gwandreligion.htm

George Washington and Religion

[the following is a draft of a talk on this subject and is not for publication or use without my express written consent

 

Talk for Teachers' Institute at Mount Vernon

July 21, 1999

 

"A Sly Old Fox"?

George Washington and Religion

 

I must start by saying I am excited about being part of this first George Washington Teachers' Institute. Seeing the program that Nancy and the others lined up, I confess I wished I were one of the participants rather than simply one of the presenters so that I could be a part of the entire week and be here at beautiful Mount Vernon and learn more about this truly remarkable man whom we quite properly call the Father of Our Country.

 

As I am sure you already realize, there are a number of differing ways of viewing Washington and those who study his life and the available records often come to different conclusions - this is certainly true on the controversial topic of George Washington and Religion. While no means diametrically opposed, Mary and I probably see this question in slightly differing ways, and Nancy thought it might be interesting for you to see how similar material can be interpreted differently, depending on what points are emphasized, and of course we will have a chance for a good discussion and you will have an opportunity to ask questions and raise points that you feel are pertinent. Hopefully, at the end of the session our understanding of Washington's religious views, and thus of the man himself, will be enhanced.

 

Recently, at the end of a conference where I was presenter, an evangelical Christian approached me and gave me a book entitled, George Washington: Christian by William Johnson. The young man saw Washington as a fellow believer and wanted to enlist his testimony to spread the Gospel. This is not at all unusual.

I would like to begin with four different quotes but all with a similar focus.

 

Excerpt from Word of God newsletter [at MV]

"It is becoming increasingly popular by the humanist philosophy of our day, to adamantly affirm that all of our founding fathers were deists and rejected Christianity! Contrary to what modern skeptics say, George Washington was not a deist. He was a firm believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work. We invite any doubter to check the records at Washington's native county, West Moreland, Va., where his last will and testament contains the testimony written by him: Being heartily sorry from the bottom of my heart for my sins past, most humbly desiring forgiveness of the same from Almighty God, my Savior and Redeemer in Whom and bye the merits of Jesus Christ, I trust and believe assuredly to be saved and to have full remission and forgiveness of all my sins."

 

While I was a guest on a conservative radio talk show and raised some question about the depth of Washington's Christian faith, one caller berated me. Emphasizing how thoroughly GW was in record keeping she argued that George Washington's Christian faith is made clear in the inscription he had put over his tomb from John XI, 25-26. "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."

 

 

Conservative author, Tim LaHaye, writes, "That President George Washington was a devout believer in Jesus Christ and had accepted Him as His Lord and Saviour is easily demonstrated by a reading of his personal prayer book, written in his own handwriting." He ends his treatment of Washington in his book, Faith of the Founding Fathers (1990), with the assertion, "An objective reading of these beautiful prayers verifies that were George Washington living today, he would freely identify with the Bible-believing branch of evangelical Christianity that is having such a positive influence on our nation." (p. 113).

 

 

The Reverend Dr. James Kennedy, the famous television evangelist, devoted a sermon to the Faith of George Washington, which you were given to read for the institute. Kennedy declares, "George Washington came to a living faith in the Divine Savior. He came to trust in the shed blood of Christ, the perfect life of Jesus Christ, in which he was robed and in which he stood before God…. He prayed that the blood of Christ would cleanse him from all of his sins; that he might be accepted because of the merits, the perfect character of Jesus Christ, and not himself."

 

Such examples could be multiplied many times over [the number of books and articles on GW as a Christian is large indeed], but I think it well to remember "repetition may create certainty in the minds of the hearers and readers, but it does not create truth." [Hughes]

 

The late Marcus Cunliffe wrote, "A prodigious amount of nonsense has been written about Washington in the 200 years since his death, and much of this nonsense has had to do with religion." I believe the above quotes illustrate Cunliffe's point.

