THE UNITED STATES A CHRISTIAN NATION by David Josiah Brewer
WE classify nations in various ways. as, for instance, by their form of government. One is a kingdom, another an empire, and still another a republic. Also by race. Great Britain is an Anglo-Saxon nation, France a Gaelic, Germany a Teutonic, Russia a Slav. And still again by religion. One is a Mohammedan nation, others are heathen, and still others are Christian nations.
This republic is classified among the Christian nations of the world. It was so formally declared by the Supreme Court of the United States. In the case of Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, 143 U. S. 471, that court , after mentioning various circumstances, added, “”
But in what sense can it be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, “and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in the public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions.
Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation—in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world. This popular use of the term certainly has significance. It is not a mere creation of the imagination. It is not a term of derision but has a substantial basis—one which justifies its use. Let us analyze a little and see what is the basis.
Its use has had from the early settlements on our shores and still has an official foundation. It is only about three centuries since the beginnings of civilized life within the limits of these United States. And those beginnings were in a marked and marvelous degree identified with Christianity. The commission from Ferdinand and Isabella to Columbus recites that “it is hoped that by God’s assistance some of the continents and islands in the ocean will be discovered.” The first colonial grant, that made to Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1584, authorized him to enact statutes for the government of the proposed colony, provided that “they be not against the true Christian faith, now professed in the Church of England.” The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I, in 1606, after reciting the application of certain parties for a charter, commenced the grant in these words: “We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their desires for the furtherance of so noble a work, which may, by the providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.” And language of similar import is found in subsequent charters of the same colony, from the same king, in 1609 and 1611. The celebrated compact made by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, in 1620, recites: “Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and the honor of our king and country a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia.”
The charter of New England, granted by James I, in 1620, after referring to a petition, declares: “We, according to our princely inclination, favoring much their worthy disposition, in hope thereby to advance the enlargement of Christian religion, to the glory of God Almighty.”
The charter of Massachusetts Bay, granted in 1629 by Charles I, after several provisions, recites: “Whereby our said people, inhabitants there, may be so religiously, peaceably and civilly governed as their good life and orderly conversation may win and incite the natives of the country to their knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of mankind, and the Christian faith, which in our royal intention and the adventurers free profession, is the principal end of this plantation,” which declaration was substantially repeated in the charter of Massachusetts Bay granted by William and Mary, in 1691.
The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under which a provisional government was instituted in 1638-1639, provided: “Forasmuch as it has pleased the Almighty God by the wise disposition of His divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we, the inhabitants and residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield, are now cohabitating and dwelling in and upon the River of Connecticut and the lands thereto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one public state or commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter enter into combination and confederation together to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also the discipline of the churches, which, according to the truth of the said gospel, is now practiced amongst us.” In the preamble of the Constitution of 1776 it was declared, “the free fruition of such liberties and privileges as humanity, civility and Christianity call for, as is due to every man in his place and proportion, without impeachment and infringement, hath ever been, and will be the tranquility and stability of churches and commonwealths; and the denial thereof, the disturbance, if not the ruin of both.”
In 1638 the first settlers in Rhode Island organized a local government by signing the following agreement:
“We whose names are underwritten do here solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of his given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby. Exod. 24: 3, 4; II Chron. 11: 3; II Kings 11:17.”
The charter granted to Rhode Island, in 1663, naming the petitioners, speaks of them as “pursuing, with peaceable and loyal minds, their sober, serious and religious intentions, of godly edifying themselves and one another in the holy Christian faith and worship as they were persuaded; together with the gaining over and conversion of the poor, ignorant Indian natives, in these parts of America, to the sincere profession and obedience of the same faith and worship.”
The charter of Carolina, granted in 1663 by Charles II, recites that the petitioners, “being excited with a laudable and pious zeal for the propagation of the Christian faith.”
