The Philadelphia Convention
One of the cherished myths of the current incarnation of the religious wrong is that the U.S. was founded as a “Christian Nation”. Like so many of their myths and beliefs, this one is essentially a bovine bowel movement.
Were the writers and framers Christians? Of course they were. Out of 55 delegates to the 1787 Philadelphia (aka Constitutional or Federal) Convention, 28 belonged to the Church of England, 8 were Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Methodists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Catholics and 2 Dutch Reformed.
And at that time and place there simply weren’t any socially acceptable alternatives. (Athesim did not fall into the “socially acceptable” column.) About the closest thing you could safely be was a Deist.
De·ism n. The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.
(That’s kinda like knocking up a chick and then splitting before you have to change the diapers. In other words, “Big Daddy” is also “Deadbeat Daddy”.
In practice, Deists believed in a useless god, but not in any of his religious organizations (other than, of course, for social, political or monetary benefit). That doesn’t sound like someone who considers himself a “vessel of the lord’s work”.
Founding Fathers’ Views on Religion
American Deists included:
- Ben Franklin “I wish it (Christianity) were more productive of good works … I mean real good works … not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing … or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.“— Benjamin Franklin, Works, Vol. VII, p. 75;
- John Adams “Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” From a letter to Charles Cushing (October 19, 1756);
- Ethan Allen “I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly speaking, whether I am one or not.” Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man
- George Washington “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated.” George Washington letter to Edward Newenham (1792)
- Thomas Jefferson “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.“ — Thomas Jefferson letter to Baron von Humboldt, (1813)
- Thomas Paine “Here it is that the religion of Deism is superior to the Christian Religion. It is free from all those invented and torturing articles that shock our reason or injure our humanity, and with which the Christian religion abounds.” The Writings of Thomas Paine (G.P. Putnam: 1896), p. 322.
- James Madison (“The Father of the Constitution”) “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)
So, (1) were the “Founding Fathers’ devout churchgoers and (2) did they use the bible as inspiration in creating a Christian nation? (1) Not so much and (2) meh!
(1) Most of the FF were what nowadays we would call “C&E” Christians. (Christmas & Easter attendees, oh ye of little faith.)
(2) I’m sure if you searched, you could find relationships between the constitution and the bible, as I’m sure you would find relationships between the constitution and most other major religions’ holy books.
You would also find influences such as
- The Magna Carta: (1215) Limitations on governmental power; Due Process; Trial by jury of one’s peers. (Think 5th Amendment.)
- The Mayflower Compact: (1620) The first American document to provide for a form of democracy that included principles of self-government and voting.
- Thomas Hobbes: Deist (1588-1679) Hobbes believed in a strong central (i.e. national) government. His book, “Leviathon” (1651) established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy.
- John Locke: Deist (1632-1704) Believed that people are all born with certain natural rights: life, liberty, and property and that government can’t take those rights away without due process.
- Charles Louis de Secondat [Baron de Bréde et de Montesquieu]: Deist (1689-1755) Montesquieu was the 2nd most cited source (behind the bible) in colonial America, and the Baron liked checks & balances. (And, I ain’t talkin’ bank accounts.) He promoted the idea of separation of powers between 3 branches in government. (Which btw, was the form of government practiced by the Roman Republic back in pre-Caesar times.)
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Deist (1712-1778) Rousseau’s book “The Social Contract” (1762) promoted liberty and equality and freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. (As in separation of church and state.)
- Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union: The first attempt at nation creation, the Articles of Confederation, was a humongous FAIL!! The failure proved a couple of things: 1) Tommy Hobbes was right. 2) Preeminent states rights is a recipe for disaster! (Btw, your high school history teacher lied to you. Washington was not the 1st President! He was the 15th. 14 men including Peyton Randolph, John Hancock, John Jay & Richard Henry Lee served under the Articles.)
To sum it up, (It’s late and I’m getting hungry.) the Constitution was not “inspired by god”. It basically drew on a number of progressive (for the time) ideas from various sources and assembled them into a very workable document that could grow and adapt along with the country. The FF, whatever their other attributes or failings were intelligent men who put the good of the country mostly above their own interests. Remember, this was the “Age of Enlightenment” and western civilization was breaking away from the autocracy of monarchies and religion.
Plus, as you might have noticed, Big Daddy, J.C. and the Sacred Spook aren’t mentioned anywhere in the constitution. The closest mention, “in the year of our lord”, was a common time reference in this era.
The Treaty of Tripoli
Now, the Religious Wrong may try to “weasel word” their way around the subject, but the coffin’s final nail in the “Christian Nation” fantasy came in the form of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli.
Article 11 states:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…
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