Call of the Uninformed for a Return to the Values of our ‘Holy’ Forefathers

The Call of the Uninformed for a Return to the Values of our “Holy” Forefathers

By Lonna Gooden VanHorn

One of the ways in which many members of the Christian right display their ignorance is in their call for a “return to the values of our forefathers.” 

That would be our “forefathers,” many of whom bought and sold people, and who kept black concubines almost as a matter of course?  Our forefathers, who, when they were still English citizens broke English law by smuggling?  Our forefathers who systematically wiped out the Indians’ food supply, deliberately provided them with smallpox infected blankets, and in other ways took everything away from them in order to more easily steal their land because Indians, like Blacks, were considered less than human and could be slaughtered with impunity?  The only good Indian, after all, was a dead Indian.

Our forefathers who valued women so little that women were not allowed to paint pictures larger than a certain size because they could not be allowed to compete with men?  If they were heiresses, their husbands were able to take control of and often squandered their fortunes.  If they were widows and remarried, their new husbands could make virtual slaves of any children from their previous marriage or marriages. 

Our forefathers among the clergy decreed that if during childbirth it came to a choice between saving the mother or saving the child, it was the child who must be saved.  In our forefathers’ time, women had no identity.  They were not allowed to vote, and had very little say in their own destiny.  The maximum diameter of the stick their husbands could beat them with was prescribed by law – “the rule of thumb.”  They were buried as “the beloved wife of…” 

Although I am sure George Washington came to love and honor Martha, she was a rich widow he married for her money and her land.  While he lay dying he had Martha write a letter to Sally Fairfax, a neighbor’s wife, whom he had been smitten with when he was young, saying that he had spent some of the happiest hours of his life with her.

Alexander Hamilton was illegitimate and had a married mistress. 

After the death of his beloved wife, Martha, DNA evidence has now proven what Jeffersonian historians did not want to believe – that Jefferson, who vehemently denounced the mixing of the races, almost certainly fathered children – probably five—with “Dusty Sally,” Martha’s very young, black, half sister (daughter of his father-in-law’s black mistress). Which proves hypocrisy was another vice which flourished in colonial times – a point Nathaniel Hawthorne strove to make.  Jefferson also used emotional blackmail to influence his daughters. 

Ben Franklin was a real libertine.  He never married the mother of his son who himself fathered an illegitimate child.  He actually wrote a letter advising a young man to take as a mistress an older woman because her greater experience made her a better lover than a younger woman would be, and if you put a bag over their heads, women all looked the same, anyway.  To be fair, his first advice was that the man get married, but he did not set that example himself.

According to some historians, the fact that the Americans won the Revolutionary War was in part due to British General William Howe’s obsession with his mistress, Loyalist Joshua Loring, Jr.s young wife Elizabeth.  Loring seemed to be okay with the arrangement as long as it allowed him to keep his lucrative position as commissary of prisoners.  The Commander of the British Navy, John Montague was so obsessed with his mistress he also could not, at times, be bothered with military planning.  Sir Henry Clinton, who succeeded General Howe became obsessed with a mistress as well. Washington took the war more seriously.  There are no rumors about him being involved with mistresses—at least during his conduct of the war.

Often, when preachers made their annual visits to the wilderness settlements, in spite of “bundling boards” designed to keep the young people apart, more than half of the (usually very young) brides were pregnant.  Preachers routinely baptized the children and joined their parents in marriage during the same visit.

It is likely that the daughter of one of America’s true heroes,  (and mine)  Daniel Boone was actually his niece.  He had been gone for nearly two years, came home and found his wife with a new baby.  The community had thought Daniel was dead, and Daniel’s brother, Ned, had come over to “comfort” Rebecca.  Supposedly Daniel, God love him, said ‘If the name’s the same it doesn’t matter,’ and he raised Jemima as his own.  Of course Daniel had taken Indian wives when he was among the tribes as well. 

Abraham Lincoln believed his mother was an “own child” (illegitimate.)

In colonial times, hard cider and beer were the staple “drinks” of much of the country.  Partly because they were intoxicants, but also because the safety of the water was not trusted in many cities.  “While precise consumption figures are lacking, informed estimates suggest that by the 1790s an average American over fifteen years old drank just under six gallons of absolute alcohol each year. That represented some thirty-four gallons of beer and cider (about 3.4 gallons of absolute alcohol), slightly over five gallons of distilled liquors (2.3 gallons of absolute alcohol), and under a gallon of wine (possibly .10 gallons absolute). Because this is an average figure…, the level of consumption probably was much higher for actual drinkers. But even six gallons is a formidable amount. The comparable modern average is less than 2.9 gallons per capita.”  They also had their drugs, among them, laudanum.  At the time, neither of these vices were often considered problematical.

As far as our founding fathers and religion go, our founding fathers had immediate European roots.  They possessed an inherited memory of all of the European wars fought in the name of God and religion.  They knew that when a Protestant monarch was defeated or succeeded by a Catholic monarch, the land and assets of any Protestant might be seized “for the king,” and that man and his family could be killed as traitors.  The reverse was true when a Catholic monarch was succeeded by a Protestant monarch.  The serfs “owned” by the wealthy were often forced to fight and die or be maimed in the king’s wars for little or no pay. 

