Was America Founded on Christian Principles?/Program 2

By: David Barton; ©1992
What we’ll look at in this program is whether the Founding Fathers from their own writings wanted religious principles to be a part of American society. Is there evidence that the Founding Fathers wanted God, the Bible, prayer, and Christian morality to be a part of our government, our schools, and our public life, what is it?



Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Did our Founding Fathers really want religious principles to be a part of our government and our society? What evidence is there that will bring us to a conclusion one way or the other? Well, my guest today is the President of WallBuilders Presentations, David Barton. He believes these questions can be clearly answered and tells us how. Listen.
Barton: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Many today would say absolutely not. They would say the Founding Fathers never intended for any religious principles at all to be part of public society, public life, public affairs. Now, others are a little more moderate and they say, “Well, they may have, but it’s hard for us to know today. It’s really difficult to know.”
Well, such is not the case. We can know whether the Founding Fathers wanted religious principles. We can know by their very writings. We can also know by their very acts. You see, one thing we appreciate about our Founding Fathers is they were prolific writers. They did with writing what we do with VCRs and cassettes and tapes. They recorded it all. They were prolific writers. The writings of George Washington are some 39 volumes, very small print – tiny print. And it’s that way for most of the Founding Fathers.
What we’ll look at in this program is whether the Founding Fathers from their own writings wanted religious principles to be a part of American society.
Ankerberg: Well, if there is evidence that the Founding Fathers wanted God, the Bible, prayer, and Christian morality to be a part of our government, our schools, and our public life, what is it? We start with Benjamin Franklin, one of our most famous Founding Fathers. Listen.
Barton: Did the Founding Fathers want religious principles in American society, as part of government? Well, there could be a logical argument made that maybe the real religious Founding Fathers wanted religious principles in government, but not all the Founding Fathers were particularly that religious. So certainly, the least religious of the Founding Fathers, people like perhaps Jefferson or Franklin, they surely wouldn’t have wanted religious principles in government.
But such is not the case. Even if we select those that are conceded to be the least religious of the Founding Fathers, we find that they were strong advocates for religious principles in government.
For example, consider Benjamin Franklin. Now, Benjamin Franklin was part of the Constitutional Convention, and the records of that Constitutional Convention were really given us by a number of Founding Fathers who were all writers. But perhaps the best records come from James Madison. James Madison kept meticulous notes on what went on in the Convention. Now, others kept notes as well: Jonathan Dayton and Robert Yates and others. But James Madison records a very famous speech given by Benjamin Franklin. This is probably the most famous speech of Franklin’s political career. It came on Thursday, June 28, 1787. In that particular speech, recorded by Madison, the Convention was really at a crossroads, for the Convention was falling apart. They had argued; they had fought; they had bickered. They could not agree on anything. And so even the New York delegation had left and gone home in disgust saying, “We have better things to do than fight with you.”
It was seeing the Convention crumble that brought Franklin to this point of making this speech. For here he was, 81 years old. He was in very poor health. He is the patriarch of this Convention. He’s the “old man” himself, the old sage, the wise man. And he was in such poor health they literally had to carry him in and off of the Convention floor. But he rose and reminded the delegates of something they used to do in that very room. Here they were, up against difficult problems they were not able to resolve and he said, “Do you remember what we used to do here 13 years ago?” For it was in that very room that they had had the very first sessions of Congress, and Franklin had been a member of those first sessions of Congress.
And the records of Congress indicate that they prayed faithfully every morning, every day, and sometimes in multi-hour prayer sessions. And Franklin remembered that and he said, “Have you noted that we have not yet started this Convention asking God for help? We have gone for days, for weeks [and] we have not even solicited His aid. And really, we had become fairly presumptuous because we’d seen God’s direct intervention so often in the American Revolution that we had just assumed that He was on our side.”
But it was Franklin that brought these delegates back to their senses. He told them, he said, “In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection.” He said, “Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.” He said, “All of us engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent incidences of a superintending Providence in our favor. And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?”
