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Founding Fathers, Continental Congress, the Bible, Respect for God, & Religious Freedom


Founding Fathers, the Continental Congress, the Bible, Respect for God, and Religious Freedom


What view did our founding fathers hold of the relationship between government and the Bible, religion, respect for God, and religious freedom? Did they believe that a "wall of separation between church and state" should remove God and the Bible from education and government?

The Continental Congress served as the chief legislative body for the original American colonies throughout the Revolutionary War until the adoption of the Constitution. This spanned essentially from 1774 into 1789. If any group of men could be considered the "founding fathers" of our country, it would be this group. Many of them participated in writing the Constitution. If any men could ever have possessed a clear understanding of how the founding fathers viewed the Bible and respect for God, it would have been these men.

Consider the facts we here document about this Congress. When a person knows the truth about the views of the founding fathers of this country, who can seriously defend the view that they intended to write the Constitution in such a way as to remove the teachings of the Bible and the praise of God from all governmental and educational institutions?

On the contrary, they repeatedly included the Bible, God, prayer, worship, and religion in the schools and throughout the affairs of government. They clearly viewed it as one purpose of government to encourage and defend religious freedom, and one purpose of religion to promote morality and decency throughout the land, including the government.

"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan" - Prov. 29:2.

"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" - Prov. 14:34

"I exhort ... that supplications, prayers, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." - 1 Timothy 2:2

Congress' First Act: A Resolution to Pray

On September 6, 1774, the first act of the first session of the Continental Congress was to pass a resolution to open its next meeting with prayer. This prayer included reading Psalm 35 and the following words:

O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the kingdoms, empires, and governments; look down in mercy, we beseech thee, on these American States ... desiring to be henceforth dependent only on thee; to thee they have appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to thee do they now look up for that countenance and support which thou alone canst give; take them, therefore, heavenly Father, under thy nurturing care ... Be thou present, God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly ... that order, harmony, and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst thy people ... and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Saviour. Amen! (Journals of Congress, via Morris, pp 246,249f; Federer, pp 136,137; Barton, p92)

Congress Ordered Purchase and Printing of Bibles

On September 11, 1777, the following recommendation was approved by the Continental Congress

...the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great, ... the committee recommend that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the States of the Union. (via Morris, p252, and Federer, p146)

Again, on September 10, 1782, Congress approved the printing of Bibles in America by a man named Robert Aitkin. Congress passed the following resolution, which was printed on the front page of the Bible:

Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States, in Congress assembled, highly approve of the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interests of religion, ... they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper. (via Morris, p254f, Federer, p149, and Barton, pp 107,108; For a picture and further documentation see http://wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=46)

Interestingly, Aitkin's request, approved by Congress, specifically stated that the Bible would be "for the use of schools"!

Congress Expressly Promoted Religion

On October 12, 1778, Congress passed the following act in which it directly encouraged religion and morality:

Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness: Resolved, That it be, and it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several States to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof. (Journals of Congress, via Barton, p106)

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, of course, was written under the guidance of the Continental Congress, which formally adopted it on July 4, 1776, and signed it August 2, 1776. The Declaration directly appeals to God at least four times:

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 entitles them... 
 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... 
 
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... 
 
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.

Congress Appointed Days Of Prayer, Thanksgiving, and Repentance

In the approximately fifteen years of its existence, the Continental Congress approved at least fifteen proclamations calling on the states to appoint days of special worship or honor to God. Though they may seem repetitious, I have listed below all the ones I found simply to demonstrate how deeply involved the Congress was in emphasizing religion and respect for God.

By way of summary, these official congressional proclamations promote all the following:
* prayer to God
* thanksgiving to God
* worship and praise of God
* church meetings to honor God
* encouragement of morality and discouragement of immorality, profanity, etc.
* appreciation for the gospel
* requests for religious freedom
* requests for God's blessing on the spread of the gospel
* recognition of Christianity and forgiveness through Jesus Christ
* repentance and confession to God for sins
* appeals to God for forgiveness
* recognition of God as the Creator
* acknowledgement that God rules in the affairs of men
* requests for citizens to respect and obey God's will
* requests for God's blessings on churches and government officials
* requests for God's blessings and guidance on schools
* acknowledgement that schools should teach piety and religious values
* requests for God to provide and bless faithful preachers of the gospel
* requests that citizens may receive God's eternal reward

The following quotations are excerpts from official annals of the Continental Congress as recorded on pp 656-678 of Christian Life And Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, B. F. Morris. (Some are confirmed elsewhere as noted below.)

May 17, 1776 

... it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart and the most reverent devotion, publicly to acknowledge the overruling providence of God, to confess and deplore our offences against him...

