April 8, 2010

The Myth, part III

Thomas Jefferson received a great deal of coverage in Parts I and II, and for good reason. The gentleman from Virginia is the most published of our founders, and his influence on the formation of our constitutional republic was profound. There is just too much proof of Jefferson's resistance to any religious influence in our constitution to be denied.

It is for this reason the Texas State Board of Education wishes to omit Jefferson from Texas public school curriculum. Theocrats cannot weave the deception necessary to convince children that our country is a "Christian nation" so long as the truth about Jefferson stands in the way.

The assault on religious liberty is ever-present in this country, and began almost a century before the colonies split from King George. Jefferson's resistance, and Madison's as well, are documented fact. So what of the others? Where is truth to be found? In this missive I shall discuss one of them in depth; General George Washington.

We know that some religious sects fled persecution in the old world only to construct oppressive religious-based colonies in America. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by Puritans, Pennsylvania by Quakers, Maryland by Roman Catholics, while the southern states were somewhat Episcopalian. Some established severe laws indistinguishable from those they abhorred in their former homes.

As our founders debated the verbiage of our constitution, fundamentalists worked to influence the process and hoped to couch the language of the document in religious terms. Our founders, cognizant of the history of religious repression, consistently rejected this notion. The attempts to insert Christianity into our government existed in those times, and have never ceased. When George Washington died, the response from the religious crowd was immediate.

The legacy of our first President came under assault by Christians intent on claiming him as one of their own immediately upon his 1799 death. Proving Washington to be a religionist would have been a huge feather in their cap. This effort was based largely on the grounds that Washington had regularly attended services with his wife at an Episcopal Church, and had served as a vestryman in the church.

On August 13, 1835, a Christian activist by the name of “Colonel Mercer” wrote to Bishop William White, who had been one of the rectors at the church Washington had attended. In the letter, Mercer asked if "Washington was a communicant of the Protestant Episcopal Church, or whether he occasionally went to the communion only, or if ever he did so at all..."[i]

White replied two days later, that, “In regard to the subject of your inquiry, truth requires me to say that Gen. Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am the parochial minister. Mrs. Washington was an habitual communicant.... I have been written to by many on that point, and have been obliged to answer them as I now do you.”[ii]

In his Annals of the American Pulpit, The Rev. William B. Sprague wrote a biographical sketch of James Abercrombie, the other pastor of the church Washington attended. Sprague quoted Abercrombie as confirming White's reply to Mercer.

One incident in Dr. Abercrombie's experience is especially worthy of record; In an 1831 letter by Abercrombie written to a friend, he pens: "With respect to the inquiry you make I can only state the following facts; that, as pastor of the Episcopal church, observing that, on sacramental Sundays, Gen. Washington, immediately after the desk and pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation--always leaving Mrs. Washington with the other communicants--she invariably being one--I considered it my duty in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations who uniformly turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord's Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President; and as such he received it."[iii]

Abercrombie further explained that he had heard through a senator that Washington had discussed this reprimand with others, and had told them that "as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal, arising altogether from his elevated station.”[iv]

Abercrombie then said that Washington "never afterwards came on the morning of sacramental Sunday."[v] Reverend Abercrombie's stated pointedly, "Sir, Washington was a Deist."[vi]

Writing in the Episcopal Recorder, E.D. Neill refuted the Christian revisionists, stating that Washington "was not a communicant, notwithstanding all the pretty stories to the contrary, and after the close of the sermon on sacramental Sundays, [he] had fallen into the habit of retiring from the church while his wife remained and communed."[vii]

It is apparently true that Washington, for several years, served as a vestryman, as had his father before him. The vestry at that time was also the county court, so in order to have certain political powers, it was necessary for one to be a vestryman.

Thomas Jefferson was a vestryman for a while. This was no admission of faith. Bishop William Meade wrote in an 1857 letter, “Even Mr. Jefferson and [Mr.] Wythe, who did not conceal their disbelief in Christianity, took their parts in the duties of vestrymen, the one at Williamsburg, the other at Albermarle; for they wished to be men of influence.”[viii]

The Rev. Bird Wilson was only a few years removed from being a contemporary of our founding fathers. In a sermon to his flock, Wilson stated that "the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity."

Wilson continued by saying, “When the war was over and the victory over our enemies won, and the blessings and happiness of liberty and peace were secured, the Constitution was framed and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution.” (Emphasis mine).[ix]

Rev. Wilson, in an interview with a gentleman by the name of Owen, said "I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression in which he pledges him self as a believer in Christianity. I think anyone who will candidly do as I have done, will come to the conclusion that he was a Deist and nothing more."[x]

Finally, in 1987, Washington was profiled by historian Clinton Rossiter. Mr. Rossiter writes that, “The last and least skeptical of these rationalists [Washington] loaded his First Inaugural Address with appeals to the ‘Great Author,’ ‘Almighty Being,’ ‘invisible hand,’ and ‘benign parent of the human race,’ but apparently could not bring himself to speak the word ‘God’.”[xi]

Our second President, John Adams was a Unitarian who flatly denied the doctrine of eternal damnation. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, he wrote, "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"

In a letter to Samuel Miller on July 8, 1820, Adams expressed unbelief of Protestant Calvinism. "I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination."

In "A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], Adams wrote that "[T]he United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. 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.

Later in the same document, Adams says, "[T]hirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."[xii]

In Part IV we shall discuss those among our founders who were Christians, and their contributions to our Constitutional Republic.


[ii] IBID, p. 104
[iii] IBID, pp. 104-105
[iv] IBID, p. 105
[v] IBID, p. 105
[vi] IBID, p. 110
[vii] IBID, p. 107
[viii] Meade, W, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, 2 vols., Philadelphia, 1857, I, p. 191
[ix] Remsberg, p. 120
[x] IBID, pp. 121-122
[xi] Rossiter, C, 1787: The Grand Convention, WW. Norton & Co., 1987, p. 36
[xii] Sweeley, J.W., Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice: How America Lost Its Moral Authority, Blue Dolphin Publishing


Old Weird Libra said...

I admire your research. I had formed similar conclusions about the framers of the Constitution but until now I had not read these documents which so well reinforce their intentions.