The Founders' Faith

by Richard J. Behn

Table of Contents

Introduction
The Clergy's Role in the Revolution
Alexander Hamilton
Benjamin Franklin
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
John Adams
The Founders' Private Religion
Providence
Conclusion


Introduction

America's Founders did not have a common religious tradition or an established church. That was one of America's strengths. Only Congregationalists in the Northeast and Episcopalians in the South came close to an establishment church. For many Americans, religion came as a family inheritance. Michael and Jana Novak argued that: "for Anglicans, Catholics, and Jews, faith came with one's mother's milk, so to speak, and only gradually did an adolescent make the inherited religion his or her own. The sensibility learned in such a tradition is that of a 'church' rather than a 'sect' – the sensibility of being born into habits, attitudes, customs, responsibilities, and duties far larger than oneself, and far beyond personal 'choice.'"1 In several colonies, there was an established church – e.g., Anglican in Virginia and Congregational in Connecticut. Historian Thomas S. Kidd wrote: "With government subsidies for the Congregationalist churches persisting into the nineteenth century, the New England states maintained their official establishments of religion longer than anywhere else in the new nation. This arrangement was legally acceptable even under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned only a national establishment of religion."2 Elsewhere in America, especially in the Middle Atlantic, various denominations lived in proximity and competition. Francis Jennings noted: "Pennsylvania had been founded by Quakers...The Presbyterians who immigrated massively after the 1720s opposed Quakers on several grounds. Geography was one: Quakers lived in the older, eastern communities whereas Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, who came later, mostly settled farther out."3

Faith and religion played a strong role in America's Founding. Historian Thomas S. Kidd noted that "the evangelical tradition supplied spiritual propulsion to the Patriot cause that was unsurpassed by any other element of Patriot ideology. Millennial beliefs provided nearly unlimited resources for justifying the war to a biblically minded people while assuring them that God held the results in his hands."4 Not every American shared these beliefs. Religion and reason coexisted in revolutionary America. John Adams wrote Jefferson in 1813: "Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature, man. When this revelation is clear and certain, by intuition or necessary inductions, no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it. Philosophy is not only the love of wisdom, but the science of the universe and its cause. There is, there was, and there will be but one master of philosophy in the universe."5 In 1815, Adams wrote of the previous 65 years of his life: "For this whole period I have searched after truth by every means and by every opportunity in my power, and with a sincerity and impartiality, for which I can appeal to God, my adored Maker. My religion is founded on the love of God and my neighbor; on the hope of pardon for my offences, upon contrition; upon the duty as well as the 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."6


The Clergy's Role in the Revolution

The preacher and his pulpit played important roles in the American Revolution, during which "religious organizations dominated political developments. Churches often doubled as political parties," wrote Francis Jennings.7 Historian Carl Becker wrote: "For the general reader, the political philosophy of the eighteenth century was expounded from an early date in pamphlet and newspaper by many a Brutus, Cato, or Popliocola. An important, but less noticed, channel through which the fundamental ideas of that philosophy – God, Nature, Reason – were made familiar to the average man, was the church. Both in England and America preachers and theologians laid firm hold of the Newtonian conception of the universe as an effective weapon against infidelity."8 Historian Gordon S. Wood noted: "At the time of the Revolution most of the founding fathers had not put much emotional stock in religion, even when they were regular churchgoers. As enlightened gentlemen, they abhorred 'that gloomy superstition disseminated by ignorant illiberal preachers' and looked forward to the day when 'the phantom of darkness will be dispelled by the rays of science, and the bright charms of rising civilization.' At best, most of the revolutionary gentry only passively believed in organized Christianity and, at worst, privately scorned and ridiculed it....Although few of them were outright deists, most like David Ramsay described the Christian church as 'the best temple of reason.'"9 America's political leaders were followers of the Enlightenment, but many religious leaders found religious justification for what their parishioners were seeking to do politically.

The pulpit was a place where religious tradition mixed with political philosophy. L. Gordon Tait noted that "the Protestant sermon was a significant instrument of both religious edification and social intercourse. The sermon, hallowed by years of tradition since the Reformation, held a position of considerable power and influence in social and intellectual as well as religious affairs. At its best it was a work of literary art and conveyed a vital message of God; the preacher was esteemed as a divinely inspired prophet and a literary artisan."10 Historian Carl Becker wrote that in "Massachusetts election sermons, from 1768 to 1773, we find both the philosophy and the formulae; the three concepts of God, Nature, and Reason, which Samuel Quincy made the foundation of religion, are there made the foundation of politics and government as well. And so there crept into the mind of the average man this conception of Natural Law to confirm this faith in the majesty of God while destroying his faith in the majesty of Kings."11 Historian Crane Brinton wrote that "A good sign of the respectability of revolution is the adhesion of the clergy, which save for the Episcopalians was in most colonies general. As a disgruntled Loyalist put it: 'The high sons of liberty include the ministers of the gospel, who instead of preaching to their flocks meekness, sobriety, attention to their different employments, and a steady obedience to the laws of Britain, belch from the pulpits liberty, independence, and a steady perseverance in endeavoring to shake off their allegiance to the mother country. The independent minister have ever been...the instigators and abettors of every persecution and conspiracy.'"12 Francis Jennings wrote: "Members of the Church of England were obliged to maintain special loyalty to the king who was head of their church, but one must not sort them out too sweepingly as opponents of the Revolution. They were also citizens of their provinces/states and many of them came to be important Revolutionary leaders. In Virginia the Revolution was conducted by members of Anglican vestries."13

There was, even then, a sense of Americans as God's chosen people. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that "Americans...exercised self-restraint because many believed their Union an 'ark of salvation' watched over by a God both universal and tribal. Already, in the eighteenth century, evangelicals imagined America the agency for the Second Coming and Millennium (or vice versa). But Methodists, Old Light Calvinists, Deists, and Unitarians likewise believed God smiled on America. Even Anglicans, Catholics, and Jews were free to worship in their ways so long as their conformed or subordinated their creeds to America's calling."14 The leading Founders generally sought to balance reason and religion in their personal and political lives. Scholar Michael Novak wrote: "The vast majority of American founders and the whole ratifying people thought and acted in the conviction that the American theory of rights is religious as well as reasonable."11 Historian Eugene R. Sheridan observed: "The Enlightenment's demand for the rationalization and demystification of religion evoked a variety of responses. Latitudinarians sought to prove the reasonableness of Christianity, Deists preached the sufficiency of natural religion, and skeptics and atheists rejected religion as superstition – and these beliefs all coexisted in many quarters with a continued defense of Christian orthodoxy on traditional grounds."15

During this period, the roles of patriot and pastor were sometimes mixed. For example, Dr. Samuel Cooper of Brattle Street Church in Boston, a longtime friend and correspondent of Benjamin Franklin. Rev. Cooper, a well-known rebel leader, was know as "Silver tongue Sam."16 His parishioners included John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Abigail Adams occasionally attended and wrote Rev Cooper:. "I rejoice in a preacher who has some warmth, some energy, some feeling."17 Cooper biographer Charles W. Akers wrote that Cooper tried to hold together the disparate wings of his popular Brattle Street Congregational Church until the British occupied Boston. He left the city shortly before the British marched on Lexington and Concord – British troops took over his church as a barracks. After the British left the city, Cooper returned to give a triumphal certain in which he defined God's will for America: "a Land that should be made their own Property by the best Title; where they should possess the Fruits of their own Industry not at the Will of another; and should enjoy the Soil and its Produce, secure from Tyrannic oppression, and unmolested by those that hated them."18 Religious historian Mark A. Noll noted: : "Sermons encouraging a defense of political liberty...were by no means restricted to New England. Presbyterians in New Jersey and the South preached a similar message as did representatives of the Baptists and other smaller denominations." Noll noted: Surprisingly..the patriot cause also received support from the small Catholic community in the English-speaking colonies. Such support was surprising because of the hostility toward Roman Catholicism that was everywhere present in the colonies."19

Thomas S. Kidd wrote about one Connecticut pastor, David Avery, who served at the Battle of Bunker Hill and continued in the Continental Army for the next several years, including the Battles of Trenton and Saratoga. American clergy gave a religious significance to the American Revolution, intertwining notions of faith and liberty, this world and the next. Kidd noted that "Starting with the war's opening shots at Lexington and Concord in 1775, Americans like Avery infused the unfolding Revolution with prophetic and providential significance. Baptist leaders Isaac Backus and James Manning believed that the Revolution was an 'important step towards bringing in the glory of the latter day' that would inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth."20

One paradigm of the Revolutionary clergy was Anglican minister Peter Muhlenberg, who joined the army after preaching to his congregation on Ecclesiastes 3: "To every thing there is a season...a time of war, and a time of peace." Muhlenberg delivered his last sermon to his congregation in Woodstock, Virginia, in January 1776, saying: "There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away. There is a time to fight, and that time has now come."21 At that point Pastor Muhlenberg removed his black ministerial robe to reveal the militia uniform underneath. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote Muhlenberg "assumed he would be a chaplain; Washington made him a colonel and sent him home to raise a regiment."22 Promoted to general in 1777, Muhlenberg would serve in several major engagements including the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth as well as the British surrender at Yorktown. Thomas S. Kidd wrote: "American pastors like Muhlenberg, and especially the chaplains who ministered to soldiers on the battlefield, helped infuse the Revolutionary War with sacred meaning – sometimes regardless of what the war required the troops to do."23

General George Washington held no prejudice against pastors in uniform. He was a strong advocate of army chaplains. "The cause is sacred and the champions for it ought to be sacred," wrote Washington."24 According to historian Mary V. Thompson, 218 army "chaplains represented a variety of Christian denominations: Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Anglican, German Reformed, Lutheran, French Reformed, Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Universalist." Thompson wrote that there were "many ardent patriots serving as chaplains to the Continental Army. Congregationalist Samuel West of Massachusetts is credited with breaking a code used by Dr. Benjamin Church, who was an agent for the British. Another New England Congregationalist, Abner Benedict from Connecticut, helped to develop a primitive torpedo."25

As a member of the Continental Congress, Rev. John Witherspoon sponsored a resolution of fasting and prayer in 1775. Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey in Princeton, was the lone active member of the clergy in the Congress. Historian Jeffry H. Morrison observed: "Witherspoon was a member of the so-called 'Black Regiment,' American clergy who agitated and sometimes even fought for independence."26 No minister was more prominent in the American Revolution than the Scottish-born Witherspoon, who came to America to become president of what is now Princeton University. Historian Thomas Fleming described Witherspoon as "stern" and "imperious"27 He was a child of and the leading promoter of the Scottish Enlightenment in America; biographer Jeffry Morrison argued that "Witherspoon [was] among the handful of moral philosophers in colonial America."28 The preacher-educator helped organize the Presbyterian church in America and wrote the introduction to its constitution in 1787. He became the church's first moderator.29 Historian Melvin H. Buxbaum noted: "Although the Presbyterian Church in the Middle Colonies had to struggle mightily to grow, it fared much better than did most of the other denominations. Its success resulted from the monumental efforts of its clergy to keep all congregations supplied with at least a part-time ordained minister."30

Witherspoon's influence extended well beyond religion. He was known more for the breadth of his leadership interests than for his depth in any one area. Though a leader in higher education, church, and political affairs, he was never a great politician, great orator, a great preacher, or a great theologian. But Witherspoon was there at all the critical moments in the 1770s and 1780s. Witherspoon's religious and political influence extended far beyond New Jersey. Historian Jeffry H. Morrison wrote that in Witherspoon's Thanksgiving Sermon of 1782, "we see a spelling out of the relationship between true religion and the public order in a more explicit fashion than was customary by the founders."31 Witherspoon declared: "The return which is expected from them [religious leaders] to the community is, that by the influence of their religious government, their people may be the more regular citizens, and the more useful members of society. I hope none here will deny, that the manners of the people in general are of the utmost moment to the stability of any civil society. When the body of a people are altogether corrupt in their manners, the government is ripe for dissolution. Good laws may hold the rotten bark some longer together, but in a little time all laws must give way to the tide of popular opinion, and be laid prostrate under universal practice. Hence it clearly follows, that the teachers and rulers of every religious denomination are bound mutually to each other, and to the whole society, to watch over the manners of their several members."32

Witherspoon was best known for an influential sermon that he gave six years earlier – just six weeks before the Declaration of Independence. No sermon during the American Revolution was more famous than the one he delivered on May 17, 1776 – "The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men." Historian Tait wrote that "two factors make the sermon so important in understanding Witherspoon's piety and his role as a Presbyterian minister in current affairs: the timing of the sermon...and the manner in which he developed the doctrine of providence in his discourse and then applied it to the war between the colonists and Great Britain."33 Witherspoon declared to his congregation – and to Americans in general:

