Were Our Founding Fathers Deists? 36

Signing of the Constitution

In our modern times, many “expert” historians claim that the majority of our founding fathers were not Christians. Instead, these researchers claim that the founders of the United States were mostly deists, atheists, and agnostics. Are they correct in this conclusion?

Rather than engaging in a fruitless comparison of the opposing views of so-called historical specialists, let us turn to the primary sources applicable to this question – the books, letters, and other documents written by the founders themselves. What religion do they claim to follow?

George Washington

FIRST U.S. PRESIDENT; RATIFIER OF THE U. S. CONSTITUTION

You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.[1. George Washington, The Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), Vol. XV, p. 55, from his speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779.]

To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.[2. George Washington, The Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), Vol. XI, pp. 342-343, General Orders of May 2, 1778.]

John Adams

SECOND U.S. PRESIDENT; RATIFIER OF THE U. S. CONSTITUTION

The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.[3. John Adams, Works, Vol. III, p. 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.]

I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.[4. John Adams, Works, Vol. X, p. 85, to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813.]

Thomas Jefferson

THIRD U.S. PRESIDENT; DRAFTER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

[Editor’s Note: Although Thomas Jefferson did claim to be a Christian, he did not believe that the Bible was entirely true and was, therefore, not a real Christian.]

I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.[5. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XIV, p. 385, to Charles Thomson on January 9, 1816.]

The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.[6. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1904), Vol. XV, p. 383, to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse on June 26, 1822.]

James Madison

FOURTH U.S. PRESIDENT; RATIFIER OF THE U. S. CONSTITUTION

A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest, while we are building ideal monuments of renown and bliss here, we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.[7. James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (New York: R. Worthington, 1884), Vol. I, pp. 5-6, to William Bradford on November 9, 1772.]

…the best & purest religion, the Christian religion…[8. Religion and Politics in the Early Republic: Jasper Adams and the Church-State Debate, Daniel L. Dreisbach, ed. (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), p. 117.]

John Quincy Adams

SIXTH U.S. PRESIDENT

My hopes of a future life are all founded upon the Gospel of Christ…[9. John Adams and John Quincy Adams, The Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams, Adrienne Koch and William Peden, editors (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), p. 292, John Quincy Adams to John Adams, January 3, 1817.]

Never since the foundation of the world have the prospects of mankind been more encouraging to that hope than they appear to be at the present time. And may the associated distribution of the Bible proceed and prosper till the Lord shall have made “bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” [Isaiah 52:10].[10. Life of John Quincy Adams, W. H. Seward, editor (Auburn, NY: Derby, Miller & Company, 1849), p. 248.]

Samuel Adams

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; RATIFIER OF THE U. S. CONSTITUTION

I . . . recommend my Soul to that Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.[11. From the Last Will & Testament of Samuel Adams, attested December 29, 1790; see also Samuel Adams, Life & Public Services of Samuel Adams, William V. Wells, editor (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1865), Vol. III, p. 379, “Last Will and Testament of Samuel Adams”.]

Elias Boudinot

PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS; FRAMER OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS

In short, were you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive both to the wise and ignorant.[12. Elias Boudinot, The Age of Revelation, or the Age of Reason Shewn to be An Age of Infidelity (Philadelphia: Asbury Dickins, 1801), p. xv, from his “Dedication: Letter to his daughter Susan Bradford”.]

Charles Carroll

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.[13. Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1907), p. 475. In a letter from Charles Carroll to James McHenry of November 4, 1800.]

Benjamin Franklin

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; RATIFIER OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

[Editor’s Note: In his youth, Benjamin Franklin most likely was a deist.  As he grew older, however, his position changed.  Though it is doubtful whether he became a Christian, he did acknowledge many Biblical principles.]

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see.[14. Benjamin Franklin, Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), p. 185, to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790.]

…and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.[15. Benjamin Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1749), p. 22.]

John Handcock

FIRST SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement.[16. Independent Chronicle (Boston), November 2, 1780, last page; see also Abram English Brown, John Hancock, His Book (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898), p. 269.]

Patrick Henry

“FIREBRAND OF THE REVOLUTION”; ELECTED TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

The Bible… is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.[17. William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (Philadelphia: James Webster, 1818), p. 402; see also George Morgan, Patrick Henry (Philadelphia & London: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1929), p. 403.]

Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of their number; and, indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.[18. S. G. Arnold, The Life of Patrick Henry (Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854), p. 250.]

John Jay

FIRST CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.[19. John Jay, John Jay: The Winning of the Peace. Unpublished Papers 1780-1784, Richard B. Morris, editor (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980), Vol. II, p. 709, to Peter Augustus Jay on April 8, 1784.]

Jedediah Morse

EARLY EDUCATOR; “FATHER OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHY”

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.[20. Jedidiah Morse, A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1799), p. 9.]

Benjamin Rush

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; MEMBER OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins [Acts 22:16]. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! [Revelation 22:20][21. Benjamin Rush, The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush, George W. Corner, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), pp. 165-166.]

Noah Webster

LEADING EDUCATOR; “FATHER OF AMERICAN EDUCATION”

[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles… This is genuine Christianity and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.[22. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie and Peck, 1832), p. 300, Section 578.]

[T]he Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government ought to be instructed.[23. Noah Webster, A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects (New York: Webster and Clark, 1843), p. 291, from his “Reply to a Letter of David McClure on the Subject of the Proper Course of Study in the Girard College, Philadelphia. New Haven, October 25, 1836.”]

John Witherspoon

SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION INDEPENDENCE; PRESIDENT OF PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

[N]o man, whatever be his character or whatever be his hope, shall enter into rest unless he be reconciled to God though Jesus Christ.[24. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. V, p. 245, Sermon 15, “The Absolute Necessity of Salvation Through Christ,” January 2, 1758.]

[T]here is no salvation in any other than in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.[25. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. V, p. 248, Sermon 15, “The Absolute Necessity of Salvation Through Christ,” January 2, 1758.]

Footnotes

[Important Note: The historical research done on David Barton’s website, WallBuilders, has been an inestimable resource in gathering the quotes for this article.]

36 thoughts on “Were Our Founding Fathers Deists?

  1. Reply Mike Mar 22,2010 7:34 AM

    [Editor’s Note: Although Thomas Jefferson did claim to be a Christian, he did believe that the Bible was entirely true and was, therefore, not a real Christian.]

    Did you mean to say that he did claim to be a Christian, but did not believe that the Bible was entirely true?

    It is my understanding that he extracted biblical text dealing with the life, works, and teaching of Jesus that he believed were the greatest teachings in the world. Other parts of the Bible that he thought included more religious dogma and not the pure teachings of Jesus, he left out of the Jefferson Bible.

  2. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 22,2010 7:48 AM

    @ Mike – While he did claim to be a “Christian”, his ideas of Christianity were confused.

    See this quote – http://quotes.practicalmanliness.com/thomas-jefferson/270/

    Thanks for your question!

  3. Reply Jeremy Mar 22,2010 11:33 AM

    Nate, what Mike is saying is that your Editor Note says that Jefferson believed the bible is ENTIRELY true, and that makes him a fake Christian, but fundamentalist Christians are supposed to believe that the bible is entirely true. I would rather make the deduction that Jefferson enjoyed the teachings of Jesus, but he does _not_ entirely believe the bible.

  4. Reply bondChristian Mar 22,2010 4:02 PM

    Yes, I was about to say what said. You (Nate) said, “Although Thomas Jefferson did claim to be a Christian, he did believe that the Bible was entirely true…”

    I think you meant, “Although Thomas Jefferson did claim to be a Christian, he did NOT believe that the Bible was entirely true…”

    That aside, thank you for digging into all this. That’s a lot of research you did to compile this list.

    I’ll add something too. If you haven’t already read it, Noah Webster wrote a short book called Advice To The Young. It’s one of my favorite books because it explains in simple detail how and why people, especially young men, should behave. I’ve seriously considered leading a study directly out of that book. Anyway, it’s worth checking out, and definitely goes well with the theme of this site.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  5. Reply Stormbringer Mar 22,2010 6:03 PM

    My brother gave me a book with the title (deep breath), “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States” by Benjamin F. Morris. I’m saving it for reference, it’s over a thousand pages, but I have heard and read many quotes from the founders. Sure, some were Deists. Big deal. But to try to say that most were atheists and agnostics, making excuses around the clear words of the founders, is “progressiveness” at its most desperate and absurd.

