Providential Destiny and Duty or Not? — Steve Farrell

First Prayer in the Continental Congress


Did the establishment of the United States, this ‘light on the hill’ republic, come about by mere chance or by way of what America’s Founding Fathers universally referred to as Divine Providence?

Whatever the average 21st Century historian or political scientist might conclude — the American Founders held strong convictions regarding the matter.

Reflected American Founder, Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Papers No. 1:

It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind. (1)

The word often used when so speaking of God’s role for and in America was “Providence” or “Divine Providence.” When Roger Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, he selected that very name to express unbroken confidence in the mercies of God, and, said he, “I desired it might be a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.” (2)

What was the aim of Providence became the aim of America.

Johnathan Mayhew, in a 1766 Thanksgiving discourse, said of the American colonies:

“God … hath inspired the people of America with a noble spirit of liberty, and remarkably united them in standing up for that invaluable blessing.”

He prayed to God,

“Long mayest thou reside among us, the delight of the wise, good and brave; the protectress of innocence from wrongs and oppressions, the patroness of learning, arts, eloquence, virtue, rational loyalty, religion! And if any miserable people on the continent or isles of Europe, after being weakened by luxury, debauchery, venality, intestine quarrels, or other vices, should in the rude collisions, or now uncertain revolutions of kingdoms, be driven, in their extremity, to seek a safe retreat from slavery in some far-distant climate; let them find, O let them find one in America under thy brooding, sacred wings; where our oppressed fathers once found it, and we now enjoy it, … the most glorious freedom!” (3)

This prayer was fulfilled, as was Reverend Mayhew’s prophetic insight that “good [would] come out of our late troubles,” and his prediction that the day would come that after liberty was established firmly in America, that we would, in turn, “save much people alive,” among the nations of the earth, keeping “Britain herself from ruin.” (4)

Imagine that. Can anyone doubt it?  The colonist who were its first hand witnesses, and who were by in large a devout Christian people, didn’t doubt it. Neither did their early successors.

Thomas Paine, the famed author of that rallying political pamphlet Common Sense, who regardless of his later fall from faith in France, was at the time of his inspired involvement in the American Revolution convinced that the discovery and eventual independence of America were “the design of Heaven.” Wrote he:

The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open up a sanctuary to the Persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety. (5)

A remarkable insight. Americans, then, and for generation upon generation after, believed it and often proclaimed it.

Key founder John Adams, the voice of the Declaration of Independence, and the second President of the United States solemnly observed in like manner:

“I always, consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.” (6)

Eight years prior to the Revolution, John Dickinson was persuaded that “Almighty God himself, will look down upon [our] righteous contest with approbation … [We] are assigned by Divine Providence, in the appointed order of things, the protector of unborn ages, whose fate depends upon [our] virtue.” (7)

Again, this was the Universal conviction of the Founders. So much so, that an aged and ailing Benjamin Franklin felt impelled during a time when spirits were hot at the Constitutional Convention, when the hopes for a permanent United States of America, a permanent refuge for the free and the brave, seemed dashed on the rocks of selfish local interests and personal pride, to remind his fellow delegates of a little bit of history, a little bit about America’s dependence upon Almighty God.

Said he:

Mr. President, The small progress we have made after four or five weeks’ close attendance and continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes — is, me—thinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We, indeed, seem to feel our own want of political wisdom since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist. And we have viewed modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time; and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And, if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and byword to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service. (8)

George Washington both as General Washington and later as President Washington never neglected to express his firm conviction on the matter, either. On numerous occasions, both in letter and in speech, he stated in words similar to these:

The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked that has not gratitude to acknowledge his obligations” for the Divine Hand which preserved and brought America successfully through the revolution and then set her up as a free people. (9)

And so we come full circle back to Alexander Hamilton. Again, this was Federalist Papers No. 1. Hamilton was laying the foundation for an extended discussion as to why his fellow Americans must unite under the newly proposed Constitution of the United States of America. He was reminding us all that there was unity among his peers, as well as among his forefathers to this one point: that God raised up this nation for the “saving of much people alive, … for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth,” that it was our destiny, even our duty to each other and to mankind to stay together, not tear apart as one united free people under God and the American Constitution.

He was right. I know it. Many of you do too.

He is still right. America with all her faults and present challenges is not through blessing mankind. We Americans, whether we know it or not, and fully comprehend it or not, are called by the Providence of Heaven to hear and now keep the good ship America going, to patch her up where necessary, to rediscover, return to, and defend Her Heaven-Inspired Constitution and Judeo-Christian heritage. It is our obligation, our sacred duty.

This Thanksgiving, consider bowing in humble prayer before our Common Father to thank Him for the blessings of living in this blessed land, to implore Him to kindly lead you (and your loved ones and friend) to rediscover, and receive both intellectual and spiritual confirmation of, the meaning and truthfulness of the fundamental principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution. And then plea to Him for the faith, courage, and enduring will and wit to boldly and intelligently stand fast by that Constitution and America’s Providential Mission and Destiny to serve as a refuge and political ensign to peoples of the world.

At least this is my Thanksgiving prayer. I hope you will claim it as your own.

Artwork: First Prayer in Congress [The Continental Congress]

Steve Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of Self-Educated American (2008-Present), one of the original and most popular pundits at (1999-2007), Press Agent for Defend Marriage, a project of Brigham Young University’s, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Law School at United Families International (2003-2004), founding Managing Editor of Right Magazine (1998-1999), and the author of the highly praised inspirational novel Dark Rose (2003)


  1. Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Papers,” Essay 1
  2. Bancroft, George. “History of the United States, Volume 1,” p. 254.
  3. Sandoz, Ellis. “Political Sermons of the Founding Era, 1730-1805,” p. 259, quoting Mayhew’s “The Snare Broken.”
  4. Ibid. p. 260.
  5. Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.”
  6. Bancroft, George. “History of the United States, Volume 3,” p. 95.
  7. Ibid. p. 281-282.
  8. Madison, James. “Journal of the Federal Convention, Volume 1,” p. 259-260.
  9. Bancroft, George. “History of the United States, Volume 5,” p. 286-287. See also Letter to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778 as but one of many of the times Washington expressed this profound conviction.