Jacob Duché Continental Congress Prayer & a caution to "Stand Fast" for Liberty
As British troops were descending upon Boston, the Continental Congress' first official act was to request that Rev. Jacob Duché, pastor of Philadelphia's Christ Church, open Congress in prayer:
"Tuesday, September 6, 1774. Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Duché be desired to open the Congress tomorrow morning with prayers, at the Carpenter's Hall, at 9 o'clock."
Born JANUARY 31, 1738, Rev. Jacob Duché was a prominent leader in Pennsylvania.
His grandfather, Anthony Duché , was a French Protestant Huguenot who had sailed to America with William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.
His father, Col Jacob Duché , Sr., served a term as mayor of Philadelphia, and helped Ben Franklin in 1748 raise a volunteer militia of armed private citizens to defend the city during the French and Indian War.
Young Jacob Duché was in the first class of the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania), which was founded with the help of Ben Franklin.
Duché graduated valedictorian of his class in 1757.
He studied at Cambridge University in England and was ordained an Anglican minister.
His brother-in-law was Francis Hopkinson, a classmate at the College of Philadelphia, and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Hopkinson proposed a design for the National Flag and worked with the committee that designed the National Seal.
On September 7, 1774, Rev. Jacob Duché, Jr., arrived at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia and read the 35th Psalm, which was the designated Anglican reading for that day:
"Plead my cause, Oh, Lord, with them that strive with me, fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of buckler and shield, and rise up for my help.
Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me; Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation.'
Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life; Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me."
Rev. Duché then offered an extemporaneous prayer.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Town of Greece v. Galloway, May 5, 2014:
"Legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause...
The Framers considered legislative prayer a benign acknowledgment of religion's role in society ... Any test the Court adopts must acknowledge a practice that was accepted by the Framers ...
The decidedly Christian nature of these prayers must not be dismissed as the relic of a time ...
The first prayer delivered to the Continental Congress by the Rev. Jacob Duché on Sept. 7, 1774, provides an example:
'Be Thou present O God of Wisdom and direct the counsel of this Honorable Assembly; enable them to settle all things on the best and surest foundations; that the scene of blood may be speedily closed;
that Order, Harmony, and Peace be effectually restored, and the Truth and Justice, Religion and Piety, prevail and flourish among the people.
Preserve the health of their bodies, and the vigor of their minds, shower down on them, and the millions they here represent, such temporal Blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting Glory in the world to come.
All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Saviour, Amen'. W. Federer, America's God and Country 137 (2000)."
John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail:
"Mr. Duché appeared with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read several prayers in the established form, and read the collect for the 7th day of September, which was the 35th Psalm.
You must remember, this was the next morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston.
I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seem as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning.
After this, Mr. Duché, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present.
I must confess, I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced ... with such fervor, such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so elegant and sublime, for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here."
"Wednesday, September 7, 1774 ... That the thanks of Congress be given to Mr. Duché ... for performing divine Service, and for the excellent prayer, which he composed and delivered on the occasion."
The next year, on July 7, 1775, Rev. Duché addressed the soldiers of First Battalion of the City of Philadelphia.
He dedicated his sermon to General Washington, with the title "The Duty of Standing Fast in Our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties":
"If spiritual liberty calls ... to a glorious hereafter, civil liberty must at least be allowed to secure ... our well-being here ...
Civil liberty is as much the gift of God in Christ Jesus as the former, and consequently, that we are bound to stand fast in our civil as well as our spiritual freedom ...
'Standing fast' in that liberty, wherewith Christ, as the great providential Governor of the world, hath made us free ..."
Rev. Duché continued:
"Considering myself under the twofold character of a minister of Jesus Christ, and a fellow-citizen ... involved in the same public calamity with yourselves ...
I have made choice of a passage of Scripture ... addressing myself to you as freemen, both in the spiritual and temporal sense ... suggesting to you ... under the blessing of Heaven, to ...
'Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty, wherewith Christ hath made us free' (Galatians, chapter 5) ..."
"'Stand Fast' by an undaunted courage ... a courage that will prove you to be good Christians, as well as soldiers, a firm invincible fortitude of soul, founded upon religion, and the glorious hope of a better world ...
Courage, that will enable you not only to withstand an armed phalanx, to pierce a squadron, or force an entrenchment ... but will support you ... against the principalities and powers of darkness ... pain and sickness, and...all the horrors of a death-bed scene ...
