America’s Exceptionalism: Our Founding Fathers
I want to talk about several of the Founders so that we will get a very good picture of their beliefs and principles and where they got them. I won’t discuss every one of them as there are approximately 250, but the major number of the well known as well as some that are not so well known. I want to show a pattern to their philosophy of life.
John Langdon was a U.S. Senator, Governor of New Hampshire, merchant, soldier, a sixth generation American and a signer of the Constitution of the United States. He put up his considerable wealth to underwrite the Revolutionary War by supplying guns and money to the Continental Army. As Governor Of New Hampshire he called for a Proclamation for a General Thanksgiving on October 21, 1785 and then a Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer for February 21, 1786. In that proclamation he beseeched the “Supreme Ruler of the Universe” that unanimity, peace and harmony, may be promoted and continue, and a spirit of universal philanthropy pervade the land: that He would be pleased to smile upon the means of education, and bless every institution of useful knowledge; and above all, that he would rain down righteousness upon the earth, revive religion, and spread abroad the knowledge of the true God, the Savior of man, throughout the world.1
John Langdon was one of the founders of and the first President of the New Hampshire Bible Society whose goal was to place a Bible in every home in New Hampsire.2
There seemed to be no hesitation by the Founders to comingle their Christian faith with their politics. If this was tried today in any state of the union there would be lawsuits filed by multiple organizations claiming the ‘establishment clause’.
Richard Henry Lee was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, a delegate to the First Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and on November 1, 1777, as recorded in the Journals of Congress, Lee along with Samuel Adams and General Daniel Roberdeau, recommended a resolution setting apart a day for thanksgiving to their Divine Benefactor:
Thursday, the 18th of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere acknowledgements and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive to blot them out of remembrance.3
William Livingston was a signer of the Constitution of the United States. He was a member of the first and second Continental Congresses and served as the first Governor of New Jersey, and was re-elected for 14 years. He held the rank of Brigadier General in the General militia. He grew up in New York and was a published author. In 1768 he stated:
The land we possess is a gift from heaven to our fathers, and Divine Providence seems to have decreed it to our latest posterity.4
General Livingston presented to Congress on March 16, 1776 this resolution which passed without dissent:
We earnestly recommend that Friday, the 17th day of May next, be observed by the colonies as s day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life appease God’s righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ obtain His pardon and forgiveness.5
James Madison is best known as the “Chief Architect of the Constitution”, was the 4th President of the United States. He was the second most active speaker at the Constitutional Convention speaking 161 times. His records of the debates at that convention are the most accurate of any taken. It was his move that was seconded by Roger Sherman, to enact the request that had been made by Benjamin Franklin for prayer for the assembly.6
Madison was the author of 29 of the 85 Federalist Papers. He was a member of the first Unites States Congress introducing the Bill of Rights. Under President Thomas Jefferson he was appointed U.S. Secretary of State where he assembled the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. He was a lawyer and a member of the House of Delegates. He helped write the Constitution of Virginia as a Virginia legislator. He attended Princeton University setting under John Witherspoon one of America’s premier theologians and legal scholars.
In 1778 he commented on what he believed to be what America was about:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for Self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to The Ten Commandments of God.7
The subject of free speech, which was held dear to the Founders, is addressed by Madison with a comment that invalidates the recent Supreme Court decision concerning unfounded and uncalled for and most disrespectful protests by the Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals. He felt that religious liberties were very important yet there was a limit to that speech:
Religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by forces or violence; and, therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by magistrate, unless under the color of religion any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or safety of society, and that is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other.8 (Emphasis added)
John Marshall was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, served as U.S. Minister to France, served as captain with General Washington at Valley Forge in 1777-78, was a U.S. Congressman, Secretary for State and served 34 years as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It was at his funeral in 1835 that the Liberty Bell cracked.
Marshall was a devout Christian who practiced his faith daily and would defend Christianity in a way that did not allow argument. The following was recorded in the Winchester Republican concerning an incident where Marshall defended his Christian faith:
The shafts of his ancient gig [carriage] were broken and “held together by switches formed from the bark of a hickory sapling”; he was negligently dressed, his knee buckles loosened. In the tavern a discussion arose among some young men concerning “the merits of the Christian religion.” The debate grew warm and lasted “from six o’clock until eleven.” No one knew Marshall, who sat quietly listening.
