The Founders on Religion

The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 288
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    The Founders on Religion
    Book Description:

    What did the founders of America think about religion? Until now, there has been no reliable and impartial compendium of the founders' own remarks on religious matters that clearly answers the question. This book fills that gap. A lively collection of quotations on everything from the relationship between church and state to the status of women, it is the most comprehensive and trustworthy resource available on this timely topic.

    The book calls to the witness stand all the usual suspects--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams--as well as many lesser known but highly influential luminaries, among them Continental Congress President Elias Boudinot, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll, and John Dickinson, "the Pennsylvania Farmer." It also gives voice to two founding "mothers," Abigail Adams and Martha Washington.

    The founders quoted here ranged from the piously evangelical to the steadfastly unorthodox. Some were such avid students of theology that they were treated as equals by the leading ministers of their day. Others vacillated in their conviction. James Madison's religious beliefs appeared to weaken as he grew older. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, seemed to warm to religion late in life. This compilation lays out the founders' positions on more than seventy topics, including the afterlife, the death of loved ones, divorce, the raising of children, the reliability of biblical texts, and the nature of Islam and Judaism.

    Partisans of various stripes have long invoked quotations from the founding fathers to lend credence to their own views on religion and politics. This book, by contrast, is the first of its genre to be grounded in the careful examination of original documents by a professional historian. Conveniently arranged alphabetically by topic, it provides multiple viewpoints and accurate quotations.

    Readers of all religious persuasions--or of none--will find this book engrossing.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2670-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Founding Generation Members Quoted in This Volume
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  5. A Note on the Texts
    (pp. xxv-xxx)
  6. The Quotations
    • Addiction
      (pp. 1-4)

      It will add great comfort to the few years I may have to live to see you persevere in the resolution which you have taken. . . . If you have not the resolution of perseverance you will degrade your character, shorten a miserable life, and that of an affectionate wife, who to escape the afflicting scene she has daily witnessed and for the sake of her health has been constrained to abandon her home. I earnestly, advise you to call in religion to your aid; never rise or go to bed without humbling yourself in fervent prayer before your...

    • Afterlife
      (pp. 5-12)

      When I look in my Glass I see that I am not what I was. I scarcely know a feature of my face. But I believe that this Mortal Body shall one day put on immortality and be renovated in theWorld of Spirits. Having enjoyed a large portion of the good things of this life and few of its miseries, I ought to rise satisfied from the feast, and be gratefull to the Giver.

      Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, May 10, 1817. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 437, Library of Congress.

      I too firmly believe that virtue will be rewarded...

    • Age
      (pp. 12-15)

      Your observations in your last Letter upon your Solicitude; and your reflections upon your Age and feelings, led me to a train of Reflections upon that period of Life to which we are both hastning, to that period when the wise Man hath told us, no pleasure is to be found. That Frederick³ who was as great an unbeliever as Voltaire should experience this truth in its full force I can easily believe. How barren and imperfect that prosperity which can have no recourse to Religion to supply the insufficiency of worldly plasures. The following passage so fully expresses my...

    • America
      (pp. 15-17)

      I always considered the settlement of America with Reverence and Wonder, as the Opening of a grand scene and design of Providence, for the Illumination of the Ignorant and the Emancipation of the slavish part of Mankind.

      John Adams, ʺDissertation on the Canon and Feudal Lawʺ (draft), February 1765. Butterfield,Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:257.

      The American Union will last as long as God pleases. It is the duty of every American Citizen to exert his utmost abilities and endeavours to preserve it as long as possible and to pray with submission to Providence ʺesto perpetuaʺ [may it...

    • American Revolution
      (pp. 17-19)

      The late revolution, my respected audience, in which we this day rejoice, is big with events, that are daily unfolding themselves, and pressing in thick succession, to the astonishment of a wondering world! It has been marked with the certain characteristics of a Divine over-ruling hand, in that it was brought about and perfected against all human reasoning, and apparently against all human hope. . . . Divine Providence, throughout the government of this world, appears to have impressed many great events with the undoubted evidence of his own almighty arm. He putteth down kingdoms, and He setteth up whom...

    • Animals
      (pp. 19-20)

      Astory goes of our Universalist Murray.⁴ It is said that more than twenty years ago he preached upon the subject of Animals in a future State and asserted that they would all be saved, even down to the Ladies Lapdogs. He told the Ladies they need not fear the loss of their favourite animals, for he could assure them that even Bounce should wag his Tail in Glory. . . . Who knows but vegetables and animals are all in a course to become rational and immortal. There is room enough in the universe. . . . Why should we...

    • Atheism
      (pp. 20-22)

      Government has no Right to hurt a hair of the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices.