If your cause is just—you may look with confidence to the Lord and intreat him to plead it as his own. You are all my witnesses, that this is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit. At this season however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without any hesitation, that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature. So far as we have hitherto proceeded, I am satisfied that the confederacy of the colonies, has not been the effect of pride, resentment, or sedition, but of a deep and general conviction, that our civil and religious liberties, and consequently in a great measure the temporal and eternal happiness of us and our posterity, depended on the issue. The knowledge of God and his truths have from the beginning of the world been chiefly, if not entirely, confined to those parts of the earth, where some degree of liberty and political justice were to be seen, and great were the difficulties with which they had to struggle from the imperfection of human society, and the unjust decisions of usurped authority. There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.
You shall not, my brethren, hear from me in the pulpit, what you have never heard from me in conversation, I mean railing at the king personally, or even his ministers and the parliament, and people of Britain, as so many barbarous savages. Many of their actions have probably been worse than their intentions. That they should desire unlimited dominion, if they can obtain or preserve it, is neither new nor wonderful. I do not refuse submission to their unjust claims, because they are corrupt or profligate, although probably many of them are so, but because they are men, and therefore liable to all the selfish bias inseparable from human nature. I call this claim unjust, of making laws to bind us in all cases whatsoever, because they are separated from us, independent of us, and have an interest in opposing us. Would any man who could prevent it, give up his estate, person, and family, to the disposal of his neighbour, although he had liberty to chuse the wisest and the best master? Surely not. This is the true and proper hinge of the controversy between Great-Britain and America. It is however to be added, that such is their distance from us, that a wise and prudent administration of our affairs is as impossible as the claim of authority is unjust. Such is and must be their ignorance of the state of things here, so much time must elapse before an error can be seen and remedied, and so much injustice and partiality must be expected from the arts and misrepresentation of interested persons, that for these colonies to depend wholly upon the legislature of Great-Britain, would be like many other oppressive connexions, injury to the master, and ruin to the slave.
The management of the war itself on their part, would furnish new proof of this, if any were needful. Is it not manifest with what absurdity and impropriety they have conducted their own designs? We had nothing so much to fear as dissension, and they have by wanton and unnecessary cruelty forced us into union. At the same time to let us see what we have to expect, and what would be the fatal consequence of unlimited submission, they have uniformly called those acts lenity, which filled this whole continent with resentment and horror. The ineffable disdain expressed by our fellow subject, in saying, "That he would not harken to America, till she was at his feet," has armed more men, and inspired more deadly rage, than could have been done by laying waste a whole province with fire and sword. Again we wanted not numbers, but time, and they sent over handful after handful till we were ready to oppose a multitude greater than they have to send. In fine, if there was one place stronger than the rest, and more able and willing to resist, there they made the attack, and left the others till they were duly informed, completely incensed, and fully furnished with every instrument of war.34

Gordon Tait wrote: "Witherspoon's main point is a familiar one: God's power is absolute and human passions are ultimately under the control of divine providence. Divine providence, he explains, extends to things of 'great moment' as well as to 'things the most indifferent and inconsiderable,' to 'things beneficial and salutary' as well as to 'things seemingly most hurtful and destructive.' Make no mistake! God 'over-rules all his creatures, and all their actions.'" Tait cited a paragraph:

That all the disorderly passions of men whether exposing the innocent to private injury, or whether they are the arrows of divine judgment in public calamity, shall, in the end, be to the praise of God: Or, to apply it more particularly to the present state of the American colonies, and the plague of war, – the ambition of mistaken princes, the cunning and cruelty of oppressive and corrupt ministers, and even the inhumanity of brutal soldiers, however dreadful, shall finally promote the glory of God, and in the meantime, while the storm continues, his mercy and kindness shall appear in prescribing bounds to their rage and fury.35

Ministers like Witherspoon contributed to developing the American consensus behind independence from England. An underlying faith inspired and informed them. Historian Walter A. McDougall noted that "most Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Bordermen, Old Lights, New Lights, and rational skeptics, invested their material and legal complaints against Britain with moral and spiritual meaning."36 Theirs was more than a political crusade. It was a spiritual one. McDougall noted that "by 1776 all American patriots called the cause of liberty 'sacred' and endowed their glorious cause with the attributes of a religion, including a creation myth, a theology, a moral code, a martyrology, and a teleology promising a limitless 'empire of liberty' (in Jefferson's words) if Americans snapped the chains of Old World corruption and made themselves worthy through abstinence, courage, faith, and community." They "made resistance to Britain and Tories at home into a holy war."37

The Bible and the pulpit were sources of inspiration and analogy for America's revolutionaries. They lived the Old Testament. "America was a new thing, men hoped or feared, from the outset. But new in what way?" wrote historian Garry Willis. "As a new Israel, a Chosen People in the wilderness? That was one of the first and most obvious ways of looking at our novelty; and it has not entirely disappeared to this day. Meaning tended to come, in colonial America, from the pulpit or the pamphlet, indiscriminately – there were journalists in the pulpit and pastors in the coffee houses. Their theme was inevitable. John Adams heard it in a Philadelphia sermon of May 17, 1776: 'I have this morning heard Mr. Duffil upon the signs of the times. He runs a parallel between the case of Israel and that of America, and between the conduct of Pharaoh and that of George.'" Wills wrote: "Adams liked the symmetry of it, and had a delightful suspicion he might be the deliverer in this new tale of exodus. He says in the same letter, 'Is it not a saying of Moses, who am I that I should go out before this great people?'"38

Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that "a large majority of the Framers were confessing Christians and church officers, while even skeptics repeatedly named faith and morals indispensable props for self-government."39 Some Founders tended to avoid overt professions of faith. New York lawyer John Jay, who served in political posts in both Philadelphia and New York State, was an exception. "Unlike many of the other Founders, John Jay was an openly religious man. His background was Huguenot, but his church-going was Episcopalian and when that wasn't available, Presbyterian. He quoted from and paraphrased the Bible in his political papers; he served as a leader of his parish church and of the national church; and he was a president of the American Bible Society," wrote Jay biographer Walter Stahr.40 But despite Jay's reputation for austerity, noted another Jay biographer Frank Monaghan, "[h]e believed that Christians should not be gloomy and melancholy, but that they should be cheerful and spirited. While he subscribed to the opinion that this world was a 'vale of tears,' a kind of anteroom to heaven, he was no grim ascetic." Monaghan noted that Jay "did not thrust his religious beliefs upon his neighbors; he was satisfied to be left in undisturbed possession of what he professed."41 While religion motivated Jay, he did not use religion against his peers.

Spiritually and financially, John Jay was a pillar of the church. Jay biographer Walter Stahr wrote that Jay in retirement "devoted much of his time to religion and to religious causes. When he arrived in Bedford, [New York,] there was a small Episcopal congregation, but no Episcopal church building and no regular minister. For a few years, he attended services at the Presbyterian church, but he provided financial support to the Episcopal congregation, which enabled them to build the church building which still stands as St[.] Matthew's in Bedford. He declined a position on the vestry, but attended the church regularly and supported it financially. According to parish tradition Jay sometimes brought along to church his dog, Bob. Jay also devoted much of his time to reading the Bible, too much time in the view of some of his friends. Adams, in a letter to Jefferson, said he would not want to see his son 'retire like a Jay to study prophecies to the end of his life.'"42

Another openly religious Founder was Boston firebrand Samuel Adams, a devoted Congregationalist. Historian Benjamin H. Irwin wrote that Sam Adams "melded puritan Christianity with republican political thought. "The elder Adams believed that 'true Religion and good Morals' – to borrow the language of a resolution he once pressed on Congress – 'are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness.'"43 Stoll wrote: "Samuel Adams was the archetype of the religiously passionate American founder, the founder as biblical prophet, an apostle of liberty." Stoll observed that Adams was "a man of real as well as professed piety' – a man of deep religious conviction whose confidence, zeal, and endurance in the struggle for freedom were grounded in a belief that an intervening God was on his side." Stoll noted that Adams "sometimes clashed with ministers he viewed as insufficiently supportive of the revolutionary cause. Passionate, determined, stubborn, thrifty, eloquent, idealistic, humble, he was a religious revolutionary."44

After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Adams wrote:

"We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come!" His cousin John wrote in 1817 that Sam "Adams lived and conversed freely with all sectarians, in philosophy and divinity. He never imposed his creed on any one, or endeavored to make proselytes to his religious opinions. He was as far from sentencing any man to perdition, who differed from him, as Mr. Holley, Dr. Kirkland, or Dr. Freeman. If he was a Calvinist, a Calvinist he had been educated, and so had been all his ancestors for two hundred years. 45 Sam retained his piety to his death, writing in 1797, "As piety, religion and morality have a happy influence on the minds of men, in their public as well as private transactions, you will not think it unreasonable, although I have frequently done it, to bring to your remembrance the great importance of encouraging our University, town schools, and other seminaries of education, that our children and youth while they are engaged in the pursuit of useful science, may have their minds impressed with a strong sense of the duties they owe to their God."46 When Sam died in 1803, a Salem minister noted that he "was a puritan in his manner always."47

Most of the leading Founders came from conservative religious traditions – Congregational and Episcopalian – where rationality was highly prized and emotional faith was not. In America, the Enlightenment met the Awakening. To the annoyance of several aging Founders, Awakening proved more influential as America grew. Richard Brookiser said: "The temperature of a lot of 18th century religion was just a lot lower." According to Brookhiser, if the Founders "wanted a Christian state they could have done it. They were writing the rules. They could have put God in the rules."48 Michael and Jana Novak argued that "After the Second Great Awakening, the predominant form of American religion was no longer Anglican or Puritan, but Baptist and Methodist – intimate, expressive, experiential, gregarious, friendly, extending a hand, and yet maintaining the discipline of small, morally watchful congregation. To be a Christian came to mean to feel much – and not to be inhibited in saying so."49


Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, Jay's fellow New Yorker and fellow author of The Federalists Papers, waxed and waned in his religious devotion. Hamilton's West Indian mother, "Rachel was likely denied a burial at nearby St. John's Anglican Church. This may help to explain a mystifying ambivalence that Hamilton always felt about regular church attendance, despite a pronounced religious bent," wrote biographer Ron Chernow.50 Hamilton himself had been rather religious as a youth. Robert Troup, Hamilton's college roommate, testified to his youthful piety. "IN addition to church attendance, Alexander prayed on his knees morning and night, apparently aloud, for Troup said that he was affected by the young man's 'fervour and eloquence,'" wrote Hamilton biographer Marie B. Hecht.'"51

Hamilton changed in middle age. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: "During the Revolutionary era Hamilton had shed his youthful religious inclinations and had become a conventional liberal with deistic inclinations who was an irregular churchgoer at best. People even told stories about his joking references to religion."52 After the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Hamilton was asked why God had not been mentioned in the Constitution. "We forgot," he quipped.53 Hamilton's religious observation decreased markedly in middle age. Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote: "Like most American patriots of his generation. Hamilton believed that he was fully competent to elucidate the intentions of the Almighty. Conceiving the universe to be essentially mechanistic, governed by laws which the human intelligence could discover and comprehend, it seemed to Hamilton and his fellow patriots that human affairs were likewise controlled by laws which could be reduced to a few simple principles."54

In 1779, Hamilton wrote out the qualifications of his ideal wife: "As to religion, a moderate streak will satisfy me. She must believe in god and hate a saint."55 Hamilton's wife Eliza believed in God and was considerably more dedicated to religious observance than her less-than-saintly husband. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote that Betsey was "troubled" by "her husband's lack of religious faith....He had been more than agreeable when Betsey insisted on having their first three children christened at Trinity Church in New York. But he rarely accompanied her and the children to services on Sunday, and when he went, he never received communion."56

A marital affair that led to political blackmail when Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury may have prompted some soul-searching on his part. Another prompt was more partisan. Gordon Wood wrote that "during the 1790s Hamilton began recovering his earlier interest in religion, partially in reaction to what he perceived to be the atheism of the French revolutionaries and their supporters in America."57 As he approached the end of his life, Hamilton's religious faith strengthened. Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote: "Ever paradoxical, Hamilton, who had seemed to abandon his early piety for a more casual attitude to religion, had become intensely reverent. He had never had the opportunity to execute his plans for a national organization of Christians to elect like-minded men to political office, to establish schools, and to circulate Christian-oriented publications commented on current events."58 Mapp wrote: "Even before Hamilton left Washington's cabinet, where he had performed so brilliantly and been so influential, his life was on a downward course and he was almost stifled by depression. Political frustration was not the only cause. Financial problems and his wife's lingering illness were strong contributing factors. Apparently, through all these vicissitudes, religion brought little comfort."59

Hamilton's piety seemed further to increase on his death bed in July 1804. In a letter to his wife shortly before his duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, Hamilton concluded: "The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and those you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world."60 Hamilton himself was denied the consolation of the church's sacraments. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote that New York Bishop Benjamin Moore refused to give Hamilton communion because the former Treasury secretary had never become member of the Episcopal church. A Presbyterian minister came to see Hamilton but refused to offer communion on the grounds that it was a public rather than a private sacrament. Hamilton apparently wished to take communion in order to assure his wife of his state of grace. He repeatedly told his distraught wife: "Remember, my Eliza, you are a Christian."61


Benjamin Franklin

Like Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin seemed to become more religious as he neared death. Franklin had been brought up in the church but as a teenager he rejected many of its beliefs. After moving to Philadelphia in 1721 at age 17, noted Franklin biographer Carl Van Dore,, Franklin adopted the trappings of religious respectability even as he continued his religious search: "The Franklin family had a pew in the Episcopalian Christ Church, where the two younger children were baptized and they and both their parents were buried. Franklin gave help in the church's business affairs, subscribed to the building fund, and served (1752-53) as one of the managers of a lottery to raise money for a steeple and a chime of bells."62 Franklin himself wrote in his autobiography: "I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho' some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion; and being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serv'd principally to divide us, and made us unfriendly to one another. This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induc'd me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increas'd in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contribution, my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect was never refused."63

Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote that Franklin's "curiosity about the world he lived in led him continually back to its Creator and to whatever rules He might have prescribed, not only for the behavior of the water and air and earth of His creation but also for the people He placed in it. As a young man Franklin did a lot of thinking about that and more than once changed his mind. After he finally settled on what he believed, he did not talk much about it, but that belief gave direction to everything he did and to what he thought he ought to do."64 As always, Franklin was practical. Philosophy professor Jacob Needleman wrote that Franklin's "main difficulty with established religion...had to do with its incapacity to help individuals be of service to each other and its tendency to set people against each other, rather than to support the formation of community."65 Historian Edmund S. Morgan noted: "While he stayed away from churches, he made donations to them – they might help some people love their neighbors. He even contributed to building a steeple for the Episcopal church." Franklin's life was full of ironies. In defending a Presbyterian preacher against allegations of heresy, Franklin wrote: "Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means."66

In his Autobiography, Franklin wrote: "My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce fifteen, 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.

"Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but, each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful.67

Steven Waldman noted Franklin "admired Cotton Mather's emphasis on personal virtue....But he also rebelled against Puritan clergy early and often." Waldman wrote that "one part of Puritan doctrine he did embrace was the idea that human beings were lazy, malicious, egotistical, and prone to a 'life of ease.'" Therefore, despite his complaints about Christianity-as-practiced, he concluded that religion was quite useful, especially for other people." Like many prominent Founders, Franklin saw the civic utility of religion. Waldman noted: "Rather than rejecting religion, he customized it. He didn't attend church but continued to write prayers for himself."68 Franklin biographer Alfred Owen Aldridge noted that Franklin "devised...in November 1728, a private system of devotion, comprising a highly personal creed and method of worship. This he inscribed in a small notebook, about the size of the prayerbook for which it was a substitute. Some of his doctrines obviously stem from the deistical authors he had read in his teens; others are highly individualistic – and would have occurred only to a mind combining the imagination of genius with the method of an electronic brain."69

Franklin understood the importance of religious discipline even as he rejected religious doctrine. He wrote that as a boy: "I grew convinc'd that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; and I form'd written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to practice them ever while I lived. Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such; but I entertain'd an opinion that, though certain actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered. And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favorable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me, thro' this dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father, without any willful gross immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion."70

Franklin wrote that as an adult: "Tho' I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He us'd to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administration, and I was now and then prevail'd on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday's leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforc'd, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens."71 Franklin wrote of his belief that religion should have an impact on social conduct:

"At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things." And I imagin'd, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confin'd himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.: 1. Keeping holy the Sabbath day. 2. Being diligent in reading the holy Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the publick worship. 4. Partaking of the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due respect to God's ministers. These might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more. I had some years before compos'd a little Liturgy, or form of prayer, for my own private use (viz., in 1728), entitled, Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion. I return'd to the use of this, and went no more to the public assemblies. My conduct might be blameable, but I leave it, without attempting further to excuse it; my present purpose being to relate facts, and not to make apologies for them." 72

Franklin continued to believe religion was important and returned occasionally to services. Religion scholar Gary Kowalski wrote: "When he attended church himself, his preferences varied. In 1774, he was present at the founding of the Essex Street Chapel, London's first Unitarian congregation. And in Britain he frequently attended the services of his friend and fellow scientist the Reverend Joseph Priestley."73 Despite his alienation from traditional worship, Franklin in 1764 wrote from England to his daughter back in Philadelphia: "Go constantly to Church whoever preaches. The Acts of Devotion in the common Prayer Book, are your principal Business there; and if properly attended to, will do more towards mending the Heart than Sermons generally can do. For they were composed by Men of much greater Piety and Wisdom, than our common Composers of Sermons can pretend to be. And therefore I wish you wou'd never miss the Prayer Days. Yet I do not mean that you shou'd despise Sermons even of the Preachers you dislike, for the Discourse is often much better than the Man, as sweet and clear Waters come to us thro' very dirty Earth. I am the more particular on this Head, as you seem'd to express a little before I came away some Inclination to leave our Church, which I wou'd not have you do."74

Certainly, Franklin was a creature of the Enlightenment. Franklin biographer Esmond Wright wrote: "His intuitions were intellectual. He sought to make his Book of Common Prayer 'reasonable."75 As Franklin grew older, he "reverted to the characteristic Puritan habit of self-examination, though in his rational disciplinary exercises there was no trace of the deep conviction of sin that darkened Puritan soul searchings," wrote historian Alfred Mapp, Jr. "But there was a realistic appraisal of human nature, which Franklin in his genial skepticism came to understand as well as any man."76 According to biographer Verner Crane, "Franklin devoted a surprising amount of attention to religion throughout his life – surprising in a man without mysticism or a deeply spiritual nature."77 But, there was also an emotional component to Franklin's thinking. Commenting on his return in 1785 to Philadelphia from France, Franklin wrote: "God be praised and thanked for all His mercies!"78

Although Franklin is usually labeled as a deist, Franklin's theology actually changed over time. "Franklin's idea of a universe whose Creator does not intervene in subsequent events is complicated by his ideas about subordinate gods serving separate worlds," wrote historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr. "Though he had proposed that the Supreme God remained aloof from human affairs, he had held that the subordinate gods took an active interest in events in their individual worlds. Apparently, Franklin's pantheistic thoughts were not just youthful fancies."55 Franklin, however, apparently had ditched his pantheistic notions by the time he wrote and reflected his experiences as a scientist in an 1790 letter to Yale President Ezra Stiles. Then 85, Franklin wrote: "I believe in one God, creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we can render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever sect I meet with them."79 Franklin provided a summary of his beliefs in a 1785 letter to George Whateley:

"When I observe that there is great frugality, as well as wisdom, in his works, since he has been evidently sparing both of labor and materials; for by the various wonderful inventions of propagation, he has provided for the continual peopling [of] his world with plants and animals, without being at the trouble of repeated new creations; and by the natural reduction of compound substances to their original elements, capable of being employed in new compositions, he has prevented the necessity of creating new matter; so that the earth, water, air, and perhaps, fire, which being compounded from wood, do, when the wood is dissolved, return, and again become air, earth, fire, and water; I saw, that, when I see nothing annihilated; and not even a drop of water wasted, I cannot suspect the annihilation of souls, or believe, that he will suffer the daily waste of millions of minds ready made that now exist, and put himself to the continual trouble of making new ones. Thus finding myself to exist in the World, I believe I shall, in some shape or other, always exist."60

Franklin's adult opinion of Jesus was similar to Thomas Jefferson's: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is like to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting 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, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive, that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure."80

As a young man, Franklin wrote his father: "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every sect, church, and society of men, when they assume to themselves that infallibility which they deny to the Pope and councils. I think opinions should be judged of by their influences and effects; and, if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious; it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous; which I hope is the case with me."81 Like Thomas Jefferson, the adult Franklin tried to revise Christianity to fit his own mould. For example, he rewrote the Lord's Prayer to read: "Heavenly Father, may all revere thee, and become thy dutiful children and faithful subjects. May thy laws be obeyed on earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven. Provide for us this day as Thou has daily done. Forgive us our trespasses and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us. Keep us out of temptation and deliver us from evil."82


George Washington

Like Franklin, George Washington believed in religion. What is less clear is what he believed about religion. President Washington wrote in 1795: "In politics as in religion my tenets are few and simple."83 George Washington worked hard to keep separate his public and private views on religion. Political scientist John G. West, Jr. wrote that his "political theology was far from ambiguous. It incorporated three great propositions, proposition that helped form an American consensus on religion in public life that lasted for much of our nation's history. First, Washington believed that religion served as the necessary defender of morality in civic life. Second, he maintained that the moral law defended by religion was the same moral law that can be known by reason. Third, he saw religious liberty as a natural right of all human beings."84 Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison wrote: "Washington's religion was that of a an eighteenth-century gentleman. Baptized in the Church of England, he attended service occasionally as a young man, and more regularly in middle age, as one of the duties of his station. He believed in God; the eighteenth-century Supreme Being, a Divine Philosopher who ruled all things for he best. He was certain of a Providence in the affairs of men. By the same token, he was completely tolerant of other people's beliefs, more so than the American democracy of today; for in a letter to the Swedenborgian church of Baltimore he wrote: 'In this enlightened age and in the land of equal liberty it is our boast that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the law, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.' But Washington never became an active member of any church."85

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that George Washington "has divines constantly about him because he thinks it right to keep up appearances but is an unbeliever."86 Steven Waldman wrote: "James Madison's view was that Washington was spiritual but not interested in the theological particulars of the Christian faith. Compared with the other Founding Fathers, Washington spent little time on religious exploration or debate, acting, in effect, more like a general than a philosopher. Madison did 'not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that he had formed definite opinions on the subject. But he took these things as he found them existing, and was constant in his observance of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal church in which he was brought up.'"87

Washington's specific beliefs have long been subject to the speculation of historians. Steven Waldman wrote that Washington "believed in an omnipotent and constantly intervening God – one who seemed to protect the nation as a whole and him in particular."88 Peter R. Henriques wrote that "at the core of his belief system was his conviction that there was an unseen but beneficent power that directed the universe and human affairs. Over and over again, in both public and private correspondence, he made this point, but probably nowhere more succinctly than in a letter to his good friend, General Henry Knox: 'his ways are wise, they are inscrutable, and irresistable.'"89 Historian Mary V. Thompson observed: "A close examination of Washington's religious education, along with his customary practices and public statements, lends credence to the idea that he may well have been a Latitudinarian. This was a man, after all, who once wrote that 'in religion my tenets are few and simple.'"90

Most historians have cast George Washington in the Deist mold and suggested that Washington's faith was more for public consumption than private edification. Paul F. Boller, Jr., wrote: "Washington was a typical eighteenth-century deist – his writings are sprinkled with such catch phrases as 'Grand Architect,' 'Director of Human Events,' 'Author of the Universe,' and 'Invisible Hand' – and he had the characteristic unconcern of the deist for the forms and creeds of institutional religion. He had, moreover, the upper-class deist's strong aversion for sectarian quarrels that threatened to upset the 'peace of Society.' No doubt Washington's deist indifference was an important factor in producing the broad-minded tolerance in matters of religion that he displayed throughout his life."91 Historian Joseph Ellis wrote: "Never a deeply religious man, at least in the traditional Christian sense of the term, Washington thought of God as a distant, impersonal force, the presumed well-spring for what he called destiny or providence. Whether or not there was a hereafter, or a heaven where one's soul lived on, struck him as one of those unfathomable mysteries that Christian theologians wasted much ink and energy trying to resolve."92 Religion scholar David L. Holmes concluded: "With only a few exceptions (which may or may not have stemmed from the work of pious assistants), Washington's speeches, orders, official letters, and other public communications on religion give a more or less uniform picture. They seem clearly to display the outlook of a Deist."93 Peter Henriques, however, contended that Washington "might more accurately be described as a 'theistic rationalist' rather than either as a 'Christian' or as a 'deist.' Theistic rationalism refers to a hybrid belief system mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, with rationalism being the predominant element.""94

Historians have noted that Washington's God was more Old Testament than New Testament, but to suggest that Washington lacked faith contradicts both his public and private writings about Providence. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: "Washington never mentioned Christ in his writings, and he usually referred to God as 'the great disposer of human events."95 Paul Johnson wrote of Washington: "In his twenty volumes of correspondence there is not a single mention of Christ. In no surviving letter of his youth does the name Jesus appear, and only twice thereafter. 'Providence' occurs more frequently than God. He was never indifferent to Christianity – quite the contrary: he saw it as an essential element of social control and good government – but his intellect and emotions inclined him more to that substitute for formal dogma, freemasonry...."96 Washington generally avoided specifically Christian language mentioning Jesus. The general wrote during the Revolutionary War: "Unanimity in our Councils, disinterestedness in our pursuits, and steady perseverence in our national duty, are the only means to avoid misfortunes; if they come upon us after these we shall have the consolation of knowing that we have done our best, the rest is with the Gods."97 Michael and Jana Novak argued: "Much has been made of the fact...that Washington wrote very seldom of Jesus Christ, whether in his public statements, more strikingly, even in his private correspondence. Yet the same is true of Martha Washington, devout Christian though she is known to have been, in her private correspondence. It was not common for laypersons of the Anglican communion to write or speak the name of Jesus very often."98 Washington's references to "Providence," "Supreme Being," and other synonyms for God are rather frequent – and his references to his reliance on God are striking. His religion was defined by humility. In a 1783 letter at the Revolutionary War, Washington wrote: "If my Conduct throughout the War has merited the confidence of my fellow Citizens, and has been instrumental in obtaining for my country the blessings of peace and freedom—I owe it that Supreme Being who guides the hearts of all—who has so signally interposed his aid in every stage of the contest, and who has graciously been pleased to bestow on me the greatest of earthly rewards—the approbation and affections of a free people."99

Washington was an advocate of the importance of religion to civil society. Steven Waldman note that "Washington was a strong believer in the importance of religion as a force to improve conduct and obedience – and he was not shy about using the power of his military office to promote religion for those purposes."100 Washington discouraged cursing and vice and encouraged chaplains and church services. He attended services in a variety of Christian edifices, Washington clearly believed in the efficacy of Christian works more than in Christian faith. Replying to a communication from a Presbyterian group in 1789, President Washington wrote: "While I reiterate the possession of my dependence upon Heaven as the source of all public and private blessings; I will observe that the general prevalence of piety, philanthropy, honesty, industry and œconomy seems, in the ordinary course of human affairs are particularly necessary for advancing and confirming the happiness of our country. While all men within our territories are protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of their consciences; it is rationally to be expected from them in return, that they will be emulous of evincing the sincerity of their profession by the innocence of their lives, and the beneficence of their actions: For no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his own religious society."101

