Religion and the Founding Fathers

The  United  States Was Not Founded as a Christian Nation
   "As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian
religion; as it has in itself no character or enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen
(Muslims); and as the said states have never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any
Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever
produce an interruption of the harmony between the two countries...The United States is not a Christian
nation any more than it is a Jewish or Mohammendan nation."  - Treaty of Tripoli (1797), passed
unanimously by the United States Senate and signed into law by President John Adams.
                                                            Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli
     One cannot have any more definitive proof that the United States was not founded as a Christian
country than this fact being stated in an official document, the Treaty of Tripoli, written and approved
by the men who established the nation.  Yet Christian religious fanatics claim that the United States
was founded as a Christian country.  Such claims only confirm their fanaticism.
      Of the first five presidents of the United States, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas
Jefferson, James Madison, and  James Monroe, none were Christians.  These Founding Fathers
were men from the Age of Reason and products of the Enlightenment.  They rejected the myths
and superstition promoted by organized religion that had been responsible for centuries of death
and destruction in Europe.
      The following is from the endpaper of 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage
to Doubt, by James A. Haught: "Intelligent, educated people tend to be critical of the supernatural and
the so-called revealed truths of religion.  So it is hardly surprising to find a great number of skeptics
and unbelievers among out major inventors, scientists, writers, social reformers, and other great world
changers - people usually termed great.  The advance of Western Civilization has been partly a story of
the gradual victory over religious oppression, and these brilliant doubters were men and women who
didn't pray, didn't kneel at altars, didn't make pilgrimages, and didn't recite creeds." Below are some
quotes from more contemporary individuals who rejected the mythology of Christianity.
                   Thomas Edison - "All religion is bunk."
                   Ernest Hemingway - "All thinking men are atheists."
                   Napoleon Bonaparte - "All religions have been made by men."
                   Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) - "If there is a god, he is a malign thug."
                   Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) - "If Christ were here now, there is one thing he would
                                                                           not be - a Christian."
                   Leo Tolstoy - "To regard Christ as God, and pray to him, are in my mind the greatest
                                           possible sacrilege."
                   President William Howard Taft - "I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are
                                                                          many postulates of the orthodox creed to which I
                                                                          cannot subscribe."
                   Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire) - "Every sensible, every honorable man, must hold the
                                                                            Christian sect in horror."
                   Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire) - "Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd
                                                                             and bloody religion that has ever infected the world."
      "As I understand it, it was, and is revelation.  But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales
and legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most
bloody religions that ever existed?"  - John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816.
      Christian religious fanatics claim that the wording in the Declaration of Independence proves that the
Founding Fathers were Christians.  The opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states:
"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands
which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and
equal status to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them..."  Here the Founding Fathers
were referring to the Deist supreme being and not the Christian God.  Toward the end of the Declaration
of Independence the words "Divine Providence" appear.  Again this is the Deist Divine Providence and not
the Christian God.
      Today Christian leaders point to the use of the word "Creator" by these men in government documents
to prove that they were Christians and that the United States was founded as a Christian country.  The
Founding Fathers were, at most Deists, meaning they allowed for the possibility of a supreme being but did
not subscribe to the beliefs or tenants of any particular religion.  The word "Creator" in the Declaration of
Independence did not refer to the Christian God but the possibility of a supreme being allowed for by Deists.
In the original version of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson he wrote "All men
are created equal and independent.  From that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable."
Congress changed the phrase to read, "All men are created equal.  They are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable rights."  That Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers did not mean the  Christian
God when Congress used the word creator is punctuated by the quote below:
      "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."
                                - Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823.
      When faced with such obvious distain of the Christian religion by men of the stature of Thomas
Jefferson, Christian religious fanatics today will go to any extreme to cover up this disbelief in the
Christian religion.  On one web site there appears a link to "the 1823 letter of Thomas Jefferson on
religion."  Clicking on this link presents the visitor with an entirely different letter supposedly written
by Thomas Jefferson.  Thomas Jefferson and John Adams corresponded with each other on an almost
daily basis.  There were hundreds of letters passing between them in 1823.  Christian religious fanatics
hoped to deceive people by selecting a letter that did not deal harshly with the Christian religion.