 

 

While the nature of George Washington's religion is a difficult subject and a legitimately debatable issue, I can confidently say the assertions quoted above that Washington was a born again evangelical Christian have absolutely no foundation based on the historical record. The quotation from his will is completely made up [although Martha Washington's will has specific Christian emphasis]. Washington's will simply begins, "In the name of God, amen, I George Washington, citizen of the United States…. The quote from John is in fact over Washington's tomb but it was added over 30 years after he died and is not connected with his wishes or instructions in any way whatsoever. The assertions of LaHaye and Kennedy are based on the so-called Washington Prayer book which was "discovered" nearly a century after his death and claimed to be in his handwriting as young man. They are not, and while they might be connected to some family member, they are almost certainly not related in any way to George Washington. Claiming the validity of the prayers as those of GW and then making the leap that these prayers copied when he was a young man expressed Washington's mature faith is essential, because of the undeniable fact that you cannot find anything even vaguely along this line of expression in his mature correspondence.

 

Some goals I would like us to achieve today is to have a better understanding of the following questions - What were GW's religious beliefs and in this connection was George Washington a Christian? In addition to his personal views, what was GW's attitude toward religion? Finally, what does the diametrically opposed views on this question teach us in regards to better understanding history and how to present it to our classes [the final one will be mainly dealt with in discussion]

 

At the outset, I want to emphasize that this is in fact a very difficult subject to deal with.. There are several reasons for this.

 

In the first place the desire of people to have GW in their camp makes an objective analysis of his thought more difficult. As Richard Brookhiser has noted, "Washington has been a screen on which Americans have projected their religious wishes and aversions." This desire - and it is true for all of us, myself included, make impartial analysis more difficult.

 

What makes the task even more challenging is GW's extreme reticence to disclose his personal feelings on matters in general and on religion in particular. Bishop William White, the Anglican clergyman who was well acquainted with GW wrote, "I knew no man who seemed so carefully to guard against the discoursing of himself or of his acts, or of anything pertaining to him. Rev. Samuel Miller added, GW habitually displayed an "unusual but uniform reticence on the subject of religion. Paul Boller whose book on GW and Religion although over 35 years old is still the best work on the subject, wrote, - "When it came to religion, GW was, if anything, more reserved than he was about anything else pertaining to his life."

Dorothy Twohig, the perceptive editor of the GW Papers who spoke to you earlier in the week, made this insightful comment, "It took me more than 12 years, working almost daily with George Washington, to get a sense of who the man was. He was so cautious, so reserved, so concerned with precedent and with his reputation that he rarely committed to paper anything for which he could be held responsible. Very discreet he was - an editor's nightmare. But it does show how politically astute he was because he learned early on that what you don't say publicly you don't have to explain or deny. [I think this last sentence is particularly good to keep in mind when we examine the subject of GW and religion]

 

The following vignette makes the same point. It is said that some one asked of Lord Beaconsfield his religion. He replied, "The religion of wise men." Thereupon, his interlocutor again ask, "What religion is that," and my Lord answered, Wise men never tell." Washington was a wise man and never told.

 

Finally, there is a lack of philosophical bent in GW to work out a detailed theology. GW does not appear to me a particularly introspective man who will spend his time trying to plumb the mysteries of human existence. He is more of a doer than a philosopher. In an off handed but I think revealing quote, he declared, "In religion my tenets are few and simple." As historian Robert Dalzell expresses it, "Little given to abstract theorizing, he inclined to keep his innermost thoughts to himself.

 

With these caveats in mind and accepting that our conclusions must be tentative and include a certain amount of informed speculation, let us examine the question of GW's religion and whether he should be properly be viewed as a Christian.

 

To even raise the issue of whether GW was a Christian is in the minds of many people at least the height of insolence - if it does not go even further and approach blasphemy.

 

The words Washington's beloved step grand daughter, Nellie Custis Lewis, brought up by GW and MW as a daughter are worth considering. She wrote the historian, Jared Sparks, long after GW's death. [1833]

 

"I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian…. Is it necessary that any one should certify, "General Washington avowed himself to me to be a believer in Christianity? We may as well question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country."

 

Sparks himself adds, "To say that he was not a Christian, or at least that he did not believe himself to be a Christian, would be to impeach his sincerity and honesty."

