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Remarks at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast

October 22, 1969

This morning we begin the National Day of Prayer. As I was determining what would be the most appropriate appearance for the President on this occasion-as you know, this is an annual occasion through the proclamation of the President of the United States--it occurred to me that it would give me an opportunity to participate again with many of my old friends and many who came to the Congress and the Senate years after I left it, from the House and Senate prayer groups. So, today we have the Wednesday group, the Thursday group, and the Friday group. And now and then I see some of you here on Sunday.

I simply want to say that I am most grateful for the fact that over these months that I have been here that you have invited me to come down to the prayer group. I was not, perhaps, as regular an attendant as I might have been, or should have been, when I was in the House and Senate.

I was a member of both groups, and I found it particularly helpful and particularly inspiring to meet with my colleagues and take that bit of time off on either a Wednesday, as it was in the House, or a Thursday, as it was in the Senate in those days, for the purpose of an inspirational meeting.

This morning we thought that all of you would like to have participation from both the House and the Senate.

We are going to have for our invocation, a Californian. That is only a coincidence. It just happens that he was selected by his colleagues as being one who could best participate--Del Clawson of California.

[Representative Clawson gave the invocation. The President then resumed speaking.]

For the Scripture reading we turn to the Senate side and to an old friend. I have served with him in the Senate, when I was presiding over the Senate and prior to that time--Wallace Bennett.

[Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah read selected Scripture verses. The President then resumed speaking.]

Before we turn to Billy Graham, who will be here to bring us our message this morning, the script calls for some remarks by the President of the United States, by your host.

I have been trying to think of what would be appropriate. Last night we had a great state dinner with the Shah of Iran, as is often the case in this room, and today we have a very different kind of a meeting, and yet it has very great meaning to all in this room.

This is truly an ecumenical meeting. There are Catholics and Protestants here; and among the Protestants, all the various groups or most of them are represented: the very large groups like the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists are in this room, some of the smaller ones like the Mormons, or medium-sized the Mormons grow, I find.

I imagine I am the only Quaker in the room. No, there is one other. Well, the Quakers have a tradition of worshiping in silence. I suppose that is why so few of them ever got to the Senate.

But, nevertheless, it seemed to me that I could bring you two thoughts before Billy Graham speaks to you that would be very appropriate this morning.

Over that fireplace when Franklin Roosevelt was President, an inscription was carved into that marble. Those of you who are close enough can read it. I think it is a very memorable inscription, particularly because of the historical significance.

As you know, George Washington never lived in this house. The first President to live in it, and he lived in it even before it was completed, was John Adams. When John Adams, just prior to the completion of his term in office his only term--returned to Washington, he was thinking of the future of this house and all who might live in it, and I am sure he, even with his great faith--as all had faith among those early founders--in the future of the Republic, would not have been able to predict what would have happened now to the strength of America and how strong we are, this great Nation.

But he wrote a prayer, a prayer about the Presidency, this house, and what it means. I think it is well that it is inscribed there and perhaps it might be well to read it now.

It says: "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

Now, as we look over our Presidents through the past 190 years, I think most of us would agree they were honest men, and history will perhaps have a considerable debate as to whether all of them were wise men, or at least as to the extent of their wisdom.

But no matter how honest or how wise they were, I think all of us realize that at times of great challenge to our Nation, whether during the bitter War Between the States or whether during the other military challenges and economic challenges which this Nation has faced, particularly in this century, we know that during those periods there had to be something more than honesty and more than wisdom in the leadership of this country, whether it was in the President of the United States or in the Members of the House and the Senate.

There had to be, we believe--some call it destiny--I would prefer to say there had to be that spiritual quality which we can feel in this room this morning as we meet with this group of Senators and Congressmen who recognize the spiritual heritage of America, how important it is, that there are times that we need help beyond ourselves, beyond what any man can give us in order to make the right decision for the Nation.

Now among the Quakers--not all--but among the Quakers, at least as my mother and my grandmother on my mother's side knew them, there was a different tradition. The Quakers worshiped in silence. Well, the modern-day Quakers, most of them, have ministers just as do Methodists, the Baptists, and the rest, but even they always turn to silence now and then as the medium where each in his own way could think of his relationship to the problems around him and to the spiritual relationship he had with his Maker.

I am not going to suggest this morning that we worship in the manner of the Quakers, because those silent meetings, my mother used to tell me, would last for an hour, an hour when all would gather in the meetinghouse and would sit without a word being spoken during the whole period.

I do think this morning, though, that before Billy Graham speaks to us, that it would be appropriate if all of us, for a few moments, would sit in silence. I would not try to suggest what we would think about, except to say that at such a time we can think of our Nation and we can think of those who try to defend it abroad. We can think of its tragedies, and we can also think of what we can do to make life better for those who will follow us in this house and in the Halls of Congress.

But most of all, we can think of our own relationship to our colleagues, our own responsibilities, whether they not only have the ingredients of honesty and wisdom, but whether sometimes they have that extra ingredient of a spiritual quality--a spiritual quality which history tells me every President who has ruled in this house has turned to or has exemplified when very difficult decisions were before him.

So if we could have that moment of silence in the manner of the Quakers now, and then Billy Graham will speak to us.

[A moment of silence was observed. The Rev. Billy Graham then addressed the group.]

Note: The annual prayer breakfast of a nondenominational group of laymen, marking the National Day of Prayer, was held in the State Dining Room at the White House. The President spoke at 8:41 a.m.

The invocation, selected Scripture verses, and the remarks of the Rev. Billy Graham are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, P. 1453).

The National Day of Prayer for 1969 was designated in Proclamation 3940.

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

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