The Religious Liberalism
of the Founding Fathers
Nicholas F. Gier, University of Idaho, Moscow,
First published in Two Centuries of
Philosophy in America,
Peter Caws, ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell
Publishers, 1980), pp. 22-45.
Additions made to section on
John Adams, August, 2003
Additions made to George Washington, March & June, 2005
Major revisions and additions to Washington in February, 2011
It does me no injury for my neighbor to say
there are twenty
gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor
breaks my leg.
–Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on Virginia"
Among all our presidents from Washington
downward, not one
was a professor of religion, at least not of
more than Unitarianism.
–Bird Wilson, Episcopal Minister, October,
Many misconceptions abound concerning the relation of religious belief and the
American Revolution. Some view the birth of the American Republic as completely
compatible with the Christian religion and as the culminating event of Christian
history. While it is true that many conservative Christians were patriots–John
Jay, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and Samuel Adams to name a few–many
others openly supported the British cause. In other words, there were many
earnest Christians who saw the Revolution as contrary to God’s will. In his
"Tory Believers: Which Higher Loyalty?" Mark Noll has ably shown that "Tory
believers" were not merely confined to Anglicans, but also included Methodists,
Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.(1)
Using such arguments as Paul’s injunction "to be subject to principalities and
powers, to obey magistrates" (Titus 3:1), Christian loyalists claimed solid
support from Scripture in refusing to engage in a political revolution which
they thought would end in anarchy.
The other major figures of the American Revolution were not, contrary to popular
belief, religious conservatives. But many of today’s liberals go too far in
calling them atheists, agnostics, or even deists.(2)
George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine,
and Benjamin Franklin were religious liberals who were heavily influenced by the
new science and rational philosophy of the European Enlightenment. Although each
of these men was a believer in God, their religious philosophy as a whole went
contrary to the conventional religion of the day.
The term "deist"
is a common label attached to liberal religious thinkers of the eighteenth
century. The fact is, however, that with the exception of Paine, none of our
subjects called himself a deist in the sense of English or French deism, that
theological movement in Europe that is generally assumed to have started with
Herbert of Cherbury and ended with Voltaire. When referring to his own religious
views, Jefferson uses deism as the simple Latin homologue of theism. In the
letter to Benjamin Rush, Jefferson states that the Jews’ "system was deism; that
is, the belief in one only God."(3) He goes on to argue that Jesus "corrected
the deism of the Jews" by giving "juster notions of [God’s] attributes
and government" and by providing a superior ethics. In his famous correspondence
with Adams he refers favorably to the "deism taught us by Jesus of Nazareth."(4)
Standing in stark contrast were the continental deists (plus Paine), who would
have nothing to do with the Bible, Jesus, or his teachings.
In his autobiography Franklin relates that he was converted to deism at an early
age but later gave it up, mainly due to its inability to distinguish vice from
virtue. Franklin was a thoroughly practical philosopher and could not accept
what he claimed to be the empty "metaphysical reasoning" of the deists.(5)
Adams, although definitely a religious liberal, explicitly argues against the
views of Bolingbroke, Blount, and Voltaire. Of Bolingbroke he says that "his
religion is pompous folly; and his abuse of the Christian religion is as
superficial as it is impious."(6)
In 1704 Samuel Clarke, a staunch critic of deism, was able to delineate at least
four types: (1) deists who denied providence and claimed that God had no
relationship to the world except for its creation and predetermined laws; (2)
deists who denied providence in moral affairs but allowed it with regard to
natural events; (3) those who believed that God did have a role in human lives
but held no belief in an afterlife; and (4) those who believed in providence in
morals and nature and an afterlife.(7)
The most widespread notion about what deism is corresponds most closely to the
strict deism of (1). If this is true, then it would be inadvisable to call any
of our subjects deists, because the evidence places them squarely in category
(4). It is clear that the effects of the
American thought were mostly limited to a moderate phase in which Lockean
empiricism and Newtonian science were readily reconciled with some form of
liberal religion. If we are to call them deists, our subjects (except for Paine)
were "constructive" deists rather than "critical" deists, i.e., those who were
openly anti-Christian and anti-Bible.
All in all I
believe that the label "religious liberal" is a far better way of characterizing
the religious thought of these founding fathers. I am of course using the term
"liberal" in its original sense as derived from the Latin adjective liberalis,
which means "pertaining to a free person." Classical liberalism is the general
philosophy that opposed the authoritarian governments of eighteenth century
Europe. The leaders of both the American and French Revolutions represent the
first full embodiment of this liberalism. In the area of religion this
liberalism took the form of free and unconventional thought about God; and, as
we shall see, a rejection of most of the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. It
also meant an ethical view that was heavily influenced by European free-thinking
and which had a strong utilitarian bent. Our subjects definitely, preferred
reason and utility to revelation in deciding matters of religion and ethics.
liberalism of these founding fathers has four main characteristics. The first is
a belief in God, but not necessarily the God of orthodox Christianity. Among the
religious liberals I shall discuss, the concept of God ranged from the God of
Nature of Thomas Paine, through the impersonal Providence of Washington,
Jefferson, and Franklin, to the Biblical God of John Adams. Because their God
was unorthodox, some of these men were called "atheists." This of course was
totally undeserved and unfair.
One of the most predominant aspects of the liberal God was its impersonality and
indefinite attributes. Scriptural and doctrinal characterizations of God as a
person with specified attributes were rejected in favor of a concept of God
derived from human reason. Although firm in their insistence on the use of
reason in matters of religion, the liberals were also keenly aware of its
limits. The power of human reason does allow us to secure an argument for the
existence of God (usually the teleological argument), but it does not allow us
to speculate about his particular attributes. This quote from Paine is a good
example of the preceding point: "We can know God only through his works. We
cannot have a conception of any one attribute, but by following some principle
that leads to it. We have only a confused idea of his power, if we have not the
means of comprehending something of its immensity. We can have no idea of his
wisdom, but by knowing the order and manner in which it acts."(8)
contented themselves with a general notion of God’s justice, omniscience, and
omnipotence. Included in this doctrine of God is the distinction between
particular and general providence, a concept best expressed in the works of
Bolingbroke, who was thoroughly read by Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and perhaps
Washington. The doctrine of particular providence, that God was intimately
involved in caring for each individual in detail, seemed to threaten human
free-will. Seeing this danger to human autonomy, Bolingbroke proposed that God
lays out the general framework for human action but does not interfere at an
individual level. In our section on Washington we will find that the first
president definitely believed in this view.
characteristic of the liberal view was grounds for despair and rejection among
the orthodox. The liberals held a strict separation between Christian doctrine
and Christian ethics. Deemphasizing adherence to doctrine or creed, they held
the fundamental ethical principal that Christians as well as non-Christians
should accept one another and act virtuously. It is not mere affirmation of
dogma that makes a person religious; rather, it is a person’s ethical and moral
conduct. This led the liberals to the inevitable conclusion that it is possible
for an atheist to be moral.