 

There is force to both these quotes - and I would have to add that I have no doubt from my own study of GW is that this is not a question that he would want us to examine. Religion is particularly personal matter - it is between a man and his God. Quoting GW from a letter about something else GW did not want the world examining, namely his relationship with SCF, "the world has no business knowing that…. when I want to conceal it…"

 

Of course GW would not want detailed scrutiny of many aspects of his life - not only SCF and religion, but his views on and treatment regarding slavery [and no, he did not father a slave child by Venus but that is for another day] his ambition, his land dealings, his desire for fame. Yet, if one is striving to understand the character of GW and not just follow his career, these points can be fruitful areas of research - and I would submit so can an examination of GW's religious views be beneficial in helping us get a clearer understanding of the man and what makes him tick.

 

Was GW a Christian?

 

Of course, a great deal depends how you define the term - one can in fact make a make a strong case that GW was a Christian - a life long member of the Anglican church, baptized, married and buried within the church, a vestryman, a fairly consistent - if not regular - attendant of church, a man who occasionally specifically referred to himself as a Christian and certainly never explicitly said he was not one, a man whom those who knew him well [like Eliza Powell and John Marshall] called a Christian - a man who was a strong believer in a Supreme Creator who actively intervened in the world and who was "wise, irresistible and inscrutable," a man who strongly supported religion as a necessary prop to morality, a man who was always respectful to the Christian church and its clergy and supported by them. That is a lot of points on one side of the equation.

 

Indeed, I would be willing to concede that in the way many if not most Americans use the term, GW was a Christian, and frankly, GW probably thought of himself as one. Ironically, however, the people who argue most vehemently that GW was a Christian would insist that being a church goer and church supporter, believing in a Supreme Being and Divine force, and being a moral person does not make one a Christian. It is hard to be a Christian without belief in Christ and in the redemptive power of Christ's love and his sacrifice in order to insure the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of life everlasting. I will argue that using the definition of Christian that evangelical Christians use, GW cannot properly be referred to as a Christian and in fact, as Barry Schwartz notes, GW's "practice of Christianity was limited and superficial".

 

While admitting there are two sides to the issue [and Mary may indicate the other side later], let me indicate why I argue as I do.

 

I think it is difficult to be a true Christian without any reference to Christ.

 

The total and complete lack of the use of the words, Jesus Christ, or terms like saviour or redeemer in his personal correspondence is to me a remarkable fact. Every one arguing the close connection between GW and Christianity must surmount this staggering obstacle. The absence is so total that I cannot conclude other than that it is conscious - he does not even refer to Jesus as a great moral teacher or prophet. There is simply no reference to the person, Jesus, either implicit or explicit. GW "seems to have made a taboo of the word, Jesus Christ. In the congressional calls for days of confession, thanksgiving, they include things like "through the merits of JC' GW slightly modifies as to not to use the word. Hughes, p. 292. IN John Adams proclamations, he uses words such as "Redeemer of the World, The Grace of His Holy Spirit, The Great Mediator and Redeemer. GW does not use such phrases.

 

Admittedly, there are a couple of references to Christ- implicit or explicit - in his public papers [although they are few and far between] Could give the quotes [to Indians, circular letter of 1783, to troops at Valley Forge - it is perhaps worth noting that these rare exceptions are without exception not in GW's handwriting [As the great GW biographer, DSF notes, "The warmth of the faith was more definitely that of the aide than that of the Commander-in Chief]

 

In an article published in the most recent issue of the VMHB, I examined in some detail GW's attitude toward death and an afterlife which I believe sheds some light on his relationship to Christian beliefs.

Quoting myself [I will confess to being an eclectic thief taking ideas and words from other sources for this talk so it is nice to be able to do it from myself on occasion. J]

 

Did Washington expect to be reunited with those who were snatched from him by death? While the evidence is admittedly fragmentary and inconsistent, a careful reading of what Washington said - and did not say - indicates that Washington was skeptical about a reunion with loved ones in another life.

 

The most striking aspect of Washington's view of life after death centers on what he does not say. Not once in all of his authentic, extant correspondence does he explicitly indicate his belief in the reunion of loved ones in Heaven. Certainly the greatest comfort of religion in general and of Christianity in particular is this hope. Washington may urge those in grief to find consolation in religion, but in all the letters of condolence he writes he never gives his recipients the comfort of his assurance that he believes they will meet again with their loved ones.

