Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Congressional Issues 2010


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.


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 society.[1]

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.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, 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:

  • George 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."
  • John Adams (1797-1801) - proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting in explicitly Trinitarian terminology
  • Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)
    • "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus...." (more)
  • James 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.
  • James Monroe (1817-25)
    • "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
  • John 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 University.
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 us.

Deism link #1 || Deism link #2

GEORGE WASHINGTON: "Being no bigot, I am disposed to humor Christian ministers and the church" 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 Mohammedans." 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 Chiefs:

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 same attitude.

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." Unitarians 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. Many evangelicals 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 Abercrombie. Nelly Custis-Lewis, 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 Church.

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.

George 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 law."

The Facts Behind the Treaty with Tripoli

THOMAS JEFFERSON: 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 earth." Jefferson was not the only author of the Declaration of Independence. His draft was edited by a 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), Bergh 15:385.]

Get the facts on Jefferson.

JAMES MADISON: 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.

Madison consistently used the Presidency to advance Christianity.

JOHN ADAMS: "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 penitence,
  • 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 America, is not 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 two Nations;

Episcopalian minister 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 Christianity." 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 it.

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:

  1. That there is one only God, and he all perfect.
  2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
  3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.
These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews.
Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.

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.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: 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 Christian. Here is one.

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 a Christian.

More 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 (pp.299ff.)

  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 an Unitarian.

Gaustad, Faith of our Fathers, p. 105

Unitarians 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 action." Nothing indeed.

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 and State"