December 2, 2016 § 9 Comments
” … What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen erecting a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who have wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to preserve and perpetuate it [public liberty] needs them not. Such a government will be best supported by protecting in every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of others.” — James Madison
” … this would be the best possible world if there were no religion in it.” — John Adams (quoted by Jefferson in a letter)
“In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot. … they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.” — Thomas Jefferson
[I came across these quotes and thought they were share-worthy as a counterpoint to the school of thought that our founding fathers intended this to be a Christian nation. Madison, Adams, and Jefferson were three of the most prominent founders. Madison is considered by many scholars to have been a Deist, and Jefferson definitely was so. Jefferson revered the teachings of Jesus, but believed Christianity had subverted and corrupted His teachings. Adams, who was a Congregationalist and later a Unitarian, considered himself a Christian, but shared Jefferson’s views on Christianity.
Two other founding fathers, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, were also Deists. Paine’s Age of Reason is a scathing denunciation of religion. Franklin considered himself both a Deist and a Christian. Franklin made a motion at the 1787 Constitutional Convention that every session begin with a prayer for God’s guidance; the motion was defeated.
What the founders shared was an abhorrence of any state-sponsored religion such as the Anglican Church in England. They also recognized that there were many different religions planted in and taking root in the new nation, and that any persecution for religious beliefs would be too much like the English system, which the rejected. Hence the First Amendment.
When the French were looking for a model for their post-royalty nation, they admired the new United States Constitution, and used it as a template for their own recognition of the rights of citizens. After consultation with several of our founders, they were persuaded to make their own government a purely secular one, which, with a few deviations, it has remained to this day.]
Learned Chancellor Primeaux –
A very interesting post for those of
us who are students of American
hstory…….thank you for setting
the record straight as to what these
Founders actually wrote about religion
in earnest endeavor to keep Church
and State separate.
Thanks for your comment. I am not advocating any particular position. I found these quotes in George Seldes’ “The Great Thoughts,” a compendium of unfamiliar quotations from the great thinkers through history. When I have asked people who advocate the idea that this was founded as a Christian nation, no one has been able to offer any firm evidence. I offer these few quotes as evidence of how some of the founders thought. I still invite any evidence to the contrary.
Thomas Jefferson wrote this letter to The Danbury Baptist about the First Amendment and Separation of Powers. The Baptists at the time favored the Establishment Clause because they were in the minority as a denomination:
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Jan. 1. 1802.
I believe this is the first recorded use of the “separation between church and state” phrase. It is the quintessential statement of Jefferson’s position. Yet, I have read that there is no separation because those words are not in the Constitution, and that proof that Jefferson is wrong is the adoption of “In God we trust” as an early and enduring national motto.
I agree with the above posts. I use your blog extensively in teaching Wills and Estates to paralegals and pre-law students. I’d be pleased to work with you on putting it into book form.
BTW, our daughter (who is graduating from UC Berkeley School of Law in May and ought to be most interested in the legal posts) most anxiously awaits your “Dispatches” posts.
From what I have been able to understand, George Washington was nominally considered Anglican (Episcopalian) but was in fact a Deist himself.
May we repost any of your posts? I appreciate your posts so much and the fact that you understand that while we all choose to make Mississippi our home and America our country, we are but one small part of a bigger world. I am reminded that the true definition of redneck – is that you think the rest of the world should live and believe as you do.
You may always repost or use for yourself if you give me credit.
Thank you, not only for this reminder of the real historical context of our Constitution, but for the excellent work you do with this blog. I have been practicing law for four years now, and I find this blog to be an excellent place to start my research on any subject related to Chancery court. I sincerely wish that you will someday publish the work in book form, or at least as a CD with all the articles available offline. I fear the day that the BetterChancery disappears from WordPress.