He said, “I’ve lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man.” He said, “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We’ve been assured in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” [Psa. 127:1] He said, “I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.” [Gen. 11]
Now, here is a Founding Father that admittedly conceded to be one of the least religious of the Founding Fathers calling the entire group back to prayer at the Constitutional Convention. You see, he said, “This was a near fatal mistake. We have not yet asked for God’s assistance.” He said, “I am firmly convinced that if we don’t get God’s aid, we’re going to end up just like the Tower of Babel. We can never survive without God’s assistance.”
He said, “Let’s get serious about this,” and he made a motion. He said, “I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessing on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.”
Now, this is a speech that led to the establishment of chaplains in the House and the Senate. They knew that this was so important that they must never again forget it. And so chaplains in the House and Senate were not allowed to be members of Congress who might be distracted by their duties and jobs and requirements. No, these were to be people whose only purpose was to get these Congressmen, to get the Congress of the United States, before God every morning before they went off to business.
Ankerberg: Next, if Franklin did call the Constitutional Convention to prayer, did it work? What happened? David Barton explains.
Barton: Jonathan Dayton writes about what happened after Franklin’s speech. There were many that wrote about it, but Dayton noted that for the next three days the Constitutional Convention en masse went as a group fasting and praying and visiting every church they could find in Philadelphia. The entire Constitutional Convention en masse went from church to church to church, sat down inside, brought the minister out and said, “Preach to us. We need to get our mind renewed. We need to get our thinking turned around.” For three days the Constitutional Convention en masse as a single body went from church to church listening to sermons.
When they reconvened, Jonathan Dayton said, “It was the first time in six weeks that every unfriendly feeling had been expelled. It was the first time in six weeks that we weren’t fighting and arguing and bickering. We actually got along.”
You see, for five and a half weeks they could get nothing accomplished. Then they seriously set their mind toward seeking God for three days at the Constitutional Convention and after that point the delegates said, “This was the turning point; that speech by Franklin calling us back to prayer was the turning point.” And it is amazing that prior to that point they could agree to nothing and after that point they came up with a document that’s now lasted 200 years. You see, the delegates themselves pointed to that speech by Franklin calling for prayer as the proof that that was the turning point of the Convention.
Now, here’s the least religious of the Founding Fathers calling us to prayer. So how is it likely that the Founding Fathers did not want religious principles involved in government activities and public affairs when even the least religious were the ones promoting it?
Ankerberg: Now, maybe you say, “Okay. I didn’t realize that Benjamin Franklin was so spiritual. I didn’t realize that he believed in God and even organized prayer meetings in Congress. And I certainly didn’t know that it was Franklin who pressed Congress to hire chaplains to call both the House and the Senate to prayer before they went to work each day. Well, there can’t be many others like him, can there?” Well, how about George Washington? Did he think that we should keep God, the Bible and morality in all aspects of government? Listen.
Barton: Are there any other Founding Fathers that would have input on whether we should have religious principles in public affairs? Well, I think certainly George Washington is qualified to voice some opinion. He is the President of the Convention that gave us the Constitution. He is the President of the United States who oversaw the formation of the Bill of Rights and its ratification. He is the man who gave 45 years of his life to public service to see America strong, established as an independent nation. He’s called the Father of our Country. Certainly his opinions should count for something.
Well, George Washington has very strong opinions on whether religious principles are part of public affairs. He voiced those opinions in his final political speech, his “Farewell Address.” After two terms in office he’s leaving and he calls America and he said, “America, this is what has brought us to this point. This is what we must do to keep going.”
Now, his “Farewell Address” is 12 very succinct, clear warnings to the nation on what we must do to stay on track. They were so important that for decades and even over a century in America that “Farewell Address” was actually a complete textbook. Students memorized George Washington’s “Farewell Address” for history class, for speech class. We studied it thoroughly, because here, they were taught, was the most significant political speech ever delivered by a U.S. President.
