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Lesson 4: American Founding & Federal Era (1785-early 1800s)

While the Battle of Yorktown was the last major battle of the war, a peace treaty between the United States and England was not signed until September 3, 1783. Fighting had stopped, yet the new nation of America still faced many difficulties. A number of the problems that existed were due to weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, which was our national governing document from 1777-1789.

Some of the major weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation included:

  1. Congress had no power to raise money.
  2. Congress had no power to enforce any of its decisions.
  3. There was a lack of supreme authority to lead–that is, no executive.

As a consequence of these things, many times during the war the army lacked supplies and received no pay, which contributed to the troops suffering at Valley Forge and to some members of the military threatening a coup in 1783.

As time went on it became evident that something must be done to correct the flaws of the Articles of Confederation. While many were proposing amending the Articles, some men, such as James Madison, George Washington, and Noah Webster, felt we must draw up a whole new Constitution. When delegates from the various states met in the State House in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787, most of them were expecting to amend the Articles of Confederation. However, the Virginia delegates were prepared to propose a new form of government.

The Constitutional Convention, 1787

Washington, President of the Constitutional Convention, declared of the convention, “The event is in the hands of God.”

Thirteen years earlier, on July 4th, men sat in the very same room and put their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” on the line. The Pennsylvania State House would be renamed “Independence Hall” for that heroic act. Now, however, a different spirit prevailed among those delegates who had arrived in May. When they heard of the thorough reform proposed by Madison and Washington, hesitancy, fear, and doubt surfaced. Many of them believed that half-measures would be far more acceptable in the eyes of the people–any change this complete was sure to fail.

George Washington rose and addressed the Convention in a brief but immortal speech. He agreed that it was “too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted.” If so, then he believed that it was entirely possible that they would have to endure another dreadful war. But, he continued, “If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work?”[1]

Washington then concluded by urging them to “raise a standard” of the best government they could devise and then trust in this fact: “THE EVENT IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD!”[2] This lofty statement by Washington was crucial during the first ten days of the Convention.

The Framers of the Constitution declared that the forming of that document was a miracle of God. Writing to Thomas Jefferson just a few weeks after the Convention, Constitution signer James Madison said: “It is impossible to conceive the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed, as less than a miracle.”[3] Later Madison wrote: “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitutional Convention] a finger of that Almighty hand”[4] Even the non-Christian Benjamin Franklin wrote:

Our General Convention … when it formed the new Federal Constitution, [was] … influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent and beneficent Ruler in Whom all…live, and move, and have their being.[5]

Perhaps the greatest affirmation of this came from the most influential of all the framers of the Constitution–George Washington. In a letter to his good friend, Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, he wrote that the “adoption of the proposed general government” disposed him to be of the opinion “that miracles have not ceased.” For, he said, one could “trace the finger of Providence through those dark and mysterious events, which first induced the states to appoint a general Convention and then led them one after another…into an adoption of the system recommended by that general Convention.”[6]

Benjamin Franklin

On June 28, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was on the verge of complete rupture. For over a month, the delegates wrestled with the issue of representation with no breakthroughs, and now patience was wearing thin, emotions were on edge. A somber George Washington, presiding over this assembly, began to despair of seeing success in the Convention. However, the oldest delegate in attendance, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, asked for permission to speak. This was unusual because infirmities made it very difficult for the 81-year-old Pennsylvanian to speak. On previous occasions when he addressed the convention he wrote out his remarks and had someone else read them. But this time he was stirred to rise and address the delegates himself:

The small progress we have made after four or five weeks…with each other…is a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding….In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?

In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending Providence in our favor….Have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it (Psalm 127:1).” I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.

I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning…and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.[7]

A delegate from New Jersey, Mr. Jonathan Dayton, wrote:

The doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of Washington at the close of the address; nor were the members of the convention generally less affected. The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in the Roman Senate.[8]

Mr. Sherman seconded the motion for prayer, and it was carried with only one negative, but then Mr. Williamson of North Carolina pointed out that they had no funds to pay the salary of a full-time chaplain. This part of Franklin’s motion, therefore, failed, but Mr. Randolph then proposed that they obtain clergy who would volunteer their time as much as possible to lead in prayer, and especially “that a sermon be preached, at the request of the convention, on the Fourth of July, the anniversary of Independence.”[9] They apparently were successful in obtaining clergymen to volunteer on some of the mornings, for Mr. Dayton referred to one opening the session on the first day after the three-day recess.

Franklin’s proposal produced the desired result. After the recess, the atmosphere of the convention changed, and Dayton noted, “every unfriendly feeling had been expelled; and a spirit of conciliation had been cultivated,”[10] which enabled the delegates to reach a solution on the issue of representation as well as other matters. The compromises they reached, though not perfect, produced the best form of government ever devised by man. The U. S. Constitution has proven to be the most valuable civil document for the advancement of liberty in history.[11]

Washington wrote that he did not approve of everything in the Constitution, but “in the aggregate it is the best constitution, that can be obtained at this epoch.”[12] The only other choice was dissolution of the union. Though the final document was not perfect, Washington observed, “It appears to me little short of a miracle” that the delegates, who represented such differences in manners and circumstances, “should unite in forming a system of national government, so little liable to well-founded objections.”[13] He later wrote that the American system of government is “in my opinion the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man.”[14]

The Constitution was signed by all but three of the delegates present on September 17, 1787, and sent to the states for ratification. The debates of the various state conventions would be heated and, in many states, the votes close, but before the end of the summer of 1788, nine states had ratified the Constitution, which was enough for it to officially go into effect. Washington’s name on the document provided much weight in the minds of the people as the states considered its approval.

The nation as a whole distrusted any national centralization of power. The Anti-Federalists emphasized the fallen, carnal nature of man and fought against a national union under the Constitution. The Federalists on the other hand, acknowledging the sinful nature of man, emphasized the importance of Christian character, virtue, and morality in the rulers of a nation that delegated certain limited powers under the Constitution. More wisdom, trust, and love is required when power is granted beyond the state level. In the Constitution’s delicate balance between unity and diversity, the nation and the state can only be preserved by virtuous and knowledgeable representatives elected by virtuous and knowledgeable citizens.

