George Washington was placed on the One-Dollar bill for good reason. He was the champion of the Revolutionary War, and more. He was already being called “the father of his country” during his lifetime. At his funeral, he was eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
As the hero of the nation, his views were especially important. His deep commitment to the providence of God is thus particularly significant.
Washington’s earliest dramatic experience of God’s providential protection occurred during General Braddock’s defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela, near modern day Pittsburgh, in 1755. Following the Battle, Washington wrote to his brother, John A. Washington on July 18, 1755:
But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me.
This remarkable story prompted the colonial Presbyterian preacher Rev. Samuel Davies of Hanover Virginia, and later President of the College at Princeton, N. J. to declare in a sermon entitled “Religion and Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier”, “I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto preserved him in so signal a manner, for some important service to his country.” Moreover, Washington’s grandson relates an astounding story of a subsequent encounter by Washington sixteen years later in 1770 with some of the very Indians that had sought to kill him at Braddock’s defeat.
Twenty years after Washington’s experience of “the all-powerful dispensations of Providence” at Monongahela, he would be selected as the General of the Continental Army. The leaders of the new nation committed their military commander to the protection of Divine Providence. Thus on July 13, 1775, Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, who would become known as “Brother Jonathan” for his faithful support of General Washington all through the War, wrote to the General:
The Honorable Congress have proclaimed a Fast to be observed by the inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this continent, to stand before the Lord in one day, with public humiliation, fasting and prayer, to deplore our many sins, to offer up our joint supplications to God, for forgiveness, and for his merciful interposition for us in this day of unnatural darkness and distress… They have, with one united voice, appointed you to the high station you possess. The Supreme Director of all events hath caused a wonderful union of hearts and counsels to subsist among us. Now therefore, be strong and very courageous… May the God of the armies of Israel shower down the blessing of his Divine Providence on you, give you wisdom and fortitude, cover your head in the day of battle and danger, add success, convince our enemies of their mistaken measures, and that all their attempts to deprive these Colonies of their inestimable constitutional rights and liberties are injurious and vain.
Consistent with Washington’s early experience of God’s providential aid at the battle of Monongahela are his remarks penned on August 20, 1778, as the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Army. Referring to recent instances of divine intervention during the War for Independence, Washington wrote to Brigadier-General Nelson, describing himself as a man of faith and as a preacher of providence!
The hand of Providence has been conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations. But it will be time enough for me to turn preacher when my present appointment ceases; and therefore I shall add no more on the doctrine of Providence.
Frequently throughout his career, Washington asserted the reality of divine providence. On the first of May, 1777, the American camp learned that France was joining the war on the side of America. Announcing this most significant French decision to his Army, Washington proclaimed at Valley Forge:
It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish our liberty and independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to His divine interposition.
On October 20th in 1781, General Washington called for a service to give thanks for the British surrender at Yorktown the day before:
The commander in chief earnestly recommends that the troops not on duty should universally attend with that seriousness of deportment and gratitude of heart which the recognition of such reiterated and astonishing interposition of Providence demands of us.
Washington’s opportunity to become a preacher of providence occurred at his Inauguration as the first President of the United States under the American Constitution. A portion of Washington’s First Inaugural Address is as follows:
It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, [and] who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States.
On October 3rd in 1789, mindful of the many blessings God had bestowed upon America, President Washington proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving:
It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.
Washington, who assured the synagogue in New Port, Rhode Island that the American government “…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…,” also saw the duty of America to acknowledge and adore the care of divine providence for the American people. In his First Inaugural Address, he declared,
No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency . . . We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.