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Misquoting Our Founding Fathers


How many times have your heard that "Our founding fathers were not Christians! They were deists!"? It is an absurd assertion.


It conjures up images of clandestine gatherings in Philadelphia's Independence Hall where one by one Washington and Jefferson and Adams et al swear allegiance to some obscure deist creed and pledge to set America on the course of eradicating Biblical belief from all corners of the land.

Sure some of our nation's founders were deists. Consider the grumpy pamphleteer Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason:

"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...Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."

But Paine was in the minority of founders that had a genuine antipathy to organized religion. The vast majority went on record to declare that religious faith is essential to the formation of a self-sustaining democracy.



John Adams in a speech to the military in 1798 warned his fellow countrymen stating,

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."


Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence said.

"[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be aid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind."


Noah Webster, author of the first American Speller and the first Dictionary said,

"[T]he Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence."


Gouverneur Morris, Penman and Signer of the Constitution.

"[F]or avoiding the extremes of despotism or anarchy . . . the only ground of hope must be on the morals of the people. I believe that religion is the only solid base of morals and that morals are the only possible support of free governments. [T]herefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God."


Fisher Ames author of the final wording for the First Amendment wrote,

"[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind."


John Jay, Original Chief-Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court,

"The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts."


James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution; U. S. Supreme Court Justice,

"Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine. . . . Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other."


Noah Webster, author of the first American Speller and the first Dictionary stated,

"The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. . . All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible."



Robert Winthrop, Speaker of the U. S. House,

"Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet."

George Washington, General of the Revolutionary Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, First President of the United States of America, Father of our nation,

"Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society."

Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

"[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

Yet the radical secularists are at it again! Their new strategy is to misrepresent the founders by misquoting them or taking quotes out of context to intentionally distort their original meaning. A good example is this oft cited quote by John Adams:

Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!"

But this quote fragment distorts the main point Adams was making. Quoting from Adam's letter (shown below) he actually said:

Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamatic I should have been as fanatical as (Parson) Bryant or (Pedagogue) Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell. (emphasis added)

The founders did not want an established national religion. That's it. They allowed for state established religions. They encouraged the expression of religious faith. And they almost universally sought to encourage religious belief as essential for good governance and citizenship.

Madison sums it up nicely. In his letter to Rev. Jasper Adams in the spring of 1832, Madison once again makes his position regarding the government's proper role quite clear:

"(I)t may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interfering in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others."

The founding fathers opposed both government suppression and government establishment of religion. Radical secularists who seek to drive all religious expression from the public square join the ranks of the radical sectarians that our founders sought to declaw.

On this Father's Day we should thank God that our founding fathers had the foresight and courage to promote the expression of religious faith in the foundation and maintenance of our nation. 



"Misquoting Our Founding Fathers." tothesource (June, 2005).

This article reprinted with permission from tothesource.

Tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.

The Author

Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 15 books, including The Sky Is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times, Born Again, The Faith: Given Once, For All What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters, God & Government, Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

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