While I was digging through his writings on government, independence and the Constitution, I found a large sample of Washington’s thoughts on religion. Being tired of the current political bickering and given the holiday season at the time, I looked at that instead.
The first thing I came across was Washington’s firm belief in God the Supreme Being.
“It is impossible to account for the creation of the universe, without the agency of a Supreme Being,” he wrote. “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,” Washington continued. “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.”
Washington always believed that God had protected him during the French and Indian War, especially at the Battle of the Monongahela when Gen. Edward Braddock’s British forces, which included Washington, were ambushed and defeated near the river.
“By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected, beyond all human probability or expectation,” Washington wrote after the battle, “for I had four bullets through my coat and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt. Although death was leveling my companions on every side of me.”
In 1780, Washington gave God the credit for foiling Benedict Arnold’s plot to commit treason and give the fortifications at West Point to the British. “In no instance, since the commencement of the war,” he wrote, “has the interposition of Providence appeared more remarkably conspicuous, than in the rescue of the post and garrison of West Point from Arnold’s villainous perfidy.”
In 1781, at the surrender of Yorktown, Washington said, “The interposing hand of Heaven, in the various instance of our extensive preparations for this operation, has been most conscious and remarkable.”
On more than one occasion, Washington gave credit for the founding of the nation and the government to God’s providence.
In 1788, Washington wrote, “We may, with a kind of pious and grateful exultation, trace the finger of Providence through these dark and mysterious events, which first induced the States to appoint a general convention, and then led them, one after another, by such steps as were best calculated to effect the object, into the adoption of a system recommended by that general convention; thereby, in all human probability, laying a lasting foundation for tranquility and happiness, when we had but too much reason to fear that confusion and misery were coming rapidly upon us.”
Later, in 1789 he wrote, “When I contemplate the interposition of Providence, as it was manifested in guiding us through the Revolution, in preparing us for the reception of a general government and in conciliating the good will of the people of America towards one another, after its adoption, I feel myself oppressed, and almost overwhelmed, with a sense of the Divine Munificence.”
In that same year Washington said, “May we unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the Great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties, properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws.”
But Washington also warned that year that “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
In his first year as president, Washington said, “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 to implore his protection and favor.”
The amount of information on Washington and his Christian belief stored in the Library of Congress is extensive. Scattered throughout are quotes from other people of the time who commented on the president’s religious beliefs.
I thought it would be good to end the column with two of those quotes.
The first is from a person by the name of J.M. Sewall, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who wrote in 1799, “He (Washington) was a firm believer in the Christian religion; and at his first entrance on his civil administration, he made it known and adhered to his purpose, that no secular business could be transacted with him on the day set apart by Christians for the worship of the Deity.”
The second comes from William Linn, D.D., and was dated Feb. 22, 1800.
Linn said, “Neither in the parade of military life, nor in the cares of civil administration; neither in a state of depression, nor amidst the intoxicating sweets of power and adulation; did he (Washington) forget to pay homage to the Most High, who doth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.”
Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at [email protected]