James Monroe

Scholarly analysis and quotes that demonstrate that our founding fathers were more likely Religious Deists than traditional Christians

“In 1780, Monroe left the army as a colonel to study law at William & Mary and in Richmond under Thomas Jefferson who became a life-long friend, political mentor and neighbor…..He gained additional political experience in the Congress of the Confederation and as minister to France during the Washington administration. With Jefferson and James Madison, he helped to organize the Democratic-Republican party…..Following additional terms as minister of France, Great Britain, and Spain in the Jefferson administration, and as secretary of state and secretary of war under James Madison during the War of 1812, he was elected the 5th President of the US in 1816.” (Holmes article, P.1)

“In 1799, he built and moved to the plantation of Highland in Albermarle Country, Virginia. It was adjacent not only to Jefferson´s Monticello but also to the plantation of Colle owned by Phillip Mazzei, an Italian-American patriot, vintner, and author closely associated with Jefferson. “(Holmes article, P.1)

“To discuss the religion of Monroe and the Founding Fathers means to discuss religion in the US of their time. Like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, James Monroe was born and baptized in what Virginians of the time called the Church, the Church of England, the Established Church….Colonial Virginians were born into the Anglican faith just as they were born into English citizenship. The Virginia General Assembly legislated for its established church, supported it through taxation, and protected it against competition…..13 colonies had established churches. Congregationalism (or the faith of the Puritans) was established in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Anglicism was established in the lower counties of New York, as well as in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It was strong, however, only in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.” (Holmes article, P.2)

“Born into an Anglican family, Monroe was baptized in Washington Parish in Westmoreland Country. He studied at Campbelltown Academy, a noted academy run by the Rev. Archibald Campbell, the rector of Washington Parish; secretary of state and chief justice John Marshall was one of his classmates. He went to an Anglican college, the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, where the president and faculty were clergy of the Established Church. There Monroe was required to attend not only daily morning and evening prayer in the College chapel…..but also Sunday worship in the neighboring Bruton parish Church. When Congress moved to New York City, Monroe met and married an Episcopalian, Elizabeth Kortright. Their marriage occurred at her home parish of Trinity Church on Wall Street. The couple raised their two daughters – Eliza and Maria Hester – as Episcopalians. While practicing law in Fredericksburg, Monroe attended St. George´s Episcopal Church and briefly served as a vestryman of St. George´s parish…..He served on the board of visitors of William & Mary, where membership in the Episcopal Church was almost a prerequisite for service. While president of the US, he occupied the President´s Pew in St. John´s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, opposite the White House. Its rector officiated when Maria Hestor was married at the White House in 1820. When Monroe died in 1831, he was buried from Trinity Church…..The Episcopal bishop of New York and the rector of Trinity Church conducted the service from the Book of Common Prayer. In the same month, the Episcopal bishop of Virginia conduced the memorial service for Monroe in Virginia. In 1858, his coffin was disinterred from its burial vault in a private cemetery in Manhattan and moved to the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation on West 14th Street in Manhattan.” (Holmes article, P. 3)

“Yet over the years, Monroe´s biographers have rarely mentioned his religious views. Even those who have written books on the religion of the American presidents have found little to say when they have reached the religion of the 5th president of the United States. There is a reason for this dearth of material, and it is called Deism.” (Holmes article, P. 4)

“By political accident, (Thomas) Paine lived in Monroe´s home in Paris for a time while Monroe served as minister to France. Paine had left the US to assist the French Revolution. Like other Founding Fathers, Monroe had been impressed by his patriotic writings during the Revolutionary War; Paine had especially befriended Benjamin Franklin but also Monroe, Jefferson, John Adams and Washington (though he later broker with the last. Arrested on contrived charges during the Reign of Terror, Paine was one of the many persons released from Paris prisons through Monroe´s adroit interventions. Long months in prison had left him in bad health, and the Monroes took him into their residence in Paris in convalesce. For two years, Pain recuperated with the Monroes and their first daughter and participated in their social circle. He and Monroe formed a close friendship that lasted until Paine´s death in 1809. It is inconceivable that Payne and Monroe did not discuss religion during this period, just as it is inconceivable that Monroe did not discuss religion with his mentor, Thomas Jefferson.” (Holmes article, P. 4) And both Jefferson and Madison were clearly deists.

