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Unconfirmed Quotations
David Barton - 01/2000
(This article has created controversy in some quarters; read the background behind the "Unconfirmed Quotations" article controversy.)

The following quotations have been seen and heard in numerous books, periodicals, editorials, speeches, etc. In our research, we have not previously used a quote that was not documented to a source in a manner that would be acceptable in a scholarly work or a university text. However, we strongly believe that the debates surrounding the Founders are too important to apply solely an academic standard. Therefore, we unilaterally initiated within our own works a standard of documentation that would exceed the academic standard and instead would conform to the superior legal standard (i.e., relying solely on primary or original sources, using best evidence, rather than relying on the writings of attorneys, professors, or historians).

It is only in using this much higher standard that we call the following quotes "unconfirmed": that is, while the quotes below have been documented in a completely acceptable fashion for academic works, they are currently "unconfirmed" if relying solely on original sources or sources contemporaneous to the life of the actual individual Founder. These original sources for these quotes may still surface (for example, a major primary document from James Madison surfaced as late as 1946), and in fact you will note that we have actually located the original sources for some to the quotes below that originally we listed as unconfirmed. However, with the remaining quotes listed below, we recommend that you refrain from using them until such time that an original primary source may be found, notwithstanding the fact that the quotes below may be documented to a number of contemporary sources.

One may only speculate as to how these quotes originated. In two cases, the errors appear obvious. In others, there are historical clues and possibilities. In the final analysis, the words in question - despite the fact that they are currently "unconfirmed" in primary source documents - are nevertheless completely consistent not only with the character of these men but also with the character of their era, including U. S. Supreme Court decisions. Nonetheless, for us, only primary documentation will justify pulling these quotes off of the shelf. We offer brief comments where appropriate, to include supporting quotations and citations.

1. 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! -- Patrick Henry (unconfirmed)

Few could dispute that this quotation is consistent with Henry's life and character. (Interestingly, those who advocate a secular society today view Henry as an arch enemy.) One early biographer describes how Henry reprinted and distributed Soame Jennings book, View of the Internal Evidence of Christianity, 1 and also that Henry looked to the restraining and elevating principles of Christianity as the hope of his country's institutions. 2 Bishop Meade, writing of Virginia families in general, says of Henry that, despite possible periods of alienation, his attachment to the [Episcopal] Church of his fathers is clearly established. 3 In one of many courtroom speeches, Henry offered these thoughts (one need not agree with his ideas to understand the context):

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. 4

In a 1796 letter to his daughter Henry stated:

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 a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast. 5

Bishop Meade, mentioned above, also describes a letter from Rev. Dresser, who was addressing two Church historians. Concerning Patrick Henry, Dresser wrote:

It is stated, in an article which I saw some time ago, from the Protestant Episcopalian, and, I presume, from one of you, that Patrick Henry was once an infidel, &c. His widow and some of his descendants are residing in this county, and I am authorized by one of them to say that the anecdote related is not true. He ever had, I am informed, a very abhorrence of infidelity, and actually wrote an answer to Paine's Age of Reason, but destroyed it before his death. His widow informed me that he received the Communion as often as an opportunity was offered, and on such occasions always fasted until after he had communicated, and spent the day in the greatest retirement. This he did both while Governor and afterward. Had he lived a few years longer, he would have probably done much to check the immoral influence of one of his compatriots [?], whose works are now diffusing the poison of infidelity throughout our land. 6

Henry's religious persuasion is well-established. However, there is more evidence that should be considered. Biographer William Wirt Henry relates that a visiting neighbor recalled Henry holding up the Bible and stating:

This book is worth all the books that ever were 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. 7

Despite his regret for not having spent more time in the Bible, Henry knew the value of Scripture. Taken together with his efforts while in public life, there is an ample foundation for this excerpt from his Last Will and Testament:

This is all the inheritance I can give my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed. 8

As a final thought, there is a possibility that the unconfirmed quote came from Henry's uncle, the Reverend Patrick Henry. We find no record of the Reverend's letters or writings. Therefore, until more definitive documentation can be presented, please avoid the words in question.