      John Adams to John Quincy Adams, June 16, 1816. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 432, Library of Congress.

      You strike at the Foundation of all Religion: For without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection. . . . [W]ere you to succeed, do you imagine any Good would...

    • Bible: Value of
      (pp. 23-26)

      The Bible contains the most profound Philosophy, the most perfect Morality, and the most refined Policy, that ever was conceived upon earth. It is the most Republican Book in the World, and therefore I will still revere it.

      John Adams to Benjamin Rush, February 2, 1807.Old Family Letters, 127–28.

      . . . the Bible is the best book in the World. It contains more of my little Phylosophy than all the Libraries I have seen: and such Parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little Phylosophy I postpone for further Investigation.

      John Adams to Thomas Jefferson,...

    • Bible: Accuracy of the Text
      (pp. 26-30)

      What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed of fabrication, might not be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?

      John Adams, marginal note in John DisneyʹsMemoirs(1785) of Arthur Sykes. Haraszti,Prophets of Progress, 296.

      What do you call the ʺBible?ʺ The translation by King James the first. More than half a Catholick.⁵ . . . ʺThe Bible a Rule of Faithʺ! What Bible? King Jamesʹs? The Hebrew?

      The Septuagint? The Vulgate?...

    • Bible: Exegesis of
      (pp. 31-33)

      And what has not been misunderstood or misrepresented? The spirit of God could not or would not dictate words that could not be misunderstood or perverted. Misinterpretations of the Scriptures of the old and new Testaments have founded Mosques and Cathedrals, have made saints Cardinals and Popes, Tyrants and Despots without Number, and deluged three quarters of the Globe I mean all Christian and Mahometan Countries at times in blood.

      John Adams to Benjamin Rush, March 23, 1809.Old Family Letters, 226.

      You have construed the word Logos to signify Power but Pythagoras has employed it to signify the Ideas,...

    • Bible: Old Testament
      (pp. 33-35)

      The greatest men of every age and nation since, whether Jews, Christians or heathens, unite their testimony in favour of Moses being the writer of these books, as the word of God, and coming down from him; our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles add their attestation. The religious jealousy, the known accuracy, indefatigable care, and curious precision of the Jews as a people, not to mention the separation of the ten tribes by which a violent and lasting opposition and hatred arose between them, so that they became a watch over each other, give peculiar and demonstrative weight to...

    • Bible: Revision of
      (pp. 36-37)

      It is now more than one hundred and seventy years since the translation of our common English Bible. The language in that time is much changed, and the style, being obsolete, and thence less agreeable, is perhaps one reason why the reading of that excellent book is of late so much neglected. I have therefore thought it would be well to procure a new version, in which, preserving the sense, the turn of phrase and manner of expression should be modern. I do not pretend to have the necessary abilities for such a work myself; I throw out the hint...

    • Calvinism
      (pp. 38-39)

      I must be a very unnatural Son to entertain any prejudices against Calvinists or Calvinism, according to your confession of faith: for my Father & Mother, my Uncles & Aunts, and all my predecessors from our common Ancestor who landed in this Country two hundred years ago, wanting five months were of that persuasion. Indeed I have never known any better people than the Calvinists. Nevertheless I must acknowledge that I can not class myself under that denomination. My opinions indeed on religious subjects ought not to be of any consequence to any but myself. To develop them and the reasons for...

    • Catholicism
      (pp. 40-44)

      . . . the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy, that ever was conceived by the mind of man, was framed by theRomishclergy for the aggrandisement of their own order. All the epithets I have here given to the Romish policy are just: and will be allowed to be so, when it is considered, that they even persuaded mankind to believe, faithfully and undoubtedly, that GOD almighty had intrustedthemwith the keys of heaven; whose gatestheymight open and close at pleasure—with a power of dispensation over all the rules and obligations...

    • Catholicism: Jesuits
      (pp. 44-45)

      I do not like the late Resurrection of the Jesuits. They have a General, now in Russia, in correspondence with the Jesuits in the U.S. who are more numerous than every body knows. Shall We not have Swarms of them here? In as many shapes and disguises as ever a King of the Gypsies, Bamfield More Carew himself, assumed? In the shape of Printers, Editors, Writers School masters etc. I have lately read Pascalls Letters10over again, and four Volumes of the History of the Jesuits. If ever any Congregation of Men could merit, eternal Perdition on Earth and in...

    • Chaplains
      (pp. 46-47)

      Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principles of religious freedom?

      In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a...

    • Children
      (pp. 48-55)

      Great learning and superior abilities, should you ever posses them, will be of little value and small Estimation, unless Virtue, Honour, Truth and integrety are added to them. Adhere to those religious Sentiments and principals which were early instilled into your mind and remember that you are accountable to your Maker for all your words and actions. Let me injoin it upon you to attend constantly and steadfastly to the precepts and instructions of your Father as you value the happiness of your Mother and your own welfare. His care and attention to you render many things unnecessary for me...

