Skip to comments.Religious Affiliation of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Posted on 07/04/2010 4:53:44 PM PDT by NoLibZone
Religious Affiliation of the Signers of the
Declaration of Independence
The signers of the Declaration of Independence were a profoundly intelligent, religious and ethically-minded group. Four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were current or former full-time preachers, and many more were the sons of clergymen. Other professions held by signers include lawyers, merchants, doctors and educators. These individuals, too, were for the most part active churchgoers and many contributed significantly to their churches both with contributions as well as their service as lay leaders. The signers were members of religious denominations at a rate that was significantly higher than average for the American Colonies during the late 1700s.
These signers have long inspired deep admiration among both secularists (who appreciate the non-denominational nature of the Declaration) and by traditional religionists (who appreciate the Declaration's recognition of God as the source of the rights enumerated by the document). Lossing's seminal 1848 collection of biographies of the signers of the Declaration of Independence echoed widely held sentiments held then and now that there was divine intent or inspiration behind the Declaration of Independence. Lossing matter-of-factly identified the signers as "instruments of Providence" who have "gone to receive their reward in the Spirit Land."
From: B. J. Lossing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, George F. Cooledge & Brother: New York (1848) [reprinted in Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, WallBuilder Press: Aledo, Texas (1995)], pages 7-12:
From no point of view can the Declaration of American Independence, the causes which led to its adoption, and the events which marked its maintenance, be observed without exciting sentiments of profound veneration for the men who were the prominent actors in that remarkable scene in the drama of the world's history...
The signing of that instrument was a solemn act, and required great firmness and patriotism in those who committed it... neither firmness nor patriotism was wanting in that august body...
Such were the men unto whose keeping, as instruments of Providence, the destinies of America were for the time intrusted; and it has been well remarked, that men, other than such as these,--an ignorant, untaught mass, like those who have formed the physical elements of other revolutionary movements, without sufficient intellect to guide and control them--could not have conceived, planned, and carried into execution, such a mighty movement, one so fraught with tangible marks of political wisdom, as the American Revolution...
Their bodies now have all returned to their kindred dust in the grave, and their souls have gone to receive their reward in the Spirit Land.
From: Robert G. Ferris (editor), Signers of the Declaration: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Washington, D.C. (revised edition 1975), pages 27-28:
Liberally endowed as a whole with courage and sense of purpose, the signers [of the Declaration of Independence] consisted of a distinguished group of individuals. Although heterogeneous in background, education, experience, and accommplishments, at the time of the signing they were practically all men of means and represented an elite cross section of 18th-century American leadership. Everyone one of them of them had achieved prominence in his colony, but only a few enjoyed a national reputation.
The signers were those individuals who happened to be Delegates to Congress at the time... The signers possessed many basic similarities. Most were American-born and of Anglo-Saxon origin. The eight foreign-born... were all natives of the British Isles. Except for Charles Carroll, a Roman Catholic, and a few Deists, every one subscribed to Protestantism. For the most part basically political nonextremists, many at first had hesitated at separation let alone rebellion.
Only about 50 years before that, it was a crime to be a Catholic priest in England, and many people were subjected to the truly “cruel and unusual punishment” of drawing and quartering for that offense. One of the great gifts of the United States to the world was the concept of disestablishment of religion, which made religion a matter of individual conscience.
What a bunch of religious nut jobs. If only they were mostly atheists believes in materialistic evolution, imagine what a better nation we would have today. Not.
Methodism started as a reform movement within the Anglican Church. I thought that Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was considered a Baptist. Anyway, Baptists were just another flavor of Calvinist, and Calvinists were abundant in the colonies and among the signers of the Declaration.
Now we have a whole sect of a major religion taking advantage of that great gift, that great freedom to try and pass of a terroristic, absolutely tyranical ideology and political system as a religion and hide in our midst. While a marxist is at the helm.
But we shall not falter or fail and we WILL take our Republic back and defend her.
"Neuter the Obama admin in 2010, run them out of town on a rail in 2012!"
