monopoly on nuclear weapons, .but the United States has this great asset as a nation that may be able to play the role of peacemaker in this last generation of the 20th century: We want nothing from any other nation. We want to impose our will on no other nation. We do not want their economic subversion or even submission. We want for them what we have, in their way as we have in our way, and try to have in our way, one nation, with liberty and justice for all.
They will all not have it, just as we have not had it perfectly. But our role may be to help build a new structure of peace in the world, where peoples with great differences can live together, talk about those differences, rather than fight about them.
Do it because we fear to die, but do it also because we think of those children-black children, yellow children, white children, brown children–over half the world is less than 20 years of age–and we think: Let us leave the world one in which they can have what we have never had, a full generation of peace.
In the great agony of the War Between the States, which Abraham Lincoln so eloquently expressed in his Second Inaugural, he pointed out that devout men on both sides prayed to the same God. And in pointing it out, he, of course, expressed what all of us need to understand here today: that because of our faith we are not perfect, because of our faith we are not superior. Only the way we live, what we do, will deserve the plaudits of the world or of this Nation or even of our own self-satisfaction.
In that same period, as the war was drawing to an end, a man came to Lincoln and said, “Is God on our side?” And Lincoln’s answer, you will all remember, was, “I am more concerned not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side.”
Virtually everyone this morning who has prayed, has prayed for the President of the United States, and for that, as a person, I am deeply grateful. But as you pray in the future, as these journeys take place, will you pray primarily that this Nation, under God, in the person of its President, will, to the best of our ability, be on God’s side.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
February 1, 1973
Mr. Speaker, Chairman Quie, Dr. Burns and all of our very distinguished guests from all over the world and our very distinguished guests from the United States of America:
I first have a bit of what I think is good news and encouraging news. A message was handed to me just as the breakfast was beginning from Senator Stennis’ physician, General Moncrief. He reports that the Senator says he feels well this morning, and this morning, when the doctor said he was going to the Prayer Breakfast, Senator Stennis, who because he has some tubes in his mouth could not talk, but he wrote on his pad, “I wish I were going, too.”
If Senator Stennis is listening, as I am sure he is on radio, or maybe he will hear it on television tonight, he is here today, he is with us, and we are with him and he is going to be back. That is what we all know, and that is what we pray for.
As I heard the other speakers, I thought of that first prayer breakfast, the National Prayer Breakfast, which was held, as I recall, in the Mayflower Hotel in 1953. President Eisenhower addressed it on that occasion. I think Billy Graham did. And it was a memorable occasion.
I think back to the 4 years that I have had the privilege to be here as a guest and also of the years before even 1953, when I met with, first, the House Prayer Breakfast group and, then, the Senate Prayer Breakfast group.
I think, too, of what has happened over these 4 years, and I think all of us perhaps will remember what a year we have just completed. Since we last met here, just one year ago, we have made the trip to the People’s Republic of China, which opened communication with one-fourth of the people who live on this globe, where there had previously been virtually no communication whatever as far as we were concerned.
We made the trip to the Soviet Union, to Moscow, and with the Ambassador from the Soviet Union here, and the mayor from Moscow here, we all realize that that trip had enormous significance in terms of the future of the world in which we live because it was really the first time that two very great powers sat down together, recognized their differences and also those areas where they could work together, and made agreements, agreements to work together in certain peaceful enterprises and to limit armaments in other enterprises. And so, a beginning was made, a very important beginning that needed to be made. That happened this year.
And then finally, and reference has already been made to this, for the first time in 10 years at one of these prayer breakfasts, the President of the United States is able to say the United States is at peace in Vietnam.
Could I put that peace in perspective? I refer to these journeys abroad and also the agreement that has just been reached. We could read too much into the peace that we have talked about, much as we would hope that it could mean everything that we could possibly imagine.
But as we look over the history of agreements between nations and as we look at those periods of peace that follow war, the record is not too encouraging. Because what we often find is that after war and after a period in which a nation has peace, the conflict that we were engaged in in war tends to turn itself inward and we continue to engage in that conflict in peace. And rather than a period of peace being one that is creative and positive, it is one that is negative, one of withdrawal, one of isolation, and that plants the seeds for more conflict, not only at home but abroad.
This is the record too often in the past. We must not let it happen now.
I recall, for example, in 1969 right after I had been elected for the first time, a trip to Europe. We had some problems on our campuses at that time, as you may remember. And when I visited one of the European heads of state which had had no war for 25 years–and we had had two, one in Korea, and we were then involved in one in Vietnam–we talked long into the night about the problems of our young people, his and ours.
And he made a very profound comment. He said, “The problem with your young people is war.” He said, “The problem with our young people is peace.”