    • Christianity
      (pp. 55-59)

      However we may live there is not any religion by which we can die but the Christian which gives us the glorious prospect of life eternal. If says the Apostle in this Life only we have hope; we are of all men the most miserable.

      Religion! Providence! an after state!

      Here is firm footing: here is solid rock

      This can support us

      His hand the good man fastens on the skies

      And bids earth roll nor feels her idle whirl.

      Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, January 26, 1811. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 411, Library of Congress.

      Every tyro knows...

    • Christianity: Christian Nation
      (pp. 59-60)

      A veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service.

      John Adams, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1797. Richardson,Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1:222.

      Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

      John Jay to John Murray, Jr., October 12, 1816. Johnston,Correspondence of Jay, 4:393.

      Whether our religion...

    • Church and State
      (pp. 60-65)

      New England has in many Respects the Advantage of every other Colony in America, and indeed of every other Part of the World, that I know any Thing of . . . . The Institutions in New England for the Support of Religion, Morals and Decency, exceed any other, obliging every Parish to have a Minister, and every Person to go to Meeting.

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, October 29, 1775. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 1:318–19.

      Religion and Government are certainly very different Things, instituted for different Ends; the design of one being to promote our temporal Happiness; the...

    • Clergy
      (pp. 66-69)

      I rejoice in a preacher who has some warmth, some energy, some feeling. Deliver me from your cold phlegmatick Preachers, Politicians, Friends, Lovers and Husbands. I thank Heaven I am not so constituted my-self and so connected.

      Abigail Adams to John Adams, August 5, 1776. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 2:79.

      My Friend, the Clergy have been in all ages and Countries as dangerous to Liberty as the Army. Yet I love the Clergy and the Army. What can we do without them in this wicked world.

      John Adams to Benjamin Rush, September 1, 1809.Old Family Letters, 240.

      Was there...

    • Communion
      (pp. 70-70)

      Areligious remembrancer of Jesus Christ, of his atoning sacrifice and precious benefit. . . . An impenitent communicant is a monster, no better than a traitor at his masterʹs table. And there is the greatest absurdity, as well as impiety, in celebrating an ordinance in memorial of a crucified Jesus, who died a sacrifice for sin, without a relenting heart, which sincerely hates, mourns for, and turns from that accursed thing which occasioned his deep humiliation and bitter agonies.

      Sherman,Short Sermon, 5–6....

    • Conscience: see Liberty of Conscience
      (pp. 70-70)
    • Consolation
      (pp. 70-76)

      Whilst I mingle my tears with yours over the remains of your much loved sister, I would lead your mind to the only source of consolation, from whence you can draw comfort to sooth and calm your agitated bosom. To that resignation which teaches submission to the will of heaven and that confidence in the supream being which assures us that all his ways are just and right, however hidden in mazes and perplexed to us short sighted mortals. It becomes us to say of love divine

      Teach us the hand of love divine In evils to discern Tis the...

    • Constitution of the United States
      (pp. 76-78)

      Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

      John Adams to the Officers of the First Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Massachusetts Militia, October 11, 1798. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 119, Library of Congress.

      I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our General Convention was divinely inspired, when it formʹd the new federal Constitution . . . yet I must own I have so much faith in the general Government of the world byProvidence, that I can hardly conceive a Transaction...

    • Creeds
      (pp. 79-81)

      When will Mankind be convinced that true Religion is from the Heart, between Man and his Creator and not the Imposition [of] Man or creeds and tests.

      Abigail Adams to Louisa Catherine Adams, January 3, 1818. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 442, Library of Congress.

      Where do we find a praecept in the Gospell, requiring Ecclesiastical Synods, Convocations, Councils, Decrees, Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Subscriptions and whole Cartloads of other trumpery, that we find Religion incumbered with in these Days?

      John Adams, Diary, February 18, 1756. Butterfield,Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:8.

      I do not however attach so much attention...

    • Crime and Punishment
      (pp. 82-83)

      The moral Law, which binds all mankind, having been ordained by infinite wisdom and goodness, must be perfect and consequently unchangeable. I therefore believe that it has continued, and will continue the same, from the Beginning to the End of the World. I also believe that if war and capital Punishment had been forbidden by the moral Law, the Divine Legislator would never have commanded, nor authorized, nor encouraged any of the human Race, to engage in war nor to put criminals to death. As to murderers, I think it is not only lawful for Governments, but that it is...

