Spiritual Heritage and the Founding

QUESTION: Spiritual Heritage – The Founding of America

ANSWER:

There is a rich spiritual heritage related to the founding of the United States of America and its subsequent history. Religious faith was not only important in official American life during the periods of discovery, exploration, colonization and growth, but has also been acknowledged and incorporated into all three branches of American federal government from their very beginning.

Spiritual Heritage – The Founding Era
The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed this spiritual heritage in a unanimous ruling declaring “This is a religious people. . . . From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation.”1 Political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible.2 The first act of America’s first Congress in 1774 was to ask a minister to open with prayer3 and to lead Congress in the reading of four chapters of the Bible.4 Congress regularly attended church and Divine service together en masse,5 and throughout the American Founding, Congress frequently appropriated money for missionaries and for religious instruction6 – a practice that Congress repeated for decades after the passage of the Constitution and the First Amendment.7

NOTES
1 Church of the Holy Trinity v. U. S., 143 U. S. 457, 458, 465-468, 471 (1892).

2 Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), pp. 141-142; see also Donald S. Lutz, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth Century American Political Thought,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 78, Issue 1, March 1984, p. 191.

3 The Journals of the American Congress, from 1774 to 1788 (Washington, D. C.: Way and Gideon, 1823), Vol. I, p. 8, September 6, 1774.

4 John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), Vol. I, pp. 23-24, to Abigail Adams on September 16, 1774; John noted that Duche “read several prayers in the established form, and then read the collect of the seventh day of September, which was the thirty-fifth Psalm”; an examination of the prayer book covering that year (The Book of Common Prayer (Cambridge: John Archdeacon, 1771), p. 24) shows that in addition to the “collect” – the lesson – that was read by Duche (Psalm 35), three other chapters of the Bible played prominent parts in “the established form” which was followed by him on that day, some being passages being prayed as well as read.

5 See, for example, Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905), Vol. II, p. 192, July 19, 1775; this activity was repeated on numerous other occasions, including the Inauguration of George Washington on April 30, 1789 (Senate: Annals of Congress (1834), Vol. I, p. 25, April 27, 1789; House: Annals of Congress (1834), Vol. I, p. 241, April 29, 1789).

6 See, for example, Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906), Vol. IV, p. 267, April 10, 1776; Vol. IV, p. 111, February 5, 1776; Vol. VII, p. 72, January 30, 1777; Vol. XV, pp. 1181-1182, October 16, 1779; Vol. XXVIII, pp. 306-307, April 26, 1785; Vol. XXVIII, p. 399, May 27, 1785; Vol. XXVIII, pp. 407-408, 417, June 1 & 2, 1785; Vol. XXXIV, pp. 485-487, September 3, 1788; etc.

7 See, for example, American State Papers (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1832), Vol. IV, p. 546, “Treaty Between the United States and the Oneida, Tuscorora, and Stockbridge Indians, dwelling in the Country of the Oneidas,” Dec 2, 1794, Proclamation, Jan 21, 1795; Debates and Proceedings (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1851), p. 1332, 7th Cong., “An Act in Addition to an Act, Entitled, ‘An Act in Addition to an Act Regulating the Grants of Land Appropriated for Military Services, and for the Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen’ “ (April 26, 1802); Debates and Proceedings (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1851), p. 1602, 7th Cong., 2nd Sess., “An Act to Revive and Continue in Force An Act in Addition to an Act, Entitled, ‘An Act in Addition to an Act Regulating the Grants of Land Appropriated for Military Services, and for the Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen,’ and for Other Purposes” (March 3, 1803); Debates and Proceedings (Washington, D. C.: Gales and Seaton, 1852), 8th Cong., p. 1279, “An Act Granting Further Time for Locating Military Land Warrants, and for Other Purposes” (March 19, 1804); American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States (Walter Lowrie & Matthew St. Claire Clarke eds., Washington, D. C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832), Vol. IV, p. 687, “The Kaskaskia and Other Tribes” (1803); Journal of the Senate (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1821), 17th Congress, 1st Session (Communicated to the Senate March 5, 1822, in reference to the act passed June 1, 1796); see also American State Papers: Public Lands, (Washington: Duff Green, 1834), Vol. 3, p. 467, No. 354 “Grants to the United Brethren in trust for certain Christian Indians,” Statutes at Large (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1856) 28th Congress, 2nd Session, pp. 766-777, March 3, 1845 Annuity to the Christian Indians; Statutes at Large (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1862), Vol. 9, pp. 544-545, September 30, 1850, Christian Indians, Restates the act of May 26, 1844 for permanent $400 annuity, Statutes at Large (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1862), Vol. 9, pp. 574-575, February 27, 1851, Christian Indians, Restates the act of May 26, 1844 for permanent $400 annuity; Statutes at Large (1855), Vol. X, p. 41, August 30, 1852; Statutes at Large (1855), Vol. X, p. 226, March 3, 1853; Statutes at Large (1859), Vol. XI, pp. 65-69, August 18, 1856; Statutes at Large (1863), Vol. XII, pp. 1191-1194, “Treaty with the Pottawatomies.” November 15, 1861, Article VI; Statutes at Large (1868), Vol. XIV, p. 650, June 9, 1863, “Treaty between the United States of America and the Nez Perce Tribe of Indians,” proclaimed April 20, 1867; Statutes at Large (1868), Vol. XIV, pp. 309-310, “Chap. CCXCV. – An act for the relief of the Trustees and Stewards of the Mission Church of the Wyandot Indians,” July 28, 1866; etc.

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