 

In Washington's final hours, as faithfully recounted by his faithful secretary, Tobias Lear, there is no reference to any religious words or prayers, no request for forgiveness, no fear of divine judgment, no call for a minister although ample time existed to call one if desired, no deathbed farewell, no promise or hope of meeting again in Heaven.71 ... I think the query of Reverend Samuel Miller is particularly pertinent. "How was it possible, he asked, for a true Christian, in the full exercise of his mental faculties, to die without one expression of distinctive belief, or Christian hope?" It is significant that Lear ends his diary account with the explicit hope that he will meet Washington in Heaven, but his sense of fidelity to a true record keeps him from putting such words in Washington's mouth [of course others were not so scrupulous and accounts quickly emerged of Washington dying a "Christian" death with Parson Weems leading the way].72 Perhaps Washington did not take special leave of any of the family because as Thomas Law wrote, "he had frequently disapproved of the afflicting farewells which aggravated sorrows on those melancholy occasions",74 but words of hope of future reunion - if honestly voiced - would surely have given comfort to those left behind. … The Christian images of judgment, redemption through the sacrifice of Christ, and eternal life for the faithful find no resonance in any of Washington's known writings.

 

The argument that George and Martha Washington viewed the concept of an afterlife differently is further supported by examining the letters written to each by Jackie Custis on learning of the sudden death of his sister, Patsy, from seizures. In his letter to his mother, Jackie urges her to "remember you are a Christian". Patsy's "case is more to be envied than pitied, for if we mortals can distinguish between those who are deserving of grace & those who are not, I am confident she enjoys that Bliss prepar'd only for the good & virtuous, let these considerations, My dear Mother have their due weight with you and comfort yourself with reflecting that she now enjoys in substance what we in this world enjoy in imagination & that there is no real Happiness on this side of the grave."75 His letter to his stepfather is completely void of such sentiments as if they would not have given solace to Washington.76

 

Several other points reinforce the superficial connection between GW and the Christian faith.

 

GW sometimes writes about Christianity as if he is an outsider. In a revealing letter to Lafayette to whom he writes with a frankness shared with no other correspondent, Washington writes, "Being no bigot myself to any mode or worship, I am disposed to indulge professors of Christianity…that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct plainest easiest and least liable to exception." Or to Edward Newenham, " Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes, that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far, that we should never again see religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of Society."

 

"In his advice to his stepchildren, nephews, and others whom he befriended, he gave no religious advice whatever" although they are full of advice on the proper way to live. His letters to his nephews admonish them about their manners and morals but in no case does he suggest that they should read the Bible, keep the Sabbath, go to church nor do they contain any warning against infidelity [The closest I have found is a letter to GWPC where GW says, 'do your duty to God and man.']

 

Rupert Hughes makes a good pt [p.273] that GW's last will and testament contains not a penny for religious purposes and has no hint of concern with any phase of theology after the opening phrase, "In the name of God, amen". [and GW wrote the will by himself]

 

There is no evidence that GW provided any religious education for his slaves and Oney Judge, Martha's seamstress who successfully ran away from MV that there was none. According to a later interview in 1846, she said, "she never received the least mental or moral instruction of any kind while she remained in Washington's family. … the stories of Washington's piety and prayers, so far as she ever saw or heard while she was his slave, have no foundation. Card-playing and wine-drinking were the business at his parties, and he had more of such company Sundays than on any other day."

 

GW did not go to church more than about once a month on average and perhaps less than that. While his attendance was relatively high as President, it was much less frequent after he left office and I believe there he only went 3 times in the nearly 3 years he lived after the presidency.

 

It seems clear that never took Holy Communion, despite considerable pressure to do so. He rarely quotes the Bible and then to make a secular point. Most likely he did not pray on his knees [and almost certainly not on the snow at Valley Forge!] His records confirm that he occasionally worked, entertained, went fox hunting, and drank on the Sabbath. [there was a distillery on MV] Am not sure if he danced and gambled on the Sabbath but he certainly did on other days.