2. It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. -- George Washington (unconfirmed)

Although the modern secularists avoid his numerous religious maxims, Washington's views on religion are easily documented. He often spoke on religious themes, to include the ruler of nations, the light of Revelation, and the symbiotic relationship between the Church and the state. There is overwhelming evidence to support this thought as belonging to Washington. However, since the quote has not been documented to date, it appears unlikely to be found. Too much research has been done on the life of Washington to see the prospect of a new quotation.

There is a very real possibility that the quotation has its origin in an 1835 biography by James K. Paulding. In a description of Washington's character, with supporting quotations, Paulding declares Washington to have said:

It is impossible to account for the creation of the universe without the agency of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being. 9

The similarities are obvious; a paraphrase of these quotes could have easily generated the words in question. However, we have not been able to trace Paulding's cite to a more scholarly reference. He offers no footnotes. For an extensive selection of Washington's religious sayings, see the Maxims of Washington: Political, Social, Moral, and Religious, John F. Schroeder, ed. (Mount Vernon, Virginia: The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, © 1942). (The book has also been reprinted, albeit in a slightly different format. We recommend the older versions.)

3. Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian. -- Holy Trinity v. U. S. (Supreme Court) (inaccurate confirmed! -- Richmond v. Moore, Illinois Supreme Court, 1883)

This quotation appeared in many modern works, each attributing the wording to the U. S. Supreme Court's 1892 decision in the Holy Trinity case. After researching and being unable to locate this quote in that case, we concluded that it was probably was a cut-and-paste typographical error, for several of the phrases do appear in that case, 10 but not in the exact wording given above; we therefore at that time recommended that this quote not be used. Now, however, after more than a decade of searching, we have located and confirmed the original source for this quote: it appears not in an 1892 U. S. Supreme Court case 11 but rather in an 1883 Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Richmond v. Moore. 12 While we previously recommended against using this quote, it is now authenticated and can be cited, providing that it is attributed to the proper source.

4. We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves . . . according to the Ten Commandments of God. -- James Madison (unconfirmed)

While these words have been the most controversial of all unconfirmed quotes, they are consistent with Madison's thoughts on religion and government. They are consistent because the key idea being communicated is self-government, not religious laws or establishments. Our future rests upon the ability of all to govern themselves according to a Biblical standard. Madison could have easily offered the thought.

Concerning a republican form of government, he spoke in the Federalist #39 of "that honourable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government." (emphasis added) 13 Here we see an interesting similarity to the quote's wording, which may have led to a paraphrase that was erroneously attributed to Madison.

Speaking against direct religious taxation in his Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison wrote:

While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe, the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to them whose minds have not yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. 14

The religion of divine origin was obviously Christianity, of which Madison said he was convinced. Therefore, it would be appropriate for Madison to refer to the Ten Commandments as a foundation for self-government. Granted, he fought to abolish religious establishments much of his life, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether Madison could have made such a statement. He could have; the questionable quote is not out of character.

In the context of America's attitude toward religious establishments (which was a State's right withheld from federal cognizance), Madison responded to an essay/sermon by Reverend Jasper Adams with these words:

Waiving the rights of conscience, not included in the surrender implied by the social state, & more or less invaded by all Religious establishments, the simple question to be decided, is whether a support of the best & purest religion, the Christian religion itself ought not, so far at least as pecuniary means are involved, to be provided for by the Government, rather than be left to the voluntary provisions of those who profess it. 15 [emphasis added]

Obviously, Madison is referring to tax-supported, religious establishments. But it is well-understood that he was adamantly against establishments. The point to notice is Madison's thoughts on Christianity. He called it the "best and purest religion." As mentioned above, Christianity was the religion of which he was convinced. Therefore, in the context of self-government, he could have spoken the words in question.

Furthermore, referring again to Bishop Meade's analysis of Virginian families and churches, Meade stated:

Whatever may have been the private sentiments of Mr. Madison on the subject of religion, he was never known to declare any hostility to it. He always treated it with respect, attended public worship in his neighborhood, invited ministers of religion to his house, had family prayers on such occasions,-though he did not kneel himself at prayers. Episcopal ministers often went there to see his aged and pious mother and administer the Holy Communion to her. I was never at Mr. Madison's but once, and then our conversation took such a turn-though not designed on my part-as to call forth some expressions and arguments which left the impression on my mind that his creed was not strictly regulated by the Bible. At his death, some years after this, his minister-the Rev. Mr. Jones-and some of his neighbors openly expressed their conviction, that, from his conversation and bearing during the latter years of his life, he must be considered as receiving the Christian system to be divine. 16

Thus we see that while Madison may not have been, in today's terms, a fundamentalist, he was known as a Christian and a faithful member of his church. The quote in question would be entirely consistent with the man's life and legacy. Nevertheless, we recommend that this quote be shelved.

