Over 200 years ago, our second President (and signer of the Declaration of Independence) John Adams stated that Independence Day would be celebrated forever in America, because it’s the most important day in our history. “It ought to be commemorated,” he said, “as a day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God.”Is it odd that he mentioned God? Not at all. Most of the founding fathers held deeply religious convictions. Of the 56 who signed the Declaration, almost half held seminary or Bible school degrees. Because faith influences reasoning and values, the founders’ spiritual perspectives couldn’t help but be reflected in their philosophies and the documents they created.
One such document plainly stated, “Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness … it is hereby earnestly recommended to the States to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof.” (Continental Congress of 1778) WAIT! Congress encouraged religion? Yes.The Northwest Ordinance, in Article III, stated that in schools and society, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, shall forever be encouraged.” The reason, according to Thomas Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President) was that “Abundance without character is the path to destruction.”Benjamin Rush (Declaration) said,”The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion.”
WHAT? Religion in education? Yes.In the first schools, the text books included the Bible and Noah Webster’s Spelling Primer, which was filled with moral Bible verses. Webster believed “No government of a republican form can exist and endure in which the principles of religion have not a controlling influence.” He wrote, “For instruction in social, and civil duties, resort to the scriptures for the best precepts. All evils men suffer from vice, crime, injustice, oppression and war, proceed from neglecting the precepts in the Bible.”Founding Fathers like Fisher Ames (First Amendment) thought teaching ancient scriptures developed character, wisdom and pure morals; and called the Bible “the best corrector of all that is evil in society.”A common belief in early America was that there is an ultimate authority who judges men’s actions. Such a belief provides motivation to live morally.
Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; and His justice cannot sleep forever.”In this age of moral confusion, should we, like Jefferson, spend more time reflecting on God? If every American child were taught that there’s a higher power, we were all created equal in His sight, and we’re obliged to love all His children, perhaps our kids wouldn’t be bullying, shooting up schools, or rioting and looting. Maybe they would have more respect and less self-centeredness. Might they have better values and more compassion, if they were taught the moral guidelines that religion provides?John Witherspoon (Declaration) said “True religion always enlarges the heart and strengthens the social tie.”
OH! Maybe that’s why, for decades, schools displayed the Ten Commandments. Seeing them every day might plant them in young minds and shape their morals.I wonder if, instead of working to remove virtue and godly principles from schools, we should listen to the wisdom of the geniuses who created our nation. Their writings document how much they valued religion and believed it was essential in a successful republic. Joseph Story, for instance, (first Supreme Court Justice) said “Religion and morality are intimately connected with the well-being of the state and indispensable to civil justice.”Patrick Henry (Bill of Rights) wrote, “The great pillars … of social life … are virtue, morality, and religion.”Samuel Adams, (Declaration), said, "Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness.” George Washington , called religion and morality “the essential pillars of civil society.”Oliver Ellsworth, (Chief Justice) said a peaceful and orderly society depended upon good morals and wrote,”For the promotion of good morals, religion is eminently important.”
John Adams (Declaration and second President) wrote, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions (that are) unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
”Benjamin Rush (Declaration) said schools should teach the Bible because it “awakens moral sensibility in children.” And “It concentrates a whole system of ethics in a single text of Scripture: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.” Rush also wrote, “No man was ever instructed early in Biblical principles without being made wiser and better by it. We waste so much time and money punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them. We neglect the universal education of our youth in principles of Christianity which favor equality among mankind, respect for just laws, and all sober and frugal virtues.”
Am I saying ours is a Christian nation, or all Americans should be Christians? Should schools promote that religion? NO, I’m saying the founding of our country was shaped in large part by religious principles and our founders believed society, especially children, could greatly benefit from learning and emulating attitudes taught in the New Testament. Ben Franklin wrote “The system of morals Jesus left us is the best the world ever saw.” He concluded that commands in the Bible were “forbidden because they were bad for us” or “commanded because they were beneficial to us.” Could living by the principles esteemed by our forefathers improve our lives today? With teachings like “Forgive as I have forgiven you” and “Do to others what you would like others to do to you,” how could they not have a positive influence in any generation?
John Adams (Signer of the Declaration and Second President) wrote in his autobiography that “It 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. The principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”A quote I find especially relevant in our current social climate is from Daniel Webster (Secretary of State). “If we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, and violate the rules of eternal justice, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us that shall bury all our glory.” Edward Mansfield acknowledged, ”The morals of a people – whatever they may be – take their form from their religion.” The marriage of brothers and sisters was permitted in Egypt, because that precedent was set by their gods Isis and Osiris. Nations that have no religion and no God typically are lawless and immoral. That’s not how America began; but is that where we’re headed?
This weekend, as we’re celebrating the good life we enjoy in this free country, I suggest that we ponder the words of a great man who played a big part in securing our freedom. Our first President, George Washington said “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Charles Carroll (Declaration) wrote “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they who are decrying … religion, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”Samuel Adams (Declaration) urged Americans: “May every citizen . . . have a proper sense of the Deity upon his mind and an impression of the declaration recorded in the Bible, ‘I will honor those who honor me. But I will turn away from those who look down on me.’” [I Samuel 2:30]. Perhaps it’s time (maybe past time) for America to re-embrace the truth of President Reagan’s warning: “If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Submitted by Marsha Jordan, Harshaw