Positive Atheism's Big List of Quotations
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George Washington
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George Washington’s
Silent Lack of Piety

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George Washington (1732-1799)
The first President of the United States (1789-1797)

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George WashingtonIf I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the 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.
-- George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789, in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol 1. p. 495, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.
-- George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789, in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol 1. p. 495, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country.
-- George Washington, responding to a group of clergymen who complained that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ, in 1789, Papers, Presidential Series, 4:274, the "Magna-Charta" here refers to the proposed United States Constitution

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. 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 United 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, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
-- George Washington, letter to the congregation of Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island, August, 1790, in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol 1. p. 862

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 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 the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
-- George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom, also James A Haught, 2000 Years of Disbelief

George WashingtonWe have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition ... In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.
-- George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793, in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol 1. p. 497, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.
-- George Washington, letter to Tench Tilghman asking him to secure a carpenter and a bricklayer for his Mount Vernon estate, March 24, 1784, in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion (1963) p. 118, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

Among many other weighty objections to the Measure, it has been suggested, that it has a tendency to introduce religious disputes into the Army, which above all things should be avoided, and in many instances would compel men to a mode of Worship which they do not profess.
-- George Washington, to John Hancock, then president of Congress, expressing opposition to a congressional plan to appoint brigade chaplains in the Continental Army (1777), quoted from a letter to Cliff Walker from Doug Harper (2002)

I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.
-- George Washington, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, a Mennonite minister, May 28, 1788, in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion (1963) p. 118, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

Government being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the consciences of men from oppression, it certainly is the duty of Rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their stations, to prevent it in others.
-- George Washington, letter to the Religious Society called the Quakers, September 28,1789, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom, also in Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, The Harper Book of American Quotations (1988)

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George Washington: Anything But Devout
Positive statements responding to allegations of Washington's piety

Jefferson: Old Fox Wouldn't Say

"Dr. Rush told me (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 disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice."
-- Thomas Jefferson, quoted from Jefferson's Works, Vol. iv., p. 572. (Asa Green "was probably the Reverend Ashbel Green, who was chaplain to congress during Washington's administration." -- Farrell Till in "The Christian Nation Myth.")
 

Bell: Stranger to Religious Prejudice

"[Washington was] a total stranger to religious prejudices, which have so often excited Christians of one denomination to cut the throats of those of another."
-- John Bell, in 1779, in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p. 118, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"
 

Morris: Washington No Christian

"I know that Gouverneur Morris, who claimed to be in his secrets, and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in that system [Christianity] than he did."
-- Thomas Jefferson, in his private journal, February, 1800, quoted from Jefferson's Works, Vol. iv., p. 572 ("Gouverneur Morris was the principal drafter of the Constitution of the United States; he was a member of the Continental Congress, a United States senator from New York, and minister to France. He accepted, to a considerable extent, the skeptical views of French Freethinkers." -- John E Remsberg, Six Historic Americans.)
 

Custis: Never Witnessed Devotions

"I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them."
-- Eleanor "Nellie" Parke Custis Lewis, Martha Washington's granddaughter from a previous marriage, quoted from Sparks' Washingon, also from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 22
 

Abercrombie: Washington a Deist

"Sir, Washington was a Deist."
-- The Reverend Doctor James Abercrombie, rector of the church Washington had attended with his wife, to The Reverend Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, upon Wilson's having inquired of Abercrombie regarding Washington's religious beliefs, quoted from John E Remsberg, Six Historic Americans
 

Savage: Prayer Paintings Silly Caricatures

"The pictures that represent him on his knees in the winter forest at Valley Forge are even silly caricatures. Washington was at least not sentimental, and he had nothing about him of the Pharisee that displays his religion at street corners or out in the woods in the sight of observers, or where his portrait could be taken by 'our special artist'!"
-- The Reverend M J Savage, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 22
 

Blanchard: No Mealtime Prayer

"There was a clergyman at this dinner who blessed the food and said grace after they had done eating and had brought in the wine. I was told that General Washington said grace when there was no clergyman at the table, as fathers of a family do in America. The first time that I dined with him there was no clergyman and I did not perceive that he made this prayer, yet I remember that on taking his place at the table, he made a gesture and said a word, which I took for a piece of politeness, and which was perhaps a religious action. In this case his prayer must have been short; the clergyman made use of more forms. We remained a very long time at the table. They drank 12 or 15 healths with Madeira wine. In the course of the meal beer was served and grum, rum mixed with water."
-- Commissary-General Claude Blanchard, writing in his journal, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 23
 

Abercrombie: Never Received Communion

"With respect to the inquiry you make, I can only state the following facts: that as pastor of the Episcopal Church, observing that, on sacramental Sundays George Washington, immediately after the desk and pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation -- always leaving Mrs. Washington with the other communicants -- she invariably being one -- I considered it my duty, in a sermon on public worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations, who uniformly turned their backs on the Lord's Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President; and as such he received it. A few days after, in conversation, I believe, with a Senator of the United States, he told me he had dined the day before with the President, who, in the course of conversation at the table, said that, on the previous Sunday, he had received a very just rebuke from the pulpit for always leaving the church before the administration of the sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candor; that he had never sufficiently considered the influence of his example, and that he would not again give cause for the repetition of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal, arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly, he never afterwards came on the morning of sacrament Sunday, though at other times he was a constant attendant in the morning."
-- The Reverend Doctor James Abercrombie, in a letter to a friend in 1833, Sprague's Annals of the American Pulpit, vol. 5, p. 394, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 25-26
 