Washington spoke openly about religion – but in general terms. He was guarded in his personal faith. Historian Dixon Wecter wrote: "Through all the trials of his life Washington steadily believed that Providence helped him. His diary shows that he attended church more often in times of stress than of calm. His sense of truth, honor, and justice were bound up with religion, although contrary to myth he appears not to have been a deeply spiritual man."102 Richard Norton Smith wrote "As a deeply private man who guarded his heart, it would have been out of character for him to advance a public religious agenda or even confide reverence to the prosaic pages of his diary. As he grew older, however, Washington became noticeably more dependent on religious support to carry out his crushing responsibilities. Perhaps because he had listened to more bad sermons than anyone of his age, he had little stomach for the finer points of theological disputation. But no one privy to his correspondence or accounts of his intimates can doubt Washington's essential belief or fail to trace his genuine if poorly articulated relationship with his maker."103

Still, Washington's God was an active God. Michael and Jana Novak argued that "Washington's internally developed faith was partly philosophical and also distinctively Christian. In brief, Washington was a more a reflective thinker than he is given credit for."104 Biographer Richard Brookhiser observed on the contrary that Washington "had a warm and lively belief, repeatedly expressed in private and in public, in Providence. Washington's God was no watchmaker, who wound the world up and retired, but an active agent and force." God was an active force in life. "No aspect of his life has been more distorted than his religion," observed Brookhiser. "Washington was born an Anglican, like most Virginians of this time and class, and served on the vestry of his parish church. When the church in American reconstituted itself as Episcopalian after the Revolution, he went along with it. After his first inaugural, he walked to a service at St. Paul's chapel on Broadway, which still identifies his pew. The rector of Christ Church and St. Peter's in Philadelphia described him as 'serious and attentive' at services, though he seems not to have taken communion (Martha invariably did)."105 However, noted historian Mary V. Thompson, "Washington apparently received communion before the Revolution and sometimes during the Revolution as well."106

As America's chief executive residing in both New York and Philadelphia, Washington was within easy travel distance to a church. However, going to church near his home at Mount Vernon, noted Michael and Jana Novak, was not an easy proposition for the Washingtons – involving at least three hours of travel to one of the two parishes they attended and supported – one in rural Fairfax County and the other in Alexandria.107 Historian Mary V. Thompson noted: "Although the Washington family maintained pews in both Pohick and Christ Church, one scholar who has closely examined Washington's diaries for evidence of church attendance found that he was typically present an average of one Sunday per month (a frequency dictated in Virginia society by both custom and the law) and often spent Sundays at Mount Vernon visiting with friends, working, or fox hunting." In the last two years of his life, Washington is recorded as going to church only once. Thompson noted: "There is...evidence that, as he aged, Washington found the distance from church and the resulting long carriage ride more than he could manage and spent the day quietly at home answering letters."108

Skeptics of Washington's religious beliefs have noted that he usually didn't take communion – sometimes to the annoyance of presiding Anglican clergy. After he was criticized by a minister at Philadelphia's Christ Church for not receiving communion, he stopped attending services on days when communion was celebrated.109 "Some historians have interpreted this abstention as evidence that Washington's faith was largely formal, a social obligation like the alms he regularly provided for the poor," noted historian Richard Norton Smith.110 Still, Washington exhibited reverence and respect at worship, according to his step-granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis. She wrote that "Washington "communed with his God in secret." Bishop William White wrote that Washington's attendance at Episcopal services in Philadelphia "was always serious and attentive."111

Mary Thompson cites other evidence of Washington's religious beliefs. She noted: "Had Washington suffered from doubts or uncertainties concerning church doctrine, he could have declined to serve as a godfather. The necessity for sponsors to profess a belief in the Trinity, one of the tenets of the Apostles' Creed, was a primary reason behind Thomas Jefferson's refusal to stand as godfather for the children of friends."112 Skeptics of Washington's orthodoxy have suggested that Washington was more observant of the forms of religion than of faith. Nevertheless, Timothy Dwight, a Congregationalist minister who had served as an army chaplain, declared of Washington's Christianity: "I have considered his numerous and uniform public and most solemn declarations of his high veneration for religion, his exemplary and edifying attention to public worship, and his constancy in secret devotion, as proofs sufficient to satisfy every person, willing to be satisfied. I shall only add, that if he was not a Christian, he was more like one than any man of the same description, whose life has been hitherto recorded."113 In a funeral sermon for Washington, his friend the Rev. James Muir said: "Whatever proceeded him in his official character, breathes a reverence for God: a respect for his Government: and a deep sense of the importance of Religion to secure men's best interest both in this, and in the other world."114

Mary Thompson noted that Washington's writings reflected his knowledge of the scriptures. She cited a letter he wrote a French acquaintance: "For the sake of humanity it is devoutly to be wished, that the manly employment of agriculture and the humanizing benefits of commerce, would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest; that the swords might be turned into plough-shares, the spears into pruning hooks, and, as the Scripture expresses it, 'the nations learn war no more.'"115

The wives of the Founders were often more notable for their religious devotion than were their husbands. Martha Custis Washington clearly kept the faith in the Custis-Washington family. She was a regular at prayer and communion. "Each morning after breakfast she retreated to her room for an hour of prayer and devotional reading," wrote Richard Norton Smith.116 Biographer Patricia Brady wrote: "Martha explored her religion in more depth through several books; most of them emphasized the importance of good works and tolerance for the beliefs of others, in addition to Christian faith."117 Much has been made of the fact that Martha knelt at prayer in church while her husband stood. Mary V. Thompson wrote that Washington's upright posture should not detract from his faith or piety since it may have been more "customary" than the posture of his wife.118

George Washington defied labels – for personal and political reasons. He decried partisanship in politics and he was hardly more likely to advocate a sectarian viewpoint in religion. He was always an advocate of national Union and sought to downplay geographic, political and religious differences that might undermine that Union. Mary V. Thompson concluded: "The truth about Washington's religious beliefs appears to lie between the extremes, pietism and deism, often claimed for him."119 Michael and Jana Novak have argued that the deism of Washington is overstated and his religious convictions far understated. "There were good reasons why Washington thought it more prudent to avoid a confessional way of speaking of God," they wrote. As a national leader, Washington framed his comments to appeal to the diversity of its religious communities. "To encourage this amity, dear to his heart, Washington avoided unnecessarily stoking theological rivalry. He found in traditional Hebraic terms for God room for substantial common ground among Protestants Catholics and Jews." The Founders largely kept their religious views private – in part so as not to offend their fellow citizens. The Novaks argued that Washington's "vision of God was in good measure that of the Hebrew prophets and the psalmist....His was a richly informed biblical mind – informed, perhaps, by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (which is itself saturated with biblical references), which he knew from childhood on."120

The Novaks wrote:

Beyond reason, he needed 'the pure and benign light of Revelation,' which kept stressing that humans must come to God out of their own interiority, from the depth of their own souls, without coercion or coddling. On the other hand, the reach of Jehovah, the Creator is universal, and so Washington felt the need, too, for a language that escaped any hint of sectarianism. He felt deep within himself the pull, under God, of America's universal mission: 'the lot which Providence has assigned us,' he says in one place, and, in another 'as the acts on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity.'"121

Washington's deathbed included no discussion of faith, according to the version recorded by his secretary Tobias Lear. Historian Mary V. Thompson wrote that "Lear's account, while very full, may well not tell everything that went on that day. Other than a brief exchange, during which Washington sent his wife to his office to bring the two versions of his will stored there and then directed which one should be burned, Lear neglected to record any other conversation between these two people, who had been devoted to one another for forty years."122 Thompson wrote: "Washington had no need to make a statement of faith, because he was surrounded by people who knew him, and those beliefs, very well."123 But, noted Peter R. Henriques, "Washington's last will and testament contains no money for any religious purposes and shows no concern with any aspect of theology after the traditional opening phrase, 'In the name of God, amen.'"124

Henriques wrote: "Both by inclination and principle, Washington shied away from demonstrations of piety, and he demonstrated character by not performing religious rituals that he did not believe in simply in order to gain popularity."125 Indeed, he appeared to take Masonic rights more seriously than Christian ones. Steven Waldman observed that Washington "was sworn in as president on a bible borrowed from a New York Masonic temple, was surrounded in the Continental army and in his government by other Masons, and was buried with full Masonic rites."126


Thomas Jefferson

Like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson nominally was an Anglican. "Virginia gentlemen expected to reach heaven as Anglicans or not at all, assuming they wished to forsake God's Country in the first place," wrote Washington biographer Richard Norton Smith.127 As a youth and a young man, Jefferson generally observed the forms of his faith. Jefferson "was brought up in the Church of England, and his earliest recollection was of saying the Lord's Prayer when his dinner was delayed. He planned at least one church and contributed to the erection of others, gave freely to Bible Societies, and liberally to the support of the clergy. He attended church with normal regularity, taking his prayer book to the services and joining in the responses and prayers of the congregation. No human being ever heard him utter a word of profanity," wrote biographer Claude G. Bowers.128 Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel, wrote that Jefferson "graduated from the church's College of William and Mary, served as a vestryman, owned and traveled with a well-worn Book of Common Prayer, contributed to different churches, and designed a new one for the nearby parish. He invoked God in his inaugural addresses and as president attended Sunday services in the chamber of the House of Representatives, lending the prestige of his office to religious gatherings."129

Jefferson didn't play the part of an atheist. He went to church, most conspicuously as president. Biographer Henry Stevens Randall noted that Jefferson "attended church with as much regularity as most of the members of the congregation – sometimes going alone on horseback, when his family remained at home. He... always carried his prayer-book, and joined in the responses and prayers of the congregation. He was baptized into the Episcopal Church in his infancy; he was married by one of its clergymen; his wife lived and died a member of it; his children were baptized into it, and when married were married according to it rites; its burial services were read over those of them who preceded him to the grave, over his wife, and finally himself."130

About theological doctrine, however, Jefferson was much less conventional. Historian Charles B. Stanford noted: "Despite his intellectualism, there was a surprising conservatism in Jefferson's beliefs about God. He had an Anglican reverence for God and Jesus Christ and a fondness for worship and private devotions. He believed firmly not only in the existence of God but in the continuing, guiding presence of God in the lives of individuals and the nation."131 Andrew Burstein wrote that Jefferson "accepted God in the abstract, as the architect of the universe; but he refuted the notion of an active, omnipresent god, which belief he saw to have been generated solely by historical uncertainties, the most apparent being human anxiety over death."132 Charles B. Sanford wrote that Jefferson's "great-grandson described Jefferson's religion as that of a 'conservative Unitarian....He did not believe in the miracles, nor the divinity of Christ, nor the doctrine of the atonement, but he was a firm believer in Divine Providence, in the efficacy of prayer, in a future state of rewards and punishments, and in the meeting of friends in another world."133

Unlike fellow Virginian Washington, however, Jefferson was deeply suspicious of organized religion. Jefferson had a poor impression of Christian clergy, whom he believed had corrupted the original Christian beliefs. Biographer Dumas Malone wrote that "from the his twenties until his death he was anticlerical in varying degrees of bitterness...he continued throughout life to have warm personal friends among the 'enlightened' clergy; and he always contributed generously to local churches. But before he attacked the special privileges of the Establishment in Virginia, ecclesiastical authority and traditional theology had wholly ceased to have validity for him."134 "To the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed," Jefferson wrote Dr. Benjamin Rush. He added that "I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other."135

The presidential campaign of 1800 was in part waged as a Federalist attack on Jefferson's alleged atheism. These attacks further alienated Jefferson from the clergy. Jefferson biographer Fawn Brodie wrote that Jefferson's "old hatred of clergymen, stiffened by their attacks on his personal morality during his presidency, never really lessened."103 His retirement to Monticello in 1809 removed him from the public eye but did not remove his attitudes against many Christian clergy. "For notwithstanding his recognition of the need for religious toleration in such a society, he never abandoned his intense suspicion of organized churches," noted Jefferson biographer E. M. Halliday. 'In every country and in every age,' he wrote to a friend in 1814, 'the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own...'" Jefferson's antagonism was founded on his lifelong conviction that 'revealed' religion (for example, fundamentalist insistence that the Bible is 'the Word of God'), which he saw as superstition by definition, was naturally incompatible with democracy."136 The battle between mystery and rationality was no contest for Jefferson. He believed that his reasoned version of religious truth would ultimately (and quickly) triumph.

