One nation under God?

compiled & edited by Daniel Hagadorn

The United States of America was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles…where it has gone from there is a matter of debate.

Regardless of your personal religious–or non-religious–views, it is a historical fact that the United States of America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The true controversy is simply that apologists argue Judeo-Christian principles are the source of our national strength, while critics argue that these same principles–if they are even true–have actually been detrimental to our national progress.
PC VERSION: “The Founding Fathers did not intend to establish the United States of America as a Christian nation [and] the assertion that the United States…was founded as a Christian nation is itself a myth.” [1]

HISTORICAL REALITY: And yet the words and institutions of the Framers say otherwise…

  • “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” [2]
  • “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” [3]
  • “[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” [4]
  • “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them.” [5]

Several early authorities clearly validate that the United States was intentionally founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

Christians played such a dominant role in the American Revolution that Joseph Galloway, a Loyalist, complained that the rebellion was led by “Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Smugglers.” [6]

In 1777, the Continental Congress ordered a day of thanksgiving and praise, urging Americans to:

  • “…join the penitent confession of their manifold sins…[that the day, through] their humble and earnest supplication…may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ…” [7]

Benjamin Franklin, on 28 June 1787, introduced the practice of daily common prayer during the Constitutional Convention:

  • “I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel…I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.” [8]

George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789 which began:

  • “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” [9]
  • The proclamation further declared that 26 November should be devoted to, “the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” [10]

Chief Justice of SCOTUS, Joseph Story (1779–1845), widely considered the greatest legal mind of the antebellum era commented:

  • “The whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State governments to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice and State constitutions.” [11]
  • In 1812, Justice Story noted that the First Amendment allowed Christianity to “receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and freedom of religious worship.” [12]

Influential American lawyer, John Bouvier (1787-1851), authored an indispensable law dictionary that bridged the academic gap between colonial and post-colonial legal eras.

  • Regarding the definition of religion: “The Christian religion is, of course, recognized by the government, yet…the preservation of religious liberty is left to the states.” [13]

In Richmond v. Moore (1883), the Illinois State Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision:

  • “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” [14]

Several early documents clearly establish that our colonies—and later nation—were firmly founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs and traditions.

First Charter of Virginia (1606)

  • “We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work… To the glory of His divine Majesty in propagating of Christian Religion to such People [i.e. Indians] as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God [establish the colony of Virginia].” [15]

Second Charter of Virginia (1609)

  • “…the principal effect [of establishing the colony] is the Conversion…of the People in those Parts unto the true Worship of God and Christian Religion.” [16]

The Mayflower Compact (1620)

  • Declared that the purpose of the colony was “for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.” [17]
  • Writes historian Paul Johnson: “What is remarkable about this particular contract was that it was not between a servant and a master, or a people and a king, but between a group of like-minded individuals and each other, with God as a witness and symbolic co-signatory.” [18]

Charter of New England (1620)

  • Proclaimed that the primary objective of the colony was, “the enlargement of the Christian religion, to the Glory of God Almighty… [and] the Conversion and reduction of the People in those Parts unto the true Worship of God and the Christian Religion.” [19]

Virginia Assembly (1624)

  • Enacted a law that mandated every plantation provide a place “where the people use to meet for the worship of God [and that] there be uniformity in our Church as near as may be to the Canons in England.” [20]

Charter of Massachusetts Bay (1629)

  • Directed the colony’s inhabitants to, “the Knowledge and Obedience of the only true God and Savior of Mankind, and the Christian faith.” [21]

By 1632, statutes in some colonies required weekly church attendance and absentees were fined a shilling per offense, [22] and by 1656, Virginia had enacted laws exempting ministers from paying taxes.

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1638)

  • Declared their purpose was, “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, which we now profess…” [23]

Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1663)

  • Asserted the very purpose of its “religious liberties” clause was that its citizens “may be in the better capacity to defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties against all the enemies of the Christian faith.” [24]

Delaware Constitution (1776)

  • Required all members of the State House of Representatives to make the following profession of faith, “And I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine Inspiration.” [25]

Maryland Constitution (1776)

  • The colony was originally established to extend the Christian religion and to ensure that, “…no Interpretation thereof be made hereby God’s Holy and true Christian religion [would be changed].” [26]
  • The state constitution, in Article 35 required, as the only qualification to serve in a state office, “a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.” [27]

In 1787, Virginia’s State Assembly debated a bill which would have supported the Christian religion.

