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Secular Principles of the American Founding Fathers

Secular Principles of the American Founding Fathers

America’s liberties are under threat. American Christian nationalists want to establish a theocracy, one dogmatically guided just as those Islamic countries under sharia law. One of their central talking points is that America was founded as a Christian nation. Which, of course, it was not.

Undoubtedly the majority of the United States population has always been Christian. However, neither Christianity, the Bible, nor Jesus is mentioned in any of our founding documents. Our Constitution was the first in history not to mention god, and mentions religion only to restrict its prejudicial influence, as with banning religious tests for office. The presidential oath, despite modern fashions, doesn’t mention god or include a request for god’s help; nor is a Bible required. Certain early documents like the Treaty of Tripoli state explicitly that The United States is not in any sense a Christian nation.

When we home in on the specific values embedded in our government—democracy, freedom of religion, crime and punishment proportionality, equal rights—none of these are biblical principles. They in fact directly conflict with biblical principles and were fought against by Christian authorities. Biblical themes of fearful obedience and god-appointed rulers conflicts with a nation born of rebellion. The god on our money and in our pledge, are later additions that appeared in times of crisis, specifically, during the 1860s and 1950s.

The pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist and the later insertion of ‘under god’ before ‘indivisible’ in the 1950s literally divides us. As does replacing ‘E Pluribus Unum’—out of many one—with ‘In God We Trust.’

Taking all of this into consideration, what’s still critically important in my opinion is the key founders themselves. These were undoubtedly men of the Enlightenment. They were very unorthodox freethinkers and religious skeptics. This is explicitly shown in their personal correspondence, and keeping their words in the public sphere is a key weapon in the fight against this false Christian nationalist propaganda.


John Adams is one of the more conservative of the founders, yet his supposed pious Christianity is debunked with one quote:

The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices both Ecclesiastical, and Temporal which they can never get rid off, they are all infected with Episcopal and Presbyterian Creeds, and confessions of faith, they all believe that great principle, which has produced this boundless Universe. Newton’s Universe, and Herschell’s universe, came down to this little Ball, to be spit-upon by Jews; and untill this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 22 January 1825

Adams and Jefferson had a long correspondence over the last years of their lives, where they regularly derided Christianity. In another letter to Jefferson he states:

That there is such a Person as The Devil is no part of my Faith… Neither do I believe the doctrine of demoniacal possessions, whether it was believed by the Sacred Writers or not.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, February, 3 March 1814

So already demons, hell, and the central Christian doctrine of the divinity of Jesus are gone. Adams makes clear his disdain for priests and any idea that he wants a government ruled by them or based on their claims is refuted here:

The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 20 June 1815

Like Jefferson, Adams didn’t believe god is the being revealed in the Bible:

God is an essence that we know nothing of.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 20 January 1820

Can prophecies or miracles convince you that benevolent power created innumerable millions to make them miserable forever for his own glory?…Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation? Exulting in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions…I believe no such things!…Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will. Ye will say I am no Christian! I say ye are no Christians and there the account is balanced!

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813

When reflecting on laws that restrict freedom to enforce Christian dogma his opinion is clear:

There exists I believe throughout the whole Christian world a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or to doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the old and new Testaments…In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel in England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue… Now what free inquiry when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigation into the divine authority of those books?… I think such laws a great embarrassment, a great obstruction to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 23 January 1825

In “A Defense of the Constitution” of 1787 Adams states:

It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

Some Christian nationalists have pointed to a quote of Adams (letter to Thomas Jefferson, 28 June 1813) about America being founded on “the general principles of Christianity”. But general is the keyword here and he included atheistic and prior pagan philosophers as having these general, universal, Christian principles. Adams also mentions and praises atheists in this letter. One of the biggest outright and discredited liars for Christian nationalism, David Barton, has presentations quoting Adams at length in a certain letter talking about the holy ghost as if Adams believes it. What Barton does is purposefully cut out what comes next, where Adams derides these Christian beliefs which he was merely describing:

Although this is all Artifice and Cunning…they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe human Nature. There is so much King Craft, Priest Craft… in the world, that it seems a desperate and impracticable Project to undeceive it.

John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 21 December 1809

In his writings Adams cites pagan authors as the main influences of America’s founding; one should all the pagan statues in Washington, D.C.

