The faith of our first 6 presidents

Since we celebrated Presidents’ Day recently, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the faith of the first six men who held that office.

Most of them were believers in Jesus and were not ashamed to say so. Several of these instances are not politically correct, but they are historically accurate.

In 1779, ten years before he became the first president under the Constitution, George Washington was asked by Delaware Indian chiefs for advice on the education of three of their sons.

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Washington told them, “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.”

John Adams, our second president, said in his Inaugural Address in 1797 that he considered “a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service.”

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, was a churchgoing man whenever it was available to him, generally in the Episcopal tradition. As a young man, before he entertained some private doubts of core Christian doctrines, he helped found an evangelical church. This was in 1777, a year after he wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

That church was the Calvinistical Reformed Church of Charlottesville, and Jefferson wrote up its bylaws and donated more money than any other parishioner. He said in the charter for this church that they started it because they were “desirous of … the benefits of Gospel knowledge.”

They called Rev. Charles Clay as the minister. He was an ordained Anglican minister who was also an evangelical. A book I co-wrote with Mark Beliles on Jefferson’s faith or lack thereof contains two of Rev. Clay’s sermons. To our knowledge, this is the first time any of Clays’ works have been in print. They are straightforward Gospel preaching.

Clay preached things such as, “Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are the means of the sinner’s reconciliation with God.” And Jefferson supported Rev. Clay’s ministry for years.

James Madison, a key architect of the Constitution, served on the committee to appoint chaplains to the legislature. (The first non-Christian chaplain appointed was not until the 1860s, long after Madison’s death.)

Writing in his Memorial and Remonstrances in 1785, Madison, (later, our fourth president) described Christianity as “the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin.” Madison stressed not denying “an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.”

Madison believed in the separation of the institution of the church from the institution of the state, but he certainly didn’t believe in separating God and government.

Madison once wrote of the correlation between morality and Christian conviction: “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good is so essential to the moral order of the World and to the happiness of man.”

Our fifth president, James Monroe, was the last of the Founding Fathers to serve as president. Monroe professed to believe in Christian doctrine, although he is perhaps best-known for the eponymous Doctrine, which essentially states that the European nations should not interfere with those of the Western hemisphere and vice versa.

In his First Inaugural Address, in 1817, Monroe stated that he was taking office with “my fervent prayers to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to continue to us that protection which He has already so conspicuously displayed in our favor.”

Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was the son of our second president. He was the only president who went on to a political career in Congress after he served in the White House.

Why? Adams was so dead set against slavery, which was inconsistent with the founding principles of the United States, that he sought to remove this evil. John Quincy Adams was nicknamed “The Hell-Hound of Slavery.”

While serving in Congress, he sat next to a young man from Illinois, and some argue he was able to influence that man to help end this evil. That man was Abraham Lincoln.

John Quincy Adams had a great motto, “Duty is ours. Results are God’s.”

He once observed, according to author John Wingate Thorton, in his 1860 book, “The Pulpit of the American Revolution,” “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

And we could go on and on.

In our highly secular age, we have been largely cut off from our Judeo-Christian roots. It’s time for America to rediscover the indispensable role the Bible played in our nation’s founding.

Hat tip to Bill Federer and “America’s God and Country” for research help with this column.


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