 
The Congress, therefore, ... desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprises, on his aid and direction, do earnestly recommend that Friday, the 17th day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ obtain his pardon and forgiveness; ... and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism and of pure, undefiled religion may universally prevail ... And it is recommended to Christians of all denominations to assemble for public worship, and abstain from servile labor, on said day. (See also Federer, p141)

First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving - December 18, 1777

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God, to acknowledge with gratitude their obligations to him for benefits received, and to implore such further blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy ... to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence...: it is, therefore, recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor, and that together with their sincere acknowledgments of kind offerings they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously ..., to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue, and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace, and Joy in the Holy Ghost. (See also Federer, p147.)

 December 30, 1778

It having pleased Almighty God ... to bestow many great and manifold mercies on the people of these United States, and it being the indispensable duty of all men gratefully to acknowledge their obligations to him for benefits received:
 
 Resolved, That it be, and is hereby, recommended to the legislative or executive authority of each of the said States to appoint Wednesday, the 30th of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and praise, that all the people may, with united hearts, on that day, express a just sense of his unmerited favors ... 
 
And it is further recommended that together with devout thanksgivings may be joined a penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Saviour...

April 22, 1779

Whereas, ... it being at all times the duty of a people to acknowledge God in all his ways, and ... to acknowledge his righteous government, confess and forsake their evil ways, and implore his mercy;
 
 Resolved, That it be recommended to the United States of America to set apart Wednesday, the 22d day of April next, to be observed as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer; that at one time and with one voice the inhabitants may acknowledge the righteous dispensations of Divine Providence, and confess their iniquities and transgressions, for which the land mourneth; that they may implore the mercy and forgiveness of God, and beseech him that vice, profaneness, extortion, and every evil may be done away, and that we may be a reformed and a happy people; that they may unite in humble and earnest supplication ... that it may please him to bless our schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of true piety, virtue, and useful knowledge...

May, 1779

Whereas, ... too few have been sufficiently awakened to a sense of their guilt, or warmed with gratitude, or taught to amend their lives and turn from their sins, so he might turn from his wrath; and whereas, from a consciousness of what we have merited at his hands...
 
 Resolved, That it be recommended to the several States to appoint the first Thursday in May next to be a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer to Almighty God that ... he will grant us his grace to repent of our sins and amend our lives according to his holy word; ... that he will diffuse useful knowledge, extend true religion, and give us that peace of mind which the world cannot give ...

December 9, 1779

Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our forefathers to this Western world, for his protection to them and to their posterity amidst difficulties and dangers, ... and, above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory; therefore,
 
 Resolved, That it be recommended to the several States to appoint Thursday, the 9th of December next, to be a day of public and solemn thanksgiving to Almighty God for his mercies, and of prayer for the continuance of his favor and protection to these United States; ... that he would grant to his Church the plentiful effusions of Divine grace, and pour out his Holy Spirit on all ministers of the gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; ... that he would in mercy look down upon us, pardon our sins, and receive us into his favor; and, finally, that he would establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty, and safety.

April 26, 1780

A PROCLAMATION FOR A FAST.

... it becomes us to endeavor, by humbling ourselves before [the righteous Governor of the world] and turning from every evil way, to avert his anger and obtain his favor and blessing; it is, therefore, recommended to the several States --
 
 That Wednesday, the twenty-sixth day of April next, be set apart and observed as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that we may with one heart and one voice implore the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth to remember mercy in his judgments; to make us sincerely penitent for our transgressions; ... to banish vice and irreligion from among us, and establish virtue and piety by his Divine grace...

 May 3, 1780

Proclamation.

At all times it is our duty to acknowledge the overruling providence of the Great Governor of the universe, and devoutly to implore his Divine favor and protection. ... we are peculiarly excited with true penitence of heart to prostrate ourselves before our great Creator, and fervently to supplicate his gracious interposition for our deliverance.
 
 The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, do earnestly recommend that Thursday, the third day of May next, may be observed as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by sincere repentance and amendment of life appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits of our blessed Saviour, obtain pardon and forgiveness; ... that it may please him to bless all schools and seminaries of learning, and to grant that truth, justice, and benevolence and pure and undefiled religion may universally prevail.

December 7, 1780

Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God, the Father of all mercies ... to bestow blessings on the people of these States, which call for their devout and thankful acknowledgments ... and, above all, in continuing to us the gospel of peace:

 

It is, therefore, recommended to the several States to set apart Thursday, the 7th day of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer; that all the people may assemble on that day to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor, to confess our unworthiness of the least of his favors, and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that it may please him to pardon our heinous transgressions and incline our hearts in the future to keep all his laws; ... to cherish all schools and seminaries of education, and to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth. (See also Federer, p148 and Barton, pp 106f)

December 13, 1781

PROCLAMATION 

Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God. the Father of mercies, remarkably to assist and support the United States of America ... it is the duty of all ranks to observe and thankfully to acknowledge the interpositions of his providence in their behalf ... 

