Fathers & Deism”
to the Editor
I notice that your newspaper has an ongoing
debate concerning the religious nature of the
Founding Fathers. A recent letter claimed that
most of the Founding Fathers were deists, and
pointed to Washington, Jefferson, Franklin,
Paine, Hamilton, and Madison as proof. After
making this charge, the writer acknowledged
the “voluminous writings”" of the
Founders, but it appears that she has not read
those writings herself. However, this is no
surprise since the U.
S. Department of Education claims that
only 5 percent of high schools graduates know
how to examine primary source documentation.
David Barton -
Interestingly, the claims in this recent
letter to the editor are characteristic of
similar claims appearing in hundreds of
letters to the editor across the nation. The
standard assertion is that the Founders were
deists. Deists? What is a deist? In
dictionaries like Webster's, Funk &
Wagnalls, Century, and others, the terms “deist,”
“agnostic,” and “atheist” appear as
synonyms. Therefore, the range of a deist
spans from those who believe there is no God,
to those who believe in a distant, impersonal
creator of the universe, to those who believe
there is no way to know if God exists. Do the
Founders fit any of these definitions?
None of the notable Founders fit this
Paine, in his discourse on “The Study of
God,” forcefully asserts that it is “the
error of schools” to teach sciences without
“reference to the Being who is author of
them: for all the principles of science are of
Divine origin.” He laments that “the evil
that has resulted from the error of the
schools in teaching [science without God] has
been that of generating in the pupils a
species of atheism.” Paine not only believed
in God, he believed in a reality beyond the
In Benjamin Franklin's 1749 plan of education
for public schools in Pennsylvania, he
insisted that schools teach “the necessity
of a public religion . . . and the excellency
of the Christian religion above all others,
ancient or modern.” Consider also the fact
that Franklin proposed a Biblical inscription
for the Seal of the United States; that he
chose a New Testament verse for the motto of
the Philadelphia Hospital; that he was one of
the chief voices behind the establishment of a
paid chaplain in Congress; and that when in
1787 when Franklin helped found the college
which bore his name, it was dedicated as “a
nursery of religion and learning” built “on
Christ, the Corner-Stone.” Franklin
certainly doesn't fit the definition of a
Nor does George
Washington. He was an open promoter of
Christianity. For example, in his speech on
May 12, 1779, he claimed that what children
needed to learn “above all” was the “religion
of Jesus Christ,” and that to learn this
would make them “greater and happier than
they already are”; on May 2, 1778, he
charged his soldiers at Valley Forge that “To
the distinguished character of patriot, it
should be our highest glory to add the more
distinguished character of Christian”; and
when he resigned his commission as
commander-in-chief of the military on June 8,
1783, he reminded the nation that “without a
humble imitation” of “the Divine Author of
our blessed religion” we “can never hope
to be a happy nation.” Washington's own
adopted daughter declared of Washington that
you might as well question his patriotism as
to question his Christianity.
Alexander Hamilton was certainly no deist. For
example, Hamilton began work with the Rev.
James Bayard to form the Christian
Constitutional Society to help spread over the
world the two things which Hamilton said made
America great: (1) Christianity, and (2) a
Constitution formed under Christianity. Only
Hamilton's death two months later thwarted his
plan of starting a missionary society to
promote Christian government. And at the time
he did face his death in his duel with Aaron
Burr, Hamilton met and prayed with the Rev.
Mason and Bishop Moore, wherein he reaffirmed
to him his readiness to face God should he
die, having declared to them “a lively faith
in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful
remembrance of the death of Christ.” At that
time, he also partook of Holy Communion with
The reader, as do many others, claimed
that Jefferson omitted all miraculous events
of Jesus from his “Bible.” Rarely do those
who make this claim let Jefferson speak for
himself. Jefferson's own words explain that
his intent for that book was not for it to be
a “Bible,” but rather for it to be a
primer for the Indians on the teachings of
Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that
work, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of
Nazareth”). What Jefferson did was to take
the “red letter” portions of the New
Testament and publish these teachings in order
to introduce the Indians to Christian
morality. And as President of the United
States, Jefferson signed a treaty with the
Kaskaskia tribe wherein he provided—at the
government's expense—Christian missionaries
to the Indians. In fact, Jefferson himself
declared, “I am a real Christian, that is to
say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”
While many might question this claim, the fact
remains that Jefferson called himself a
Christian, not a deist.
Madison trained for ministry with the Rev.
Dr. John Witherspoon, and Madison's writings
are replete with declarations of his faith in
God and in Christ. In fact, for proof of this,
one only need read his letter to Attorney
General Bradford wherein Madison laments that public
officials are not bold enough about their
Christian faith in public and that public
officials should be “fervent advocates in
the cause of Christ.” And while Madison did
allude to a “wall of separation,” today's
writers frequently refuse to allow Madison to
provide his own definition of that “wall.”
