Rational Rant Supplement

Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

Favorite Quotations

James Meacham on the Danger of a Union of Church and State

The reason more generally urged, is the danger of a union of church and State. If the danger were real, we should be disposed to take the most prompt and decided measures to forestall the evil, because one of the worst for the religious and political interests of this nation that could possibly overtake us. But we deem this apprehension entirely imaginary; and we think any one of the petitioners must be convinced of this on examination of the facts. I have prepared a table showing the churches, ministers, members, and worshippers, in the leading denominations of Christians in this land. It was hastily made, and is doubtless imperfect. I shall append another table, which was published in the Christian Almanac; and any person who has the leisure may compare, and from both form a correct conclusion. The column of worshippers was made by taking from the census the list of church accommodations of each church. This, of course, makes no pretence to entire accuracy; but it is, comparatively, perfectly fair, because it assumes that all churches are filled with worshippers, and that this is the measure of them. It is the nearest and fairest approach to accuracy that I know how to make. Now look at that score of different denominations, and tell us, do you believe it possible to make a majority agree in forming a league to unite their religious interests with those of the State? If you take from the larger sects, you must select some three or four of the largest to make a majority of clergy, or laity, or worshippers. And these sects are widely separated in their doctrines, their religious rites, and in their church discipline. How do you expect them to unite for any such object? If you take the smaller sects, you must unite some fifteen to make a majority, and must take such discordant materials as the Quaker, the Jew, the Universalist, the Unitarian, the Tunker, and the Swedenborgian. Does any one suppose it possible to make these harmonize? If not, there can be no union of church and State. Your committee know of no denomination of Christians who wish for such union. They have had their existence in the voluntary system, and wish it to continue. The sentiment of the whole body of American Christians is against a union with the State. A great change has been wrought in this respect. At the adoption of the constitution, we believe every State—certainly ten of the thirteen—provided as regularly for the support of the church, as for the support of the government: one, Virginia, had the system of tithes. Down to the Revolution, every colony did sustain religion in some form. It was deemed peculiarly proper that the religion of liberty should be upheld by a free people. Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged—not any one sect. Any attempt to level and discard all religion, would have been viewed with universal indignation. The object was not to substitute Judaism, or Mahomedanism, or infidelity, but to prevent rivalry among sects to the exclusion of others. The result of the change above named is, that now there is not a single State that, as a State, supports the gospel. In 1816 Connecticut repealed her law which was passed to sustain the church; and in 1833, Massachusetts wiped from her statute-book the last law on the subject that existed in the whole Union. Every one will notice that this is a very great change to be made in so short a period—greater than, we believe, was ever before made in ecclesiastical affairs in sixty-five years, without a revolution or some great convulsion. This change has been made silently and noiselessly, with the consent and wish of all parties, civil and religious. From this it will be seen that the tendency of the times is not to a union of church and State, but is decidedly and strongly bearing in an opposite direction. Every tie is sundered; and there is no wish on either side to have the bond renewed. It seems to us that the men who would raise the cry of danger in this state of things, would cry fire on the thirty-ninth day of a general deluge.

[Representative James Meacham (Whig, Vermont) served from 1849 to 1856. This paragraph comes from HR 124, 33rd Cong. 1st Sess., p. 6, a report on chaplains.]

Favorite Quotations


The very globe we live on is a far more interesting sphere than it can have been when men supposed that men like themselves would be on it to the end of time. It is only since we heard what Darwin had to say … that the Book of Life has taken so strong a hold on us and “once taken up, cannot,” as the reviewers say, “readily be laid down.” The work doesn’t strike us as a masterpiece yet, certainly; but who knows that it isn’t—that it won’t be, judged as a whole?

Max Beerbohm

When Nature intends anyone to be a highly cultivated artist, she generally forces them on by condemning them to fiendishness or loutishness until they fulfil her intention. However, there must be exceptions to this, except perhaps as to the fiendishness.

Bernard Shaw


FAITH, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Ambrose Bierce


… critics can usually be found to defend any nonsense and see in it proof of the subtlety of the author’s thought.

W. W. Greg

… there ain’t nothing you can do with a bag of crap except bury it.

Pap Finn


The rise of slavery in the South was inevitable only in the sense that every event in history seems inevitable after it has occurred.