As a final thought on Madison, the quote may have come from Madison's cousin, the Bishop James Madison, or from his father, James Madison, Sr. This is similar to Patrick Henry's situation, and is one of the problems we encounter in verifying quotations.

5. Religion . . . [is] the basis and foundation of government. -- James Madison (inaccurate)

Taken from Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, this quote has proven to be inaccurate. The actual phrase refers to the "Declaration of those rights 'which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government.'" (emphasis added) 17 Thus the subject of the statement is the Virginia Declaration of Rights, not religion. One may only speculate as to how the error was made.

6. Whosoever shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world. -- Benjamin Franklin (unconfirmed)

Franklin knew quite well the value of Christianity to society. In the context of teaching history to the youth of Philadelphia, he said:

History will also afford the frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons; the mischiefs of superstition, &c. and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern. 18

This is not to say that Franklin was a Christian; he did not believe in the divinity of Christ. This is easily documented. However, he was well aware of the utility of religion in general and Christianity specifically. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin stated:

Go constantly to church, whoever preaches. The act of devotion in the Common Prayer Book is your principal business there, and if properly attended to, will do more towards amending the heart than sermons generally can do. For they were composed by men of much greater piety and wisdom, than our common composers of sermons can pretend to be; and therefore I wish you would never miss the prayer days; yet I do not mean you should despise sermons, even of the preachers you dislike, for the discourse is often much better than the man, as sweet and clear waters come through very dirty earth. I am the more particular on this head, as you seemed to express a little before I came away some inclination to leave our church, which I would not have you do. 19

A key phrase in our unconfirmed quote is "primitive Christianity." Franklin, like Jefferson, felt the true doctrines of Christ had been perverted. Just days before his death, Franklin wrote to the Reverend Ezra Stiles:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is like 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; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive, that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure. 20

Moreover it was Franklin who made the famous appeal for prayer at the Constitutional Convention-an idea which was implemented shortly after the first congress convened. Madison's notes of the convention offer these words:

We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better that the builders of Babel. 21

Franklin spoke favorably and often on the role of religion in America. However, while the questionable quote may have been his, Franklin's writings are well-known and it is unlikely that anything new will surface.

7. The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer. -- Noah Webster (unconfirmed)

8. There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet. -- Noah Webster (unconfirmed)

These words are entirely consistent with the life and character of Noah Webster. His conversion in 1808 to true Christianity, as opposed to a reliance on outward works and moral duties, is well-documented in his letters. And his attitude on the relationship between government and religion is clearly revealed in his writings. Concerning the origin of civil liberty, he declared:

Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its origin to the principles of the Christian religion.
. . . . . . . . . .

[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles.
. . . . . . . . . .

This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government. 22

This is but a small portion of Webster's thought on the subject of religion and government. Whether he stated the quotes in question or not, they sound like Webster. There is far too much evidence to deny this. Despite this consistency, we recommend avoiding the unconfirmed quote and using the numerous Webster quotations that have stronger supporting documentation.

9. The only assurance of our nation's safety is to lay our foundation in morality and religion. -- Abe Lincoln (unconfirmed)

10. The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next. -- Abe Lincoln (unconfirmed)

Abraham Lincoln is another of those historical figures whose writings are replete with positive religious references. These quotes could easily be attributed to him. In his First Inaugural he asserted:

Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulties. 23

He offered these thoughts on education early in his life:

That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the Scriptures, and other works both of a religious and moral nature for themselves. 24

The questionable quotes may have come from Lincoln's pen; the words correspond with his religious opinions. On the other hand, his writings are far from obscure, and most of his words are verified. While they may be out there somewhere, we are not satisfied with the existing documentation.