According to Madison, the purpose of that “wall”
was only to prevent Congress from passing a
national law to establish a national religion.
None of the Founders mentioned fit the
definition of a deist. And as is typical with
those who make this claim, they name only a
handful of Founders and then generalize the
rest. This in itself is a mistake, for there
are over two hundred Founders (fifty-five at
the Constitutional Convention, ninety who
framed the First Amendment and the Bill of
Rights, and fifty-six who signed the
Declaration) and any generalization of the
Founders as deists is completely inaccurate.
The reason that
such critics never mention any other Founders
is evident. For example, consider what must be
explained away if the following signers of the
Constitution were to be mentioned: Charles
Pinckney and John Langdon—founders of the
American Bible Society; James McHenry—founder
of the Baltimore Bible Society; Rufus King—helped
found a Bible society for Anglicans; Abraham
Baldwin—a chaplain in the Revolution and
considered the youngest theologian in America;
Roger Sherman, William Samuel Johnson, John
Dickinson, and Jacob Broom—also theological
writers; James Wilson and William Patterson—placed
on the Supreme Court by President George
Washington, they had prayer over juries in the
U. S. Supreme Court room; and the list could
go on. And this does not even include the huge
number of thoroughly evangelical Christians
who signed the Declaration or who helped frame
the Bill of Rights.
Any portrayal of any handful of Founders as
deists is inaccurate. (If this group had
really wanted some irreligious Founders, they
should have chosen Henry Dearborne, Charles
Lee, or Ethan Allen). Perhaps critics should
spend more time reading the writings of the
Founders to discover their religious beliefs
for themselves rather than making such
sweeping accusations which are so easily
(For more on
this topic see: Thomas
Paine Criticizes the Current Public School
Science Curriculum, Franklin’s
Appeal for Prayer at the Constitutional
George Washington a Christian?, The
Founders and Public Religious Expression,
Madison and Religion in Public)
Supporters of the "separation of church and state" like to
tell us that the Founding Fathers were all "unitarians" and
"deists." What are the facts?
If "deism" is the belief in a "Clockmaker God"
who winds up the creation and lets it run according to impersonal
"natural law," never getting involved, never answering human
prayer, never changing what man has done in a direct and supernatural
way, then it can be confidently asserted that not a single Signer of
the Constitution was a deist. It would be difficult to name a single
Founding Father who did not believe that God
answered the prayers of every single legislature of every single state
and granted America independence and secured her unalienable rights. E-mail
me if you can name one single Signer of the Constitution who
denied that God miraculously intervened in human history to create the
United States of America.
Let's study the facts a little more carefully:
Thomas Paine and the Age of Reason
Deism and "Infidelity"
The Nature of "Unitarianism" in the
days of the Founders
Franklin's Denial of Deism in the Constitutional Convention
Ethan Allen was a
Thomas Paine and the Age of Reason
Thomas Paine is sometimes grouped with the Founding Fathers. Your
daily newspaper might reinforce this view with editorials like this:
and most of our other patriarchs were at best deists, believing in the
unmoved mover of Aristotle, but not the God of
the Old and New Testaments.
It would be difficult to name a single one of the Founding Fathers
who approved of Paine's Age of Reason, his famous tract attacking
religion in general and evangelical Christianity in particular. Even
less-than-evangelicals like Benjamin Franklin and the
"Unitarians" all denounced Paine's book.
Before Paine published his Age of Reason,
he sent a manuscript copy to Benjamin Franklin, seeking his thoughts.
Notice Franklin's strong and succinct reply, and keep in mind that those
on all sides of the religion question would concede Franklin to be one
of the least religious Founders:
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it
contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general
Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For without
the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards, and
guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to
worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his
protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles,
though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my
opinion that . . . the consequence of printing this piece will be a
great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no
benefit to others. He that spits into the wind, spits in his own face.
But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it?
. . . [T]hink how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and
ignorant men and women and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of
both sexes who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them
from vice, to support their virtue . . . . I would advise you,
therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece
before it is seen by any other person . . . . If men are so wicked
with religion, what would they be without it? I intend this letter
itself as proof of my friendship.
Samuel Adams was not quite as cordial as Franklin:
[W]hen I heard you had turned your mind to a defence of infidelity,
I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted
a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true
interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States. The
people of New England, if you will allow me to use a Scripture phrase,
are fast returning to their first love. Will you excite among them the
spirit of angry controversy at a time when they are hastening to amity
and peace? I am told that some of our newspapers have announced your
intention to publish an additional pamphlet upon the principles of
your Age of Reason. Do you think your pen, or the pen of any
other man, can unchristianize the mass of our citizens, or have you
hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?
