America’s Founders – Deists or Apologists?

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Jean Leon Gerome Ferris [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is often claimed that America’s founding fathers were irreligious deists who never intended

to establish a Christian nation. Secularists point to quotes from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and even George Washington in their quest to detach our nation from her Judeo-Christian roots. The quotes that they use are almost always taken out of context or sometimes even completely fabricated. But, if we simply read through founding era speeches, letters and other writings, it is easy to see that most of our founders would more easily fit the description of apologist.

For example, secularists claim that because George Washington used terms like Divine Providence and Supreme Being, he must have been a Deist and not a Christian. However, they overlook (or ignore) the fact that Providence was a term commonly used to refer to God during the founding era and for at least 2 centuries before. The Geneva Bible alone referred to God as Providence 144 times. Many sermons of the day utilized the word as well, including “Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” which was delivered by John Witherspoon on May 17, 1776. In this sermon, Witherspoon referred to Providence 10 times overall and twice in these opening sentences…

THERE is not a greater evidence either of the reality or the power of religion, than a firm belief of God’s universal presence, and a constant attention to the influence and operation of his providence. It is by this means that the Christian may be said, in the emphatical scripture language, to walk with God, and to endure as seeing him who is invisible.

THE doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete in the sacred oracles. It extends not only to things which we may think of great moment, and therefore worthy of notice, but to things the most indifferent and inconsiderable: Are not two sparrows sold for a farthings, says our Lord, and one of them falleth not on the ground without your heavenly Father; nay, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. It extends not only to things beneficial and salutary, or to the direction and assistance of those who are the servants of the living God; but to things seemingly most hurtful and destructive, and to persons the most refractory and disobedient. He over-rules all his creatures, and all their actions.”

Regardless of how many others used the term, Washington made it clear that he was, in fact, a Christian. On May 2, 1778, General Washington issued general orders to his soldiers at Valley Forge. Included in his brief statement were these words…

While we are zealously performing the duties of good Citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of Religion—To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian…

Later, when he resigned from his post as commander in chief of the Continental army, Washington closed his Circular to the States this way…

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 of 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 brethren 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 ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks [original spelling] of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.

In March of 1785, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson traveled to France to meet with the ambassador of Tripoli in hopes of ending the attacks on American merchant ships. Tragically, the attacks would continue for more than 3 decades and 4 presidents. One of many treaties signed along the way was the Treaty of Tripoli. A small snippet from this treaty is used by atheists and secularists to defend their position that America was never a Christian nation. The quote is often incorrectly attributed to John Adams and is usually presented this way: “The United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion.” Apart from its context, this sentence seems like a death knell. But, context is everything. This is the full paragraph.

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] and as the said States [America] have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

As you can see, what it is quoted as a complete sentence is actually just a small part of a much longer sentence and it is clear that this was nothing more than an attempt to placate the Muslim nations and convince them that the United States had no interest in a holy war. Wallbuilders has an article on The Treaty of Tripoli that explains this quote in more detail here.

In addition to attributing the preceding quote to John Adams, revisionists label him as a Unitarian who rejected orthodox Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Below are just a few quotations from Adams that demonstrate that, in fact, Adams was a devout and outspoken Christian. (Read more about John Adams here; full bibliography including page numbers at the end of the article.)

It is notorious enough that I have been a church-going animal for seventy-six years from the cradle.”

John Adams to Benjamin Rush on August 28, 1811, Quoted from The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were . . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . I will avow that I then believed (and now believe) that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813, Quoted from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb, editor

I have examined all [religions], . . . and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.”

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813, Quoted from The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor

I think there is nothing upon this earth more sublime and affecting than the idea of a great nation all on their knees at once before their God, acknowledging their faults and imploring His blessing and protection.”

John Adams, correspondence originally published in the Boston Patriot, 1809, Letter XIII, Quoted from The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor

The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that ever was conceived upon earth. . . .The curses against fornication and adultery, and the prohibition of every wanton glance or libidinous ogle at a woman, I believe to be the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in the world. . . . I say then that national morality never was and never can be preserved without the utmost purity and chastity in women; and without national morality a republican government cannot be maintained.”

John Adams to Benjamin Rush on February 2, 1807, Quoted from Old Family Letters, Alexander Biddle, editor

Charles Willson Peale [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Jefferson is probably the most slandered founding father. Christians and atheists alike have attacked Jefferson’s religion, character and actions. David Barton wrote an excellent book entitled, “The Jefferson Lies,” which dispels commonly held beliefs about the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. One of the things that he covers in that book is the so-called “Jefferson Bible.” The lie that is spread is that Thomas Jefferson cut pages out of his Bible, removing things that he didn’t agree with. This is a myth at best and outright propaganda at worst. The truth is that Jefferson wanted to give…Continue Reading

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