    A bit more about George Washington is here: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-wall/wal-g011.html

  6. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 22,2010 6:52 PM

    @ Mike, Jeremy, & bondChristian – Sorry to be so slow catching on, and thanks for the correction! I have now updated the wording.

    @ Stormbringer – Well stated, sir.

  7. Reply bondChristian Mar 23,2010 3:45 PM

    You’re welcome, Nate. I hope I didn’t sound mean or anything there… I didn’t mean to just be critical. I know I always like to hear from readers on how I can improve my posts. Next time, I’ll try to remember to use the contact form instead… that might have been a little more tactful.

    Great post overall.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  8. Reply Jeremy Mar 23,2010 3:56 PM

    I figured it was just a language error.

    I agree that there was a strong presence of Christianity surrounding our founding fathers, but not nearly all of our founders were fundamental Christians. Thomas Paine, as you probably know, was anti-Christian, but is now regarded as an important founder of America. I am happy we have free religion, and that is thanks in part to our founders who were skeptical of a Christian state, since they had just emancipated themselves from the cruel Christian monarchy in England.

    Therefore I disagree that a person should be a Christian to be considered manly. That is absurd.

  9. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 23,2010 4:30 PM

    @ bondChristian – No worries! I am always glad for corrections! :)

    @ Jeremy – You bring up a very interesting point: Must a manly man be Christian?

    To answer this question, we must first define our terms. Specifically, what is the meaning of manliness?

    As I explain in my upcoming manifesto, I believe that “manliness” is essentially the state of being a man who is following the principles explained in the Bible.

    Essentially, the conversation boils down to a discussion of this definition.

    To decide on the correct definition of manliness, we must determine our source of ultimate truth. As a Christian, my source of ultimate truth is unequivocally the Bible.

    Because of this, I must respectfully disagree with your statement that manliness is a secular virtue.

    Hopefully, my train of though is not to confusing (I have trouble writing this in less than 1,000 words).

    Thanks again for bringing up this important topic!

  10. Reply Jeremy Mar 26,2010 3:52 PM

    I do not think manliness is a secular virtue. lol
    So a Native American can go out and hunt for food, grow crops, raise children, treat people and things respectfully, but he’s not a man because he doesn’t read the Bible?

  11. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 26,2010 3:58 PM

    @ Jeremy – Being a “man” does not make a person “manly” anymore than being a “human” makes a person “humane”.

    In my opinion, manliness is the quality of being in agreement with the principles expressed in the Bible.

    Therefore, the person in your example could be manly to a certain extent even without reading the Bible or being a Christian, but he could never be completely manly.

    Thanks for your reply!

  12. Reply Mike Apr 13,2010 1:56 PM

    Speaking of definition. Carefull where you tread, a great deal of the founding father’s idea of ‘Jesus Christ,’ is not the same as we know today. Firstly, a great deal of them were unitarians, John Adams,Jefferson, Quincy Adams, Taft…
    It’s just as problematic to claim Christianity and deny the Trinity as it is to deny the Bible.
    They also were very dismissive about convictions in general

    As an example the rest of that Ben Franklin Quote is this
    As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.

    Doesn’t sound like a dedicated Christian to me…

  13. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 13,2010 3:40 PM

    @ Mike – I agree that Benjamin Franklin was probably a deist, as you will see if you read the section about him.

    As to the other founding fathers, the quotes contained on this page are sufficient to prove that most did believe in Jesus Christ. The “definition” of Jesus Christ (if you can “define” a person) is the same today as it was then. They believed in the God of the Bible, and the Bible has not changed.

    Please read the words of our founders more carefully before arguing about their beliefs.

  14. Reply Stormbringer Apr 13,2010 4:26 PM

    Having seen a recent discussion on the beliefs of the founding fathers, the claims of their being Deists are greatly exaggerated. A few letters are cited, and many more letters that they had written proclaiming their Christian beliefs, have been ignored.