11. A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader. -- Samuel Adams (unconfirmed confirmed!)

This is a perfect example of how we are able to verify quotations. Originally, the statement was suspect because the only source was secondary, and we were uncomfortable with the documentation. However, after acquiring a more thorough version of Samuel Adams' writings, we found the statement in a letter to James Warren dated February 12, 1779. 25

12. I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make us better citizens. -- Thomas Jefferson (unconfirmed)

This quote can be found attributed to Thomas Jefferson in an 1869 work by Samuel W. Bailey, but as yet we have not found it in a primary source. 26 Jefferson's religious thoughts are well-documented. As he fought the battles of dogmatic, sectarian divisiveness, one can find religious quotations both positive and negative. Therefore, this positive reference to the Bible could easily have flowed from his pen. For example, notice these excerpts from his letters. They reveal both his dislike of sectarianism, as well as his love for what he considered the pure doctrines of Jesus:

An eloquent preacher of your religious society, Richard Motte, in a discourse of much emotion and pathos, is said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation, that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist in heaven, having paused to give his hearers time to stare and to wonder. He added, that in heaven, God knew no distinctions, but considered all good men as his children, and as brethren of the same family. I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ. That on entering there, all these are left behind us, and the Aristides and Catos, the Penns and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Baptists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. Of all the systems of morality, ancient and modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. 27

To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others. 28

But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of His own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. 29

In fact, Jefferson thought Christianity so important that he personally authored a work for the Indians entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth which set forth the teachings of Jesus as delivered in the Gospels. (The Fifty-seventh Congress ordered a reprint of his work. 30) Many people have claimed that Jefferson omitted all miraculous events of Jesus from his so called "Bible." Rarely do those who make this claim let Jefferson speak for himself. Jefferson's own words explain that his intent for that book was not for it to be a "Bible," but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that work, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth"). What Jefferson did was to take the "red letter" portions of the New Testament and publish these teachings in order to introduce the Indians to Christian morality. To deny this is to deny that he swore "upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

13. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great. -- Alexis de Tocqueville (unconfirmed)

Alexis de Tocqueville's work, Democracy in America, should be required reading for all involved in the Church/state debates. He devoted a significant portion of his work to the religious element of American life, as the following thoughts indicate:

Moreover, almost all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.

In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.

There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and their debasement, while in America one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world fulfills all the outward duties of religion with fervor.

Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country. 31

While the Tocqueville quote is not in this book, it may be in some other writings of which we are unaware. 32 The fact that there is no primary source for someone quoted so often causes us to view the words as unconfirmed.

14. The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. -- John Quincy Adams (unconfirmed modified confirmation!)

This quote has had wide circulation for decades and can be traced back to an 1860 work by John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, which reprinted a number of sermons preached during the Revolution. In the overview of that work, Thornton explained:

The church polity [form of government] of New England begat like principles in the state. The pew and the pulpit had been educated to self-government. They were accustomed “TO CONSIDER.” The highest glory of the American Revolution, said John Quincy Adams, was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. 33

Thornton, an attorney and historian, grew up during the lifetime of John Quincy Adams and held many interests in common with him. His above statement in connection with Adams is Thornton's summation of part of a lengthy speech delivered by John Quincy Adams during an 1837 Fourth of July celebration at Newburyport, Massachusetts (a speech which Thornton may well have heard in person, but which he certainly later read). In that address, Adams observed that Christmas and the Fourth of July were the two most-celebrated holidays in America, and that both were interrelated. As Adams began his speech, he queried:

Why is it that, next to the birth day of the Saviour of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day [July 4th]? . . . Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birth-day of the Saviour? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity. . ? 34

Comparing Adams' original 1837 exact quotation with Thornton's 1860 summary of the quote, one immediately sees the similarities. Significantly, in his 1860 work, Thornton accurately related the essence of Adams' message and never presented that phrase as being an exact quotation from Adams; nevertheless, those who used Thornton's work in subsequent generations and writings incorrectly cited Thornton's summary as if it were a direct quotation from John Quincy Adams. Therefore, the "unconfirmed" quote attributed to Adams can be replaced with his exact quotation given above from his 1837 speech.


We hope these comments and analyses help our readers in their own research and rhetoric. To those who have used the above quotations, do not be discouraged. They have a source. We are simply unable to take them to an original, primary document, which is the standard for which we must all strive. In this regard, we have traversed the learning curve.