Courage ... will never degenerate into savage cruelty and barbarity ... Be prepared ... for the worst. Suffer not your spirits to evaporate ...
Though the worst should come - though we should be deprived of all the conveniences and elegancies of life ... nevertheless, 'Stand Fast' as the guardians of liberty ...
NOW, THEREFORE, BE STRONG, O ZERUBBABEL, AND BE STRONG, O JOSHUA...FOR I AM WITH YOU, SAITH THE LORD OF HOSTS ... LOOK YE UNTO ME, AND BE SAVED, ALL YE ENDS OF THE EARTH!"
On July 20, 1775, a day recommended for a General Fast throughout the United English Colonies of America, Rev. Duché addressed the Continental Congress with a sermon titled "The American Vine":
"The dark cloud of judgment ... now hangs over our heads ...
Against thee only have we sinned! To thee only have we been disobedient and ungrateful ...
Our prosperity hath rendered us forgetful of thee our GOD ...
The trumpet is sounded in Zion. A fast is proclaimed. A solemn assembly convened. The numerous inhabitants of our extensive colonies, are now prostrate with us before the Throne of Grace,.."
"OUR sober Ancestors brought over with them ... a treasure of infinitely greater value ... The banners of CHRISTIAN and BRITISH Liberty were at once unfolded, and these remote parts of the earth were thereby added to the MESSIAH’s kingdom ...
LET us ... call upon the whole people ... to join in ... one general act of religious humiliation ...
Go on, ye chosen band of Christian Patriots! Testify to the world, by your example as well as by your counsels, that ye are equally the foes of VICE and of SLAVERY ...
Promote the glory of GOD, the interest of the Gospel of JESUS, and all those private and public virtues, upon the basis of which alone, the superstructure of true Liberty can be erected ...
Let the MINISTERS of the everlasting gospel, the ambassadors of JESUS CHRIST, step forth with fresh zeal and courage to their duty. Let them remember, that they are not only answerable for their own souls, but for the souls of those under their care ...
TAKE ALARM -- Let them boldly rebuke vice -- Let them punish immorality and profaneness without respect to rank or fortune ...
IN a word, if we would wish THE GOD OF HOSTS TO RETURN, TO LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND BEHOLD AND VISIT our American VINE, we must be prepared to meet him ... Happy, if we find him a reconciled GOD in JESUS CHRIST!"
On July 4, 1776, after Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Mr. Duché walked across the square to his church and convened a special meeting of his Vestry.
He then took the large Anglican Book of Common Prayer from the pulpit and crossed out prayers for "the King of England," replacing them with "the United States of America."
This greatly affected the country, as his was the first church to stop praying for the King.
On July 8, 1776, John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, wrote to Rev. Mr. Jacob Duché:
"Sir, It is with the greatest pleasure I inform you that the Congress have been indeed, from a consideration of your piety, as well as your uniform and zealous attachment to the rights of America, to appoint you their Chaplain.
It is their request, which I am commanded to signify to you, that you will attend on them, every morning at nine o'clock."
Lorenzo Sabine's History of the Loyalists (1864), recorded Rev. Mr. Jacob Duché first prayer after the Declaration of Independence was approved:
"O Lord our Heavenly Father, High and Mighty, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires, and governments,
look down with mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee, from the rod of the oppressor ... desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee."
On September 26, 1777, British General William Howe invaded Philadelphia and imprisoned Rev. Duché , undoubtedly pressuring him mentally.
Ten days after his release, being discouraged from the Continental Army's heavy losses at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, after which they withdrew to Valley Forge, Rev. Jacob Duché disappointed the country.
He penned a letter to General Washington urging surrender, then sailed away for England.
Later, regretting his decision, Rev. Duché returned to Philadelphia after the war where he finished an uneventful ministry and died in 1798.
He is best remembered, though, for his inspirational role in the critical early years of the American Revolution, when he inspired the nation:
"'Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty, wherewith Christ hath made us free' ...
Stand Fast by an undaunted courage ... that will prove you to be good Christians, as well as soldiers, a firm invincible fortitude of soul, founded upon religion, and the glorious hope of a better world ...
Courage, that will support you ... against the principalities and powers of darkness ... pain and sickness, and ... all the horrors of a death-bed scene ...
'Stand Fast' as the guardians of liberty."