Cholera Pandemic: President Zachary Taylor Proclaims A National Day Of Fasting, Humiliation, And Prayer August 3, 1849
History.com lists cholera as one of the top 5 worst pandemics in history.
In 1849, 150,000 Americans died of cholera. The disease, caused by bacteria found in contaminated water, originated in India. Infected individuals traveling along the busy trade routes of the British East India Company, on steamboats and railways, quickly carried the disease to Europe.
Cholera killed tens of millions in crowded cities located throughout the world—England, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Russia, China, Japan, Java, Korea, the Philippines, India, Bengal, Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Arabia, and Africa. Eventually, the disease crossed the seas to America, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and the Pacific Coast.
In the United States, cholera’s death toll reached thousands in America’s large cities:
- New York – 5,000
- Cincinnati – 8,000
- New Orleans – 3,000
- St. Louis – 5,000
- Chicago – 3,500
- Along the Oregon and Mormon Trails – 12,000
- Total – 150,000
President Zachary Taylor Proclaims A National Day Of Fasting, Humiliation, And Prayer
At the time of the pandemic, Zachary Taylor served as the 12th elected President of the United States. In response to the cholera crisis, President Taylor proclaimed a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer.
At a season when the providence of God has manifested itself in the visitation of a fearful pestilence which is spreading itself throughout the land, it is fitting that a people whose reliance has ever been in His protection should humble themselves before His throne, and, while acknowledging past transgressions, ask a continuance of Divine mercy.
It is therefore earnestly recommended that the first Friday in August be observed throughout the United States as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer. All business will be suspended in the various branches of the public service on that day; and it is recommended to persons of all religious denominations to abstain as far as practicable from secular occupation and to assemble in their respective places of public worship, to acknowledge the Infinite Goodness which has watched over our existence as a nation, and so long crowned us with manifold blessings, and to implore the Almighty, in His own good time to stay the destroying hand which is now lifted up against us. (Source: Benjamin Franklin Morris, Christian Life And Character Of The Civil Institutions Of The United States, from Internet Archive accessed on 03/28/2020, pp.551-552.)
A St.Louis Post-Dispatch column does a “Look Back” at interesting and transformative events in St. Louis’ history. One such article discusses the 1849 cholera epidemic in the young city. Of the sickness and death due to cholera in 1849, the author remarks:
The number of deaths dropped suddenly in August. Leaders began belated reforms in earnest, building sewers and draining Chouteau’s Pond south of Market Street… (emphasis mine)
President Taylor announced the National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer proclamation on July 3, 1849, to be held on the first Friday in August—August 3, 1749. “And the deaths dropped suddenly in August…”
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