  • Although James Madison objected to the legislation, he remained concerned that the legislation was, “adverse to the diffusion…of Christianity,” and thought the bill would discourage followers of, “false religions [from] coming into the regions of [Christianity].” [28]
  • Thomas Jefferson’s draft legislation on freedom of religion reasoned that God’s very nature led Him to choose, “not to propagate His religion by coercion, [but to] extend it by its influence on reason alone.” [29]

Maine Constitution (1819) [30]

  • Acknowledged “the Sovereign ruler of the Universe” and implored “God’s aid and direction.”
  • Reiterated the “natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God” according to the dictates of individual conscience, and allowed “no preference of any one sect” under the law.
  • NOTE: As late as 1911, Maine’s statutes still called for schools to teach “the fundamental truths of Christianity.” [31]

[1] Mark Weldon Whitten, The Myth of Christian America: What You Need to Know About the Separation of Church and State (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), pp. 2-4.

[2] Charles Francis Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With A Life of the Author, Volume IX (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1854). Speech to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798.

[3] Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. XIII (Washington, DC: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), pp. 292-294. Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 28 June 1813.

[4] John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 1855, rev. ed. 1980), p. 347.

[5] Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America (Williamsburg, VA: Clementina Rind, 1774).

[6] Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1922), p. 122.

[7] Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774 – 1789 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1928). Proclamation of the Continental Congress, 1 November 1777.

[8] Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1845), pp. 253-254.

[9] George Washington, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745 – 1799, Series 8a, Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes, 1773 – 1799, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Vol. 30 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940). George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” 3 October 1789.

[10] George Washington, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745 – 1799, Series 8a, Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes, 1773 – 1799, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Vol. 30 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940). George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” 3 October 1789.

[11] Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, quoted in William J. Federer, The Original 13 (St. Louis, MO: Ameriresearch, 2007), p. 15.

[12] Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1922), p. 147.

[13] John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary: Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, 6th ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Childs & Peterson, 1856).

[14] Gary Scott Smith, Faith & the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 33-34.

[15] Gary Scott Smith, Faith & the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 13; Cf. Norman De Jong, “The First Amendment: A Constitutional Comparison of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Supreme Court Interpretations,” Journal of Political Science, Vol. 16 (Spring 1988), p. 69.

[16] Gary Scott Smith, Faith & the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 36.

[17] William Bradford, Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650, Harold Paget, ed. (San Antonio, TX: The Vision Forum, Inc., 1998); William Bradford & Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation, A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Dwight B. Heath, ed. (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1963); Cf. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).

[18] Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), p. 30.

[19] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/mass01.asp.

[20] Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America: A History (New York: Macmillan, 1902), Chapter IV: The Church of England Establishments.

[21] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/mass03.asp.

[22] Leon Goodman, “Blue Laws, Old and New,” Virginia Law Review (9 February 1927).

[23] Jeffrey D. Schultz, John G. West Jr. & Iain S. MacLean, eds., Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics, Vol. 2 (Phoenix, AZ: The Oryx Press, 1999) p. 275.

[24] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/ri04.asp.

[25] Claudia L. Bushman, Harold B. Hancock, & Elizabeth Moyne Homsey, eds., Proceedings of the Assembly of the Lower Counties of on the Delaware 1770 – 1776 , of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 of 1776, and of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State 1776 – 1781 (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1986), p. 209.

[26] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, “Constitution of Maryland,” 11 November 1776. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/ma02.asp.

[27] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, “Constitution of Maryland,” 11 November 1776. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/ma02.asp.

[28] Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1845), pp. 59-60.

[29] Jonathan Elliot, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1845), p. 62.

[30] Maine Constitution, adopted by Constitutional Convention, 29 October 1819 and ratified by vote of the People, 6 December 1819. http://vlex.com/source/maine-constitution-1337.

[31] John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745 – 1799, Series 8a, Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes, 1773 – 1799, Vol. 30 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940), p. 124.

11 Responses

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  8. Jaydin says:

    Well documented! Bravo. I’m going to be sending a lot of libs here in the future. Facts can be an inconvenient thing to some ways of thinking.

  9. macon church says:

    Getting back to God may be the only thing that saves our republic

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