Articles
The Framers and Jesus
Dec 26, 2012
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Thomas JeffersonPeriodically I get emails from the same dopey antagonists. Some of you may remember a guy named “Fred.” I have a folder of nearly 500 emails from him. I started out answering him point by point but began to see that he’s a one-way street. All counter evidence is dismissed. And when he’s caught in the most apparent fabrication of information, he blusters and protests that he’s still right. When he started sending me vile email posts, I contacted his email provider. I still get an occasional email from him. He’s a real trooper. He continues to fly high the flag of infidelity.

One fellow just hurls insulting epithets. Are there any other kinds these days?  He’s a three-year-old masquerading as an adult. I ignore him. Another guy (I’ll call him MH) sends me snippets of material he finds on the internet. I’m not sure what his angle is. His email extension is .edu. He’s an academic, a student, or an employee at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). If MH is an academic, I pity the students. If he’s a student, well, I’m not surprised given the state of higher education today. For example, even a school like George Mason University has its academic hacks. If he is employed by UMUC, I wonder if his superiors know MH is sending non-business emails during work hours. He’s most likely a Systems Administrator at UMUC. I tried to respond to MH’s email, but it came back undeliverable. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that there’s a glitch with the school’s server. I won’t assume that he’s blocked me for fear of receiving an answer he doesn’t want to deal with. His loss is your gain.

This was in the subject line of MH’s latest email to me: “Founding fathers NOT big on Jesus.” He mentions George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, just two of dozens of founding fathers. I can find two founding fathers and just as easily crow, “Founding fathers BIG on Jesus.” The Washington quotation doesn’t say anything about Jesus, either big on Jesus or otherwise. MH is trying to build a case for something from a quotation that is not germane to the subject that he proposed. It’s obvious that he did not study law, or if he did, he didn’t get very far. A man’s got to know his limitations.

Let’s see how many founding fathers were “Big on Jesus”:

John Dickinson (signed the Constitution, served as governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware)

“Rendering thanks to my Creator for my existence and station among His works, for my birth in a country enlightened by the Gospel and enjoying freedom, and for all His other kindnesses, to Him I resign myself, humbly confiding in His goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity.”(1)

“[Governments] could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source: from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth.”(2)

John Adams (Signed the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and served as the second President of the United States)

“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.”(3)

Samuel Adams (Signer of the Declaration of Independence, ratified the Constitution, and served as governor of Massachusetts).

“I . . . [rely] upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.”(4)

“I conceive we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world . . . that the confusions that are and have been among the nations may be overruled by the promoting and speedily bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace.”(5)

 A Proclamation For a Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer signed by Samuel Adams included the following: “the peaceful and glorious reign of our Divine Redeemer may be known and enjoyed throughout the whole family of mankind”; “we may with one heart and voice humbly implore His gracious and free pardon through Jesus Christ, supplicating His Divine aid . . . [and] above all to cause the religion of Jesus Christ, in its true spirit, to spread far and wide till the whole earth shall be filled with His glory”; with true contrition of heart to confess their sins to God and implore forgiveness through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior.”(6)

Elias Boudinot (Served as President of Congress, signed the Peace Treaty of Paris to end the War for Independence, framer of the Bill of Rights, and respondent to Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason with The Age of Revelation).

“Let us enter on this important business under the idea that we are Christians on whom the eyes of the world are now turned… [L]et us earnestly call and beseech Him, for Christ’s sake, to preside in our councils. . . . We can only depend on the all powerful influence of the Spirit of God, Whose Divine aid and assistance it becomes us as a Christian people most devoutly to implore. Therefore I move that some minister of the Gospel be requested to attend this Congress every morning . . . in order to open the meeting with prayer.”(7)

Benjamin Franklin (Signed the Declaration of independence, attended the Constitutional Convention, signed the Constitution.)

“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see.”(8)

Mention of Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, John Jay(9), the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, George Mason(10), John Witherspoon(11), who could also be mentioned.

