Last updated on: 9/9/2011 | Author:

Founding Fathers on Religion in Government

[Note: Statements that are classified as “pro” or “con” do not necessarily mean that the person quoted is wholly “pro” or “con” “religion in government,” only that the Founding Father quoted made statements that could be classified as “pro” or “con.” Read about the Founding Fathers]

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Vincent Phillip Muñoz, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, wrote in his paper “Religious Liberty and the American Founding” published in the Spring/Summer 2003 issue of Intercollegiate Review:

“Although the founders agreed on the legitimate ends of government, they disagreed about the means the state could use to secure those ends. Specifically, the founders disagreed on whether the government legitimately could employ religion as a means to secure republican liberty.

Two general positions existed. On one side stood the libertarians, who emphasized the need to limit government in order to protect civil and religious liberty. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson most clearly represent this position. On the other side were those of a more conservative disposition, who believed religion supported the good order of society and thus that government should endorse and encourage religion. George Washington most clearly represents this position.”

Spring/Summer 2003 Vincent Muñoz, PhD


Charles L. Cohen, PhD, Director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions wrote in a July 18, 2006 e-mail to that:

“The Framers did consider religion an important source of social morality – but they also knew that religious broils could destabilize governments, and, more than almost anything else, many of them feared denominational conflict.”

July 18, 2006 Charles Cohen, PhD


Founding Father PRO Religion in Government CON Religion in Government
John Adams
Second President of the US
“We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”  

1798, Address to the militia of Massachusetts

“The experiment is made, and has completely succeeded: it can no longer be called in question, whether authority in magistrates, and obedience of citizens, can be grounded on reason, morality, and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests, or the knavery of politicians.”

1788, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America”

[Editor’s Note: We assume “the experiment” refers to the experiment of creating a new nation called the United States of America.]

“Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.”  

June 12, 1812, Letter to Benjamin Rush

“Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”

1788, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America”
Benjamin Franklin
Constitutional Convention Delegate and signer of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence
“I have lived, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”  

July 28, 1787, Address at the Constitutional Convention
“When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power [government], it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”  

Oct. 9, 1780, Letter to Richard Price


Alexander Hamilton
First US Secretary of the Treasury
“In my opinion, the present constitution is the standard to which we are to cling…. Let an association be formed to be denominated ‘The Christian Constitutional Society,’ its object to be first: The support of the Christian religion. Second: The support of the United States.”  

Apr. 16-21, 1802, Letter to James Bayard


[Note: No “con” statement could be found.]
Patrick Henry
Member of the First Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia
“The great pillars of all government…[are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”  

Jan. 8, 1799, Letter to Archibald Blair


[Note: No “con” statement could be found.]
John Jay
First Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court
“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.”  

Feb. 28, 1797, Letter to clergyman Jedidiah Morse


[Note: No “con” statement could be found.]
Thomas Jefferson
Third President of the United States
[Note: No “pro” statement could be found.] “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”  

Jan. 1, 1802, Letter to the Connecticut Danbury Baptist Association


James Madison
Fourth President of the United States
[Note: No “pro” statement could be found.] “[T]here remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government & Religion neither can be duly supported… the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against.  

Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance… [R]eligion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together…

We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without then with the aid of Govt.”

July 10, 1822, Letter to Edward Livingston

“What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical [of or relating to a church] establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”

June 20, 1787, “Memorial and Remonstrance” to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia


George Mason
Delegate to the Constitutional Convention, called the “father” of the US Bill of Rights
“The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth.”  

Robin v. Hardaway,
General Court of Virginia


[Note: No “con” statement could be found.]
Thomas Paine
Writer, Revolutionary leader
“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend, He reigns above.”  

1776, Common Sense
“And here without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and christians, ye many always fully and uninteruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.”  

1776, Common Sense


George Washington
First US President, Commander of Revolutionary Army
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Man and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity…  

Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?”

Sep. 19, 1796, “Farewell Address,” Philadelphia’s American Daily Advisor

“[W]hile just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support.”

Oct. 1789, Letter to the Synod of the Reformed Dutch Church of North America


“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”  

Oct. 20, 1792, Letter to Edward Newenham