“Written during 1793 and 1794, partially in the French jail and partially at Monroe´s home, Paine´s The Age of Reason helped to popularize Deism in the US. Paine wrote the 2nd part (which deals with the Bible) using a King James Version borrowed from the Monroes. Because it mercilessly assaulted and lampooned Judeo-Christian beliefs, the book alienated many of his previous supporters. To orthodox American Christians, Paine became a villain and an “infidel” – a term that orthodox Christians began to use for Deists.” (Holmes article, P. 5)

“Deism began to spread in the colonies around 1725 and continued to do so until early in the 19th century. By the middle of the 18th Century, it had gained sufficient adherents that orthodox clergy began to warn against the movement. In Virginia, the center of Deism was Monroe and Jefferson´s alma mater, the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, and institution where Washington also served as chancellor. “(Holmes article, P. 7)

“In the 18th century, as today, students and young people generally embraced the popular ideas of their time. Thus, it would be surprising if Deism had not influenced the Founding Fathers, for all were young men when it began to spread. Washington was born in the 1730s, Jefferson in the 1740s, and Madison and Monroe in the 1750s. Jefferson studied at William & Mary in the 1760s. Monroe enrolled at William & Mary in the 1770s, and though Washington never attended college, he moved in the circles of gentry who had been educated at William & Mary and other colleges. Only Madison attended a college known for most of the 18th Century for its Christian orthodoxy. Yet after Madison returned to Virginia from Princeton, his religious beliefs seem clearly to have moved in a Deistic direction.” (Holmes article, P. 7)

“Most of the political leaders who advocated independence from Great Britain and who designed the new American government were in one way or another influenced by Deism. They did not hold identical views. Deism had wings, and the Founding Fathers should not be lumped together. But if census takers had set up broad categories labeled “Atheism”, “Deism and Unitarianism”, “orthodox Protestantism”, “orthodox Roman Catholicism”, and “Other”, and if they had interviewed Monroe, Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, they would undoubtedly have placed every one of these six Founding Fathers in some way under the category of “Deism and Unitarianism”. (Holmes article, P. 7)

“Monroe´s public statements and speeches are remarkably silent about religious matters. Neither his public utterances nor his writings – including his autobiography – cit the Bible, nor do they make references to Jesus Christ. In his first inaugural address, Monroe praises the concept of religious freedom, boasting that Americans may worship the “Divine Author” in any manner they choose…..Monroe´s second inaugural address speaks of his “firm reliance on the protection of Almighty God”. When his speeches refer to the Deity, he uses only the stock Deistic phrases. No more than half of the numerous short speeches he makes while on his tour of the nation in 1871 contain religious references.” (Holmes article, P. 8)

“But one item is known about Monroe that may shed additional light on his religious beliefs: he was a Freemason. The ties between Deism and Freemasonry were close…..Freemasonry tended to require a belief in a monotheistic God from its members and to advocate an undogmatic religion that claimed to represent the essence of all religions. Wherever Masonry went, its rituals used drama and allegory to emphasize its message but gave a preeminent place neither to the Bible nor to Jesus…..When the Founding Fathers use such terms as “the Grand Architect” to speak of God, they are using language that comes directly from Freemasonry and not from the Bible.” (Holmes article, P. 9)

“No evidence exists to show that he was an active or emotionally engaged Christian. How the Anglican interpretation of Christianity influenced his character and personality, and what depths of religious feelings he may have experienced while attending worship, scholars may never know. Like Washington, Monroe was neither a philosophical nor a highly intellectual man. A practical, problem-solving person, he was highly effective when he worked on practical matters. Unlike Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, he did not seem to spend extensive time considering why the universe was so.” (Holmes article, P. 10)