None of the
liberals believed in the major doctrines of orthodox Christianity. As we will
see in subsequent sections, they rejected some or all of the following
doctrines: the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the Bible as
the literal word of God, predestination, Hell, Satan, and creatio ex nihilo.
The only doctrine, other than a belief in God, that they held was the
immortality of the soul and some sort of afterlife. Even with regard to the
latter, we find some curious variations on the traditional belief. In his most
sober moments, Jefferson, like Locke and Bolingbroke, decided that the question
of an afterlife of rewards and punishments could not be decided by reason alone.
On the face of it, it appeared to be an offense to God’s perfection and its only
possible value was to incite humans to do good deeds in this life.
Adams was much more traditional in his belief in another life but, surprisingly
enough, speculated that it would not be eternal. At the age of eighty Adams
stated: "I believe, too, in a future state of rewards and punishments, but not
eternal."(9) Franklin, arguing
from the conservation of matter (both Jefferson and he were thorough-going
materialists), firmly believed in an afterlife�one, however, not of bliss or
perfection but "with all the inconveniences human life is liable to. . . ."(10)
Paine’s view of the afterlife is perhaps the most peculiar: "My own opinion is,
that those whose lives have been spent in doing good and endeavoring to make
their fellow mortals happy. . . . will be happy hereafter; and that the very
wicked will meet with some punishment. But those who are neither good nor bad,
or are too insignificant for notice, will be dropped entirely." (11) For thinkers who were supposedly
conscious of the limits of reason, some of this speculation was definitely out
characteristic of a religious liberal is an unqualified affirmation of the
separation of church and state. Our founding fathers had fresh knowledge of the
disastrous effects of European governments which chose to dictate religious
belief and support one religion against others. Therefore the words "God" and
"Christianity" do not appear anywhere in the Constitution, primarily because of
the influence of these religious liberals at the Constitutional Convention of
1787. The Constitution (as amended) explicitly states that no office holder
shall submit to a religious test and that no church may receive any form of
support from the federal government.
The fourth characteristic which epitomizes religious liberalism is a fundamental
belief in religious liberty and religious tolerance. While it is true that many
early Americans were supportive of religious tolerance for the various forms of
Christianity, it was only our religious liberals, especially Franklin,
Jefferson, and Madison, who fought for and eventually attained full religious
freedom for atheists and non-Christian believers. According to our founding
fathers, America should be a country where peoples of all faiths, including
those who profess no religious belief, can live in peace and mutual benefit.
Full religious liberty means not only freedom of religion, but freedom from
religion. James Madison summed up this ideal in this apt motto: "Conscience is
the most sacred of all property."(12)
Franklin was a leading disciple of the European Enlightenment and America’s
first Renaissance man. He was a person of complete versatility, who made
original contributions in many areas of science and humanities. As to matters of
religion, Franklin was America’s first great liberal. Preferring to study on
Sundays, he seldom went to church. When he did attend, he was generally
disappointed, because, as he observed in his Autobiography, the preachers
seemed more intent upon making people good Calvinists than good citizens.
Franklin had doubts about orthodox Christianity very early in life. "I was
scarce fifteen," he states, "when, after doubting by turns of several points, as
I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of
Revelation itself."(13) He did not
accept the Trinity or the deity of Christ.(14)
He thought, like many religious liberals, that Jesus was a great moral teacher.
In a letter to Ezra Stiles Franklin makes this point quite
clearly: "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; though
it is a question I do not dogmatize upon. . . ."(14a)
He refused to believe the Calvinist doctrine of the depravity of humankind which
Jonathan Edwards had expressed so well as an "ineffable wickedness" and "an
abyss infinitely deeper than Hell." Franklin believed that humans were basically
good, albeit fallible, and that they could lead a good, moral life with the aid
of their own reason and with a minimum of divine intervention. What he found
most lacking in the sermons of the day was an emphasis on morality and good
deeds. For him a religious faith which was not productive of good works was
worthless. In a letter to Joseph Huey, he states: "I mean real good works, works
of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday keeping, sermon
reading or hearing, performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled
with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less
capable of pleasing the Deity."(15)
believe in God, whom he addressed in his modest prayers as "O powerful Goodness,
bountiful Father, merciful Guide." He argued that every person has a natural
inclination to acknowledge the "infinitive power and Creator of nature." The
worship of God should elevate one to "rational joy and pleasure" and to good
works. Franklin apparently includes the word "rational" here to distinguish his
view from more emotional forms of religion which stress God’s total grace and
humankind’s total helplessness. Franklin believed that this type of religion
tended to lead people away from the world and to become indifferent to what
otherworldliness of the creeds of his day was directly antithetical to
Franklin’s emphasis on the good, rational life here and now. If Franklin were
alive today, he would definitely be a "modernist" and a proponent of the "social
gospel," the belief that the role of religion is to transform the immediate
lives of all people, whatever their place in life and whatever their religion.
In his writings, Franklin displayed the ultimate in religious tolerance. He used
freely the term "God," but in his famous "Creed and Liturgy" there is no mention
of Jesus Christ. He felt that the division of religion into many competing
denominations was unfortunate. This state of affairs had divided people one
against the other and had prevented them from confronting the real challenges of
Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, there were clauses concerning religion to
which Franklin took strong exception. The document contained a general statement
of religious freedom and tolerance, but it was the specific qualifications for
office holders that angered Franklin. An official was compelled to "acknowledge
the being of God," and to affirm the following: "I do believe in one God, the
Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher
of the wicked; and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament
to be given by divine inspiration."(16)
Franklin lost this battle at the convention and had to be content with a
compromise over the status of Roman Catholics. At the
Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia Franklin proposed that the meetings
open with a prayer, but he was voted down by the delegates.