John Adams certainly spoke harshly of such anti-Christian propaganda:
The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever
prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of
wisdom, virtue equity and humanity, let the Blackguard [scoundrel,
rogue] Paine say what he will.
Far from opposing "the God of the Old and New Testaments,"
Adams defended the Bible as the basis for government in a Christian
Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for
their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by
the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in
conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice,
kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and
reverence toward Almighty God.... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise
would this region be." 
This was, in fact, the basis for the system of government in America,
as Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813:
The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence,
were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young
Gentlemen could Unite....And what were these general Principles? I
answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these
Sects were United: . . . Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now
believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal
and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those
Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our
terrestrial, mundane System. 
- Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote to
his friend and signer of the Constitution John Dickenson that
Paine's Age of Reason was "absurd and impious."
- Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration, described Paine's
work as "blasphemous writings against the Christian
- John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration and mentor to many
other Founders, said that Paine was "ignorant of human nature
as well as an enemy to the Christian faith."
- John Quincy Adams declared that "Mr. Paine has departed
altogether from the principles of the Revolution." 
Elias Boudinot, President of Congress, even published the Age of
Revelation -- a full-length rebuttal to Paine's work. In a letter to
his daughter, Susan, Boudinot described his motivations for writing that
I confess that I was much mortified to find the whole force of this
vain man's genius and art pointed at the youth of America. . . . This
awful consequence created some alarm in my mind lest at any future
day, you, my beloved child, might take up this plausible address of infidelity;
and for want of an answer at hand to his subtle insinuations might
suffer even a doubt of the truth, as it is in Jesus, to penetrate your
mind. . . . I therefore determined . . . to put my thoughts on the
subject of this pamphlet on paper for your edification and
information, when I shall be no more. I chose to confine myself to the
leading and essential facts of the Gospel which are contradicted or
attempted to be turned into ridicule by this writer. I have endeavored
to detect his falsehoods and misrepresentations and to show his
extreme ignorance of the Divine Scriptures which he makes the subject
of his animadversions -- not knowing that "they are the power of
God unto salvation, to every one that believeth [Romans 1:16]."
Patrick Henry, too, wrote a refutation of Paine's work which he
described as "the puny efforts of Paine." However, after
reading Bishop Richard Watson's Apology for the Bible written
against Paine, Henry deemed that work sufficient and decided not to
publish his reply.
When William Paterson, signer of the Constitution and a Justice on
the U.S. Supreme Court, learned that some Americans seemed to agree with
Paine's work, he thundered:
Infatuated Americans, why renounce your country, your religion, and
your God? Oh shame, where is thy blush? Is this the way to continue
independent, and to render the 4th of July immortal in memory and song?
Zephaniah Swift, author of America's first law book, warned:
[W]e cannot sufficiently reprobate the beliefs of Thomas Paine in
his attack on Christianity by publishing his Age of Reason . .
. . He has the impudence and effrontery [shameless boldness] to
address to the citizens of the United States of America a paltry
performance which is intended to shake their faith in the religion of
their fathers . . . . No language can describe the wickedness of the
man who will attempt to subvert a religion which is a source of
comfort and consolation to its votaries [devout worshipers] merely for
the purpose of eradicating all sentiments of religion.
John Jay, co-author of the Federalist Papers and the original
Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was comforted by the fact that
Christianity would prevail despite Paine's attack:
I have long been of the opinion that the evidence of the truth of
Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce
conviction in candid minds, and I think they who undertake that task
will derived advantages. . . . As to The Age of Reason, it
never appeared to me to have been written from a disinterested love of
truth or of mankind.
Many other similar writings could be cited, but these are sufficient
to show that Paine's views were strongly rejected even by the least
religious Founders. In fact, Paine's views caused such vehement public
opposition that -- as Franklin predicted -- he spent his last years in
New York as "an outcast" in "social ostracism" and
was buried in a farm field because no American cemetery would accept his
Yet, even Thomas Paine cannot be called an atheist, for in the same
work wherein he so strongly attacked Christianity, Paine also declared:
I believe in one God . . . and I hope for happiness beyond this
The Founding Fathers simply were not atheists -- not
even one of them. As Franklin had earlier explained to his European
hosts while in France:
[B]ad examples to youth are more rare in America, which must be
comfortable consideration to parents. To this may be truly added, that
serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only
tolerated, but respected and practiced. Atheism is unknown there; infidelity
rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that
country, without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an
atheist or an infidel.
While members of the Supreme Court have held that government cannot
show "respect" for religion, Franklin says the opposite.
[See David Barton, Original
Intent, 130-34 for words in blue.]
