America is a Christian NationThe majority of America’s Founders were Deists, which means that they believed that the universe had a creator, but that it does not concern itself with the daily lives of humans and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books.  

The founders spoke often of God, (Nature’s God or the God of Nature), but this was not the God of the Christian Bible.  

 

So what did the America’s Founders have to say about religion, Christianity, and the Separation of Church and State?

 

George Washington


“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”  – Letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”   – Letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792

“We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition … In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.”  – Letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793

“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” – Letter to Edward Newenham, 1792

“Governor Morris had often told me that General Washington believed no more of that system (Christianity) than did he himself.” -Thomas Jefferson, in his private journal, Feb. 1800

Historian Barry Schwartz writes: “George Washington’s practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian…  He repeatedly declined the church’s sacraments.  Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary…  Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative.” – Historian Barry Schwartz, New York Press, 1987, pp. 174-175]

“There is no mention of Jesus Christ anywhere in his extensive correspondence.”  – Paul F. Boller, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, pp. 14-15

 

More on George Washington

 

 

John Adams


“The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”  – 1797 Treaty of Tripoli

“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”  – “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788

“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation.  But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” – Letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

“The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning.  And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY?  The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded.  But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes.”  – Letter to John Taylor

“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.  Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole cartloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.”

“The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?”

“Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?”      -letter to Thomas Jefferson

“God is an essence that we know nothing of.  Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world.”

“Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years?”

“Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”  – “A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)

“. . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”

“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”  – Letter to Thomas Jefferson

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.”  – Letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785, quoted from Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom (1991)

“But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed.”  — Letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there  were no religion in it.”

 

 

Thomas Jefferson


tLasXCIChristians mistakenly believe that when Thomas Jefferson mentions “god”, that makes him a Christian just like them.  While Jefferson absolutely believed in a god, he did not believe in the god of orthodox Christianity.  Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, not a Christian.

 

Jefferson on The Holy Trinity

“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.” — Letter to James Smith, December 8, 1822

It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one: to divide mankind by a single letter into [“consubstantialists and like-substantialists”]. But this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should all then, like the quakers, live without an order of priests, moralise for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition.” — Jefferson’s Letter to John Adams, August 22, 1813

(John Adams’ reply to this letter shows that he did not believe in the Trinity either): “The human understanding is a revelation from its maker, which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no scepticism, Pyrrhonism, or incredulity or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove this celestical communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfilment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature’s God, that two and two are equal to four.” –Adam’s Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 14 September 1813

 

Jefferson on The Virgin Birth of Jesus

“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the 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. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.” — Jefferson’s letter to John Adams, April 11 1823

 

Jefferson was a rationalist. He believed that Jesus was a pure and ethical teacher of morals. To that end, Jefferson took a razor to the New Testament and removed passages he thought to have been inserted by the authors of the gospels (whom he called the “commentators”), and he pasted what remained together as “The Jefferson Bible“. With his razor blade, he removed every verse dealing with the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, claims of Jesus’ divinity and other puerile superstition, thus leaving us with a very much shorter book.  In 1904, the Jefferson Bible was printed by order of Congress, and for many years was presented to all newly elected members of that body. 

 

I raise you my own Founding Fathers quote. - Imgur“No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, raised to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and get back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an imposter. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel.” — Jefferson’s Letter to Timothy Pickering, 21 Feb 1821

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”   – Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

 

“[Christian philosophy] … is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”  – Letter to Dr. Joseph Priestley, March 1801

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”  – Letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”  – Letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.”  – Letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787

“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”  – Letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”  – Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813

 

philo jefferson“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

We have solved … the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.”  – Speech to the Virginia Baptists (1808)

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”  – Letter to Samuel Miller, 1808 [note that this does not say Christian religion; it refers to all religions, equally]

 

separation-of-church-and-state-JeffersonThe Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson. In it it contains the following excerpt.

[Sec. 2] Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

 

Thomas Jefferson – The Wall of Separation – (letter)

 

James Madison


uJX6qyw“The civil government … functions with complete success … by the total separation of the Church from the State.”  – Quoted from Gene Garman, “Essays In Addition to America’s Real Religion”, 1819, Writings, 8:432

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”  – Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822

“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.”

