July 7, 2001
THE FAITH OF OUR FATHERS
I spent the Fourth of July reading two books
that make it clear that the American Revolution was not inevitable.
''Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation'' by Joseph Ellis
reports how fiercely contested many issues were between the giants of
that time: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton and
However, the book which is downright
inspirational is ''America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of
Quotations'' by William Federer. (Order from Amazon.com) It revealed the
faith of our fathers which was a driving energy for most of them.
Washington's faith grew on the battlefield. In
a 1755 French & Indian battle, every officer but Washington was shot
down. Two of his horses were shot beneath him and bullets punched four
holes through his coat. He wrote his brother, ''By the all-powerful
dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human
probability or expectation.''
Fifteen years later he met an aged Indian
chief who recalled the battle vividly: ''A power mightier far than we
shielded you ... Washington was never born to be killed by a bullet. I
had 17 fair fires at him with my rifle and after all could not bring him
to the ground...
''Seeing you were under the special
guardianship of the Great Spirit, we immediately ceased to fire at you.
I am old and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my
fathers...but ere I go there is something bids me to speak in the voice
''Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man (pointing at
Washington), and guides his destinies. He will become the chief of
nations and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a
That was in 1770, years before the American
Washington's little army lost a number of
battles against the world's mightiest military power and barely escaped
extinction several times. He wrote: ''The hand of Providence has been so
conspicuous in all this (the war) that he must be worse than an infidel
that lacks faith.''
John Adams, the firebrand who led the battle
in the Continental Congress to break with England, asked Jefferson to
write the Declaration of Independence and argued for it July 1, 1776:
''Before God, I believe the hour has come. My judgement approves this
measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I
am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon
it. I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am
for the Declaration.''
As President in 1798, he addressed the
military: ''We have no government armed with power capable of
controlling human passions, unbridled by morality and religion...Our
Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly
inadequate to the government of any other.''
Thomas Jefferson was furious that he and other
Virginians had to pay taxes to support Anglican clergy before the
Revolution, and that competing Baptist and Quaker preachers were
He wrote the Statutes for Religious Freedom in
Virginia, which begins, ''Well aware that Almighty God hath created the
mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or
burdens...tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness...that to
compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of
opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical...''
Therefore, ''no man shall be compelled to
frequent or support any religious worship...''
In his Autobiography Jefferson says his fight
to enact the law was ''the severest contest in which I have ever been
engaged.'' Indeed, it was not passed for years. Jefferson considered it
one of his three greatest achievements, more important than being
It was the precursor of the First Amendment
guaranteeing religious freedom.
Jefferson was not a Christian, but a Deist who
considered Jesus's teachings to be ''the most sublime and benevolent
code of morals which has ever been offered to man.'' But he edited his
own New Testament, cutting out all references to the virgin birth,
miracles and the Resurrection.
Ironically, religion in America flourishes
because of Thomas Jefferson, while Christianity languishes in Europe.
Why? By abolishing the state church, and creating what he called ''a
wall of separation between Church and State,'' American clergy have had
to compete with one another.
In England, where Anglican bishops sit in the
House of Lords, Gallup polls report less than 10 percent attend services
weekly; while 43 percent go to church or synagogue weekly in America.
Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.