FOUNDING PRESIDENTS NOT
by William Edelen
February 24, 2002
One of my favorite times of the year is the Presidents month of
February. Why? Because it gives me an annual opportunity to make a
dent in the historical and religious ignorance of the political and
Christian knee jerk right wingers. They spend almost full time in
perverting American history claiming that the bible and Christianity
were at the foundation of this nation. What total hogwash. Once a
year I get to bring a few undisputed facts to their attention.
FOUNDING PRESIDENTS ALL
A Response to William Edelen
February 25, 2002
Do we still celebrate the birthday of Presidents? I remember in
school making drawings or craft projects that had to do with Lincoln
and Washington. It's probably only in the private schools of
"knee-jerk right wingers" where American history is taught
any more. The foundation of America was the Bible and Christianity,
as JOSEPH STORY, U S. SUPREME COURT
JUSTICE and FATHER OF AMERICAN
JURISPRUDENCE reminded us:
One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal
jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common
Law. . . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law
did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundations. . . .
I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil
It is not an easy thing to refute the claim of Edelen, echoed in
the Encyclopedia Britannica, that the Founding Fathers were a
bunch of Deists. It's hard because it takes time and effort to read
a judicious amount of American history, while it's much easier to
accept a few slogans.
1968, vol.2, p.420, quote:
"One of the embarrassing problems for the nineteenth-century
champions of the Christian faith was the fact that NOT
ONE of the first six presidents of the United States was a
Christian. They were Deists."
|This claim is either a
lie, or it is misleading, or it is true only in a technical and
completely irrelevant sense. Every single one of these first
Presidents claimed to be a Christian. Why should I
accept the opinion of the writer of this article rather than the
claims of these very men? None of them believed in "the
separation of God and State."
Consider each of them in these links:
Washington (1789-97) - includes statements like this:
- "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.
The signal instances of providential goodness which we have
experienced, and which have now almost crowned our labors
with complete success, demand from us in a peculiar manner
the warmest returns of gratitude and piety to the Supreme
Author of all good."
Adams (1797-1801) - proclaimed a national day of prayer and
fasting in explicitly Trinitarian terminology
- "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a
disciple of the doctrines of Jesus...." (more)
Madison (1809-17) - said that legislators should vote
against any bill if
- the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the
light of Christianity. The first wish of those who
enjoy this precious gift, ought
to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind.
Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with
the number still remaining under the dominion of false
Religions; and how small is the former! Does
the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No;
it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light
of (revelation) from coming into the Region of it; and
countenances, by example the nations
who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who
might convey it to them. Instead of levelling as far as
possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of
truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian
timidity would circumscribe it, with a wall of defence,
against the encroachments of error.
- "I enter on the trust to which I have been called by
the suffrages of my fellow-citizens with my fervent prayers
to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to
continue to us that protection which He has already so
conspicuously displayed in our favor."
First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817.
- Deists don't believe that God "conspicuously"
intervenes in human history
Quincy Adams (1825-29)
- "The attention of Congress is particularly invited to
that part of the report of the Secretary of War which
concerns the existing system of our relations with the
Indian tribes. At the establishment of the Federal
Government under the present Constitution of the United
States the principle was adopted of considering them as
foreign and independent powers and also as proprietors of
lands. They were, moreover, considered as savages, whom it
was our policy and our duty to use our influence in
converting to Christianity and in bringing within the
pale of civilization."
"[I]n appropriating to ourselves their hunting grounds
we have brought upon ourselves the obligation of providing
them with subsistence; [but] we have had [only] the rare
good fortune of teaching them the arts of civilization and
the doctrines of Christianity. . . ."