There is a famous dictum by Franklin that shows the real core of his religious
philosophy. It reads: "… Vicious actions are not hurtful because they are
forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful. …"(17)
This is a fundamental criticism of orthodox religion, be it Christian, Muslim,
or Jewish. A person obeys the laws of God, not merely because they are commanded
on authority alone, but because human reason sees the basic goodness and utility
in following those laws.
view on obedience to law is fundamental for the protection of human liberty, the
main theme of the American Revolution. The American Constitution, with its
provisions for a freely elected Congress and a system of checks and balances,
eliminates the rule of an absolute sovereign who would force compliance to laws
which were irrational and arbitrary. Franklin seems to imply the same for the
rule and law of God. God was not an absolute sovereign and did not create humans
so weak and so morally destitute that they would meekly submit to his arbitrary
choices (e.g., predestination). No, God created us free, autonomous, and
rational; and he made laws which are compatible with human reason. In the same
way that we tend to agree and comply with the laws of Congress, we should agree
and comply with the rational legislation of God. In fact, according to the
English philosopher John Locke, who strongly influenced our founding fathers,
the laws of the state should reflect the natural laws of God.
the great American Calvinist, often used thunder and lightning as an example of
God’s arbitrary use of power. The contrasting image is Franklin, rationalist and
scientist standing in a storm with a kite and a key on the string. Edwards’
world was an irrational one in which people found themselves unfree, dependent,
and humbled; but people were self-reliant, inquisitive, proud,
and eminently American in the
rational world of Ben Franklin.
Although not a
native American, Thomas Paine did more for the success of the American
Revolution than any other thinker. As Lafayette once said, "Free America without
Thomas Paine is unthinkable."(18) Practically every literate American read
Paine’s "Common Sense." The illiterate, among whom were many of Washington’s
soldiers, were indirectly inspired by it. Paine was truly revolutionary
America’s vox populi.
A later book by
Paine, Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology,
was also widely read in America, but this time Americans, in an incredible
display of religious intolerance, turned against the great patriot. Paine
quickly realized that, contrary to his prediction, the revolution for complete
religious liberty and freedom of thought had not followed upon the heels of the
political revolution. Even a religious liberal like John Adams rejected him; the
sponsor for his return to America, Thomas Jefferson, shunned him out of
political expediency; and his own Quakers refused to bury him. Paine’s
reputation did not improve as Americans, who knew Age of Reason, looked
back in retrospect. Theodore Roosevelt called Paine "that dirty little atheist"
and provided this additional description: "There are infidels and infidels, but
Paine belonged to the variety … that apparently esteems a bladder of dirty
water as the proper weapon with which to assail Christianity."(19)
If one reads
Age of Reason, one must agree that Paine’s criticism of Christianity is not
a model of diplomatic scholarship. The tone of the book is aptly portrayed in
this statement concerning the virgin birth: "… Jesus Christ, begotten, they
say, by a ghost, whom they call holy, on the body of a woman, engaged in
marriage, and after married … a theory which, speaking for myself, I hesitate
not to disbelieve, and to say, is as fabulous and as false as God is true."(20)
Behind irreverent rhetoric like the above, there are some interesting and, for
some who read it, compelling points. First, Paine makes it clear that he is not
an atheist. In fact, he claims that his book is designed to counter the effects
of atheism. In his opinion, Christianity is founded on such poor arguments that
it, rather than subduing atheism, unwittingly promotes its spread in the world.
The first axiom of Paine’s theology is that there is God and his creation and
"no more."(21) What he meant by this
"no more" is this: no idolatry of the Bible as the Word of God, no deification
of Jesus the man and moral teacher, no miracles, no angels, no Hell, no original
sin, no Trinity and no Virgin Mary. All of these additions to the first axiom
are erroneous or mythical, and are actually detrimental to the cause of
Perhaps the most
interesting points that Paine makes are the objections he raises against the
concept of Revelation. Orthodox Christians take the entire Bible as pure
Revelation, a direct and immediate message from God. Paine observes, however,
that most of the Bible is straightforward historical fact or fancy that is not
of this character at all. When Revelation is purported to have occurred, as in
the case of Moses, God was speaking to one person and one person only.
Revelation is always in the first person and therefore it is, by legal
definition, only hearsay if the message goes beyond the single person.
For Paine true Revelation is nature itself. Human language cannot serve as God’s
medium; it is too fragile and inadequate. Nature, however, is "an ever-existing
original which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be
counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed.
It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it
publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all
nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is
necessary for man to know of God."(22)
The full implication of this theory is Paine’s declaration that the true
language of religion was the language of science. Paine sums up his religious
creed in this statement: "The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of
science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and
imitation. It is as if He said to the inhabitants of this globe, that we call
ours, ‘I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the
starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide
for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all, to be kind to each
other.’ "(23) Such was the new
gospel of the great patriot, Thomas Paine. But because of this new gospel, Paine
was vilified by a people whom he had helped to become free.
For major revisions and additions see
More myths have
been created about our first president than about any other American. Mason
Locke Weems, an Anglican minister, was the inventor of the notorious cherry tree
story and many of the tales pertaining to Washington’s religiosity. Professor
Paul Boller of the University of Massachusetts has laid to rest all of these
fabrications in his excellent book, George Washington and Religion. I am
indebted to his thorough research for some of the major points of this section.
not an intellectual but a man of action. He was not naturally given to deep
reflection or detailed analysis of thought or belief. While Adams and Jefferson
spent their last years reading philosophy and theology, and frequently writing
to each other about it, Washington retired to the country and occupied himself
with strictly non-intellectual pursuits. It was James Madison’s opinion that
Washington never "attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the
different systems of religion, [n]or in fact … [had he] formed definite
opinions on the subject."(24)
There is virtually no evidence in Washington’s writings to indicate a firm
commitment to the Christian religion. He always I has something positive to say
about religion in general. But there are a few remarks in his private
correspondence and diaries, which have a touch of cynicism. He once wrote in his
diary that he would have liked to have collected his rents on Sundays, but he
declined because the people living on his land were "apparently very religious."(25)
Writing to Lafayette with regard to religious toleration, he states: "Being no
bigot myself, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the
church with that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct,
plainest, easiest, and least liable to exception."(26)
It seems that the
only deep interest Washington had in the direction of religion was an enthusiasm
for freemasonry. He was a nominal Episcopalian who attended church irregularly
(ceasing after his retirement) and who never participated in Communion.