The struggle between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists was intense. Although the Federalist perspective prevailed in the ratification of the Constitution, many of the Anti-Federalist positions were established in the passage of the Bill of Rights. This brought a balance of both Christian perspectives. George Washington wrote:

I doubt whether the opposition to the Constitution will not ultimately be productive of more good than evil….They have given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner, as cannot fail to make a lasting impression.[15]

Within one month of Washington’s statement five states ratified the Constitution, and six more followed within six more months. Over fifty clergy from various denominations were prominent in the state ratifying conventions, but they were especially numerous in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. In Massachusetts, twenty clergy served as delegates in their state convention and one of them urged ratification on the grounds that this “union” was the rock of their national “salvation.” The support of these clergymen was crucial, since the Massachusetts convention ratified the Constitution by only nineteen votes (187 to 168). In Connecticut, Rev. William Samuel Johnson preached to his state’s convention that the one harmonious system of government that came out of Philadelphia was a sign of God’s hand. In South Carolina, celebration broke out when the ratification vote was announced to the state delegates. When order was restored the elderly statesman Christopher Gadsden said that he would probably not live long enough to see the happy results, but declared: “I shall say with good old Simeon [when he saw the Christ child brought into the Temple], ‘Lord, now let Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen the salvation of my country.’”[16]

Just prior to the official ratification of the Constitution by the ninth state, New Hampshire, George Washington summed up the whole era by again referring to the hand of God:

Should everything proceed as we anticipate, it will be so much beyond anything we had a right to imagine or expect 18 months ago that it will demonstrate the finger of Providence in human affairs greater than any event in history.[17]

The First Inauguration, 1789

Washington took the Presidential oath of office with his hand on the Bible.

By the first of 1789, twelve states had ratified the document and elections were held to select the first members of Congress. In March, electors from the states unanimously chose George Washington as the first President. Everyone knew he would be selected. In fact, there may not have been anyone in the States who opposed this choice.[18] Other candidates would have opposition, potentially threatening the new union. Washington was the only man who would be able to unify the American people at this critical time.

The day Washington took the oath of office, April 30, began with religious services in all the churches in the city. In the early afternoon, on the balcony at Federal Hall, he took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution, his hand on the Bible, added “so help me God,”[19] and then delivered his Inaugural Address, forty percent of which was religious in nature. Following this, as resolved the day before by Congress, Washington and members of Congress went to St. Paul’s Chapel “to hear Divine service performed by the chaplains.”[20]

In his Inaugural address Washington stated:

It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, [and] Who presides in the councils of nations…. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency….We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.[21]

Public acknowledgement and adoration of God was universally affirmed and practiced by every aspect of our government in its early years. Our Founders considered this an indispensable element to the success of our form of government. It was “the Spirit of the Constitution.” All three branches of the government, both at the national and state level, emphasized its importance.

Christianity and the Congress

The first Congress under the Constitution proposed a Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789. Foremost of these rights was the freedom of religion in the First Amendment. On that very same day, Congress also passed the Northwest Ordinance which said that, “civil and religious liberty…form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions, are erected” and that, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”[22] Also, on that same day, Congress passed a resolution for a National Day of Prayer. The Journals of Congress record that:

Mr. Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving on any signal event, not only as a laudable one in itself but as warranted by precedents in Holy Writ: for instance, the solemn thanksgiving and rejoicing which took place in the time of Solomon after the building of the temple was a case in point. This example he thought worthy of imitation on the present occasion.[23]

This resolution was unanimously adopted, and President Washington issued a proclamation for the people of the United States to thank “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations” for enabling us “to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted.” He said it is “the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”[24]

Our Congress and Presidents have fulfilled this duty over 200 times in our nation’s history under the Constitution. The Continental Congress had already established official days of fasting and prayer on the national level beginning in 1775 (see Lesson 3). These proclamations were not bland, deistic documents. They were explicitly Christian. For example, on November 1, 1777, Congress called for a national day of thanksgiving and prayer for the victory at Saratoga. In this, the people of the United States were urged to ask “Jesus Christ mercifully to forgive and blot out (our sins)” and “to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Three years later on October 18, 1780, Congress again called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer for the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s treasonous plot. Again the people were urged to ask God “to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.”

In 1782, Congress acted the role of a Bible society by officially approving the printing and distribution of the “Bible of the Revolution,” an American translation prepared by Robert Aitken. In the same year that the Constitution was framed, 1787, Congress urged the people to thank God for providing us “the light of Gospel truth” and to ask Him to “raise up from among our youth–men eminent for virtue, learning, and piety, to His service in the Church and State; to cause virtue and true religion to flourish;…and to fill the world with His glory.” [25]

Summarizing the role of faith in America, the House of Representatives passed a Resolution in 1854 proclaiming that “the great vital element in our system is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and Divine truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[26]

Christianity and the Courts

American courts have ruled that “this is a Christian nation.”

Both the Congress and the Supreme Court begin with prayer, even to this day. A crier proclaims these words each day when the Supreme Court officially opens: “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez,…God save the United States and this honorable court!” Over the head of the Chief Justices is a carved marble relief containing a tablet on which are the Roman Numerals I through X, representing the Ten Commandments, the foundation of our civil law. State and federal courts have recognized the Christian foundations of our law and government, including these rulings:

  • Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892): In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court declared “this is a Christian nation” and presented much historical evidence for this.[27]
  • Updegraph v. The Commonwealth (1824): Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled, “Christianity, general Christianity, is and always has been a part of the common law…; not Christianity with an established church…but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.”[28]
  • The People v. Ruggles (1811): In this decision delivered by Chief Justice James Kent, the Supreme Court of New York said “we are a Christian people and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions].”[29]
  • Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844): “It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law.”[30]
  • Runkel v. Winemiller (1799): the Supreme Court of Maryland ruled, “By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion.”[31]
  • City of Charleston v. Benjamin (1846): “Christianity is a part of the common law of the land.” “What constitutes the standard of good morals? Is it not Christianity? There certainly is none other….The day of moral virtue in which we live would, in an instant, if that standard were abolished, lapse into the dark and murky night of Pagan immorality.”[32]
  • Lindenmuller v. The People (1860): The Supreme Court of New York ruled, “All agreed that the Christian religion was engrafted upon the law and entitled to protection as the basis of our morals and the strength of our government.”[33]
  • Shover v. State (1850): the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled “the Christian religion…is recognized as constituting a part and parcel of the common law.”[34]