You leave your Georgia sports activities out of this!
The French (cynical opportunists as always) were not really on the side of the Protestants so much as they were opposed to the Catholic Hapsburgs of Spain and Austria. France brutally suppressed the Huguenots, either killing them or driving them from the country, much to the benefit of the lands to which they fled, including England, Prussia, South Africa, the United States, etc.
Considering as it was founded by Catholics, one would expect Catholic representation on the signatories.
Wrong. Baptists were originally disciples of Zwingli and Menno Simons. They split from the anabaptists, not from the Calvinists.
“it was a crime to be a Catholic priest in England”
Emancipation wasn’t passed until 1829.
Here are some additional favs from those involved in the Convention:
James Madison - “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution”
Alexander Hamilton - “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest”
Charles Pinckney - “When the great work was done and published, I was struck with amazement. Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war . . . could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole”
Because that is NOT what the founding fathers were concerned with, nor wrote about.
They were concerned about a SEPARATION of the POWERS of CHURCH and the POWERS of STATE.
Yes, but I think the idea that being a priest was high treason punishable by evisceration had passed before that time. It horrifies me that anyone claiming to be a Christian would have advocated burning people alive or vivisecting them for their beliefs, but the real issue was which denomination would get to enjoy govt. patronage. The nightmarish warfare over that issue motivated the Founders to oppose establishment of any denomination, at least on the national level.
Yes, these things were really dynastic wars. The Huguenots were allowed to attack Spain and the Spanish colonies during their moment in the sun (they raided villages up and down the coast of Galicia, destroying the church after killing the priest and as many people as they could stuff into the church before they set it on fire). They were pirates in the New World, attacking primarily Spanish territories, but when they were no longer politically expedient, they were dumped.
Since James Madison wrote every word of the Constitution, you have no idea what you are talking about:
James Madison (1751-1836) is popularly known as the “Father of the Constitution.” More than any other framer he is responsible for the content and form of the First Amendment. His understanding of federalism is the theoretical basis of our Constitution. He served as President of the United States between 1809-1817.
Madison’s most famous statement on behalf of religious liberty was his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, which he wrote to oppose a bill that would have authorized tax support for Christian ministers in the state of Virginia.
Other sources for Madison’s beliefs are his letter to Jasper Adams, where he argues on behalf of letting religion survive on its own merits, and a 1792 article in which he suggests that there is no specific religious sanction for American government.
Finally, a good deal of Madision’s Detached Memoranda concerns the issue of religious liberty. This material is particularly important in that it gives Madision’s views of a number of events that are sometimes disputed by accomodationists (eg., congressional chaplains, days of prayer, etc.).
Direct references to separation:
* The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819).
* Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov’t in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820).
* Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).
I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others. (Letter Rev. Jasper Adams, Spring 1832).
* To the Baptist Churches on Neal’s Greek on Black Creek, North Carolina I have received, fellow-citizens, your address, approving my objection to the Bill containing a grant of public land to the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House, Mississippi Territory. Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself (Letter to Baptist Churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811).
Madison’s summary of the First Amendment:
Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform (Annals of Congress, Sat Aug 15th, 1789 pages 730 - 731).
Against establishment of religion
* The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity (Letter to F.L. Schaeffer, Dec 3, 1821).
* Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, and the full establishment of it in some parts of our country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government and Religion neither can be duly supported. Such, indeed, is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against. And in a Government of opinion like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together. It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law was right and necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; and that the only question to be decided was, which was the true religion. The example of Holland proved that a toleration of sects dissenting from the established sect was safe, and even useful. The example of the colonies, now States, which rejected religious establishments altogether, proved that all sects might be safely and even advantageously put on a footing of equal and entire freedom; and a continuance of their example since the Declaration of Independence has shown that its success in Colonies was not to be ascribed to their connection with the parent country. if a further confirmation of the truth could be wanted, it is to be found in the examples furnished by the States which had abolished their religious establishments. I cannot speak particularly of any of the cases excepting that of Virginia, where it is impossible to deny that religion prevails with more zeal and a more exemplary priesthood than it ever did when established and patronized by public authority. We are teaching the world the great truth, that Governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson: the Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of Government (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).