 

Another aspect which limits GW's close connection to the Christian faith is his desire for fame. While I don't have time to go into it, GW's ambition and desire for fame was very close to the core of his being. Washington appears to be more interested in acquiring a different type of immortality, a secular immortality by achieving fame across the ages.<su101> In another interesting letter to Lafayette, Washington talks about the "bards", those poets "who hold the keys of the gate by which Patriots, sages and heroes are admitted to immortality!" The ancient bards are called "both the priests and the door-keepers to the temple of fame."<su102> This desire for fame was inconsistent with the traditional Christian emphasis upon the utter insignificance of this world when set against the tremendous importance of the eternal afterlife. [p.186]

 

 

Finally, some of the clergymen who knew him admitted his Christian beliefs were not all they wished. I previously quoted Rev Miller about his concern for what GW did not say on his deathbed.

 

Rev Dr. Bird Wilson, sermon in 1831 GW "was esteemed by the whole world as a great and good man; but he was not a professing Christian"

 

Bishop William White "I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove Gen. W. to have been a believer in the Christian revelation" [Hughes, 287]

 

According to Arthur Bradford, Rev. Ashbel Green declared, "while GW was very deferential to religion and its ceremonies…. He was not a Christian but a Deist"

 

There is an interesting story which Thomas Jefferson tell the story, as he wrote it in his Diary, for February 1, 1800, just six weeks after Washington's death:

"Feb. 1. Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the Government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article in their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice…. "I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in the system (Christianity) than he did." (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, p. 284.)

 

 

 

To argue that GW was not an orthodox Christian is of course not to argue that he was as John Remsburg calls him, "an infidel" Certainly that phrase is every bit as off base as "evangelical Christian." While GW does not evince a sense of closeness to God, he is the opposite of an infidel.

 

At the center of GW's religious view is the concept of God or Providence [Washington uses a remarkable number of different names for this force such as "the supreme disposer of all events", "the Almighty ruler of the universe", the "great governor of the Universe", and dozens of others]. This super natural force is the giver of life and is a force which actively intervenes in human life. Washington has often been described as a Deist, but if he was, he best fits into the category of what Edwin Gaustad has called a "warm deist".42 The image of the great 'watch maker' who creates the world but does not intervene in it does not comport with Washington's ideas. Washington consistently stresses three aspects about this supernatural force. It is wise, it is inscrutable, and it is irresistible.43 The emphasis is often on the inscrutable nature of Providence. Its actions can't be understood from man's perspective. Man "can only form conjectures agreeable to the small extent of our knowledge and ignorant of the comprehensive schemes intended."44

 

Sometimes this Providence is described in strongly personal terms, but at other times it is a symbol for Fate or destiny. It is worth noting that GW uses the phrase, "He, She and It" to describe Providence, a point which would indicate that he does not have a very distinct personal view of this Force in his mind. [so Flexner]

 

GW to Thomas Nelson March 15, 1779

Our Affairs, according to my judgment, are now come to a crisis, and require no small degree of political skill, to steer clear of those shelves and Rocks which tho deeply buried, may wreck our hopes, and throw us upon some inhospitable shore. Unanimity in our Councils, disinterestedness in our pursuits, and steady perseverance in our national duty, are the only means to avoid misfortunes; if they come upon us after these we shall have the consolation of knowing that we have done our best, the rest is with the Gods. [Buffington distorts this - the rest is with God, etc.]

 

It is interesting that GW uses the phrase "with the Gods". Does that make him a polytheist? Of course not, but it shows how casually he can use the term.

 

 

 

 

In trying to better understand GW's religious philosophy I would like to quote four sentences from GW which taken together I think can help us understand GW's mindset on this question.

 

1. "If any power on earth could, or the great power above would, erect the standard of infallibility in political opinions, there is no being that inhabits this terrestrial globe that would resort to it with more eagerness than myself, so long as I remain a servant of the public. But as I have found no better guide hitherto than upright intentions, and close investigation, I will follow that course while I man the watch."

 

2. "In what way they will terminate, is known only to the great ruler of events; and confiding in his wisdom and goodness, we may safely trust the issue to him, without perplexing ourselves to seek for that, which is beyond human ken; only taking care to perform the parts assigned us, in a way that reason and our own consciences approve of."