Wilson: Wouldn't Trouble Clergyman

"When Congress sat in Philadelphia, President Washington attended the Episcopal Church. The rector, Dr. Abercrombie, told me that on the days when the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was to be administered, Washington's custom was to arise just before the ceremony commenced, and walk out of the church. This became a subject of remark in the congregation, as setting a bad example. At length the Doctor undertook to speak of it, with a direct allusion to the President. Washington was heard afterwards to remark that this was the first time a clergyman had thus preached to him, and he should henceforth neither trouble the Doctor or his congregation on such occasions, and ever after that, upon communion days, 'he absented himself altogether from church.'"
-- The Reverend Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, biographer of Bishop White, in his sermon on the "Religion of the Presidents," published in the Albany Daily Advertiser, in 1831, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 26
 

Wilson: Deist, and Nothing More

"I have diligently perused every line that Washington ever gave to the public, and I do not find one expression in which he pledges, himself as a believer in Christianity. I think anyone who will candidly do as I have done, will come to the conclusion that he was a Deist and nothing more."
-- The Reverend Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in an interview with Mr. Robert Dale Owen written on November 13, 1831, which was publlshed in New York two weeks later, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 27
 

Owen: Wilson Tells Even More

"I called last evening on Dr. Wilson, as I told you I should, and I have seldom derived more pleasure from a short interview with anyone. Unless my discernment of character has been grievously at fault, I met an honest man and a sincere Christian. But you shall have the particulars. A gentleman of this city accompanied me to the Doctor's residence. We were very courteously received. I found him a tall, commanding figure, with a countenance of much benevolence, and a brow indicative of deep thought, apparently 50 years of age. I opened the interview by stating that though personally a stranger to him, I had taken the liberty of calling in consequence of having perused an interesting sermon of his, which had been reported in the Daily Advertiser of this city, and regarding which, as he probably knew, a variety of opinions prevailed. In a discussion, in which I had taken part, some of the facts as there reported had been questioned; and I wished to know from him whether the reporter had fairly given his words or not. I then read to him from a copy of the Daily Advertiser the paragraph which regards Washington, beginning, 'Washington was a man,' etc., and ending 'absented himself altogether from church.' 'I endorse,' said Dr. Wilson with emphasis, 'every word of that. Nay, I do not wish to conceal from you any part of the truth, even what I have not given to the public. Dr. Abercrombie said more than I have repeated. At the close of our conversation on the subject his emphatic expression was -- for I well remember the very words "Sir, Washington was a Deist."'"
-- Mr. Robert Dale Owen, newspaper reporter, afterwards a member of Congress and later Minister to Naples, after interviewing Dr. Wilson, giving the substance of the interview in a letter written on November 13, 1831, which was published in New York two weeks later, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 26-27
 

White: Never Received Communion

"In regard to the subject of your inquiry, truth requires me to say that General Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am the parochial minister. Mrs. Washington was an habitual communicant. I have been written to by many on that point, and have been obliged to answer them am as I now do you."
-- The Right Reverend William White, the first bishop of Pennsylvania, friend of Washington and bishop of Christ's Church in Philadelphia, which Washington attend for about 25 years when he happened to be in that city, in a letter to Colonel Mercer of Fredericksberg, Virginia, on August 15, 1835, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 27
 

Wilson: Never Received Communion

"Though the General attended the churches in which Dr. White officiated, whenever he was in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, and afterwards while President of the United States, he was never a communicant in them."
-- The Reverend Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, from Wilson, Memoir of Bishop White, p. 188, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 27
 

Wilson: Never Knelt; No Religious Talk

"His behavior in church was always serious and attentive, but as your letter seems to intend an inquiry on the point of kneeling during the service, I owe it to the truth to declare that I never saw him in the said attitude.... Although I was often in the company of this great man, and had the honor of often dining at his table, I never heard anything from him which could manifest his opinions on the subject of religion.... Within a few days of his leaving the Presidential chair, our vestry waited on him with an address prepared and delivered by me. In his answer he was pleased to express himself gratified by what he had heard from our pulpit; but there was nothing that committed him relatively to religious theory."
-- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a letter to the Rev B C C Parker, dated November 28, 1832, from Wilson, Memoir of Bishop White, pp. 189-191, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 27
 

Wilson: No Facts Prove Him a Christian

"I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation further than as may be hoped from his constant attendance upon Christian worship, in connection with the general reserve of his character."
-- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a letter to the Rev B C C Parker, dated December 31, 1832, from Wilson, Memoir of Bishop White, pp. 189-191, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 28
 

Jackson: Sorry, No One Remembers

"I find no one who ever communed with him."
-- Rev William Jackson, rector of Alexandria, Virginia, in response to a letter from Reverend Origen Bacheler, cited in The Bacheler-Owen Debate, vol. 2, p. 262, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 28