* If the Church of England had been the established and general religion and all the northern colonies as it has been among us here and uninterrupted tranquility had prevailed throughout the continent, it is clear to me that slavery and subjection might and would have been gradually insulated among us. Union of religious sentiments begets a surprising confidence and ecclesiastical establishments tend to grate ignorance and corruption all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects (Letter to William Bradford, Jan. 24, 1774).
* [T]he prevailing opinion in Europe, England not excepted, has been that religion could not be preserved without the support of government nor government be supported without an established religion that there must be at least an alliance of some sort between them. It remained for North America to bring the great and interesting subject to a fair, and finally a decisive test.
It is true that the New England states have not discontinued establishments of religions formed under very peculiar circumstances; but they have by successive relaxations advanced toward the prevailing example; and without any evidence of disadvantage either to religion or good government.
But the existing character, distinguished as it is by its religious features, and the lapse of time now more than 50 years since the legal support of religion was withdrawn sufficiently proved that it does not need the support of government and it will scarcely be contended that government has suffered by the exemption of religion from its cognizance, or its pecuniary aid. (Letter to Rev. Jasper Adams, Spring 1832).
* The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).
On Congressional chaplains and proclaimations of days of prayer:
* Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In the strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation?
The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain! To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the veil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor.
If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. How small a contribution from each member of Cong wd suffice for the purpose! How just wd it be in its principle! How noble in its exemplary sacrifice to the genius of the Constitution; and the divine right of conscience! Why should the expence of a religious worship be allowed for the Legislature, be paid by the public, more than that for the Ex. or Judiciary branch of the Gov. (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820).
* I observe with particular pleasure the view you have taken of the immunity of Religion from civil jurisdiction, in every case where it does not trespass on the private rights or the public peace. This has always been a favorite principle with me; and it was not with my approbation that the deviation from it took place in Congress, when they appointed chaplains, to be paid from the National Treasury. It would have been a much better proof to their constituents of their pious feeling if the members had contributed for the purpose a pittance from their own pockets. As the precedent is not likely to be rescinded, the best that can now be done may be to apply to the Constitution the maxim of the law, de minimis non curat [i.e., the law does not care about such trifles].
There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive proclamations of fasts and festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of INJUNCTION, or have lost sight of the equality of ALL religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the executive trust, I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere DESIGNATIONS of a day on which all who thought proper might UNITE in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith and forms. In this sense, I presume, you reserve to the Government a right to APPOINT particular days for religious worship. I know not what may be the way of thinking on this subject in Louisiana. I should suppose the Catholic portion of the people, at least, as a small and even unpopular sect in the U. States would rally as they did in Virginia when religious liberty was a Legislative topic to its broadest principle (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).
Did Madison want the Bill of Rights to apply to the states?
* No state shall infringe the equal rights of conscience, nor the freedom of speech, or of the press, nor of the right of trial by jury in criminal cases [Proposed amendment to make certain parts of the Bill of Rights to apply to the states].
The Congressional Record of August 17, 1789 made the following comment on Madison’s proposal:
* MR. MADISON Conceived this to be the most valuable amendment on the whole list; if there was any reason to restrain the government of the United States from infringing upon these essential rights, it was equally necessary that they should be secured against the state governments; he thought that if they provided against the one, it was an necessary to provide against the other, and was satisfied that it would be equally grateful to the people (from Alley, James Madison on Religious Liberty, pp. 75-76).
Madision’s definition of “establishment”:
One can get some idea of Madison’s defintion of establishment by looking at his veto messages for certain legislation presented to him by Congress during his presidency. Generally, Madision’s definition was expansive; he vetoed legislation incorporating an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia, and reserving a parcel of land for a Baptist church. Read in context, these veto messages demolish the claim that Madison would have turned a blind eye to minor religious establishments.
