FOUNDING FATHERS


Last updated Fourth of July, 2007

One of the most common statements from the “Religious Right” is that they want this country to “return to the Christian principles on which it was founded”.  However, a little research into American history will show that this statement is a lie. The men responsible for building the foundation of the United States had little use for Christianity, and many were strongly opposed to it. They were men of The Enlightenment, not men of Christianity. They were Deists who did not believe the bible was true.When the Founders wrote the nation’s Constitution, they specified that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article 6, section 3)   This provision was radical in its day– giving equal citizenship to believers and non-believers alike.  They wanted to ensure that no single religion could make the claim of being the official, national religion, such as England had.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention religion, except in exclusionary terms.  The words “Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, and God” are never mentioned in the Constitution– not once.

The Declaration of Independence gives us important insight into the opinions of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the power of the government is derived from the governed. Up until that time, it was claimed that kings ruled nations by the authority of God. The Declaration was a radical departure from the idea of divine authority.

The 1796 treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was “in no sense founded on the Christian religion” (see below). This was not an idle statement, meant to satisfy muslims– they believed it and meant it. This treaty was written under the presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.

None of the Founding Fathers were atheists. Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books. They spoke often of God, (Nature’s God or the God of Nature), but this was not the God of the bible. They did not deny that there was a person called Jesus, and praised him for his benevolent teachings, but they flatly denied his divinity. Some people speculate that if Charles Darwin had lived a century earlier, the Founding Fathers would have had a basis for accepting naturalistic origins of life, and they would have been atheists.  Most of them were stoutly opposed to the bible, and the teachings of Christianity in particular.

Yes, there were Christian men among the Founders. Just as Congress removed Thomas Jefferson’s words that condemned the practice of slavery in the colonies, they also altered his wording regarding equal rights. His original wording is here in blue italics: “All men are created equal and independent. From that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable.”  Congress changed that phrase, increasing its religious overtones: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”  But we are not governed by the Declaration of Independence– it is a historical document, not a constitutional one.

If the Christian Right Extremists wish to return this country to its beginnings, so be it… because it was a climate of Freethought.  The Founders were students of the European Enlightenment. Half a century after the establishment of the United States, clergymen complained that no president up to that date had been a Christian.  In a sermon that was reported in newspapers, Episcopal minister Bird Wilson of Albany, New York, protested in October 1831: “Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism.”  The attitude of the age was one of enlightened reason, tolerance, and free thought.  The Founding Fathers would turn in their graves if the Christian Extremists had their way with this country.

Consider this: IF indeed the members of the First Continental Congress were all bible-believing, “God-fearing” men, would there ever have been a revolution at all?

“For rebellion as is the sin of witchcraft.”  1 Samuel, 15:23

Would they have initiated a rebellion if indeed they thought it was equal to witchcraft (a crime punishable by death)?  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  The New Testament gives clear instructions to Christians on how to behave when ruled under a monarchy, as were the Founders.

1 Peter 2:13:  “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.”

Paul wrote in Romans 13:1:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resist authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

The Founders clearly did not heed what was written in the bible.  If they were in fact “good” Christians, there would never have been an American Revolution.  Compare the above passages with the Declaration of Independence:

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations… evinces a design to reduce (the people) under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…”

Anyone who can think for themselves can see that the Founders were not Christians.

Quotations regarding religious beliefs:

Thomas Jefferson John Adams
Benjamin Franklin Thomas Paine
James Madison George Washington
Abraham Lincoln Links



James Madison   The fourth president of the United States, James Madison, was much like the other Virginia presidents–Washington and Jefferson–who went before him. Like them, he loved his home state only a little less than his country. Like them, he was a rich man who gave his whole life to public service. He was an able student of politics and government who brought real knowledge and skill to his job.

In public office Madison was a calm, reasoning statesman who governed by force of logic. In a time when emotions ran high, he made common sense prevail. He was not always successful in dealing with foreign nations, but history has shown that he had right and justice on his side.

