Yellow fever broke out in the national capital of Philadelphia in 1793. The disease reached New York City in the summer of 1795 claiming thousands of lives. Its late symptoms were gruesome—delirium, a yellow hue on the skin and in the pupils, followed by vomiting of black bile and death. That fall, New York Governor John Jay, “convinced that national prosperity depends, and ought to depend, on national gratitude and obedience to the supreme ruler of all nations,” sent out a proclamation calling the state to a day of thanksgiving for the end of the epidemic. Here is a portion.
“And whereas it hath pleased [the Supreme Sovereign of Nations], by permitting sickness to prevail and be fatal to the lives of many in our principal city, and in sundry places in this and other states, and by the extensive alarms and embarrassments which attended it; to remind us that prosperity and adversity are in his hand [Ecclesiastes 7:14]; and that in all our pursuits we are to remember, that he is the cause and giver of all the good that was, that is, or that will be [James 1:17].
“And whereas our Almighty Sovereign, in addition to his other mercies, hath lately stayed the hand of the destroying angel [1 Chronicles 21:15], and thus manifesting and multiplying his benefits to us as a people [Psalm 103:2–4], calls upon us as a people to manifest our gratitude to him.
“Wherefore, and particularly on this occasion, it appears to me, to be the public duty of the people of this state collectively considered, to render unto him their sincere and humble thanks for all these his great and unmerited mercies and blessings. And also to offer up to him their fervent petitions to continue to us his protection and favor. To preserve to us the undisturbed enjoyment of our civil and religious rights and privileges, and the valuable life and usefulness of the President of the United States. To enable all rulers, councils, and people to do the duties incumbent on them respectively, with wisdom and fidelity—to promote the extension of true religion, virtue, and learning—to give us all grace to cultivate national union, concord, and goodwill; and generally to bless our nation; and all other nations, in the manner and measure most conducive to our and their best interests and real welfare.”
Many people find comfort in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, which speak of the limits of human understanding. How did you respond to Governor Jay’s statement about the cause of the 1795 epidemic and his recommended response? Did your feelings change when you read today’s passage in Ecclesiastes? Consider praying Jay’s prayer today for “our nation, and all other nations.”