Was America Founded on Christian Principles?/Program 6

By: David Barton; ©1992
Our Founding Fathers had prayer meetings, what happened in their prayer meeting and the events surrounding them The Congress itself faithfully recorded answers to prayer in the Congressional Record.



Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Today in many of our universities our students are taught that America was not founded as a Christian nation, that our Founding Fathers were not Christians, and that they didn’t want to establish our government on Christian principles. Well, in this series of programs we’ve already seen that’s a lie, and today we’re going to continue to provide the evidence that shows what our Founding Fathers really believed. We start by examining the first collective act of our Founding Fathers as can be established by investigating the Congressional Records. Our guest today is David Barton who’s an expert on the writings of the Founding Fathers and early American history. I’d like you to listen.
Barton: Dr. William James, called the “father of modern psychology,” said, “There’s nothing so absurd but that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” And that’s certainly happened today with America’s history. Today we’re told, “No, we’re not a Christian nation. The Founding Fathers didn’t want religious principles. They were all deists anyway. They didn’t want religious activities.” And we’ve been told that again and again and again.
In recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that the Founding Fathers would never have wanted students to be exposed to the acknowledgement of God. They would not want students exposed to prayer. Universities today not only teach students, they test them that not one single one of the Founding Fathers even believed in God.
Well, this is what we’re told, but is it accurate? It’s absolutely not accurate. It can be easily disproven, even by the records of the U.S. Supreme Court itself; for you see, we have the writings of the Founding Fathers and the official acts of the Founding Fathers as recorded in the records of Congress, the Congressional Records. And the very first action, the collective action of these Founding Fathers itself disproves the assertion that they were deists and that they did not want religious principles involved.
The first act collectively of the Founding Fathers occurred in 1774. At that time we were two years away from the Declaration. We were still loyal British subjects, loyal British citizens and British colonies, but we recognized that we might not be able to reconcile our differences with Great Britain. So the Founding Fathers said, “Why don’t we learn to govern ourselves?” They had never done that before. So in 1774 they convened the first Congress of the United States, the 1774 Provincial Congress. And that’s where the records of Congress start, with 1774.
Do you know what the first act was of these first Founding Fathers? The Founding Fathers that gave us our founding documents? Their first act in that first Congress? They opened with prayer. Oh, but it wasn’t a dinky little prayer that said “God bless this Congress” kind of prayer. According to the writings of those who participated in it, they opened with a three-hour prayer session in Congress. A three-hour prayer session to open Congress. Now, many of them wrote about it. One of them wrote and said, “Throughout the prayer time Washington and Henry were kneeling there. John Jay and Rutledge were kneeling there. Another one afterwards said, “After that three hours of prayer, even the stern old Quakers had tears running down their cheeks.”
Ankerberg: Now, because our Founding Fathers were such prolific writers, we know that they not only had a prayer meeting, but what happened in their prayer meeting and the events surrounding it. David Barton explains.
Barton: Well, perhaps there’s no better description of what went on in that prayer time than the letters between John and Abigail Adams. Now, those are fascinating letters. They’re worth reading. You can get them at a local library. You’ll never see letters written back and forth between two people that have as much Scripture as those letters have back between John and Abigail.
John told Abigail what had happened that morning, and in his writing to Abigail he said, “Just this morning we had heard that Great Britain had opened fire on Boston.” And that’s a great concern, because we were still British subjects. We did not have an army. We did not have a navy. We had no way to defend ourselves. And so they were greatly concerned.
John told Abigail, he said, “But our Psalm for this morning was Psalm 35. He said, “I beg you, read that Psalm.” He said, “God used Psalm 35 to put our hearts at rest. We know it’s going to be all right. We prayed Psalm 35 as a Congress this morning.” And Psalm 35 is an excellent prayer for these people, particularly feeling that they had an unprovoked attack coming at them.
Now, Congress read and prayed Psalm 35 over a three-hour period. Well, John continued a very faithful correspondence with Abigail, and in another letter that he gave to Abigail he told her, “Today, Congress did one of the wisest things it could possibly have done.” He said, “Today, we called for a national day of prayer and fasting.” And he told her, he said, “We’ve appointed a continental fast.” He said, “Millions will be upon their knees at once before their great Creator imploring His forgiveness and His blessings, His smiles on American council and arms. And he told Abigail, he said, “Abigail, can you imagine the impact of having millions of people upon their knees at once praying to God?”