He entered the presidency at a time when war clouds hung over the young nation. He saw his country through the disastrous War of 1812, and his final months in office produced the “era of good feeling” that lasted for many years. He did well as secretary of state and as president, but his greatest record was made earlier. For his outstanding work on the nation’s charter, Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution.
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Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia Deluxe
Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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“It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points.  The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov’t from interfence in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others.”
               James Madison, “James Madison on Religious Liberty”,

                 edited by Robert S. Alley, ISBN 0-8975-298-X. pp. 237-238 . “What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society?  In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people.  Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries.  A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”
                            – “A Memorial and Remonstrance”, 1785

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“Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation.  During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial.  What has been its fruits?  More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
                            – “A Memorial and Remonstrance”, 1785

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“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”
                            -letter to Wm. Bradford, April 1, 1774

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“Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.”
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“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
         -1803 letter objecting use of gov. land for churches

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John Adams   The second president of the United States was John Adams, lawyer and diplomat. Adams’ public career lasted more than 35 years. He was second only to George Washington in making a place for the young United States among the nations of the world. In his devotion to the country he was second to none.

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Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia Deluxe
Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation.  But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?”
                    -letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

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“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”
                            -letter to Thomas Jefferson

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“The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning.  And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY?  The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded.  But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes.”
                            – letter to John Taylor

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“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.  Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.”
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“The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?”
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“Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?”
                                   -letter to Thomas Jefferson

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“God is an essence that we know nothing of.  Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world.”
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“Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years?”

“. . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”
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“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there  were no religion in it.”
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Thomas Jefferson  The third president of the United States was Thomas Jefferson. He had been the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. In an age of great men Jefferson was remarkable for his wide-ranging curiosity on many subjects. He helped the United States get started, and his plans for the future helped it grow. Many of the good things Americans enjoy today have come from Jefferson’s devotion to human rights.
   Jefferson is often called the founder of the Democratic party. Many other groups also claim to follow his principles. He developed the theory of states’ rights, which was against giving much authority to the federal government. He is known to everyone as the author of the ringing statement in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that among their inalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. His writings have stood as a torch to the defenders of individual freedom, in spiritual as well as in worldly affairs.
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Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia Deluxe
Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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“In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.  He is always in alliance with the despot … they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.”
                            – to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

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“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity.  What has been the effect of coercion?  To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.  To support roguery and error all over the earth.”
                             – “Notes on Virginia”

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“Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched.  Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion.  Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.
                             – letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787

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“It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one.  But this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests.”
                              – to John Adams, 1803

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“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.  This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.”
                              – to Baron von Humboldt, 1813

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“On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.”
                              – to Carey, 1816

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“Gouverneur Morris had often told me that General Washington believed no more of that system (Christianity) than did he himself.”
                                -in his private journal, Feb. 1800

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“It is not to be understood that I am with him (Jesus Christ) in all his doctrines.  I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism, he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it.                   – to Carey, 1816
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“The priests of the superstition, a bloodthirsty race, are as cruel and remorseless  as the being whom they represented as the family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the local God of Israel.  That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God,   physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore.”
                                 – to Story, Aug. 4, 1820

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“The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.  But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin.
1. That there are three Gods.

2. That good works, or the love of our neighbor, is nothing.

3. That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit the faith.

4. That reason in religion is of unlawful use.

5. That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals  to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.”

                     –  to Benjamin Waterhouse, Jun. 26, 1822

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“Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion.  The several sects  perform the office of a common censor over each other.  Is uniformity  attainable?  Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the  introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned;  yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity.  What has been the effect of coercion?  To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.  To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

  “Notes on Virginia”
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“Creeds have been the bane of the Christian church … made of Christendom a slaughter-house.”
                    –  to Benjamin Waterhouse, Jun. 26, 1822

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“Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.  Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.  And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of a bitter and bloody persecutions.”
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“I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”
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“It has been fifty and sixty years since I read the Apocalypse, and then I considered it merely the ravings of a maniac.”
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“The truth is, that the greatest enemies of the doctrine of Jesus are those, calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them to 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 [birth] of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation [birth] of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
                                 – to John Adams, Apr. 11, 1823

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“They [preachers] dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.”
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    “I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature.  They are all alike founded on fables and mythology.”
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“We discover in the gospels a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism and fabrication .”
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“No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”
                -Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

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“… I am not afraid of priests. They have tried upon me all their various  batteries of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and slandering.  I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West and I have found no difference of character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance on whom their interested duperies were to be played off.  Their sway in New England is indeed formidable.  No mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself.”
                   – letter to Horatio Spofford, 1816

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“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
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“Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the Common Law.”

                        -letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, 1814

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“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.  He is always in alliance with the despot…. they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.”
                        – to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

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“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship,  that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
     -letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT

      “The Complete Jefferson” by Saul K. Padover, pp 518-519

More about Jefferson’s Religious Beliefs
More of Jefferson’s Writings
Jefferson’s Complete Writings on CD

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