Kenneth M. Stampp


In the future, etiquette will become more and more important. That doesn’t mean knowing which fork to pick up—I mean basic consideration for the rights of other animals (human beings included) and the willingness, whenever practical, to tolerate the other guy’s idiosyncracies.
We live in a world where people preach at you constantly (like now, even)—telling you not to be fat, you can’t smoke, you can’t eat butter, sugar will kill you, everything is bad for you—especially sex. Every natural human urge has been thwarted in one way or another, so that some cocksucker gets to make a dollar off your guilt.

Frank Zappa

No quarter whatever should be given to the bigotry of people so unfit for social life as to insist not only that their own prejudices and superstitions should have the fullest toleration but that everybody else should be compelled to think and act as they do.

Bernard Shaw

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.

Abraham Lincoln


By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not upon very convincing evidence. Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels.

Ambrose Bierce


It is said that every people has the Government it deserves. It is more to the point that every Government has the electorate it deserves; for the orators of the front bench can edify or debauch an ignorant electorate at will. Thus our democracy moves in a vicious circle of reciprocal worthiness and unworthiness.

Bernard Shaw


From the beginning you are immortal and children of eternal life. You wished to take death to yourselves as your portion in order that you might destroy it and annihilate it utterly, and that death might die in you and through you. For when you destroy the world and yourselves are not destroyed, then you are lords over the whole creation and over all decay.



To the small part of ignorance that we can arrange and classify we give the name Knowledge.

Ambrose Bierce

One legend of Alexandria, probably false, states that the library was still intact when Muslims captured the city in the seventh century. The emir Amrou Ibn El-Ass, having conquered Alexandria in 642, wrote to the caliph Omar asking (in part) what must be done with the library (and hoping against hope that the caliph would spare this great treasure). But the warlike and uncompromising Omar replied with the most stunning “heads I win, tails you lose” in all human history. The books, he proclaimed, are either contrary to the Koran, in which case they are heretical and must be destroyed, or they are consonant with the Koran, in which case they are superfluous and must also be destroyed. The contents of the library were therefore burned to heat water in the public baths of Alexandria. The books and scrolls kept the fires going for six months.

Omar will never win any praise from intellectuals, but I do grasp his point in an entirely reversed way. Microdictyon and Halkieria are, in a sense, either heretical (if lying outside the range of modern forms) or superfluous (if lying inside). But in either case, they are equally wonderful and worthy of our most cherished interest and protection—and in this judgment lies the difference between most of us and the enemies of the light. In this lies the turf that we must defend at all costs.

Stephen Jay Gould

Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

Jesus of Nazareth


MIRACLE, n. An act or event out of the order of nature and unaccountable, as beating a normal hand of four kings and an ace with four aces and a king.

Ambrose Bierce

When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up too long.

Murray Slaughter


It has been argued that complete objectivity is impossible, since scholars are human beings, with their own loyalties and biases. This is no doubt true, but does not affect the issue. To borrow an analogy, any surgeon will admit that complete asepsis is also impossible, but one does not, for that reason, perform surgery in a sewer.

Bernard Lewis


PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

Ambrose Bierce

Patriotism, though it is based upon the natural and indeed instinctive love of home, has been elevated in the modern world into an unparalleled congeries of imbecilities. What it demands of the individual citizen, as a practical matter, is that he yield not only his judgment but also his property and even his life to whatever gang of scheming politicians happen to be in power. The essence of his virtue as a patriot is that he ask not questions, once the band is set to playing.

H. L. Mencken


POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Ambrose Bierce


And it strikes me as gruesome and comical that in our culture we have an expectation that a man can always solve his problems. There is the implication that if you just have a little more energy, a little more fight, the problem can always be solved. This is so untrue that it makes me want to cry—or laugh. Culturally American men aren’t supposed to cry. So I don’t cry much—but I do laugh a lot. When I think about a stupid, uneducated black junkie in this city, and then I run into some optimist who feels that any man can lift himself above his origins if he’s any good—that’s something to cry about or laugh about. A sort of braying, donkeylike laugh. But every laugh counts, because every laugh feels like a laugh.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


…we so easily make the mistake of assuming that our world—the world perceived by human senses—is the “real” world. A particular bit of forest is a very different place to a caterpillar, a bird, or a man living there. We naturally describe the forest in the way we see it—which works for most human purposes. But it doesn’t necessarily work if we are trying to understand the behavior of the bird or the caterpillar.

