The Judeo-Christian roots of America’s “Founding Founders” reflected on documents that inspired the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution
America’s founding founders were guided by secular ideas, faith, and self-interest. They forged the Declaration of Independence to break ties with the British. Although they were rationalists, they were also religious—mostly deists and a few theists. [Heritage]
Deists reject certain Christian doctrines and do not necessarily believe in a personal God the way theists do. Although they were motivated by humanist philosophy—which is not about Christianity, all the founding fathers still acknowledged the existence of God or the Creator.
America’s first president, George Washington, was an Anglican and an active church member. He joined the Freemasons as a young man. His letters and speeches sometimes referred to “Providence,” referring to the Almighty Christian God and Jesus, God’s Son.
“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.” (General’s Order, 1778)
“You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.” (Address to the Delaware Nation, 1779)
“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection…” (Circular Letter to the Governors, 1783)
“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…” (National First Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789)
John Adams was raised in the Congregational Church and later became a Unitarian. He is one of America’s founding fathers and was a leader of the American Revolution. He later became the second POTUS.
“Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God…” (John Adams diary, 1756)
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (Adams to Militia, 1798)
Thomas Jefferson, who fulfilled America’s Manifest Destiny, was the 3rd POTUS, drafter, and cosigner of the Declaration of Independence.
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God…” (Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, p. 237)
“I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.” (Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 385)
John Hancock’s father and grandfather were Congregationalist ministers. He went to a Congregationalist church in Boston and was a profoundly religious man.
He was the first signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He was also governor of Massachusetts and became President of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777.
“Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. … Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.” (History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229)
Benjamin Franklin was a Deist, not a Christian but believed in a “moralized Christianity.” The kind of faith suggests that what we think about God is not as important as living a life of love and significance.
He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He was a critical thinker who helped draft the Constitution. Franklin was also an excellent writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher, and political philosopher.
“Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe, that He governs it 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 the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see…” (A portion of Franklin’s letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University on March 9, 1790)
Samuel Adamas was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is known as the “Father of the American Revolution.” Both an influencer and charismatic, Adam’s contribution to winning the war of independence makes him an American hero.
“And as it is our duty to extend our wishes to the happiness of the great family of man, I conceive that we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world that the rod of tyrants may be broken to pieces, and the oppressed made free again; that wars may cease in all the earth, and that the confusions that are and have been among nations may be overruled by promoting and speedily bringing on that holy and happy period when the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and all people everywhere willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is Prince of Peace.” (Governor of Massachusetts, Proclamation of a Day of Fast, March 20, 1797)
William Penn was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Penn was an English Quaker leader known for his immense faith and advocated religious freedom. He also oversaw the founding of the American Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“I do declare to the whole world that we believe the Scriptures to contain a declaration of the mind and will of God in and to those ages in which they were written; being given forth by the Holy Ghost moving in the hearts of holy men of God; that they ought also to be read, believed, and fulfilled in our day; being used for reproof and instruction, that the man of God may be perfect. They are a declaration and testimony of heavenly things themselves, and, as such, we carry a high respect for them. We accept them as the words of God Himself.” (Treatise of the Religion of the Quakers, p. 355)
Roger Sherman was a Congregationalist or Puritan. He was a statesman and lawyer who signed the Declaration of Independence and helped draft the Articles of Confederation. He is also an ancestor of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who led the total war or March to the Sea. The elder Sherman proposed the Great Compromise.
“I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance equal in power and glory. The scriptures of the old and new testaments are a revelation from God and a complete rule to direct us to glorify and enjoy him. That God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, so he is not the author or approver of sin.
That He creates all things and preserves and governs all creatures and all their actions, in a manner perfectly consistent with the freedom of will in moral agents and the usefulness of means, that he made man at first perfectly holy, that the first man sinned. As he was the public head of his posterity, they all became sinners in consequence of his first transgression, are wholly indisposed to that which is good and inclined to evil, and on account of sin are liable to all the miseries of this life, to death, and the pains of hell forever. (The Life of Roger Sherman, pp. 272-273)
Benjamin Rush was a Christian in the Calvinist tradition. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and ratifier of the U.S. Constitution. He was a renowned physician, author, social reformer, and devoted Christian evangelist.
Rush advocated strongly for education, temperance, and the abolition of slavery, and he helped establish two colleges in Pennsylvania.
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes the wisest rules for just conduct in every situation of life. Happy they who are enabled to obey them in all situations!” (Autobiography, pp. 165-166)
Alexander Hamilton was a theist who later became an Episcopalian. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and ratifier of the U.S. Constitution. He fought in the American Revolutionary War, helped draft the Constitution, and served as the first secretary of the treasury.
Hamilton was the founder and chief architect of the American financial system, whose ideas were ahead of his time. He was a federalist who believed that the government should be concentrated in the hands of those few capable men.
He and President Jefferson were political enemies. They are considered the figures behind the imminent split that formed the two-party system in America.
“I have carefully examined the evidence of the Christian religion, and if I were sitting as a juror upon its authenticity, I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor.” (Famous American Statesmen, p. 126)
Patrick Henry was an Anglican. Although he believed in religious freedom, he considered Christianity essential to maintaining a healthy democracy like the other Founders. He was a ratifier of the U.S. Constitution.
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” (The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: p.iii)
“The Bible … is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.” (Sketches of the Life and Character, p. 402)
John Jay was a strong protestant who later became an Episcopalian. Like the other founding fathers, he had anti-Catholic sentiments. He was also the President of the American Bible Society.
Jay was a signatory of the Treaty of Paris of 1783. He also drafted the state constitution of New York in 1777. He served as its second governor and was elected New York’s first Chief Justice.
“The Bible will also inform them that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; that this Redeemer has made atonement ‘for the sins of the whole world,’ and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy has opened a way for our redemption and salvation; and that these inestimable benefits are of the gift and grace of God, not of our deserving, nor in our power to deserve.” (Religious Beliefs of the Founding Fathers, p. 379)
“Informing and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible.”
–American Statesman Series, p. 360.
Philosophers who influenced the Declaration of Independence of America
Locke began in Calvinist trinitarianism. He was very conservative and retained the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. He urged the authorities not to tolerate atheism because he thought denying God’s existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos.
Baron de Montesquieu
Montesquieu separated government authority into the three major branches: executive, legislative and judicial. He was a protestant.
Rosseau’s social contract theory established that a government should serve and protect all the people in society. Although he rejected traditional religion, such as Protestantism, he believed in a divinely ordered universe and asserted his belief in God.
American Presidents who believed in God in the Judeo-Christian tradition
All the past presidents of the United States were protestants (presbyterian, episcopalian, or Anglicans) in the Christian tradition. A few were Quakers and Unitarians who believed in God.
Although Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson’s religions were unknown, they were outspoken with their belief in the Judeo-Christian God and the authority of the Bible.
John F. Kennedy and Joe Biden were the only Catholic presidents to serve, while Barack Obama’s religion is vague.
President Abraham Lincoln was not a founding father. However, he was critical during the civil war that shaped America today. He was neither Catholic nor Christian. He was a rational theist who acknowledged the existence of God.
Although his religious faith is debated, it is evident that he acknowledged the Judeo-Christian God. Romans 13 encourages everyone to submit to the governing authorities, for God has established the existing powers.
“Let [the Constitution] be taught in schools, seminaries, and colleges, let it be written in primers, in spelling books, and almanacs, let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.” (Lyceum Address, 1838)
“… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…” (Gettysburg Address, 1863)