    • Death
      (pp. 84-86)

      I am certainly very near the end of my life. I am far from trifling with the idea of Death which is a great and solemn event. But I contemplate it without terror or dismay, ʺaut transit, aut finitʺ [either it is a transformation, or it is the end—Ed.], if finit, which I cannot believe, and do not believe, there is then an end of all but I shall never know it, and why should I dread it, which I do not; if transit I shall ever be under the same constitution and administration of Government in the Universe,...

    • Deism
      (pp. 86-87)

      I have long observed that men may be Deists, and yet be warmly attached to the forms of the Sects in which they have been educated. . . . Mr. Hurt informed me that Judge Burke14had assured him that he was made a Roman Catholic and a Deist nearly at the same time by two different priests in one of the colleges in France.

      Benjamin Rush, ʺCommonplace Book,ʺ July 1792. Corner,Autobiography of Rush, 223–24....

    • Divorce
      (pp. 87-90)

      Our Saviour condemns the law of Moses for permitting easy divorces. They favor domestic infelicity, for where marriages are originally unhappy the annihilation of all hope of their becoming otherwise by a separation often removes the cause of their unhappiness. He then turns their attention from the law of Moses to the law of nature made in the Garden of Eden. ʺFrom the beginning,ʺ he says, ʺit was not so.ʺ That is, a plurality of wives was unknown in the first institution of matrimony. God made only one female for man, and to dignify the holy ceremony of marriage as...

    • Ecumenicism
      (pp. 90-93)

      In one thing we agree that he who feareth God, and worketh righteousness shall be accepted of him and his Faith cannot be wrong whose life is in the right.

      Abigail Adams to Louisa Catherine Adams, April 15, 1818. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 443, Library of Congress.

      I know of no Philosopher, or Theologian, or Moralist ancient or modern more profound; more infallible than Whitefield,17if the Anecdote that I have heard be true.

      He began; ʺFather Abrahamʺ! With his hands and Eyes gracefully directed to the Heavens as I have more than once seen him; ʺFather Abraham,ʺ ʺwho have...

    • Education
      (pp. 94-96)

      I have a thousand fears for my dear Boys as they rise into Life, the most critical period of which is I conceive, at the university; there infidelity abounds, both in example and precepts, there they imbibe the speicious arguments of a Voltaire a Hume a Mandevill. If not from the fountain, they receive them at second hand. These are well calculated to intice a youth, not yet capable of investigating their principals, or answering their arguments. Thus is a youth puzzeld in Mazes and perplexed with error untill he is led to doubt, and from doubting to disbelief. Christianity...

    • Episcopalians
      (pp. 96-98)

      There is something more cheerful and comfortable in an Episcopalian than in a Presbyterian Church. I admire a great Part of the divine Service at Church very much. It is very humane and benevolent, and sometimes pathetic & affecting: but rarely gloomy, if ever. Their creeds I could dispense with very well because, the Scriptures being before Us contain the Creed the most certainly orthodox.

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, October 27, 1799. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 396, Library of Congress.

      No clear headed Man; no Man who sees all the consequences of a proposition can be an orthodox Church of...

    • Faith
      (pp. 99-100)

      Q. What is Faith?

      A. An humble and hearty Assent to the Truths of Revelation—″the substance (confidence) of things hoped for, the Evidence of Things not seen″—so that we firmly believe in the Power and will of God to save Us from the Guilt and dominion of Sin, and accept Jesus Christ as he is proposed to us for our Saviour.

      John Dickinson, ″Religious Instruction for Youth,″ undated. R. R. Logan Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

      Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is...

    • Fast and Thanksgiving Days
      (pp. 100-103)

      The National Fast,19recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicion prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them ʺLet us have Jefferson, Madison,...

    • God
      (pp. 103-110)

      From the Scriptures I learn that there is but one God to whom worship is due. That he is the Creator Preserver and Governor of universal Nature. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me is the first command after that of loving God. There is no other object of religious worship but the one Supreme Deity. There is no other Being of whom we have sufficient reason to think that he is constantly present with us and a witness of all our thoughts words and actions. And there is no other Being to whom our supplications ought to be...

    • Grief
      (pp. 111-115)

      Religion my Friend does not forbid us to weep and to mourn for our departed friends. But it teaches us to cast our Sorrows upon that Being in whose hands and at whose disposal we are and who can heal the wounded bosom and bind up the broken heart.

      Abigail Adams to ――, January 19, 1811. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 411, Library of Congress.

      You my dear son have learnt from the Scriptures which you so faithfully study those lessons of . . . duty and of submission to the dispensations of heaven. Yet this does not forbid us to...

    • Hell
      (pp. 115-116)

      Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell.

      John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, April 19, 1817. Cappon,Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2:509.

