My junior year of college, I decided to take a class called “History of Religion in America Pre-Civil War”. It’s a mouthful, I know; but it was fascinating! We got to learn about Native American religions and the Church of England and Catholicism and German religions and everything the French and Spanish brought over and we also got to learn about Puritanism amongst many other things.
My favorite part of this class; however, was not any of the lecture material. It was one of the papers we had to write. The paper tackled the question of whether or not America was founded and intended as a Christian nation. Growing up in the church and in a Christian school with Christian parents, I always just assumed as much.
This is going to be a three part blog series that contains my answer to the question and my research behind it. Obviously, since this was just a final paper and not a thesis or dissertation, limited (yet, still adequate) research was done. I have changed some of the wording and sentence structure to make the flow a little smoother for a blog rather than a formal paper, but all the content will remain! I hope this series is informative and I honestly wouldn’t mind if it ruffled some of your feathers, too. Friction is a good thing!
For centuries, one of the most extensive and impassioned North American debates has been the question of whether the United States was founded and purposed in Christianity. Many forget the original American tenet was freedom. Even though it came out of religious oppression in England, the immigrants nonetheless migrated not primarily to spread Christianity; they migrated to practice that which they desired. The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. The founders had no intention of the nation being solely Christian, and even those that did want established religion did not, in regularity, practice true Biblical Christianity. This notion is commonly disregarded.
There are numerous documents and even founding fathers themselves that may uphold this idea. For example, Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli – a document partially created by President John Adams – asserted,
“the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.
Fea added that the treaty was “signed by John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate” . The fact that is the most important in this case is that the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty unanimously. This means that every member concurred with Article 11 and agreed that neither the country nor the government, in any sense, was founded on the Christian religion. This agreement is so vital to the case because during Adams’ presidency, the U.S. still clang tightly to its founders, as they were still the explicit leaders of the new nation. This is one instance that proves that the founders had no intention of creating a Christian nation.
Another document that corroborates the intention of the founders is the Declaration of Independence. In this document, Thomas Jefferson – the author and co-contributor of the content – states that
“governments…[derive] their powers from the consent of the governed”.
One of the points that Schweitzer makes in his article is to “note that the power of the government is derived not from any god, but from the people”. Many consider the United States to have begun with this important document; moreover, if this founding document gave the power of the government to the consent of the governed and not to any particular god or religion, then the United States is not bound by or to any religious code or conduct constructed by any known or unknown deity or holy scripture from any religion at all.
The final document that supports this claim of the intention of the founders is the United States Constitution. The Constitution made it clear – in Article III of the Bill of Rights – that there would be no official or established religion in America. The simple fact that the two documents by which the government and citizens of the United States function on a daily basis both deny any national power or authority to any religious deity, god, or religion affirms the argument against the intention of a Christian nation on behalf of the founders.