Jefferson had particular disdain for both Catholic and Calvinist strains of Christianity. Jefferson called Christian theologians like John Calvin "the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. They are mere usurpers of the Christian name, teaching a counter-religion made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. Their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself, with the horrors so falsely imputed to him. Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian."137 Still, Jefferson understood the civil uses of religion. He viewed religion primarily as a moral force "as befitted on whose controlling purpose in life was the improvement of man and society in this world rather than the next," wrote Eugene R. Sheridan.138

Most important Founders were students of religion as well as of the enlightenment. They studied it even if they doubted it. Historian Edwin S. Gaustad wrote of John Adams: "Born in the midst of theological and ecclesiastical controversy, he began reading books in religion at the age of twelve – and he never stopped."139 Michael Knox Beran wrote that Thomas "Jefferson had, as a young man, made a careful study of the classic tests of seventeenth-century English Protestantism. The young squire had read himself out of the casual, careless Anglicanism for which his Cavalier roots would seem to have predestined him; he had read Locke, Milton, and copious quantities of lesser Roundhead prose and poetry. These works were full of the poetry of the Old Testament, and Jefferson took from them something of the fervent and prophetic spirit they breathed."140 Jefferson knew the New Testament well. Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone wrote: "Just when this lifelong classicist began to turn himself into a biblical scholar is difficult to determine, but...he was thoroughly familiar with the Gospels, which he could readily read in Greek." Malone noted: "Jefferson did not refer to the Messiah, the Savior, or the Christ, but he had unbounded admiration for Jesus, whom he now introduced in moving language: "In this state of things among the Jews, Jesus appeared. His parentage was obscure; his condition poor; his education null; his natural endowments great; his life correct and innocent: he was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested, & of the sublimest eloquence.'"141

Familiarity did not breed unquestioning respect. Jefferson was suspicious of the Bible — especially anything that he thought added theological mystery to the teachings of Jesus. Although he admired Jesus, he did not admire the Biblical interpretation of Jesus. Jefferson wrote his young friend William Short that "the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man....Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe others."142

Although he admired Jesus, Jefferson did not recognize His divinity. Nevertheless, noted historian Charles B. Sanford, Jefferson "wrote more about Christ and his words than any other part of Christianity and studied the New Testament more than any other part of the Bible."143 In that Jefferson differed from George Washington, whose religious statements seldom mentioned the New Testament. In 1813, Jefferson wrote: "Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. He who follows this steadily need not, I think, be uneasy, although he cannot comprehend the subtleties and mysteries erected on his doctrines by those who, calling themselves his special followers and favorites, would make him come into the world to lay snares for all understanding but theirs."144 Jefferson wrote of Jesus: "It is the innocence of his character, the purity and sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcation, the beauty of his apologues in which he conveys them, that I so much admire....Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence."145 Dumas Malone observed: "Jefferson's view of the corruptions of Christianity...was reinforced by a book of Joseph Priestley on this subject. That writer and others contributed to his appreciation of the doctrines of Jesus, but his admiration may be largely-attributed to his own thorough and unaided study of the Gospels themselves. After commenting on the 'corruptions' he detested, he said: "Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us, which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man."146 Steven Waldman wrote that Jefferson was "anti-Christian and pro-Jesus.'"147

In 1810, Jefferson wrote: "Nothing can be more exactly and seriously true, that but a short time elapsed after the death of the great Reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State; that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man has been adulterated and sophisticated, by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves; that rational men not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats they raise the hue and cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do in fact constitute the real Anti-Christ."148

Jefferson saw himself as a defender of Jesus. In 1823 Jefferson wrote to John Adams "that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus 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. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors." Jefferson concluded with a reference to meeting Adams in heaven: "May we meet there again, in Congress, with our ancient Colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approbation `Well done, good and faithful servants.'"149 In the midst of the public controversy over his relationship with Sally Hemmings, President Jefferson wrote a Syllabus of an Estimate of the Doctrines of Jesus, Compared with Those of Others. According to historian Fawn M. Brodie the work was "an attempt at resolution of a shattering personal dilemma. The Syllabus said in brief, I am a good Christian, a man who reveres Jesus, though I cannot accept his godhood. Still, I accept his moral system as being better than either that of the ancient philosophers or that of the ancient Jews. But in Jefferson's use of metaphors, in his repetitions, in the very choice of subject – the great and innocent man cut down by the 'altar and the throne' — one sees him wrestling with his own sense of betrayal and crucifixion."150 Brodie wrote: "During the writing of this Syllabus, Jefferson conceived the idea of making his own private, expurgated New Testament. He would strip away its 'corruptions,' leaving out all references to the supernatural – the Virgin Birth, the miracles, the Resurrection, and the complexities of the crucifixion, including only, as he put it later, 'the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.' This project he began to carry out in the winter of 1804-5."151 Jefferson's work was literally a cut and paste job. The actual writing took just one month in February-March 1804 and reduced the Gospels to just 46 pages that Jefferson cut out of two Bibles. Jefferson himself said of his abridged gospels: "It was the work of two or three nights only at Washington after getting through the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day."152 Although it was published after Jefferson's death as "The Jefferson Bible," Jefferson himself grandly entitled it "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, extracted from the account of his life and teachings as given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Being an abridgment of the New Testament for the use of the Indians, unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond their comprehension." E.M. Halliday noted: "One of the most curious aspects of Jefferson's laborious project of editing the Gospels is that he kept the whole thing a close secret."153

Given its controversial nature, Jefferson's decision to conceal his work was wholly understandable and characteristic of the secrecy with which he tried to shroud his beliefs. Jefferson defended his abridgement in a letter to Charles Thomson in 1816 in which he described "the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma [sic] of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw."154 Historian Edwin S. Gaustad wrote: "The aging Thomson, not as careful with this letter as Jefferson regularly warned his correspondents to be, left the communication lying about to be read and interpreted by others. Thomson himself added to the confusion by suggesting that Jefferson had become an orthodox Christian and was about to write a book on the subject. The rumors flew, to the dismay and disgust of Jefferson, who did his best to quell them."155 Around 1820, prompted by the urgings of his former secretary William Smalls, Jefferson did a new and expanded edition of "The Life and Morals of Jesus." This was also a cut-and-paste job, but this time with parallel columns for English, French, Greek and Latin translations. Scholar Eugene Sheridan wrote: "In selecting passages for inclusion in his work, Jefferson treated the Gospels as ordinary secular histories..."156 It was a private work which Jefferson apparently used for his own religious devotions.

Thomas Jefferson saw himself as a religious reformer. For Jefferson, reason was a vital support of religion. Historian Eugene R. Sheridan wrote that his "critical attitude, typical of the Age of Enlightenment, characterized Jefferson's approach to religion, as to all other problems, from his youth. But unlike many other adherents of the Enlightenment, especially those in France, Jefferson's rationalism led him ultimately to an affirmation of faith rather than a rejection of religious belief."157 Jefferson's rationality was evident in a letter he wrote John Adams in 1823: "The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of the earth itself, with it's distribution of lands, waters, and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause, and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, ad their regenerator into new and other forms."158

Jefferson was a Deist who worshiped at the altar of reason. Jefferson biographer Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote that Jefferson "doubtless considered himself a Deist. He believed that the existence of creation presupposed a creator. He was disposed to believed that the creator was just, probably even benevolent. From various sources, but particularly from the writings of the Deist philosopher Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, he derived the conviction that no mystical revelation would provide the answers to his questions. Reason would be his only dependable guide."159 Historian Eugene R. Sheridan wrote that "the tension between the spirit of critical analysis and the tenets of traditional Christianity was the central theme of his religious history."160 Jefferson copied down a quote from Bolingbroke: "No hypothesis ought to be maintained if a single phenomenon stands in direct opposition to it."161 Several decades later, Jefferson wrote to his nephew: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."162

"Jefferson was a true disciple of the Enlightenment," wrote historian Charles B. Stanford.163 Just Jefferson was heavily influenced in early life by the writing of Viscount Bolingbroke, so was he heavily influenced in later life by the works of Joseph Priestley, a Unitarian minister and scientist, whose History of the Corruptions of Christianity Jefferson greatly admired. Andrew Burstein wrote that the Priestley book "had stressed the simplicity of early Christian practices and morals rejected the later complex forms of worship. Jefferson translated Priestley's sense of 'corruption' more cynically as theories conceived by a clerical cast ever bent on maintaining power by confusing people and compelling submission."164 Jefferson also admired a pamphlet Priestley had printed in 1803 entitled Socrates and Jesus Compared. All through his life, Jefferson was influenced by the Roman and Greek classics – especially Cicero, Epictetus, Epicurus, Euripides, and Homer. The test for religious truth in Jefferson's mind was always reason. In 1776 he wrote: "Truth will do well enough if left to shift for herself. She seldom has received much aid from the power of great men to whom she is rarely known and seldom welcome. She has no need of force to procure entrance into the minds of men. Error indeed has often prevailed by the assistance of power or force."165

In 1781-82 Jefferson had written in his Notes on the State of Virginia: "Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves."166 Jefferson was intolerant of mystery and mysticism. In 1801, Jefferson wrote the Rev Isaac Story who had written about his ideas about the "transmigration of souls: "When I was young, I was fond of the speculations which seemed to promise some insight into that hidden country, but observing at length that they left me in the same ignorance in which they had found me, I have for very many years ceased to read or to think concerning them, and have reposed my head on that pillow of ignorance which a benevolent Creator has made so soft for us, knowing how much we should be forced to use it."167 In 1816, Jefferson wrote Dr. George Logan: "The sum of all religion as expressed by it's best preacher, 'fear god and love thy neighbor' contains no mystery, needs no explanation. But this wont do. It gives no scope to makes dupes; priests could not live by it."168 Historian Eugene R. Sheridan wrote that for Jefferson, "traditional Christianity was unacceptable to a rational man because its fundamental doctrines were basically mysteries that could not be comprehended by human reason, and 'No man can believe he knoweth not what nor why."169 On August 10, 1787, Jefferson wrote to nephew Peter Carr a lengthy letter of advice about religion and the study of religion:

Man was destined for society. His morality therefore was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right & wrong merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality…The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted indeed in some degree to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman & a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.170

Historian Mapp wrote: "If Jefferson had ever been a youthful atheist, he had soon moved on to agnosticism, then to a faith grounded in classical and Biblical sources, and finally to an unorthodox Christianity."78 Biographer Claude Bowers wrote: "In his last days he spent much time reading the Greek dramatists and the Bible, dwelling in conversation on the superiority of the moral system of Christ over all others."171 While George Washington's pre-death vigil was devoid of religious imagery, Jefferson reportedly said before he died that he was ready to recite the Nunc Dimitis: "Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word."80

James Madison

James Madison, Jefferson's friend and neighbor in Virginia, was even more of a religious enigma than his older mentor. "Religion pervaded Madison's childhood," wrote Steven Waldman. "Each Sunday, the family rode on horseback or one-horse chair to the church, where relatives and friends gathered to pray and exchange gossip and news."172 "Little Jemmy" grew up in the Episcopal church, was apparently influenced by a Presbyterian revival while at Princeton, attended Episcopal churches with some regularity, but left few expressions of his religious convictions. Madison's first – and perhaps most influential teacher was the Rev. Donald Robertson, about whom Madison said "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man."173

Even Madison's choice of college seems based at least partly on religion. Waldman wrote that Madison's "decision to go to Princeton was momentous, for the time, it was an evangelical Christian school." Madison biographer Ralph Ketcham noted that "at Princeton his attention to religion did increase, intellectually at least, and perhaps even spiritually if he had been effected by the pervasive religious awakenings there in 1770 and 1772. Madison spent part of his extra year at Princeton studying Hebrew. Historian Irving Brant wrote: "Madison's affirmative toward theology was express in November 1772, after Bradford asked for advice on a puzzling choice between Law and Divinity. He preferred the latter but felt better qualified for the law. Divinity, Madison replied, was the most sublime of all sciences, and Bradford ought in an case to keep it obliquely in view."174 Madison's post-graduate study of Hebrew and theology, some surviving scholarly notes he took on scriptural commentaries in about 1772, a surviving prayer book he used in conducting family devotions, and the tone of his letters to [William] Bradford all suggest a deep religious concern."175 However, noted historian Edwin S. Gaustad, after Madison left Princeton, the future president "read little in theology and was even more cautious than Jefferson in offering any theological opinions whatsoever. When an Episcopal clergyman wrote him 1825 to solicit his views on 'the being and attributes of God,' Madison replied that he had not thought about those matters in any depth for fifty years."176 Surely that was a curious answer for a man which was such a systematic thinker.