Our founding fathers knew all the wars fought were of virtually no benefit whatever to the common people, but only further impoverished them through greatly increased taxation.  That is why many of our founding fathers were against America fielding a standing army.  They knew that when an army exists, rulers find an excuse to use it for their own benefit, to the detriment of the people. 

And then there were the various Inquisitions in which millions of people in Europe were killed because they would not subscribe to a particular, narrow, religious view.  And, there was the burning of witches in Europe and also by religious leaders in America.  Interestingly, physician Robin Cook wrote a book with some basis in fact about the “fits” suffered by the witches in Salem.  It seems the mold on some of the grain back then may have been responsible for hallucinations. 

Thomas Paine, whose writings many consider the greatest catalyst of the Revolution, was a Deist, as were Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and many others among our founding fathers.  They did not mandate “freedom of religion” so that people could worship as they wanted so much as so that they would not be forced to worship as someone else – their ruler – decided they must.  They did not want their new Republic to be like the countries of Europe in that respect.  Because of their knowledge of European history, they were keenly aware of how religion had been used for evil purposes.  That is why they decreed there must be a separation between church and state.  They had their zealots, however – their “Christian right,” the Puritans among them, and where they were in control, there was great intolerance, and things like stocks, branding, and tar and feathering.  Back then the liberals would just pack up and move West to get away from such “civilization” and to find real “freedom.”

The Constitution, written largely by James Madison, contained no references to God.  The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson contained three references to a higher power.  The first refers to the “Creator” who endowed his creatures with “inalienable rights.”  The second is to the “Supreme Judge of the World” to whom the signers appeal for the “rectitude” of their intentions to maintain their right to be independent of English rule.  The last reference is at the end of the document wherein the signers state they rely upon the protection of “Divine Providence” as they pledge their lives, fortunes and “sacred honor.”  These are Deistic terms.  The document was written to state the colonies’ case for independence to the British king and Parliament. 

The man who some consider our greatest president, Lincoln, purportedly wrote an atheistic tract when he was young.  He believed in “Providence,” and was deeply spiritual, but he never joined a church.  Jefferson, one of the most intelligent and thoughtful leaders our country has ever produced, believed Jesus’s ethics and teachings were the most perfect in history, but he wrote his own version of the gospels, taking out all supernatural events, including Christ performing miracles and being raised from the dead.  He also called Revelation the “ravings of a lunatic.”  He hated slavery, but his slaves were a financial asset.  He was so burdened by debt he did not feel he could free all his slaves upon his death.  He freed only a few of them – his black children among them.  He wanted to leave his daughter with some assets.

The words, “under God” were not initially included in the Pledge of Allegiance, but were added to the pledge while Eisenhower was president. 

Poor or desperate women in Europe and in frontier America undertook extreme measures to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies.  It was generally done in secret by desperate women, then, as it is now.  Women often had little choice in whether or not they had children.  Incest and rape have always been a part of women’s reality.

Early America was plagued with drunkards, murderers, thieves, adulterers, freeloaders, and hypocrites, just as America is now.  Human nature does not change.

Our founding fathers were patriots, some were heroes, but they were not saints.  They were fallible, sinful, humans. 

The declarations of Christianity by politicians today means very little.  Simply asserting you are an honest person or a Christian does not guarantee your goodness.  “By their works shall ye know them.” 

Washington and Jefferson may not have believed in the divinity of Christ, and did not make a show of piety, but few people today are worthy to have tied their shoes. 

An adage handed down from pioneer times which is equally applicable today is “When someone tells you what a good Christian he is, keep your hand extra tight on your wallet.” 

Bio:  Lonna Gooden VanHorn is a freelance writer with articles on many sites.  Born and raised on a small farm in Minnesota, she now lives in New Mexico with her husband, a veteran who spent 18 months in Vietnam. 

Archives of some of her articles can be accessed here. and here

Pictures of her protest truck may be accessed here:

Information for this article is a composite of information from some of the hundreds of biographies she has read over the years, and in particular “1776,”  Fawn Brodie’s “Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate Portrait,” and “The Long Hunter, A New Life of Daniel Boone.”  Darlene Logan supplied information about the religious references in the Declaration of Independence. 

But, Lonna, too, is a fallible, sinful human being, and does not claim perfect memory.

Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The following information was posted as a comment to my article by Jan Persell.  I thought it was more informative than my actual article, and asked her permission to use it.  She kindly granted that permission.  Lonna Gooden VanHorn

Not one of the first six presidents was a Christian. [Which is not to say they were not moral people—most did believe in and revere some sort of “higher power.” They would have been appalled that those in power today are trying to turn government offices into theocracies, and also by the popular belief that America is special to God because it is a “Christian” country.  LKGVH]
This is what the founding fathers really said about religion:

Paine’s writings heavily influenced the other Founders. A freethinker who opposed all organized religion, he reserved particular vituperation for Christianity. “My country is the world and my religion is to do good” (The Rights of Man, 1791).  “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church” (The Age of Reason, 1794).

“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself than this thing called Christianity” (Ibid.).