In the preface of the frame of government prepared in 1682 by William Penn, for Pennsylvania, it is said: “They weakly err, that think there is no other use of government than correction, which is the coarsest part of it; daily experience tells us that the care and regulation of many other affairs, more soft, and daily necessary, make up much of the greatest part of government; and which must have followed the peopling of the world, had Adam never fell, and will continue among men, on earth, under the highest attainments they may arrive at, by the coming of the blessed second Adam, the Lord from heaven.” And with the laws prepared to go with the frame of government, it was further provided “that according to the good example of the primitive Christians, and the ease of the creation, every first day of the week, called the Lord’s Day, people shall abstain from their common daily labor that they may the better dispose themselves to worship God according to their understandings.”
In the charter of privileges granted, in 1701, by William Penn to the province of Pennsylvania and territories thereunto belonging (such territories afterwards constituting the State of Delaware), it is recited : “Because no people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of the freedom of their consciences as to their religious profession and worship; and Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits, and the author as well as object of all divine knowledge, faith and worship, who only doth enlighten the minds and persuade and convince the understandings of the people, I do hereby grant and declare.”
The Constitution of Vermont, of 1777, granting the free exercise of religious worship, added, “Nevertheless, every sect or denomination of people ought to observe the Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, and keep up and support some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God.” And this was repeated in the Constitution of 1786.
In the Constitution of South Carolina, of 1778, it was declared that “the Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed and is hereby constituted and declared to be the established religion of this State.” And further, that no agreement or union of men upon pretense of religion should be entitled to become incorporated and regarded as a church of the established religion of the State, without agreeing and subscribing to a book of five articles, the third and fourth of which were “that the Christian religion is the true religion; that the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.”
Passing beyond these declarations which are found in the organic instruments of the colonies, the following are well known historical facts: Lord Baltimore secured the charter for a Maryland colony in order that he and his associates might continue their Catholic worship free from Protestant persecution. Roger Williams, exiled from Massachusetts because of his religious views, established an independent colony in Rhode Island. The Huguenots, driven from France by the Edict of Nantes, sought in the more southern colonies a place where they could live in the enjoyment of their Huguenot faith. It is not exaggeration to say that Christianity in some of its creeds was the principal cause of the settlement of many of the colonies, and cooperated with business hopes and purposes in the settlement of the others. Beginning in this way and under these influences it is not strange that the colonial life had an emphatic Christian tone.
From the very first efforts were made, largely it must be conceded by Catholics, to bring the Indians under the influence of Christianity. Who can read without emotion the story of Marquette, and others like him, enduring all perils and dangers and toiling through the forests of the west in their efforts to tell the story of Jesus to the [natives] of North America?
Within less than one hundred years from the landing at Jamestown three colleges were established in the colonies; Harvard in Massachusetts, William and Mary in Virginia and Yale in Connecticut. The first seal used by Harvard College had as a motto, “In Christi Gloriam,” [The Glory of Christ] and the charter granted by Massachusetts Bay contained this recital: “Whereas, through the good hand of God many well devoted persons have been and daily are moved and stirred up to give and bestow sundry gifts . . . that may conduce to the education of the English and Indian youth of this country, in knowledge and godliness.” The charter of William and Mary, reciting that the proposal was “to the end that the Church of Virginia may be furnished with a seminary of ministers of the gospel, and that the youth may be piously educated in good letters and manners, and that the Christian faith may be propagated amongst the western Indians, to the glory of Almighty God” made the grant “for propagating the pure gospel of Christ, our only Mediator, to the praise and honor of Almighty God.” The charter of Yale declared as its purpose to fit “young men for public employment both in church and civil state,” and it provided that the trustees should be Congregational ministers living in the colony.
In some of the colonies, particularly in New England, the support of the church was a matter of public charge, even as the common schools are to-day. Thus the Constitution of Massachusetts, of 1780, Part I, Article 3, provided that “the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic or religious societies to make suitable provision at their own expense for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”
Article 6 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of New Hampshire, of 1784, repeated in the Constitution of 1792, empowered “the legislature to authorize from time to time, the several towns, parishes, bodies corporate, or religious societies within this State, to make adequate provision at their own expense for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” In the fundamental Constitutions of 1769, prepared for the Carolinas, by the celebrated John Locke, Article 96 reads: “As the country comes to be sufficiently planted and distributed into fit divisions, it shall belong to the parliament to take care for the building of churches, and the public maintenance of divines to be employed in the exercise of religion according to the Church of England, which being the only true and orthodox and the national religion of all the king’s dominions, is so also of Carolina, and, therefore, it alone shall be allowed to receive public maintenance by grant of parliament.”
