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Monday, April 11, 2005
I got this email at work the other day and it got me pondering on a years-long personal conundrum - were our founding fathers absolute, devout Christians and did they or did they not build the foundations of our government on conservative Christian principles?
I have always been under the impression that our founding fathers were Deists and Masons. It's not to say that they were not Christian, but that perhaps their world-view was a bit broader than your average, conservative Bible-beater. Those that were known to have actively studied Christianity I believed were merely, as Deists, reviewing it as part and parcel of their study of *all* religions and religious beliefs in their thirst of knowledge and personal truth.
However, in recent years there's been quite an uproar on the Christian front as the fight to have overtly-Christian iconography and ritual removed from public venues. The Christians' battle-cry is that our country was founded on Christian values, and to remove these things attacks the very heart of the principles this great country was founded on. Those on the other side of the coin say this country was founded on anything but - that, in fact, this country's forefathers were of the mindset that no organized religion should be more pertinent than another in a "free" country.
It would seem that the founding fathers, escaping a country of religious persecution themselves, would have gone out of their way to make sure the very mistakes they fled from were not repeated in their new, foundling country. It would seem this was their thinking when reading the very first amendment of our great Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I could spend pages rehashing the arguments over the correct interpretation of this amendment. Some believe it approbates the "separation of church and state"; some say it has nothing to do with that at all.
It would seem to me that our forefathers were looking to eliminate religious persecution - that they believed in a "free" country everyone should be able to think, act, believe and worship howsoever they saw fit. But does that mean our country was founded on Christian principles? That, though other religions and beliefs were acceptable, Christianity was seen as the prominent religion; so much so that our founding fathers embraced it and based all the rest of their decisions upon its morals?
According to an email circulating the online community this would be the case. My own research tells a different story, however - and I'll share that with you now.
I'd like to, first, state that my main reason for looking into the claims of this email is not to take a side on whether our country is fundamentally based on Christianity. While I have my personal views on that, it is not what urged me to show the other side of the coin. If, as I believe, these men were not Christian - if some were even adamantly not Christian - we do them a terrible disservice by eschewing their viewpoints to tout something they would have opposed. To take snippets of these brilliant minds' words and use them to further a cause they would not have supported were they alive to defend themselves is a disrespect the men who gave us this wonderful country do not in any way deserve.
I did not know these men. I cannot say whether they were or were not Christian, Deist or Agnostic. What I can do is look at a broader spectrum of their written words and personal letters to family and friends and compare them to the brief statements by them made in this email.
After reading these things, you will have to decide for yourself if you feel that you can, with 100% conviction, call these men fundamental Christians. You must determine if you feel it is right to add their name to the fight for "keeping" this country predominantly Christian or that they founded everything we stand for on Christian principles. If you feel even a shade of doubt, then it would be wrong to speak for these men and apply questionable morals and beliefs to their names - to do so would be to disgrace them.
The email is in italics. Quotations I have found are in bold. My excursus in regular font.
This is worth remembering, because it is true. Those of you that graduated from school after the early 60's were probably never taught this. Our courts have seen to that!
There is one thing even more vital to science than intelligent methods; and that is, the sincere desire to find out the truth, whatever it may be. - Charles Sanders Peirce
I'm not claiming here to know the truth, but am simply offering more evidence for you to make your own assumptions.
This email asserts itself as truth - yet so do spam and scam emails. The credibility of this information is questionable at the start simply for the medium through which it is conveyed. Searching for this essay online turns up a number of results - but no where is a source ever identified. Some say "a friend sent this to me", others simply post it on a page with no identifying origin or explanation. If this information is so vital and truthful why has it never been published or acknowledged anywhere other than online journals and forwarded emails?
Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of "The Declaration of Independence" were orthodox, deeply committed Christians? They all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention. It is the same Congress that formed the American Bible Society, immediately after creating the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress voted to purchase and import 20,000 copies of Scripture for the people of this nation.
15 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were known Freemasons, importantly Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. 28 of the 40 signers of the Constitution were Freemasons or were affiliated with the organization, including George Washington, James Madison and Ben Franklin.
Robert Livingston, who was the Grand Master of New York's Masonic Lodge, swore in our first president, George Washington, who took his oath on a Bible from a Masonic lodge.
The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 in New York City; our Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 - hardly "immediately".
On September 11, 1777, the Continental Congress ordered 20,000 Bibles to be imported to American troops. This had nothing to do with the American Bible Society or the Declaration of Independence and the Bibles were not sent to American citizens, but to American soldiers. The law read as follows:
The Congress....Desirous...to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely...on His aid and direction...Do earnestly recommend Friday, the 17th day of May be observed by the colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewailed our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease God's righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain this pardon and forgiveness.
This was done as aid for troops overseas by Congress after our Declaration had been signed and 39 years before the American Bible Society was founded.
