John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry

John Adams (1735–1826) was the 2nd President of the United States, 1797–1801, being the first president to live in the White House; established the Library of Congress and the Department of the Navy; Vice-President under George Washington, 1789–97; a member of the First and Second Continental Congress, 1774, 1775; a signer of the Declaration of Independence, 1776:

On Wednesday, March 6, 1799, President John Adams issued a Proclamation of a National a Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer:

As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the growing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributer of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities

On June 28, 1813, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams wrote:

The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite.… And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.    Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.


Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the 3rd President of the United States, 1801–09; approved the Louisiana Purchase and commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1803; Vice-President under John Adams, 1797–1801; Rector of the University of Virginia, 1819; Secretary of State under George Washington, 1789–93.

Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a committee was appointed to draft a seal for the newly united states which would express the spirit of this new nation. Thomas Jefferson proposed:

The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

During the period between 1779–81, Thomas Jefferson served as the Governor of Virginia. On November 11, 1779, Governor Thomas Jefferson issued a Proclamation Appointing a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer.

Public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.… That He would in mercy look down upon us, pardon all our sins, and receive us into His favour; and finally, that He would establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety.


In 1781, Thomas Jefferson made this statement in Query XVIII of his Notes on the State of Virginia. Excerpts of these statements are engraved on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.:

God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever


On January 16, 1786, Thomas Jefferson and the Committee on Religion drafted a bill for the Virginia Assembly guaranteeing religious freedom:

An Act for establishing Religious Freedom. I.    Well aware … that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested His Supreme Will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraints; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to begat habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone.


Patrick Henry (1736–1799) was an American Revolutionary leader and orator, who spoke the phrase, “Give me Liberty or give me death!” He was Commander in Chief of the Virginia Militia, a member of the Virginia General Assembly and House of Burgesses, 1765; and a member of the Continental Congress, 1774–75. He was the five-time Governor of the State of Virginia, 1776–79, 1784–86, and was instrumental in writing the Constitution of Virginia.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.



William J. Federer, Great Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced According to Their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions (St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch, 2001).


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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8 Responses to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry

  1. Mike says:

    “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, letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787

    “In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot … they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.” — Thomas Jefferson, to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

    “Is uniformity attainable? 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. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” — Thomas Jefferson, from “Notes on Virginia”

    “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” — John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

    “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved–the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!” — John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

    “What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels, condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are the forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because suspected of heresy? Remember the ‘index expurgatorius’, the inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter and the guillotine.” — John Adams, letter to John Taylor

    “The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes.” — John Adams, letter to John Taylor

    • humblesmith says:

      First of all, several of the quotes you give are about religious leaders being sinful. This is true, and merely confirms what the Bible says about all men, that we are rebellious toward God. Jesus saved His most direct condemnations against religious leaders. Second, I can only assume that your response is supposed to somehow negate the clear statements that from these men that I have quoted. This is not logical and the statements you’ve provided, even if they were accurate, would not make this conclusion. You have again conveniently not dealt with the post.

      As to the first quote, of questioning the existence of God, this is something the Christian welcomes, as shown by this blog, among many others. As to the second, Jefferson was specifically speaking of a group of merchants, priests, and lawyers who held allegiance to England. You can find the quote in context here: Note Jefferson is saying the priests have perverted the “purest religion ever preached.” With him, I would heartily agree, for such actions are still happening today.

      As to the “uniformity” quote from Jefferson, it has been mis-quoted so many times that the Jefferson scholars have published a page on it. See here: In context, Jefferson is speaking of those who force one viewpoint (uniformity) rather than allow difference of opinion. In my experience, the Christians are much more open to differences of opinion than the atheists, who get rather upset at those who disagree with them.