Historian Garrett Ward Sheldon argued that Madison's political ideology was rooted in his early religious training – especially under Presbyterian minister and teacher John Witherspoon at Princeton. Madison avoided extremes in politics and religion; he sought balance. Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote: "Back home in Virginia, he pursued, on his own, further studies in both theology and law. Nevertheless, he believed that, even if his health problems should ease, his weak voice would debar him from both the legal profession and the ministry."177 One early commentator noted: "His political associations with those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to the general suspicion of it..." Religion scholar David L. Holmes wrote: "Once he embarked on his legal and political career, Madison rarely wrote or spoke publicly about religious subjects. Yet religion remained one of his lifelong interests."178

But there is not great evidence for those supposed interests in Madison's writings. Historian Garrett Ward Sheldon wrote: "His political theory cannot be understood apart from this theology. Madison's familiarity with this Augustinian and reformed theology is evident in his choice of books for the religion section of the new University of Virginia's library..." Sheldon wrote: "Without the poetic flourishes of a Jefferson or the worldly wisdom of a Franklin, Madison's writings reflect the strict, ordered rationality characteristic of eighteenth-century Calvinist training: carefully reasoned, tightly constructed arguments familiar to the Presbyterian clerics who founded Princeton University..."179 Rather uncharacteristically, James Madison wrote in 1785: "It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. 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."180

Jon Meacham argued that "Madison was a man of complicated religious views; intensely private about his theology, he did say that he had long held that 'belief in a God All Powerful wise and good is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources.'"181 Although Madison the nation's foremost advocate of separation of church and state, what he thought about religion during the period of his greatest political leadership is unknown. Historian Garrett Ward Sheldon wrote: "There is considerable evidence that James Madison adhered to this Christian perspective early in his life (having imbued it through his education at Princeton) and late in his life (after retiring from the presidency); but there is less explicit testimony to traditional Christianity, except conceptually, during his long career in public service. As a young man he may have been an advocate of 'the cause of Christ,' and as an elderly man he called the Christian faith 'the best and purest religion,' which is 'so essential to the moral order of the World, and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources; but during his years in governmental service Madison never explicitly mentions his personal beliefs."182 Sheldon wrote: "Madison displayed a cerebral, intellectual Christianity that did not divorce reason from faith but saw the two working together in complementarity for the greater glory of God; he had a reasoned and disciplined appreciation of Christ early associated with St. Augustine and the Catholic Jesuits."183 Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote: "Not only was an intense interest in religion an unbroken thread running through his life; a perpetual strand of that thread was his devotion to religious liberty."134 Religion scholar David L. Holmes wrote: "Like so many other founding fathers, James Madison seems to have ended up in the camp affirming the existence of a Deistic God." In 1825 Madison wrote that religious belief 'is so essential to the moral order of the World and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources."184

John Adams

Much of what we know of Thomas Jefferson's religion comes from letters he wrote from 1811 to 1826 to John Adams. Much more of what we know about John Adams' views on religion come from his letters to Jefferson. Religion was important to John Adams – even though he was highly skeptical of specific religious beliefs and shared many religious attitudes with Jefferson. Historian Edwin S. Gaustad wrote: "From early entries in his diary to letters written late in life, Adams composed variations on a single theme: God is so great, I am so small. Adams never doubted who was in charge of the universe, never viewed himself as master of his, or anyone's destiny."185 Adams was the son of a church deacon and the son-in-law of a minister. 'How close Adams came to becoming a minister he never exactly said, but most likely it was not close at all. His mother, though a pious woman, thought him unsuited for the life, for all that Deacon John wished it for him," wrote biographer David McCullough.186 Adams credited religion with preserving the Adams family. "I believe it is religion, without which they would have been rakes, fops, sots, gambler, starved with hunger, frozen with cold, scalped by Indians, &c., &c., &c., been melted away and disappeared."187 There was a strong Puritan strain to Adams' morality even when he strayed from Puritans' religious precepts: Adams wrote at 21 "that this World was not designed for a lasting and a happy State, but rather for a State of moral Discipline, that we might have a fair Opportunity and continual Excitement to labour after a cheerful Resignation to all the Events of Providence, after Habits of Virtue, Self Government, and Piety. And this Temper of mind is in our Power to acquire, and this alone can secure us against all the Adversities of Fortune, against all the Malice of men, against all the Operations of Nature."188

As argumentative as John Adams could be, he found the clergy too disputatious for his taste. Adams himself recalled the conditions under which he decided to switch his intended profession from the ministry to the law: "Between the years 1751, when I entered, and 1754, when I left college, a controversy was carried on between Mr. Bryant, the minister of our parish, and some of his people, partly on account of his principles, which were called Arminian, and partly on account of his conduct, which was too gay and light, if not immoral. Ecclesiastical councils were called, and sat at my father's house. Parties and their acrimonies arose in the church and congregation, and controversies from the press between Mr. Bryant, Mr. Niles, Mr. Porter, Mr. Bass, concerning the five points." Adams wrote:

I read all these pamphlets and many other writings on the same subjects, and found myself involved in difficulties beyond my powers of decision. At the same time, I saw such a spirit of dogmatism and bigotry in clergy and laity, that, if I should be a priest, I must take my side, and pronounce as positively as any of them, or never get a parish, or getting it must soon leave it. Very strong doubts arose in my mind, whether I was made for the pulpit in such times, and I began to think of other professions. I perceived very clearly, as I thought, that the study of theology, and the pursuit of it as a profession, would involve me in endless altercations, and make my life miserable, without any prospect of doing any good to my fellow men.189

Like Jefferson, Adams was a child of the Enlightenment. The future president brought to religion a lively interest in science that he developed at Harvard. Steven Waldman wrote: "Like Locke, Adams believed that since God created the laws of the universe, the scientific study of nature would help us understand His mind and conform to His wishes. He became convinced that while God loved a good argument, Christian leaders didn't, preferring to rule through intimidation rather than persuasion."190 Gratitude as well as reason was part of Adams's religious system. In 1756 Adams wrote a friend to complain about his social situation, but then moved quickly into a recitation of his gratitude for divine benevolence. He asked: "But shall I dare to complain and to murmur against Providence for this little punishment, when my very existence, all the pleasure I enjoy now, and all the advantages I have of preparing for hereafter, are expressions of benevolence that I never did and never could deserve?"

Shall I censure the conduct of that Being who has poured around me a great profusion of those good things that I really want, because He has kept from me other things that might be improper and fatal to me if I had them? ...But all of the provision He has made for the gratification of my sense, though very engaging instances of kindness, are much inferior to the provision for the gratification of my nobler powers of intelligence and reason. He has given me reason, to find out the truth and the real design of my existence here, and, has made all endeavors to promote that design agreeable to my mind and attended with a conscious pleasure and complacency. On the contrary, He has made a different course of life, a course of impiety and injustice, of malevolence and intemperance, appear shocking and deformed to my first reflection. He has made my mind capable of receiving an infinite variety of ideas, from those numerous material objects with which we are environed; and of retaining, compounding, and arranging the vigorous impressions which we received from these into all the varieties of picture and of figure."191

Like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams believed in the utility of religion even when he had doubts about religious beliefs themselves: "Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite society, I mean hell."192 Adams biographer James Grant wrote: "Adams had no patience with the institutionalized structure of religion – synods, councils, convocations, oaths, and confessions – or with the doctrinal controversies that had flared up in the Awakening."193 But despite these structural critiques. Adams was also a conventional church-goer. He was a lifelong member of Braintree's First Parish Church – which had switched from conservative Congregationalist doctrine to a Unitarian one in the mid-1750s. Religion scholar Gary Kowalski noted that "however far Adams ventured, spiritually or physically, he always came back to Braintree and to the meetinghouse where his family had worshiped for generations – and where he would eventually be laid to rest."194 His wife Abigail was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister who shared her husband's Unitarian bent. "His life-style was quite conventional for a man of his station. He remained in the church in which he was raised, faithfully attending worship services each week," wrote historian John Ferling.195 Adams biographer James Grant wrote: "John Adams fit to a T his own description of a New Englander: a 'meeting going animal.'"196

Adams was a longtime friend of Pastor Anthony Wibird of First Parish Church. His fidelity was not because the quality of Wibird's preaching. "Parson Wibird preached in his usual dull, unanimated strain," John Quincy Adams once said of Wibird sermon.197 Both John and Abigail valued good preaching. Abigail's biographer Woody Holton wrote: "One of Abigail's greatest regrets about living in New York was the lack of good preaching." Indeed she began to yearn for Rev. Wiborn's sermons: "I have cause every Sunday to regreet [sic] the loss of Parson Wibird, and that I should realy think it an entertainment to hear a discourse from him.'"198 Nevertheless, Adams was appreciative of the prayers offered by Pastor Wibird. "My sincere thanks to Mr. Wibird for his remembrance of me in his prayers," Vice President Adams wrote his wife. "It is to me a most affecting thing to hear myself prayed for, in particular as I do every day in the week, and disposes me to bear with more composure, some disagreeable circumstances that attend my situation."199 He understood the comfort that religion brought to his life.

Along with many Congregationalists, John and Abigail had moved in mid-18th Century from trinitarian to a unitarian belief structure. In March 1815, Abigail wrote son John Quincy Adams,"I acknowledge myself a unitarian — Believing that the Father alone, is the supreme God, and that Jesus Christ derived his Being, and all his powers and honors from the Father." She wrote: "There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one, and one three."200 Three years later, she wrote John Quincy's wife, Louisa, about "when will Mankind be convinced that true Religion is from the Heart, between Man and his creator, and not the imposition of Man or creeds and tests?"201 Like Jefferson, Adams did not seem to find the divinity of Jesus to be important. Indeed, over time, Adams became adamant in his unitarian model: "The human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no Scepticism, Pyrrhonism or Incredulity or Infidelity here. No Prophecies, no Miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any Prophecy, or the fullfillment of any Prophecy; or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle as We are, from the revelation of nature, i.e. natures God that two and two are four. Miracles or Prophecies might frighten Us to lie; to say that We believe that 2 and 2 make 5. But we should not believe it. We should know the contrary."202

Religion was something Adams believed must be worked at. Steven Waldman noted that Adams and Franklin were among several of the Founders who valued works over faith. Waldman wrote that Adams "was repulsed by the fundamental Protestant doctrine that salvation was determined by only faith – acceptance of Christ as personal savior – rather than deeds. This doctrine was 'detestable,' 'invidious,' and 'hurtful' – and would 'discourage the practice of virtue.'"203 Adams wrote Jefferson in 1812: "I could express my Faith in shorter terms. He who loves the Workman and his Work, and does what he can to preserve and improve it, shall be accepted of him."204

For Adams, worship must accompany work. Adams wrote in 1810: "The Christian religion, as I understand...is the brightness of the glory and the express portrait of the eternal, self-existent independent, benevolent, all-powerful and all-merciful Creator, Preserver and Father of the Universe..."205 Adams observed: "It is the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or retrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping GOD in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship."206 In 1812, Adams wrote Jefferson: "I had forgotten the custom of putting Prophets in the Stocks....It may be thought impiety by many, but I could not help wishing that the ancient practice had been continued down to more modern times and that all the Prophets at least from Peter the Hermit, to Nimrod Hews inclusively, had been confined in the Stocks and prevented from spreading so many delusions and shedding so much blood."207

In public, Adams presented a different image. Steven Waldman noted: "Of the first four presidents, John Adams was the most overtly Christian from his bully pulpit. In his inaugural address, he expressed 'a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians,' and a belief that 'Christianity [was] among the best recommendations for the public service.' In a thanksgiving proclamation, issued March 23, 1798, Adams asked for 'His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation."208

As he aged, Adams retained his piety while embracing skepticism. By the end of his life, noted biographer James Grant, Adams "had rejected the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the infallibility of Scripture, as did many a Boston Unitarian. But he believed in God and in God's governance of the world. He prayed, attended Congregational meeting on Sunday (morning and afternoon), discussed theological questions with fluence and earnestness, and read the Bible." Grant wrote: "It was lost on neither Abigail nor John that war and Christianity made awkward bedfellows. Rarely did John write the words 'Christ' or 'Christian.' More often, he referred to 'Providence,' a divine power not specifically identified with the theology of the New Testament."209

Adams died on July 4, 1826, the same day as Thomas Jefferson. His last words to his grand-daughter were: "Help me, child! Help me!"210


The Founders' Private Religion

When in 1820 he was 85, John Adams wrote: "My opinions...on religious subjects ought not to be of any consequence to any but myself."211 Religious reticence was a Founding trait. John Jay enjoyed the practice of religion but not the discussion of it. Jay Biographer Frank Monaghan wrote that "Jay conveniently made it a rule never to discuss his religious beliefs with a person with whom he was not in substantial agreement. One evening at Dr. Franklin's [outside Paris] he was engaged in a long conversation with a learned visitor, who suddenly turned the conversation to religion and laughed at the idea of the divinity of Jesus. Jay glared but said nothing, arose, turned on his heel and walked away. At another time a physician attending Jay began to scoff at the belief in a resurrection. Jay at once stopped him: "Sir, I pay you for your medical knowledge, and not for your distorted views of the Christian religion!"212

The Founders differed in their attitudes toward religion, but generally they kept their own religious beliefs rather private. The nation's fifth president, James Monroe, was a nominal Episcopalian – attending St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House as President as occasionally did his predecessor, James Madison. The written record about what Monroe believed, however, is virtually nonexistent. Religious scholar John McCollister wrote: "The religious conviction of President James Monroe is best classified as 'decision by indecision....No records offer any evidence that Mr. Monroe rejected the Anglican faith; at the same time, we have no record that he endorsed it, either."213

Even if their personal faith wavered, the religious practice of prominent Founders did not. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall was devoted to attendance at Episcopal services. Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote: "Many writers have assumed that his faithfulness was influenced not so much by personal conviction as by a desire to encourage the attendance of those whose conduct would otherwise deteriorate. Still other writers have suggested that he attended church in deference to his wife, Mary, the 'Dearest Polly' of his intimate correspondence."7 Biographer Jean Edward Smith wrote: "John Marshall never rejected the church openly, but his acceptance was environmental rather than doctrinal. Throughout his life the chief justice declined to become a member of any congregation, unable to believe in the divinity of Christ."214

No one was more private in his religious beliefs than Marshall's cousin, Thomas Jefferson, a man Marshall detested and who detested him in return. Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone wrote: "The God he worshipped was the God of Nature. Viewing the Great Creator with an awe and reverence beyond that of most moderns, he sought with rare diligence to discover and obey His laws. To him there was no field or area that the mind might not and should not freely examine, and he himself would accept only what had gained the sanction of his critical and enlightened intelligence."215 Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia" provided a small window in Jefferson's religious beliefs – which were misinterpreted and malinterpreted by Jefferson's political enemies – making him even more reluctant to reveal his beliefs in greater detail. He engaged in extensive correspondence with some trusted friends – such as Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician who was a traditional Christian, and John Adams, who shared Jefferson's Unitarian beliefs.