Patrick Henry, who is called the firebrand of the American Revolution, is still remembered for his words, 'Give me liberty or give me death,' but in current textbooks, his preceding words are omitted. Here is what he actually said: 'An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.' These sentences have been erased from our textbooks. Patrick Henry was a Christian? The following year, 1776, he wrote this: 'It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.'
From what I have read and seen, Patrick Henry was, indeed, a devout and devoted Christian and fervently dismissed claims that he was Deist:
"The rising greatness of our country...is greatly tarnished by the general prevalence of deism, which, with me, is but another name for vice and depravity....I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of their number; and indeed that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory (being called a traitor), because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics....Being a Christian...is a character which I prize far above all this world has or can boast." - Patrick Henry
- "The Life of Patrick Henry of Virginia", A.G. Arnold, 1854
However, the radical Patrick Henry was not a signer of the Declaration of Independence so his importance in this issue is void.
A great number of political men in the late 1700s were fundamental Christians; no one is denying this fact. Patrick Henry is one of them. It lends no credence to the argument that this country was founded on Christian principles whatsoever.
Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the front of his well-worn Bible: 'I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.' He was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role.
It should be noted that while Jefferson considered himself a Christian, he was by no means a "traditional" Christian. Jefferson was a follower of Jesus Christ - and none other. He was against the hierarchy and rulership of the Church and spoke out most fervently on how he believed Jesus' teachings had been misinterpreted and abused.
In January 19, 1810, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Samual Kercheval:
"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, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State." - Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson was such a believer in Jesus' original and untainted teachings that he created was is known as "The Jefferson Bible".
It is said in Thomas Jefferson and His Bible that Jefferson's Jesus was not the Jesus of the Bible; in fact, Jefferson seemed not concerned with other aspects of biblical or Christian history but in shining light on what he believed were the true teachings of Jesus Christ:
Who was the Jesus that Jefferson found? He was not the familiar figure of the New Testament. In Jefferson's Bible, there is no account of the beginning and the end of the Gospel story. There is no story of the annunciation, the virgin birth or the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. The resurrection is not even mentioned.
Jefferson may have called himself a Christian because he believed the tenements of Christ, but it is plain that he did not accept or practice orthodox Christianity and was not a proponent of the Christian Church.
In a letter to his rival and friend, John Adams, on April 11, 1823, Jefferson said:
"One day the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in the United States will tear down the artificial scaffolding of Christianity. 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." - Thomas Jefferson
To say that Thomas Jefferson would have attempted to found this country on a religion he vehemently denounced is absurd at best.
On July 4, 1821, President Adams said, 'The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.'
On July 4, 1821, U.S. Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, delivered a speech to the House of U.S. Representatives in celebration of Independence Day. No where in that speech is the above quotation found.
In 1821, the President was James Monroe. John Adams was one of our founding fathers who was president from 1797-1801; his son, John Quincy Adams was president from 1825-1829. The above is attributed to a "President Adams"; since this email is trying to prove that our founding fathers were devout Christians one would assume they are claiming this was said by the first John Adams. However, the only John Adams to give a speech on July 4, 1821 was John Quincy Adams - our forefather's son.
There is a quotation by our sixth president that mirrors the above and is attributed to John Quincy Adams, but there has been some argument in the past as to whether he ever actually uttered these words. This page, "Did John Quincy Adams ever say that the American Revolution...", researched by Jim Allison, indicates this is most likely untrue.
Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President of the United States reaffirmed this truth when he wrote, 'The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.'
Calvin Coolidge was not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, nor was he a founding father of this country.
Perhaps Calvin Coolidge was a Christian and did say this very thing. It is possible that Mr. Coolidge was ignorant of the religious and spiritual beliefs of predecessors that had created the government 134 years before him. Regardless, it lends no further credence to the assertion that our country was founded on Christian principles. President Coolidge's observations of what these men did over a hundred years before him are likely as muddled as our own.
In 1782, the United States Congress voted this resolution: 'The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.'
On January 21, 1781, Robert Aitken presented a petition to Congress to allow him to print an "Americanized" Bible or as he put it "a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use in schools".
At the time the only Bibles available hailed from Europe and publishing a new Bible was prohibited without a special license from the British government. Aitkens sought to publish the first English-language Bible in America and appealed to Congress for permission to do so.
On September 12, 1782, Congress acted on the petition by "highly approving of the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken". This endorsement was printed in the Bible.
Congress did not vote to recommend and approve the "Holy Bible" for use in schools in 1782. It did, however, approve an English-speaking Bible published by Robert Aitken that was recommended, because of its easy readability, for use in schools.
William Holmes McGuffey is the author of the McGuffey Reader, which was used for over 100 years in our public schools with over 125 million copies sold until it was stopped in 1963. President Lincoln called him the 'Schoolmaster of the Nation.' Listen to these words of Mr. McGuffey: 'The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it is derived our nation, on the character of God, on the great moral Governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free Institutions. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology.'