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Marshall spoke of the centrality of Christianity in America:

The American population is entirely Christian, & with us, Christianity & Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, & did not often refer to it, & exhibit relations with it.[35]

The Founding Fathers Emphasized Christian Faith and Morality

Virtue, learning, and piety are words that are found in many of our governmental documents and often emphasized in the writings of our Founders. Synonymous words–morality, knowledge, and Religion–are also used often, such as in the Northwest Ordinance. To our Founders, Religion meant Christianity, morality meant Christian character, and knowledge meant a Biblical worldview. These were consistently emphasized by our Founders as the indispensable foundations or supports of our system of government. They thought if these pillars of freedom were lost, then our nation would eventually collapse.

Moreover, the Founders’ believed that religion affects the form of government in a nation. In a general sense they saw Christianity as the only support for a free, self-governed, and happy society. John Adams said while President in 1798:

[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.[36]

In 1838 the Legislature of New York said:

Our Government depends for its being on the virtue of the people,–on that virtue that has its foundation in the morality of the Christian religion; and that religion is the common and prevailing faith of the people.[37]


George Washington said in 1783 that “without an humble imitation” of the “characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion…we can never hope to be a happy nation.”[38]


He wrote in 1797: “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”[39] In his Farewell Address in 1796, he wrote: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”[40]

James Madison wrote in 1825: “[T]he belief in a God all powerful, wise, and good, is…essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man.”[41] In his Memorial and Remonstrance, he said: “Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the universe.”[42]


Noah Webster wrote in his History of the United States: “[T]he genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.”[43]

Benjamin Rush wrote in 1806: “Christianity is the only true and perfect religion, and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obeys its precepts, they will be wise and happy.”[44]


The father of American Geography, Jedidiah Morse wrote: “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys.”[45]

The Constitution of New Hampshire of June 2, 1784, stated: “[M]orality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles, will give the best and greatest security to government, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to due subjection.”[46]


James McHenry, signer of the Constitution said: “The Holy Scriptures…can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions.”[47]

The Father of the American Revolution, Samuel Adams, said that to transform our nation the people must simply “study and practice the exalted virtues of the Christian system.” “While the people are virtuous,” he said, “they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader….


If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security.”[48] He also stated: “Religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness.”[49]

Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration, wrote: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”[50]

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1809:

The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in his discourses.[51]

He also maintained that “The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty;…student’s perusal of the Sacred Volume will make us better citizens.”[52]

In a book entitled American Political Writings during the Founding Era, Dr. Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman collected 76 of the most representative pamphlets and essays written by our Founders. In these 76 essays, virtue is emphasized as vital over 300 times.[53]

One Nation under God

Some modern jurists, academics, and others have presented the U.S. Constitution as a Godless document with no mention of Christianity. They say it requires a complete neutrality toward religion. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. First, the governmental ideas presented in this document were developed from the Christian culture of the preceding two centuries of American history. Second, the Constitution can only be accurately understood along with the Declaration of Independence, which explicitly refers to God many times. The Declaration is the covenant upon which our nation was founded and the Constitution is the by-laws expressing the framework of the government. Both of these are our founding charters. Also, as we will see below, both the power and form of the Constitution are Biblical. Its entire framework is built upon the Christian idea of man and government.

Moreover, the U.S. Constitution does establish us as a nation “under God” in a variety of ways. Article 6 deals with supremacy. In paragraph one it declares that the national government had supreme responsibility for debts. In paragraph two, it declares the Constitution to “be the supreme law of the land,” but then in paragraph three it declares God to be supreme over both our laws and our leaders: “all…officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath” taken, as had been the practice from the founding of the colonies, with their hand on a Bible.

The Founders defined an oath as “a solemn appeal to the Supreme Being, for the truth of what is said, by a person who believes in the existence of a Supreme Being and in a future state of rewards and punishments according to that form which will bind his conscience most.”[54] Oaths were a part of all the governments in early America and were rooted in the Bible, in particular the Third and Ninth Commandments. These early oaths were explicitly Christian. This is the context of the Constitutional requirement for the oath of office.[55]

The U.S. Constitution contains many Biblical ideas and principles.

Sol Bloom was appointed by Congress in the mid-1930s as the Chairman of the Sesquicentennial Commission of the Constitution. In his authorized book, The Story of the Constitution, Bloom asks the question: “Can an atheist become President of the United States?” Then he answers: “I maintain that the spirit of the Constitution forbids it. The Constitution prescribes an oath or affirmation which the President must take in order to qualify for his office. This oath or affirmation in its essence is a covenant with the people which the President pledges himself to keep with the help of Almighty God.”[56] Washington added “so help me God” when he took the oath in 1789 and every newly elected President after him did the same. In 1862, Congress added the words “so help me God” as part of the official oath.

The Constitution goes even further in its recognition of Christianity and Biblical law in Article 1, Section 7, Paragraph 2, where the President has “Sundays excepted” for deciding on legislation. A Senate Committee on the Judiciary commented on this provision in 1853:

In the law, Sunday is a ‘dies non;’ it cannot be used for the services of legal process, the return of writs, or other judicial purposes. The executive department, the public establishments, are all closed on Sundays; on that day neither House of Congress sits;…Here is a recognition by law, and by universal usage, not only of a Sabbath, but of the Christian Sabbath, in exclusion of the Jewish or Mahammedan Sabbath;…The recognition of the Christian Sabbath [by the Constitution] is complete and perfect.[57]

The final recognition of Christianity in the Constitution is found in the two-fold date employed by our Founders in Article 7: “in the year of our Lord 1787, and of the independence of the United States of America the 12th.” Our Founders dated this document in this way to deliberately recognize the two most significant sources of authority to our Constitution: the birth of Christ and the birth of Independence. In contradistinction, the leaders of the French Revolution initiated a new calendar, starting from the year of their revolution; they rejected Christ as the zenith of human history.