An amazing thing: we have not been able to find George Washington’s “Farewell Address” in most textbooks in the last four decades. Prior to World War II you could find it in every textbook. It’s disappeared since. Why in the world? So many of the warnings he gave us 200 years ago we need today. One of the warnings he told us then was don’t ever let the government get into deficit spending. It’s a wonderful warning. We could use it today but we can’t find his “Farewell Address” in textbooks. Why? Because of his 12 warnings, four warnings were very clearly religious.
One of his warnings, he said, “There’s only two supports for political prosperity in America.” He said, “That’s religion and morality.” He said, “Therefore, don’t let anyone claim to be a true American patriot if they ever try to separate religion and morality from politics.” That’s a strong statement. He said, “Of all the habits and dispositions which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” He said, “In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars.” If you try to separate religion and morality from politics, you can’t be called an American patriot.
Ankerberg: Now, think of the politicians that over the years you’ve heard say, “Well, people can be moral without being religious.” Even our Supreme Court has said that we must outlaw Christian morality and all religion from the public schools and from government. They believe that religion should be completely separated from the state. But George Washington thought that such thinking was dead wrong. Listen.
Barton: Now another warning he specifically took aim at the French Revolution, for the French Revolution was conducted under the French enlightenment philosophy that said you can be perfectly moral without religion. You don’t need religion to be moral. And yet under the French enlightenment definition of morality, they had one of the biggest bloodbaths that has ever occurred in the history of the world. He look at that revolution – so completely different from the American Revolution – at all the innocent life that was lost, at all the blood that was shed, and he said, “Don’t ever let that view of morality come to America.” He said, “Don’t ever think that we can be moral apart from religious principles.” He warned, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” He said, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds” – whatever you think schools can do, whatever you think they can teach – “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Washington very clearly says you cannot be moral without religious principle. But somehow we rejected his view, the Father of the Country. And in 1962 the Supreme Court said, “No, we don’t need religion in the school. We’ll be much better without it.” And out goes prayer. 1963, out goes the Bible. 1980, even the Ten Commandments go out because the Court said that is religious principle, we shouldn’t have that in school. And yet what has it done to morality?
Well, since 1962, since we’ve stopped teaching morality based on religious principles, teenage pregnancies have increased 553 percent for girls 10 through 14 years old. The United States is now number one in the entire Western World in teenage pregnancy. Premarital sexual activity for 15-year-old girls has gone up 1000 percent in the last three decades.
Washington was right: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that we can have national morality and exclusion of religious principle.” We have proved what he said right. And isn’t it ironic that today Washington’s view is really an “unconstitutional” view, that the Court will not even embrace the view that the Father of the Country gave us concerning religious principles and public affairs?
Ankerberg: Well, next you say, “Well, maybe George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were super-spiritual and they were the only ones that wanted to make God and Christian principles a part of the government. But there can’t be too many other Founding Fathers who believed like them! I mean, that’s what my university professor told me.” Well, how about John Quincy Adams. He was a Founding Father and also a President of the United States. What did he think? Listen.
Barton: Another Founding Father that had much to say about the importance of religious principles in public affairs was John Quincy Adams. Now, John Quincy Adams is a terrific Founding Father. He’s not only a Founding Father, he’s a President of the United States. He’s a Secretary of State. He was a foreign ambassador to three different nations. He was a U.S. Senator. He spent 18 years in the House of Representatives, etc.
When the Fourth of July celebration came up, everyone wanted to have an original Founding Father there. So he was asked to speak all over the nation at Fourth of July. One of his speeches was this one that he delivered on July 4, 1837. Now, this particular speech, this is late in his life. He’s very elderly. And this is called “An Oration delivered before the inhabitants of the town of Newberryport at their request on the 61st Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.”
He says, “Why is it that next to the birthday of the Savior of the world our most joyous and most venerated festival occurs on this day?” He says, “Why is it that in America the Fourth of July is celebrated second only to Christmas?” Here’s his answer. He says, “Is it not that in the chain of human events the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior that it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government on the first precepts of Christianity?”