One account of him taking the sacrament from a Rev. Jones at
Morristown appears to be intertwined with the false claim that Washington prayed
at Valley Forge. While
president he was once openly criticized from the pulpit by his pastor, James
Abercrombie, for setting a poor example by not kneeling in
prayer and by not celebrating the Lord’s Supper.(27)
Two other ministers, Bishop White and the Rev. Bird, also
attested that they never saw Washington take Communion. After Washington
died, Abercrombie was asked what religion Washington professed and he declared
"Sir, Washington was a Deist."(27a)
Although Washington never refers to any specific readings in philosophy or
theology, his religious liberalism is clearly apparent in numerous references
made to the deity in his writings and speeches. In all of his voluminous writing
only once does he speak of Jesus Christ and this single incident, a speech to
the Delaware Indians, was most likely penned by an aide more orthodox than
Washington. On the manuscript of another speech to Indian leaders, we can
clearly see the word God crossed out and the phrase "the Great Spirit above" in
Washington never refers to a personal God, the most frequent appellation being
"Providence," one of the most impersonal terms for the divine. The doctrine of
general providence, outlined in the introduction, is clearly implied in many of
the passages interpreting historical events as divinely ordained. It is always
the patriots in general, not specific individuals, who are guided by God’s
There is a certain amount of fatalism also embodied in much of this
writing on God’s actions in the world. A God that gave specific responses to all
human petitioners would not be the God of reason or the creator of nature’s
inexorable laws. The general plan is somehow set and it would be irrational for
God to change it. This view does not appear to change throughout Washington’s
life. In 1776 he stated: "I will not lament or repine at any acts of Providence,
because I am in great measure a convert to Mr. Pope’s opinion that whatever is,
is right. . . ."(29); and in 1797 he
still agreed: "But [it] is not for man to scan the wisdom of providence. The
best he can do is to submit to its decrees. Reason, Religion, and Philosophy
teaches us to do this. . . . "(30)
Dr. Benjamin Rush, medical scientist and friend of Franklin, reported to Thomas
Jefferson that upon leaving office Washington met with a group of clergy who
submitted a number of questions for Washington to answer. Since he had never
made any public affirmation of Christianity, one of their questions was whether
or not he was a Christian. Washington very kindly answered all of the questions
except that crucial one.(31)
Here is another account by Anglican Bishop William White
presumably of the same meeting: "Within a few days of his leaving the
presidential chair, our vestry waited on him with an address prepared and
delivered by me. In his answer he was pleased to express himself gratified
by what he heard from our pulpit; but there was nothing that committed him
relatively to religious theory."(31a)
that Washington showed for all Christian denominations was another sign of his
religious liberalism. There is the famous incident when Washington prevented his
soldiers from burning the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day. When once looking
for new servants, Washington emphasized that any good workmen would be
acceptable, be they "Mohametans, Jews, Christians of any sect, or. . .
Washington firmly believed in the separation of church and state. Probably the
most striking and controversial expression of this principle, in which
Washington played a part, appears in the Treaty of Tripoli. Article Eleven of
this treaty begins: "As the government of the United States is not in any sense
founded on the Christian religion. . . ." (33) Later on, in times of religious
emotionalism, this article raised many eyebrows among the orthodox. But in 1796,
a time of religious rationalism, President Washington approved it
(34), and the treaty
was ratified, with no recorded debate, by the Senate
on June 7, 1797. President
Adams signed it on June 10, 1797 and it was first published in the Session Laws
of the Fifth Congress, first session in 1797.
In a recent biography of Washington Joseph J. Ellis
describes the scene at Washington’s death: "There were no ministers in the room,
no prayers uttered, no Christian rituals offering the solace of everlasting
life. . . . The historical evidence suggests that Washington did not think much
about heaven or angels; the only place he knew his body was going was into the
ground, and as for his soul, its ultimate location was unknowable. He died
as a Roman Stoic rather than a Christian saint." (34a)
All in all, the
evidence shows that George Washington was a religious liberal who believed in
God as impersonal Providence. He probably did not believe in any of the
doctrines of Christian orthodoxy. As Paul Boller concludes, "If Washington was a
Christian, he was surely a Protestant of the most liberal per suasion."(35)
In a famous sermon delivered in 1831, Bird Wilson declared that Washington was
no more than a Unitarian.(36)
An alleged incident at Valley Forge was a vision in
which Washington was visited by an angel, addressing him as "Son of the
Republic," who offered prophecies of greatness for the new nation. Some of the
websites that show this document indicate the Library of Congress as the source,
but it was originally published
in 1880 by Wesley Bradshaw in the National Review.
the article Bradshaw admits that the source was not Washington’s own writings,
but his grandmother
Worthington C. Ford and Rupert Hughes have conclusively
proved that Washington’s so-called "Prayer Book" is a forgery.
Washington’s handwriting and spelling was known to be atrocious, but this
particular hand is elegant and spell perfect. The prayers also have a very
strong resemblance to the Episcopalian Book of Prayer.(36b) As final proof of
the hoax, the Smithsonian Institution rejected the book as genuine Washingtonian
During the early
1950’s, definitely an era of religious emotionalism, Congress passed without
debate a bill authorizing the construction of a "Capital Prayer Room." One of
the religious relics of this edifice is a stained-glass window portraying George
Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Paul Boller has shown
conclusively that the prayer incident at Valley Forge is "utterly without
foundation in fact."(37)
Furthermore, many people witnessed the fact that Washington, in contrast to most
American worshippers of the time (including Martha Washington), did not kneel
for prayer in church.(38)
It is clear from what we know of his character and philosophy that this
Congressional gesture, although made with the best of intentions, would have
been a great embarrassment to Washington. (The cherry tree story was bad
enough.) He was a very private person, especially in matters of religion, and he
would have been scandalized at the prospect of a state-supported prayer room
with his supplicating figure as the main attraction. There is an observation by
Washington’s adopted daughter which makes for a very appropriate conclusion: "He
was not one of those who act or pray ‘that they may be seen of men.’ He communed
with his God in secret."(39)
was one of the most outstanding minds in American history. He was a consummate
statesman and thinker. His intellectual prowess could have easily qualified him
for a professorship in classics, political science, philosophy, or theology.
