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Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast

February 02, 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.

Note: The President spoke at 9:20 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Senator B. Everett Jordan of North Carolina presided at the 19th annual breakfast sponsored by the United States Senate and House Prayer Breakfast Groups.

More than 3,000 guests, including representatives from government, the diplomatic corps, industry, labor, and the academic community, attended the breakfast.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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