A Founding Father Gives Thanks to God

We live is an age of demanded secularism. If a religious utterance is made by the State or Government officials the cry goes up from a small minority and there are the usual platitudes about “Separation of Church and State,” a phrase that does not occur in the Constitution. It is well true that the First Amendment requires that the State shall pass no law establishing an official state religion. That same amendment requires that the State not prohibit the free exercise of religion. But this second pillar, protecting religious expression is eroding. Increasing demands are made (even in the comments of this blog)  that religious bodies (especially the Catholic Church) have no  right to attempt any influence in the legislative process. They must “stay out” of  meetings with elected officials, testifying at hearings and seeking to influence public policy decisions. But this of course limits our ability to freely exercise our faith, a major pillar of which tells us to take it to the streets, to evangelize, to be a light to the world, to testify to the truth.

Many secularists argue that the Founding Fathers wanted it this way and that a wall of separation pleased them since most of them were either irreligious or deists. But what is interesting is a all the founding Fathers spoke freely of God and included appeals to God and God’s will  in their remarks. This is true even of Thomas Jefferson. Any visit to the Jefferson Memorial will demonstrate that. A  number of  his writings and speeches are chiseled on the walls, most of them referring to God. Most of these Founding Fathers who, according to modern secularists, want this dramatic separation of Church and State, were involved in drafting the Constitution. Most secularists love to point out that God is never mentioned in the Constitution. But actually He is, specifically Jesus is mentioned. The final line of the Constitution reads thus:

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names:

In the year of our Lord?! Oops! Where did that come from?  I guess the drafters of the Constitution never got the memo that God is unmentionable in Government documents or functions. The Lord referred to is none other than Jesus Christ for the year corresponds to the years since his birth.

Now the first Signature on  the Constitution is George Washington. Apparently he too never got the memo about keeping God and religion out of things governmental because he mentions God not a little in his writings and talks. Since it is Thanksgiving I thought I might show a decree he published declaring that the U.S. should have a Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. The document is filled with references to God.  In fact,  if you read it with some enthusiasm you’d swear you’re listening to a Baptist preacher! Read and enjoy this Declaration of the First Official Thanksgiving.   Secularist beware! This is NOT a religion free zone 🙂

 Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

George Washington, President.

You Go Mr. President!

4 Replies to “A Founding Father Gives Thanks to God”

  1. Regarding the video, most Americans never question the assumption that War of Independence was a justified war against “tyranny”, although I think even that point is debatable from Catholic Christian perspective. Prominent British Christians of the time such as John Wesley (founder of Methodism) and Samuel Johnson questioned the justification of colonial rebellion, with both of them noting the ironic dissonance of slave-owners claiming oppression. Though not very large in population, Catholics in the thirteen colonies in 1776 would have come under the episcopal authority of Bishop Richard Challoner, Vicar Apostolic of the London District. It would be interesting to see if any record exists of either he or Pope Pius VI expressing an opinion on the war, and if it offers any counterpoint to the pro-rebellion views of Maryland’s Carroll family.

    However, once independence was attained, one has to admire George Washington for his leadership qualities and his awareness of the need for the social “common denominator” of the Judeo-Christian tradition, even though evidence of his own beliefs as distinctively Christian seems scant. Even King George III of Great Britain, who was a devout Christian, acknowledged Washington’s high caliber of character in not seizing power for himself after the war.

    I believe that the reputation of the founders as deists who were skeptical of historic, creedal Christianity does derive from the fact that a number of the most influential “top-tier” founders did not adhere to core Christian distinctives. “Deistic Anglican” seems an appropriate label for George Washington. Though raised in the Calvinist tradition and having a view of human nature more in line with Christianity, John Adams, toward the end of life, seems (like much of New England) to have moved in a Unitarian direction and relegated the question of Christ’s divinity to a matter of practical non-importance. The evidence of which I am aware indicates that Benjamin Franklin and James Madison were deists, although the latter’s view of human nature seems more influenced by Christianity. Certainly, with Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, modern day secularists find their greatest kindred spirits among the founders. Alexander Hamilton, though I believe always a professing Christian, seems to have become more devout after his presidential ambitions had been thwarted, and he founded the “Christian Constitutional Society” in New York.

    However, as Thomas Jefferson’s stature as the American prophet of the Enlightenment looms large on historical and rhetorical landscape, one could view him as the founder most influential in nurturing the seed that would develop into the secularism of today. To a seemingly greater degree than his deistic compatriots, he denigrated traditional Christian metaphysics in private letters, condemning in harsh terms such men as the Gospel writers, St. Paul, and St. Athanasius for corrupting the “simple” teachings of Jesus. To quote one statement from the Jefferson Memorial, the “forms of tyranny over the mind of man,” to which he vowed “eternal hostility” on “the altar of God” would have included, for him, the “priestcraft” of the Catholic Church and to whatever degree Protestant Christianity retained its legacies. In founding of the University of Virginia in his twilight years, Jefferson was leveraging the power of the state to create a secular educational institution that was intended to lessen the influence of historic Christianity over subsequent generations of his countrymen. Of course, this did not quite happen to the degree he hoped in the immediately succeeding generations.

    Jefferson could relegate differences within the Judeo-Christian tradition to the private realm (sort of like a hobby some people enjoy), because the culture of his day was still undergirded by the common denominator of that tradition’s belief system about the source of human dignity. Though not prepared to dispense with belief in a benevolent Creator, he wrongly believed that America could dispense with distinctives of Judeo-Christian metaphysics, but yet somehow retain the virtues produced by that tradition, whether in family life or civic life. Two hundred years later, we’re witnessing the shortcomings produced by that intellectual legacy.

    1. “Regarding the video, most Americans never question the assumption that War of Independence was a justified war against “tyranny”, although I think even that point is debatable from Catholic Christian perspective. ”

      So arbitrarily imposing taxes upon a continent without their permission is not tyranny? It may have been light compared to the despotisms of the modern age, or those in Catholic Spain and France at that time, but that is no reason to believe their rebellion unjustified.

      1. Yes, the Revolutionary War is almost never examined from a moral point of view. It is an interesting thought to try and apply Catholic Moral principles to that time. To my knowledge it has not been done in an accesible format. I think I might have the moral skills to blog on it but knowledge of the History of the Rev. War is too limited.

  2. I will simply submit the following links as food for thought regarding the quoted section of my post with which Jeff takes issue:

    On specific issues of the American Revolution and whether rebellion was justified:

    A perspective on a wider framework of Catholic moral reasoning on revolution using St. Thomas Aquinas:
    (You may have to scroll down a bit if the blog administrator has posted something on a different topic since the time of my reply here).

    But for another perspective, I am currently reading a Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Bernard Bailyn called “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.” It’s a good read.

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