The assistant rector at Christ Church in Philadelphia, the Reverend James Abercrombie, once preached a vehement sermon protestingÂ the â€œunhappy tendencyÂ ofâ€¦those in elevated stations who invariably turned their backs upon theÂ celebration of the Lordâ€™s Supper.â€ ThoughÂ Abercrombie did not nameÂ names, then President George Washington, who was in attendance that day, took the message to be aimed directly at himÂ and thought it â€œa very just reproof.â€ Washingtonâ€™s custom had long been to excuse himself from church when it came time to partake of the sacraments and he now realized that by so doing he had deeply offended his fellow congregants. Thus, Washington resolved from then on to skip church altogether on Sacrament Sundays (Holmes, pp. 63-4).
So, no, George Washington wasÂ notÂ an orthodox Christian in any conventional or historic sense. Though he never went so far as to take scissors to the Bible the way Thomas Jefferson did, his faith was clearlyÂ a predictable sort of Deism with no room for the miraculous, much less the sacramental. In his letters to churches, for instance,Â he wrote in typical Deist-speak,Â variouslyÂ referringÂ to â€œProvidence,â€ â€œthe Deity,â€ â€œthe Grand Architect,â€ and the like, but never to, say, the divinity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, James Madison abandoned orthodox ChristianityÂ for Deism while in his twenties andÂ John Adams was a Unitarian (bordering on Deism) who denied theÂ existence of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. There were, of course, sincere orthodox Christians among the Founding Fathers, like Patrick Henry (who, it should be remembered,Â sharply opposedÂ ratifyingÂ the Constitution) and Samuel Adams (who historically was muchÂ better at brewing trouble than beer). But orthodox Christians were by no means either the most numerous or the most prominent members of the Founders. [Read more…] about In God We Trust: A July 4th Conversation on the Historian’s Vocation & the Church