The Founding Fathers on Religion

Jefferson on Christianity

Mike Hukabee was on The Daily Show yesterday and they started talking about David Barton, an evangelical Christian minister and political activist that Hackabee called “the greatest historian in America.” Barton is one of those historians who believes the Founding Fathers based the core principals of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights not on the values on the Enlightenment, but on the Bible. Of course, it’s the opposite that’s true. Starting with Emperor Constantine in the 300s A.D., virtually every country in Europe since the Fall of Rome has tried to base their nation’s values on Christianity while America was the first to base it’s values on the concepts of individual freedom.

Below are some quotes from Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, proving they were all (with the partial exception of Washington) Deists and Unitarians. The same is true for John Quincy Adams, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and Abraham Lincoln. Many, like George Washington, were also Freemasons, liberal religious thinkers who are/were discredited by most Catholics and Protestants. Jefferson in particular was very hostile to organized religion and believed it always corrupted a free society. He also wrote the Jefferson Bible in which he combined the sayings of Jesus from the four gospels and cut out all the miracles and references to Jesus’ divinity.

Thomas Jefferson Quotes:

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

“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.” -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

“They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . .” -Thomas Jefferson

“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.” -Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813

“Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.” – Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822.

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.” -Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, April 13, 1820

“To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.” -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820

“The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.” -Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

“I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.” -Thomas Jefferson , letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

Quotes on George Washington:

Washington, out of the Big Four (along with Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin), is the most religious of all: half-Anglican, half-Deist. While he was President, Washington attended Christ Church (an Anglican/Episcopalian congregation) in Philadelphia. Although he was an Anglican and an Episcopalian, Washington reportedly did not take communion and was not considered an official “communicant” (full-fledged adult church member).

“Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they thot they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion. I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.” – Thomas Jefferson, journal entry for February 1, 1800, a few weeks after Washington’s death.

James Madison Quotes:

“An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against……Every new and successful example therefore of a PERFECT SEPARATION between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance……..religion and government will exist in greater purity, without (rather) than with the aid of government.” – James Madison in a letter to Livingston, 1822, from Leonard W. Levy- The Establishment Clause, Religion and the First Amendment, p. 124

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” -James Madison

“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. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.” – James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance”, 1785

“Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government.” -James Madison

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect. ” -James Madison

Quotes on James Madison:

“Offered for the Legislature, and it was objected to [Madison], by his opponents, that he was better suited to the pulpit than to the legislative hall. His religious feeling, however, seems to have been short-lived. His political associations were those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to a general suspicion of it.” -William Meade, Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, based on the account of Reverend Alexander Balmaine, husband of one of Madison’s favorite cousins and the Episcopal priest who officiated at his marriage to Dolly Paine Todd.

“I was never at Mr. Madison’s but once, and then our conversation took such a turn–though not designed on my part–as to call forth some expressions and arguments which left the impression on my mind that his creed was not strictly regulated by the Bible.” -Bishop Meade

“He talked of religious sects and parties and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian [Nicene] creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines. ” -Irving Brant, biographer, based on a Bostonian’s account of an 1815 dinner table conversation with Madison

Benjamin Franklin Quotes:

“You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.

“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequences, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.” -Benjamin Franklin to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790

“My parents had given me betimes religions impressions, and I received from my infancy a pious education in the principles of Calvinism. But scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself” -Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, p. 66

“The time which I devoted to these exercises, and to reading, was the evening after my day’s labor was finished, the morning before it began, and Sundays when I could escape divine service. While I lived with my father, he had insisted on my punctual attendance on public worship, and I still indeed considered it as a duty, but a duty which I thought I had no time to practice” -Benjamin Franklin, p. 16