Deism and Infidelity
As has been
shown elsewhere, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that references
to God (which permeate our history and government) do not refer to the
God of the Bible. Our national motto ("In God We Trust"), the
Pledge of Allegiance ("One nation, under God"), and oaths in
our courtrooms ("So help me, God") have been declared by the
Supreme Court to have "no theological meaning." They are
examples of "ceremonial
In a syndicated article, Steven
The early presidents and patriots were generally deists or
Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but
rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the relevance of the Bible.
But the Founders were not "deists." Franklin called himself
a "deist," but used the word in a sense quite different from
the way most Americans think of that term today.
Russell Kirk describes deism in the following terms:
Throughout Europe and even America, the disillusionment
that followed upon the end of the Wars of Religion had brought
some toleration with it—but also apathy or indifference of
spirit. Scientific and metaphysical speculation, late in the
seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, had
weakened Christian belief among many of the educated.
Christian churches often seemed dull and smug, and many
clergymen were content to collect their stipends but not eager
to perform their duties. In much of Europe, a confused popular
resentment against established churches began to stir; quite
as serious was the contempt for Christianity that grew among
not a few members of the upper classes. Anti-Christian feeling
was one of the forces that would explode in Paris in 1789, and
thereafter would sweep across other European nations. Men must
believe in something more than themselves; and if the
Christian churches seemed whited sepulchres, men would seek
another form of faith. So it was that during the first half of
the eighteenth century, in England and America, the mode of
thought called Deism made inroads upon the Christianity of the
Deism was neither a Christian schism nor a systematic
philosophy, but rather a way of looking at the human
condition; the men called Deists differed among themselves on
many points. (Thomas Paine often was called an atheist, but is
more accurately described as a rather radical Deist.) Deism
was an outgrowth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
scientific speculation. The Deists professed belief in a
single Supreme Being, but rejected a large part of Christian
doctrine. Follow Nature, said the Deists (as the Stoics had
said before them), not Revelation: all things must be tested
by rational private judgment. The Deists relied especially
upon mathematical approaches to reality, influenced in this by
the thought of Sir Isaac Newton. For the Christian, the object
of life was to know God and enjoy Him forever; for the Deist,
the object of life was private happiness. For
the Deists, the Supreme Being indeed was the creator of the
universe, but He did not interfere with the functioning of His
creation. The Deists denied that Old and New Testaments
were divinely inspired; they doubted the reality of miracles;
they held that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Redeemer, but a
grand moral teacher merely. Thoroughly rationalistic, the
Deists discarded all elements of mystery in religion, trying
to reduce Christian teaching to a few simple truths. They, and
the Unitarians who arose about the same time, declared that
man was good by nature, not corrupt; they hoped to liberate
mankind from superstition and fear.
Kirk, The Roots of American Order, pp.337-38
Ben Franklin, by this account, was no deist. He believed that God
directly -- if not "miraculously" -- intervened in the
"natural" functioning of the universe. See
his remarks at the Constitutional Convention.
What is important to see is the negative connotation in the word
"deist." Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the
English Language shows how "deism" came to be equated with
DE'ISM, n. [Fr. deisme; Sp. deismo; It. id;
from L. deus, God.]
The doctrine or creed of a deist; the belief or system of religious
opinions of those who acknowledge the existence of one God, but deny
or deism is the belief in natural religion only, or those truths, in
doctrine and practice, which man is to discover by the light of
reason, independent and exclusive of any revelation from God.
Hence deism implies infidelity or a disbelief
in the divine origin of the scriptures.
Webster then quotes Patrick Henry, from Wirt's
Sketches, to the effect that "deism . . . is but another name
for vice and depravity. . . . " A "deist," thus, is
one who believes in the existence of a God, but denies revealed
one who professes no form of religion, but follows the light of nature
and reason, as his only guides in doctrine and practice;
Freethinkers and infidels were under severe legal restrictions in the
years immediately following the ratification of the Constitution. There
is little evidence that the Founding Fathers intended to minimize those
restrictions. Black's Law Dictionary
defines an "infidel" as
One who does not believe in the existence of a God who will reward
or punish in this world or that which is to come. Hale v. Everett,
53 N.H. 54, 16 Am.Rep. 82. One who professes no religion that can bind
his conscience to speak the truth. 1 Greenl.
Ev. § 368. One who does not recognize the inspiration or obligation
of the Holy Scriptures, or generally recognized features of the
Christian religion. Gibson v. Ins. Co., 37 N.Y. 580.
It is clear that the legal restriction most in view in this
definition is the qualification to take a solemn oath. An
"infidel" was deemed unable to take an oath. An oath witnessed
to the existence of a God Who would judge falsehood. Every oath was thus
a "test oath."
Thomas Jefferson, by this definition, was not an
|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
3. 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 Christian.
—To Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse. (1822) The
Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Albert Ellery
Bergh. 20 vols. Washington: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Association, 1907. (Memorial Edition) vol. 15, p. 383.