  15. Reply Mike Apr 14,2010 11:29 AM

    Nate, I’m sorry but I must again disagree,

    A JW or Mormon both claim to ‘believe in Jesus Christ,’ the Bible says that even the demons believe and shudder. Just because a man claims to know Jesus is not enough to label him as such, in fact we have Jesus’ words, ‘many will say to me on that day Lord, Lord…’ I don’t need to belabor the point that I’m sure you already accept. My point is, whether they were diests or not, unitarianism is just as bad. You have to have the RIGHT Jesus, The Jesus which is fully God and fully man, who didn’t just die but came back to life and accended to the right hand of the Father, and now demands that all men, every where repent and believe in the Gospel. The Jesus of whom is said, there is no other name given among men by which you must be saved.

    You are divorcing their statements from the historical context of Liberalism and Rationalism. My particular fundimental convictions (and I suspect yours also) were a backlash at the rationalism and naturalism purpounded by Darwin, Decarte, Voltair and the like. These men, very much were men of the times. The puritain experiment had failed.

    Also the signing of the Declaration would have been, for a Christian, Sin. An act of sedition against the ruling authorities which are installed by God (Jn 19.11) is sin against God, (Rom 13.1,2).

    Finally, the church joined to the state in the fourth century with the conversion of Constantine. This was a BAD thing, it led to the watering down of the church, the superficiality of the congregation, the warping of theology and doctrine, and the further elevation of the bishops.

    The only Godly gov’t will be the gov’t of God, the Perfect monarchy ruled by the Perfect Monarch. The fact that the Founding Fathers held to traditional Christian morals is by far true, but they were hardly modern, fundimentalist, pre-milenial Christians.

    Regardless of their Dogma, the morals upon which they wrote and believed provides a firm foundation for the ground you’re trying to protect by claiming they were orthodox. Btw, I’m not ruling out that some were orthodox, only ephasising the truth of the matter, MANY were unorthodox.

    Grace and Peace,
    Mike

  16. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 17,2010 2:32 PM

    Mike is right.

    The kind of “Christianity” that Jefferson and Franklin embraced is exactly the kind that J. Adams irrefutably embraced and probably the kind that Washington and Madison embraced. They were the first tier “key” Founders and their definition of “Christianity” was not that of Mr. Desmond’s. For instance, here is John Adams on the Incarnation:

    “An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity.”

    — John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816:

    That’s the dynamic that Nate fails to understand.

    The other second tier Founders that Nate invokes probably were Christians (though B. Rush was an Arminian Universalist — that is someone who denied eternal damnation).

  17. Reply Stormbringer Apr 17,2010 7:26 PM

    And the *other* letters that are ignored? Antichristians love to do selective citing but ignore large amounts of evidence contrary to their claims. Much like the selective citing of the “wall of separation between church and state” that was in a private letter, but people have been duped into believing that it is a part of the US Constitution.

  18. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 18,2010 6:16 AM

    Well I for one don’t ignore anything. George Washington wrote thousands of personal letters on all sorts of things. Find me the letter where he discusses the specifics of his “Christianity.” I can find only one where he ever calls himself a “Christian,” and from the context it’s not all that clear that his Christianity differs from Jefferson’s, Franklin’s or Adams’.

    Whenever GW discusses and praises Christianity in the abstract, it’s invariable in the context of viewing it as a works oriented faith; that is equating Christianity with character or being good people.

    That was TJ, BF and JA’s understanding: All good people are Christians; men are saved through works not grace.

  19. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 18,2010 6:43 AM

    FYI: You can download the BF Morris book for free at google books b/c it was written in the 19th Cen. and the copyright to the original has expired.

    It might not be bad for a book written in the 19th Cen., but it’s riddled with errors that have since been discovered.

    The Christian Answers like on GW that Stormbringer linked to also has problems. The first paragraph baldly asserts that GW’s contemporaries didn’t doubt his “Christian faith.” Well some of them did and some of them didn’t.

    You’ve got to read everything to get the whole picture, not cherry picked quotes from one side that tries to make a man out to be how you want him to be.

  20. Reply Stormbringer Apr 18,2010 9:31 AM

    So it comes down to sneering and veiled personal attacks? Why are you so desperate to be right in your assertions? I suppose it’s in my best interest to take YOUR word for what you claim and discard all that I have learned, and humble myself in your presence.

  21. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 18,2010 11:04 AM

    What are you talking about? Where have I sneered or made personal attacks?