Fourth Annual Message, December 2, 1828,
- Every member of the "religious right" would love
to vote for a "deist" president like this, who
promised "to teach the doctrines of Christianity"
to the savages in south central L.A. -- and those in Harvard
|In Deism there is no
personal God, only an impersonal "force" or
"energy" or "natures God" or
"providence". In Deism, the bible is nothing but
literature, and bad literature at that. Jefferson and Paine both
called it "a dunghill" Others of our founders used the
same language. In Deism, Jesus was nothing more than a nomadic
teacher. I will now let these men speak for themselves:
||Every single one of
these presidents believed in a personal God, not an impersonal
"energy." Every one of them believed that God personally
and supernaturally intervened in American history, in
response to the prayers of the colonists, to protect and preserve
link #1 || Deism
"Being no bigot, I am disposed to humor Christian ministers and
||Probably most members
of the "religious right" would agree that the
stuffed-shirts of the Church of England were hypocrites in search of
power and lacked a genuine evangelical spirit. To be critical of
hypocritical clergy is not the same thing as being critical of true
Christianity. This distinction is lost on most secularists.
|Looking for servants,
he said: "I will be happy to have atheists, Jews, Christians or
||What does this prove?
Washington surely would have tried in a gentle way to bring them
under the influence of Christianity. As he told the Delaware Indian
You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and
above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. . . . Congress will do
everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.
The Writings of GeoWashington, Jared Sparks,
ed., (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1838) XV:55, from his speech to
the Delaware Indian Chiefs, May 12, 1779.
Abraham had the
Benjamin Rush was one of Jefferson's closest friends. Speaking of
public schools, he said,
Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the
attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and
punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or
Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly
devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I
mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.
Benjamin Rush, Essays,
Literary, Moral and Philosophical, (Philadelphia: Thomas and
William Bradford, 1806), p. 8.
|In 1831, Episcopalian
minister Bird Wilson said in a sermon: "Washington is no more
than a Unitarian, if anything."
in Washington's day were far closer to Jerry Falwell and Pat
Robertson than they were to today's ACLU. The Theological
Dictionary of 1823 described Unitarians thusly:
In common with other Christians, they confess that He [Jesus]
is the Christ, the Son of the Living God; and in one word, they
believe all that the writers of the New Testament, particularly
the four Evangelists, have stated concerning him.
|Washington refused to
take communion, looking upon it as superstition.
believe that the sacraments of some churches border on superstition.
Their criticisms of these ecclesiastical sacraments are based on
Biblical and deeply religious grounds. I have never seen the
evidence that Washington considered the sacraments of the Church of
England as "superstition" in any other way.
I join Washington in opposing
sacraments, but I do so on Biblical and Christian grounds, not
"deist" grounds. George Washington was deeply religious,
not an "unbeliever" or "infidel."
|He refused to ever
kneel in church according to his wife and minister, James
technically Washington's granddaughter but with a very close
relationship to Martha and George, said that standing "was
then the custom," and that Washington was always deeply
reverential and faithful in attendance.
The vast majority of Protestants in Washington's day refused to
kneel in Catholic churches, and Washington sensed the that Church of
England was only marginally less idolatrous than the Catholic
There is conflicting historical testimony about how Washington
prayed, but none over the fact that he did pray, believing that God
could and would personally and supernaturally answer those prayers.
Washington, a Christian?
|The Treaty of Tripoli,
under Washington, Article 11 begins: "As the government of the
United States is NOT IN ANY SENSE founded on the Christian
religion." This Treaty was ratified by the senate in 1797under
Adams, without a SINGLE OBJECTION..
||Washington had nothing
to do with the Treaty with Tripoli. The "not in any sense
founded" was inconsistent with the facts of history and was
removed from the Treaty in subsequent re-negotiations, never to be
seen again. That line is patently and indisputably not "good
Behind the Treaty with Tripoli
Author of the Declaration of Independence. "I have examined all
the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our
particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They
are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent
men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity have
been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect
of this coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other
half hypocrites. And to support roguery and error all over the
||Jefferson was not the
only author of the Declaration of Independence. His draft was edited
congressional committee, which made it more theistic.
Jefferson compiled what we today call
"the Jefferson Bible" as a textbook to teach Christianity
to the Indians.
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.