Judging from the emphasis in his writings, it is conceivable that he might have
chosen theology and Biblical studies if he had followed an academic career. Paul
Blanshard, in God and Man in Washington, states that "although he was not
a church member, Jefferson was probably more interested in religion than any of
our other presidents."(40) It is
highly ironic then to find that Jefferson was criticized in the election of 1800
as "an atheist and leveler from Virginia." Again we find the religiously
orthodox completely unable to understand or to respect religious liberalism.
In 1787 Jefferson wrote a fatherly letter of advice to his nephew Peter Carr.
This provides a valuable insight into the critical method Jefferson himself
might have used to come to his own views on religion. The first and principal
rule concerns the role of reason: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to
her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the
existence of God."(41) The second
rule concerns the Bible and follows from the first rule. Using reason, one
should examine the Bible critically. If one considers it a human creation, it
will then contain both truth and error. For example, the critical eye will come
across events that seem contrary to nature’s laws. Reason, says Jefferson, will
exclude those as myth.
out of this critical investigation with a belief in God intact, but with a
disbelief in most, if not all, Christian doctrine. He did not believe that Jesus
was God; Jesus claimed only "human excellence." He did not believe in the virgin
birth or the Trinity. Jefferson found the Trinity especially unintelligible. In
a letter to James Smith in 1822 he states: "The Athanasian paradox that one
is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no
candid man can say he has any idea of it. . . ."(42)
He tells Smith to keep this rejection of the Trinity confidential, so that his
reputation would not be further defamed by those who thought that strict
compliance to Christian doctrine was the mark of a religious person.
Jefferson still claimed to be a "real" Christian, because he maintained that the
major emphasis of Jesus’ message was good deeds and not unintelligible creeds.
He still thought that Christianity was the best possible religion because of its
ethics and its celebration of the human mind. In a letter to Moses Robinson in
1801, he affirms: ". . . the Christian religion, when divested of the rags in
which they have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity
of its benevolent instructor, is a religion of all others most friendly to
liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind."(43)
Jefferson attempted to distill the "original purity and simplicity" of the
philosophy of Jesus in a book called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,
commonly known as the "Jeffersonian Bible." Jefferson selected those verses
which showed Jesus as a man and a great moral teacher. Carefully excised were
any verses that supported the traditional doctrines, Christ’s divinity, the
virgin birth, the Trinity, and Hell. These doctrines were the political
additions by priestly men who wished to increase the power of themselves and the
church. "The greatest enemies of the doctrines of Jesus," Jefferson wrote to
John Adams, "are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have
perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy, absolutely
incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words."(44)
After all, Jefferson might well have argued, it is not necessary to believe in
the divinity of Jesus in order to love one’s neighbor.
One of the greatest corruptors of the teachings of Jesus was, in Jefferson’s
opinion, John Calvin. In a letter to John Adams in 1823, he has nothing but
contempt for Calvin. Calvin was a "demon and malignant spirit," and he created a
religion of "demonism." After listing Calvin’s errors, e.g., God’s
predestination of the elect and the depravity of humans, he contends: "It would
be more pardonable to believe in no God at all, than to blaspheme Him by the
atrocious attributes of Calvin."(45)
In the election
of 1800, as I have noted above, Jefferson’s religious views were a major
campaign issue. Jefferson’s political opponents, the Federalists, tried to
discredit him because of his religious liberalism. Rumors were spread that
Jefferson would confiscate all the Bibles in the land and substitute his own
version. Alexander Hamilton suggested devious political means to block
Jefferson’s election in New York in order to prevent "an atheist in religion and
a fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of state." John Jay,
then governor of New York and a Federalist, fortunately rejected Hamilton’s
Jefferson’s opinion on prayer in public schools was very similar to the views of
our own liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Following the
principles of religious liberty which he and Madison had fought for, he
concluded that prayer in the schools should be strictly voluntary and there
should be a separate room for that purpose. Justice Douglas’ own proposal is
similar, but with the proviso that the worship facility be financed from non-tax
Jefferson believed in the separation of church and state so strongly that he and
Andrew Jackson are the only presidents who declined to make the traditional
presidential proclamation to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.(47)
Washington had started the tradition during his first term. He thought that the
proclamation was only a "recommendation"; therefore he had felt that he had not
violated the principle. Jefferson argued, however, that the state should not
officiate in anything religious, including a day of thanksgiving and prayer.
In many places in
his writings, Jefferson suggests that we judge a religion not on the basis of
its scripture or its doctrine, but on the ethical result of its practice. In a
letter to Miles King, Jefferson states: "I must ever believe that religion
substantially good which produces an honest life. … "(48) Jefferson’s
utilitarianism is not of the same theoretical purity as that of Bentham or Mill,
as he believed that God endowed all men with a moral sense of judging right from
wrong. But as Adrienne Koch has observed: "Jefferson held the theory of moral
sense in an unorthodox form, giving ground to historical change and social
‘refinement’ of our moral judgments."(49)
In true utilitarian style, Jefferson extols the "social advantages" of the
moral-sense theory. There are conceivably many exceptions to any moral rule and
when such "is wanting, we endeavor to supply the defect by education, by appeals
to reason and calculation … [e.g.] demonstrations by sound calculation that
honesty promotes interest in the long run."(50)
Koch concludes that, with some qualifications, Jefferson emerges as "a
full-fledged altruistic utilitarian."(51)
ultimate test for such a utilitarian would be the question: Can the atheist be
moral? In at least two passages in Jefferson’s writings the answer is clearly
affirmative. The first is found in the letter to Thomas Law cited above. Here
Jefferson respects the atheism and firmly defends the morality of the French
philosophes, Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condorcet, who "are known to
have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue then must have had some
other foundation than the love of God." The second reference is in the letter to
his nephew Peter Carr which was mentioned above. Jefferson quite frankly
suggests the possibility that the young Carr, using the critical method he
proposed, might become an atheist. The following is Jefferson’s advice: "If it
ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in
the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others
which it will procure you."(52)
This is a
statement of an ideal, the ideal of the most perfect religious tolerance. Such
supreme tolerance was only possible in the context of the natural religion of
the liberals and their clean divorce of ethics from religious doctrine.
