Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast
Congressman Quie, all of the distinguished guests here at the head tables, in the audience, and listening on radio and also television:
When I was preparing the State of the Union Message I did something that I usually do in preparing an important speech, I read for several days the background of all such messages that had been delivered by Presidents from the beginning of this country. And I found many interesting things:
The fact, for example, that from the time of Thomas Jefferson until Woodrow Wilson none were delivered in person. They were all sent in writing.
The fact that they were varied a great deal in length. Woodrow Wilson's was the shortest when he resumed the practice of delivering them orally in 1913. He spoke for only 12 minutes. And the longer ones ran as long as 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 words. That, of course, would be on occasions when they did not have to be delivered in person. Even those delivered in person usually averaged an hour or an hour and a half, depending upon the circumstances and depending upon the time.
The content of the messages varied, too. The messages really present a history of the country, how its problems changed and also how some of the problems remained the same through the whole 190 years' history of this country.
But while lengths were different and styles were different and the men were different and the content of the messages were different, there was one theme that ran through them all. The author of the book on State of the Union Messages-and somebody did write a book about State of the Union Messages--the author pointed out that almost without exception each President at some point in his message called upon divine guidance for himself but more important for this Nation.
Now, let us be quite candid. All of our Presidents were not the same in their religious faith. I mean by that, they did not belong to the same churches and for some religious faith was deeper, a different experience than for others.
But yet every one, whether he was a churchgoer or, as in Lincoln's case, not a churchgoer, every one recognized in the awesome position of power of the Presidency the necessity for divine guidance and also the fact that this Nation is a nation under God, and that this Nation some way from the beginning has had a spiritual strength far more important than the enormous economic potential that we have now developed or the military strength that we now possess.
So, consequently, this morning I am very honored and very privileged to be here and to have the opportunity, with you, to listen to Members of the Senate, Members of the House, the Commissioner of Education, the Secretary of Defense speak very deeply, very sincerely, with regard to their own religious faith, and also with regard to this Nation's fundamental unifying strength: the fact that regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of what religions we may have, that this is a Nation which, from the beginning, has had a spiritual value which all of us in positions of leadership in varying degrees have recognized and on which we have relied.
This Nation has had many problems. Reference has been made to perhaps the most difficult experience of all--the War Between the States, brother against brother. But perhaps never in our history has the Nation had a greater challenge and greater problems than when we were the most powerful and the richest Nation in the world, something we had no reason to dream we could become when we were 13 States and 3 million people, and poor economically and very weak militarily.
And so here we stand, the last third of the 20th century, rich and powerful and with the fate not only of the people who live in this country, 200 million, in our hands, but with the fate of hundreds of millions all over the world who cherish freedom, who want peace, depending upon what we do.
So it is well to be reminded of this thread that runs through our history: That men will work hard, they will lead as well as they can, they will be as wise as they can, but that we recognize our own inability to do it alone; that we need the spiritual strength which unites us and the spiritual strength which gives us an extra power, perhaps that needed vision that we need, to look beyond the material problems that seem to be so overwhelming and see the promise of a better life for us and all the peoples in the world in the year ahead. And what a really wonderful free to be alive for that reason, with all that we have and with all that we can become and what we can mean not only to ourselves but to the whole world.
Reference has been made to the White House church services to which many of you have been invited and many of you have attended. There were a number of memorable statements on those occasions. I think one that particularly is appropriate to refer to this morning was Cardinal Cooke's 1 quotation from St. Augustine, when he told all of the assembled people from Government on that occasion, in the words of St. Augustine, "Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God."
That is the message I would leave here this morning. We must work as if everything depended on us. We must pray as if everything depended upon God, recognizing that America is a Nation under God.
We do have a destiny, not a destiny to conquer the world or to exploit the world, but a destiny to give something more to the world simply than an example which other nations in the past have been able to give of great military strength and great economic wealth, to give to other nations of the world an example of spiritual leadership and idealism which no material strength or military power can provide.
1 His Eminence Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York City.
Note: The President spoke at 9 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Representative Albert H. Quie of Minnesota presided at the breakfast.
More than 2,500 guests representing many areas of national life from every State in the Union, as well as officials from four foreign countries, attended the breakfast.
Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/240404