Particularly among the ancients, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Dionysius Halicarnassus, Cicero, and Tacitus; among the moderns, of Machiavelli, Sydney, Montesquieu, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Swift, Hume, Franklin, Price and Nedham.

authors Adams considers most influential in his survey in the August 1795 issue of the American Monthly Review


James Madison is known as the father of the Constitution. He was also a friend and follower of the “howling atheist” Thomas Jefferson. In a document called ‘Detached Memoranda’ he speaks against chaplains in Congress. In other writings, he spells out the separation of church and state:

Every new & successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance…. I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

James Madison to Edward Livingston, 10 July 1822 (this quote refutes the idea that church-state separation only pertained to keeping government out of religion)

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all others?

James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment, 1785

The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established.

James Madison, first draft of the first amendment, 8 June 1789

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.

A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment, 1785

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.

James Madison to Wm. Bradford, 1 April 1774


Thomas Jefferson is the ‘author of America’ and one of the most eloquent of the founders. Like the other key Enlightenment-influenced founders, he was deeply versed in philosophy and science and had his own inventions. The only original mention of a deity of any sort in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence was the deistic (or pantheistic) “laws of nature and nature’s God”. The declaration also says power comes from the people and Christianity is not mentioned. Fifty years after its drafting, Jefferson referred to the Declaration as “a signal arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves” and spoke of “the light of science” and the unfettered freedom of mind on which America was based.
~ Thomas Jefferson to Roger C. Weightman, 24 June 1826

Jefferson’s enormous library, which included the atheistic works of Lucretius, d’Holbach, Diderot and others, was eventually sold to Congress despite many protests about its infidel content. As indicated by his library, his ardent support for the ‘atheistic’ French revolution, and his Notes On Virginia (“it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god”), Jefferson had no problem with atheists. Jefferson wrote:

If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? Diderot, d’Holbach, Condorcet, D’Alembert are known to have been among the most virtuous of men…Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 13 June 1814

Jefferson clearly denounces the Bible and pretty much all of biblical mythology. In a letter to WIlliam Short (31 October 1819) he calls himself an Epicurean, a follower of the famous ancient atheist philosopher Epicurus, he lists as “artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects: The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.”. Jefferson cut out the supernatural “rubish” and picked out the “diamonds from dunghills” in his Jefferson Bible.

Jefferson made the phrase “separation of church and state” famous in his letter to the Danbury Baptists and clearly realized that there can be no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion in his tireless fight for religious liberty . Contrast this with today’s Christian conservatives’ conception of religious liberty as Christian privilege. Jefferson was denounced repeatedly by his opponents as an infidel and atheist when he ran for president, and the “tyranny over the mind of man” he refers to in the quote in the rotunda at the Jefferson Memorial refers to the Christian clergy and their schemes.

In the realm of education, Jefferson stated there should be no teachers of theology in his University of Virginia, and argued that the Bible should be kept away from children until their reason had developed—along with their historical and philosophical learning (Notes on Virginia). Christian nation propagandists regularly cite a letter of his to Benjamin Rush (23 April 1803) in which he calls himself a Christian. What they don’t mention is just what he meant by Christian in his sense, which was one which rejected and ridiculed every part of Christian mythology and institutions and accepted only the moral teachings of Jesus, “ascribing to him every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.”

Further quotes:

We find in the writings of his (Jesus’)biographers a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications…His object was the reformation of the religion of the Jews, as taught by Moses. That sect had presented for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust….That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe himself inspired from above, is very possible. The whole religion of the Jews, inculcated on him from his infancy, was founded in the belief of divine inspiration. The fumes of the most disordered imaginations were recorded in their religious code…This belief carried, therefore, no more personal imputation, than the belief of Socrates, that himself was under the care and admonitions of a guardian Daemon. And how many of our wisest men still believe in the reality of these inspirations, while perfectly sane on all other subjects.

Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 4 August 1820

It is not to be understood that I am with him (Jesus) in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist, he takes the side of spiritualism… Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart….The serious enemies are the priests of the different religious sects, to whose spells on the human mind it’s improvement is ominous. The Presbyterian clergy are loudest. The most intolerant of all sects, the most tyrannical, and ambitious; ready at the word of the lawgiver, if such a word could be now obtained, to put the torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere, the flames in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus.

Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 13 April 1820

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 11 April 1823

Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.

Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813

On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

Thomas Jefferson to Matthew Carey, 11 November 1816

Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the Common Law.

Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Cooper, 1814

Priests…dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.

Thomas Jefferson to Correa de Serra, 11 April 1820

The result of our fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, “be just and good”, is that in which all our inquiries must end, as the riddles of the priesthood have added four more, ubu panis ibi deus, (where there is bread there is god). What all agree in is probably right. What no two agree in, most probably wrong.

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 11 January 1817

Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom (the first amendment of the constitution was based on this act)


Benjamin Franklin, like Jefferson, was of course also a famous polymath and inventor, deeply interested in science. The freethinker from England, Joseph Priestly, who had his lab destroyed by Christians and friendly with several founders, said of Franklin: “”It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin’s general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers.” Franklin was a known member of deistic secret societies like the Hellfire Club and the Freemasons, and he seems to have frequently visited many different kinds of places of worship, caring not one bit for their dogmas. His strange suggestion of prayer during the drafting of the constitution was dismissed without even a vote. Having become a convinced deist after reading refutations against deism when younger, Franklin laid out his opinion of Jesus and Christianity near the end of his life:

I think the System of Morals [devised by Jesus] and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity.

Benjamin Franklin to Ezra Stiles, 9 March 1790

As for religion and government:

If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England.

Benjamin Franklin to the London Packet, 3 June 1772

When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.

Franklin to Richard Price, 9 October 1780


Thomas Paine, a good friend of Jefferson, helped inspire the colonies to revolution with his pamphlet Common Sense, then defended the French Revolution with The Rights of Man. He lost favor with the common people when he published an entire book attacking Christianity called The Age of Reason:

It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man.

We do not admit the authority of the church with respect to its pretended infallibility, its manufactured miracles, its setting itself up to forgive sins. It was by propagating that belief and supporting it with fire that she kept up her temporal power.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication; after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

Those men, whom Jewish and Christian idolaters have abusively called heathen, had much better and clearer ideas of justice and morality than are to be found in the Old Testament (so far as it is Jewish), or in the New. The answer of Solon [the Athenian] on the question, “Which is the most perfect popular government?” has never been exceeded by any man since his time, as containing a maxim of political morality. “That,” says he, “where the least injury done to the meanest individual is considered as an insult on the whole constitution.” Solon lived above 500 years before Christ.

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half of the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it…Morality is banished to make room for an imaginary thing called faith, and this faith has its origin in a supposed debauchery; a man is preached instead of a God; an execution is an object for gratitude; the preachers daub themselves with the blood.


These were the men that made America. There are others that merit mention such as the deists Thomas Young and Ethan Allen (see his Reason: The Only Oracle of Man). Governor Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and other founders were known to not be very religious men. There is also George Washington who spoke of religion rarely, but never took communion, never spoke of Christianity or Jesus, spoke of America not being born of the age of gloomy superstition, and was referred to as an unbeliever by Jefferson in his autobiography and by other sources. The pious fabrications and distortions started earlier with him than some of the others. And while there were some pious founders, and while some of the founders sensed the ignorant masses required a reformed religion with its power stripped and found some positives in the religion, the point should be clear. In their documents, in their influences, and in their own words, the founders of America attest clearly that America was not founded as a Christian nation. So far, over a hundred years of attempts by theocrats to add Jesus to our godless Constitution and make America legally a Christian nation have failed. If they ever do succeed, they will be undoing what the Founding Fathers achieved: the first government in the world based on philosophy, on reason, and on freedom.


That Christian Nation Nonsense

The Founding Myth

The Expanding Blaze

Jefferson and Madison on The Separation of Church and State

“Ye Will Say I Am No Christian”: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values

Nature’s God

Moral Minority

The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers



A Justified Faith

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Landon Haynes has blogged and been a podcast guest with Atheist Republic and currently writes for Atheist Alliance International, with a focus on history and the Enlightenment. He also has a published book, "A Justified Faith" which argues for "faith" in human potential based on its overall progress over history in comparison with the unjustified blind faith of religion. He recently started a YouTube channel, "FOR-SIGHT-PARADIGM", with occasional well-known guests. He has lived in Japan, Central America, and the US and has dabbled in recording music and has written since he was young.