Recall that under British law, it had been illegal to print a Bible in the English language in America. Following Yorktown, America was no longer under that restriction, and a plan was advanced in Congress to print America’s very own, very first, English-language Bible.
This plan was presented by publisher Robert Aitken of Philadelphia, who offered his own presses for the project. Interestingly, according to the congressional documents accompanying this proposal, on January 21, 1781, the Bible was described to Congress as “a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.”
Congress approved the plan and appointed a committee to oversee the printing of the Bible. The result was what has now become one of the rarest books in America – indeed, in the world: the first Bible printed in the English language in America. The front of that Bible contains the endorsement that “The United States in Congress assembled . . . recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” This Bible was the result of our Founding Fathers and the American Congress!
The surrender at Yorktown occurred in 1781, the “Bible of the Revolution” was printed in 1782, and the peace treaty with Great Britain was signed in 1783. Interestingly, even that peace treaty – negotiated and signed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay – reflects the strong religious sentiments of our Founders. For example, notice its opening declaration: “In the Name of the most Holy and undivided Trinity. Amen!” (A copy of the original treaty can still be seen at the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room in the U. S. State Department in Washington, D. C.)
When word of the signed peace treaty reached America, George Washington officially resigned as Commander-in-Chief. In the final of the eight pictures in the Rotunda, George Washington is informing his military staff and the leaders of Congress of his resignation (see page 12). Washington then sent a circular letter to the thirteen governors and State legislatures informing them of his resignation. In that letter, Washington rejoiced in America’s recent successes and then closed by offering this prayer for the States and the governors:
the 1783 peace treaty
I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside in His holy protection, – that He would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, – to entertain a brotherly affection and a love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, – and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and [peaceful] temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
The final thing George Washington reminds the governors and States is that if they don’t imitate Jesus, America won’t be a happy nation.
One of the statues in the Rotunda is of our 20th President, James A. Garfield. Garfield, according to his own account, experienced a miraculous intervention of God in his life which saved him from certain drowning in the Ohio-Pennsylvania canal. His is a wonderful story, told in his biography, From Log-Cabin to the White House. Following the Providential intervention that literally saved his life, Garfield gave his heart to the Lord, committed his life to Christ, and became a minister of the Gospel.
In fact, in one of his letters, he describes a revival in which he personally preached the Gospel 19 times, with 34 individuals coming to Christ and 31 of them being baptized. Although such activities are not typically associated with our Presidents today, this was part of the life of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!