Fred MacDowell: “Then, as now, war was looked upon by many as a great evil, especially between brothers, and many American Colonists only wanted the oppressive measures of King George III to be lifted, bloodshed ended, and peace restored. The nascent American Congress called for a day of “Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” along these lines for May 17, 1776. It was for this occasion that this prayer was recited in Congregation Shearith Israel in New York. As you can see, a complete service was arranged for this occasion, meant to invoke the solemnity and seriousness of the occasion; after morning prayer, Taḥanun was to be sung to the tune of a Yom Kippur pizmon; a dozen Psalms recited, and then the Ḥazan would recite this prayer written for the occasion, and of course all were to be fasting. The prayer hopes for a change of heart for King George III and his advisors, that they would rescind their wrath and harsh decrees against “North America,” that the bloodshed should end, and peace and reconciliation should obtain between the Americans and Great Britain once more, in fulfillment of the Messianic verse that Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Of course this was not meant to be, and six weeks later the American Congress declared independence from Great Britain, and there was no walking back from the hostilities which had already occurred.” . . .
Prayers recited on special occasions and thus not part of the fixed liturgy offered America’s foremost Jewish congregation far greater latitude for originality in prayer. At such services, particularly when the prayers were delivered in English and written with the knowledge that non-Jews would hear them, leaders of Shearith Israel often dispensed with the traditional prayer for the government and substituted revealing new compositions appropriate to the concerns of the day. A prayer composed in 1784 (in this case in Hebrew) by the otherwise unknown Rabbi (Cantor?) Hendla Jochanan van Oettingen, for example, thanked God who “in His goodness prospered our warfare.” Mentioning by name both Governor George Clinton and General George Washington, the rabbi prayed for peace and offered a restorationist Jewish twist on the popular idea of America as “redeemer nation”: “As Thou hast granted to these thirteen states of America everlasting freedom,” he declared, “so mayst Thou bring us forth once again from bondage into freedom and mayst Thou sound the great horn for our freedom.” . . .
The following prayer for the government was composed by Congregation Beth Shalome in Richmond, Virginia in 1789. Please note the acrostic portion of the prayer in which the initial letters of the succeeding lines form the name: Washington. . . .
Exalted are you Lincoln. Who is like you! You were highly respected among Kings and Princes. All that you accomplished you did with a humble spirit. You are singular and cannot be compared to anyone else. Who among the great are like Lincoln? Who can be praised like you? . . .