Finally one of the youthful combatants turned to him and said: Well. My old gentleman, what think you of these things?”
Marshall responded with a “most eloquent and unanswerable appeal.” He talked for an hour, answering “every argument urged against” the teachings of Jesus. “In the whole lecture, there was so much simplicity and energy, pathos and sublimity, that not another word was uttered.”
The listeners wondered who the old man could be. Some though him a preacher; and great was their surprise when they learned afterwards that he was Chief Justice of the United States.9
Marshall was also vice-president of the American Bible Society10 and officer in the American Sunday School Union.11
James McHenry was a state legislator, soldier in the Revolutionary War and served on the medical staff under General Washington. He was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Constitution of the United States. Fort McHenry, where, during the war of 1812 Francis Scott Key witnessing the battle wrote the Star Spangled Banner, was named after him.
As with many other Founders he was a member of the first Bible society in Baltimore and wrote a letter to solicit funds for the society stating in part:
Neither, in considering this subject, let it be overlooked, that public utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures.
The doctrines they preach, the obligations they impose, the punishment they threaten, and rewards they promise, the stamp of divinity they bear, which produces a conviction of their truths, can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability and usefulness.
In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses, and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience.12
Gouverneur Morris was the originator of the phrase ‘We the people of the United States” and only 35 when he served as a member of the Continental Congress where he spoke 173 times, which was more than any other speakers. He was a graduate of Kings College [Columbia University], a merchant, a pioneer promoter of the Eire Canal, and lawyer. He was the first Minister to France, helped write the New York Constitution and wrote the final draft of the Constitution of the United States. He also believed that Christianity was valuable in that it produced good men and women for a productive society. He stated:
Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education [schools] should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man toward God.13 He believed that any one person or nation that rejected Christian teachings was headed towards destruction because of a refusal to follow God’s principles: The most important of all lessons [from Scriptures] is the denunciation of ruin to every state that rejects the precepts of religion.14 For Avoiding the extremes of despotism or anarchy . . . the only ground of hope must be on the morals of the people.15
From these examples we see that virtually all of the Founders believed in a foundation in early life of Christianity and that it is a vital aspect to a productive and happy life.
- John Langdon, February 21, 1786, as President (Governor) of the State of New Hampshire, issued A Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers, (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), pp. 163-165.
- John Langdon, John Langdon of New Hampshire, p. 285. Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers, (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987), p. 167.
- Richard Henry Lee, Journals of Congress, III, pp. 467-468. Stephen Abbott Northrop, D.D., A Cloud of Witnesses, (Portland, Oregon: American Heritage Ministries, 1987; Mantel Ministries, 228 Ridge, Bulverde, TX), pp. 279-280.
- William Livingston, 1768. The World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Field Enterprises, Inc., 18 Vols., 1957; W.F. Quarrie and Company, 8 vols., 1917; World Book, Inc., 22 vols., 1989).
- William Livingston, March 16, 1776, in a resolution passed in the Continental Congress declaring May 17, 1776, as a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, presented by General William Livingston, Journal of Congress, Vol. II, p. 93.
- James Madison. Irving Brant, James Madison – Father of the Constitution, 1787-1800 (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1950), Vol. III, p. 84.
- James Madison. 1778, attributed. Frederick Nymyer, Progressive Calvinism, (January, 1958), Vol. 4, p. 31.
- James Madison. Gaillard Hunt, James Madison and Religious Liberty, (Washington: American Historical Association, Government Printing Office. 1902), p. 166.
- John Marshall. Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1919, 1947), Vol. IV, pp. 70-71.
- An Abstract of the American Bible Society (New York: Daniel Fanshaw, 1830), p. 2.
- Reverend Gailbreth Hall Todd, The Torch and the Flag (Philadelphia: American Sunday School Union, 1966), p. 19.
- James McHenry. Bernard Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society in Maryland (Maryland: Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.
- Gouverneur Morris, Jared Sparks, The Life of Gouverneur Morris (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1832), Vol. III, p. 483, from his “Note on the Form of a Constitution for France.”
- Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1824 (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821), p. 34, from “An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris on September 4, 1816.
- Gouverneur Morris, A Diary of the French Revolution (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1939), Vol. II, p. 172, April 29, 1791.