Christianity and the States

Within four years of declaring independence, all but two states had written new constitutions. In many of these documents, not only was an oath required of public officials but a religious test was also required. This test differed in each state according to the officially established denomination. Of the thirteen states, eight had favored one denomination above others and four had required affirmations of faith in Protestant Christianity in general. Only Rhode Island required no religious test whatsoever.

Delaware’s Constitution was non-denominational, yet emphatically Christian, as it required:

Everyone appointed to public office must say, ‘I do profess faith in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God and blessed forevermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by Divine inspiration.’[58]

New Hampshire’s Constitution was typical of the New England establishment of Congregationalism where the legislature was empowered to adopt measures “for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.”[59]

South Carolina’s Constitution was typical of the establishment of Episcopal churches in the southern states: “The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of the State….No person should be eligible to a seat in the Senate unless he be of the Protestant religion.”[60]

Most states had Sabbath laws and blasphemy laws. Maryland required of its public officials belief in Christianity until 1864, and New Hampshire specifically required that only Protestants hold office until 1902, after which it was switched to any “Christian.” These religious tests and established churches were not unconstitutional on the state level. However, a Christian movement toward disestablishment of favored denominations started in some states even before the War for Independence was won. This led the Framers of the Constitution to write Article 6, which first required an oath, but also prohibited any religious test on the national level. The establishment of particular denominations in the states would end by the 1830s, but the requirement of officials to adhere to Christian convictions would remain for some time.

In 1838, the Legislature of New York rejected by a nearly unanimous vote a petition calling for “a repeal of the laws for the observance of the Sabbath.” Their report declared that:

In all countries, some kind of religion or other has existed in all ages. No people on the face of the globe are without a prevailing national religion. Magistrates have sought in many countries to strengthen civil government by an alliance with some particular religion and an intolerant exclusion of all others. But those who have wielded this formidable power have rendered it a rival instead of an auxiliary to the public welfare,–a fetter instead of a protection to the rights of conscience. With us it is wisely ordered that no one religion shall be established by law, but that all persons shall be left free in their choice and in their mode of worship. Still, this is a Christian nation. Ninety-nine hundredths, if not a larger proportion, of our whole population, believe in the general doctrines of the Christian religion. Our government depends for its being on the virtue of the people,–on that virtue that has its foundation in the morality of the Christian religion; and that religion is the common and prevailing faith of the people. There are, it is true, exceptions to this belief; but general laws are not made for excepted cases. There are to be found, here and there, the world over, individuals who entertain opinions hostile to the common sense of mankind on subjects of honesty, humanity, and decency; but it would be a kind of republicanism with which we are not acquainted in this country, which would require the great mass of mankind to yield to and be governed by this few.[61]

The First Amendment

Ten of the twelve originally proposed amendments to the Constitution were ratified and are known as the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment to the Constitution is misunderstood today by many people, including the Supreme Court. The Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Modern revisionists claim this Amendment means our Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state,” which to them means that government can have nothing to do with religion in general, and in particular with Christianity. Yet, to our Founders this meant that Congress cannot establish a national church nor give official preference to a particular religious sect. They would consider the idea of separating God from government an impossibility, as they believed God was Supreme over all earthly governments. Furthermore, to them, an attempt to separate government from Godly principles would mean the death of the nation. Additionally, the prohibition of favoring a particular denomination, according to the Framers view of the Constitution, applied only to the U.S. Congress, not the state legislatures.

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, author of Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), the most prominent work on American jurisprudence in the nineteenth century, explained the Founders view of the First Amendment in his Commentaries:

Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendment to it now under consideration [First Amendment], the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation…

The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution (the vice and pest of former ages), and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age.[62]

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1853 defined the First Amendment clause, “an establishment of religion,” in a similar way: “It was the connection, with the state, of a particular religious society, by its endowment at the public expense, in exclusion of, or in preference to, any other, by giving to its members exclusive political rights, and by compelling the attendance of those who rejected its communion upon its worship or religious observance.”[63]

In further explanation, Joseph Story wrote:

In some of the states, Episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, Quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible that there should not arise perpetual strife and jealousy…if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment….Thus the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments.[64]

Thomas Jefferson, who was never a strict separationist, wrote in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798: “No power over the freedom of religion [is]…delegated to the United States by the Constitution;…All lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were restored, to the states, or to the people.”[65] In his 1805 Inaugural Address he said, “In matters of religion I…have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of the church or state authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.” Again, in a letter in 1808, Jefferson said, “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises….It must then rest with the states as far as it can be in any human authority.”[66]

Jefferson never promoted the concept of a secular state. While serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses he introduced a resolution for a day of fasting and prayer in 1774. As governor of Virginia he issued a proclamation for a day of prayer and thanksgiving in November 1779. While President, he chaired the school board for the District of Columbia and authored its plan of education using the Bible and Watt’s Hymnal as reading texts. He also proposed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, which included using Federal money to build a church and support a clergyman. When he established the University of Virginia, he encouraged the teaching of religion and set apart space in the Rotunda for chapel services. He also praised the use of the local courthouse in his home town for religious services.[67]

The Founders’ view of “separation of church and state” is far different from that of the courts and secularists today, whose misunderstanding of the First Amendment has been used as grounds to declare prayer, Bible-reading, and other such traditions in the states as unconstitutional. However, even the modern courts have recognized the fallacy of complete separation. In 1984, the Supreme Court said in Lynch v. Donnelly:

The Constitution [does not] require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not mere tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any….Anything less would require the ‘callous indifference’ we have said was never intended by the Establishment Clause….Indeed, we have observed such hostility would bring us into ‘war with our national tradition as embodied in the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion.’[68]

The Power of Our Government

Examination of the history of the Federal Period reveals that the Christian religion, Christian virtue, and a Biblical worldview are the “Spirit of the Constitution”–the power behind our unique form of government. The framework of our constitutional republic is also Biblical.