As the Church/state debates continue, we are all called to a higher standard of scholarship. Advocates of a secular society use the slightest discrepancy to advance their own intolerant and bigoted agenda. Ignoring their own weaknesses and failures, they attempt to discredit both the message and messenger of America's religious history. Their efforts are futile, however, for the religious foundations of America, to include the interactions between church and state, are well-documented and easily-unearthed. Now is the time to clean things up.


1. Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence and Speeches, William Wirt Henry, editor (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891), Vol. II, p. 490. (return to text)

2. Wirt Henry's, Life, vol. II, p. 621. (Return to text)

3. Bishop Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1857), Vol. I, p. 221. (return to text)

4. Wirt Henry's, Life, vol. III, pp. 606-607. (return to text)

5. S. G. Arnold, The Life of Patrick Henry (Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854), p. 250. (Return to text)

6. Meade, Old Churches, Vol. II, p. 12. (Return to text)

7. Wirt Henry's, Life, vol. II, p. 621. (Return to text)

8. From a copy of Henry's Last Will and Testament obtained from Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, Red Hill, Brookneal, VA. (return to text)

9. James K. Paulding, A Life of Washington (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1835), Vol. II, p. 209. (Return to text)

10. For example, "These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation." Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States; 143 U. S. 457, 471 (1892). (return to text)

11. Justice David J. Brewer, author of the 1892 Holy Trinity opinion, also wrote a book in 1905 called The United States: A Christian Nation. Brewer opened his work with these words: "We classify nations in various ways. As, for instance, by their form of government. One is a kingdom, another an empire, and still another a republic. Also by race. Great Britain is an Anglo-Saxon nation, France a Gallic, Germany a Teutonic, Russia a Slav. And still again by religion. One is a Mohammedan nation, others are heathen, and still others are Christian nations. This republic is classified among the Christian nations of the world. It was so formally declared by the Supreme Court of the United States. But in what sense can it be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in the public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation-in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world." David J. Brewer, The United States A Christian Nation (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1905), pp. 11-12. (return to text)

12. Richmond v. Moore, 107 Ill. 429, 1883 WL 10319 (Ill.), 47 Am.Rep. 445 (Ill. 1883). (return to text)

13. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist, on the New Constitution Written in 1788 (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), pp. 203-204, James Madison, Number 39. (Return to text)

14. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance (Massachusetts: Isaiah Thomas, 1786). This can be found in numerous documentary histories and other resources. (Return to text)

15. Religion and Politics in the Early Republic: Jasper Adams and the Church-State Debate, Daniel L. Dreisbach, ed. (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), p. 117. (Return to text)

16. Meade, Old Churches, Vol. II, pp. 99-100. (return to text)

17. Madison, Memorial , p. 12. (Return to text)

18. Benjamin Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1749), p. 22. (Return to text)

19. Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, ed. (Boston: Tappan, Whittmore, and Mason, 1838), Vol. VII, pp. 269-271, letter to his daughter, Sarah, on November 8, 1764. (Return to text)

20. Sparks, Works of Franklin, Vol. X, p. 424. (return to text)

21. James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, ed. (Washington: Langtree & O'Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, p. 985. (Return to text)

22. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 300, Sec. 578. (return to text)

23. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, James D. Richardson, editor (Published by Authority of Congress, 1899), Vol. VI, p. 11, from his First Inaugural, March 4, 1861). (return to text)

24. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler, editor (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), Vol. I, p. 8, from his "Communication to the People of Sangamo County," March 9, 1832) (return to text)

25. Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed. (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1905), Vol. IV, p. 124. (return to text)

26. Homage of Eminent Persons to The Book, Samuel W. Bailey, ed. (New York: Rand, Avery, & Frye, 1869), p. 67. (return to text)

27. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, ed. (Washington, D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XIII, pp.377-78, letter to William Canby on September 18, 1813. (Return to text)

28. Bergh, Writings of Jefferson, Vol. X, p.380, letter to Benjamin Rush on April 21, 1803. (Return to text)

29. Bergh, Writings of Jefferson, Vol. XIV, p.220, letter to William Short on October 31, 1819. (Return to text)

30. Thomas Jefferson, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904), House of Representatives, Document No. 755, 58th Congress, 2d Session. (Return to text)

31. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1851), pp. 331, 332, 335, 336-7, 337, respectively. (Return to text)

32. For an interesting account of the Tocqueville quote, see John J. Pittney's "The Tocqueville Fraud," in The Weekly Standard, November 13, 1995. (Return to text)

33. John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution (Boston: Gould And Lincoln, 1860), p. xxix. (Return to text)

34. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their Request, on the Sixty-first Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), p. 5. (return to text)

Raising The Academic Standard For Quoting The Founding Fathers

In 1988, David Barton published The Myth of Separation, documenting the Founding Fathers religious beliefs and practices with over 700 footnotes. In that work, he cited from several sources, including history professors, legal scholars, and early textbooks. Although this is common practice in the academic community, David came to believe that historical debates undergirding public policy should be conducted using a standard of evidence that would be accepted by courts: only the "best evidence" should be used (e.g., eyewitness testimony, direct statements and actions by the participants, etc.). In other words, instead of quoting what a professor or judge said about Thomas Jefferson's (or the other 200+ Founding Fathers') views on the First Amendment, let Jefferson's (and the other Founders') own words and actions speak for themselves.

Consequently, David authored a second book (Original Intent, with over 1,400 footnotes) on the same theme as The Myth of Separation in which he does not use Founder's quotes unless they are documented to a primary source; he dropped all "historical" quotes from attorneys, professors, texts, etc.

In using this higher standard, he discovered there were about a dozen or so popular and widely-used quotes by historians and others (David had quoted these sources with documentation properly footnoted in The Myth of Separation) that he could not find in the Founders' own writings. Importantly, some of those quotes had come from works nearly a century-and-a-half old and therefore would seem to have been credible; yet David could not find those quotes in original documents.

David therefore released a paper entitled "Unconfirmed Quotations" in which he listed those dozen or so quotes that he had used in Myth of Separation and which he would voluntarily no longer use. He called on those on all sides of the debate to refrain from using these quotes in any subsequent writings until their veracity could be established in a source that would meet the legal standard of "best evidence." (Since the release of that article, we have actually been able to find the original documentation for some of those quotes that we originally listed as "unconfirmed" - and which antagonists claim that David had made up!)

Despite David's clear statement in the preface of "Unconfirmed Quotations" that he intended to raise the academic bar, David's antagonists (such as Rob Boston, et. al) claimed David had "admitted he made up his quotes" "" a complete mischaracterization of what occurred. On the contrary, David had simply challenged authors on all sides "" whether writing for the American Atheist Association or the National Association of Evangelicals, for Americans United for Separation of Church and State or for Christian Coalition - that they should not allege that the Founders said or believed something unless it could be documented in the Founders' own writings or some other equally authoritative source (e.g., the Records of the Continental Congress, Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention, the Debates of the First Congress, etc.).

It is significant that David's critics point to The Myth of Separation when they claim he "admits that he made up his quotes" but they remain completely silent about Original Intent. Both works arrive at exactly the same historical conclusion, but the history is "made up" in the one but not the other? To date, none of David's antagonists have ever been able to point out a single example in Original Intent in which he "made up a quote." They cannot do so. For that matter, they could not do so in The Myth of Separation either. Rather, they just continue to claim he "admits that he makes up his quotes."

The mischaracterizations of what David did were so egregiously untrue that distinguished attorneys who practice law before the U. S. Supreme Court asked David if they could sue these groups and individuals for libel and slander. Despite the difficult free-speech standards that courts have established to prove libel and slander, the attorneys still believed that they would prevail. To date, David has declined to proceed on the legal front, although such a suit remains a definite possibility. (By the way, some members and supporters of the organizations criticizing David actually resigned in protest over the mischaracterizations made about him by their own organizations; while they did not share David's philosophical viewpoint, they were offended by the blatant misportrayals their own organizations had made about David's work in a scurrilous effort to discredit him.) In short, there is no factual basis behind this charge, nor has any antagonist ever successfully pointed out even one occasion in which David fabricated any quote. David's work stands on its own merits for those who wish to verify his documentation rather than simply accepting mischaracterizations of his work without personal investigation. (Return to Unconfirmed Quotations)

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