An Independence Day Message from the Founding Fathers
Without Religion the Government of a Free People Cannot Be Maintained.
Americans of the twentieth century often fail to realize the supreme importance which the Founding Fathers originally attached to the role of religion in the structure of the unique civilization which they hoped would emerge as the first free people in modern times. Many Americans also fail to realize that the Founders felt the role of religion would be as important in our own day as it was in theirs.
In 1787, the very year the Constitution was written and approved by Congress, that same Congress passed the famous Northwest Ordinance. In it they emphasized the essential need to teach religion and morality in the schools. Here is the way they said it:
Article 3: Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
Notice that formal education was to include among its responsibilities the teaching of three important subjects:
- Religion, which might be defined as a “fundamental system of beliefs concerning man’s origin and relationship to the cosmic universe as well as his relationship with his fellowmen.”
- Morality, which may be described as “a standard of behavior distinguishing right from wrong.”
- Knowledge, which is “an intellectual awareness and understanding of established facts relating to any field of human experience or inquiry (i.e., history, geography, science, etc.).”
Washington Describes the Founders’ Position
The position set forth in the Northwest Ordinance was re-emphasized by President George Washington in his Farewell Address:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion…. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle.
Statements of the Founders Concerning These Principles
Samuel Adams said that this group of basic beliefs which constitute “the religion of America is the religion of all mankind.” In other words, these fundamental beliefs belong to all world faiths and could therefore be taught without being offensive to any “sect or denomination” as indicated in the Virginia bill for establishing elementary schools.
John Adams called these tenets the “general principles” on which the American civilization had been founded.
Thomas Jefferson called these basic beliefs the principles “in which God has united us all.”
From these statements it is obvious how significantly the Founders looked upon the fundamental precepts of religion and morality as the cornerstones of a free government. This gives additional importance to the previously quoted warning of Washington when he said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”
Washington issued this solemn warning because in France, shortly before he wrote his Farewell Address (1796), the promoters of atheism and amorality had seized control and turned the French Revolution into a shocking blood bath of wild excesses and violence. Washington obviously never wanted anything like that to happen in the United States. Therefore, he had said: “In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness [religion and morality].”
~Taken from W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap: The 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World