Barely a week goes by without some challenge to our nation’s Judeo-Christian roots in the name of the separation of church and state. But as another Fourth of July is upon us, it’s interesting to note what the founders said in their own words. Consider the following sampling:
Thomas Jefferson, author of the first draft of the Declaration, said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time” (Virginia delegates to Congress, August 1774) and “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just” (Notes on Virginia, 1782).
Samuel Adams, the lightning rod of the American Revolution, signed the Declaration in the summer of ‘76: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”
John Adams, Samuel’s distant cousin, wrote, “The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite….And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.” (Letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813).
When General George Washington first received a copy of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776, he made an order to hire chaplains in every regiment.
These were to be “persons of good Characters and exemplary lives.” Washington said, “The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier, defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.”
Congress regularly called for days of fasting and prayer throughout the war. For example, they declared one on May 17, 1776, as a “day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer…[to] confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his [God’s] righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.” (Source: Library of Congress website, loc.gov).
John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress which declared independence and adopted the Declaration, later served as the governor of Massachusetts. On October 5, 1791, he declared a day of thanksgiving to God for many blessings, including “the great and most important Blessing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ: And together with our cordial acknowledgments, I do earnestly recommend, that we may join the penitent confession of our Sins, and implore the further continuance of the Divine Protection, and Blessings of Heaven upon this People…that all may bow to the Scepter of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, and the whole Earth be filled with his Glory” [emphasis his].
James Madison championed the cause of the Constitution. In his “A Memorial and Remonstrance,” an essay on religious liberty from 1785, Madison stated: “It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time, and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”
Ben Franklin signed the Declaration and the Constitution. He called for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, when things were slow going. A variation of his request was adopted when the founding fathers attended a July 4th worship service at a Christian church in Philadelphia. Franklin said, “In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered….To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?” (June 28, 1787).
Alexander Hamilton, a key proponent of the Constitution, wrote: “Let an association be formed to be denominated ‘The Christian Constitutional Society,’ its object to be first: The support of the Christian religion. Second: The support of the United States.” (Letter to James Bayard, April 16-21, 1802).
The first Chief Justice of our country was founding father John Jay. His Last Will and Testament begins: “Unto Him who is the Author and Giver of all good, I render sincere and humble thanks for His merciful and unmerited blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by his beloved Son.”
This Independence Day we should strive to remember the Christian underpinnings of this nation, which helped give freedom to all, regardless of creed.