MH, of course, mentions Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson was not an orthodox Christian, he did consider himself to be a Christian.(12). The interesting this is that Jefferson actually published an edited version of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that was titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels. Jefferson had this to say about the Morals of Jesus found in the Gospels: “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” I am well aware of what TJ believed about Jesus. But it is wrong to conclude that TJ was not a big fan of Jesus, the proposition of MH. He was a big fan of Jesus. He wasn’t a big fan of the Bible’s view of Jesus.

The founding era is a mixed bag. There were orthodox Christians, some Deists, a number of rationalists, and few if any atheists. Contrary to Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Paine was not a “filthy little atheist.”

MH mentions the “Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” of which Jefferson was the author. The addition of “Jesus Christ” was proposed to be added to a section of the Preamble so that it would read as follows: “Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion [Jesus Christ], who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do.” Jefferson states the following in his autobiography:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.(13)

While I don’t doubt Jefferson’s words, but as far as I can tell there is no corroborating evidence. I would like to know if there are any records or minutes of the vote. If anyone can find them, please contact me. Even so, Jefferson calls on God for his support, describing Him as “Almighty, “Holy,” and “Lord.” If Jefferson were alive today, he would be hooted down at such a suggestion.

The purpose of the Act was to prohibit coercion in religion as well as public funding of religion, something of which I agree with. Noah Webster said it well: “[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”

In 1807, Jefferson singed a federal passport that allowed the ship Hershel to proceed on its Journey to London and dated the letter September 24, 1807 “in the year of our Lord Christ.” Notice the addition of “Christ.” There is no misunderstanding that “in the Year of Our Lord” is a reference to Jesus Christ and no one else.

Let’s consider North Carolina’s Constitution for a comparison to the Virginia Act. The Constitution of North Carolina in 1776 provided, “That no person who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.” This provision remained in force until 1835, when it was amended by changing the word “Protestant” to “Christian,” and as amended remained in force until a redraft of the Constitution in 1868. And in that Constitution among the persons disqualified for office were “all persons who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”

Typically, MH brings up Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli. I won’t take the time to rehearse my arguments here. See my book America’s 200-Year War with Islamic Terrorism on the subject.Endnotes:

  1. From the Last Will & Testament of John Dickinson, attested March 25, 1808. Much of this material is taken from www.Wallbuilders.com()
  2. John Dickinson, The Political Writings of John Dickinson (Wilmington: Bonsal and Niles, 1801), 1:111–112.()
  3. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), 13:292–294. In a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813. There are no “general principles of Christianity” without Jesus Christ. I am well of the fact that Adams was a Unitarian. But the narrow scope of MH’s topic is about Jesus. Since there is no Christianity without Jesus, one must have a high regard for Jesus if one has a high regard for “the general principles of Christianity.()
  4. From the Last Will & Testament of Samuel Adams, attested December 29, 1790; see also Samuel Adams, Life & Public Services of Samuel Adams, William V. Wells, editor (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1865), 3:379, Last Will and Testament of Samuel Adams.()
  5. From a Fast Day Proclamation issued by Governor Samuel Adams, Massachusetts, March 20, 1797; see also Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908), 4:407, from his proclamation of March 20, 1797.()
  6. Samuel Adams, A Proclamation For a Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, given as the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. See also, Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908), 4:385, October 14, 1795.()
  7. Elias Boudinot, The Life, Public Services, Addresses, and Letters of Elias Boudinot, J. J. Boudinot, editor (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1896), 1:19, 21, speech in the First Provincial Congress of New Jersey.()
  8. Benjamin Franklin, Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 185, to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790.()
  9. “Condescend, merciful Father! to grant as far as proper these imperfect petitions, to accept these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior; unto Whom, with Thee, and the blessed Spirit, ever one God, be rendered all honor and glory, now and forever.”()
  10. “I give and bequeath my soul to Almighty God that gave it me, hoping that through the meritorious death and passion of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ to receive absolution and remission for all my sins.”()
  11. “[T]here is no salvation in any other than in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”()
  12. “I am a real Christian–that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”()
  13. The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Collected and edited by Paul Leicester Ford. Federal Edition. 12 vols. (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904–1905), 1:71.()
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About author

Gary DeMar

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).

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