For Thomas Jefferson, religion was a particularly private matter. In an 1809 letter to a Philadelphia friend, Jefferson wrote that "religion is not the subject for you and me; neither of us know the religious opinions of the other; that is a matter between our Maker and ourselves."216 In an 1813 letter to Richard Rush, Jefferson wrote: "Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker, in which no other, and far less the public had a right to intermeddle..."217 In an 1814 letter, Jefferson wrote: "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our god alone. I enquire after no man's and trouble none with mine; nor is it given to us in this life to know whether yours or mine, our friend's or our foe's, are exactly the right."218 In an 1815 letter to a clergy friend, Jefferson wrote: "I not only write nothing on religion, but rarely permit myself to speak on it, and never but in a reasonable society."219 In 1816, Jefferson wrote: "I never told my religion nor scrutinized that of another....I never attempted to make a convert, nor wish to change another's creed. I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives.".220 On another occasion, Jefferson wrote that "my religion...is known to my god and myself alone."221 In 1816, Jefferson wrote that "I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our god and our consciences, for which we were accountable to him, and not to the priests."222 In another letter later that year, he contended: "On the dogmas of religion as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarrelling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind."223 Jefferson's religious beliefs got him a bad press in the election of 1800, but noted biographer Alf J. Mapp, Jr.,"Even charges of atheism, which hurt him politically, could not provoke him to depart from his rule of privacy in such matters. The statements of Jefferson's mature years show him to have been religious though unorthodox. He believed in God and an afterlife and called himself a Christian although he did not accept the trinitarian concept."224 In fact, Jefferson was theologically closest to the Unitarians, writing Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in 1811: "I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of only one God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian."225 According to Mapp, "The accusations of atheism are ironic in view of the fact that, when Jefferson was plagued by unjust criticisms, he sometimes found comfort in religion. During the winter of 1802-1803, when Federalists were saying that Jefferson had brought Thomas Paine back to America to 'destroy religion,' the President's thoughts were turned much to matters of faith. Impressed by Joseph Priestley's pamphlet Socrates and Jesus, Jefferson urged him to discuss the same subject on a more extensive scale."226 Jefferson's approach to religion was Socratic. Historian E.M. Halliday noted: "Since Jefferson's insistent view was that Jesus was only human, any particular point in his moral code was open to either agreement or disagreement."227

Jefferson continued to share snippets of his religious beliefs in letters to close friends. According to Jefferson biographer Alf J. Mapp, Jr., "At last on June 26, 1822, he furnished a compact outline of his creed. It was a letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, who evangelizing for inoculation against smallpox had Jefferson's enthusiastic support near the beginning of his presidency....He also seemed drawn to Waterhouse by the doctor's expression of Unitarian sentiments. Jefferson wrote, 'The doctrines of Jesus was simple, and tend all to the happiness of man." and then he listed those doctrines as he conceived them:

  1. That there is only God, and he all perfect.
  2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
  3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion. These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews."228
Jefferson remained well aware of the controversy his views would elicit from others were they publicized. "Jefferson once said that he rarely discussed religion and did so only in reasonable company," wrote Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone. "In response to one query from Adams he said that his religion was known only to himself and God and that its evidence must be sought in his life. "If that has been honest and dutiful to society,' he said, 'the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one."229 Jon Meacham wrote that Jefferson "staked out an American middle ground between the ferocity of evangelizing Christians on one side and the contempt for religion of secular philosophes on the other."230

The Founders were not necessarily conventional, but they were religious. The Founders often rearranged religion to fit their own personal beliefs. Those religious beliefs of the Founders spanned a wide spectrum. Jon Meacham wrote: "All were devoted to virtue, but many led complex private lives. All were devoted to the general idea of religion as a force for stability, but more than a few had unconventional personal faiths."231 Some like Anglican George Mason and Catholic Charles Carroll of Carrollton were both pious and conventional. Like Washington and Jefferson, Franklin tried to kept his religious views mostly private. Like Washington, Franklin understood the civic utility of religion: "If men are so wicked as we see then now with religion, what would they be if without it?"232 He seemed to believe more in religion than in any specific religious belief.

Providence

Most of the Founders had a belief in the continuing activity of "Providence" in the lives of men and women. Historian Mary V. Thompson wrote: "The use of the word 'Providence,' however, seems to put Washington squarely into common religious usage during his lifetime. 'Providence' was often used in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries as a substitute for the term 'God,' and it 'applied to the Deity as exercising prescient and beneficent power and direction.'"233 The Founders saw the hand of Providence frequently at work in the American Revolution and its aftermath. Steven Waldman wrote that Adams "believed that God was dictating events. The settlement of America, for instance, was divinely orchestrated, 'the opening of a grand Scene and Design of Providence."234 John Page wrote Thomas Jefferson in July 1776: "We know the Race is not to the swift nor the battle to the Strong. Do you not think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?"235 Jefferson himself, according to historian Charles B. Stanford: "had a strong belief in God and his guidance of the world."236

When he was 30, John Adams wrote: "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth."237 A few years before his death, Adams wrote: "A kind Providence has preserved and supported me for eight-five years and seven months, through many dangers and difficulties, though in great weakness, and I am not afraid to trust in its goodness to all eternity. I have a numerous posterity, to whom my continuance may be of some importance, and I am willing to await the order of the Supreme Power."238

Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of Pennsylvania's most prominent Founders, believed that the hand of Providence was at work in America. Religion scholar Gary Kowalski wrote: "Affiliated with the Quakers, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and universalists at differing point in his life, Rush described his faith as 'a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."239 Rush changed denominations several times. David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that "after moving through Protestant denominations during his lifetime, he ended up dubious of any organized church."240 But he was not dubious about Providence. Rush wrote in 1788: "I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as perfectly satisfied that the union of the states, in its form and as perfectly satisfied that the union of the states, in its form and adoption, is as much the work of divine providence as any of the miracles recorded in the old and new testament were the effects of a divine power. 'Tis done! We have become a nation.'"241 John Adams agreed. He wrote Rush in 1811: "God prospered our labors, and awful, dreadful, and deplorable as the consequences have been, I cannot but hope that the ultimate good of the world, of the human race, and of our beloved country is intended and will be accomplished by it."242

Benjamin Franklin also saw Providence at work in America and in his own life. At the beginning of his autobiography Franklin wrote: "And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used and gave them success. My belief of this induces me to hope, though I must not presume, that the same goodness will still be exercised toward me, in continuing that happiness, or enabling me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may experience as others have done: the complexion of my future fortune being known to Him only in whose power it is to bless to us even our afflictions."243

Although there is no firm evidence, it is likely that John Witherspoon advocated the insertion of "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence" in the Declaration of Independence. Historian Jeffry H. Morrison wrote that "such a suggestion would have been in keeping with Witherspoon's political theology, and, furthermore, 'divine Providence' was his preferred way of referring to God's active superintendence over creation."244 Historian L. Gordon Tait wrote: "Witherspoon's understanding of God took a remarkable turn when he began to grasp that God was Providence as well as Redeemer, that God did 'uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least.' We have seen how Witherspoon tried to make providence very simple, substantial, and personal for the individual, 'the least,' but at the same time invoked the doctrine of providence to explain actions of 'the greatest' kinds, those of kings and parliaments, generals and troops, and congresses."245 Steven Waldman wrote that "many Founding Fathers used religious language and ideas to justify rebellion and rally the people to the cause. For instance, Tom Paine, who would later be attacked by religious leaders for his Deistic manifesto The Age of Reason, cast his call for rebellion in at least partially biblical terms." The dangers of public expressions of religious skepticism was exemplified by Paine whose anti-religious book Age of Reason undermined his public reputation."246

God – or Providence – was never far important public documents and public speeches. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that the Second Continental Congress in 1775 "[r]esolved unanimously to request the colonies join in a common day of 'publick humiliation, fasting, and prayer.' Its stated hope was that 'we may with united hearts and voices unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins, and offer up joint supplications to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events; humbly beseeching him to forgive our iniquities, to remove our present calamities, to avert these desolating judgments with which we are threatened.' Virginia's burgesses made a similar appeal to the Almighty (absent the abject confession) and eminent clerics throughout the colonies issued pamphlets and sermons naming armed resistance a righteous duty....Indeed, almost all sermons published in the 1770s cited Scripture to justify resistance and promise divine hep if the colonists proved worthy of it."247

No Founder's references to Providence seem more heartfelt, however, than those of George Washington, who made repeated references to the role of Providence in the development of the country. Michael and Jana Novak argued that "young Washington's own exploits along the Monongahela has something to do with this gathering sense of a providential destiny for a whole people."248 Historian Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., wrote: "Washington's encounters with enemy gunfire in July 1755 during the disastrous Braddock campaign of the French and Indian War left him convinced that he had been left in the land 'of the light by the miraculous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human excitation.' He had survived despite having two horses shot from under him and four bullets pass through his coat. Providence was involved in defeat, too, for British general Edward Braddock was killed and his troops beaten by a handful of men who only intended to molest and disturb their march. 'Victory was their [the enemy's] smallest expectation, he wrote, 'but see the wondrous works of Providence! the uncertainty of Human things.'"249 Steven Waldman wrote that Washington "retained a sense of deep humility about man's capacity to understand God's ways.'"250

Washington stood in awe of Providence and its "invisible workings," especially in 1776 and 1777 when the prospects for the American Revolution often seemed dark. In one letter to aide Joseph Reed in early 1776, Washington wrote: "If I shall be able to rise superior to these and many other difficulties, which might be enumerated, I shall most religiously believe, that the finger of Providence is in it, to blind the eyes of our enemies; for surely if we get well through this month, it must be for want of their knowing the disadvantages we labour under."251 The Novaks wrote that "the War of Independence only deepened his gratitude to Providence. He especially cherished the idea that Providence sustains humans through the trial and tribulations as well as the joys and successes of life."252 In a letter in 1778, Washington wrote: "The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations, but, it will be time enough for me to turn preacher, when my present appointment cease, and therefore, I shall add no more on the Doctrine of Providence."253 Washington's letters and public statements were replete with such references to Providence:
  • Letter to stepson John Parke Custis, January 22, 177: "Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner, and on this we must principally rely."254
  • General Orders, May 2, 1778: "The signal Instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude and Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good."255
  • Letter to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778: "The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligation, but, it will be time enough for me to turn preacher when my present appointment ceases; and therefore I shall add no more on the Doctrine of Providence; but make a tender of my best respects to your good Lady; the Secretary and other friends, and assure you that with the most perfect regard I am &c."256
  • Letters to the Reformed German Congregation of New York, November 27, 1783: "Disposed at every suitable opportunity to acknowledge publicly our infinite obligations to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for rescuing our Country from the brink of destruction; I cannot fail at this time to ascribe all the honor of our late successes to the same glorious Being."257
  • Letter to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, July 20, 1788: "That the same good Providence may still continue to protect us and prevent us from dashing the cup of national felicity just as it has been lifted to our lips, is the earnest prayer of, my dear sir, your faithful friend etc.."258
  • Letter to William Pearce, May 25, 1794: "At disappointments and losses which are the effects of Providential acts, I never repine; because I am sure the alwise [sic] disposer of events knows better than we do, what is best for us, or what we deserve."259
  • Letter to Henry Knox, March 2, 1797: "But [it] is not for man to scan the wisdom of Providence. The best he can do is to submit to its decrees."260
  • Letter to Henry Knox, March 27, 1798: "It has always been my belief that Providence has not led us so far in the path of Independence for one Nation, to throw us into the Arms of another."261
Frank Grizzard wrote: "The qualities attributed to Providence by Washington reveal that he conceived of Providence as an 'Omnipotent,' 'benign,' and 'beneficent' Being that by 'invisible workings' in "Infinite Wisdom' dispensed justice in the affairs of mankind. Astonishment and gratitude were owed this Being. The 'ways of Providence' were, he confessed on many occasions, ultimately 'inscrutable.' Such beliefs are exemplified in Washington's calm, almost detached, acquiescence to the irreversible acts of Providence, such as terminal illness or the death of a loved one."262 Michael and Jana Novak noted the prayer that General Washington used to end his Circular Letter to the States in 1783: "I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the state over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit fo subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethern who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourself with that Charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our Blessed Religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."263 Like George Washington, the Founders were well aware of man's sinfulness.