      As to the John Adams quotes, I encourage you to caution. Adams has more lengthy writings in favor of God in general, and Christianity in particular, than most of the founding fathers. Most of what you quoted here are small bits of a lengthy polemic against his critics. For example, just prior to one section you quoted, Adams agrees that Christianity is indeed a genuine revelation:,+tales,+legends&source=bl&ots=xh27hrF2Iw&sig=Z3heKJc08IqOOXHhYx_b_Y-Ln8A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VB7aUcSGOYa-9gTCrYGgDQ&ved=0CGAQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=%22john%20adams%22%20millions%20of%20fables%2C%20tales%2C%20legends&f=false

      • Mike says:

        You’re forgetting that in the days of our founding fathers, there was a lot of public pressure to appear faithful. So often our founding fathers were paying lip service to the religious community. But it is simply not true that they were all men of deep Christian faith. Many were deists and were highly critical of Christianity and religion in general, Jefferson in particular.

        According the the link about Jefferson, the quote I made is exactly what they said it is, so I have not misquoted him.

        You’re obviously trying to make the case that our country was founded by men of deep Christian faith and that this somehow makes America a Christian nation. That fallacy has been disproved over and over again that I wonder how Christians get the balls to keep making this claim and acting like no one will notice.

        “As to the first quote, of questioning the existence of God, this is something the Christian welcomes,”

        Great. No major points of disagreement there.

        “In context, Jefferson is speaking of those who force one viewpoint (uniformity) rather than allow difference of opinion.”

        And in Jefferson’s day it was those of religious faith who were killing their fellow believers over disagreements on that faith for many centuries up until that time.

        “In my experience, the Christians are much more open to differences of opinion than the atheists, who get rather upset at those who disagree with them.”

        Then why is it that so many Christians (about 1/3rd of Americans today) want the US to be officially Christian so that their religion will have a privilege? And why is it that atheists are almost all for secularism, which is what guarantees religious freedom from the tyranny of other religions? Secularism has allowed Christianity to flourish in the US and the religious persecution in Europe is why this country decided to be secular.

        • humblesmith says:

          All we have are what the founding fathers say. Reading false intentions into their words is disingenuous and revisionist history.

          • Mike says:

            But we know from what they say that many were not fond of religion and the idea of a state religion. If they wanted a “Christian nation” they would have simply put that into our founding documents. It seems that you’re reading into the texts what you wish were true.

  2. John says:

    Unortunately, according wikiquote the religionist quote from Patrick Henry is misattributed.

    • humblesmith says:

      Perhaps the Wikiquote notation is correct. Federer cites a handful of sources, but none are particularly old. Wikiquotes attributes the first mention to David Barton in 1988. The earliest Federer citation is to a different person from the same year: Steve C. Dawson, God’s Providence in America’s History (Rancho Cordova, CA: Steve C. Dawson, 1988). This Dawson citation smells fishy, so, unlike earlier comments to this post, I will agree this is likely spurious.

      However, Patrick Henry’s high regard for religion in general and Christianity in particular is not in doubt. Federer gives much more solid citations for the following quotes from Patrick Henry, at least one of which is supported by the Wikiquotes page you linked to:

      “This brought on the war which finally separated the two countries and gave independence to ours. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings, which a gracious God hath bestowed on us.”

      “I know, sir, how well it becomes a liberal man and a Christian to forget and forgive. As individuals professing a holy religion, it is our bounden duty to forgive injuries done us as individuals. But when the character of Christian you add the character of patriot, you are in a different situation. Our mild and holy system of religion inculcates an admirable maxim of forbearance. If your enemy smite one cheek, turn the other to him. But you must stop there. You cannot apply this to your country. As members of a social community, this maxim does not apply to you. When you consider injuries done to your country your political duty tells you of vengeance. Forgive as a private man, but never forgive public injuries. Observations of this nature are exceedingly unpleasant, but it is my duty to use them.”

      ” For my own part I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery.… It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country.…
      An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!…
      Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the Holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.
      Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God who presides over the destines of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battle for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.…
      Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

      “Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of their number; and, indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is the character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.”

      “The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed, and it has been my misfortune that I have never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till lately. I trust in the mercy of Heaven that it is not yet too late.”

      Federer’s book has much more than this. It is quite lengthy….the electronic version is so long that it cannot be printed unless it was in a multi-volume set. I encourage everyone to read it.

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