Faiths of the
founding fathers

Daily Reading for July 1 • The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

To discuss the religion of the founding fathers means to discuss religion in the United States of their time. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were born and baptized in what Virginians of the time called “the Church,” “the Church of England,” “the Established Church,” or “the Church of Virginia.” The independence of the thirteen colonies from the mother country prompted the American members of the Church of England to discard the word “England.” In its place they adopted the term “Episcopal” (essentially meaning “we have bishops”) and named their denomination “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” The name “Episcopal” traced back to the tumultuous Commonwealth period in English history, when clergy and laity who desired continued rule by bishops employed that term for themselves.

This church provided the religious background out of which Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—as well as such founding fathers as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and George Wythe—emerged. The earliest religious memories of these men would have revolved around the wood or brick church their families attended on Sundays. Most of their fathers would have served as vestrymen of their parishes. In due time, the founding fathers would have assumed the same position. The parish priest—or parson—would have been a familiar figure to them, and they would have received much of their early education at academies run by Anglican clergy. The words and cadences of the Book of Common Prayer ran in their blood.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Past Posts