The Founding of the United States of America
Our Founding Documents
Franklin, Adams and Jefferson working on the Declaration of Independence.
(Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1900)
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
and that as Free and Independent States,
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
United States Constitution (link)
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Preamble to the The Constitution of the United States
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment to The Constitution of the United States
We hear of Jefferson's "wall of separation" all the time. Jefferson also had this to say regarding freedom of religion: No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.
The Tenth: possibly our most ignored amendment.
Did you know that multiple times in our history our leaders have called for 'a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer'? You may recall Lincoln making such a proclamation. But so did our founders, four months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. An excerpt (bold and red added):
Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees, duly impressed with a solemn sense of God’s superintending providence, and of their duty devoutly to rely in all their lawful enterprizes of his aid and direction–do earnestly recommend, that FRIDAY, the seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said Colonies as a day of HUMILIATION, FASTING, and PRAYER; that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere, repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kindred blood.
For the complete proclamation from Congress along with some very relevant commentary, check out In Congress, March 16, 1776.
Words From Our Founders
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.
- John Adams
[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
- John Adams
[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.
- John Adams
Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.
- Charles Carroll (signer of Declaration of Independence)
[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.
- Benjamin Franklin
It is certainly true that a popular government cannot flourish without virtue in the people.
- Richard Henry Lee (signer of Declaration of Independence)
The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.
- Benjamin Rush (signer of Declaration of Independence)
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens.
- George Washington
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
- George Washington
[I]f we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.
- Daniel Webster
The most perfect maxims and examples for regulating your social conduct and domestic economy, as well as the best rules of morality and religion, are to be found in the Bible. . . . The moral principles and precepts found in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. These principles and precepts have truth, immutable truth, for their foundation. . . . All the evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible. . . . For instruction then in social, religious and civil duties resort to the scriptures for the best precepts.
Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both.
- James Wilson (signer of the Constitution)
Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.
- Robert Winthrop (Speaker of the House 1847-1849)
The above quotations (except the first) and many more may be found at Wall Builders.
We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.
John Winthrop Sermon (1630)
The quotations below (and more) may be found at About Religion.
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.
- John Hancock
- History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229.
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 ... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.
- John Adams
- Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 9.
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 sceptre of Him who is Prince of Peace.
- Samuel Adams
- As Governor of Massachusetts, Proclamation of a Day of Fast, March 20, 1797.
A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest while we are building ideal monuments of Renown and Bliss here we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.
- James Madison
That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind.
Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not to call him an enemy of his country.
- John Witherspoon (Signer of Declaration, President of Princeton University)
--Sermon at Princeton University, "The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men," May 17, 1776.
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 on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
- Patrick Henry
- The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii.
Quotations from the Founders that Christians will hate.
In searching for the above quotations from the founders, I came across a number of websites claiming to list quotations that 'conservative Christians' will hate. I suppose if by 'conservative Christians' they mean Christians that wish to establish a theocracy, they could be correct, although few such 'conservative Christians' even exist. Here are some examples:
I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799
We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.
- John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785
We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition… In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.
- George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793
Do they seriously believe that 'conservative Christians' object to these? Their case against the the importance that the founders placed on religion in order for our form of government to succeed is very weak indeed.
Every Fourth of July, I like to read some inspiring words about America and its founding. But why only around the Fourth? Read what Lincoln had to say here. Coolidge had some impressive words as well.
For any history buffs, our American History page lists a bunch of good (and not so good) history books with brief reviews.
We also have a new America's Great! page which you might want to check out and even contribute to. What do you think makes America great?
Is America a Christian Nation? Short answer: Yes.