By Dr. Rick Chromey
My country ‘tis of Thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of Thee we sing!
According to modern historians who’ve radically reimagined our American story, this patriot hymn is sentimental myth. The Founding Fathers were Deists, agnostics and liberal Christians. The Constitution is “wholly secular.” We were never a “Christian” nation.
But are these revisionist assessments correct? Is America’s legacy a secular tale?
To learn the truth, we need to consult original and early source works.
OUR FOUNDERS WERE DEISTS, AGNOSTICS AND LIBERAL THEOLOGIANS
Secularists routinely cite the irreligiosity of Paine or the Deism of Franklin and Jefferson. Indeed, these Founders advocated unorthodox views. However, there were approximately 200 influential “Founding Fathers” – including Benjamin Rush, Samuel Adams, Gouverneur Morris, John Dickinson, Frances Hopkinson, John Witherspoon, Elias Boudinot, Charles Carroll and Charles Thomson – who affirmed biblical Christianity.
We mustn’t overlook devout Christian men who led our Revolution, signed the Declaration of Independence and authored the U.S. Constitution – including clergy educated in seminaries (still uncorrupted by mid-19th century liberalism). Our Founding Fathers preached sermons (Witherspoon), launched Sunday Schools (Rush), translated Scriptures (Thomson), and wrote church hymns (Hopkinson). John Hancock affirmed “the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state.”(1) Patrick Henry confessed his Christianity was a “prize far above all this world has or can boast.”(2)
When we review Founders’ diaries, wills and writings, it’s obvious they advocated Christian faith. Even America’s foremost Deists professed affinity toward Christianity. Benjamin Franklin stated of Jesus that his “system of morals” and “His religion” were “the best the world ever saw or is likely to see.”(3) Thomas Jefferson proclaimed, “I am a Christian in the only sense in which [Jesus] wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others.”(4)
The inconvenient truth is our Founders were mostly devout Christians.
AMERICA WAS NEVER A “CHRISTIAN NATION”
Since the 1940s, this idea has been propagated to implant a “wall of separation” between religion and government. But is that separation what our Founders intended?
Not according to John Adams.
He argued, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”(5) In 1813 Adams was clearer: “The general principles on which the [founding] fathers achieved independence [was]…Christianity.”(6) He further testified that Christianity is “above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.”(7)
Are these the thoughts of a secularist? Hardly. And neither are the words of these influential Founding Fathers:
John Quincy Adams: “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”(8)
John Jay: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”(9)
Benjamin Rush: “I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as satisfied that it is as much the work of Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”(10)
Even George Washington instructed a pagan Indian tribe to “…learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.”(11)
In 1854 Congress investigated our “Christian” origins. After an extensive study of records, diaries, speeches and other documents, they concluded: “Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle… In this age, there can be no substitute for Christianity… That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.”(12)
The inconvenient truth is America was indeed founded upon Christianity. What we cannot forget is she’s only for a “moral and religious” people.
Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King!
Dr. Rick Chromey is an author, historian and theologian who speaks and writes on matters of religion, culture, history, technology and leadership. He’s the founder and president of MANNA! Educational Services International (www.mannasolutions.org). Rick and his wife Linda live in Star.
Sources: (1) Independent Chronicle (Boston), November 2, 1780, last page; see also Abram English Brown, John Hancock, His Book (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1898), p. 269.
(2) A.G. Arnold, The Life of Patrick Henry of Virginia (Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1854), p. 250.
(3) Benjamin Franklin, Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), p. 185, to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790.
(4) Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Grey & Bowen, 1830), Vol. III, p. 506, to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803.
(5) Originally part of a letter from John Adams to the Massachusetts Militia (October 11, 1798):
(6) Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XIII, p. 292-294. In a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.
(7) John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), Vol. III, p. 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.
(8) John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), pp. 5-6.
(9) William Jay, The Life of John Jay (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833), Vol. II, p. 376, to John Murray Jr. on October 12, 1816.
(10) Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton, New Jersey: American Philosophical Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 475, to Elias Boudinot on July 9, 1788.
(11) George Washington, The Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), Vol. XV, p. 55, from his speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779.
(12) Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives Made During the First Session of the Thirty-Third Congress (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1854), pp. 6-9.