Now, this is a very common act of our Founding Fathers. They called for national days of prayer and thanksgiving on a very regular basis. They were very specific in their prayer requests. They were very emphatically Christian in their prayer requests. They called the nation to prayer and fasting time after time after time. And they were so serious about it that when they called for a national day of prayer and fasting, businesses shut down so that they could dedicate the entire day to seriously fasting and praying for the nation. This was a time of serious prayer.
Ankerberg: Now, it’s surprising to some people to find out that our Founding Fathers spent serious time in prayer. But it’s shocking for some to discover that the Congress itself faithfully recorded answers to prayer in the Congressional Record. David Barton tells us about it.
Barton: But what’s also fascinating is the fact that Congress itself was a very faithful recorder of God answering prayers. You see, when God answered one of those days of prayer and fasting, Congress would then turn around, document the answers to the prayers, and would then proclaim a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. And in that day of prayer and thanksgiving they would list all the specifics how God had answered their prayers throughout.
After one of these days of thanksgiving John Adams again wrote Abigail and he said, “You know, we’ve had this day of prayer and fasting.” He said, “You wouldn’t believe what’s going on now.” And he gave her five examples of things that should not have happened.
Again, this was still before we had officially separated from Great Britain; we had no army; we had no navy of our own. We were just individual citizens starting to stand and rise and fight. Groups like the Minutemen. We didn’t have an organized militia yet. And yet John Adams said after that last day of prayer and fasting, he said, “Colonel Smith and a group of our militia” – now this is American farmers basically – “captured a British fort.” Now, Britain is the number one military power in the world and here one of our colonels with a handful of soldiers captures a British fort with the loss of no lives.
Then John went on to say, he said, “On another occasion,” he said, “One of our little galleys captured a 64-gun British man-of-war and captured a 20-gun British man-of-war. And we did not have our own navy. Our navy very literally amounted to a rowboat with a cannon on each end. I mean, we still have some of those ships left from the early years of the American Revolution. At best, we could mount two, four, six guns in a ship, and yet we captured a 64-gun British man-of-war? How can that be explained?
Well, this is the way John Adams explained it to Abigail in his letter. He told Abigail, he said, “It appears to me that the Eternal Son of God is operating powerfully against the British nation.” Now, this is what the Founding Fathers put in their own writings and they were very faithful in prayer throughout.
Now, the Founding Fathers, in all this time of prayer it’s inconceivable that people who called the nation to prayer, who have such a firm reliance of God, would want a policy that would prohibit students from having the opportunity to voluntarily pray? Now, our first official act of the Founding Fathers completely disproves any notion that they wanted to separate religious principles from public affairs.
Ankerberg: Now, almost all Americans have heard of Benedict Arnold. They all know that he tried to betray our country and committed treason. But what most Americans don’t know is that George Washington cited the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s plan as proof that God was protecting the nation and had directly intervened on our behalf. Listen.
Barton: The journals of Congress themselves indicate many records that the Founding Fathers had strongly Christian notions of what they wanted in the nation as seen in their days of prayer and thanksgiving and in their proclamations for prayer and fasting.
For example, just a matter of a few weeks before they signed the Declaration of Independence, their final plea for reconciliation with Great Britain had been rejected by King George III and so now they knew they must go to war. There’s no resolving the differences. So understanding that the nation would soon be at war, Congress met; they called for a national day of prayer and fasting, knowing that if we expected to have God’s blessings on the nation, we’d better make sure we were right with God before we went in.
And so look at this proclamation given on May 16, 1776, by our Founding Fathers. This is what they asked the nation to do. They said, “The Congress do earnestly recommend a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions and that we may by sincere repentance and amendment of life and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ obtain His pardon and forgiveness.”
Now, that’s not a bland declaration by the Founding Fathers. They said, “We need to get hold of Jesus and make sure that we have a changed life; make sure that we get His pardon and His forgiveness. We need His help before we go to war.” That’s what Congress called the nation to pray and do before we entered into the Declaration of Independence.