      Christian religious fanatics today still claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country
and that the Founding Fathers were all Christians because to deny this myth would weaken their hold
over believers.  Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard's Almanac in 1758, "The way to see faith is to
shut the eye of reason."  Today this is what Christian religious fanatics are asking of the people that they
have under their control.  Instead what is happening in the United States is that an increasing number of
individuals are adopting the deist beliefs of the Founding Fathers.
      In his autobiography Benjamin Franklin wrote the following:  "My parents had given me betimes
religious 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 having doubted in turn of different tenets,
according as I found them combated in different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself...
Some books against Deism fell into my hands...It happened that they wrought an affect on me quite
contrary to what was intended in them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted,
appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."
      Some of the Founding Fathers, like George Washington, would use words like "the Almighty" or
"Providence" in their letters and speech.  Christian religious fanatics point to this as "proof" that the
Founding Fathers were Christians.  Such words usually meant, at best, the supreme being which the
Deists allowed for in their belief system.  Also, the Founding Fathers often presented the appearance
of belief in public while holding entirely different beliefs or none at all in private.
     As an infant George Washington was baptized into the Church of England much as Benjamin
Franklin was baptized into the Calvin Church. Then he was raised in the Anglican Church and the
Episcopal Church when it was established in the United States.  When George Washington accompanied
his wife Martha to church at Mount Vernon, he would wait outside for her or send the family carriage
back for her later whenever communion was being given.  At this time communion was not given on
every Sunday in the Episcopal Church.  When in Philadelphia, Rev. James Abercrombie said that
Washington never took communion.  He said Washington regularly left the church just before
communion was given along with other non-communicants.  When Abercrombie gave a sermon saying
that those who leave at the time of communion set a bad example, Washington stopped attending church
on communion Sundays.  After Washington had died, Abercrombie was asked about Washington's
religious beliefs.  Abercrombie replied, "Sir, Washington was a Deist!"  By his actions George Washington
was rejecting the Christian religion.  We have one rare example of this in a letter he wrote to Lafayette in
which he sets himself apart from Christians.
      "Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church that road
to heaven which to them shall seem most direct, plainest, easiest and least liable to exception."
                                    - George Washington, letter to Lafayette, 1787.
      The Founding Fathers did realize that religious belief could be used to keep the population under control
and avoid complete bedlam.  To this end the Founding Fathers would often profess a belief in public and
enact legislation supporting belief for the masses, such as a National Day of Prayer, while having limited or
no belief in private.  Christian religious fanatics have seized upon these public pronouncements as "proof"
that the Founding Fathers were Christians.  It is in their private moments that we learn of the true state of
      The following is from Blasphemy: Verbal Abuse Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie
by Leonard Levi page 269:
      "Until the 1870s, only intellectuals and the well-to-do in larger towns or on big plantations repudiated
divine revelation, biblical inerrancy, miracles, the doctrine of the Trinity, virgin birth, and the divinity of
Jesus.  The repudiation, however, was expressed privately; in public they tended to evince no more than
skepticism.  Almost half the signers of the Declaration of Independence were skeptics who believed in
natural religion...In 1783, Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale and a devout Christian but a tolerant one,
explained that change.  Regretting the opposition to liberal establishments of religion, he observed that
it begins to be a growing idea that it is mighty indifferent, forsooth, not only whether a man be of this
or the other religious sect, but whether he be of any religion at all; and that truly deists, and men of
indifference to all religion, are the most suitable persons for civil office'." 
      "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial.  What have
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."
            - James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 1785.
      "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
                               - James Madison, letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774.
      "I have generally dominated as a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am
no Christian, except as mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly
speaking, whether I am one or not."
                    - Ethan Allen.  (Here, Ethan Allen is saying that he might even be an atheist.)
      Like George Washington, James Monroe was secretive about his religious beliefs.  What we do know
is that there is no record of James Monroe ever taking communion, and he used Deistic language to refer
to God in his speech and writings. is a good overall
source on the Founding Fathers and their religious beliefs.