    As to “my word” — I give you much more than that. You can look at the research I’ve compiled over the years on my blogs which has been scrutinized by folks (many of them friends) critical of any assertion I make.

    I have also published actual in print articles in scholarly places. I can also point you to media appearances I have made.

    So yes I am a recognized authority on the matter.

    What I’d rather do is answer specific questions about claims of mine with which you have problems. For instance, I do understand that some/many of GW’s contemporaries thought him a Christian; but I also can point you to contemporaries of his who didn’t think he was a Christian, or at least not a “real Christian.” One of them happened to be his own minister!

  22. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 18,2010 12:03 PM

    Also Nate, your John Adams quote is missing an ellipse. It actually reads:

    “I have examined all religions, as well as my narrow sphere, my straightened means, and my busy life, would allow; and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”

    It also helps to read the entire letter for the context. Adams is not saying he believes the Bible inerrant, infallible (because he didn’t) or that Christianity is the only way to God (ditto). Rather, in that very letter, he claims all religions are valid ways to God, that his “philosophy” that is the result of reason, not the Bible, is the ultimate trumping Truth, and that the Bible is his favorite book because it largely agrees with him and his philosophy.

    He also notes there are parts of the Bible that don’t agree with his philosophy. Adams was someone who believed the biblical canon contained “interpolations.” Thus, the Bible was errant.

  23. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 19,2010 7:52 AM

    @ Jon Rowe – I have two points to make relating to this discussion.

    1. Where is your evidence?

    You mention reams of evidence but have hitherto failed to provide a single piece of evidence showing that George Washington was not a Christian.

    I have provided two (at the beginning of this article) showing that he was most likely.

    2. We are losing track of the forest by focusing on a tree.

    My contention is that the founders in general were Christians, so zooming in on one founder is not relevant.

    Even if George Washington was not a Christian (and I think he was), that would not mean that the founders were not primarily Christians.

    By the way, have you ever read Age of Revelation by Elias Boudinot (one of the founders)? It is a well-written counter to Thomas Paine’s blasphemous Age of Reason.

  24. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 19,2010 9:09 AM

    Okay Nate. Ye ask and ye shall receive. Here are two pieces of evidence from GW’s contemporaries that suggest he was not a Christian.

    The first is from Thomas Jefferson relaying an eyewitness account from G. Morris and B. Rush:

    “Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they thot they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion.

    “I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.”

    http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1734

    The second is from Washington’s own minister, Rev. James Abercrombie reacting to GW’s systematic refusal to take communion in church:

    “With respect to the enquiry you make, I can only state the following facts; that as the Pastor of the Episcopal Church (an humble assistant minister to its Rector, the Rt. Rev. Dr. White) observing that on Sacrament Sundays, Gen’l Washington, immediately after the Desk and Pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation, always leaving Mrs. Washington with the communicants, she invariably being one, I considered it my duty, in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations, who invariably turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President, and, as such, he received it. A few days after, in conversation with, I believe, a Senator of the U. S., he told me he had dined the day before with the President, who, in the course of conversation at the table, said, that on the preceding Sunday, he had received a very just reproof from the pulpit, for always leaving the church before the administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candour; that he had never considered the influence of his example; that he would never again give cause for the repetition of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly, he afterwards never came on the morning of Sacrament Sunday, tho’, at other times, a constant attendant in the morning. Of the assertion made by Dr. Wilson in the conclusion of a paragraph of your letter, I cannot say I have not the least recollection of such a conversation, but had I made use of the expression stated, it could not have extended farther than the expression of private individual opinion. That Washington was a professing Christian is evident from his regular attendance in our church; but, Sir, I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace. This, Sir, is all that I think it proper to state on paper. In a conversation, more latitude being allowed, more light might, perhaps, be thrown upon it. I trust, however, Sir, you will not introduce my name in print.

    I am, Sir,
    Yrs.
    James Abercrombie”

    http://tinyurl.com/cd8gbp

    As to “they were ‘Christians'” or GW was a “Christian.” It depends on what the term means. I think GW, JA, TJ, BF all understood themselves to be “Christians” in some broad identificatory sense. But if it means such things as accepting the Trinity, Resurrection, infallibility of the Bible, then no GW was probably not a Christian and TJ, JA and BF without question were not “Christians” even though they oft-presented their theology as “Christian” not Deism.