      I think Bekker²⁰ might have demanded a truce from his antagonists, on the question of a Hell, by desiring them first to fix its geography, but wherever it be, it is certainly the best patrimony of the church, and procures them in exchange the solid acres of this world.

      Thomas Jefferson to Francis van der Kemp, May 1, 1817. Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.

      What makes the review of life...

    • Indians: see Native Americans
      (pp. 116-116)
    • Islam
      (pp. 116-121)

      Napoleon is a military Fanatic like Achilles, Alexander, Caesar, Mahomet, Zingis Kouli, Charles 12th etc. The Maxim and Principle of all of them was the same ʺJura negat sibi cata, nihil non arrogat armisʺ [he denies that laws were made for him; he arrogates everything to himself by force of arms—Ed.].

      John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, July 16, 1814. Cappon,Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2: 435–36.

      Predestination, eternal decrees, everlasting Counsels . . . I can see no Liberty in the Universe consistent with these Theories and consequently no fault, no blame, no crime, no sin, and no punishment and...

    • Jesus
      (pp. 121-126)

      [Jesus] was, as you say, ʺthe most benevolent Being that ever appeard on Earth.ʺ

      John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, February 2, 1816. Cappon,Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2:462.

      An incarnate God ! ! ! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross ! ! ! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all the Corruptions of Christianity.

      John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 430, Library of Congress.

      The suffering Messiah known to the whole...

    • Jews
      (pp. 126-132)

      As much as I love, esteem, and admire the Greeks, I believe the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all their legislators and philosophers.

      John Adams, undated marginalia in CondorcetʹsOutlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind. Haraszti,Prophets of Progress, 246.

      I have had occasion to be acquainted with several Gentlemen of your Nation and to transact Business with some of them, whom I found to be Men of as liberal Minds, as much honor Probity Generosity and good Breeding as any I have known in...

    • Law
      (pp. 132-133)

      To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason. A Man who disbelieves the Being of a God, will have no perplexity or obscurity in defining Morality or the Law of Nature, natural Law, natural Right or any such Things to be mere Maxims of Convenience, to be Swifts²¹ pair of Breeches to be put on upon occasion for Decency or Conveniency and to be put off at pleasure...

    • Liberty of Conscience
      (pp. 134-138)

      I have well fixed it in my Mind as a Principle, that every Nation has a Right to that Religion and Government which it chooses, and as long as any People please themselves in these great Points, I am determined they shall not displease me.

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, June 3, 1778. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 3:32.

      I assert the divine right and sacred duty of private individual judgment and deny all human authority in matters of faith. . . . Now I know of no divine authority for Lords Parsons Lords Brethren, Lords Councils, Lords Synods, Lords Associations...

    • Marriage
      (pp. 138-139)

      By discharging all the duties of conjugal life from religious principles, we enjoy a kind of exclusive happiness suited to the perfection and dignity of our natures: a happiness which involves in it all the inferior pleasures of reason and sense and which can never be equally relished by those animal machines, who are governed in all their actions by instinct only, or by the vulgar maxims and fashions of the world.

      Benjamin Rush to Julia Stockton, November 12, 1775. Benjamin Rush,My Dearest Julia: The Love Letters of Dr. Benjamin Rush to Julia Stockton(New York: N. Watson Academic...

    • Millennium
      (pp. 140-141)

      However it is a matter of little consequence, whether the great event shall come in 10–20 or 50 years. We know it is approaching. We plainly see the signs of the times and therefore we have a right to lift up our heads and rejoice, knowing that our redemption is drawing nigh. The signal of the great catastrophe is the downfall of the Pope and the destruction of the great city. Blessed be God that, whenever the time comes, let it be sooner or be it later, Jesus shall reign king of nations as he is king of saints...

    • Miracles
      (pp. 141-142)

      Most of his [Jesusʹ—Ed.] miracles were such objects of sense, that he could not have been deceived himself, by enthusiasm or other false principle. They all come within the first two rules, laid down by an excellent writer of the last century, relative to the proof of ancient facts, on which he justly challenges all the enemies to revelation, as to every other system but that of the bible, viz. First—ʺThat the matters of fact shall be such, as the reality of them may be ascertained by external evidence.ʺ Second—ʺThat they shall be performed publicly.ʺ Thirdly—ʺThat...

    • Missionary and Bible Societies
      (pp. 142-146)

      According to the pamphlet you sent me, we must all pay, voluntarily or involuntarily, Tithes or Fifths or thirds, or halves, or all we have, to send Bibles and Missionaries, to convert all Men and save their Souls. I am confident that all the property of Europe and America would not be sufficient to convert Asia and Africa. Mankind must have a Crusade, a War of Reformation, a French Revolution, or Anti-Revolution, to amuse them and preserve them from Ennui.

