Joseph Warren Breaks Expectation for First Continental Congress Secrecy to Reinforce Religious Tolerance

in by Warren

Date: September 26, 1774

“Messieurs Printers

As I have been informed that the conduct of some few persons of the Episcopal denomination, in maintaining principles inconsistent with the rights and liberties of mankind, has given offence to some of the zealous friends of this country, I think myself obliged to publish the following extract of a letter dated September 9th, 1774, which I received from my worthy and patriotic friend, Mr. Samuel Adams, a member of the Congress now sitting in Philadelphia, by which it appears that, however injudicious some individuals may have been, the gentlemen of the Established Church of England are men of the most just and liberal sentiments, and are high in the esteem of the most sensible and resolute defenders of the rights of the people of this continent.

And I earnestly request my countrymen to avoid everything which our enemies may make use of to prejudice our Episcopal brethren against us, by representing us as disposed to disturb them in the free exercise of their religious privileges, to which we know they have the most undoubted claim, and which, from a real regard to the honor and interest of my country and the rights of mankind, I hope they will enjoy unmolested as long as the name of America is known in the world.

            J. Warren.”

“After settling the mode of voting, which is by giving each Colony an equal voice, it was agreed to open the business with prayer.  As many of our warmest friends are members of the Church of England, [I, Samuel Adams] thought it prudent, as well on that as on some other accounts, to move that the service should be performed by a clergyman of that denomination.  Accordingly the lessons of the day and prayer were read by the Rev. Mr. Duché, who afterwards made a most excellent extemporary prayer, by which he discovered himself to be a gentleman of sense and piety, and a warm advocate for the religious and civil rights of America.”

Source: Boston Gazette, September 26, 1774.  Full text appears in William V. Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1865, Volume II, p. 222.

Commentary: The deliberations and informal communications of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia were to be kept secret.  Only that body’s agreed upon resolutions were to be made public. Joseph Warren judged Samuel Adam’s message of religious tolerance toward Church of England adherents who were otherwise politically Patriotic, to be sufficiently important as to extract Samuel Adams’ personal letter concerning the selection of a clergyman to deliver an opening prayer at the Congress.

In a private letter to Samuel Adams dated September 29, 1774, Joseph Warren apologizes for making public this aspect of the Congress:  “People were so rapacious for the intelligence brought from the congress by Mr. [Paul] Revere, that I thought myself bound to publish an extract from your letter; and, although it was done without your permission, I know you will forgive it.”

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Chaplain, this is the prayer opening the Continental Congress on September 7, 1774 at 9 AM:

“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 the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and 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 Savior.  Amen”  – Reverend Jacob Duché, Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ironically, the Reverend Duche (1737-1798) had a change of heart, trying to convince George Washington to give up resistance in an October 1777 letter. Duche fled to England as a Loyalist, later returning to Philadelphia in poor health in the 1790s.

Our current House of Representatives would do well to recall that opening prayer of their antecedents in the First Continental Congress: “Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation.”

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