Marston Bates


RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Ambrose Bierce

Latter-day Protestantism, by selecting the humaner passages of the Bible, and teaching them to the world, whilst allowing those of a different sort to lie dormant, has produced the highest and purest and best individuals which modern society has known. Thus used, the Bible is the most valuable of books. but the strongly-worded authority for all the religious atrocities of the Middle Ages is still in it, and some day or other it may again become as heavy a curse to the world as it formerly was. The devastating powers of the Book are only suspended, not extinguished. An Expurgated Bible would not be an unuseful thing.

Samuel Clemens

…I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I….

Hunter Thompson

How dangerous is the apparently pious doctrine that the Christian religion is a part of the common law. If it be true, all who disbelieve that religion are habitual breakers of the law. The Jew, the Hindoo, the Pagan, are perpetual malefactors . . . . It is a melancholy truth, that those who believe in one God, have been more intolerant than Pagans. Polytheism, however erroneous, by allowing the worship of numerous Gods, became indulgent to the introduction of many new ones. But the Mohammedans, the Jews, and above all, I am compelled to say, the Christians, have been guilty of the cruelest persecutions that ever afflicted the human race.

Thaddeus Stevens


A penalty of the scholar’s vocation to which he must steel himself is the reading of rubbish….

Samuel Schoenbaum


In the course of our visit a discussion arose as to the credibility of any Negro assertion, though, indeed, that could hardly be called a discussion that was simply a chorus of assenting opinions. No Negro was to be believed on any occasion or anyh subject. No doubt they are habitual liars, for they are slaves; but there are some thrice honorable exceptions, who, being slaves, are yet not liars; and certainly the vice results much more from the circumstances in which they are placed than from any natural tendency to untruth in their case. The truth is that they are always considered as false and deceitful, and it is very seldom that any special investigation of the facts of any particular case is resorted to in their behalf. They are always prejudged on their supposed general characteristics, and never judged after the fact on the merit of any special instance.

Fanny Kemble


Whenever a critic makes much use of a higher truth you may suppose he is trying to conceal a lower falsity.

Morton Smith

…I have always found that the only kind of statement worth making is an overstatement. A half truth, like half a brick, is always more forcible as an argument than a whole one. It carries further.

Stephen Leacock


Any fanciful way of naming the days would be bad, as too sharply differentiating one day from another. What we must strive for in the Dawn is that every day shall be as nearly as possible like every other day.

H. G. W*lls


If one does not stand in the darkness, he will not be able to see the light.

Jesus of Nazareth


Any man can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he’s supposed to be doing.

Robert Benchley


Marston Bates:

…we so easily make the mistake… The Forest and the Sea (New York, 1960), p. 142. Bates distinguishes among the percep­tual environment (“including only the ele­ments perceived by the organism”), the effective environment (“including all elements which affect the organism, whether perceived or not”), and total reality (“including all elements that can be detected or inferred, whether they influence the organism in any way or not”).

Max Beerbohn:

The very globe we live on… From the opening paragraph of “Quia Imper­fectum” in And Even Now; p. 110 in my copy.

See also H. G. W*lls.

Robert Benchley:

Any man can do… Quoted by Nathaniel Benchley in the Los Angeles Times for 12 December 1981

Ambrose Bierce:

By most writers… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 125 in my copy.

FAITH… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 95 in my copy.

MIRACLE… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 218 in my copy.

PATRIOT… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 248 in my copy.

POLITICS… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 258 in my copy.

RELIGION… from The Devil’s Dictionary; p. 283 in my copy.

To the small part of ignorance… from Epigrams; p. 376 in volume viii of the Collected Works; I originally got it in an altered form by Leonard Louis Levinson, Webster’s Unafraid Dictionary, p. 130. Levinson writes: “A great number of the contributions were never said or written in word-definition form but were edited, revised and sometimes reversed to make them fit our requirements and framework.” (xii)

Samuel Clemens:

Latter-day Protestantism… untitled MS, in the University of Iowa edition of What is Man and other writings, pp. 57-8.

Pap Finn:

…there ain't nothin' you can do… From John Seelye, The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, p. 15.

Stephen Jay Gould:

One legend of Alexandria… “Enigmas of the Small Shellies,” in Natural History, October 1990, p. 17.

W. W. Greg:

… critics can usually be found…. The Shakespeare First Folio, Ox­ford, 1955, p. 270.