The Christian Form of Our Government

John Marshall

While modern academia would balk at the idea of calling America a Christian nation, the Founders of America did so regularly. Consider just a few quotes. John Jay, first Supreme Court Chief Justice, proclaimed, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”[69] Chief Justice John Marshall stated:

The American population is entirely Christian, & with us, Christianity & Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, & did not often refer to it, & exhibit relations with it.[70]

The Legislature of New York declared in 1838: “This is a Christian nation. Ninety-nine hundredths, if not a larger proportion, of our whole population, believe in the general doctrines of the Christian religion.”[71] In Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892), the U.S. Supreme Court said “this is a Christian nation” and presented much historical evidence in support of this declaration.[72]

In the view of our Founders, having many citizens personally embrace Christianity is an important part of a Christian nation, but a Christian nation is more than this. A Christian nation is a nation that is founded upon Biblical principles, where Biblical truth and law are the standard for public life, law, and societal institutions. In a sense, a Christian nation is determined by its form of government. If the form of a nation’s government is shaped by Biblical ideas of man and government, in contrast to pagan or man-centered ideas, then the nation is a Christian nation. In 1867, The North American Review declared that “the American government and Constitution is the…political expression of Christian ideas.”[73] Our Founders were universally convinced of this truth.

The ideas embodied in our Constitution stem primarily from the Bible. Our Founders reasoned from the Bible far more than any other source. This was once taken for granted by Americans until modern revisionist historians began to promote the view that rationalistic enlightenment thinkers were the major influence behind the Constitution. How can we know for sure?

Dr. Donald Lutz, a professor of political science from the University of Houston, conducted an exhaustive ten-year research of about 15,000 political documents of the Founders’ Era (1760-1805), and recorded every quote or reference to another written source. This list of the 3,154 citations of the Founders was analyzed and published in Volume #78 of the American Political Science Review in 1983. The results would give quite an accurate measure of the influence of various sources of thought on the Constitution. The results were surprisingly contradictory to “modern scholarship.” By far, the most often quoted source of their political ideas was the Bible. This accounts for over one-third (34%) of all their citations. The next most quoted source is not even cited one-fourth as frequently (Montesquieu–8.3%, Blackstone–7.9%; and both of these men have a Christian view of law). Another 50% of all references can be attributed to authors who themselves derived their ideas from the Bible. Therefore, about 84% of the ideas in our Constitution are based either directly or indirectly on the Bible.[74]

The Preamble to the Constitution

The ideas in the U.S. Constitution reflect a Christian view of man and government. The Preamble to the Constitution gives five basic Biblical functions of government. These five purposes of civil government are:

  1. “Establish justice.” The Bible says in 1 Peter 2:14 that civil rulers exist “for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.” This is justice. To be a minister of good, as Paul states is one purpose of civil leaders (Romans 13:4), government must administer God’s justice.
  2. “Insure domestic tranquility.” In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul urges Christians to pray for civil rulers “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
  3. “Provide for the common defense.” Protecting innocent human life is a primary purpose of government (Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-14). To fulfill this purpose, governments establish police forces to protect citizens from domestic threats and organize armies for international threats. In Romans 13:4, it is affirmed that civil government “does not bear the sword for nothing.” The “sword” in Scripture is equivalent to any military weapon used today. Even Jesus Christ taught His disciples the legitimacy of being armed militarily, saying in Luke 22:36, “Now…let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one.”
  4. “Promote the general welfare.” Romans 13:4 says civil rulers are servants “to you for good.” The common good of all classes of citizens must be promoted by government passage of laws guaranteeing equal opportunity. Notice, our Framer’s choice of words here: promote, not provide. Scripture makes it clear that God is the provider, not the state, and that needy individuals are to be cared for by private acts of charity. A Biblical free-enterprise system must promote compassionate use of wealth, but socialism or communism is contrary to Biblical definitions of civil government.
  5. “Secure the blessings of liberty.” “Blessings” are a gift of one’s Creator, not a privilege granted by government. The most basic of these Creator-endowed blessings were defined in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution which mentions, “life, liberty” and “private property.” Scripture defines God as the source of life in Genesis 1:27, “And God created man in His own image.” He is the Author of liberty as well–2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” and Leviticus 25:10 says, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” Scripture also defines God as the source of private property and “the pursuit of happiness” as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Ecclesiastes 5:19 states, “For every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them…and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.” Also in 1 Chronicles 29:12, “Both riches and honor come from Thee.”
Christian Principles and Structure in the Constitution

John Adams

The Founders saw man from a Christian perspective; that is, man is sinful and in a fallen state. As such, they were careful to construct a form of government that would not entrust man with too much power, knowing that sinful man will tend to abuse power. John Adams wrote:

To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their favor, and consequently power to gratify themselves, is to disbelieve all history and universal experience; it is to disbelieve Revelation and the Word of God, which informs us, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…..There is no man so blind as not to see, that to talk of founding a government upon a supposition that nations and great bodies of men, left to themselves, will practice a course of self-denial, is either to babble like a new-born infant, or to deceive like an unprincipled impostor.[75]

James Madison said, in Federalist No. 51, “What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”[76] The Founders’ view of human nature profoundly affected their view of government. The Constitution they formed limited the power of our rulers in various ways: binding them down with a constitution; holding them accountable with frequent elections; dividing the legislative, executive, and judicial powers; and setting up checks and balances within these separate governing bodies.

Christian Ideas in the Constitution

The Constitution contains many Christian ideas, some of which follow:

  1. The Reign of Law–“This Constitution…shall be the supreme law of the land.” (Art. VI, Sec. 2)

America’s civil government is a government of laws, not of rulers. Throughout most of history, people have been governed by laws imposed by their rulers. In America, for the first time ever, the people formed their own Constitution and consented to it. They established a government of people’s law, not of ruler’s law. The law they established was based on Biblical truth, which is essential for protecting the individual’s right to life, liberty, and property. Citizens must not only be protected from harmful acts of other citizens but also from abuses by their own government. Since the law is supreme and not the rulers, the people will be protected from ruler’s tyranny, as everyone–ruler and subject–is subject to the law.

