Founding Fathers Blog

Were the Founding Fathers Christian?

April 5th, 2010

Thinking about Easter today, I was contemplating on some of the pictures people have today about the Founding Fathers. Some people hold to the teachings they now receive in school that the Founding Fathers were not Christians. That they were either unbelievers, athiests, or Deists. Such people should read some of their own words. Words of the Founders of this Nation. Here are just a select few.

George Washington was a Christian, attending services as often as he could. He was a vestryman and a Church warden, and supported the Church with generous financial offerings. He often acknowledged the protection by hand of Providence in his life. He was often seen in prayer, especially at Valley Forge. He said: “I was in hopes (that the present age) would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination (to add to) the peace of society.”

And he forcefully stated in his Farewell Address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports.”

“I too have made a wee little book . . . which I call ‘The Philosophy of Jesus.’ . . . It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians . . . .”   and

“The genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored; such as it was preached and practised by Himself.” and

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights     . . .”   –Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s friend, and erstwhile antagonist, John Adams, wrote a letter on his 2nd night in the White House, which included these words now engraved on a mantle in the house: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

“I wish I could leave you my most cherished possession, my faith in Jesus Christ. For with Him you have everything and without Him you have nothing.” and

“It cannot be emphasized to strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by  Christians, not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” –Patrick Henry.

Benjamin Franklin created what he called his Plan for Arriving at Moral Perfection. His plan listed 13 character traits he planned to work on throughout his life, until he reached perfection. His thirteenth character trait was called “Humility: Imitate Jesus. . .” He also wrote for himself an interesting epitaph showing his belief in the Resurrection and the real meaning of Easter:  “The body of B. Franklin, printer (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of lettering and gilding), lies here food for worms. But the work shall not be lost; for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author.”

George Washington Had a Bad Cold!

March 30th, 2010

On a trip last week to visit our daughter and to speak about Patrick Henry, I caught a bad cold. On the day I was to make my presentation about one of my favorite founding fathers, I began to lose my voice. I made it through my presentation okay, but my cold and cough got worse. It began to remind me about George Washington.

In December, 1799, George Washington rode out about his beautiful plantation at Valley Forge to mark some trees which needed to be chopped down or trimmed. He kept riding in the midst of snow and sleet. As George returned home, his neck was wet with melted snow and he began to be hoarse.

Martha suggested he take some remedy against the malady. He refused saying, “No,l you know I take nothing for a cold. Let it go as it came. I’ll be all right.” Well, he wasn’t all right. He got worse.

Between 2 and 3 the next morning he wakened Martha saying he was very “unwell.” She sent for doctors. They came. They administered ointments, and began to “bleed” him as was the practice at the time. The doctors administered more remedies, continued the “bleeding” and tried all they could think of. It was all to no use.

At about 4 the next afternoon, George Washington asked for his own two hand-written wills to be produced. He reviewed them. Approved of one and asked Martha to burn the other.

At about 5 that day, George told his good friend, Dr. James Craik, “I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack,  that I should not survive it; my breath cannot last long.” And later: “I am just going. Have me decently buried.” He passed on between ten and eleven o’clock that night. He was 67 years old.

One of the greatest and most beloved men in history passed away on that December 13, 1799. Martha remarked that he didn’t intend “to quit the theatre of this world” until the new century had been rung in.

George Washington’s life ended in that century in which he had profoundly played the starring role. His friend Patrick Henry, had also died in June of that same year. Henry was only 63.

Thomas Jefferson: The Law Gave Him a View of the “Dark Side.”

March 11th, 2010

Peter Jefferson left this dying declaration regarding his son, Tom: “. . . Tom should receive a thorough classical education.” And Peter died when Tom was only 14, but he left him sufficient funds for such an education.  And then some.

At age 16, Tom dedided he should apply for entrance into the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, Virginia. Just a few weeks before his 17th birthday he received the results of his entrance examinations. His outstanding results allowed Tom to be admitted into an advanced class in the school of philosophy. Tom would reside in Williamsburg for the next 7 years.

