And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever:
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII: Manners, 1781
Thomas Jefferson, who some have portrayed as a Christian, some as an atheist, some as a Deist, made clear his concern in his report on the Sate of Virginia in 1781 in response to queries from the French legation to the Continental Congress seeking information on the various states of the United States. Whatever Jefferson’s personal religious beliefs, he made plain in this writing his concern that “God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Jefferson was concerned about the effects of slavery. He wrote, “There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.” Jefferson acknowledged that slavery was divisive in America, even before the founding of the constitutional republic we know as the United States of America. In his final comments on the manners of a nation, he confessed this, “The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation....” Yet, slavery prevailed.
Long before Jefferson wrote those words, a group of weary travelers, at sea for ten weeks and landing nowhere near their destination, signed what became known as the Mayflower Compact, which stated, “IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God....” This was the first invocation of God, or a Supreme Being, in a founding document, signed November 11, 1620, aboard the ship, the Mayflower.
That the God of the Bible was in the minds of America’s founders is indisputable. They mentioned Him a multitude of times in the Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them....” Again, His presence was referred to in the expression of the founders’ discussion of the relationship between man and God, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights....” They believed that man’s rights were given by God long before organized government existed.
The Declaration of Independence reads much like a prayer as the founders plead for God’s face to smile upon them, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions....” They were asking God to bless their actions as noble actions. And, finally, our founders prayed for protection in this venture of throwing off the oppression of King George, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Whether each and every one of the fifty-six patriots who signed the Declaration was a Christian, agnostic, Deist, or atheist can be argued. However, they put their signatures to each and every word contained in the document and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to one another, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
Benjamin Franklin, a signatory to both the Declaration and the Constitution, once stated in a letter prior to the adoption of the Constitution, “Let me add, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Another signer of the Declaration, Samuel Adams, echoed Franklin’s views when he said, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.” John Adams, the first vice-president and second president of the United States, in a straightforward and blunt statement on the duty of the people of a nation, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”© Jim Terry
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