  1. Trial by Jury of Peers under Law–“The right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” (Amendment 7)

In a nation under law, any violation of the law requires a judge. Wrongdoers must be punished and required to make restitution to deter crime, yet, there must be an orderly process of justice where the guilty and innocent are distinguished. The Bible requires judges “to be honest, to refuse bribes, and not to show favoritism (Ex. 23:1-8). A person was presumed innocent unless at least two witnesses testified against him (Deut. 17:6), and the penalty for perjury was severe (Deut. 19:16-21).”[77]

The United States Constitution provides numerous protections for persons accused of crimes. Many of these rights are contained in Amendments 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the Constitution. These rights are derived from the idea that since man is created in the image of God, his life has great value and should be guarded with care.

  1. Creator Endowed Rights, not Government Granted–“To…secure the blessings of liberty.” (Preamble)

Since man is created in the image of God, man has an inherent value and dignity. God has endowed certain rights to His valuable creation that He expects all peoples and governments to recognize. The commands of Scripture reveal God has given man the right to life, liberty, and property:

  • “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)–right to life
  • “He who kidnaps a man…shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16)–right to liberty
  • “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15)–right to property

According to the Declaration of Independence, men’s rights are “endowed by their Creator….That to secure, these rights, Governments are instituted among men.”

  1. Christian Self-government–“We, the people” (Preamble)

For a nation to be free from the tyranny of centralized government, each individual citizen must be self-governing. The Bible and history reveal that if men do not govern themselves under God, then others will rule over them, and those rulers will eventually become tyrants. William Penn said, “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.”[78]

Robert C. Winthrop

Robert C. Winthrop, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847-1849, recognized the necessity of individual self-government for the functioning of the American Republic. He said:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.[79]

As Americans have become less self-governed, our civil government has grown larger and larger and become more centralized. The more centralized a civil government becomes, the more loss of individual liberty will occur.

  1. Religious Freedom–“Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]” (Amendment 1)

The First Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to freely worship God without fear of the national government interfering or forcing people to adhere to a certain religious belief. While this keeps the state out of the church, it in no way removes God from government. It is impossible to remove God from government; every civil government operates on some religion. America was founded on the Christian religion but in recent years has been shifting to a man-centered, humanistic religion.

  1. Private Property Rights–“nor be deprived of…property, without due process of law” (Amendment 5)

Private property rights are a basic necessity for any society that desires to be free and prosperous. The founders of America acknowledged this truth and the Constitution protects property rights of individuals. Noah Webster wrote:

Let the people have property and they will have power–a power that will forever be exerted to prevent a restriction of the press, and abolition of trial by jury, or the abridgement of any other privilege.[80]

The private property rights found in Amendment 5 and other places in the Constitution flowed out of the understanding by our Founders of the internal aspect of private property rights. James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, wrote:

Property…In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandise, or money, is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them. He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them….He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties, and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.[81]

The Founders believed that God created everything, including us, and given us the right to possess property, both internal (opinions, ideas, talents, etc.) and external (land, merchandise, money, etc.). The Declaration of Independence acknowledges this right is endowed by God; the Constitution secures this God-given right.

  1. Union or Covenant–“in order to form a more perfect Union” (Preamble)

The United States of America is an example of a Christian union. The original external union among the states was the result of an internal unity of ideas and principles in the hearts of the people. This voluntary working together or covenanting together is the basis of Christian union. America’s motto, E Pluribus Unum (“from many, one”), expresses this unity with union.

While the United States reveals a Christian union, the former Soviet Union was an example of a non-Biblical union. External force and fear was used to hold all the people groups together. It was an involuntary union and, hence, did not last. In America, unity brings union; in the USSR, the union attempted to force unity.

Stronger internal bonds will produce a stronger union and action. If the original colonies had never formed a union, they would have never individually made the positive impact upon the world that corporately the United States has been able to make. In fact, they might not ever have survived.

  1. Defense–“the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” (Amendment 2)

The American people established the Constitution to “provide for the common defense.” Congress was given specific powers to accomplish this function of civil government. The Second Amendment to the Constitution recognizes “a well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state,” and therefore secures “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” This right of defense comes from the Biblical idea of man. Since we are God’s property and He requires us to be good stewards, we have a responsibility to preserve our lives. It follows that we have a right to defend our persons and families against those who may try to harm us. We establish police forces to help defend our life, liberty, and property from evildoers within our nation. State and national armies are established to defend citizens from aggressive nations.

Our Founders understood that a nation can only have liberty and peace through strength. Consider some of their remarks:

  • “[I]f we desire to secure peace…it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”[82]–George Washington
  • “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”[83]–George Washington
  • “It is absurd, the pretending to be lovers of liberty while they grudge paying for the defense of it.”[84]–Benjamin Franklin
  • “There is much truth in the Italian saying, “Make yourselves sheep, and the wolves will eat you.”[85]–Benjamin Franklin
Christian Framework of the Constitution

In addition to the Constitution containing many ideas that are Christian, its form or framework also reflects Biblical ideas. A few of these are:

  1. Representation–“Representatives shall be…chosen…by the people” (Art. 1, Sec. 2)

The United States Constitution secures for each state a republican form of government (Art. 4, Sec 4). One characteristic of a republic is that the people choose representatives to stand in their place in the seat of government.

Relief portrait of Moses in the U.S. House Chamber as the most notable law-giver in history.

The principle of self-government reveals to us the right of each individual to participate in government. The people, under God, are the source of power for governments. Therefore, a Biblical civil government will be democratic in nature. A true democracy, however, has a number of shortcomings. In a democracy, just over 50% of the people rule. If they desire to abuse the individual rights of the minority they can. Hence, a democracy tends to majority tyranny.

A democracy also requires direct participation by citizens in all government matters, which is impractical. Individuals choosing their representatives allows participation in government in every situation.

Representative government had its origin in the Hebrew nation. Moses told the people to “choose wise and discerning and experienced men [‘able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain’] and I will appoint them as…heads over you, leaders of thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes.” (Deuteronomy 1:13-17; Exodus 18:21-27)

Noah Webster revealed the importance of being involved in choosing your representatives:

When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, “just men who will rule in the fear of God.” The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good, so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.[86]

  1. Separation of Powers – “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress” (Art. 1, Sec. 1); “The Executive power shall be vested in a President” (Art. 2, Sec. 1); “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court” (Art. 3, Sec. 1).