It is ridiculous to base an argument on our founding father's intentions on the words of a professor who based his entire career on morality. He may have been a bright man who did many wonderful things for the school system, but stating his beliefs on the nation's Christian roots is no more useful than quoting any semi-famous conservative Christian who's lived in the past hundred years.
McGuffey was no more present in the minds of our founding fathers than any of us. Simply because he was a devout Christian lends no proof to the fact that our country might be based on the religion. He isn't even a politician.
Of the first 108 universities founded in America, 106 were distinctly Christian, including the first, Harvard University, chartered in 1636. In the original Harvard Student Handbook, rule number 1 was that students seeking entrance must know Latin and Greek so that they could study the Scriptures: 'Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, John 17:3; and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation for our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.'
From Harvard University's official website:
Although many of its early graduates became ministers in Puritan congregations throughout New England, the College was never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination.
It makes one wonder how many of these other "106" were supposedly "Christian".
James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution of the United States, said this: 'We have staked the whole future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.'
On the page Is it true that James Madison said...", it is noted that this quotation has not been able to be attributed to Madison from but one source - and that one is not direct:
...no such quote has ever been found among any of James Madison's writings. None of the biographers of Madison, past or present have ever run across such a quote...
However, many, many more quotes - some directly taken from letters written by Madison - paint a different picture. Does this sound like a devout, orthodox Christian to you?
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.” - James Madison
I believe this quote by Madison describes perfectly how he feels about a religion being the foundation for government:
"[The] civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner or on any pretext infringed." - James Madison
This was said June 8, 1789 in an introduction to the Bill of Rights at the First Federal Congress. "...nor shall any national religion be established" leaves little wiggle-room.
James Madison believed that church and state should not intertwine, as he said in a letter to Edward Livingston on July 10, 1822:
"I observe with particular pleasure the view you have taken of the immunity of Religion from civil jurisdiction, in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or the public peace. This has always been a favorite principle with me; and it was not with my approbation, that the deviation from it took place in Cong[ress], when they appointed Chaplains, to be paid from the Nat[ional] Treasury. It would have been a much better proof to their Constituents of their pious feeling if the members had contributed for the purpose, a pittance from their own pockets. As the precedent is not likely to be rescinded, the best that can now be done, may be to apply to the Const[itution] the maxim of the law, de minimis non curat." - James Madison
It seems a mockery of his beliefs to claim that James Madison helped to found this country on Christian principles and morals.
To lend further credence to the idea that our country was not principally founded on Christian principles, Thomas Jefferson says this in his own autobiography:
"[A]n amendment was proposed by inserting 'Jesus Christ,' so that [the preamble] should read 'A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion'; the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination" - Thomas Jefferson
If most of our forefathers were Christians creating a Christian-based government, then who was this "great majority" that voted to keep the preamble open to all believers of all religions?
Today, we are asking God to bless America - but how can He bless a Nation that has departed so far from Him? Most of what you read in this article has been erased from our textbooks. Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country's Christian roots.
Most of what you have read in this email is falsehoods, misconstrued and improperly quoted text, and blatant misinformation. Much like Jefferson believed the Bible to a bastardization of the true teachings of Jesus, this and documents like it, make folly of the true intentions of our founding fathers by "revising" the truth to speak how they wish it to.
Let's you and I share the truth of our nation's history and let it be told. For example, in John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.'
This information shared is only a drop of cement to help secure a foundation that is crumbling daily in a losing war that most of the country doesn't even know is raging on, in, and around them...
The war is that fundamental Christianity wants to become the nation's religion-of-choice; that people like this want to impose their views and religious beliefs upon you - to the point of ignoring the freedoms this country was based upon. If these bigots win this "war" a dark hour will come to pass over America's freedom.
Please do your bit and share this with as many as possible and make the ill-informed aware of what they once had.
Do your bit and search out your own truths before heedlessly swallowing up the "research" of others - even in regards to this piece.
And please - begin to tell our children.
Instead, tell our children the truth - that it is fine to worship however you want to, but it is never right to push that religion on another or to use that religion to judge another as beneath you. Teach them that it is not the "American way" to force others in submission or to follow beliefs against their own in the name of religion - at least, it should not be.
Teach your children that regardless of whether our founding fathers were Christian or not, they should always follow their own hearts - wherever it may take them. Tell them to always fight for the right to follow those hearts as well, for that is what this country stands for.
(Note: If you would like to link this piece use this http://anima-x.blogspot.com/2005/04/i-got-this-email-at-work-other-day-and.html . This information can also be found on my website at http://skatoolaki.com/soap/shanna/foundingfathers-christianornot.htm.)