      John Adams to Benjamin Waterhouse, December 19, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.

      We have now, it...

    • Morality
      (pp. 146-148)

      . . . you know that I look upon Religion as the most perfect System, and the most awfull Sanction of Morality.

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, November 18, 1775. Butterfield, John Adams to Abigail Adams, November 18, 1775. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 1:327.

      There is no such thing [morality] without a supposition of a God. There is no right or wrong in the universe without the supposition of a moral government and an intellectual and moral governor.

      John Adams, marginal note in CondorcetʹsOutlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind. Haraszti,Prophets of Progress,...

    • Native Americans
      (pp. 149-153)

      Dr. Jarvis²⁴ in his seventh page has truly observed that the Indians can not communicate in relation to their religion. I have made the same observation. I have seen a strong and marked aversion to converse or say anything upon the subject. . . . In 1789 there occurred an occasion which gave me great hopes. A large deputation of Kings Warriors and Sachims from the Creek Nations came to New York with Mr. McGillivray²⁵ at their Head to treat with the government. They were lodged near my house in Richmond Hill. They frequently visited me and some of them...

    • New England
      (pp. 154-154)

      I anticipate nothing but suffering to the human race while the present system of paganism, deism, and atheism prevail in the world. New England may escape the storm which impends our globe, but if she does, it will only be by adhering to the religious principles and moral habits of the first settlers of that country.

      Benjamin Rush to Noah Webster, July 20, 1797. Butterfield,Letters of Rush, 2:799.

      Recollect here your definition of a New Englander given to one of your friends in Amsterdam. It was: ʺHe is a meetinggoing animal.ʺ

      Benjamin Rush to John Adams, August 20, 1811....

    • Oaths
      (pp. 154-156)

      Designing and selfish men invented religious tests to exclude from posts of profit and trust their weaker or more conscientious fellow subjects; thus to secure to themselves all the emoluments of government: Wharton’s²⁷ saying was a true as well as witty one—The oaths of government were so framed as to damn one part of the nation, & to shame the other.

      Charles Carroll of Carrollton to Walter Graves, August 15, 1774. Carroll Papers, Maryland Historical Society.

      If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ & his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine Tests would...

    • Patriotism
      (pp. 156-157)

      The patriot, like the Christian, must learn that to bear revilings & persecutions is a part of his duty; and in proportion as the trial is severe, firmness under it becomes more requisite & praiseworthy.

      Thomas Jefferson to James Sullivan, May 21, 1805. Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.

      The Amor Patriae is both a moral and a religious duty. It comprehends not only the love of our neighbors but of millions of our fellow creatures, not only of the present but of future generations.This virtue we find constitutes a part of the first characters in history. The holy men of old,in proportion...

    • Paul, the Apostle
      (pp. 157-158)

      Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus—Ed.] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross: restore to him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some and the roguery of others of the disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great...

    • Persecution
      (pp. 158-161)

      Why do you single out poor Calvin and Servetus? Luther would not tolerate Zwinglius because he did not believe in Consubstantiation. Peter Portellus was condemned for being a Zwinglian. Anabaptists also were put to death. Zwinglius also condemned an Anabaptist, to be drowned . . . . Why then do you single out Calvin? All the protestant leaders were intolerant, and all the Protestant Dissenters too when they had power. Even the settlers of Virginia and New England. If the Arminians are an exception, they never had power. The French Atheists, Deists, Philosophers in the late revolution were as intolerant...

    • Plato
      (pp. 161-162)

      Your employment in translating Plato has excited I know not what feelings in me. Curiosity, astonishment, and excuse me, when I say risibility. You could not have hit upon a subject more to my taste. It must compel your boys sooner or later to master Plato in his original Greek. They will find him a John Jacks Rousseau. Eloquence in perfection, fantastical in substance but strange to tell, and horrible to contemplate the original corrupter, by means of his disciples of the Divine Christian Religion.

      John Adams to Louisa Catherine Adams, June 11, 1819. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 447, Library...

    • The Poor
      (pp. 163-163)

      I have heard it remarked that the Poor in Protestant Countries on the Continent of Europe, are generally more industrious than those of Popish Countries, may not the more numerous foundations in the latter for the relief of the poor have some effect towards rendering them less provident. To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures is concurring with the Deity, ʹtis Godlike, but if we provide encouragements for Laziness, and supports for Folly, may it not be found fighting against the order of God and Nature, which perhaps has appointed Want and Misery as the proper Punishments for, and...

    • Prayer
      (pp. 163-171)

      Certainly the sincere Prayers of good Men, avail much.

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, May 8, 1775. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 1:196.