And on he goes for 61 pages. He says the reason that the Fourth of July and Christmas are our top two holidays in America is because they’re intimately related. He said what we did at the Fourth of July was we took the precepts that Christ brought into the world at His birth and we simply put them into a form of government. We became the first Christian government in the history of the world. And he said that’s why they’re our top two holidays.
This is a Founding Father who was there throughout. He was one of the early Presidents himself and he was very emphatic about making sure that future generations knew that the basis of our government had been the principles of Christianity, that our Declaration of Independence was formed on it and that’s what was intended to be in our government.
Ankerberg: Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Well, John Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, they made a lot of speeches, but did they ever put their beliefs into law?” And the answer is, “Yes.” David Barton tells us about the Northwest Ordinance. This was a law our Founding Fathers passed mandating that religion and morality be taught in all public schools. Listen.
Barton: These are some of the writings of the Founding Fathers, some of their beliefs. But did they actually believe this strong enough to do something with it in public? Did they actually want these principles to be part of public policy? Were they willing to pass laws reflecting this? Well, for them religion was much more than a matter of personal belief; it was a matter of public policy. You see, when we concluded the American Revolution we governed ourselves under what were called the “Articles of Confederation.” They didn’t particularly work well, but we limped through the Revolution. Four years afterward our government was falling apart. So we convened a group of men to revise the Articles of Confederation. Now, that didn’t particularly work well, so they came out with a new document, which was the Constitution. That convention is now called the Constitutional Convention.
Now, by creating that new document, they created a dilemma for themselves, for all the laws that they had passed in the many years under the Articles of Confederation were now set aside. The Constitution, the new government, had abolished the previous. So what did they do with all these laws? Well, there were many laws that they liked that they wanted under the new government, so they took and re-passed them under the constitutional form of government.
Now, one law that’s of particular interest is the “Northwest Ordinance,” because that was the law that they had earlier passed to tell you how you could become a state in the United States. If you were a territory – the Ohio Territory, the Mississippi Territory, any other territory – here’s how you could become a state in the United States. It is very detailed, very specific, and very tedious, full of requirements. You get this many people in your territory, you set up your government, etc. But the Founding Fathers liked that law so well that they re-passed it so it would be pertinent under the U.S. Constitution. So the first House passed that law on the 17th of July, 1789. The first Senate re-passed that law on the 4th of August, 1789. And George Washington put his signature on that law, on the new Northwest Ordinance, on the 7th of August, 1789.
Now, that’s an important time to understand. The 17th of July through the 7th of August, 1789. That is in the middle of the time that those identical men framed the First Amendment, the First Amendment which the Court now says means separation of church and state. The First Amendment was framed from the 7th of June to the 25th of September, 1789 and right in the middle of working on the First Amendment the Founding Fathers passed the Northwest Ordinance.
So what’s the significance of that act? Article III of the Northwest Ordinance said that no new territory could become a state in the United States unless the schools in that territory were teaching religion and morality as well as knowledge. Now, here’s a law passed by the Founding Fathers that said, “We won’t let you in the United States unless your schools are teaching biblical principles. If you’re not teaching that, you can’t just teach knowledge and expect to get in here. We expect you to teach biblical principles in what you do.”
Now, this is a law that we see applied for decades after the Founding Fathers. This was not an obscure act. You see, every enabling act that was granted to states or territories to become states contains the provision that you can be admitted to the United States provided you can form a state constitution that is not repugnant to the principles of the Northwest Ordinance.
And if you look at state constitutions across the decades, you take Ohio from 1803, or Mississippi from 1817, or Michigan from 1837 or Kansas from 1858, Nebraska from 1875, plus many others, those state constitutions say, “Forever in the schools of this state religion and morality will be taught as well as knowledge.”
And why was it in their state constitutions? Because a federal law passed by the Founding Fathers said you cannot get into these United States if you’re not teaching religion and morality in your schools. That the Founding Fathers passed that law, how is it conceivable that those are the men who wanted to keep religious principles out? It’s not. They believed so much in biblical principles that they took acts through federal laws to insure that we would always have these principles in schools.

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