Adams, a Unitarian inspired by the Enlightenment, fiercely opposed doctrines of supernaturalism or damnation, writing to Jefferson: “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

Adams realized how politically crucial — and imperiled — a secular state would be: “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. … It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [forming the U.S. government] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

John Adams was drawn to the study of law but faced pressure from his father to become a clergyman. He wrote that he found among the lawyers ‘noble and gallant achievements” but among the clergy, the “pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces”. Late in life he wrote: “Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!”

It was during Adam’s administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

From:  The Character of John Adams by Peter Shaw, pp. 17 (1976, North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC) Quoting a letter by JA to Charles Cushing Oct 19, 1756, and John Adams, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by James Peabody, p. 403 (1973, Newsweek, New York NY) Quoting letter by JA to Jefferson April 19, 1817, and in reference to the treaty, Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 311 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, June, 1814. 
…Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery… are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind”(A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787–88).


It’s a commonly stated error that U.S. law, based on English common law, is thus grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition. 
Yet Jefferson (writing to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814 ) noted that common law “is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England …about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. …We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

Jefferson professed disbelief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, while respecting moral teachings by whomever might have been a historical Jesus. He cut up a Bible, assembling his own version: “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful,” he wrote Adams (January 24, 1814), “evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.”

Scorning miracles, saints, salvation, damnation, and angelic presences, Jefferson embraced reason, materialism, and science. He challenged Patrick Henry, who wanted a Christian theocracy: “[A]n amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that [the preamble] should read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion’; the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination” (from Jefferson’s Autobiography, referring to the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom).  The theme is consistent throughout Jefferson ‘s prolific correspondence: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God” (letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787).

“[The clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” (letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800).

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which…thus[built] a wall of separation between church and state” (letter to the Danbury [ Connecticut ] Baptist Association, January 1, 1802).

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government” (letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813).

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own” (letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814).

“[W]hence arises the morality of the Atheist? …Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God” (letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814).

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know” (letter to Ezra Stiles, June 25, 1819).

“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus… will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter” (letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823).


Ethan Allen, whose capture of Fort Ticonderoga while commanding the Green Mountain Boys helped inspire Congress and the country to pursue the War of Independence, said, “That Jesus Christ was not God is evidence from his own words.” In the same book, Allen noted that he was generally “denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian.” When Allen married Fanny Buchanan, he stopped his own wedding ceremony when the judge asked him if he promised “to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God.” Allen refused to answer until the judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those “written in the great book of nature.”

From:  Religion of the American Enlightenment by G. Adolph Koch, p. 40 (1968, Thomas Crowell Co., New York, NY.) quoting preface and p. 352 of Reason, the Only Oracle of Man and A Sense of History compiled by American Heritage Press Inc., p. 103 (1985, American Heritage Press, Inc., New York, NY.)


Raised a Calvinist, Franklin rebelled — and spread that rebellion, affecting Adams and Jefferson. His friend, Dr. Priestley, wrote in his own Autobiography: “It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin ‘s general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers.”
A scientist, Franklin rejected churches, rituals, and all “supernatural superstitions.”

“Scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself ” (Franklin’s Autobiography, 1817–18).

“Some volumes against Deism fell into my hands … they produced an effect precisely the reverse to what was intended by the writers; for the arguments of the Deists, which were cited in order to be refuted, appeared to me much more forcibly than the refutation itself; in a word, I soon became a thorough Deist” (Ibid.).

Benjamin Franklin, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, said: “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion…has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho’ 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.” He died a month later, and historians consider him, like so many great Americans of his time, to be a Deist, not a Christian.
From:  Benjamin Franklin, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Thomas Fleming, p. 404, (1972, Newsweek, New York, NY) quoting letter by BF to Exra Stiles March 9, 1790.


The false image of Washington as a devout Christian was fabricated by Mason Locke Weems, a clergyman who also invented the cherry-tree fable and in 1800 published his Life of George Washington. Washington, a Deist and a Freemason, never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in any of his thousands of letters, and pointedly referred to divinity as “It.”
Whenever he (rarely) attended church, Washington always deliberately left before communion, demonstrating disbelief in Christianity’s central ceremony.

George Washington never declared himself a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence. Washington championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion. When John Murray (a universalist who denied the existence of hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned Washington for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washington uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance.

From:  George Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller Jr., pp. 16, 87, 88, 108, 113, 121, 127 (1963, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX)


Although prayer groups proliferate in today’s Congress, James Madison, “father of the Constitution,” denounced even the presence of chaplains in Congress — and in the armed forces — as unconstitutional. He opposed all use of “religion as an engine of civil policy,” and accurately prophesied the threat of “ecclesiastical corporations.”

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise” (letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774).

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution” (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, Section 7, 1785).

“What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries” (Ibid., Section 8).

“Besides the danger of a direct mixture of Religion & civil Government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded agst. in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. …The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs. is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles. … Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy. … Religious proclamations by the Executive [branch] recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root. … Altho’ recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers” (Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments, circa 1819).

The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers - two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.

Originally published on OpEd News at and reprinted in an updated version with permission of the author.