I don't think I have ever posted anything on this blog about American history but in consideration of our recent move to the Washington, D.C. area and with this being Presidents' Day, I thought I would break tradition.
Of late I have had more reason to think about our presidents. I pass by the White House quite often and pray for our current president. Every Sunday our family attends worship services at a church where George Washington once served as a vestryman. And one of my favorite preachers of all time, Peter Marshall, served as the pastor of a nearby church (New York Avenue Presbyterian) back in the 1940s.
It was while visiting the web site of that church that I came across this fascinating little story....
“Under God” was first added by Lincoln to his Gettysburg Address while at Gettysburg. All of Lincoln’s preliminary drafts of the Gettysburg Address contained no mention of “under God,” while all newspaper reports and copies of the address thereafter included the words “under God.”
Why did Lincoln add “under God” at Gettysburg? Perhaps his reason might be best understood through the words of his minister, Dr. Phineas D. Gurley of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Dr. Gurley noted that “…in the latter days of his chastened and weary life, after the death of his son Willie and his visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg, he said to me with tears in this eyes, that he had lost confidence in everything but God…”
Years later, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address inspired the historic “Under God” sermon that was preached on Lincoln Sunday, February 7, 1954, by Dr. George M. Docherty at Lincoln’s Church, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Dr. Docherty noted “there was something missing” in our Pledge of Allegiance, and that was “under G.” President Eisenhower was in attendance. The President immediately prompted Congress to pass legislation adding the wording “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance.
So Lincoln’s need for God at Gettysburg led to the addition of “under God” to his Gettysburg Address and, later, to our Pledge.