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.
They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system
beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer
of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were He to return
on earth, would not recognize one feature.
—To Charles Thomson. Bergh 14:385. (1816.)
In 1844, a case came before the U.S. Supreme Court [Vidal
v. Girard's Executors, 43 U.S. 126 (1844)] in which a
Frenchman, suspected of being a "deist" or
"infidel," wanted to build a school quite different from most
-- one in which the teachers would not be clergymen. His will
left millions of dollars to the City of Philadelphia to build a school
in which "no ecclesiastic, missionary, or minister of any sect
whatsoever" should be allowed in. He stipulated that "only the
purest principles of morality" should be taught, by which he
obviously meant Secular Humanism/No Bible.
(I say this is "obvious" because of the opprobrium with
which the atheistic French Revolution was viewed in America. Both the
City of Philadelphia and Girard's heirs suspected that by this provision
he wanted to exclude the Bible from the school and to prohibit
Christianity from being taught.)
Both the City of Philadelphia and Girard's heirs conceded that an
atheistic school such as this would be repugnant to the Christian law of
this country. This is one of the arguments raised before the Supreme
Court by Daniel Webster:
[T]he plan of education proposed is anti-Christian and therefore
repugnant to the law.
His reasoning before the US Supreme Court was based on Biblical
Both in the Old and New Testaments its importance [viz., the
religious instruction of youth] is recognized. In the Old it is said,
"Thou shalt diligently teach them to thy children," and in
the New, "Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them
not . . . ." No fault can be found with Girard for wishing a
marble college to bear his name for ever, but it is not valuable
unless it has a fragrance of Christianity about it.
One has to exercise a little historiographic wisdom here. What kind
of world was it back then the a man of Daniel Webster's stature (called
"the Defender of the Constitution") could rise before the US
Supreme Court and cite Bible verses as the basis for setting aside
probably the largest devise of its kind in the history of the New World?
Webster argued that the single anti-Christian provision of Girard's
will should force the entire will to be set aside. But courts will
attempt to salvage a will by removing any clause offensive to public
policy. This is what the City of Philadelphia argued. They granted that
the atheistic school clause was anti-Christian and therefore unlawful,
but they argued that Webster should have
. . . joined with us in asking the State to cut off the obnoxious
The City agreed with Webster that this was a Christian nation and
that the Bible must be taught in schools. Giving a tortured
interpretation of the Frenchman's will, the City argued:
The purest principles of morality are to be taught. Where
are they found? Whoever searches for them must go to the source from
which a Christian man derives his faith -- the Bible. . . . [T]here is
an obligation to teach what the Bible alone can teach, viz., a
pure system of morality.
So here we have two parties before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing
that a clause in a will requiring a Bible-free school cannot be enforced
in America because this is a Christian nation. If the ACLU's version of
history were true, the Supreme Court would have laughed these lawyers
out onto the street. Nobody after Everson can make arguments like
this before the Court. (But then, the case which took prayer out of
schools in 1962 did not cite a single judicial precedent. The doctrine
of "separation of church and state" required a wholesale
revision of American history. The
Holy Trinity case, of course, cited this 1844 case to prove that
America was a "Christian nation.")
So what exactly did the Girard Court hold? How did it react to these
Bible-thumping lawyers before it?
After both sides argued that the anti-Christian provision of the will
was repugnant to law, the unanimous opinion of the US Supreme Court was
delivered by Justice Joseph Story, whose Commentaries on the
Constitution were regarded as the greatest statement of U.S.
Constitutional Law. The Court ruled that
Christianity could NOT be excluded from the school.
Christianity . . . is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and
blasphemed against to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the
public. . . . It is unnecessary for us, however, to consider . . . the
establishment of a school or college for the propagation of . . . Deism
or any other form of infidelity. Such a
case is not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country.
Note that "deism" is equated with "infidelity."
The Supreme Court said they were not to be tolerated in a Christian
nation. Deism is not approved the way modern writers say the Founders
John Adams denounced "infidelity":
The idea of infidelity cannot be treated
with too much resentment or too much horror. The man who can think of
it with patience is a traitor in his heart and ought to be execrated
as one who adds the deepest hypocrisy to the blackest treason. 
The Founders believed that a school which would teach Deism is
against public policy. That's what the United State Supreme Court ruled
in 1844. That holding cannot be made after the Everson case. Not
because the Constitution requires it, but because the Secular Humanist
Court now requires that atheists are not to be annoyed by
prayers, Bible readings, or manger scenes in public.
It might be instructive to recall the words of Scripture:
the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. Proverbs
The Vidal Court very wisely does not allow the will to fail,
but takes millions of dollars from an apparent unbeliever and uses them
to build a school which will teach Christianity. The Court looks at
Girard's will, which expressly states that no clergy can even enter the
school -- even as visitors -- and says, that's OK:
Why may not laymen instruct in the general principles of
Christianity as well as ecclesiastics [that's "clergy" for
you public school graduates.]