      If I were a Calvinest, I might pray that God by a Miracle of Divine Grace would instantaneously convert a whole Contaminated Nation from turpitude to purity, but even in this I should be inconsistent, for the fatalism of Mahometnism, Materialists, Atheists, Pantheists and Calvinests, and Church of England Articles, appear to me to render all prayer futile and absurd.

      John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 21, 1819. Cappon,Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2:551.

      Set aside some time in every...

    • Presbyterians
      (pp. 171-172)

      I can not concur, however, in your preference in Presbyterianism. The presbytery have too much priestly Authority in matters of faith like that which is claimed by the Episcopal Church. And the doctrine of both the Churches are too Calvinistical for me as well as too hierarchical.

      John Adams to Alexander Johnson, March 24, 1823. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 124, Library of Congress

      The Presbyterian clergy are the loudest, the most intolerant of all sects, the most tyrannical, and ambitious; ready at the word of the lawgiver, if such a word could now be obtained, to put the torch to...

    • Proclamations: see Fast and Thanksgiving Days
      (pp. 172-172)
    • Profanity
      (pp. 172-173)

      The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish, and wicked practice, of profane cursing and swearing (a Vice heretofore little known in an American Army) is growing into fashion; he hopes the officers will, by example, as well as influence, endeavour to check it, and that both they, and the men will reflect, that we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety, and folly; added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense, and character, detests...

    • Prophecy
      (pp. 173-175)

      The Crusades were commenced by the Prophets and every Age since, when ever any great Turmoil happens in the World, has produced fresh Prophets. The Continual Refutation of their Prognostications by Time and Experience has no Effect in extinguishing or dampning their Ardor.

      I think these Prophecies are not only unphilosophical and inconsistent with the political Safety of States and Nations; but that the most sincere and sober Christians in the World ought upon their own Principles to hold them impious, for nothing is clearer from their Scriptures than that Their Prophecies were not intended to make Us Prophets.


    • Providence
      (pp. 176-183)

      . . . however the Belief of a particular Providence may be exploded by the Modern Wits, and the Infidelity of too many of the rising generation deride the Idea, yet the virtuous Mind will look up and acknowledge the great first cause, without whose notice not even a sparrow falls to the ground.

      Abigail Adams to John Adams, October 15, 1780. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 4:6.

      . . . but there is one consolation to which I must ever resort, in all my anxietyes. I thank Heaven who has given me to believe in a superintending providence Guiding and...

    • Quakers
      (pp. 183-186)

      We have been obliged to attempt to humble the Pride of some Jesuits who call themselves Quakers, but who love Money and Land better than Liberty or Religion. The Hypocrites are endeavouring to raise the Cry of Persecution, and to give this Matter a religious Turn, but they cant succeed. The World knows them and their Communications. Actuated by a land jobbing Spirit, like that of William Penn, they have been soliciting Grants of immense Regions of Land on the Ohio. American Independence has disappointed them, which makes them hate it. Yet the Dastards dare not avow their Hatred to...

    • Reason
      (pp. 186-188)

      Not the least intimation in history or tradition that religion was discovered by reason. But the contrary—that is—by revelation.

      The great question as to reason is this—whether reason since the introduction of sin into the world is sufficient to discover our duty and incline us to enforce its performance. Denied.

      John Dickinson, miscellaneous papers on religion, undated. R. R. Logan Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

      After the astonishing catastrophe at Babel . . . Men ʺsought out many inventionsʺ and true religion was supplanted by fables and idolatrous rites. Their mythology manifests the inability of mere human...

    • Religion, Freedom of: see Liberty of Conscience
      (pp. 189-189)
    • Religion: Propensity of Humans for
      (pp. 189-190)

      There is in human Nature a solid, unchangeable and eternal Foundation of Religion. There is also a germ of superstition, seemingly a fungous growth or a spurious sprout, which the grossest Blockheads and most atrocious Villains are able to cultivate into Systems and Sects to deceive millions and cheat and pillage hundreds and thousands of their fellow Creatures.

      John Adams to John Quincy Adams, May 10, 1816. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 431, Library of Congress.

      Religion always has and always will govern mankind. Man is constitutionally, essentially and unchangeably a religious animal. Neither philosophers or politicians can ever govern him...

    • Religion: Social Utility of
      (pp. 190-194)

      . . . the design of Christianity was not to make men good Riddle Solvers or good mystery mongers, but good men, good magestrates and good Subjects. . . .

      John Adams, Diary, February 18, 1756. Butterfield,Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:8.

      My Opinion of the Duties of Religion and Morality, comprehends a very extensive Connection with society at large, and the great Interest of the public. Does not natural Morality, and much more Christian Benevolence, make it our indispensible Duty to lay ourselves out, to serve our fellow Creatures to the Utmost of our Power, in promoting...