      Christian religious fanatics have set up web sites with either faked quotes to "prove" that the Founding
Fathers were Christians or they have only presented the quotes intended for public consumption to placate
the masses while excluding private quotes that showed the Deistic and even atheistic nature of the Founding
      Abraham Lincoln is often presented as the shining example of a Christian president by Christian religious
fanatics, but, if anything, Abraham Lincoln was an atheist.  The photograph below shows Abraham Lincoln
with his son Tad looking at a book. Christian religious fanatics claimed it was the Christian Bible. The book
was actually an album of Brady photographs used as a prop for the Lincoln photograph.
      Early in his life Abraham Lincoln wrote a book condemning the Christian religion.  He was persuaded
by friends not to have the book published lest it damage his future prospects.  William Herndon, Abraham
Lincoln's law partner, said this shortly after the death of Abraham Lincoln: "Mr. Lincoln was an infidel,
sometimes bordering on atheism.  He never mentioned the name of Jesus, except to scorn and detest the
idea of a miraculous conception.  He did write a little work on infidelity in 1835-36, and never recanted. 
He was an out-and-out infidel, and about that there is no mistake."
      The following is a quote from the 1889 biography of Abraham Lincoln The True Story of a Great Life 
by William Herndon, Lincoln's friend and law partner for twenty years:  "In 1834, while still living in New
Salem and before he became a lawyer, he was surrounded by a class of people exceedingly liberal in
matters of religion.  Volney's Ruins and Paine's Age of Reason passed from hand to hand, and furnished
food for the evening's discussion in the tavern (Globe Tavern) and the village store.  Lincoln read both
these books and thus assimilated them into his being.  He prepared an extended essay - called by many a
book - in which he made an argument against Christianity, striving to prove that the Bible was not inspired,
and therefore not God's revelation, and that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God.  The manuscript
containing these audacious and comprehensive propositions he intended to have published or given wide
circulation in some other way.  He carried it to the store where it was read freely and discussed.  His
friend and employer, Samuel Hill, was among the listeners and, seriously questioning the propriety of a
promising young man like Lincoln fathering such unpopular notions, he snatched the manuscript from his
hand and thrust it into the stove.  The book went up in flames, and Lincoln's political future was secure. 
But his infidelity and his skeptical views were not diminished." 
     In 1862, on the death of Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son Willie, Judge J.S. Wakefield wrote to
Lincoln saying that he should take comfort in the Christian religion.  Lincoln replied to Judge Wakefield
by saying, "My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human
origins of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for
thinking that I shall ever change them."  Abraham Lincoln also said on another occasion, "The Bible is not
my book nor Christianity my profession."
     Christian religious fanatics have jumped through hoops trying to prove - falsely - that Abraham Lincoln
was a Christian.  For these unscrupulous individuals, lying to protect their religion is acceptable.  One
example of such attempts was inserting the phase "under God" into Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. 
Abraham Lincoln made five copies of this speech, giving one each to his personal secretaries, John Nicolay
and John Hays.  The Nicolay copy is believed to be the actual copy read by Abraham Lincoln at
Gettysburg and is shown below.
                                          Gettysburg Address, Page One, Library of Congress
                                          Gettysburg Address, Page Two, Library of Congress
      Abraham Lincoln was not satisfied with his original version and he rewrote the last part of the speech
on a different sheet of paper.  You will notice that the correction at the bottom of page one and the writing
on page two are the same, even in the darkness of the ink and the completion of the word "dedicated." 
The phase "...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth..." does not appear in this draft or any
of  the other four drafts.  Some newspapers did report Lincoln's use of the phase when the speech was
made in 1863.  It is possible that this was one of those occasions when Lincoln felt the need to present
a public face as a religious man while holding entirely opposing beliefs in private, and the fact that Abraham
Lincoln did not write the phrase "under God" in any of his drafts of his Gettysburg Address would seem to
prove that point.
   1. Herndon, William and Jesse Weik, The True Story of a Great Life, Chicago, Belford, Clark &
       Company, 1889.
   2. Haught, James A., 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt, Amherst,
       New York, Prometheus Books, 1996.
                                                               Copyright © 2011 by Paul Roebling