And we cannot overlook the blessings which such [lay]men by their
conduct, as well as their instructions, may, nay must impart to
their youthful pupils. Why may not the Bible, and especially the New
Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine
revelation in the college -- its general precepts expounded, its
evidences explained and its glorious principles of morality
inculcated? . . . Where can the purest principles of morality be
learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?
You cannot even IMAGINE the current Supreme Court saying anything
like this. That's why the Court has had to ignore all legal precedent in
formulating its doctrine of the "separation of church and
state." It's not in the Constitution, nor its legislative history,
nor in Court cases throughout the 19th century.
This case blows the myth of "separation" to pieces, but
most Americans have had their historical memories flushed down the
Orwellian Memory Hole and can't even grasp what's going on in this case.
Nobody in this case believed in a "separation of church and
state" as now understood, and nobody believed that the
Constitution required the Bible to be removed from schools.
I anticipate nothing but suffering to the human race while the
present systems of paganism, deism and atheism prevail in the world.
Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
The attempt by the rulers of a nation [France] to destroy all
religious opinion and to pervert a whole people to atheism is a
phenomenon of profligacy [an act of depravity] . . . . [T]o establish
atheism on the ruins of Christianity [is] to deprive mankind of its
best consolations and most animating hopes and to make it a gloomy
desert of the universe.
[T]he rising greatness of our country . . . is
greatly tarnished by the general prevalence of deism which, with me,
is but another name for vice and depravity. . . . I hear it is said by
the deists that I am one of their number; and indeed that some good
people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain
than the appellation of Tory, because I think religion of infinitely
higher importance than politics . . . . [B]eing a Christian . . . is a
character which I prize far above all this world has or can boast.
[I] have a thorough contempt for all men . . . who appear to be the
irreclaimable enemies of religion.
[T]he most important of all lessons [from the Scripture] is the
denunciation of ruin to every State that rejects the precepts of
Gouverneur Morris, Penman and Signer of the Constitution
[S]hun, as a contagious pestilence . . . those especially whom you
perceive to be infected with the principles of infidelity
or [who are] enemies to the power of religion.
Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not to call him an enemy
to his country.
John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration
John Adams also recognized that the Bible cannot be removed from
schools, because freedom cannot exist in chaos. We cannot separate
religion and government:
Religion and virtue are the only foundations . . . of republicanism
and of all free governments.
But wasn't Adams a Unitarian? Those who believe in the
"separation of church and state" would certainly like us to
believe that he was, and that Unitarians were flagrant TomPaine-type
atheists who flouted their anti-religious views and led an entire nation
in an anti-Christian revolt. This is far from accurate.
Unitarianism appeared in America as early as 1785;
its doctrines were stated by William Ellery Channing in 1819, with the
American Unitarian Association being formed in 1825. 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.
In fact, the early Unitarians published a pamphlet entitled An
Answer to the Question, "Why Do You Attend a Unitarian
Church?" Notice some of the eighteen reasons:
- Because the Unitarians reject all human creeds and articles of
faith, and strictly adhere to the great Protestant principle,
"the Bible -- the Bible only;" admitting no standard of
Christian truth, nor any rule of Christian practice, but the words
of the Lord Jesus and his Apostles. . . .
- Because at the Unitarian Church I hear Jesus of Nazareth who was
crucified, preached as the Christ, the son of the living God. . . .
- Because Unitarians teach the doctrine of "the true grace of
God." -- His unmerited, unpurchased favor to mankind, -- that
salvation and eternal life are his free gifts through Jesus Christ;
which is clearly the doctrine of Scripture . . . .
- Because there the crucified Jesus is exalted, as having attained
his high dignity and glory, and His appointment to be the Saviour
and Judge of the world. . . .
- Because there the necessity of personal righteousness is insisted
on, and the spirit of Christ and conformity to His example, made
essential to genuine Christianity.
As a further indication of the early Unitarian's reliance on the
Bible, observers from that era noted "that several of the
ablest defenders of Christianity against the attacks of infidels
have been Unitarians." 
However, in 1838, Unitarianism took a radical turn
when Ralph Waldo Emerson began slowly reshaping Channing's Christian
. . . into a Transcendentalist version of the ethical theism of
Plato, the Stoics, and Kant, coordinated with the nascent evolutionist
science of the day and the newly explored mysticism of the ancient
East. This new religious philosophy, as construed and applied by the
Boston preacher Theodore Parker and other disciples of Emerson,
included the other great ethnic faiths with Christianity in a
universal religion of Humanity and through its intellectual
hospitality operated to open Unitarian fellowship to evolutionists,
monists, pragmatists and humanists. 