    • Republicanism
      (pp. 194-195)

      The Goodness of the Common parent . . . has invested all his rational Creatures with equal rights and with propensities favorable to mutual felicity. Actual republicanism is a system of human convention, for carrying these benevolent and sacred principles into effect by the diffusion of happiness.

      John Dickinson to Thomas Jefferson, June 27, 1801. Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.

      I look upon Republicanism to be the Gospel of policy. It embraces its several objects with mildness and benevolence. In primitive times the heathen used to say—ʺBehold! How these Christians love one another.ʺ Let the heathens—I mean the...

    • Rights
      (pp. 196-198)

      The great . . . have accordingly laboured, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say rights, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government—Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws—Rights derived from the great legislator of the universe.

      John Adams, ʺA Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,ʺ 1765. Taylor et al.,Papers of John Adams, 1:111–12.

      ʺThe Science of the Rights of Man is a...

    • Sabbath
      (pp. 198-200)

      . . . let me with great Sincerity assure you, and your own Experience in years to come will verify it, that as your Sabbath is, so will you find the Residue of the Week to be. Once obtain a spiritual Taste and relish for Communion with God and fellowship with Jesus Christ, and I will rest your Attachment to the Sabbath on this Basis. I know but one Way, that you will be likely to succeed in. Convince yourself, that the Day is specially the Lords, devoted by him & set apart for the purpose of his Worship & the transacting...

    • Sin
      (pp. 200-206)

      . . . there is Reason to be diffident of a Man who grossly violates the Principles of Morals, in any one particular habitually. This sentiment was conveyed to Us in one of the Paradoxes of the ancient Stoicks, that ʺall Sins were equal,ʺ and the same Idea is suggested from higher Authority. He that violates the Law in any one Instance is guilty of all.

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, November 18, 1775. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 1:327.

      I have read many of the Calvinistical Treatises on original sin and they have not convinced me of the total Depravity...

    • Slavery
      (pp. 206-214)

      Poor Falmouth has shared the fate of Charlstown;³⁰ are we become a Sodom? I would fain hope we are not. Unsearchable are the ways of Heaven who permitteth Evil to befall a city and a people by those very hands who were by them constituted the Gaurdians and protectors of them. We have done Evil or our Enimies would be at peace with us. The Sin of Slavery as well as many others is not washed away.

      Abigail Adams to John Adams, October 25, 1775. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 1:313.

      The Bible itself has not authority sufficient in these days...

    • Trinity
      (pp. 215-220)

      There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one and one three. Is it possible for the humane mind to form an idea of the Supreme Being, without some visible qualities such as wisdom, power, and goodness. The creator, preserver and governor of the world. The first commandment forbids the worship of but one God. That Jesus Christ was sent into the world by the Father to take upon him humane nature, to exalt redeem and purify the world, to set an example to all his followers of sinless obedience and holiness...

    • Unitarianism
      (pp. 220-221)

      I thank you for your favour of the 10th and the pamphlet enclosed, ʺAmerican Unitarianism.ʺ³⁴ I have turned over its leaves and have found nothing that was not familiarly known to me.

      In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old age. Sixty five years ago my own minister the Reverend Samuel Bryant, Dr. Johnathan Mayhew of the west Church in Boston, the Reverend Mr. Shute of Hingham, the Reverend John Brown of Cohasset & perhaps equal to all if not above all the Reverend Mr. Gay...

    • Universalism
      (pp. 221-223)

      I believe too in a future state of rewards and punishments too; but not eternal.

      John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, July 13, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.

      At Dr. Finleyʹs School,³⁵ I was more fully instructed in these principles by means of the Westminster Catechism. I retained them but without any affection for them ʹtill about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcherʹs controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached...

    • Virgin Mary
      (pp. 223-223)

      The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage.

      John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Schutz and Adair,Spur of Fame, 225.

      If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

      It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject...

    • War
      (pp. 224-230)

      In a Time of Warr, and especially a War like this, one may see the Necessity and Utility, of the divine Prohibition of Revenge, and the Injunctions of forgiveness of Injuries and love of Enemies, which We find in the Christian Religion. Unrestrained, in some degree by those benevolent Laws, Men would be Devils, at such a Time as this!

      John Adams to Abigail Adams, March 14, 1777. Butterfield,Adams Family Correspondence, 2:175.

      I believe with you that Wars are the natural and unavoidable effect of the constitution of human Nature and the fabric of the Globe it is destined...

    • Women
      (pp. 230-234)

      . . . I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws...

  7. Suggestions for Further Reading
    (pp. 235-236)
  8. Index
    (pp. 237-244)