“James Monroe seems to have been an Episcopalian of deistic tendencies who valued civic virtues above religious doctrine…..Reflective, tactful, practical, simple in his tastes, democratic in his convictions, James Monroe may have been the most skeptical of the early Presidents of the United States.” (Holmes article, P. 10)

“In the fight to pass the Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty, he shamed Christian conservatives – who tried to insert the words “Jesus Christ” in an amended preamble – with these words: “The better proof of reverence for the holy name would be not to profane it by making it a topic of legislative discussion….” (Heritage, P. 2)

“James Monroe was an Episcopalian. James Monroe attended St. John´s Episcopal Church while he was President. Some sources classify Monroe as a Deist. Franklin Steiner, in his book The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, categorized Monroe among “Presidents Whose Religious Views are Doubtful.” Indeed, Monroe was very close-mouthed about his religious views – almost nothing on that subject can be found in his speeches or writings.” (www.adherents.com – The Religious Affiliation of 5th U.S. President)

“When it comes to Monroe´s thoughts on religion”, Bliss Isely notes, “less is known than that of any other President”. No letters survive in which he discusses his religious beliefs. Nor did his friends, family or associates comment on his beliefs. Letters that do survive, such as ones written after the death of his son, contain no discussion of religion. Monroe was raised in a family that belonged to the Church of England when it was the state Church in Virginia before the Revolution. As an adult, he frequently attended Episcopal churches, though there is no record he ever took communion. Some historians see “deistic tendencies” in his few references to an impersonal God (Reference is to The Religion of James Monroe” by David L. Holmes in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 2003) Unlike Jefferson, Monroe was rarely attacked as an atheist or infidel. In 1832, James Renwick Wilson, a Reformed Presbyterian minister in Albany, New York, criticized Monroe for having “lived and died like a 2nd rate Athenian philosopher.” (Wikipedia.org – James Monroe, Sub section “Religious Beliefs”)

“To draw too many conclusions from a single letter written by a young man in the midst of war would be unwise. But the letter does permit speculation that Monroe´s view of Christianity may have changed at some point between the Revolution and his emergence into public service.” (Holmes, P. 102)

“He knew Bishop James Madison – second cousin of President Madison – from their years together at William and Mary. But when Madison became the first Episcopal bishop of Virgini in 1790 and Episcopalians could participate in the rite of confirmation for the first time, Monroe did not seek to be confirmed. He does not seem to have been anti-clerical as Jefferson was. But he appears to have corresponded with Bishop Madison only on William and Mary affairs and he does not appear to have initiated correspondence with other clergy.” (Holmes, P. 104)

“During his decades at his Albemarle estate of Highland, Monroe may have attended Forge Church, a deteriorating colonial structure within easy riding distance of his own estate. The Episcopal bishops never allude to him in their reports of visitations to the church, however, nor does Bishop Meade include the Monroes in his list of families that supported the Episcopal Church in Albermarle County. Jefferson never reported being accompanied by his neighbor Monroe when he attended services.” (Holmes, P. 104)

“Yet the surviving evidence implies that Monroe was not a Christian in the traditional sense. Neither his private nor his public writings indicate that he ever experienced a sense of the mystery or awe that is at the heart of orthodox Christianity. No evidence exists to show that he was an active or emotionally engaged Christian” (Holmes, P. 107)

“In his 1st inaugural address, Monroe praised the concept of religious freedom, boasting that Americans may worship “the Divine Author” in any manner they choose. This same address declared that “the favor of a gracious Providence” had guided the US. It concluded with Monroe declaring that he entered the presidential office with “fervent prayers to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to continue to us that protection which he has already so conspicuously displayed in our favor.” (Holmes, P. 102)

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