The 1844 source previously quoted indicates that Emerson's heresies
took time to infect Unitarianism completely. But the Unitarianism of
Adams' day was not the Unitarianism of our day.
Professing little reverence for human creeds, having no common
standard but the Bible . . . . They believe that He [God] earnestly
desires their repentance and holiness; that His infinite, overflowing
love led Him miraculously to raise up and send Jesus to be
their spiritual deliverer, to purify their souls from sin, to restore
them to communion with Himself, and fit them for pardon and
everlasting life in His presence; in a word, to reconcile man to God.
Because today's Unitarians are both non- and anti-Christian, a
failure to account for the historical changes in this organization have
caused many modern historians to conclude wrongly that the Founders
associated with early Unitarianism could not have been Christians. In
fact, they were much closer to the Religious Right in their social
morality than to the ACLU.
I grant that all of the Founders were far too influenced by
Enlightenment Humanism. But then, I think Pat Robertson is way too
"moderate." The point is that none of them would support the
present definition of "separation of church and state."
Barton's discussion of Unitarianism is found in Original
Intent at pp. 304-306.
My Answer to a Letter from the World Union of Deists
> To Whom It May Concern,
> I am convinced that the ideal nation is a secular democratic republic
> that allows its adult citizens to do whatever they want as long as
> they do not obviously hurt someone else. The United States was not
> necessarily designed to be such a nation at its conception, yet,
> compared with other nations at the time, it certainly was a major
> step in the right direction.
Anyone who takes an oath to
"support the Constitution" as our judges and politicians do,
should be expected to support the Constitution as it was written and
intended to be carried out, not what the politicians think it should be
or want it to be.
> The United States was founded on some excellent ideas, but sometimes
> these ideas had to be expanded to be as good as possible. For
> example, the Declaration of Independence declares "that all men are
> created equal." What does that mean? It originally meant that all
> white American men who own property and pay taxes are created equal,
> and, thus, should be allowed to vote.
All men are created equal, but not all are allowed to hold public
office (must be 35 years old to be President, for example). The ability
to vote to increase taxes should be limited to those who must pay them.
> The same can be said of America's secular seed. The Declaration of
> Independence does mention "Nature's God." (Which, by the way, refers
> to the Deist conception of God, not Yahweh or the Trinity. Remember
> that the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson,
> was an outspoken Deist.)
Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence was altered by a
revision committee, and signed by those who cannot be called
> Yet the Declaration of Independence
> mentions Nature's God in passing, so it is by far more of a secular
> document than a religious one.
I disagree. The Declaration says:
- • that the existence of God is a "self-evident truth"
• that our rights are the product of intelligent design (not the
• that all Americans are obligated to conform their lives to
"the Laws of
Nature and of Nature's God"
• that our actions must one day pass judgment with "the Supreme
Judge of the world"
• that all Americans should have "a firm reliance on the
Protection of Divine
This is pervasively religious.
Most Americans today are victims of educational malpractice, and so they
don't know how religious America was in those days.
> Deism is also a far more secular
> philosophy than Christianity.
But not the deism of Jefferson's day:
> Furthermore, the United States
> Constitution does not refer to any deity.
This is because Christians did not want the federal government to
have any authority over religion.
> If the United States was
> supposed to be a very religious nation, its constitution should have
> at least mentioned a deity!
Not according to the Christians who wrote it. If the Framers had
intended the Constitution to be secular, they could have done so. The
French did this, but the Americans did not:
> From these largely-secular beginnings, the United States will
> hopefully develop into a purely secular nation in the same way it
> developed from a pro-white-rich-male-citizen nation into a pro-adult-
> citizen nation.
Even Jefferson wanted America to be a Christian nation, albeit
Unitarian. But religious, not secular, not atheist:
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.
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
Gaustad, Faith of our Fathers, p. 105
> May the United States government favor no religion,
> not Deism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Satanism, Atheism,
> Agnosticism, et cetera. That way, Americans can practice their
> religions without interference from their government and no religion
> will have a governmental advantage over another.
It was never intended for practitioners of human sacrifice,
cannibalism, polygamy, or suttee to be permitted to practice their
religion, because this was a Christian nation.
I oppose government support of religion (i.e., taxing people). But
government makes laws, and laws impose somebody's morality, and morality
comes from somebody's religion. Government will always favor one
religion over others, or be in the process of changing favored
> Americans will be
> much more likely to embrace or reject a religion based on its merit
> (or lack thereof), rather than because their government backs it.
> This allows more freedom, and freedom is the core value of the United
> States of America!
> May reason prevail!
> Deputy Director
> World Union of Deists
Human beings have reason because they are created in the Image of
Beings which are created by impersonal, random, meaningless, blind
forces do not have reason.