Jesus of Nazareth:

If one does not stand in the darkness… Dialogue of the Savior, 133.23-4.

Know what is in front…. Gospel of Thomas, logion 5 (Scholars Version); the Jesus Seminar gives the first part a gray rating and the second part a pink, for those who are inter­ested in “authenticity”.

Fanny Kemble:

In the course of our visit… Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1961) p. 155

Stephen Leacock:

…I have always found… From the preface to The Garden of Folly, New York, 1924. The quotation is the conclusion of the preface, on page x.

Bernard Lewis:

It has been argued that complete objectivity… From “In Defense of History,” Proceedings, American Philosophical Society (vol. 143, no. 4, 1999), p. 586.

Abraham Lincoln:

This is a world of compensations… from a speech given in Cin­cinnati in 1859, cited in Stephen B. Oates, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myths, Harper & Row, 1984, p. 76. From the Complete Works 3:376?

H. L. Mencken:

Patriotism, though it is based… Minority Report, pp. 115-6.

Samuel Schoenbaum:

A penalty of the scholar’s vocation… Shakespeare’s Lives, first edition, p. 373. See also pp. 529-30: “The historian may lament the necessity of having to make his way through thousands of pages of rubbish, some of it lunatic rubbish. He must, however, reckon the heretical movements as part of his story, for anti-biography is, after all, an aspect of biography.”

Bernard Shaw:

It is said that every people… Complete Plays, I 452. From the preface to Heartbreak House.

No quarter whatever… Complete Plays, V 235. From the preface to The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet.

When Nature intends… Letter to Ellen Terry, 24 June 1892, found on p. 4 of Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw; A Correspondence.

Murray Slaughter:

When a donkey flies… from the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Murray Slaughter was a character on that show; I don’t have the name of the writer for this particular show.

Morton Smith:

Whenever a critic… “The Present State of Old Testament Stud­ies,” in JBL [volume number missing] p. 21.

Kenneth M. Stampp:

The rise of slavery in the South… The Peculiar Institution (New York, 1956), p. 5.

Thaddeus Stevens:

How dangerous is… from a speech in defense of a 7th Day Ad­ventist accused of breaking the Sabbath laws, apparently unpublished, quoted by Fawn Brodie, pp. 54-5.

Hunter S. Thompson:

I have never seen much point… Rolling Stone #214, 3 June 1976.


From the beginning you are immortal… From Werner Foester, Gnosis 1:242. This is fragment 4 of Valentinus, from a lost homily quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom IV 13 = § 89, 2-3).

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:

And it strikes me as gruesome… Playboy Interview, 1973.

H. G. W*lls:

Any fanciful way… From Max Beerbohm’s H. G. Wells parody, “Per­kins and Mankind,” in A Christmas Garland, 1912.

Frank Zappa:

In the future, etiquette… The Real Frank Zappa Book, 233.


William McGuffey

...Let us be careful never to inculcate any doubtful principle of morality or religion; or to recommend, by precept or example, any wrong, or even equivocal sentiment or feeling.

We may, nay we must, have our own speculative opinions—hypotheses in morals, which we have not yet been able either to verify or disprove by inductive experience. But, in this state, fellow-teachers, let them never once be named in our schools: nor let them begin to influence our conduct as practical teachers. The intellectual and moral character of our pupils is too valuable, to be made the subject of rash and hazardous experiment.

The christian religion, is the religion of our country. From it are derived our prevalent notions of the character of God, the great moral governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions. From its sanctions are derived the obligations to veracity imposed in the administration of justice. In its revelations are found the only certain grounds of hope in reference to that, else unknown future, which lies beyond the horizon of time. It alone places a guard over the conscience, which never slumbers, and whose eye cannot be evaded by any address of the delinquent. Its maxims, its precepts, its sentiments, and even its very spirit, have become so incorporated with the mind and soul of civilization, and all refinement, that it cannot be eradicated, or even opposed, without imminent hazard of all that is beautiful, lovely, and valuable in the arts, in science, and in society.

Let us then, fellow-teachers, avoid, on the one hand, the inculcation of all sectarian peculiarities in religion: and on the other, let us beware of incurring the charge, (which will not fail to be made, and justly made,) of being enemies to our country's quiet, by teaching to our pupils the crude notions, and revolutionary principles of modern infidelity. It is, at best, but an unsustained hypothesis.