It is therefore recommended to the several States to set apart the 13th day of December next, to be religiously observed as a day of thanksgiving and prayer; that all the people may assemble on that day, with grateful hearts, to celebrate the praises of our gracious Benefactor; to confess our manifold sins, to offer up our most fervent supplications to the God of all grace that it may please him to pardon our offences, and incline our hearts in the future to keep all his laws; ... to bless all seminaries of learning, and cause the knowledge of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

April, 1782

Proclamation

The goodness of the Supreme Being to all his rational creatures demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; his absolute government of this world dictates that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate his favor and implore his protection. ...
 
The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, taking into consideration ... our multiplied transgressions of the holy laws of our God, and his past acts of kindness and goodness towards us, which we ought to record with the liveliest gratitude, think it their indispensable duty to call upon the several States to set apart the last Thursday in April next as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, that our joint supplications may then ascend to the throne of the Ruler of the universe, beseeching him to diffuse a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens, and make us a holy, that we may be a happy, people; ... and take under his guardianship all schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of virtue and piety; that he would incline the hearts of all men to peace, and fill them with universal charity and benevolence, and that the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.

November 28, 1782

It being the indispensable duty of all nations not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the Giver of all good, ... but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf; therefore the United States in Congress assembled ... do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of, Thursday, the 28th day of November next, as a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies; and they do further recommend to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by promoting, each in his station and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

 December, 1783

By the United States in Congress assembled.

A Proclamation.

Whereas ... the interposition of Divine Providence in our favor hath been most abundantly and most graciously manifested, and the citizens of these United States have every reason for praise and gratitude to the God of their salvation; impressed, therefore, with an exalted sense of the blessings with which we are surrounded and of entire dependence on that Almighty Being from whose goodness and bounty they are derived, the United States in Congress assembled do recommend it to the several States to set apart the second Thursday in December next as a day of public thanksgiving, that all the people may then assemble to celebrate, with grateful hearts and united voices, the praises of their supreme and all-bountiful Benefactor for his numberless favors and mercies; ... and, above all, that he hath been pleased to continue unto us the light of the blessed gospel, and secured to us in the fullest extent the rights of conscience in faith and worship; and while our hearts overflow with gratitude, and our lips set forth the praises of our great Creator, that we also offer up fervent supplications that it may please him to pardon all our offences ...; to smile upon our seminaries and means of education, to cause pure religion and virtue to flourish, to give peace to all nations, and to fill the world with his glory. (See also Barton, pp 109f)

October 19, 1787

By the United States of America in a Committee of the States assembled.

A Proclamation.

Whereas ... the citizens of the United States have the greatest reason to return their most hearty and sincere praises and thanksgiving to the God of their deliverance, whose name be praised. Deeply impressed, therefore, with a sense of his mercies manifested to these United States, and of the blessings which it hath pleased God to shower down on us, of our future dependence at all times on his power and mercy, as the only source from which so great benefits can be derived:--
 
We the United States of America, in the Committee of the States assembled, do earnestly recommend to the Supreme Executive of the several States to set apart Tuesday, the nineteenth day of October next, as a day of public prayer and thanksgiving, that all the people of the United States may then assemble in their respective churches and congregations, to celebrate with grateful hearts and joyful and united voices the mercies and praises of their all-bountiful Creator, most holy and most righteous, for his innumerable favors and mercies vouchsafed unto them ... and, above all, that he hath been pleased to continue to us the light of gospel truth, and secured to us in the fullest manner the rights of conscience in faith and worship. 
 
And while our hearts overflow with gratitude and our lips pronounce the praises of our great and merciful Creator, that we may also offer up our joint and fervent supplications that it may please him of his infinite goodness and mercy to pardon all our sins and offences; ... and to raise up from among our youth men eminent for virtue, learning, and piety, to his service in Church and State; to cause virtue and true religion to flourish; to give to all nations amity, peace, and concord, and to fill the world with his glory.

Primary sources:

America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, edited by William Federer, 1994; FAME Pub. Inc., 820 S. MacArthur Blvd., Suite 105-220, Coppell, TX 75019-4214.

Christian Life And Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris; Philadelphia, 1863; (2nd edition, 2007, American Vision, Powder Springs, GA 30127-5385)

Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, & Religion, David Barton, 1996; WallBuilder Press, PO Box 397, Aledo, TX, 76008.

Bible-Government blog - Bible-Government is a free Bible study newsletter about government involvement in religion, morality, and the family available by e-mail or blog.

Click here to listen to a free audio recording about duties of citizens to government


(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2012

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