Conclusion

In 1787 Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin unsuccessfully argued that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention should open their sessions with prayer, contending that otherwise they would do "no better than the Builders of Babel."264 Franklin told the Constitutional Convention: "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 men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without his aid. We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord builds the House they labour in vain that build it.' 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."265 Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote of this speech: "Benjamin Franklin was possessed of so much wisdom and political acumen that there is no telling which quality was uppermost, impelling this speech. The scene has urgency, danger, drama. A Georgia delegate, William Few, described that morning of June twenty-eighth as 'an awful and critical moment. If the convention had then adjourned, the dissolution of the union of the states seemed inevitable.' Yet whether the Doctor had spoken from policy or from faith, his suggestion had been salutary, calling an assembly of doubting minds to a realization that destiny herself sat as guest and witness in the room."266

Religion may not have been center-stage, but it was never far off stage. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: "What the U.S. experiment in religious liberty meant was not indifference – on the contrary, all the Framers considered religion broadly conceived the source of the self-control republics required. But they did insist sectarian loyalties never trump loyalty to the nation itself. Preachers sensed this at once, which is why all denominations scrambled quickly and adroitly to pledge allegiance to the United States of America."267 "All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor," Franklin told the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in urging the delegates to seek divine assistance through prayer. "To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?"268 James Madison was not noted for his religious references but after the convention, he wrote in Federalist # 37, "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution."269 George Washington thought the Constitution somewhat miraculous, writing Lafayette: "It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the Delegates from so many different States...should unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well founded objections."270

Most of the principal Founders were seekers – of political betterment and scientific progress. They were also religious seekers. James H. Hutson noted that "The Founders...lived in an age when the medieval assumption that theology was the queen of the sciences had still not expired in America. As late as 1819 John Adams wrote that 'the science of Theology is indeed the first Philosophy – the only Philosophy – it comprehends all Philosophy – and all science, it is the Science of the Universe and its Ruler -- and what other object of knowledge can there be.'"271 Many of the Founders seemed to go through a religious evolution – sometimes in a direction at odds with that of the general public. Patrick Henry went from an attacker of Virginia's Anglican ministers in Virginia to a defender of the American Episcopal church. Historian Thomas S. Kidd wrote of Patrick Henry: "Though he would remain a traditional Anglican, he was shaped as a speaker by the evangelical rhetorical style."272 Virginia's Anglican churches served civil as well as religious functions and thus merited the respect of Founders like George Washington who may not have accepted all Anglican beliefs. Historian Henry Wiencek noted: "Attendance at Sunday services was required of all by law, and all heads of households were taxed to support the church."273

The founders were questioners. Norman Cousins wrote: "It is significant that most of the Founding Fathers grew up in a strong religious atmosphere; many had Calvinist family backgrounds. In reacting against it, they did not react against basic religious ideas or what they considered to be the spiritual nature of man. Most certainly they did not turn against God or lose their respect for religious belief. Indeed, it was their very concern for the conditions under which free religious belief was possible that caused them to invest so much of their thought and energy into the cause of human rights."274 Some of the leading Founders waxed and waned in their faith and in the content of their beliefs. Some of the most prominent Founders like Jefferson and Adams tended toward deism, but in at least one respect they were not true deists. Steven Waldman wrote: "Deism held that God created the laws of nature and then recede from action. Most of the Founders agreed with the first part of that sentence but disagreed with the second. They rejected the idea that the Bible was inerrant but, to a person, believed in an omnipotent God who intervened in the lives of men and nations."275 That was their faith.

In an 1823 letter replete with extensive Latin quotations, Thomas Jefferson wrote John Adams that "it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms. We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in it's course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro' all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis."276

For the best educated Founders like Jefferson and Madison, ministers had often been their first teachers. In Jefferson's case they were Calvinists. Jefferson studied under Reverend James Maury, whom Jefferson biographer Willard Sterne Randall called "his surrogate father, at times outspokenly preferring the company of his learned teacher to that of his mother." Jefferson said he owed a "deep and lasting" debt to Maury.277

The Founders were schooled in the language and beliefs of the Bible even if they doubted those beliefs. They became ingrained in the language of the Bible. They used religious language, religious images, and religious analogies. Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote: "Some have suggested that Washington's moral conduct owed more to the Stoic philosophers so often quoted by Enlightenment leaders than to any direct influence of Biblical doctrine. But the influence of Bible wording as well as Bible ideas is evident in some of his more notable writings."142 Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: "Only one book held the power to bind or loose the whole nation. That, of course, was the Bible. However awkward the chronology for historians eager to focus on Jefferson, the greatest of all American revivals exploded during his first year in office. At the center of it were more Scotts, whose Presbyterian church practiced a form of joint communion unique in Protestant practice."278 Scholar Michael Novak wrote: "Americans took [the Bible's] appeal to the imperishable dignity of each person with uncommon hope and optimism, erecting on it (with the help of Locke and many others) a new structure of rights and covenants. The depths of this metaphysical background gave them unusual moral strength." The Old Testament provided the Founders with a political and religious model for their work. Michael Novak wrote: "The idiom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a religious lingua franca for the founding generation."279 Historian Gordon Wood wrote: "Those Americans who continued to see themselves as a specially covenanted people could and did look beyond the earth to Providence for an explanation of the events in the years after 1763; a divinely favored people were being justly punished for their sins. But to those captivated by the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century the wonder-working ways of Providence were not satisfying enough."280

Religious thinking, religious questioning, religious faith permeated the Revolution and the Founding. McDougall wrote: "The American cause was profoundly religious for Protestants and Deists alike because both identified America's future with a Providential design and both entertained millenarian hopes. Even Deists believed in God, after all – that is what the word Deist means."281 Michael and Jana Novak defined "Deism [as] the belief that by rational methods alone men can know all the true propositions of theology that is possible, necessary for men to know." The Novaks cited eleven propositions to which Deists generally subscribed, including: "God's active powers are displayed in the world, which is created, sustained and ordered by means of divinely sanctioned natural laws, both moral and physical."282

The Founders indeed thought of the nation they were constructing in biblical terms. Jon Meacham wrote that "the Founders believed themselves at work in the service of both God and man, not just one or the other."283 He wrote that "they found way to honor religion's place in the life of the nation while giving people the freedom to believe as they wish, and not merely to tolerate someone else's faith, but to respect it." Meacham wrote: "For the Founders, religious freedom was not equivalent to a public life free of religion. Franklin and Jefferson played with the idea of America as a New Israel. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine referred to George III as the 'hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England.' Preachers took up the theme. On Thursday, December 11, 1783, in the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Reverend George Duffield spoke of the 'American Zion' in a sermon about the American victory in the Revolution. To Duffield, Washington was Joshua; the king of France, Cyrus, the ruler who helped free Israel from Babylon."284 Scholar Michael Novak wrote: "Judaism and Christianity...reinforced in men's minds the role of reason in human affairs, as well as the idea of a cosmos open to liberty, conceived, created, and understood (even in its tiniest details) by a benevolent Deity; Lawgiver, Governor, Judge, and gracious Providence."285

"Most of the leading founders were sincerely religious persons," noted religious historian Mark A. Noll. "At the same time, the most influential of their number practiced decidedly nontraditional forms of Christianity."286 Those who were traditional Christians like John Witherspoon, John Jay, Charles Carroll, and John Sherman were offset by those like Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin who tended to be more Deist in the thinking. In their rationality, many Founders were at odds with the religious trends of the 18th century. Historian Thomas S. Kidd noted that "The birth of American evangelical Christianity in the 1740s resulted in the first widespread popular uprising against established authority in the history of British colonial America, and it heavily influence many of those who would fill the rank and file of the Patriot movement in the American Revolution." Kidd wrote: that "the evangelical tradition supplied spiritual propulsion to the Patriot cause that was unsurpassed by any other element of Patriot ideology."287 It was a time of religious ferment and growth. Historian Gordon S. Wood noted that "the total number of church congregations doubled between 1770 and 1790 and even outpaced the extraordinary growth of population in these years; and the people's religious feeling became stronger than ever, though now devoted to very different kinds of religious groups. Religion was not displaced by the politics of the Revolution; instead, like much of American life, it was radically transformed."288 Historian Gordon S. Wood noted that "in the last analysis what remains extraordinary about 1776 is the faith, not the doubts of the Revolutionary leaders."289 Pilgrim John Winthrop may have said it best nearly two centuries earlier: "For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world."290


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  99. (Letter from George Washington to the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Common Council of Annapolis, December 22, 1783).
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  158. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823).
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  160. Eugene R. Sheridan, Jefferson and Religion, p. 15.
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  163. Charles B. Stanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 9.
  164. Andrew Burstein, The Inner Jefferson, Portrait of a Grieving Optimist, p. 259.
  165. (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Locke and Shaftesbury, October 11-November 19, 1776).
  166. (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-1782).
  167. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p. 133 (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Isaac Story, December 5, 1801).
  168. Andrew Burstein, The Inner Jefferson, Portrait of a Grieving Optimist, p. 260 (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. George Logan, November 12, 1816).
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  172. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, p. 94.
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  174. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, pp. 14-15.
  175. Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography, p. 56.
  176. Edwin S. Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson, p. 196.
  177. Alf J. Mapp, Jr., The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America's Founders Really Believed, p. 45.
  178. David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, pp. 91,93.
  179. Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, 23, p. 2.
  180. Matthew Spalding, editor, The Founders' Almanac, p. 156 (James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, circa June 20, 1785).
  181. Jon Meacham, American Gospel, God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 228.
  182. Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, p. xvi.
  183. Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, p.2
  184. (Letter from James Madison to Frederick Beasley, 1825)
  185. Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of the Founders: Religion and the New Nation 1776-1826, p. 91.
  186. David McCullough, John Adams, p. 37.
  187. (Letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush, July 19, 1812).
  188. (John Adams, Diary, 1756).
  189. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p. 77 (Adams' Autobiography).
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  195. John Ferling, John Adams: A Life, p. 172.
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  198. Woody Holton, Abigail Adams, p. 271.
  199. David McCullough, John Adams, p. 409.
  200. Phyllis Lee Levin, Abigail Adams, p. 474.
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  202. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Delaplaine, December 25, 1816).
  203. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, p. 35.
  204. (Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 18, 1812).
  205. David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, pp. 77-78.
  206. James Grant, John Adams: Party of One, p. 223 (John Adams, Thoughts on Governments, 1776).
  207. (Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, May 3, 1812).
  208. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, p. 164.
  209. James Grant, John Adams: Party of One, p. 442, 184.
  210. David McCullough, John Adams, 646.
  211. (Letter from John Adams to Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820).
  212. Frank Monaghan, John Jay, p. 218.
  213. John McCollister, God and the Oval Office: The Religious Faith of Our 43 Presidents, p. 28.
  214. Jean Edward Smith, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation, p. 36.
  215. Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President: First Term 1801-1805, pp. 191-192.
  216. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Leiper, January 21, 1809).
  217. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, 1813).
  218. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson: to Miles King, September. 26, 1814).
  219. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Rev. Charles Clay, January 29,1815).
  220. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to August 16, 1816).
  221. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, January 29, 1817).
  222. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Margaret Bayard Smith, August 6, 1816).
  223. Eugene R. Sheridan, Jefferson and Religion, p. 55. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Mathew Cary, November 11, 1816).
  224. Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, p. 7. Alf J. Mapp, Jr., Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim, p. 365.
  225. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, June 26, 1822).
  226. Alf J. Mapp, Jr. Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim, p. 93.
  227. E. M. Halliday, Understanding Thomas Jefferson, p. 204
  228. Alf J. Mapp, Jr., Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim, p. 310.
  229. Dumas Malone, The Sage of Monticello: Jefferson and His Time, p. 490.
  230. Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 4.
  231. Jon Meacham, American Gospel, God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 11.
  232. Verner W. Crane, Benjamin Franklin and a Rising People, p. 22.
  233. Mary V. Thompson, "In the Hands of a Good Providence': Religion in the Life of George Washington, p. 108.
  234. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, p. 37.
  235. (Letter from John Page to Thomas Jefferson, July 20, 1776).
  236. Charles B. Stanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 99.
  237. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p. 84 (A Dissertation on the Cannon and Feudal Law, 1765).
  238. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p. 113 (Letter from John Adams to David Sewall, May 22, 18210.
  239. Gary Kowalski, Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers, p. 39.
  240. David D. Kirkpatrick, "Putting God Back into American History, New York Times, February 27, 2005, Week in Review, p. 4.
  241. Jon Meacham, American Gospel, God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 99 (Benjamin Rush, Observations on the Grand Federal Procession, July 4, 1788).
  242. (Letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush, August 28, 1811).
  243. Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 1791, p. 74.
  244. Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, p. 77.
  245. L. Gordon Tait, The Piety of John Witherspoon: Pew, Pulpit, and Public Forum, p.168.
  246. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, pp. 41-42.
  247. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 234.
  248. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, p. 140.
  249. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., George! Washington: A Guide to All Things, p. 270.
  250. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, p. 183.
  251. (Letter from George Washington to Joseph Reed, January 14, 1776).
  252. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, p. 66.
  253. (Letter from George Washington to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778).
  254. (Letter from George Washington to John Parke Custis, January 22, 1777).
  255. (General Orders of George Washington, May 2, 1778).
  256. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p.54 (Letter from George Washington to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778).
  257. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p.57. (Letter from George Washington to Reformed German Congregation of New York, November 27, 1783).
  258. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p.70. (Letter from George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, July 20, 1788).
  259. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p.67. (Letter from George Washington to William Pearce, May 25, 1794).
  260. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p.67. (Letter from George Washington to Henry Knox, March 2, 1797).
  261. Norman Cousins, editor, In God We Trust, p.67. (Letter from George Washington to Henry Knox, March 27, 1798).
  262. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., George! A Guide to All Things Washington, p. 269
  263. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, pp. 97-98.
  264. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith, p. 128.
  265. (Benjamin Franklin, Speech to Constitutional Convention, June 28, 1787).
  266. Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787, p. 126-127.
  267. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 323.
  268. (Benjamin Franklin, Speech to Constitutional Convention, June 28, 1787).
  269. George W. Carey and James McClellan, editors, The Federalist, p. 185 (James Madison, Federalist # 37, January 11, 1788)
  270. Matthew Spalding, editor, The Founders' Almanac: A Practical Guide to the Notable Events, Greatest Leaders & Most Eloquent Words of the American Founding, p. 139.
  271. James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, p. xiii.
  272. Thomas S. Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, p. 76.
  273. Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, p. 17.
  274. Norman Cousins, "In God We Trust": the Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, p. 9.
  275. Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, p. 192.
  276. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823).
  277. Willard Sterne Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life, pp. 24, 22.
  278. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 379.
  279. Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, pp. 13, 7.
  280. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, p. 40.
  281. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History,, 1585-1828, p. 237.
  282. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, p. 110.
  283. Jon Meacham, American Gospel, God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 5.
  284. Jon Meacham, American Gospel, God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 80.
  285. Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, p. 46.
  286. Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, p. 132.
  287. Thomas S. Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, p. 23, 94.
  288. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty, p. 580.
  289. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, p. 91.
  290. John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charitay, 1630.