[Excerpt from William H. McGuffey, "Duties of Teachers and Parents," in Transactions of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Western Literary Institute, Cincinatti, 1836, p. 138.]

John Jay

Bedford, 12th October, 1816.

Accept, my good friend, my thanks for your kind letter of the 22d ult., and for the pamphlets enclosed with it. They came to my hands on the 2d inst. The state of my health is such, that I can read or write but little at a time without fatigue; and, therefore, I cannot prudently venture on the task you recommend.

Whether war of every description is prohibited by the gospel, is one of those questions on which the excitement of any of the passions can produce no light. An answer to it can result only from careful investigation and fair reasoning.

It appears to me that the gospel not only recognises the whole moral law, and extends and perfects our knowledge of it, but also enjoins on all mankind the observance of it. Being ordained by a legislator of infinite wisdom and rectitude, and in whom there is "no variableness," it must be free from imperfection, and therefore never has, nor ever will require amendment or alteration. Hence I conclude, that the moral law is exactly the same now that it was before the flood.

That all those wars and fightings are unlawful, which proceed from culpable desires and designs (or in Scripture language from lusts), on the one side or on the other, is too clear to require proof. As to wars of an opposite description, and many such there have been, I believe they are as lawful to the unoffending party in our days, as they were in the days of Abraham. He waged war against and defeated the five kings. He piously dedicated a tenth of the spoils; and, instead of being blamed, was blessed.

What should we think of a human legislator who should authorize or encourage infractions of his own laws? If wars of every kind and description are prohibited by the moral law, I see no way of reconciling such a prohibition with those parts of Scripture which record institutions, declarations, and interpositions of the Almighty which manifestly evince the contrary? If every war is sinful, how did it happen that the sin of waging any war is not specified among the numerous sins and offences which are mentioned and reproved in both the Testaments?

To collect and arrange the many facts and arguments which relate to this subject, would require more time and application than I am able to bestow. The aforegoing are hinted merely to exhibit some of the reasons on which my opinion rests.

It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. The most effectual way of producing it, is by extending the prevalence and influence of the gospel. Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war.

Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

I thank you for the kind wishes expressed in the conclusion of your letter. They refer to topics on which I have been accustomed to meditate, and are far more important than any which belong to this transient scene.

With the best wishes for your welfare, in the most enlarged sense,
I remain, your obliged friend,

[From William Jay, The Life of John Jay, With Selections from his Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers, New York, 1833, volume II, pp. 375-376]

John Adams

To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts:—

GENTLEMEN—I have received from Major General Hull and Brigadier-General Walker, your unanimous address from Lexington, animated with a martial spirit, and expressed with a military dignity, becoming your character and the memorable plains on which it was adopted.

An address so animated, and from the officers commanding two thousand eight hundred men, composed of such substantial citizens as are able and willing, at their own expense, completely to arm and clothe themselves in handsome uniform, does honour to that division of the militia, which has done so much honour to their country.

While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion.

Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations. That which you have taken, and so solemnly repeated on that venerable ground, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government.

(Signed) JOHN ADAMS.
Quincy, 11th October, 1798.

[From Maria Campbell and James Freeman Clarke, Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull, New York, 1848, pp. 265-266.]

George Washington 2

He was not accustomed to argue points of faith, but on one occasion, in reply to a gentleman who expressed doubts on the subject, thus gave his sentiments:—

"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.

"It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to; and well has it been said, that if there had been no God, mankind would have been obliged to imagine one."

From James Kirke Paulding, A Life of Washington, New York, 1835, volume 2, pp. 209-10. Paulding gives no source for this quotation and it has not surfaced since.

George Washington 1

It is impossible to govern the world without God. It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits and humbly implore his protection and favor. I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States ; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during the revolution ; or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of Him, who is alone able to protect them. He must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.

Found in the September 1867 issue of Hall's Journal of Health; quoted there from "TESTIMONIES of American Statesmen and Jurists, to the Truths of Christianity," by Hon. HENRY WILSON, United States Senator from Massachusetts, published by the American Tract Society, 28 Cornhill, Boston.

Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson

MONTICELLO, January 9, 1816.