We must not let that happen. For our young people and for this Nation, we • must recognize that peace is not something that is simply the absence of war, it is an opportunity to do great things-great things for our people at home, great things for people abroad.
I think, for example, of treaties that are made. I have made reference to the fact that the recent agreements that we have signed will mean peace in Vietnam and, eventually, throughout Indochina, we trust, but it will mean peace only to the extent that both sides and the leaders of both sides have the will to keep the agreement.
All the paper in the world, all the more fancy phrases that could have added to the very intricate phrases that are already in the agreement would mean nothing if the individuals who have the responsibility for keeping the agreement do not keep it.
We will keep the agreement. We expect others to keep the agreement. That is the way peace can be kept abroad—only, in other words, by the will of the individuals involved. And you must change the man or you must change the woman if the agreement is to be kept.
And so it is at home. We are concerned about conflict at home. We are concerned, for example, about the problems that divide us. They talk about the divisions between the generations, the divisions between the races, the divisions between the religions in this country, and we have them.
So, we can legislate about some of those divisions. For example, we pass laws-laws providing and guaranteeing rights to equal opportunity. But there is no law that can legislate compassion, there is no law that can legislate understanding, there is no law that can legislate an end to prejudice. That only comes by changing the man and changing the woman.
That is what all religion is about, however we may worship. That is what our religion is about, those of us who may be of the Christian religion.
So today, I would simply close with one thought. There is a lyric from a song I recall, that runs something like this: “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”
And so, abroad and at home, let that be our prayer. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with each and every one of us in his own heart.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
January 31, 1974
Mr. Vice President and Mrs. Ford, Senator and Mrs. Stennis, and all of the very distinguished guests here, and those who may be listening on television and radio to this National Prayer Breakfast:
It has always been the custom that the President has the privilege of making the final statement at these breakfasts, and as usual having that responsibility is one that is difficult because of the eloquence that has usually preceded him and of the statements that have been made which make what he says simply repetitive of what has gone on before.
There are some thoughts, very brief ones, that I would like to leave with you this morning, however, that have occurred to me, and one is how very thankful we are that it was just a year ago that we had the prayer breakfast–Senator Stenhis was supposed to be in the position that he now occupies–he could not come, and I had the privilege of reading a note that he had scribbled when he first became conscious after he had had his operation at the hospital, a note to the prayer breakfast. We are so thankful that John Stennis is well and strong and that he is with us today.
And as usual, we are very proud to have all of the visitors from abroad, the ambassadorial corps, the visitors from various countries, the Purdue Glee Club, which has honored us with its presence here today. You know, we have something in common. When I went over and had my picture taken, I asked whether any of them were on the Purdue football team, and nobody held up his hand. I said, “That is just like me. I made the glee club, but I didn’t make the football team.” But what a great glee club it was. If their football team was up to the glee club, they would be in the Rose Bowl.
I know that many have made a great effort to come to this prayer breakfast from various parts of the country and the world. Billy Graham was taking a long-needed vacation at Acapulco. And I rode up with him in the car, and I can assure you that the tan he has is real. That is no makeup. He is going to go back to see his wife, Ruth, after this prayer breakfast and after perhaps several other engagements today with members of this group.
When I first addressed a prayer breakfast as President, I made a statement about all the Presidents of this country. You know, the difficulty with a President when he makes a statement is that everybody checks it to see whether it is true. And in this particular instance, I stated what I thought was the truth, and that was that every President in our history had been a religious man, had belonged to a church. And afterwards, I received quite a few letters from people and said, “What about Lincoln?”
So, I had to go back to the history books to find out about Abraham Lincoln. And I found that his law partner who practiced with him in Illinois had written the first biography of Lincoln and said that he was a man who had no religion, as a matter of fact, that he was a nonbeliever. I then found that when he ran for Congress his opponent was an evangelist, and although Lincoln won that year for Congress, his opponent who was the evangelist campaigned against him on the basis of Lincoln being a nonbeliever.
I found also that Lincoln never joined a church, one of the few Presidents who never belonged to any church. He often attended with his wife the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and the pew down there so marks the place where he and his wife used to sit, but he never formally joined a church.
But in a very fine little book–and the size of a book does not decide how fine it is–Elton Trueblood in 1973 on the religion of Lincoln1 the anguish that he went through during the War Between the States, makes some eloquent points about Lincoln, the man with a very deep religious conviction. He said that while he never belonged to a church that he probably prayed more than any man who has ever been in the White House. And the reason he prayed more was perhaps twofold, one because he had a mystical sense of the destiny of America. He did not have a feeling of arrogance about his side as compared with the other side; he did feel that America was destined to be united; he did feel that for that reason that some way, somehow, after that terrible struggle in which men on both sides and women on both sides prayed fervently to the same God that it would come out’ all right, and he did believe that America had something to stand for and something to believe in, and something to do in the world bigger than itself. And he often said that. In other words, that there was something other than just Lincoln–the politician, the President–and the American people, each individual, but there was what he called the Almighty, the Universal Being, sometimes he referred to Him as God, who guided the destiny of this Nation.