In Maryland, by the Constitution of 1776, it was provided that “the legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax, for ‘the support of the Christian religion.”
In several colonies and states a profession of the Christian faith was made an indispensable condition to holding office. In the frame of government for Pennsylvania, prepared by William Penn, in 1683, it was provided that “all treasurers, judges . . . and other officers . . . and all members elected to serve in provincial council and general assembly, and all that have right to elect such members, shall be such as profess faith in Jesus Christ.” And in the charter of privileges for that colony, given in 1701 by William Penn and approved by the colonial assembly it was provided “that all persons who also profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, shall be capable … to serve this government in any capacity, both legislatively and executively.”
In Delaware, by the Constitution of 1776, every officeholder was required to make and subscribe the following declaration: “I, A. B., do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed forevermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”
New Hampshire, in the Constitutions of 1784 and 1792, required that senators and representatives should be of the “Protestant, religion,” and (this provision remained in force until 1877.
The fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas declared: “No man shall be permitted Ito be a freeman of Carolina, or to have any estate or habitation within it that doth not acknowledge a God, and that God is publicly and solemnly to be worshiped.”
The Constitution of North Carolina, of 1776, provided: “That no person who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.” And this remained in force until 1835, when it was amended by changing the word “Protestant” to “Christian,” and as so amended remained in force until the Constitution of 1868. And in that Constitution among the persons disqualified for office were “all persons who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”
New Jersey, by the Constitution of 1776, declared “that no Protestant inhabitant of this colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles, but that all persons professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect, who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the legislature.”
The Constitution of South Carolina, of 1776, provided that no person should be eligible to the Senate or House of Representatives “unless he be of the Protestant religion.”
Massachusetts, in its Constitution of 1780, required from governor, lieutenant-governor, councillor, senator and representative before proceeding to execute the duties of his place or office a declaration that “I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth.”
By the fundamental orders of Connecticut the governor was directed to take an oath to “further the execution of justice according to the rule of God’s word; so help me God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Vermont Constitution of 1777 required of every member of the House of Representatives that he take this oath: “I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the Protestant religion.” A similar requirement was provided by the Constitution of 1786.
In Maryland, by the Constitution of 1776, every person appointed to any office of profit or trust was not only to take an official oath of allegiance to the State, but also to “subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion.” In the same State, in the Constitution of 1851, it was declared that no other test or qualification for admission to any office of trust or profit shall be required than the official oath “and a declaration of belief in the Christian religion; and if the party shall profess to be a Jew the declaration shall be of his belief in a future state of rewards and punishments.” As late as 1864 the same State in its Constitution had a similar provision, the change being one merely of phraseology, the provision reading, “a declaration of belief in the Christian religion, or of the existence of God, and in a future state of rewards and punishments.”
Mississippi, by the Constitution of 1817, provided that “no person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of the State.”
Another significant matter is the recognition of Sunday. That day is the Christian Sabbath, a day peculiar to that faith, and known to no other. It would be impossible within the limits of a lecture to point out all the ways in which that day is recognized. The following illustrations must suffice: By the United States Constitution the President is required to approve all bills passed by Congress. If he disapproves he returns it with his veto. And then specifically it is provided that if not returned by him within ten days, “Sundays excepted,” after it shall have been presented to him it becomes a law. Similar provisions are found in the Constitutions of most of the States, and in thirty-six out of forty-five is the same expression, “Sundays excepted.”