Jefferson believed that this ought to be the goal of all American religious
life: that Americans have complete religious liberty, freedom from as well as of
religion. Jefferson soon discovered, even in his own personal experience, that
this ideal was far from being realized. He was to experience the aspersions cast
upon his character in the election of 1800, and the abuse to which his friend
Paine was subjected when he returned to America.
impression of our second president may lead us to conclude that he does not
belong with the religious liberals discussed in this essay. The Adams family had
a strong Calvinistic background, and John Adams was a regular churchgoer and
Bible reader. As a student at Harvard, Adams faithfully attended daily prayers
in the campus chapel. As an adult he regularly attended Sunday services,
sometimes three times in one day.
Adams� favorite texts
were the Bible and Cicero and he studied the Bible on Thursday through Sunday
mornings every week.
After seeing Franklin in action in Paris, Adams stated that
Franklin "has no religion … [and] all the atheists, deists, and libertines as
well as philosophers and ladies are in his train."(53) Furthermore, Adams
reacted violently to Paine’s Age of Reason and scolded him in person for
stating such "ridiculous" things about the Old Testament.
Although he would come to agree more and more with Jefferson
in later years, the younger Adams simply could not understand Jefferson�s
objection to federally approved fast day that came before the Continental
Congress in Philadelphia. Why, wrote Adams to Benjamin
Rush, was he making himself out to be �an enemy of Christianity�? (53a)
Adams held a firm belief in God and contended that such a belief was necessary
for morality. He also recognized the role of human reason in morality, but in
contrast to Jefferson and Franklin, he deemphasized human perfectibility through
reason alone. He believed in God’s providence and in miracles, and he thought
that the Bible contained "the most perfect philosophy, the most perfect
morality, and the most refined policy."(54)
Adams explicitly stated that the principles of the American Revolution were the
same as the general principles of Christianity.(55)
But this same Adams, on June 10, 1797,.signed
the Treaty of Tripoli with its notorious Article Eleven which began: "As the
Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian
Religion. . . ." Is this not a direct contradiction to the views expressed
above? If we understand clearly what Adams means by general Christian
principles, the contradiction dissolves. Like the religious liberals of his
time, Adams believed that the essential message of Jesus was ethical, not
doctrinal. Truth, justice, liberty, and brotherhood are the principles of
Christianity, and it is these which Adams felt coincided with the principles of
the American Revolution. The American Revolution was certainly not fought on the
basis of Christ’s divinity, the Trinity, or the Virgin Birth. Therefore, to
return to the Treaty of Tripoli, it would have been perfectly legitimate to
state that the U.S. government is founded on Christian principles of liberty and
justice, but not on the dogmas of orthodox religion.
disillusioned with his strictly Calvinist upbringing early on; and, as this
entry in his diary indicates, he began to loathe enduring
evangelical preachers: "… and Sundays are sacrificed ‘to the frigid
performances’ of disciples of ‘frigid John Calvin.’ "(56)
It is also apparent that some people around him sensed his dissatisfaction and
knew of his liberal views. In a diary entry of 1756, Adams (then 21) recounts a
discussion he had with a Major Greene about the divinity of Christ. Major
Greene’s argument left Adams completely unconvinced, as can be seen in his
marginal note: "Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity."(57)
Adams believed firmly in the first principle of religious liberalism: that
Christian morality is separate and distinct from Christian doctrine. Like
Jefferson, Adams was convinced that in the Bible one can find ethics only. As he
states: "Where do we find a precept in the Gospel for … Creeds, Confessions,
Oaths … and whole cartloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered
with in these days?"(58) Adams
was a solid intellectual and enjoyed exchanges with people like Benjamin Rush
and, later on, with Thomas Jefferson. He read the classics, philosophy, and
theology voraciously and initiated studies in the areas of the sociology of
religion and comparative religion. He thought that we should study the other
religions of the world thoroughly and accept these other views if they could
prove themselves in the court of reason and common sense.(59)
He concluded that anyone practicing Christian morality should be called a
Christian, even though that person may not believe in Christ’s deity or the
Trinity. In a letter to Jefferson in 1813, he puts it very simply: "Yet I
believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word."(60)
Adams felt so strongly about the importance of morality that he held that
virtue, not liberty, is the first principle of government.(61)
The responsible use of freedom cannot flourish without a foundation in morality.
Adams argued that human kindness stems from being good and doing right, rather
than simply doing what one pleases. Adams’ priority of virtue would not set well
with modern libertarians, who stress the right of people to do as they please as
long as they do not kill, assault, rob, or defraud. None of our founding fathers
would have agreed with this.
With the political wounds of the past healed,
the elder Jefferson and Adams discovered many points of agreement on religion. They both
ridiculed "frigid" John Calvin and expressed dismay at those who thought the
Trinity or the deity of Jesus to be intelligible propositions. Neither, however,
ever made any public statement about his unorthodox views.
At the age of eighty, Adams composed an elegant summary of his religious faith:
"My religion is founded on the love of God and my neighbor; on the hope of
pardon for my offenses; upon contrition; upon the duty as well as necessity of
supporting with patience the inevitable evils of life; in the duty of doing no
wrong, but all the good I can, to the creation of which I am but an
infinitesimal part . . . I believe, too, in a future state of rewards and
punishments, but not eternal."(62)
Our fourth president, along with Thomas Jefferson, did more than
any other American to promote the principles of complete religious liberty. The
problem of religious intolerance vexed Madison "the worst of anything whatever."
