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Lincoln Proclaims a National Day of Humiliation and Prayer
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The president calls on loyal citizens to implore the “Supreme Ruler of the World, not to destroy us as a people.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. Broadside, “A Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer,” July 7, 1864, printed under a forwarding Proclamation by Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts, July 28, 1864. 1 p. 18¼ x 27¾ in.

Inventory #24675       Price: $5,500

With the outcome of the war still far from clear, this broadside announces to the people of Massachusetts Lincoln’s proclamation of a national day of prayer. Eight weeks prior, at Cold Harbor, Grant had lost some 7,000 Union troops in the span of 20 minutes. The siege of Petersburg was just six weeks old.

Historical Background

Following the examples of presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison, Lincoln issued at least eight proclamations calling for days of humiliation, prayer, fasting, or thanksgiving. His proclamation of October 3, 1863, established the precedent of the fourth Thursday of every November as a national day of thanksgiving. Congress must have worried that this was not sufficient. They could not know then that Cold Harbor would be Lee’s last major victory. On July 2, 1864, Congress passed a joint resolution requested that Lincoln call for an additional day of “national humiliation and prayer.” Lincoln set the first Thursday in August 1864 as a day to pray for a speedy end to the war. It would be another eight months before that prayer was answered.

Complete Transcript

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

By His Excellency

John A. Andrew,

Governor:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, The President of the United States of America did by his Proclamation, Dated at Washington on the 7th day of July, last, “appoint the first THURSDAY of August next to be observed by the People of the United States as a day of National Humiliation and Prayer;” requesting the solemn and religious observance of that day on the part of all the people of the United States, by abstaining from secular pursuits and by acts of devotion and of public worship:

I do, therefore, direct and request that this Proclamation of the Chief Executive Magistrate of the Nation be published and promulgated to the people of Massachusetts in the same manner in which the Governor of Massachusetts is accustomed to be promulgated, concerning the annual Fast observed in the Commonwealth. And I especially invoke the attention of all ministers of the Gospel, as well as of all the good people of Massachusetts, in order that the day thus devoted as a National Sabbath to the special services and duties of penitence, prayer, and the worship of God, may be duly observed throughout our Commonwealth.

                                                                        John A. Andrew.

Executive Department, July 28, 1864.

By His Excellency the Governor:

                                                                        Oliver Warner, Secretary.

God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


By His Excellency

Abraham Lincoln,

President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer.

Whereas the Senate and House of Representatives, at their last session, adopted a concurrent resolution, which was approved on the second day of July instant, and which was in the words following, namely:

“That the President of the United States be requested to appoint a day for humiliation and prayer by the people of the United States; that he request his constitutional advisers at the head of the Executive Departments to unite with him as Chief Magistrate of the nation, at the city of Washington, and the members of Congress, and all magistrates, all civil, military, and naval officers, all soldiers, sailors, and marines, with all loyal and law-abiding people, to convene at their usual places of worship, or wherever they may be, to confess and to repent of their manifold sins; to implore the compassion and forgiveness of the Almighty, that, if consistent with His will, the existing rebellion may be speedily suppressed, and the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws of the United States may be established throughout all the States; to implore Him, as the Supreme Ruler of the World, not to destroy us as a people, nor suffer us to be destroyed by the hostility or connivance of other nations, or by obstinate adhesion to our own counsels, which may be in conflict with His eternal purposes, and to implore Him to enlighten the mind of the nation to know and to do His will, humbly believing that it is in accordance with His will that our place should be maintained as a united people among the family of nations; to implore Him to grant our armed defenders and the masses of the people that courage, power of resistance, and endurance necessary to secure that result; to implore Him in His infinite goodness to soften the hearts, enlighten the minds, and quicken the consciences of those in rebellion, that they may lay down their arms and speedily return to their allegiance to the United States, that they may not be utterly destroyed, that the effusion of blood may be stayed, and that unity and fraternity may be restored, and peace established throughout all our borders.”

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, cordially concurring with the Congress of the United States in the penitential and pious sentiments expressed in the aforesaid resolution, and heartily approving of the devotional design and purpose thereof, do hereby appoint the first Thursday of August next to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of national humiliation and prayer.

I do hereby further invite and request the heads of the executive departments of this Government, together with all legislators, all judges and magistrates, and all other persons exercising authority in the land, whether civil, military, or naval, and all soldiers, seamen, and marines in the national service, and all the other loyal and law-abiding people of the United States, to assemble in their preferred places of public worship on that day, and there to render to the Almighty and Merciful Ruler of the Universe such homage and such confessions, and to offer to Him such supplications, as the Congress of the United States have, in their aforesaid resolution, so solemnly, so earnestly, and so reverently recommended.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this seventh day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.

                                                                        Abraham Lincoln

By the President:

            William H. Seward, Secretary of State

Additional Historical Background

Ulysses S. Grant, appointed by Lincoln in March 1864 as General-in-Chief of the Union Armies, relied on the North’s superior resources to attack relentlessly, wear down, and destroy Lee’s army, but the cost in lives was horrific. In the Virginia Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor in May and June of 1864, the Union army suffered 65,000 casualties. Despite the toll, Grant refused to back down. At Spotsylvania, he wrote a dispatch that summed up his attitude: “I propose to fight it out along this line if it takes all summer.”


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