Were the Founding Fathers of the United States believers in God and the Bible? Were they religious and devout men who believed in and did their best to follow Jesus Christ?
The presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to congress on June 28, 1776.
Source: Painting courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol
Some try to argue that America's Founding Fathers weren't particularly religious men and certainly weren't Christian.
One writer states, "The early presidents and patriots were generally deists or Unitarians . . . rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the relevance of the Bible" (Steven Morris, "America's Unchristian Beginnings," The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 3, 1995).
Another author argues, "Most of our other patriarchs were at best deists, [not] believing in . . . the God of the Old and New Testaments" (Michael Macdonald, "Founding Fathers Weren't Devout," The Charlotte Observer, Jan. 15, 1993).
Even one notable historian claims that "the Founding Fathers were at most deists"—men who did not believe in divine revelation or that God was active in His creation (Gordon Wood, "The Radical Revolution: An Interview With Gordon Wood," interview by Fredric Smoler, American Heritage, December 1992, p. 52).
But what is the truth of the matter?
A large part of the problem is that American children are no longer taught about the religious faith of the nation's Founding Fathers, as was common at one time. An 1848 textbook, in use for decades, was titled Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It included a biography of each of the signers of the 1776 document declaring separation from Britain (celebrated annually on July 4), openly discussing the Christian beliefs and faith of many of them.
Many readers have probably seen John Trumbull's famous painting of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence to Congress, which is in the U.S. Capitol rotunda and appears on the U.S. two-dollar bill. While space doesn't allow us to describe the beliefs of all 56 signers (at least 50 of whom were Christian), we'll take a look at a sampling of them—some well known, others not so recognizable.
When we consider the backgrounds of these men, the truth of the religious roots of America's Founding Fathers becomes obvious.
"John Witherspoon . . . was an ordained minister of the Gospel, published several books of Gospel sermons, and played major roles in two American editions of the Bible, including one from 1791 that is considered America's first family Bible" (David Barton, A Spiritual Heritage Tour of the United States Capitol, 2000, p. 23).
"Charles Thomson was the Secretary of Congress, and he and John Hancock were the only two to sign the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Charles Thomson is another Founder responsible for an American edition of the Bible. That Bible—called Thomson's Bible—was the first translation of the Greek Septuagint into English. It took Charles Thomson twenty-five years to complete his translation, but even today that work is still considered one of the more scholarly American translations of the Bible" (p. 24).
Many Founding Fathers rated Benjamin Rush alongside George Washington and Ben Franklin. He started America's first Bible society, the Bible Society of Philadelphia. Dr. Rush "pointed out that with a Bible, every individual could discover how to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; second, he argued that if every individual owned a Bible—and would study and obey it—that all of our social problems, including crime, slavery, etc., would diminish" (p. 26).
Charles Carroll died in 1832 at the age of 95, the last of the 56 signers. On his 89th birthday he declared, "On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation, and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts" (p. 24). Carroll also personally funded a Christian house of worship.
Captured by the British and later released, a dying Richard Stockton penned his last will and testament to his children, which became a living testimony to his faith in God.
He extolled the greatness of God and His divinity and the completeness of the redemption purchased by Jesus Christ. He encouraged his children to a habitual virtuous life, living by faith. He charged his children to exhibit the fear of God, which he viewed as the beginning of wisdom, and that "all occasions of vice and immorality is injurious either immediately or consequentially—even in this life" (p. 28).
Francis Hopkinson was a church music director, a choir leader and editor of one of the first hymnals printed in America. He set all 150 psalms to music.
John Hancock, whose large signature on the Declaration of Independence is now a byword for fidelity, loyalty, courage and commitment, served as a president of Congress during the Revolution and later as governor of Massachusetts.
As governor, on October 15, 1791, Hancock issued a proclamation for prayer, asking especially "that universal happiness may be established in the world; [and] that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory" (p. 30). Hancock issued other evangelical proclamations to honor God.
Samuel Adams has been called "the Father of the American Revolution." As governor of Massachusetts, he also issued strong proclamations, one of which closed with a request to pray "that the peaceful and glorious reign of our Divine Redeemer may be known and enjoyed throughout the whole family of mankind" (p. 31).
Adams often repeated such requests, as in 1797, which asked that the people pray for "speedily bringing on that holy and happy period when the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and all the people willingly bow to the sceptre of Him who is the Prince of Peace" (pp. 31-32).
George Washington, though not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was military commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War.
When Great Britain signed the peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War, General Washington immediately resigned his commission to return to private life. He then sent a letter to the governors of the 13 states informing them of his resignation, closing with a prayer for the States and governors:
"I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and a love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that character, humility, and [peaceful] temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation" (p. 35).
We could cite and show numerous other examples that could fill many pages of this magazine. Suffice it to say that the more one studies into the origins of the founding of the United States of America, the more one learns of the nation's true biblical roots!