eisenhower's inaugural prayer -- 5/16/16

Today's selection -- from One Nation Under God by Kevin M. Krause. The Dwight Eisenhower presidency had an overtly religious tone. It was at Eisenhower's urging that the words "under God" were added to the pledge of allegiance, and it was during his second term that the words "In God We Trust" were added to paper currency:

"The inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower was much more than a political ceremony. It was, in many ways, a religious consecration. ... Indeed, the Republican nominee talked so much about spiritu­ality on the stump that legendary New York Times reporter Scotty Reston likened his campaign to 'William Jennings Bryan's old invasion of the Bible Belt during the Chautauqua circuit days.' On election day, Amer­icans answered his call. Eisenhower won 55 percent of the popular vote and a staggering 442-to-89 margin in the Electoral College. Reflecting on the returns, Eisenhower saw nothing less than a mandate for a national religious revival. ...

"In the past, in­coming presidents had attended religious services on the morning of their inauguration, but usually discreetly. ... Eisenhower, in contrast, turned spirituality into spectacle. At a transition meeting with his cabinet nominees, he announced that they and their families were invited to a special religious service at Na­tional Presbyterian Church the morning of the inauguration. 'He added hastily as an afterthought that, of course, no Cabinet member should feel under pressure to go to the Presbyterian services,' remembered Sherman Adams, his chief of staff; 'anybody could go instead to a church of his own choice.' But given a choice between worshiping with the president or worshiping without him, almost all chose the former. More than 150 supporters joined the extended Eisenhower clan for the services. ...

"Immediately after [Eisenhower took] his oath [of office], in his first official words as president, Eisenhower asked the 125,000 Americans in attendance -- and the es­timated seventy million more watching live on television -- to bow their heads so that he might lead them in 'a little private prayer of my own' he had composed that morning. ... The president's prayer caused a minor sensation -- not because of anything said in it but simply because it had been said. ...

"The inauguration and its immediate aftermath established the tenor for Eisenhower's entire presidency. On the first Sunday in February, he became the first president ever to be baptized while in office, taking the rite before the congregation of National Presbyterian Church. That same night, Eisenhower broadcast an Oval Office address for the American Legion's 'Back to God' ceremonies, urging the millions watching at home to recognize and rejoice in what the president said were the spiri­tual foundations of the nation. Four days later, he was the guest of honor at the first-ever National Prayer Breakfast, which soon became an annual tradition. ... The convening pastor led a 'prayer of consecration' for Eisenhower, who then offered brief remarks of his own. 'The very basis of our govern­ment is: "We hold that all men are endowed by their Creator" with certain rights,' the president asserted. 'In one sentence, we established that every free government is embedded soundly in a deeply-felt religious faith or it makes no sense.' Eisenhower made clear that he would personally turn those words into deeds. The next day, he instituted the first-ever opening prayers at a cabinet meeting. (It took some time before this innovation became a natural habit. His secretary recalled Eisenhower emerging from a cabinet session only to exclaim: 'Jesus Christ, we forgot the prayer!' "


Kevin M. Kruse


One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America


Basic Books


Copyright 2015 by Kevin M. Kruse


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