They are simply the random interaction of various chemicals.
It would be difficult to name a single Founding Father who did
not believe in a God who judges men and nations in this life or in the
life to come. Thus, not a single Founding Father could be called a deist
or any other form of infidel. Back to Black's
Footnote 1. Michael McDonald, "Founding Fathers Weren't
Devout," The Charlotte Observer, Friday, January 15, 1993,
Footnote 2. Benjamin Franklin, The
Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, Ed., (Boston: Tappan,
Whittemore and Mason, 1840) X:281-282, to Thomas Paine in 1790.
Footnote 3. William V. Wells, The Life
and Public Services of Samuel Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co.,
1865) III:372-73, to Thomas Paine on Nov. 30, 1802.
Footnote 4. John Adams, The Works of
John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis
Adams, Ed., (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856) III:421, dairy entry
for July 26, 1796.
Footnote 5. John Adams (1735-1826), (L.H.
Butterfield, ed., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard Press, 1961), Vol. III, p. 9.
[February 22, 1756]
Footnote 6. Lester J. Capon, ed., The
Adams-Jefferson Letters 2 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of
North Carolina Press, 1959), 2:339-40
Footnote 7. Benjamin Rush, Letters of
Benjamin Rush, L.H. Butterfield, ed., (Princeton University Press,
1951) II:770, to John Dickenson on Feb 16, 1796.
Footnote 8. Joseph Gurn, Charles
Carrol of Carrolton (NY: P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1932, p. 203.
Footnote 9. John Witherspoon, The
Works of the Reverend John Witherspoon (Phila: Wm W. Woodward, 1802)
III:24n2, from "The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of
Men," delivered at Princeton on May 17, 1776.
Footnote 10. John Quincy Adams, An
Answer to Pain's [sic] "Rights of Man" (London: John
Stockdale, 1793) p. 13.
Footnote 11. Elias Boudinot, The Age
of Revelation (Phila: Asbury Dickins, 1801) pp. xii-xiv, from the
prefatory remarks to his daughter, Mrs. Susan V. Bradford.
Footnote 12. George Morgan, Patrick
Henry (Phila: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1929) p. 366n. See also,
Bishop William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of
Virginia (Phila: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1857) II:12.
Footnote 13. John E. O'Connor, William
Paterson: Lawyer and Statesman (New Bruswick: Rutgers University
Press, 1979) p. 244, from a Fourth of July Oration in 1798.
Footnote 14. Zephaniah Swift, A
System of Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham: John Byrne,
Footnote 15. William Jay, The Life
of John Jay (NY: J. & J. Harper, 1833) p. 80 from his
"Charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster County" on Sept. 9, 1777.
Footnote 16. Dictionary of American
Biography, s.v. "Thomas Paine."
Footnote 17. Thomas Paine, The Age
of Reason (Phila: The Booksellers, 1794) p. 8.
Footnote 18. Benjamin Franklin, Two
Tracts: Information to Those Who Would Remove to America and Remarks
Concerning the Savages of North America (London: John Stockdale,
Footnote 19. "America's
Unchristian Beginnings," The Los Angeles Times August 3,
1995, B-9. See our
analysis of this article.
Footnote 20. The Papers of John
Adams, Robert J. Taylor, ed., (Cambridge: Belknap Press [Harvard
University], 1977-89) vol. VI p 348 to James Warren on Aug. 4, 1778
Footnote 21. Benjamin Rush, Letters
of Benjamin Rush, L.H. Butterfield, ed., (Princeton University
Press, 1951) II:799, to Noah Webster on July 20, 1798.
Footnote 22. The Papers of Alexander
Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, ed., (NY: Columbia University Press,
1979) XXV:605-10, to James Bayard on April 16-21, 1802.
Footnote 23. Arnold, A.G., The Life
of Patrick Henry of Virginia, (Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton and
Mulligan, 1854) pp. 249-50.
Footnote 24. Samuel Adams, The
Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., (NY: G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1906) II:381, to William Checkley on Dec. 14, 1772.
Footnote 25. Collections of the New
York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (NY: E.Bliss and E. White,
1821) p 34, from "An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New
York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris on Sept. 4,
Footnote 26. Witherspoon, Works,
VI:13, from "An Address to the Senior Class at Princeton
College," Sept. 23, 1775.
Footnote 27. Ibid., III:42, from
"The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men,"
delivered at Princeton on May 17, 1776.
Footnote 28. Adams, Works,
IX:636, to Benjamin Rush, Aug. 28, 1811.
Footnote 29. Rupp, Daniel, An
Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in
the United States, (Phila: J.Y. Humphreys, 1844) p. 711.
Footnote 30. James Truslow Adams, Dictionary
of American History (NY: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1940) p. 345.
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