America’s national government is divided into three branches with an intricate system of checks and balances. This division is based upon the Biblical idea that mankind is sinful and in a fallen state. While man is capable of some civic virtue, he also is self-centered and must be limited and checked in the power he exercises. If rulers are given too much power, they will abuse it for their gain and their subjects’ harm. James Madison affirmed in Federalist No. 51 (see his quote above) the need to balance power between the governed and the governing.

Every government has three basic functions: 1. Legislative–making laws; 2. Executive–enforcing laws’ 3. Judicial–interpreting laws. The Bible speaks of these three governmental functions in the Godhead (Isaiah 33:22). God, being perfect, can administer all three; with man it should be otherwise.

In his book Spirit of Laws (1748), Montesquieu said that these three functions of government must be separated to prevent tyranny. The founders of America studied his writings and agreed with his assessment. Madison wrote: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”[87] This is why the Founders separated the powers of government into three branches and set up checks and balances between the branches.

  1. Dual Form or Federalism–“every State in this Union” (Art. 4, Sec. 4)


The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states the idea of federalism: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The basic idea was to get government as close to the people as possible. The more remote it is from the people, the more dangerous it becomes. Jefferson said:

The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many;…it is by dividing and subdividing these republics, from the great national one down…that all will be done for the best.[88]

James Madison explained: “The powers delegated by the…Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”[89]

In the federal republic established by the Constitution, most powers rested with the state and local governments. The Constitution establishes only 18 powers in the national government in Article 1, Section 8, and declares these powers off-limits to the states in Section 10. All other powers rest with the states and people. The national government can only make laws dealing with such items as the regulation of interstate and foreign commerce, coining money, the postal services, copyrights, citizenship laws, and the armed forces. The state governments can only make laws dealing with such things as public education, voting procedures, marriage and divorce, corporations and traffic. Neither can interfere in the area of the other without being unconstitutional.

In recent years the national government has ballooned in growth, disrupting the balance of powers between the national, state, and local governments. Greater centralization of power has come as individuals have failed to govern themselves on a local level.

The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were clearly founded upon Christian ideas of man and government. Our Founders were the first men to “hold these truths” and establish a nation upon them. Without Christianity, there never would have been a Constitution. As Noah Webster, the father of the dictionary and a key Federalist in the passage of the Constitution, said:

The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.[90]

[1] John Fiske, The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789, New York, 1894, p. 231.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert A Rutland, ed., The Papers of James Madison, University of Chicago Press, 1962, 10:208.

[4] Cleon Skousen, The Making of America, p. 5.

[5] Albert Henry Smyth, editor, Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Macmillan Co., 1905-07, 9:702.

[6] The Writings of George Washington, 29:525.

[7] James Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987, pp. 209-210.

[8] Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911, 3:471.

[9] Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3:471. Hamilton opposed the resolution, saying such an action at that time might communicate to the populace (who knew nothing of the events in the closed convention) they were having troubles and, hence, undermine the people’s support. Mr. Sherman from Connecticut pointed out they would have greater troubles if they neglected this important duty. It was also proposed to have a sermon preached on July 4th at the request of the convention. Dayton records the motion appointing a chaplain was seconded and carried. Madison records they did not vote on the issue. If this were so, it was because they had no funds to officially invite a chaplain, as pointed out by Delegate Williamson. (See Madison, 210-211.) However, chaplains were certainly obtained in some manner as they opened future daily sessions with prayer. See Farrand, 472.

[10] Farrand, 3:472.

[11] The North American Review, 1867, stated: “The American government and Constitution is the most precious possession which the world holds, or which the future can inherit. This is true–true because the American system is the political expression of Christian ideas.” For more on the Convention and United States Constitution see, Mark Beliles and Doug Anderson, Contending for the Constitution, Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 2005.

[12] Jared Sparks, The Life of George Washington, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1860, p. 403. See also Letter to Henry Knox, August 19, 1787, The Writings of George Washington, 29:261, and Letter to Patrick Henry, September 24, 1787, The Writings of George Washington, 29:278.

[13] Sparks, p. 403.

[14] Washington to Thomas Jefferson, August 23, 1792, The Writings of George Washington, 32:131.

[15] From George Washington to John Armstrong, 25 April 1788, The Writings of George Washington, Founders Online, National Archives,

[16] George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, D. Appleton and Co., 1891, 6:420.

[17] Bancroft, 6:414.

[18] Jared Sparks wrote: “George Washington was chosen, by the unanimous vote of the electors, and probably without a dissenting voice in the whole nation” (Sparks, p. 406).

[19] See Benson J. Lossing, Mount Vernon and Its Associations, New York: W.A. Townsend & Co., 1859, 202.

[20] B.F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864, p. 271.

[21] Washington’s Inaugural Address of 1789,

[22] Sources of Our Liberty, pp. 395-396.

[23] Morris, p. 274.

[24] Morris, p. 275. The Messages and Papers of the Presidents,

[25] One online source I found, has this coming from Beliles book, America’s Providential History that Providence Foundation produces. It sources this to page 176

[26] Morris, p. 328.

[27] Church of the Holy Trinity v. U.S.; 143 U.S. 457, 458 (1892).

[28] Updegraph v. The Commonwealth; 11 Serg & R. 393, 394 (Sup. Ct. Penn. 1824).

[29] People v. Ruggles; 8 Johns 545 (Sup. Ct. NY. 1811).

[30] Vidal v. Girard’s Executors; 8 Johns 545 (Sup. Ct. NY. 1811).

[31] Runkel v. Winemiller; 4 Harris & McHenry 256, 259 (Sup. Ct. Md. 1799).

[32] City Council of Charleston v. S.A. Benjamin; 2 Strob. 508, 518-520, 522-524 (Sup. Ct. S.C. 1846).

[33] Lindenmuller v. The People, 33 Barb 548, (Sup. Ct. NY 1861).