1 David Elton Trueblood, “Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish” (New York: Harper and Row, 1973).
The second reason, of course, that Lincoln must have prayed so much was because the problems of the country were so great. When you think of the fact that his wife had several brothers who fought on the Confederate side, and some were killed, you think of the tragedy that marked his life—one of his sons died while he was in the White House. When you think of all these things, you can see why this man, who had such deep emotional feelings, often went to his knees in prayer, although he did not belong to any church.
And finally, I noted in reading this little book by Elton Trueblood that while Lincoln prayed more perhaps–or at least it is said that he probably prayed more than any President who has been in the White House–it is very hard to find at any time an oral prayer. He was on his knees, and he prayed in silence.
I often wondered about that, and I thought a little of my own upbringing, about the place of silent prayer, and there is, of course, a place for both.
My father, who was a Methodist, believed very strongly in spoken prayer, and my mother, who was a Quaker, believed in silent prayer, and both agreed that there was a place for both.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I asked my grandmother–a very saintly woman, a little Quaker lady who had nine children–I asked her why it was that the Quakers believed in silent prayer. When we sat down to table we always had silent grace, and often at church, while we sometimes would have a minister or somebody got up when the spirit moved him, we often just went there and sat and we prayed.
Her answer was very interesting, and perhaps it relates to why Lincoln prayed in silence. My grandmother spoke to me on this occasion, as she always did to her grandchildren and children, with the plain speech. She said, “What thee must understand, Richard, is that the purpose of prayer is to listen to God, not to talk to God. The purpose of prayer is not to tell God what thee wants but to find out from God what He wants from thee.”
Now, my grandmother did not believe that others who used oral prayer were wrong, because that would not have been the Quaker way. She thought they might be right. In fact, both could be right.
We read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the most eloquent of all the inaugurals, and we see it all captured there, pointing out that people prayed on both sides, and yet the war had come, but not speaking in arrogance about the North as against the South, but expressing his belief that the destiny of this Nation would eventually be served by the survival of the Union.
So, the thought I would leave with this audience here today is very simply this: I, too, believe that America has a destiny. I do not believe it in the sense that some national leaders of times past have believed it about their countries.
Our destiny is not to rule any other country. Our destiny is not to conquer any other country. Our destiny is not to start war against any other country. Our destiny is not to break freedom, but to defend it.
Our destiny also is to recognize the right of people in the world to be different from what we are. Even some may have different religions. Even some, we must accept, may not have a religious belief, as we understand a religious belief, to believe.
But on the other hand, while I know this goes counter to the ideas of many of my good friends in this audience who believe as my mother and father deeply believed in the missionary work of our church, I think that America today must understand that it is in its role as a world leader that we can only have peace in the world if we respect the rights, the views of our neighbors, our friends, and of the people of all the nations of the world.
It is that respect for other people, despite differences in political philosophy, despite differences in religion, that has brought us so far along the road to world understanding and world peace over these 5 years.
It is rather hard sometimes for us to have that respect, sometimes for each other in our political process and sometimes for other nations who have totally different political views, but I would only suggest that we go back to Lincoln–and, of course, I go back to my grandmother-and I would pray for this Nation at this time, and I hope all of you would, too, whether orally or in silence, that we try to listen more to what God wants rather than to tell God what we want, that we would try to find out what God wants America to be rather than to ask Him always to see that what we believe America should be prevails.
Call this humility, which they called it in Lincoln’s case, call it what you like, but it is the way a great country ought to be.
America is a nation of destiny, and whether freedom survives in the world and whether the weak nations of the world can be as safe as the strong, which is our goal, depends on America.
I do not say this in arrogance. I do not say it without recognizing that other great powers in a different way may also work together with us toward that great purpose, but I do know that without American strength and I speak not just of our military strength primarily; primarily I speak of our moral strength and our spiritual strength and our faith in our national destiny–without America’s strength, the world would not have the chance today that it has for freedom and for peace and for justice in the years ahead.
So, my friends, may I thank you all for the prayers that I know you have offered for our national leaders; may I urge you all, whatever your faiths may be, to pray in the future at times, perhaps, in silence. Why? Because too often I think we are a little too arrogant. We try to talk to God and tell Him what we want, and what all of us need to do and what this Nation needs to do is to pray in silence and listen to God and find out what He wants for us, and then we will all do the right thing.