The Founding Fathers on Religion

Some fundamentalist Christians and others assume that the Founding Fathers of the U.S.A. were Christian and set-up a Christian country or at least based it on Judeo-Christian principles. Sometimes this religious zealotry is used to justify wars. For example, a justification is made to help spread “democracy and / or Christian values” to other lands so that they will be more like us and less likely to attack us. But this is nothing more than cultural imperialism. As mentioned in F.A.Q. page, this does not mean that all wars are unjustified. If we are attacked, we must respond, but it must be in our defense and not an offensive attack on a nation or just for the sake of nation building or to spread “our values.”

The Founding Fathers were very aware of the dangers of religious extremism / zealotry. In fact, many of the Founding Fathers were not even Christian and were skeptical of organized religion in general.

The religions of some leading figures of the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries

Benjamin Franklin (Founding Father, scientist, inventor, philosopher) – Deist

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” Benjamin Franklin Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1758

“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”

“He (the Rev. Mr. Whitefield) used, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard.”

“I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”

“Some volumes against Deism fell into my hands. They were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle’s Lecture. It happened that they produced on me an effect precisely the reverse of what was intended by the writers; for the arguments of the Deists, which were cited in order to be refuted, appealed to me much more forcibly than the refutation itself. In a word, I soon became a thorough Deist.” Benjamin Franklin, from his autobiography

George Washington (1st pres.) – Deist

George Washington was born an Episcopalian, but did not practice this and his writings and speeches lean more toward Deism. During his presidency he sometimes attended church services but this may have more to do with pleasing the people since he did not take communion and often left before the services were over. After his death the minister of the church, Rev. Abercrombie was asked about his beliefs and stated, “Sir, Washington was a Deist.”

“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their [not our?] religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society.” George Washington Letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792

Note that Washington wrote “their” instead of “our” above.

John Adams (2nd pres.) – Unitarian

Unitarians are a primarily liberal denomination within Protestant Christianity. Many see Christ in a subordinate nature to the Divine and some Unitarians do not believe in a personal God (God as a person with human like form).

“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.” John Adams

“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” John Adams, Treaty of Tripoly, article 11

“But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed.” John Adams, letters to family and other leaders 1735-1826

Thomas Jefferson (3rd pres.) – Deist

Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible, removing all references to miracles and the supernatural. He did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, the miracles, the Trinity, or the resurrection.

“Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.” Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia

“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

James Madison (4th pres.) – Deist

Like most of the Founding Fathers, Madison was born into an Episcopal family, but later changed to Deism. Some encyclopedias and other reference works still cite Madison and other Founding Fathers as being Episcopal, but their real beliefs were that of Deism.

James Madison was the father of the Constitution, being the principal author. He made sure there was complete separation of church and state and that the government could not establish any official religion. His first veto as president was to veto a faith-based-initiative which would have given public taxpayer funds to a church to operate a charitable program. Even though the purpose may have been noble, he did not want to go down that dangerous slope of setting a precedent, which would have allowed public funds to go to a religious organization.

“In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” James Madison, April 1, 1774

James Monroe (5th pres.) – Deist

John Quincy Adams (6th pres.) – Unitarian

Abraham Lincoln (16th pres.) – None

Lincoln officially had no religion. Some reference books incorrectly specify this as “non-denominational” but this suggests non-denominational Christian, which is not true. Lincoln specifically stated that he belongs to no religion. In his early adult years he was a Deist.

“My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” Lincoln in a letter to Judge J.S. Wakefield, after the death of Willie Lincoln

“He was an avowed and open infidel, and sometimes bordered on Atheism…He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard.” John T. Stuart, Lincoln’s first law partner

Susan B. Anthony (19th century civil rights leader, suffragist) – None

She was raised as a Quaker and when the Quakers split into conservative and liberal factions, her family went with the liberals. Later in life she distanced herself from all organized religion.

“The religious persecution of the ages has been done under what was claimed to be the command of God.”
Rufus K. Noyes, Views of Religion, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” Susan B. Anthony, a Biography, 1988


You will notice from the religions and beliefs of many of the leading Founding Fathers and early leaders of the U.S., that most were of the Deist beliefs.

Deism is a philosophy that rejects supernatural events (prophecy, miracles) and asserts that God does not intervene with the affairs of human life and the laws of the universe. What organized religions see as divine revelation and holy books, deists see as man-made fictions by other humans, rather than as authoritative sources. Deists believe that God’s greatest gift to humanity is not religion, but the ability to reason.

The Constitution does not state the term God anywhere and the reference to “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence is often taken out of context. The Founding Fathers wrote “Creator” in the famous, “all men are created equal and that we are endowed from our Creator with certain unalienable Rights among them Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” to mean God, but not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition of a human-like person who sits in judgment over his flock.

Deism developed out of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe when there was a questioning of religious scriptures among leading intellectuals and philosophers. Deism virtually died out around the end of the 19th century because it primarily appealed to intellectuals, the highly educated, and philosophers and not the masses.

The main principles of Deism are the rejection of books that claim to be the revealed word of God (such as the Bible, the Qur’an, etc.), the rejection of stories of miracles and prophecies, and the rejection of the account of creation in Genesis (thus, effectively making Deism compatible to the theory of evolution).

As an almost non-theistic religion or philosophy that rejects the creationism of Genesis, Deism actually has more in common with the Eastern religions of Buddhism (The Dhamma), Daoism, and Confucianism; than it does to the big three Western religions of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Some famous deists include:

Adam Smith, architect of modern capitalism
Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father
David Hume, philosopher, economist, historian
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Locke, philosopher
Thomas Paine, Founding Father, philosopher
Victor Hugo, poet, human rights activist
Votaire, philosopher

In God We Trust and the Pledge of Allegiance

Some religious zealots in the U.S. point to the “In God We Trust” motto which is on our currency and the Pledge of Allegiance as proof that the Founding Fathers wanted this nation to be set-up on Judeo-Christian principles.

The truth is that the Pledge of Allegiance was created in 1892 and did not have the words “under God” added until 1954 almost 200 years after the birth of the U.S.

The “In God We Trust” motto was first added to coins in 1864 nearly 100 years after the birth of the U.S. It did not become the national motto until 1956.

Theodore Roosevelt (26th pres.) was opposed to having this motto on the U.S. currency.

This page is not meant to offend any Christians, but just to show that the Founding Fathers were not all Christian and that the U.S. was not built on the notion of creating a Christian country. We are a nation of immigrants and our diversity is our strength. I am not a Christian, but do like some of the teachings of Jesus, especially “love your enemies” and other nonviolent messages.

The next time some family member or friend sends you some viral e-mail that the Founding Fathers wanted a Christian nation or wanted principles based on the Judeo-Christian heritage, just send them a link to this page.

Keep church (includes all religions) and state separate. For our peace and welfare so that there will be fewer wars and police actions, keep church and state separate!