Madison believed that one owns one’s thoughts and conscience in the same way
that one owns private property. Following the philosophy of John Locke, our
founding fathers believed that by mixing labor with things, by making or buying,
a person has a natural right to hold those things as private property. Madison
concluded that the same holds for a person’s thoughts and opinions, be they
political, economic, or religious. As Madison stated in 1792: "As a man is said
to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in
his rights."(63) An American would
have the right to believe in a king, or to disbelieve in God. Madison seems to
imply that a person even has the right to hold the false belief that private
property is not a natural right.
constitutions of Revolutionary America contained many clauses that did not
conform to the Madison formula. Many states had provisions that discriminated
against Roman Catholics. Many states had "established" churches, that is, one
denomination that was state-supported. In the Franklin section we saw that
Pennsylvania required office-holders to be orthodox Christians. Similar
religious tests for officials were found in New Jersey, Delaware, North and
South Carolina.(64) In contrast, the federal Constitution (as amended) expressly
forbade the establishment of religion and the use of religious tests for
office-holders. Many states, however, continued with established churches and
In Virginia, where Madison and Jefferson were to make their great contribution,
the Episcopal Church was established. During 1744 Baptists and other sectarian
Christians were being persecuted and arrested. With regard to this situation,
Madison wrote: "That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages
among some; and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of
imps for such business. This vexes me the worst of anything whatever. There are
at this time in the adjacent county not less than five or six well-meaning men
in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments . . . . "(65)
Primarily because of the valiant efforts of Madison and Jefferson, the Episcopal
Church was gradually disestablished in Virginia. There were still efforts,
however, by some to get some state support for the teaching of the Christian
religion. In 1785 a bill was introduced to this effect and found supporters in
such men as Patrick Henry and John Marshall. Jefferson and Madison strongly
opposed it.(66) The bill would have
essentially reestablished Christianity in general as the religion of the state,
and thereby discriminated against Jews and other non-Christians. Madison and
Jefferson specifically objected to the wording that made Christ "the Holy Author
of our religion" because of the implicit exclusion of non-Christians.(67)
As a result of the vigorous debate on this bill, Madison composed in 1785 his
famous "Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments." In it he
states: "The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and
conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as
these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right." His
support of non-Christians and atheists is implicit but clear: "Whilst we assert
for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe the religion
which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to
those whose minds have not yet I yielded to the evidence which has convinced
presidency, Madison stood firm on his principles, including the principle of the
separation of church and state. Madison objected to state-supported chaplains in
Congress, and to the exemption of churches from taxation.(69) Both traditions
have persisted until the present despite Madison’s criticisms. Oddly enough.
President Madison did give official sanction to Thanksgiving Day, something
which President Jefferson declined to do. In February of 1811, Madison vetoed a
federal land grant to a Baptist church and a bill which would have established
an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia.(70) In each veto message there is
a stern reminder about the Constitution’s explicit provision that the "Congress
shall make no law respecting a religious establishment."
In his famous "Memorial and Remonstrance," Madison argues that the establishment
of Christianity "is a contradiction to the Christian religion itself; for every
page of it disavows dependence on the powers of this world: it is a
contradiction to fact; for it is known that this religion both existed and
flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every
opposition from them."(71)
Throughout history we have found that where politics and religion intermingle,
there has always been trouble. And both politics and religion have suffered
because of it. In a letter of July, 1822, Madison states that "such indeed is
the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the
parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against . . . religion
and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed
We have examined the religious views of six great Americans: the first four
presidents, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine. We should keep in mind the fact
that none of these thinkers could be called philosophers by any strict
definition of that term. They were philosophers in the broad sense of having a
love for ideas and an avid interest in the advances in reason and science. They
were highly eclectic, sometimes inconsistent, and unsystematic. Koch describes
Jefferson, probably the best thinker of the six, as "impatient with long
intellectual stocktaking" and making "no energetic attempt to resolve the
inconsistencies" of his ethical views.(73)
None of them begin to qualify in the area of conceptual analysis or systematic
metaphysics. But in the lives and works of these great Americans, we find some
of the finest expressions of religious tolerance, love of reason, and adherence
to principle. As we enter America’s third century, let us keep in mind Madison’s
motto that "conscience is the most sacred of all property;" and that all
Americans, regardless of political or religious persuasion, should be entitled,
in Jefferson’s words, to "the comfort and pleasantness … and the love of
others" which the free exercise of conscience will procure for them.
1. Christianity Today, July 2, 1976.
2. See for example Edward Sorel’s cartoon in The Village
Voice, December 29, 1975. Sorel’s protagonist is addressing Billy Graham
with the following words: "Er … I’m afraid I have … er … some disturbing
news for you. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Payne [sic] and most of the other
signers were either deists, agnostics, or … atheists. Which explains, of
course, why we didn’t find any mention of God in the Declaration [sic] or
3. To Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803.
4. To John Adams, May 5, 1817.
5. Carl Van Doren, ed., Benjamin Franklin’s
Autobiographical Writings (New York, Viking, 1945), pp. 257-8.
6. L. H. Bitterfeld, ed., The Diary and Autobiography of
John Adams (Cambridge, 1961), III, 264.
7. E. C. Mossier, "Deism," in The Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York, Macmillan, 1976), II, 327.
8. P.S. Finer, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine
(New York, Citadel, 1945), I, 601.
9. Charles Francis Adams, ed.. The Works of John Adams
(Boston, 1850-56), X, 170.
10. Van Doren, op. cit., p. 642.
11. Finer, op. cit., II, 893.
12. National Gazette, March 29, 1792.
13. Van Doren, op. cit., p. 257.
14. Ibid., p.784.
14. March 1,
1970, cited in Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: The Viking
Press, 1938), p. 777.
15. To Joseph Huey, June 6,
16. S. H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America
(New York, 1902), p.503.
17. Van Doren, op. cit., p. 632.
18. Quoted in E. S. Bates, American Faith (New York,
1940), p. 269.
19. Theodore Roosevelt, Governeur Morris (Cambridge,
1888), p. 289.
20. Finer, op. cit., I, 555.
21. Ibid., p. 464.
22. Ibid., p. 483.
23. Ibid., p. 490.
24. Quoted in Paul F. Boller, Jr., George Washington and
Religion (Dallas, 1963), p. 89.
25. Quoted in P. L. Ford, George Washington
(Philadelphia, 1896), p. 79.
26. J. C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George
Washington (Washington, 1939), XII, 162.
27. W. F. Woodward, George Washington: The Image and the
Man (New York, 1926), p. 144. See also Boller, op. cit., pp. 33-34.