Now, some time after that we had several occasions where that Congress would document days of prayer and fasting. Perhaps one of the more infamous is that concerning the treason attempt of Benedict Arnold. For Benedict Arnold had been a great general in the American cause. He had won battles. He had been one of our great allies and yet he had opportunity that he betrayed his country. And so the plan that he had worked out with Major Andre of the British was a very well-conceived plan. It should never have been discovered, particularly the way that they found the plans inside of Major Andre’s boots.
Well, when Washington found out about the treason attempt, how it had been discovered, he interviewed the men that had been on duty. He said it was very clear that God had directly intervened. Even the men that had captured Major Andre said, “We didn’t intend to ask the questions that we asked, but we asked questions that caused him to have to respond in a way that we found out something was not right.” So they themselves felt like that what had happened was outside of their control, that God had intervened. And Washington documented that in a report back to Congress on the 26th of September, 1780. And he told Congress all about the treason attempt and how God had intervened. And he said, “Had not God intervened in this,” he said, “by now, West Point would have fallen into the hands of the British. America would have received a fatal stab. We’d be no more.” He said, “The indications of God’s hand in this are so clear that it again proves that the liberties of America are the object of His Divine love.”
Now, this was Washington’s official report back to Congress on the treason attempt. When Congress got that report, they responded and they called for a day of national prayer and thanksgiving and they detailed to the nation on October 18, 1780, all the specifics that God had done in intervening to discover that treason attempt. And so they called the nation to do two things. They said, “Number one, we want you to stop and thank God that again He’s intervened in our behalf, showing that we’re the object of His Divine love; and, two, we have a prayer request for you.” Now they said, “First off, we want to call a day of public thanksgiving and prayer so that all the people may assemble on that date to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor,” and they listed all the things that had happened, how God had discovered that plan, they felt. And then they said, “This is a second request we have.” They said, “We want to confess our unworthiness of the least of these His favors and we want to offer our supplications to the God of all grace so that we can cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.”
Now, that’s a prayer request given by the Founding Fathers in Congress. They said, “Number one, stop, pray, thank God for what He’s done in America; but while you’re at it, pray and pray that the knowledge of Christianity will cover the face of the earth.” These are official proclamations that exist in the Congressional Records. These are official acts of the U.S. Government. It is very clear that our Founding Fathers intended Christian principles to be the center of this nation just by the prayers that they asked the people to pray.
Ankerberg: Additional proof that America was founded as a Christian nation is the Declaration of Independence. Our own Supreme Court in 1892 used this as one of its historical examples to prove that America was a Christian nation. David Barton explains.
Barton: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Well, to this point we have seen that, yes, it was. We’ve looked at the Supreme Court’s own records, the history that the Supreme Court used, which was government documents, to show that emphatically we are a Christian nation. But perhaps no other time of America’s history did it become so clear as in the events surrounding the Declaration of Independence. For with the Declaration of Independence you had men that did something very remarkable. They indeed pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor; and if you know their history, for most of them, that’s exactly what it cost.
Now, what would drive people like that to make such a commitment that they lost their lives, their families, so much of their fortunes? Why in the world would they do that? Certainly there had to be a driving motivation, and there was. And they explained it in the first line of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Declaration. It says, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Now there, in that one sentence, you have their complete reason for why they had to separate from Great Britain. You say, “What is that? I didn’t hear it.” It was eight words: “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” You say, “Well, that doesn’t say much. Well, that is one of the four times the Declaration does acknowledge God, but that doesn’t explain their motivation.” It does if you know their law books. That eight-word phrase was a buzz word phrase in their time. That eight-word phrase was taken out of the most famous law book that was ever used in America. It was taken out of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law. Blackstone’s Commentaries is what most of the Founding Fathers were trained [in] for law. They used that as the basis for law. They cited it. Blackstone was one of the three men quoted most often by the Founding Fathers.
Now, Blackstone, ten years before the Declaration of Independence, talked about those eight words and exactly what they meant. So when the Founding Fathers took those eight legal words and put it in the Declaration of Independence, they had explained why they were doing what they were doing.