[34] Shover v. State; 10 English 259, 263 (Sup. Ct. Ark. 1850).

[35] Daniel L. Dreisbach, Religion and Politics in the Early Republic, Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996, p. 113.

[36] “A Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, Oct. 11, 1798.” In The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1854, 9:228-229.

[37] B.F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, p. 239.

[38] George Washington, “Circular to the Governors of the States,” June 8, 1783, The Writings of George Washington, 26:496.

[39] George Washington, Letter to the Clergy of Different Denominations Residing in and near the City of Philadelphia, March 3, 1797.

[40] A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, By James D. Richardson, Washington: Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1910, 1:205-216.

[41] James Madison, Letter to Frederick Beasley, Nov. 20, 1825.

[42] James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785, in Norman Cousins, “In God We Trust,” the Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958, p. 301.

[43] Noah Webster, History of the United States, New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833, p. v.

[44] Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, Philadelphia: printed by Thomas and William Bradford, 1806, p. 93.

[45] Jedidiah Morse, Election Sermon given at Charleston, MA on April 25, 1799.

[46] Sources of Our Liberties, p. 382.

[47] Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, Baltimore: Maryland Bible Society, 1921, p. 14.

[48] Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905, Vol. IV, p. 124.

[49] Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. IV, p. 74, to John Trumbull on October 16, 1778.

[50] Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1907, p. 475, Charles Carroll to James McHenry on November 4, 1800.

[51] Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor, Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904. Vol. XII, p. 315, to James Fishback, September 27, 1809.

[52] Daniel Webster, The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster Hitherto Uncollected, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1903, Vol. IV, pp. 656-657, to Professor Pease on June 15, 1852.

[53] Charles Hyneman and Donald Lutz, American Political Writing during the Founding Era 1760-1805, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983.

[54] James Iredell, in The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1901, 4:196.

[55] The oath in American law was clearly rooted in a Biblical context. For example: An Agreement of the Settlers at Exeter in New Hampshire, July 5, 1639, contained a rulers oath which stated: “You shall swear by the great and dreadful Name of the High God, Maker and Governor of Heaven and earth and by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of the Kings and rulers of the earth, that in his Name and fear you will rule and govern his people according to the righteous will of God….” [Colonial Origins of the American Constitution, Donald Lutz, ed., Liberty Fund, p. 4.] The Laws of Virginia of March 1659 contain a section on “The Oath,” which states: “You and every one of you shall swear upon the holy Evangelist and in the sight of God to deliver your opinions faithfully.” [A Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, by William Waller Hening, New York: R.&W.&G. Bartow, 1823, vol. 1, p. 508.] The Tennessee Justice’s Manual and Civil Officer’s Guide of 1834 shows how Tennessee, which was typical of the early states, required “the party to be sworn, to lay his hand upon the holy evangelists of Almighty God, in token of his engagement to speak the truth, as he hopes to be saved in the way and method of salvation pointed out in that blessed volume; and in further token, that if he should swerve from the truth, he may be justly deprived of all the blessings of the Gospels, and be made liable to that vengeance which he has imprecated on his own head; and after repeating the words, ‘So help me God,’ shall kiss the Holy Gospels as a seal of confirmation to said engagement.” [by Judge James Coffield Mitchell, Nashville: Mitchell and Norvell, 1834, pp. 457-458.]

[56] Sol Bloom, The Story of the Constitution, Washington, DC, 1937, p. 183.

[57] Morris, p. 326.

[58] Morris, p. 234.

[59] Morris, p. 235.

[60] Morris, p. 231.

[61] Morris, p. 239.

[62] Quoted in Robert L Cord, Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction, New York: Lambeth Press, 1982, p. 13.

[63] B.F. Morris, pp. 318-328. The Senate Committee gave three aspects of a “law respecting an establishment of religion”: 1. “Endowment [of a particular denomination or religion] at the public expense” 2. “Peculiar privileges to its members” 3. “Disadvantages or penalties upon those who should reject its doctrines or belong to other communions.”

[64] Quoted in Cord, p. 15.

[65] Quoted in Skousen, p. 681.

[66] Saul K. Padover, ed., The Complete Jefferson, Tudor Publishing Co., 1943, p. 412.

[67] For in detail explanation of Jefferson’s positions see David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2016.

[68] Lynch v. Donelly, 465 U.S. at 673.

[69] William Jay, The Life of John Jay, New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833, Vol. II, p. 376, to John Murray, Jr. on October 12, 1816.

[70] Daniel L. Dreisbach, Religion and Politics in the Early Republic, Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996, p. 113.

[71] Morris, p. 239.

[72] Church of the Holy Trinity v. U.S.; 143 U.S. 457, 458 (1892).

[73] Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Verna M. Hall, compiler, San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, p. 34.

[74] Donald Lutz, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late 18th Century American Political Thought,” American Political Science Review, LXXVIII, 1984, pp. 189-197.

[75] John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1856), Vol. 6, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, “Chapter First. Marchamont Nedham. The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined.”

[76] James Madison, Federalist 51, The Federalist, a Collection of Essays, Written in Favor of the Constitution of the United States, a Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, Jr., edited by Michael Loyd Chadwick, Washington, DC: Global Affairs Publishing Co., 1987, p. 281.

[77] John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987, p. 374.


[79] Robert C. Winthrop, “Address to Massachusetts Bible Society Meeting, May 28, 1849,” Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1852, p. 172.

[80] Rosalie J. Slater, “Noah Webster, Founding Father of American Scholarship and Education,” preface article in reprint of An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) by Noah Webster, San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1980, p. 14.

[81] Verna Hall, The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States, Christian Self-government, San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1980, p. 248A.

[82] Our Ageless Constitution, W. David Stedman, editor, Asheboro, NC: Stedman Associates, 1987, p. 39.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Noah Webster, History of the United States, New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833, pp. 307-308.

[87] The Federalist by Hamilton, Jay, & Madison, Washington, D.C.: Global Affairs Publ., 1987, no. 47.3, p. 260-261.

[88] Our Ageless Constitution, p. 32.

[89] The Federalist, no. 45, p. 252.

[90] Noah Webster, History of the United States, New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833, pp. 273-274.