27a. Cited in
Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents (1936),
chap. 1, found at
accessed July 16, 2006.
28. Boller, op. cit., pp. 68-9.
29. To Joseph Reed, March 7, 1776.
30. To Henry Knox, March 2, 1797.
31. See Boller, op. cit., pp. 80-86.
31a. Bird Wilson,
Memoir of Bishop White (C. H. Kay &
pp. 189-191; Jared Sparks, A Life of Washington (New
York: Perkins Book Co., 1902), vol. 2, p. 359.
32. To Tench Tilghman, March 24, 1784.
33. Hunter Miller, ed.. Treaties and other International
Acts of the United States of America (Washington, D.C., 1931), II, 349-385.
The full text of Article Eleven is the following: "As the Government of the
United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion;
as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or
tranquility of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war
or act of hostility any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no
pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of
the harmony existing between the two countries."
There are some intriguing facts concerning this clause. The
English translation was made by Joel Barlow, the American negotiator and
signator, and has been taken as the official translation of the Arabic original.
But here lies the rub. As Hunter Miller states: ‘The most extraordinary (and
wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article Eleven of the Barlow translation,
with its famous phrase … does not exist at all [i.e., in the Arabic version]"
(p. 384). Miller observes that there is no evidence at all in the diplomatic
correspondence of the time that gives a clue about the reason for this clause in
the English translation.
The initial and distinct impression the English version gives
is that the Muslim leaders demanded such a strong statement of principle as a
major concession by the U.S. (One could not have even imagined demanding the
same from the theocratic ideologues of Tripoli. In the Arabic version each and
every article begins with a praise to Allah!) But the Arabic version does not
read like a concession at all. The Arabic that Barlow apparently made into
Article Eleven is appended at the end of Article Ten in the Arabic version. All
that is stated here is a principle of general religious tolerance: that
Christians should respect Muslims when in America and vice versa. There is
nothing at all in the Arabic to support Barlow’s strong statement. The solution
to this problem, I believe, lies in the motives of Barlow himself, not in those
of the Muslim theocrats. It is clear that Barlow’s translation, which was
ratified by the Senate, gave the Muslims more than they actually bargained for.
Barlow was a good friend of Thomas Paine and a religious
liberal himself. In the preface to the second part of Age of Reason, Paine
relates that he entrusted the original MS. of the book to Barlow for
safe-keeping. (Paine was in a French prison at the time.) This is a strong
indication that Barlow and Paine were in basic agreement about religion, perhaps
including Paine’s strong anti-Christian sentiments. It is only conjecture, but
did Barlow believe so strongly in the separation of church and state that he
deliberately mistranslated the text of the Treaty of Tripoli? The mystery behind
this clause may never be solved. Regardless of Barlow’s motivations, there are
these events which remain indubitably clear: President Washington accepted the
draft of the treaty in Barlow’s form, the senate ratified it with no debate (at
least none has been recorded), and President Adams confirmed the Senate’s
ratification in June, 1797.
34. Charles and Mary Beard phrase Washington’s role a little
more forcefully by stating that President Washington "allowed it to be squarely
stated. …" The Beards, however, offer no documentation to support this point.
See their The Rise of American Civilization (New York, 1930), vol. 1, p.
J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (New York: Knopf, 2004),
cited in Garry Willis, "The Wise Warrior," New York Review of Books
(March 10, 2005), p. 16.
35. Boller, op. cit., p. 91. Boller also states: "On the other
hand, if to believe in the divinity of Christ and his atonement for the sins of
man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are requisites for
the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined,
can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense" (p. 90).
Boller also quotes from James Abercrombie, Washington’s pastor, who states that
"I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an
ordinance [i.e.. Communion] so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our
holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace" (ibid.).
36. Ibid., p. 15.
36a. The National Review 4:
12 (December, 1880).
For the complete text see
36b. See Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents
37. Ibid., p. 10.
38. Ford, op. cit., pp. 82-3.
39. Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of
Washington (Boston, 1837), XII, 406. Sparks’s editing and commentary are
considered inaccurate, unreliable, and even fraudulent by professional
historians today. Sparks was definitely building a pious monument and not
writing objective history. This comment by Washington’s daughter runs so much
against the utmost piety that Sparks attempts to instill in Washington that I
believe its credibility is thereby considerably strengthened.
40. Paul Blanshard, Man and God in
Washington (Boston, 1960), p. 35.
41. A. A. Limpscomb, ed., The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson (Washington, 1903). VI, 258.
42. Ibid., XV, 409.
43. Ibid., X, 237.
44. Ibid., XV, 430.
45. Ibid., XV, 425.
46. Blanshard, op. cit., p. 14.
47. Cushing Strout, The New Heavens and the
New Earth (New York, 1974), p. 97.
48. To Miles King, September 26, 1814.
49. Adrienne Koch, The Philosophy of Thomas
Jefferson (Chicago, Quadrangle, 1943), p. 18.
50. To Thomas Law, June 13, 1814.
51. Koch, op. cit., p. 29.
52. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,
53. Page Smith, John Adams (Westport,
Conn., 1962), I, 433.
in David McCullough, John Adams (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 2001),
54. Ibid., II, 1078.
55. To Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813.
56. L. H. Bitterfeld, ed., The Earliest
Diary of John Adams (Cambridge, 1966) p. 37.
57. L. H. Bitterfeld, ed., The Diary and
Autobiography of John Adams (Cambridge, 1961), I, 6
58. Ibid., p. 8.
59. Smith, op. cit., II, 1079.
60. To Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813.
61. The Works of John Adams, IV, 193-4.
62. Ibid., X, 170.
63. National Gazette, March 29, 1792.
This article and many more of the original Madison texts are included in Saul K.
Padover, ed., The Complete Madison (New York, 1953), p. 267.
64. See Cobb, op. cit., pp. 490-505.
65. Padover, op. cit., p. 298.
66. Cobb, op. at., p. 496.
67. Strout, op. cit., p. 88.
68. Padover, op. cit., pp. 300, 301.
69. Strout, op. cit., p. 97.
70. Padover, op. cit., pp. 307-8.
71. Ibid., p.302.
72. Ibid., p. 309.
73. Koch, op. cit., p. 14.