Tom had earlier struck up a friendship with Patrick Henry. It was probably Patrick’s enthusiastic boast that he had been admitted to the bar after studying for only 5 weeks, that convinced Tom to study law. Tom’s mentor became the well established lawyer, George Wythe. George later became the first law professor at the new law school at the College of William and Mary, and in 1776 was a signer of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

In a day when most law students studied law for a year, or less, as in the case of Patrick Henry, Tom studied diligently for five years before asking to be examined. Shortly before his 24th birthday, Tom was examined for admission to the bar. He was found to be superbly prepared. He became very successful at his craft, to the surprise of some of his more seasoned collegues at the bar.

To an inquiry about Tom’s performance as a courtroom lawyer, one gentleman replied: “It is hard to tell because he always took the right side.”

Tom learned there were drawbacks to the practice of law. He was able to collect only about one-third of the fees which he earned. He soon began to require at least partial payments in advance for his legal representation.

Although he loved the law, lawsuits over land and property rights must have become tiresome to Jefferson’s brilliant mind. He said: “I was bred to the law, and that gave me a view to the dark side of humanity. Then I read poetry to qualify it with a gaze upon its bright side.”

His poetry presents itself in his most masterful document, The Declaration of Independence.

Patrick Henry, Why Do You Want to Be A Lawyer?

March 8th, 2010

When I was in law school, one of our first cases for review in our estate planning class was about a trust which had been written up by Patrick Henry in the 1750’s. His trust was upheld.

But did you know that Patrick Henry became a lawyer just by circumstance? As a young man, Patrick Henry fell in love with a neighbor girl, Sarah Shelton, nicknamed “Sallie.” When they were married, her parents gave them a 300 acre tobacco farm as a wedding gift.

Patrick was 18 at the time, Sarah wasn’t much over 16. Neither knew farming. Patrick grew up in a Merchantile household. Sallie’s parents owned an inn.

It was a year of a long drought followed by a hard freeze. Guess what, the farm failed. Patrick and Sallie lost the farm and moved back in with her parents. Patrick worked at their inn as a bartender and general waiter.

Patrick didn’t like alcohol, and saw the problems it caused with those who drank too much.  The Shelton’s Inn was near the City’s courthouse. Lawyers would come to the Inn’s restaurant for lunch and Patrick would overhear them talking about their court cases, and how they had won this or that point. It sounded exciting to Patrick.

By this time Patrick new he didn’t like bartending. He hadn’t like working in his own parents merchantile establishment, and he had failed at farming. But he loved to talk. He thought he would try to make his living by talking. He would become a lawyer.

There were no law schools in those days. One became a lawyer by finding a mentor. A memtor lawyer would plan a study program for an aspiring lawyer and have him assist in the mentor’s cases. After a period of time, usually about two years, the applicant would ask to be “admitted to the bar.”

This meant the ambitious attorney-to-be would be interviewed by several attorneys who had already been practicing law for a while, or who were judges.

After studying for only about 5 weeks, Patrick felt he was ready to be interviewed. This was unheard of, but Patrick found 5 gentlemen who would interview him to see if he was suitably prepared.

Two interviewers refused to grant him a license. But three others, including George Wythe, who would become the first law school professor in Virginia, and who also became a signer of the Declaration of Independence, found Patrick already had a good grasp of the common law, and passed him. He was admitted to the bar.

Patrick Henry became a very successful lawyer. He made a name for himself in the “Parson’s Case.” He was very popular and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

On July 5, 1776, Patrick Henry became the first Governor of the new State of Virginia, under its newly approved State Constitution. He went on to serve as the governor of Virginia five separate times.

His speech in 1775 which ended with the words “Give Me Liberty, or give me Death,” is just about all anyone remembers about him now. But his friend Thomas Jefferson said of him: “After all, it must be allowed that he was our leader in the measures of the Revolution . . . . He left all of us far behind.”

And to think, he started our as a failed tobacco farmer!

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