Aims of the Founding Fathers – On Religious Liberty


Signing the Constitution, September 17, 1787
Signing the Constitution, September 17, 1787

For the first time since human governments were established on earth, the founding fathers of the American Republic recognized in the fundamental law the inalienable rights of the individual, the freedom of the conscience in the domain of religion, and the independence of the state from the domain of the church.

Today, politically minded churches are sending serious messages to Washington, seeking legal recognition and support for their religious tenets and institutions.  They want their brand of religion to have a more firm footing in state and federal law.

But in the process, the true American principles of civil and religious liberty are being dismantled.  These great republican and Protestant ideas,1 conceived by the wise and noble men who gave us this matchless heritage of freedom as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution, are nearly forgotten.

Religious Liberty News is dedicated to educate and enlighten by frequently visiting these fundamental themes and principles, bringing them back into view of American citizens.  They are the only things that will hold in check and postpone the rising tide of the political church in America.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”2

Ideals of the Founding Fathers on Religious Liberty

2118425-george_washington_1795 George Washington, Father of His Country, set forth this: 

“Any man, conducting himself as a good citizen and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” – Reply to the United Baptist Churches of Virginia.

th42PO9BV5 Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote: 

“Almighty God hath created the mind to be free; all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in His almighty power to do.” – Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1785.

James_Madison_by_Chester_Harding_(detail),_1829-1830_-_DSC03224 James Madison, founder of the Federal Constitution, said: 

“Religion is not in the purview of human government.  Religion is essentially distinct from civil government, and exempt from its cognizance; a connection between them is injurious to both.” – Letter to Edward Everett, 1823.


Benfranklin-1- Benjamin Franklin, sage of the Continental Congress, expressed this as his conviction: 

“When religion is good, it will take care of itself; when it is not able to take care of itself, and God does not see fit to take care of it, so that it has to appeal to the civil power for support, it is evidence to my mind that its cause is a bad one.” – Letter to Dr. Price.

Imacon Color Scanner Patrick Henry, fiery orator of the Revolution, said: 

“That religion, or the duty we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, and not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, unless, under color of religion, any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or the safety of society; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.” – Tyler’s “Patrick Henry,” p. 183, 184.

931294161 The United States Constitution, adopted by the founding father, declares: 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment.

Treaty_of_Tripoli_as_communicated_to_Congress_1797 The treaty of peace with Tripoli, ratified by the United States Senate June 7, 1797, and binding on Congress, all courts, and legislatures, the same as the Constitution of the United States, says in part: 

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims]; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” – Article 11 of the Treaty.3

Old US Mail Bag The reply of the United States Senate to the first petition sent to Congress for a Sunday law, enunciated this sound statement of fundamental principle: 

“The proper object of government is to protect all persons in the enjoyment of their religious as well as civil rights, and not to determine for any whether they shall esteem one day above another, or esteem all days alike holy.” – U.S. Senate Report on Sunday Mails, January 19, 1829.4

1 “In matters of religion the majority has no power.”…”Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church.  In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles, ‘We must obey God rather than man.'”  J. H. Merle D’Aubigne′, D. D., History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Vol. IV, book 13, chapter 5, p. 55 & chapter 6 p. 60, 61,  1848 ed., N.Y.

2  This quote is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the abolitionist Wendell Phillips, Andrew Jackson in his 1837 Farewell Address, Abraham Lincoln, and used by numerous others in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It appears that the phrase was a simplified variant of a line from a 1790 speech by Irish orator John Philpot Curran:  “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”  This phrase was shortened to “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

3  Official records show that after President John Adams sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in May 1797, the entire treaty was read aloud on the Senate floor, and copies were printed for every Senator. A committee considered the treaty and recommended ratification. Twenty-three of the thirty-two sitting Senators were present for the June 7 vote which unanimously approved the ratification recommendation.

4  For approximately 20 years, from 1810 to 1830, there was an ongoing battle fought between the religious traditionalists (conservatives) and members of the government over the lack of Sabbath recognition.  Mails were transported and delivered on Sundays and Congress had passed an act requiring post offices to be open for at least an hour each Sunday for the pick up of mail by individuals, etc.

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