Now, we’ve lost the meaning of those eight words today, but for us, maybe we’d understand it if we said it’s like the phrase “Secular Humanism.” I mean, that’s a two-word phrase that brings to our mind an agenda, an image, a plan. It’s much more than two words. It could be 200 years from now, if we survive, that those two words will mean nothing more than Secular Humanism, that we will have lost the meaning. Well, in order to recapture the eight words, the meaning of those eight words, let’s go back to that textbook.
Now, this is Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law from 1766 and in the very first chapter he defines exactly what is meant by “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” Now, notice there are two phrases there: “the laws of nature” and “nature’s God.” This is his definition of “the laws of nature” and “the laws of nature’s God.” He says, “As man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. These laws laid down by God are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil to which the Creator Himself conforms in all dispensations.” He says, “This law of nature” – now, again, he’s defined “the law of nature” as the law which is laid down by God; it’s the law and the will of God – he says, “This law of nature, being co-equal with mankind and dictated by God Himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other law. It’s binding over all the globe in all countries at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this.”
Now, that’s the first four words. “The law of nature” is the law of God. That is God’s will, what God wants. But then, what about “the laws of nature’s God”? Well, he defines that here. He says, “God has revealed His law in two ways: 1) through what He has made,…” which is why the Founding Fathers never allowed a civil law to be passed that violated the laws of nature. You see, in many arenas we argue today over sodomy, over abortion, and anything else. The Founding Fathers had laws that prohibited that, not on religious grounds, but on the laws of nature. For you see, there is no species in nature that kills its young while still in the womb, so abortion is a violation of the law of nature. The same is true with sodomy. In their law books they describe violations of the laws of nature. That in itself was sufficient to say that it’s a bad law if it violates any law of nature.
But they went on past that. They said there’s another set of laws, not just what God has put in nature. He said, “But there’s also the revealed or the divine law.” He said, “These doctrines are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures,” and he said, “On these two foundations,” – the law of nature and the law of revelation, that is, the laws of nature’s God, the laws of the God who made nature – he said, “on these two foundations depend all human laws.” That is to say, no human laws can be allowed to contradict these.
Now, right out of the legal textbook, the eight words that we have in the Declaration of Independence were well defined. You see, the Founding Fathers said in the Declaration of Independence, “We cannot be part of a system that violates the laws of nature or the laws of nature’s God.” And the Founding Fathers had even drawn up a list of 27 what they considered to be violations of God’s laws by King George III. They delivered that to him and said, “You’re forcing us to violate God’s laws by your acts and your policies.” And that was part of their reconciliation attempt.
So for them the very first line of the Declaration indicates that this was founded on principles from God’s Word; that they were rebelling because they were being placed in a position of having to violate God’s laws and God’s principles and they were not going to be part of a system that violated God’s laws.
Ankerberg: Now, another bit of historical evidence that shows America was founded as a Christian nation can be documented in the writings of Samuel Adams who’s been called “The Father of the American Revolution.” Listen as David Barton tells us about his life.
Barton: There were many examples that showed what the Founding Fathers thought about the laws of nature and nature’s God, that they could not be part of a system that violated God’s Word. Now, perhaps one of the clearest indications comes from the writings of Samuel Adams. And Samuel Adams is called “The Father of the American Revolution.” If it went on, he was probably behind it. He was behind the Sons of Liberty. He was behind the Boston Tea Parties. Sam Adams was even behind the Committees of Correspondence. And the Committees of Correspondence, that became the backbone, the central nervous system of the America Revolution. That was the way whereby they transmitted their orders, their plans, their thoughts all across the 13 colonies, for we had no network that shared common information.
Well, the Committees of Correspondence had a threefold goal: number one, they were to tell America what her rights were; number two, they were to tell America how her rights had been violated; and number three, they were to share news flashes across the nation.
Now, Sam Adams who started the Committees of Correspondence, who was the driving force behind the Revolution, said, “I’m going to write about the first part.” He said, “I want to explain to America how our rights have been violated and what our rights are.” So in 1772 he came out with a writing called The Rights of Colonists. This is considered one of the top political writings of the American Revolution. It’s right up there with Common Sense, by Thomas Paine.
Now, this writing in 1772, here Sam Adams, the father of the Revolution, is trying to explain to America what our rights are and how they had been violated. And how did he do it? Look at what he said. He said, “The rights of the colonists as Christians, these may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.”