TJ to Charles Thomson (9 Jan. 1816), Bergh 14:385-86.
On another occasion he wrote, "I hold the precepts of Jesus,
as delivered by himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and
sublime which have ever been preached to man." [TJ to Jared
Sparks (4 Nov. 1820), Bergh 15:288. "Had the doctrines of Jesus
been preached always as pure as they came from his lips,"
Jefferson believed, "the whole civilized world would now have
been Christian." TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse (26 June 1822),
Get the facts on
Author of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. "A just
government instituted to perpetuate liberty, does not need the
church or the clergy. During almost 15 centuries the legal
establishment of Christianity has been on trial. What have been been
its fruits? These are the fruits in all places: pride and indolence
in the clergy...ignorance and servility in the laity...and in both
clergy and laity superstition, bigotry and persecution."
Madison passionately objected to state supported chaplains in
Congress and the military, as well as the exemption of churches from
taxation. And rightly so. They should be taxed.
||I oppose the
"legal establishment" of any church or denomination. Every
member of the Religious Right opposes this as well.
Madison voted FOR the chaplains. He later changed his mind, and
for good reason: he disapproved of members of one denomination being
taxed to support the clergy of another denomination.
"The power to tax is the power to
destroy." Churches should be exempt from taxation. So
should corporations. And Families.
used the Presidency to advance
"The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus has made a convenient
cover for absurdity"
||Many absurd things have
been done in the name of Jesus. Adams believed America should be
dedicated to advancing, becoming more consistent with the teachings
of the Savior. He proclaimed a national day of prayer, suggesting
that the nation:
- call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most
High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest
- implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great
Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions,
- and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit
we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable
obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come;
This is an explicitly Trinitarian request. Secularists would fall
into apoplexy if a modern President followed Adams' example.
|Adams signed the Treaty
of Tripoli, which states that the United States is not in any sense
founded on the Christian religion.
||An awkward and
misleading statement of the idea that America would not declare
"holy war" on the Muslims. The unfortunate phrase was
removed in all subsequent versions of the treaty, which agreed:
As the Government of the United States of
in any sense founded on the Christian Religion has
in itself no character of enmity against the Laws, Religion or
Tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have
entered into any voluntary war or act of hostility against any
Mahometan Nation, except in the defence of their just rights to
freely navigate the High Seas: It is declared by the contracting
parties that no pretext arising from Religious Opinions, shall
ever produce an interruption of the Harmony existing between the
Bird Wilson, in a sermon of October 1831, summed up the religion of
our founding presidents in these words: "Among all of our
Presidents, from Washington downward, not one was a professor of
||We should expect this
from an Episcopalian, with an ecclesiocentric view of Christianity.
"If you don't support MY church, you're not a real
Christian." For every clergyman who said none of the Presidents
were Christians, a dozen or more clergy could be cited who claimed
they were. Many clergy were enlisted by the Federalists to oppose
Jefferson's bid for President in 1800 by slandering Jefferson in any
way they could, especially by saying he was not a Christian.
Jefferson won largely because these charges were negated by
supporters who assured the electorate that Jefferson was a
Christian. Tunis Wortman wrote a pamphlet called A Solemn
Address to the Christians and Patriots upon the Approaching Election
of a President of the United States, in which he declared,
That the charge of deism . . . is false, scandalous and
malicious -- That there is not a single passage in the Notes on
Virginia, or any of Mr. Jefferson's writings, repugnant to
Christianity; but on the contrary, in every respect, favourable to
Did Jefferson believe that the Constitution gave the federal
judiciary the power to order municipal schools to remove
all copies of the Ten Commandments? Not a chance. Jefferson said:
To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not
to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the
only sense in which he wished anyone to be—sincerely attached to
his doctrines in preference to all others.
The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all
to the happiness of man:
These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the
religion of the Jews.
- That there is one only God, and he all perfect.
- That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
- That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as
thyself, is the sum of religion.
Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they
came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been
Did Jefferson believe that the federal government had the
authority to order local schools not to teach these
doctrines? Not a chance. Jefferson would have opposed the ACLU and
all other proponents of a powerful federal government, suppressing
true religion in the towns of America.
Not a founding president but a giant who shared exactly the same
religious views: quote: "Christianity is not my religion and
the bible is not my book. I have never united myself in any church
because I could never give assent to the long, complicated
statements of Christian doctrine and dogma." Lincoln never
joined any church and was never baptized, looking upon it as
superstition. His wife said: "my husband is not a Christian,
but is a spiritual man I think." The most magnificent
Pulitzer-Prize biography of this giant is Carl Sandburg's
"Abraham Lincoln." And as Sandburg put it: "His views
were such as would place him entirely outside of Christianity."
||History is too complex
for bumper-sticker historians like Edelen.
On the one hand, Lincoln's official rhetoric was pro-Christian.
Some conservative Christians have concluded that Lincoln was a
Other conservatives have gone behind the rhetoric to look at
actions. They claim that The
Real Lincoln was a two-faced dictator and overthrew the
Constitution. This would lend credence to the claim that he was not
links on Lincoln the tyrant.
|Thomas Jefferson put in
one succinct sentence what they all believed. "The day will
come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by a 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." (letter
to John Adams, April 11, 1823)
||What did Jefferson mean
by "mystical generation of Jesus?" The fact that Jefferson
spoke so forcefully about any theological doctrines -- conversations
never heard among politicians in our day -- indicates that religion
was taken much more seriously in Jefferson's day than in ours.
In spite of his disagreements with the established churches,
Jefferson still believed America had a more pure Christian future
than Edelen or anyone at the ACLU could stomach:
Sharing a hope nurtured by many Americans in the early
nineteenth century, Jefferson anticipated a re-establishment of
the Christian religion in its "original purity" in the
United States. Although he believed it would not take place until
after his death, he had no doubt that it would eventually be
accomplished. "Happy in the prospect of a restoration of
primitive Christianity," he said, "I must leave to
younger athletes to encounter and lop off the false branches which
have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and
modern ages."[note 15: TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse (19 July
1822), Bergh 15:391.] His own Statute of Virginia for Religious
Freedom, and later the First Amendment to the Constitution, had
already prepared the way. The rest was simply a matter of time.
"If the freedom of religion guaranteed to us by law in
theory can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition
of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the
genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by his
pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity.
This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the
human mind, but too late for me to witness it."
TJ to Jared Sparks (4 Nov. 1820), Bergh 15:288.]
Andrew M. Allison, in Thomas Jefferson: Champion of History
Once primitive Christianity was fully restored . . .
Christianity would escape all danger of being eclipsed or
superseded. "I confidently expect," Jefferson wrote in
1822, "that the present generation will see Unitarianism
become the general religion of the United States."
And to the Harvard professor and Unitarian Benjamin
Waterhouse, Jefferson that same year observed: "I trust that
there is not a young man now living in the U.S. who will not die
of our Fathers,
in Jefferson's day were Pat Robertson right-wingers compared to the
atheistical ACLU of today.
|Why are these facts of
American history not being taught in our High Schools? What forces
are at work in our society to keep historical truth from our young
people? We get all hot and sweaty about censoring movies and
television. A far, far more lethal virus that is at work is the
censorship of the religious views of our first six presidents, our
Founding Fathers. Why is this not being taught? Why is your minister
not telling you about it, assuming he is historically literate?
||None of the Founding
Fathers were as hostile to true religion
as columnists like the one at left. Nine out of ten high school
teenagers who graduated from government-operated high schools this
year would have a view of America's founders much closer to the
views of the infidel commentator at left than the views of this
column. So would a majority of clergy.
|The genius Goethe said
it best: "Nothing is more terrifying than...ignorance in
1. Joseph Story, Life and Letters of Joseph Story, William W.
Story, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. II,
pp. 8, 92.
next: The Myth of "Separation of Church