Remarks at the 17th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast.
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.
Note: The President spoke at 10:15 a.m. at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington. The nondenominational prayer breakfast was attended by some 2,000 guests, including religious and political leaders and Federal officials. Former Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas was chairman of the Prayer Breakfast Committee.
The Rev. William F. (Billy) Graham, noted evangelist and personal friend of the President, gave the principal address.
Richard Nixon, Remarks at the 17th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/238777