"I am sorry, after so long a delay in replying to your last, that it is not in my power to communicate something definite in reference to General Washington's church membership.... Nor can I find any old person who ever communed with him."
-- Rev William Jackson, rector of Alexandria, Virginia, in response to a second appeal from Reverend Origen Bacheler, cited in The Bacheler-Owen Debate, vol. 2, p. 262, quoted in John E Remsburg's Six Historic Americans, pp. 110-111, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 28
 

Custis: Left Before Communion

"On communion Sundays, he left the church with me after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back after my grandmother."
-- George Custis, letter to Mr. Sparks on February 26, 1833, in Sparks's Washington, p. 521, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 29
 

Boller: Name of Christ Conspicuously Absent

"Unlike Thomas Jefferson -- and Thomas Paine, for that matter -- Washington never even got around to recording his belief that Christ was a great ethical teacher. His reticence on the subject was truly remarkable. Washington frequently alluded to Providence in his private correspondence. But the name of Christ, in any correspondence whatsoever, does not appear anywhere in his many letters to friends and associates throughout his life."
-- Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion (1963) pp. 74-75, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church." Had Washington been a pious Christian, he would have at least mentioned the name of Christ!
 

Flexner: Terminology of Enlightenment-Era Deism

"That he was not just striking a popular attitude as a politician is revealed by the absence of of the usual Christian terms: he did not mention Christ or even use the word 'God.' Following the phraseology of the philosophical Deism he professed, he referred to 'the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men,' to 'the benign parent of the human race.'"
-- James Thomas Flexner, describing Washington's first Inaugural Address, in George Washington and the New Nation (1783-1793) (1970) p. 184, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

"Washington's religious belief was that of the enlightenment: deism. He practically never used the word 'God,' preferring the more impersonal word 'Providence.' How little he visualized Providence in personal form is shown by the fact that he interchangeably applied to that force all three possible pronouns: he, she, and it."
-- James Thomas Flexner, in George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799) (1972) p. 490, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"
 

Wilson: Early Presidents Not Religious

"The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington; Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; Adams; Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity....
     "Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."
-- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831, first sentence quoted in John E Remsberg, Six Historic Americans, second sentence quoted in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion, pp. 14-15
 

Schwartz: Conduct Made Him Seem Christian

"George Washington's conduct convinced most Americans that he was a good Christian, but those possessing first-hand knowledge of his religious convictions had reasons for doubt."
-- Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol (1987) p. 170, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"
 

Schwartz: Union Based on Difference, Interdependence

"No citizens ... were more sensitive to Washington's role as an upholder of liberties than the religious minorities. These groups were less anxious to cultivate what they had in common with other Americans than to sustain what kept them apart. Washington recognized this, just as he recognized the tenacity of regional and economic interests, and he took pains to explain precisely what national unity meant to him. He carried to his countrymen a vision of "organic" rather than "mechanical" solidarity, a union based on difference and interdependence rather than uniformity of belief and conduct. Washington's understanding of the kind of integration appropriate to a modern state was not shared by the most powerful Protestant establishments, the New England Congregationalists and Presbyterians; but other religious groups could not have been more pleased.... Acknowledging in each instance that respect for diversity was a fair price for commitment to the nation and its regime, Washington abolished deep-rooted fears that would have otherwise alienated a large part of the population from the nation-building process. For this large minority, he embodied not the ideal of union, nor even that of liberty, but rather the reconciliation of union and liberty."
-- Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol (1987) pp. 85-86, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

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Phony George Washington Prayer
"George Washington's Prayer For The United States"

    From a simple dispatch of official business was constructed a fabulous prayer that is used to this day as "evidence" of George Washington's Christian piety.

    The interpolated words that are not from the Washington letter are in underlined bold red type.

The Alleged Prayer:
Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep these United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of Whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-- Engraved on a bronze tablet in St Paul's Chapel, Broadway and Vesey Streets, New York City, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 19-20

    The final line is the language with which all prayers in the Episcopal Prayer Book end.

    The words of the Washington letter that were removed from the Washington letter and interpolated by the prayer-maker are in underlined bold black type.

Actual Statement:
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the state over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose examples in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
     I have the honor to be, with much esteem and respect, sir, your Excellency's most obedient and most humble servant. -- G Washington.
-- George Washington, letter sent to the governors in 1783, urging them to quell anarchy and riots by alleviating distress and discontent, quoted from Ford's Writings of Washington, vol. x, p. 265, also quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, pp. 19-20

    The original letter is not in Washington's handwriting, but was penned by one of his secretaries, most of whom were allowed to make their own embellishments.

    The only other instance in the entire known body of Washington's writings where he would have mentioned Jesus Christ is a childhood poem. But unfortunately for those who would inflict post mortem Christian piety upon George Washington, this poem is the only known instance of any Christian sentiments penned with George Washington's own hand.

Assist me, Muse divine, to sing the morn
On which the Savior of mankind was born
-- George Washington, poem, age 13, from Sparks's Washington, p. 519, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, p. 20

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