Louisiana is one of the nine States in whose present Constitution the expression, “Sundays excepted,” is not found. Four earlier Constitutions of that State (those of 1812, 1845, 1852and 1864) contained, while the three later ones, 1868, 1879 and 1881 omit those words. In State ex rel. vs. Secretary of State, a case arising under the last Constitution, decided by the Supreme Court of Louisiana (52 La. An. 936), the question was presented as to the effect of a governor’s veto which was returned within time if a Sunday intervening between the day of presentation of the bill and the return of the veto was excluded, and too late if it was included; the burden of the contention on the one side being that the change in the phraseology of the later Constitutions in omitting the words “Sundays excepted” indicated a change in the meaning of the constitutional provision in respect to the time of a veto. The court unanimously held that the Sunday was to be excluded. In the course of its opinion it said (p. 944):
“In law Sundays are generally excluded as days upon which the performance of any act demanded by the law is not required. They are held to be dies non juridici. [non-judicial days]
“And in the Christian world Sunday is regarded as the ‘Lord’s Day,’ and a holiday— a day of cessation from labor.
“By statute, enacted as far back as 1838, this day is made in Louisiana one of ‘public rest.’ Rev. Stat, Sec. 522; Code of Practice, 207, 763.
“This is the policy of the State of long standing and the framers of the Constitution are to be considered as intending to conform to the same.”
By express command of Congress studies are not pursued at the military or naval academies, and distilleries are prohibited from operation on Sundays, while chaplains are required to hold religious services once at least on that day.
By the English statute of 29 Charles II no tradesman, artificer, workman, laborer, or other person was permitted to do or exercise any worldly labor, business or work of ordinary calling upon the Lord’s Day, or any part thereof, works of necessity or charity only excepted. That statute, with some variations, has been adopted by most if not all the States of the Union. In Massachusetts it was held that one injured while traveling in the cars on Sunday, except in case of necessity or charity, was guilty of contributory negligence and could recover nothing from the railroad company for the injury he sustained. And this decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. A statute of the State of Georgia, making the running of freight trains on Sunday a misdemeanor, was also upheld by that court. By decisions in many States a contract made on Sunday is invalid and cannot be enforced. By the general course of decision no judicial proceedings can be held on Sunday. All legislative bodies, whether municipal, state or national, abstain from work on that day. Indeed, the vast volume of official action, legislative and judicial, recognizes Sunday as a day separate and apart from the others, a day devoted not to the ordinary pursuits of life. It is true in many of the decisions this separation of the day is said to be authorized by the police power of the State and exercised for purposes of health. At the same time, through a large majority of them, there runs the thought of its being a religious day, consecrated by the Commandment, “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.”
While the word “God” is not infrequently used both in the singular and plural to denote any supreme being or beings, yet when used alone and in the singular number it generally refers to that Supreme Being spoken of in the Old and New Testaments and worshiped by Jew and Christian. In that sense the word is used in constitution, statute and instrument. In many State Constitutions we find in the preamble a declaration like this: “Grateful to Almighty God.” In some he who denied the being of God was disqualified from holding office. It is again and again declared in constitution and statute that official oaths shall close with an appeal, “So help me, God.” When, upon inauguration, the President-elect each four years consecrates himself to the great responsibilities of Chief Executive of the republic, his vow of consecration in the presence of the vast throng filling the Capitol grounds will end with the solemn words, “So help me, God.” In all our courts witnesses in like manner vouch for the truthfulness of their testimony. The common commencement of wills is “In the name of God, Amen.” Every foreigner attests his renunciation of allegiance to his former sovereign and his acceptance of citizenship in this republic by an appeal to God.
These various declarations in charters, constitutions and statutes indicate the general thought and purpose. If it be said that similar declarations are not found in all the charters or in all the constitutions, it will be borne in mind that the omission oftentimes was because they were deemed unnecessary, as shown by the quotation just made from the opinion of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, as well as those hereafter taken from the opinions of other courts. And further, it is of still more significance that there are no contrary declarations. In no charter or constitution is there anything to even suggest that any other than the Christian is the religion of his country. In none of them is Mohammed or Confucius or Buddha in any manner noticed. In none of them is Judaism recognized other than by way of toleration of its special creed. While the separation of church and state is often affirmed, there is nowhere a repudiation of Christianity as one of the institutions as well as benedictions of society. In short, there is no charter or constitution that is either infidel, agnostic or anti-Christian. Wherever there is a declaration in favor of any religion it is of the Christian. In view of the multitude of expressions in its favor, the avowed separation between church and state is a most satisfactory testimonial that it is the religion of this country, for a peculiar thought of Christianity is of a personal relation between man and his Maker, uncontrolled by and independent of human government.