    As far as the Founders as a whole, they were a mixed bag theologically.

  25. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 19,2010 9:14 AM

    Yes, I have read parts of “The Age of Revelation.” Boudinat was an orthodox Christian. I mentioned Boudinat as a non-key Founding Father in this review here (scroll down to the 7th):

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/02/005-briefly-noted-23

  26. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 21,2010 7:56 AM

    @ Jon Rowe

    Before I begin my response to your last comments, let me make two things clear:

    1. I (like all humans) cannot know the heart of a man and, therefore, cannot ultimately judge whether a man is Christian or not. If a man claims to be a Christian, I accept his claim in good faith unless or until something clearly shows that he his not.

    2. My claim is not that some particular founder is Christian. Although I do think that George Washington was most likely a Christian, I could be wrong. My real assertion is that the majority of our founding fathers were Christians. That is proven by the quotes provided in this article.

    Now, to respond to your quotes:

    Quote One:
    I agree that this does seem to show that George Washington quite possibly was not a Christian. However, we must remember that this is a secondary source. Thomas Jefferson is recording an incident that Dr. Rush had told him about. Could not facts be confused?
    Also, we must remember that Washington may have had other reasons for his strange behavior here. Perhaps he was not trying to hid a disbelief in the Bible but was acting this way from other (unwise) motives.
    While this quote is suggestive, it is certainly not conclusive… especially in the face of direct, primary quotes in which Washington espouses the Christian religion.

    Quote Two:
    This quote seems to communicate two facts:
    1. That George Washington, at a certain time, did not take communion.
    2. That the minister at that church thought Washington could not be a Christian because he had not taken communion.
    Based on this, you conclude that the minister was right.
    However, this conclusion is not as simple as it might at first seem. As I also pointed out with the last quote, we need to know his motives. I agree that the action seems ungodly, but we do not know why he took those steps. In addition, even if his motives are the worst possible, that does not prove Washington to be a non-Christian. Everyone sins, and that may simply have been one of Washington’s sins.
    The fact that Washington took the pastor’s rebuke seems to show that Washington was a Christian. His resulting action (not attending church on certain days) seems unwise but is a difficult choice.

    In short, neither of these quotes are conclusive. Although they are both suggestive that Washington may have not been Christian, the point is far from proven.

    So far in this discussion, I have provided a number of quotes directly from Washington’s mouth which, at the very least, prove his esteem for Christianity. To counter this primary evidence, you have provided secondary sources. While secondary sources can be useful, they are more prone to mistakes and cannot show the motives behind a man’s actions. Do you have any quotes by Washington himself?

  27. Reply Jon Rowe Apr 21,2010 8:57 AM

    I agree what I provided is not conclusive. With GW nothing is conclusive on either side; I’ve gone over the record in meticulous detail and and verify that.

    So I would note neither of the quotes you provided are conclusive.

    Quote two: GW is associating Christianity with “character.” It doesn’t prove that GW was a Christian himself (as you understand the term). In fact it seems consistent with Jefferson’s, J. Adams’ and Franklin’s understanding of “Christianity” which is that all good people are Christians and that men are saved through their good works, not grace.

    Quote one: This was not written by GW (one of his aides wrote it) but still was given under his imprimatur. The context is the Indians had already decided to become Christians and GW was approving of their decision.

    This is also the only place in GW’s 20,000 pages of recorded public and private words where the words “Jesus Christ” appear.

    GW could have had lots of reasons for approving the Indians conversion to Christianity other than the fact that GW was himself a believer and thought belief in Christianity was necessary for salvation.

    For instance, ever the practical man, GW thought this would help the Indians better assimilate into American society.

  28. Reply Mike Apr 21,2010 11:42 AM

    Nate, I’m sorry, but you cannot simultaniously dismiss evidence under the excuse that we cannot know the heart of a man and yet claim you feel GW a Xn because of his statements. Selective logic is a fallacy. No one is denying the validity of your quotes only asking, ‘What did they mean by Jesus Christ, Xn or like terms?’

    The reproof from GW’s minister is a huge blow to your claim, and although it is an argument from silence, given the LACK of any other mention of Jesus’ name, I have serious doubts to his being an Xn.