“Charmed to a degree of enthusiasm with this mode of disputing, I adopted it, and renouncing blunt contradictions, and direct and positive argument, I assumed the character of a humble questioner. The perusal of Shaftesbury and Collins had made me a skeptic; and, being previously so as to many doctrines of Christianity, I found Socrates’ method to be both the safest for myself, as well as the most embarrassing to those against whom I applied it. It soon afforded me singular pleasure; I incessantly practiced it; and became very adroit in obtaining, even from persons of superior understanding, concessions of which they did not foresee the consequence” -Benjamin Franklin, p. 17

“I began to be regarded, by pious souls, with horror, either as an apostate or an Atheist” -Benjamin Franklin, p. 22

Quote on Benjamin Franklin:

“In Boston, in 1721, when the pulpit had marshaled Quakers and witches to the gallows, one newspaper, the New England Courant, the fourth American periodical, was established as an organ of independent opinion, by James Franklin. Its temporary success was advanced by Benjamin, his brother and apprentice, a boy of fifteen, who wrote pieces for its humble columns.

“The little sheet satirized hypocrisy and spoke of religious knaves as of all knaves the worst. This was described as tending ‘to abuse the ministers of religion in a manner which was intolerable.’ ‘I can well remember,’ writes Increase Mather, then more than four score years of age, ‘when the civil government would have taken an effectual course to suppress such a cursed libel.’ “The ministers persevered, and, in January, 1723, a committee of inquiry was raised by the legislature. Benjamin Franklin, being examined, escaped with an admonition; James, the publisher, refusing to discover the author of the offense, was kept in jail for a month; his paper was censured as reflecting injuriously on the reverend ministers of the gospel; and, by a vote of the House and Council, he was forbidden to print it, ‘except it be first supervised.'” -Goodrich’s Reader (Fifth, pp. 273, 274)

John Adams Quotes:

“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?” -John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815

“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.” -John Adams, “A Defence 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.” -John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)

“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.” -John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785

“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?” -John Adams, letter to FA Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

“The frightful engines of ecclesiastical councils, of diabolical malice, and Calvinistical good-nature never failed to terrify me exceedingly whenever I thought of preaching.” -John Adams, letter to his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, October 18, 1756, explaining why he rejected the ministry

“I shall have liberty to think for myself without molesting others or being molested myself.” -John Adams, letter to his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, August 29, 1756, explaining how his independent opinions would create much difficulty in the ministry,

“When philosophic reason is clear and certain by intuition or necessary induction, no subsequent revelation supported by prophecies or miracles can supersede it.” -John Adams, from Rufus K Noyes

“Indeed, Mr. Jefferson, what could be invented to debase the ancient Christianism which Greeks, Romans, Hebrews and Christian factions, above all the Catholics, have not fraudulently imposed upon the public? Miracles after miracles have rolled down in torrents.” -John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, December 3, 1813

“Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires.” -John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 16, 1814

“I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits…. Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola’s. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.” -John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 5, 1816

“Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.” -John Adams, letter to his son, John Quincy Adams, November 13, 1816

“Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?” -John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 19, 1821

“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!” -John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

“The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning…. And, even 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 soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.” -John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814

“The Church of Rome has made it an article of faith that no man can be saved out of their church, and all other religious sects approach this dreadful opinion in proportion to their ignorance, and the influence of ignorant or wicked priests.” -John Adams, Diary and Autobiography

“What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because of suspected heresy? Remember the Index Expurgato-rius, the Inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter, and the guillotine; and, oh! horrible, the rack! This is as bad, if not worse, than a slow fire. Nor should the Lion’s Mouth be forgotten. Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years.” -John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814

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

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About Jeff Q

I live in New Orleans. I have a Bachelors in Computer Science and a Masters in English Literature. My interests include ancient history, religion, mythology, philosophy, and fantasy/sci-fi. My Twitter handle is @Bahumuth.

3 thoughts on “The Founding Fathers on Religion

  1. Because David Barton and others like him try to argue that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state is just a myth.

  2. You know Huckabee is just going for the Christian vote, since we can’t separate church and state anymore.

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