Religious Founders? Read Their Writings

Among the liberties protected by our Constitution is the First Amendment’s
“free exercise of religion.” Yet, over the past half-century, that
once inalienable liberty has been greatly subjugated to the arbitrary whims
of the Justices by a series of hostile and absurd Court decisions. In fact,
the current Court’s micromanagement of religious expressions prompted Justice
Anthony Kennedy to characterize it as a “national theology board.”
[1]

Recent attempts to limit public religious expression and to vilify people
of faith have met widespread public opposition. The results of this backlash
have manifested in numerous areas, including: (1) the landslide elections of
evangelical Congressmen in 1994; (2) public support for a constitutional amendment
to protect religious liberties reaching an all-time high of seventy-three percent;
[2] and (3) the recent Congressional introduction of a widely-supported constitutional
amendment which would safeguard religious expressions.

However, there are groups and individuals whose goal of a secular society is
clearly threatened by these changes. But what can they do to diminish the improving
public climate toward religion? They can do what they have always done: misportray,
distort, and/or ignore the truth. Those who become particularly skillful at
this are termed “revisionists.”

The Ploys of Revisionists
When revisionists attempt to concoct support for their usually unpopular viewpoint,
they often vilify fgures — past or present — who embrace the position
they reject. This tactic was evident in 1995’s onslaught of media articles claiming
that America’s success was due to its long-standing tradition of secularism.

For example, Steven Morris’s Los Angeles Times article, “America’s Unchristian
Beginnings” [3] (picked up by wire services and reprinted in scores of
newspapers across the nation), was loaded with deliberate falsehoods to “prove”
America’s Founders were purely secular. For instance, concerning John Adams,
Morris claimed:

Late in life, he wrote, “Twenty times in the course of my late reading
have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all
possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!!’ ”

The Rest of the Story
This statement appears in Adams’s letter to Thomas Jefferson on April 19, 1817,
in which Adams recounted a conversation between Joseph Cleverly and Lemuel Bryant
— a schoolmaster and a minister he had known. Disgusted by the petty religious
bickering displayed by those two, Adams declared to Jefferson:

Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of
breaking out, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there
were no religion in it!!!” But in this exclamation I would have been
as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something
not ft to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell. [4]

In reality, revisionists like Steven Morris (and especially those from the
Society of Separationists or the American Atheist Society) deliberately reverse
Adams’s position. Not only did Adams declare that it would be “fanatical”
to desire a world without religion (and that such a world would be “hell”),
but on May 5, 1817, Jefferson wrote back to Adams and said that he agreed!

What makes revisionism so effective is that few citizens actually take time
to confrm revisionists’ claims or to proclaim to the public the real facts.

Speaking for Themselves
Since the goal of Morris and others like him is to “prove” that people
of faith have no precedent for being involved in politics, he characterizes
the Founders’ general religious beliefs with the same false summary that most
revisionists — both in academia and media — often proclaim:

The early presidents and patriots were generally deists or Unitarians,
believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity
of Jesus and the relevance of the Bible.

Yet, the Founders’ own declarations in their last wills and testaments [5] disprove
those assertions and speak loud and clear that the great majority of our Founders
were indeed believers in Jesus Christ. For example:

  • First of all, I . . . rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a
    pardon of all my sins.
    Samuel Adams, Signer of the Declaration
  • To my Creator I resign myself, humbly confding in His goodness and
    in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity.
    John Dickinson,
    Signer of the Constitution
  • I resign my soul into the hands of the Almighty who gave it in humble
    hopes of his mercy through our Savior Jesus Christ.
    Gabriel Duvall,
    U.S. Supreme Court Justice; selected as delegate to Constitutional Convention
  • This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion
    of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.
    Patrick
    Henry
  • I render sincere and humble thanks for His manifold and unmerited
    blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by his beloved
    Son. . . . Blessed be his holy name.
    John Jay, Original Chief-Justice
    U.S. Supreme Court
  • I am constrained to express my adoration of . . . the Author of my
    existence . . . [for] His forgiving mercy revealed to the world through
    Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future
    state.
    Robert Treat Paine, Signer of the Declaration
  • I think it proper here not only to subscribe to . . . doctrines of
    the Christian religion . . . but also, in the bowels of a father’s affection,
    to exhort and charge them [my children] that the fear of God is the beginning
    of wisdom, that the way of life held up in the Christian system is calculated
    for the most complete happiness.
    Richard Stockton, Signer of the Declaration

These wills represent only a few examples from many with the identical
tone. Furthermore, the personal writings of numerous other Founders contain
equally strong declarations. Notice:

  • My hopes of a future life are all founded upon the Gospel of Christ and
    I cannot cavil or quibble away [evade or object to]. . . . the whole tenor
    of His conduct by which He sometimes positively asserted and at others countenances
    [permits] His disciples in asserting that He was God.
    [6] John Quincy
    Adams
  • Now to the triune God, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed
    all honor and dominion, forevermore ­p; Amen.
    [7] Gunning Bedford, Signer
    of the Constitution
  • You have been instructed from your childhood in the knowledge of your
    lost state by nature — the absolute necessity of a change of heart, and
    an entire renovation of soul to the image of Jesus Christ ­p; of salvation
    thro’ His meritorious righteousness only — and the indispensable necessity
    of personal holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
    [8] Elias
    Boudinot, Revolutionary Officer and President of the Continental Congress
    (to his daughter)
  • You do well to learn . . . above all the religion of Jesus Christ.
    [9] George Washington
  • [D]on’t forget to be a Christian. I have said much to you on this head
    and I hope an indelible impression is made.
    [10] Jacob Broom, Signer of
    the Constitution (to his son)
  • On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits; not
    on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.
    [11] Charles Carroll,
    Signer of the Declaration
  • I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of
    Jesus Christ.
    [12] Thomas Jefferson
  • I think the Christian religion is a Divine institution; and I pray to
    God that I may never forget the precepts of His religion or suffer the appearance
    of an inconsistency in my principles and practice.
    [13] James Iredell,
    U.S. Supreme Court Justice under President George Washington
  • My only hope of salvation is in the infnite, transcendent love of God manifested
    to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood
    will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come
    quickly! [14] Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration
  • I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three
    persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal
    in power and glory. That the Scriptures of the old and new testaments are
    a revelation from God and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify
    and enjoy Him.
    [15] Roger Sherman, Signer of both the Declaration and
    the Constitution
  • I shall now entreat . . . you in the most earnest manner to believe in
    Jesus Christ, for “there is no salvation in any other” [Acts 4:12]. . . .
    [I]f you are not clothed with the spotless robe of His righteousness, you
    must forever perish.
    [16] John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration

There are many other examples.

Summary
The evidence is clear; the revisionists are wrong. Although there was some
anti-organized-religion sentiment among the Founders (e.g., Thomas Paine,
Ethan Allen, Charles Lee, Henry Dearborn), those with such views were a
small minority and, in fact, often were strongly criticized by others for
those beliefs.

It is time that Christians retake the academic high ground. When historically
false editorials or letters-to-the-editor are written, or when call-in programs
make reckless charges, we need to stand up and confront those errors. This will
provide an opportunity for those who are undecided on the issue of public religious
expressions to formulate their opinions from accurate information rather than
from revisionist trash. The most effective defense against revisionism is aggressive
truth — and lots of it! If we will faithfully present the truth, the Scriptures
assure us that it will eventually prevail.

Good News!
If the quotes you have seen in this newsletter are inspiring or new to you, or
if you are looking for more information like this, then you will be excited to
learn of our book: Original
Intent
.
This 500+ page book provides literally hundreds of the Founders’
quotes (and over fourteen hundred footnotes) documenting the Founders’ beliefs
on the important role of religion in public, on the proper role of the Courts,
on the intended limited scope of federal powers, on States’ rights, and on numerous
other current issues. This book — a veritable encyclopedia of quotes and
information — is an excellent tool for self-education and also for general
public education in arenas where credibility, accuracy, and source documentation
is a must. To order Original Intent, call (800) 873-2845.

 

Endnotes
1. County of Allegheny v. ACLU; 106 L. Ed. 2d 472 at 543, Kennedy, J.
(concurring in part and dissenting in part).
2. CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, November 28-29, 1994.
3. Steven Morris, “America’s Unchristian Beginnings,” Los Angeles
Times
, August 3, 1995, p. B-9.
4. John Adams, Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston:
Little, Brown, and Co., 1856), Vol. X, p. 254.
5. Copies of these wills are in our files and may be obtained from State archives
and from historical societies.
6. The Select Writings of John and John Quincy Adams, Adrian Koch and
William Peden, editors (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), p. 292, to John Adams
on January 3, 1817.
7. Gunning Bedford, Funeral Oration Upon the Death of General Washington
(Wilmington: James Wilson, 1800), p. 18.
8. Elias Boudinot, The Life, Public Services, Addresses, and Letters of Elias
Boudinot, President of Continental Congress
(Boston and New York: Houghton,
Mifflin, and Co., 1896), Vol. I, pp. 260-262.
9. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick,
editor (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Offce, 1932), Vol. XV, p.
55, to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779.
10. From an autographed letter in our possession written by Jacob Broom to his
son, James, on February 24, 1794, from Wilmington, Delaware.
11. From an autographed letter in our possession written by Charles Carroll
to Charles W. Wharton, Esq., on September 27, 1825, from Doughoragen, Maryland.

12. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery
Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association,
1904), Vol. XIV, p. 385, to Charles Thomson on January 9, 1816.
13. James Iredell, The Papers of James Iredell, Don Higginbotham, editor
(Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 1976), Vol. I, p. 11.
14. Benjamin Rush, The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush, George W. Corner,
editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), p. 166.
15. Lewis Henry Boutell, The Life of Roger Sherman (Chicago: A. C. McClurg
and Co., 1896), pp. 272-273.
16. John Witherspoon, The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon (Edinburgh:
J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. V, pp. 276, 278, from “The Absolute Necessity of Salvation
Through Christ,” on January 2, 1758.