MY DEAR AND ANCIENT FRIEND,—An acquaintance of fifty-two years, for I think ours dates from 1764, calls for an interchange of notice now and then, that we remain in existence, the monuments of another age, and examples of a friendship unaffected by the jarring elements by which we have been surrounded, of revolutions of government, of party and of opinion. I am reminded of this duty by the receipt, through our friend Dr. Patterson, of your synopsis of the four Evangelists. I had procured it as soon as I saw it advertised, and had become familiar with its use; but this copy is the more valued as it comes from your hand. This work bears the stamp of that accuracy which marks everything from you, and will be useful to those who, not taking things on trust, recur for themselves to the fountain of pure morals. I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of His doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; 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 preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were He to return on earth, would not recognize one feature. If I had time, I would add to my little book the Greek, Latin and French texts, in columns side by side. And I wish I could subjoin a translation of Gosindi's Syntagma of the doctrines of Epicurus, which, notwithstanding the calumnies of the Stoics and caricatures of Cicero, is the most rational system remaining of the philosophy of the ancients, as frugal of vicious indulgence, and fruitful of virtue as the hyperbolical extravagances of his rival sects.

I retain good health, am rather feeble to walk much, but ride with ease, passing two or three hours a day on horseback, and every three or four months taking in a carriage a journey of ninety miles to a distant possession, where I pass a good deal of my time. My eyes need the aid of glasses by night, and with small print in the day also; my hearing is not quite so sensible as it used to be; no tooth shaking yet, but shivering and shrinking in body from the cold we now experience, my thermometer having been as low as 12° this morning. My greatest oppression is a correspondence afflictingly laborious, the extent of which I have been long endeavoring to curtail. This keeps me at the drudgery of the writing-table all the prime hours of the day, leaving for the gratification of my appetite for reading, only what I can steal from the hours of sleep. Could I reduce this epistolary corvée within the limits of my friends and affairs, and give the time redeemed from it to reading and reflection, to history, ethics, mathematics, my life would be as happy as the infirmities of age would admit, and I should look on its consummation with the composure of one "qui summum nec me tuit diem nec optat."

So much as to myself, and I have given you this string of egotisms in the hope of drawing a similar one from yourself. I have heard from others that you retain your health, a good degree of activity, and all the vivacity and cheerfulness of your mind, but I wish to learn it more minutely from yourself. How has time affected your health and spirits? What are your amusements, literary and social? Tell me everything about yourself, because all will be interesting to me, who retains for you ever the same constant and affectionate friendship and respect.

Thomas Jefferson to Timothy Pickering

MONTICELLO, February 27, 1821.

I have received, Sir, your favor of the 12th, and I assure you I received it with pleasure. It is true, as you say, that we have differed in political opinions; but I can say with equal truth, that I never suffered a political to become a personal difference. I have been left on this ground by some friends whom I dearly loved, but I was never the first to separate. With some others, of politics different from mine, I have continued in the warmest friendship to this day, and to all, and to yourself particularly, I have ever done moral justice.

I thank you for Mr. Channing's discourse, which you have been so kind as to forward me. It is not yet at hand, but is doubtless on its way. I had received it through another channel, and read it with high satisfaction. No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel. In the present advance of truth, which we both approve, I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. As the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. We well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price and Priestley, for example. So there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. They are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. These accounts are to be settled only with Him who made us; and to Him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom, also, He is the only rightful and competent Judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.

In saying to you so much, and without reserve, on a subject on which I never permit myself to go before the public, I know that I am safe against the infidelities which have so often betrayed my letters to the strictures of those for whom they were not written, and to whom I never meant to commit my peace. To yourself I wish every happiness, and will conclude, as you have done, in the same simple style of antiquity, da operam ut valeas; hoc mihi gratius facere nihil potes.

[From Andrew A. Lipscomb, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, 1904), Volume XV, pp. 322-324.]

America's Christian Roots

A word of warning for those who may have stumbled upon this while surfing the internet: the material that follows is mostly untrue. This document, variously titled "Forsaken Roots," "America's Christian Roots," "What our Forefathers Believed," etc., etc., sets forth the Christian Nation doctrine in a brief form. Its "author" (or better, assembler) is unknown. There are many copies of it about the internet; this edition is based on four of them. Copies that I've seen fall into one of two recensions, a longer one and a shorter one. For reasons given in my commentary, it appears that the shorter is derived from the longer. The material in blue below is omitted in the shorter recension. sbh, 7 July 2008.

The U.S. Constitution was founded on Biblical principles, and it was the intention of the authors for this to be a Christian nation.

Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox, deeply committed Christians? The other three all believed in the bible as the divine truth, the God of Scripture, and His personal intervention.

It is the same Congress that formed the American Bible Society.

Immediately after creating the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress voted to purchase and import 20,000 copies of Scripture for the people of this nation.

Patrick Henry, who is called the firebrand of the American Revolution, is still remembered for his words, "Give me liberty or give me death"; but in current textbooks, the context of these words is omitted. Here is what he actually said: "An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. 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."

These sentences have been erased from our textbooks. Was Patrick Henry a Christian? The following year, 1776, he wrote this: "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 that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the front of his well-worn Bible: "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus also."

Consider these words from George Washington, the Father of our Nation, in his farewell speech on September 19, 1796: "It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supports. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Was George Washington a Christian? Consider these words from his personal prayer book: "Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of thee and thy son, Jesus Christ."

Consider these words by John Adams, our second president, who also served as chairman of the American Bible Society. In an address to military leaders he said: “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

How about our first Supreme Court Justice, John Jay? He stated that when we select our national leaders, if we are to preserve our Nation, we must select Christians: "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian Nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, was the sixth U.S. President. He was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role.

On July 4, 1821, President Adams said, "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."

Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President of the United States reaffirmed this truth when he wrote, "The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country."

In 1782, the United States Congress voted this resolution: "The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools."

William Holmes McGuffey is the author of the McGuffey Reader, which was used for over 100 years in our public schools, with over 125 million copies sold, until it was stopped in 1963. President Lincoln called him the "Schoolmaster of the Nation." Listen to these words of Mr. McGuffey: "The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our notions on the character of God, on the great moral Governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free Institutions. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology."

Of the first 108 universities founded in America, 106 were distinctly Christian, including the first, Harvard University, chartered in 1636. In the original Harvard Student Handbook, rule number 1 was that students seeking entrance must know Latin and Greek so that they could study the Scriptures: "Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, John 17:3; and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him (Proverbs 2:3)." For over 100 years, more than 50% of all Harvard graduates were pastors!

It is clear from history that the Bible and the Christian faith, were foundational in our educational and judicial system. However in 1947, there was a radical change of direction in the Supreme Court.

It required ignoring every precedent of Supreme Court ruling for the past 160 years. The Supreme Court ruled in a limited way to affirm a wall of separation between church and State in the public classroom. In the coming years, this led to removing prayer from public schools in 1962.

Here is the prayer that was banished: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee. We beg Thy blessings upon us and our parents and our teachers and our country. Amen."

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that Bible reading was outlawed as unconstitutional in the public school system. The court offered this justification: "If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could and have been psychologically harmful to children."

Bible reading was now unconstitutional, though the Bible was quoted 94% of the time by those who wrote our constitution and shaped our Nation and its system of education and justice and government.

In 1965, the Courts denied as unconstitutional the rights of a student in the public school cafeteria to bow his head and pray audibly for his food.

In 1980, Stone vs. Graham outlawed the Ten Commandments in our public schools. The Supreme Court said this: “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments were to have any effect at all, it would be to induce school children to read them. And if they read them, meditated upon them, and perhaps venerated and observed them, this is not a permissible objective.” Is it not a permissible objective to allow our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments?

James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution of the United States, said this: “We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”

Most of what you read in this article has been erased from our textbooks. Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country's Christian roots. You are encouraged to share this with others, so that the truth of our nation's history will be told.

[Here are some versions I've seen in the wild, as it were: Shorter recension: "What Our Forefathers Believed, American Christian History: History Forgotten, Forsaken Roots in the United States, History, [Untitled Comment], The Foundation of Our Country, History Forgotten, History Forgotten, Forsaken Roots in the United States, History Forgotten (PDF), History, History Forgotten, [no title]; longer recension: Real Roots, Forsaken Roots, Forsaken Roots, Our Real Roots, Our Nation's Founders and Christianity (an expanded version), Forsaken Roots, American History is God Based, The Truth about America's Founding, American History, One Nation Under God, America: Repent or Perish, Our Real Roots, Jul 21 2008, Who Do You Believe (a slightly expanded version by Donald N. Moran), Forsaken Roots; commentaries: Ed Brayton (shorter recension), William Benson (longer recension), Derek H. Davis and Matthew McMearty (longer recension) [or here], Ken Ashford (shorter recension); possible source or analogue: U.S. Founded as a Christian Nation.]