Now, here you’ve got Sam Adams telling America, “America, if you don’t understand what our rights are, if you don’t understand how they’ve been violated, get back in the New Testament and do a little bit of study. You need to find out what our rights are and they come from the New Testament.”
Now, here’s the father of the American Revolution in a political writing saying, “Get back and study the New Testament if you don’t understand what this is all about.” You see, and that is something that was seen throughout, this religious emphasis on understanding the laws of God.”
John Adams carried a book with him in his saddlebags. It was called A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants. It was written in 1689 by Junius Brutus and this book was an exposition of Romans 13. It says, “When is it right to resist a government? When is it wrong to resist a government?” And this exposition of Romans 13, done 200 years before John Adams, was the book to which he turned to know, “Have we crossed the line? Are we still within God’s parameters of civil disobedience?” Because one of the things they could point out was that most of the people in chapter 11 of Hebrews in the “faith hall of fame” were there for some point because of civil disobedience. So they knew that civil disobedience could be justified and they wanted to make sure that they didn’t cross that line.
Now, even in the acts we have of the American Revolution, some of the most famous paintings we have show the spirit that was behind it. There is a famous painting of Ethan Allan capturing Fort Ticonderoga. Now, this was in 1775 and this was still leading to the Declaration. In 1775 Ticonderoga, that’s an obscure fort out on the edge of nowhere. We didn’t really need Fort Ticonderoga. But for Ethan Allan and the Green Mountain Boys they thought, “If we can harass the British out on the outposts, perhaps they’ll divide their main body of troops and they’ll go out there and send reinforcements and we can weaken the main body.”
So Ethan Allan surrounded Fort Ticonderoga at night, he and the Green Mountain Boys, and he walked up to the British Commandant’s door in the middle of the night and he banged on the door of the British Commandant. The British Commandant came to the door and Ethan Allan said, “I order you to surrender your fort!” And the commandant backed up and looked at him and said, “By whose authority do you order me to surrender my fort?”
And Ethan Allan raised his hand in the air – and this is the painting of Ethan Allan – he raised his hand in the air and he said, “By whose authority?” He said, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” And that evidently was sufficient for the British commander. He promptly handed the force over. He didn’t even fire one shot. Gave the fort to him on the spot. But it was that statement, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress” that inspired that painting. And that is true of so many paintings of the American Revolution.
Ankerberg: I asked David Barton to summarize all that we’ve heard in this program. Listen.
Barton: So much of the artwork we have today was inspired by the Christian spirit of the American Revolution. Even the official letters that were transacted during the Revolution show the same thing. You see, Great Britain had a difficult time understanding that there was a spiritual motivation to this Revolution. And so one of the British Crown appointed governors that was here in America tried to write back to Great Britain and said, “You don’t understand this. You won’t stop these men by simply putting blockades and economic barriers. There’s more to it than this.” And this letter from this British governor to the Crown, he told them this. He said, “If you ask an American, ‘Who is your master?’ he’ll tell you he has none and he’ll tell you he has no governor but Jesus Christ.” And that’s the letter written by the British governor trying to help the British ministry understand that there’s a spiritual motivation to what’s going on here.
You see, it was that letter, plus it was sermons by people like Peter Powers, plus it was the writings of Samuel Adams that led to the motto of the American Revolution. Most of us didn’t know the American Revolution had a motto but it did. Most wars do have a motto, whether it’s World War II, Pearl Harbor, or the war for Texas’ independence – “Remember the Alamo.” There’s always a motto that goes with it.
This motto was officially distributed by the Committees of Correspondence by Sam Adams and it specifically dealt with King George III, for they felt that King George III was the one forcing them to violate God’s laws. Do you know what the motto of the American Revolution was in the official records? It said very simply, “No king but King Jesus.” That was the motto of the American Revolution distributed by the Founding Fathers themselves.
You see, it is that type of a spirit that helps us understand eight words in the Declaration of Independence: “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” For them, the Declaration of Independence was a very spiritual document. It was built on God’s principles, on the Word of God. They were not going to have a system that violated the basic precepts of God’s Word.


Leave a Comment