Notice also the matter of chaplains. These are appointed for the army and navy, named as officials of legislative assemblies, and universally they belong to one or other of the Christian denominations. Their whole range of service, whether in prayer or preaching, is an official recognition of Christianity. If it be not so, why do we have chaplains?
If we consult the decisions of the courts, although the formal question has seldom been presented because of a general recognition of its truth, yet in The People vs. Ruggles, 8 John. 290, 294, 295, Chancellor Kent, the great commentator on American law, speaking as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New York, said: “The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice.” And in the famous case of Vidal vs. Girard’s Executors, 2 How. 127, 198, the Supreme Court of the United States, while sustaining the will of Mr. Girard, with its provision for the creation of a college into which no minister should be permitted to enter, observed: “It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania.”
The New York Supreme Court, in Lindenmuller vs. The People, 33 Barbour, 561, held that:
“Christianity is not the legal religion of the State, as established by law. If it were, it would be a civil or political institution, which it is not; but this is not inconsistent with the idea that it is in fact, and ever has been, the religion of the people. This fact is everywhere prominent in all our civil and political history>and has been, from the first, recognized and acted upon by the people, as well as by constitutional conventions, by legislatures and by courts of justice.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court, in States vs. Chandler, 2 Harrington, 555, citing many cases, said:
“It appears to have been long perfectly settled by the common law that blasphemy against the Deity in general, or a malicious and wanton attack against the Christian religion individually, for the purpose of exposing its doctrines to contempt and ridicule, T, indictable and punishable as a temporal offense.”
And again, in City Council vs. Benjamin, 2 Strobhart, 521:
“On that day we rest, and to us it is the Sabbath of the Lord—its decent observance in a Christian community is that which ought to be expected.
“It is not perhaps necessary for the purposes of this case to rule and hold that the Christian religion is part of the common law of South Carolina. Still it may be useful to show that it lies at the foundation of even the article of the Constitution under consideration, and that upon it rest many of the principles and usages, constantly acknowledged and enforced, in the courts of justice.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Updegraph vs. The Commonwealth, 11 Sergeant and Rawle, 400, made this declaration:
“Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; Christianity, without the spiritual artillery of European countries; for this Christianity was one of the considerations of the royal charter, and the very basis of its great founder, William Penn; not Christianity founded on any particular religious tenets; not Christianity with an established church, and tithes, and spiritual courts; but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.”
And subsequently, in Johnson vs. The Commonwealth, 10 Harris, 111.
“It is not our business to discuss the obligations of Sunday any further than they enter into and are recognized by the law of the land. The common law adopted it, along with Christianity, of which it is one of the bulwarks.”
In Arkansas, Shover vs. The State, 10 English, 263, the Supreme Court said:
“Sunday or the Sabbath is properly and emphatically called the Lord’s Day, and is one amongst the first and most sacred institutions of the Christian religion. This system of religion is recognized as constituting a part and parcel of the common law, and as such all of the institutions growing out of it, or, in any way, connected with it, in case they shall not be found to interfere with the rights of conscience, are entitled to the most profound respect, and can rightfully claim the protection of the law-making power of the State.”
The Supreme Court of Maryland, in Judefind vs. The State, 78- Maryland, 514, declared:
“The Sabbath is emphatically the day of rest, and the day of rest here is the Lord’s Day or Christian’s Sunday. Ours is a Christian community, and a day set apart as the day of rest is the day consecrated by the resurrection of our Saviour, and embraces the twenty-four hours next ensuing the midnight of Saturday. . . . But it would scarcely be asked of a court, in what professes to be a Christian land, to declare a law unconstitutional because it requires rest from bodily labor on Sunday (except works of necessity and charity) and thereby promotes the cause of Christianity.”
If now we pass from the domain of official action and recognition to that of individual acceptance we enter a field of boundless extent, and I can only point out a few of the prominent facts:
Notice our educational institutions. I have already called your attention to the provisions of the charters of the first three colleges. Think of the vast number of academies, colleges and universities scattered through the land. Some of them, it is true, are under secular control, but there is yet to be established in this country one of those institutions founded on the religions of Confucius, Buddha or Mohammed, while an overwhelming majority are under the special direction and control of Christian teachers.
