For example, in an 1831 letter to Willam Short, Jefferson wrote
"Abstracting what is really his [Jesus] from the rubbish in which it is buried [the New Testament], easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John], and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill ... The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist [!] and the rescuing it form the imputation of imposture, which has resulted form artificial systems, [these artificial systems Jefferson footnotes as "the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, ... the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c."] invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestly [father of Unitarianism] has successfully devoted his labors and learning."
Mr. Barton and his ilk, however sincere, produce and perpetuate myths founded on sloppy scholarship which yield careless (if not slanted) assertions.
As Christians we are obliged to speak the truth in all circumstances. The Cause of Christ is not helped when overzealous conservative writers seek to "return the nation to its biblical foundation" by doing what they so often charge liberals with -- rewriting history. The facts are what they are. The words and deeds of the leading men of the American revolution are readily accessible to any one who will take the time to search them out.
Better put on your asbestos undies, Credo. That kinda sentiment around here will certainly get you fried. I've certainly taken my share of roasts when I expressed something similar and backed it up with quotes.
Seems a lot of people don't realize that the exact modern day definition of something in a modern day dictionary may not really have any relevance to the concepts and thought that were used by the Founding Fathers in their time. Certainly the term Deist has taken on some connotations over the last 225 years. I'm not sure that they even used that term much to describe themselves.
Their views of Christian and God may have less in common with the current evangelical interpretation than many might think. It is notable to understand that having just escaped from the state-established religions of Europe, only 7% of the people in the 13 colonies belonged to a church when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Now I have to point out that not "belonging to a church" is not the same as "not believing in God (or Christ)". But the colonists, and yes the signers of the Declaration, were not enamored of the structured religions, priesthood and orthodoxy that had been forced upon them. In fact, Jefferson said in writing to Levi Lincoln in 1802, "The advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from [the clergy]". I suspect that today this still holds valid for the evangelical zealots, not just the clergy.
I believe that Jefferson, and the other founders, were more against the coercion and structured orthodoxy of what they referred to as "Christianity", rather than the underlying tenets of "correct morality" and "loving benevolence", which they openly embraced. Calling themselves "Christians" seemed to refer to those good qualities and not to the structure of the then current orthodox religion itself.
With the unfortunate lack of literacy as currently evidenced by the inability to correctly spell and use proper grammar by a large amount of the population, it is understandable that many cannot read the somewhat antiquated language used by the founders in their day and put themselves in their shoes to try to understand what they felt about such a contentious subject as religion.
There are many quotes of the founders which seem to be directly opposites in regards to the subject of "Christianity". Reading their words and trying to understand them in the context of their society, history, education and morality, without trying to impute to them something which is not there is difficult. We all bring ourselves to whatever we do. But seizing upon a word, and looking it up in a modern dictionary, and then claiming that to prove a previously decided upon belief is just an exercise is self-aggrandizement, as Mr. Barton may be an example.
Reading the words of the Founding Fathers and trying to realize what these great men were doing and thinking constantly brings tears to my eyes. I couldn't care less which god or God or object they believed in. I am just in awe of what they did and what they accomplished, whether in the name of Deism, Atheism or Christianity. It was simply mind boggling in its scope and alteration of the history of the world.