Wednesday, January 14, 2009

John Adams on Government and the Holy Ghost

Often we hear that most of our Founders were not "really" Christian. To go along with many other examples on this site refuting that, here is a quote from our second President, John Adams. He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. He said the following in a letter to Benjamin Rush (December 21, 1809):

"The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost. ... There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation."

Read more on the Wallbuilders Site (which is in possession of the original letter)


Anonymous said...

In the sentence immediately after that quote ends, Adams continues on to say:

"Although this is all artifice and cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lie down their lives [...] for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe human nature."

He was being completely sarcastic. Funny how WallBuilders leaves that part out on their quotes page, isn't it?

In any case, Adams *was* religious. Jefferson was most definitely opposed to Christianity, though. And regardless of their personal views, they chose not to give Christianity any face time in the Constitution.

Full Text:

History Matters said...

Thanks for your comment. I try not to use Barton as my sole source too often, preferring to go to the Library of Congress and other more "neutral" sources. Barton does sometimes quote without important other context, but overall I think his message is true.

As you said, Adams was a religious person who was not in the least shy about the importance of religion's influence on people's decisions. However, I disagree (partly) with your statement that Jefferson was anti-Christian. I think one could build that case, but Jefferson was a more complicated person than that. And in this blog, I am not trying too hard to peer into Jefferson's heart as a Christian, but rather to see what he thought of the relationship between religion and government. This is important because "separation of church and state" is a concept largely attributed to him, and that certainly creates a distortion of his feelings about the scope and focus of the First Amendment.

spacegod said...

To use this edited letter to bolster arguments that Adams and our founders embraced Christianity seems a bit deceitful.
When I read the entire letter, I realize that Adams certainly wasn't condoning mixing government and the Holy Ghost. And he wasn't just being sarcastic--he was literally making fun of zealous Christians!

History Matters said...


I did not know about the abbreviated nature of this quote until Anonymous pointed it out. However, I decided to leave the post in place and publish the comment and correction.

As both of us recognize, John Adams was in fact religious. There are many other quotes on this blog that substantiate this, such as this one about the Declaration of Indepedence:
"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."

Or this one:
"As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the Accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of heart and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities . . . I do hereby recommend . . . to be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer. . . ."