    Also, if the founding fathers were so dedicated, why exactly did they conviently leave off Jesus Christ from the constitution, or declaration? In it’s stead they chose an ambiguous term, ‘Nature’s God.’ As I said earlier, these men lived in the heyday of rationalism, and the church’s aclamation to it, Theological Liberalism, Unitarianism and Diesm. If they’re not explicitly defining terms or providing enough context to properly determine their meaning, we really have no right to assume they were extremely different than the majority.

    Really the “Christian America” you’re envisioning for the founding fathers is more a result of Revivalists and Camp meetings that came about in the next generation.

  29. Reply Stormbringer Apr 21,2010 11:49 AM

    Mike,

    I cannot let your deliberately antagonistic phrasing go unchallenged. If you want to make a point, kindly refrain from “Xn” and similar terms, as well as being downright condescending.

  30. Reply Mike Apr 22,2010 12:43 PM

    Stormbringer,

    I can hardly see how I said anything ‘deliberately antagonistic.’ However since it apparently came off that way, I apologize.

    I don’t know that I understand the issue with Xn as an abreviation, but if it’ll make you happier I’ll gladly type out Christian.

    Finally considering your statements on this thread have yet to offer anything other than critical biting comments about other comments. And antagonistic, hyperbolic statements, I would warn you of the verything you’re critical off, being ‘deliberately antagonistic.’

  31. Reply Stormbringer Apr 22,2010 1:26 PM

    Out of respect for what Nate is doing here, I will refrain from telling Mike what I really think of his wounded victim tone. Suffice to say, it’s an old game that I’ve seen hundreds of times.

  32. Reply Mike Apr 22,2010 1:58 PM

    Stormbringer,
    You have added nothing but strife to this discourse. I do not feel like a ‘wounded victim.’ I feel annoyed. So far you have used petty name-calling, to continually denigrate this conversation.
    You have hurled insults and accusations like…

    “antichristians”
    “selective citing”
    “sneering and veiled personal attacks”
    “deliberately antagonistic”
    “condescending”
    and now the latest…
    “wounded victim”

    Even my attempt to apologize for any accidental infringement upon your feelings or the feelings of others as well as accommodating myself to your preferred terminology have been met with jeers! If you wish to condemn people for a ‘condescending tone,’ you might attempt to use otherwise yourself, or, at the very least, accept apologies when they are given.

    Jim and Nate,
    Thank you for an interesting and stimulating conversation.
    Grace and Peace,
    Mike

  33. Reply Nate Desmond May 7,2010 12:11 PM

    Mike,

    I was just looking back through the comments, and realized that I had never answered your last comment. Here is my reply:

    “Nate, I’m sorry, but you cannot simultaniously dismiss evidence under the excuse that we cannot know the heart of a man and yet claim you feel GW a Xn because of his statements.”

    That is a twisting of my words. I said that we cannot know the heart of man and therefore we should take their words at face value. I was simply arguing that we ought to trust what the founders say they believe rather than claiming to read their hearts.

    “I have serious doubts to his being an Xn.”

    As I already stated, I am not arguing that G. Washington was a Christian (though I think it likely). Rather, I am arguing that the majority of our founders were Christians.

    “Also, if the founding fathers were so dedicated, why exactly did they conviently leave off Jesus Christ from the constitution, or declaration? In it’s stead they chose an ambiguous term, ‘Nature’s God.’”

    First, our founders wisely understood the importance of not institutionalizing religion. Because of this, they were careful to avoid citing any particular religion.

    Second, our government was formed on the principles of Christianity:

    “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Q. Adams

    “As I said earlier, these men lived in the heyday of rationalism…”

    That is an assumption and a false assumption at that. Paine himself (a complete anti-Christian) said that he was “marching through a Christian forest with an ax.” Even he recognized that America was generally a “Christian forest”.

    Thanks again for this useful discussion.

    God bless,
    Nate

  34. Reply Stormbringer Jul 4,2010 5:57 AM

    I thought of this discussion when I was researching and writing my latest article on the Christian origins of America. Although not exhaustive (it’s a Weblog post, not a doctoral dissertation, after all) it gives some clear indications of our true origins, and slaps down the lies of “progressives”. Plus links. If interested, it can be found at http://goo.gl/fb/85Tru

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