 

 

3. "Perhaps nothing can excite more perfect harmony in the soul than to have this string[commendations of the virtuous and enlightened part of our species.] vibrate in unison with the internal consciousness of rectitude in our intentions and an humble hope of approbation from the supreme disposer of all things. [the last sentence is particularly enlightening for GW's philosophy]"

 

4. "While doing what my conscience informed me was right, as it respected my God, my country and myself, I could despise all the party clamor and unjust censures which might be expected from some."

 

 

GW does not see the truth revealed so there is no dispute as to what it is - thus the key is to act in concert with your conscience which has more power for GW than revealed religion. From rules of Civility which GW copied as a youngster and which influenced his life, the final rule was - keep the heavenly spark of conscience alive in you. This he does. GW is confident he knows what is "just" and "right" and he does not rely on some kind of revealed religion or Holy Book to tell him so. It may seem overly simplistic to us in our post Darwin, post Freud, post Einstein age, but it worked well for GW.

 

Perhaps the best way to view GW is to realize that he "was a man of honor, not a man of religion" His ethics are more Stoical rather than Christian. "The one considers vice as offensive to the Divine being, the other as something beneath him." [Richard, The Founders and the Classics, P.185] In Freeman's words, "GW was just because justice was right and because lack of it would cost him some of his self-respect. He could not be fair to himself if he were unjust to others." [V, 500]

 

As Dorothy Twohig notes, Washington's "interest in religion always appears to have been perfunctory". I believe the image of GW as a man of honor rather than a man of religion helps explain why that is the case.

 

At least as it applied to him. Washington certainly sees religion as playing a vital role in society. There is a tension here - because GW sees both the great usefulness of religion - basically as a prop for morality, but at the same time sectarian religion poses a great threat to social order for as he writes,] "Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause." This tension leads GW to both be a great proponent of religion - and a surprisingly eloquent champion of religious liberty and freedom of conscience as well.

 

Time prohibits going into this aspect of GW's views in great depth, but it is clear he had no reservations about publicly acknowledging the importance of religious faith for the nation's destiny, just as he was always prepared to insist that American citizens enjoy the fullest measure of religious liberty and that American institutions gave to bigotry no sanction."

 

His clearest statement of the need for religion is in his Farewell Address [authored primarily by AH but still GW's ideas and thoughts]

 

Read Boller [p.46-47, Xeroxed] See 15a

 

Note: GW refused to place secular humanists beyond the pale. The "influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure" he acknowledged might make possible a moral life unsupported by religion. In fact GW significantly softened AH's original section to include that concession, but still the thrust was on the necessity for religion as a "support" "pillar" and "prop" for society.

 

In GW's eyes [as for many of the Founders] the syllogism went something like this:

 

1. Virtue and morality are necessary for free republican gov.

2. Religion is necessary for virtue and morality.

3. Ergo - religion is necessary for republican government.

 

GW's attitude is clearly conservative -the church is to be a conserving not a reforming force in society. He looked at it as a bulwark of the American and political order. As Boller notes, these views on the social uses of institutional religion were conventional enough to satisfy most religionists.

 

In discussing GW's views on religion - I need to conclude with just a brief mention of GW and religious liberty. In the fight against bigotry in America, GW played a role second to none. As he wrote GM, "no man's sentiment are more opposed to any kind of restraint upon religious principles than mine are."

 

"If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any religious society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and, if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be administered as to render liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution." (To the General Committee Representing the United Baptist Churches of Virginia.)

 

"The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights. While men perform their social duties faithfully, they do all that society or the state can with propriety demand or expect; and remain responsible to their Maker for the religion or modes of faith which they may prefer or express." (To the Quakers, 1789.)

 

In the U.S., "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the Untied States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens."

 

While GW's personal religious views will inevitably remain subject to differing interpretations, I think a look at his philosophy shows an urbane and sophisticated man who was an apostle for religious liberty and one of the finest products of the enlightenment. In this as in so many ways, Washington remains an inspiration and a role model.

 

Thanks and I look forward to your questions and discussion.