Notice also the avowed and pronounced Christian forces of the country, and here I must refer to the census of 1890, for the statistics of the census of 1900 in these matters have not been compiled: The population was 62,622,000. There were 165,000 Christian church organizations, owning 142,000 buildings, in which were sittings for 40,625,000 people. The communicants in these churches numbered 20,476,000, and the value of the church property amounted to $669,876,000. In other words, about one third of the entire population were directly connected with Christian organizations. Nearly two-thirds would find seats in our churches. If to the members we add the children and others in their families more or less connected with them, it is obvious that a large majority were attached to the various church organizations. I am aware that the relationship between many members and their churches is formal, and that church relations do not constitute active and paramount forces in their lives, and yet it is clear that there is an identification of the great mass of American citizens with the Christian church. It is undoubtedly true that there is no little complaint of the falling off in church attendance, and of a luke-warmness on the part of many, and on the other hand there is a diversion of religious force along the lines of the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Christian Endeavor Society and the Epworth League. All these, of course, are matters to be noticed, but they do not avoid the fact of a formal adhesion of the great majority of our people to the Christian faith; and while creeds and dogmas and denominations are in a certain sense losing their power, and certainly their antagonisms, yet as a vital force in the land, Christianity is still the mighty factor. Connected with the denominations are large missionary bodies constantly busy in extending Christian faith through this nation and through the world. No other religious organization has anything of a foothold or is engaged in active work unless it be upon so small a scale as scarcely to be noticed in the great volume of American life.
Again, the Bible is the Christian’s book. No other book has so wide a circulation, or is so universally found in the households of the land. During their century of existence the English and American Bible Societies have published and circulated two hundred and fifty million copies, and this represents but a fraction of its circulation. And then think of the multitude of volumes published in exposition, explanation and illustration of that book, or some portion of it.
You will have noticed that I have presented no doubtful facts. Nothing has been stated which is debatable. The quotations from charters are in the archives of the several States; the laws are on the statute books; judicial opinions are taken from the official reports; statistics from the census publications. In short, no evidence has been presented which is open to question.
I could easily enter upon another line of examination. I could point out the general trend of public opinion, the disclosures of purposes and beliefs to be found in letters, papers, books and unofficial declarations. I could show how largely our laws and customs are based upon the laws of Moses and the teachings of Christ; how constantly the Bible is appealed to as the guide of life and the authority in questions of morals; how the Christian doctrines are accepted as the great comfort in times of sorrow and affliction, and fill with the light of hope the services for the dead. On every hilltop towers the steeple of some Christian church, while from the marble witnesses in God’s acre comes the universal but silent testimony to the common faith in the Christian doctrine of the resurrection and the life hereafter.
But I must not weary you. I could go on indefinitely, pointing out further illustrations both official and non-official, public and private; such as the annual Thanksgiving proclamations, with their following days of worship and feasting; announcements of days of fasting and prayer; the universal celebration of Christmas; the gathering of millions of our children in Sunday Schools, and the countless volumes of Christian literature, both prose and poetry. But I have said enough to show that Christianity came to this country with the first colonists; has been powerfully identified with its rapid development, colonial and national, and to-day exists as a mighty factor in the life of the republic. This is a Christian nation, and we can all rejoice as truthfully we repeat the words of Leonard Bacon:
“O God, beneath thy guiding hand
Our exiled fathers crossed the sea,
And when they trod the wintry strand,
With prayer and psalm they worshiped Thee.
“Thou heardst, well pleased, the song, the prayer
Thy blessing came; and still its power
Shall onward through all ages bear
The memory of that holy hour.
“Laws, freedom, truth, and faith in God
Came with those exiles o’er the waves,
And where their pilgrim feet have trod,
The God they trusted guards their graves.
“And here Thy name, O God of love,
Their children’s children shall adore,
Till these eternal hills remove,
And spring adorns the earth no more.”
NOTE: I’ll get back to this and add more links to the history and documents it speaks of.
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