Lately I’ve been reading letters to editors and op-ed pieces that claim our nation’s founders were “men of God” who founded the U.S. “on the transcendent truths evident in all religions.”
This erroneous view is a common misconception of the founding principles of the United States, for the Founding Fathers were not Christians and despised religion.
They were almost all Deists, Unitarians or Universalists, believing in some form of impersonal providence, but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the teachings of the Bible.
Let’s consider some of their beliefs, which are a matter of public record.
Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason: “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. . . . Each of those churches accuse the other of disbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”
John Adams, our second president, saw among the clergy the “pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces” and wrote Thomas Jefferson in a letter dated April 17, 1817, “This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.”
Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, said in a letter written Jan. 17, 1825: “I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” Furthermore, he referred to the Revelation of St. John as “the ravings of a maniac.”
James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, wrote in a letter dated April 1, 1774, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”
The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
The treaty, written during the Washington administration, was read aloud to the Senate, where it passed unanimously.
To suggest that our Founding Fathers were men of god and that the U.S. was founded on any sort of religious principles whatsoever is plain wrong.
They were well aware of the problems caused by religious zealotry in Europe and in some of the colonies, so they created a state in which government had no religious underpinnings whatsoever.
The historical record is clear and unambiguous on this matter. To suggest otherwise is a slight on these great men and the founding principles of our nation.
Robert Hildebrand is an iconoclastic scientist and landscape photographer living in Tucson.