* Veto Message, Feb 21, 1811 By James Madison, to the House of Representatives of the United States: Having examined and considered the bill entitled “An Act incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church in the town of Alexander, in the District of Columbia,” I now return the bill to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, with the following objections:
Because the bill exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.’ [Note: Madison quotes the Establishment Clause incorrectly; Constitutional scholar Leonard Levy comments on this misquoting as follows: “His [Madison’s] use of “religious establishment” enstead of “establishment of religion” shows that he thought of the clause in the Frist Amendment as prohibiting Congress from making any law touching or “respecting” religious institutions or religions; The Establishment Clause, p. 119].
The bill enacts into and establishes by law sundry rules and proceedings relative purely to the organization and policy of the church incorporated, and comprehending even the election and removal of the minister of the same, so that no change could be made therein by the particular society or by the general church of which it is a member, and whose authority it recognizes. This particular church, therefore, would so far be a religious establishment by law, a legal force and sanction being given to certain articles in its constitution and administration. Nor can it be considered that the articles thus established are to be taken as the descriptive criteria only of the corporate identity of the society, inasmuch as this identity must depend on other characteristics, as the regulations established are in general unessential and alterable according to the principles and canons by which churches of the denomination govern themselves, and as the injunctions and prohibitions contained in the regulations would be enforced by the penal consequences applicable to the violation of them according to the local law.
Because the bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty [Note: both of the last paragraphs suggest that Madision did not think it was the role of government to aid even the charitable and educational aspects of religion, even non-preferentially].
* Veto message, Feb 28, 1811, by James Madison. To the House of Representatives of the United States: Having examined and considered the bill entitled “An Act for the relief of Richard Trevin, William Coleman, Edwin Lewis, Samuel Mims, Joseph Wilson, and the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House, in the Mississippi Territory,” I now return the same to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, with the following objection:
Because the bill in reserving a certain parcel of land of the United States for the use of said Baptist Church comprises a principle and precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares the ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment (note: Madison again misquotes the establishment clause).
Madison and religion at public universities:
* I am not surprised at the dilemma produced at your University by making theological professorships an integral part of the system. The anticipation of such a one led to the omission in ours; the visitors being merely authorized to open a public hall for religious occasions, under impartial regulations; with the opportunity to the different sects to establish theological schools so near that the students of the University may respectively attend the religious exercises in them. The village of Charlottesville, also, where different religious worships will be held, is also so near, that resort may conveniently be had to them.
A University with sectarian professorships becomes, of course, a sectarian monopoly: with professorships of rival sects, it would be an arena of Theological Gladiators. Without any such professorships, it may incur, for a time at least, the imputation of irreligious tendencies, if not designs. The last difficulty was thought more manageable than either of the others.
On this view of the subject, there seems to be no alternative but between a public University without a theological professorship, and sectarian seminaries without a University.
...With such a public opinion, it may be expected that a University, with the feature peculiar to ours, will succeed here if any where. Some of the clergy did not fail to arraign the peculiarity; but it is not improbable that they had an eye to the chance of introducing their own creed into the professor’s chair. A late resolution for establishing an Episcopal school within the College of William and Mary, though in a very guarded manner, drew immediate animadversions from the press, which, if they have not put an end to the project, are a proof of what would follow such an experiment in the University of the State, endowed and supported, as this will be altogether by the public authority and at the common expense (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).
At the time of the signing of the Declaration there was no such thing as “Unitarianism” or “Universalism”. These came later. Unitarianism in the US emerged in the early years of the 19th Century, while the Universalist Church wasn’t formed until 1793 - mainly by recent immigrants.
Button Gwinnett added "How 'Bout Them Dawgs!" after his signature.
Apparently that depends on which flavor of Baptist theology one adheres to. The Southern Baptists of today are mostly Calvinists. And Baptists seem to regard Roger Williams as one of their own.
Hey, there are no Lutherans either. The saying in Texas is: "If you are at an LCMS service within 100 miles of your hometown, someone in that congregation is kin to you".
Hmm, go figure. No Kenyans?