In his farewell speech in 1796 at the close of his second term as president, George Washington said:
The name of AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriots. … Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. … In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.
Additional excerpts from various writings:
It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.
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.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.
The belief in a God, all powerful, wise, and good, is so essential to the moral order of the World and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it.
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 this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
God who gave us life, gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.
While president (1801 – 1809), Jefferson chaired the school board for the District of Columbia, where he authored the city’s first plan of education. This plan used the Bible and Isaac Watt’s “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” (1707) as the principal books for teaching reading to students. In 1801, Jefferson wrote:
The Christian Religion, when divested of the rags in why they [the clergy] have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institution, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expression of the human mind.
While governor of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin hosted the 55 delegates attending the Constitutional Convention. As the senior member of the convention at 81 years of age, he commanded the respect of all present. When the convention reached a deadlock, it appeared that the new republic would be stillborn. Franklin rose to speak:
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building not better than the builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages.
And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance despair of establishing Government by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move – that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate at that service.
The Convention followed Franklin’s advice, daily prayer was instituted, and the Constitution was born. The office of Chaplain was established in both houses of the legislature and every session of the U.S. Senate and House to this day is opened with prayer.