 

 

“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.”  – Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”  -1803 letter objecting use of government land for churches

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”  — Letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774

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“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”  — A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of VA, 1795

“What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people… A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”  — A Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”  — A Memorial and Remonstrance

 

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James Monroe


“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.”  – First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817

 

Benjamin Franklin


“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”  Letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780

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“In the affairs of the world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the lack of it.”

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” -in Poor Richard’s Almanac

“I looked around for God’s judgments, but saw no signs of them.”

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Thomas Paine


“Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”

 

“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”

 

 

“The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”

“It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible.”

“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

 

 

Alexander Hamilton


“Manufacturers, who listening to the powerful invitations of a better price for their fabrics, or their labor, of greater cheapness of provisions and raw materials, of an exemption from the chief part of the taxes burdens and restraints, which they endure in the old world, of greater personal independence and consequence, under the operation of a more equal government, and of what is far more precious than mere religious toleration–a perfect equality of religious privileges; would probably flock from Europe to the United States to pursue their own trades or professions, if they were once made sensible of the advantages they would enjoy, and were inspired with an assurance of encouragement and employment, will, with difficulty, be induced to transplant themselves, with a view to becoming cultivators of the land.”  – Report on the Subject of Manufacturers December 5, 1791

 

Samuel Adams


“In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind.”   – The Rights of the Colonists (1771)

 

George Mason


“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forebearance, love, and charity towards each other.”  – Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

“It is contrary to the principles of reason and justice that any should be compelled to contribute to the maintenance of a church with which their consciences will not permit them to join, and from which they can derive no benefit; for remedy whereof, and that equal liberty as well religious as civil, may be universally extended to all the good people of this commonwealth.”  – Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776

 

Edmund Randolph


“A man of abilities and character, of any sect whatever, may be admitted to any office of public trust under the United States.”  – Address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 10, 1788

 

Rufus King


“I never liked the Hierarchy of the Church–an equality in the teacher of Religion, and a dependence on the people, are republican sentiments–but if the Clergy combine, they will have their influence on Government”  – Rufus King: American Federalist, pp. 56-57

 

Patrick Henry


“That religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.”  – Virginia Bill of Rights, June 12, 1776

 

Elbridge Gerry


“No religious doctrine shall be established by law.”  – Annals of Congress 1:729-731

 

Oliver Wolcott


“Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country, that I do not believe that the United States would ever be disposed to establish one religious sect, and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such test would be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, I cannot think it altogether superfluous to have added a clause, which secures us from the possibility of such oppression.”   – Connecticut Ratifying Convention, 9 January 1788

“Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his conscience. If he be a good and peaceable person he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution. But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe.”  – The Founder’s Constitution, University of Chicago Press, 1987, Vol. 4, p. 638

 

John Quincy Adams


mind-quote - john quincy adams, sworn in

 

Susan B Anthony


 

Abraham Lincoln


“My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”  – To Judge J S Wakefield, after Willie Lincoln’s death (Willie died in 1862), quoted by Joseph Lewis in “Lincoln the Freethinker”

“It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity.”  – Manford’s Magazine, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 144

“There was the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite; and therefore, as I suppose with few exceptions, got all of that Church. My wife had some relations in the Presbyterian churches, and some in the Episcopal churches; and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either one or the other, while it was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to vote for me because I belonged to no Church, and was suspected of being a Deist and had talked of fighting a duel.”  – Letter to Martin M Morris (March 26, 1843), in The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (Nicolay & Hay Edition, volume 1, page 80), quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents (page 112)

“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.”  – Quoted by Joseph Lewis in “Lincoln the Freethinker”

“I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal His will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed that He would reveal it directly to me … These are not, however, the days of miracles…. I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right.”  – Speech to an assembly of clergymen regarding the struggles he was having over the Emancipation Proclamation that would soon be issued (1862), quoted from Susan Jacoby, “One Nation, Under Secularism” (January 8, 2004)

“Mr. Lincoln’s maxim and philosophy were: ‘What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.’ He never joined any Church. He was a religious man always, I think, but was not a technical Christian.”  Mary Todd Lincoln in William Herndon’s Religion of Lincoln, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 118

“He had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term– he had faith in laws, principles, causes and effects.”  — Supreme Court Justice David Davis, on Abraham Lincoln

 

Roger Williams  /  Puritan minister and founder of Rhode Island


“Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.”  – The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution, 1644