Throughout history, people have honored the memory of our founding father, hero of the Revolutionary War, and first president of the United States. But even though everyone agrees that George Washington was a man of character, recently some have question whether he was a man of faith or just had a general belief in a distant God.
This change in people's opinions about George Washington's faith isn't because some new historical evidence has come to light but because some historians want to prove our founding fathers did not rely upon God. It has become politically incorrect to consider George Washington as any more than a deist, someone who believes in a distant God who doesn’t interfere with the plans of man.
This theory became popular in 1963, when Professor Paul Boller wrote a book, George Washington and Religion. Until then nobody questioned Washington's strong faith in God. Professor Boller wrote, “Broadly speaking, of course, Washington can be classified as a Deist.” But there wasn't any evidence to support that statement.
The truth is that the evidence to support the view that George Washington was indeed a man of faith is overwhelming. Peter A. Lillback wrote a biography documenting George Washington's faith based on fifteen years of research called George Washington’s Sacred Fire.
Here’s a few things that prove George Washington had a strong Christian faith in God.
- At age thirteen, Washington transcribed and memorized "110 Rules for Young Gentlemen," written by Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits in the 1590's. They teach that man is God's servant who lives not for self, but for others. They became part of his character.
- When Washington was twenty, he wrote prayers to say each morning and evening. Every Sunday morning, he prayed, "...pardon, I beseech Thee, my sins; remove them from Thy presence, as far as the east is from the west, and accept me for the merits of Thy son, Jesus Christ..."
- Captain Washington, at the age of twenty-three, was caught in a surprise ambush by the French and Indians near what is now Pittsburgh. Every British and American officer was shot except for Washington. He rode through the battlefield numerous times without being hit. Later Indians who had been in the battle said they believed His God protected him because many of them aimed straight at him, but it was as if there was a shield around him. Washington later wrote to his brother, "By the all powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation, for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me."
- During the Revolutionary War, General Washington, Commander and Chief of the Continental Army, told his troops: "The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance or the most abject submission. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die."
- As Commander and Chief, Washington pushed for army chaplains and required church attendance among the soldiers.
- At one point in the war, British General Howe had trapped Washington and his 8,000 troops on Brooklyn Heights, ready to crush them the next morning. Washington gathered every vessel from fishing to row boats and spent all night ferrying his army across the East River. By morning, many troops were still exposed to the British. This gave the British a chance to win the war. But the fog that almost always lifts from the river in the mornings, stayed thick and covered Washington’s retreat until the entire army escaped.
- In 1777 at Valley Forge, a dozen soldiers died a day in the freezing cold. They lacked supplies such as blankets or shoes. A Quaker named Isaac Potts reported seeing Washington on his knees in the snow praying aloud for his beloved country. He thanked God for exalting him to the head of a great nation which was fighting at fearful odds. Potts told his wife, "Till now I have thought that a Christian and a solider were characters incompatible, but if George Washington not be a man of God I am mistaken, and still more I shall be disappointed in God does not through him perform some great thing for this country."
- On May 5, 1778 Washington learned the French would join America as allies. The General told his troops, "It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish our liberty, and independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness..."
- While encamped on the banks of a river, Washington was approached by Delaware Indian chiefs who desired that their youth be trained in American schools. In Washington's response, he first told them that "Congress... will look on them as on their own children." That is, we would train their children as if they were our own. He then commended the chiefs for their decision: You do well to wish to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.
- In 1781, General Washington's southern army defeated a detachment of British troops. Lord Cornwallis was infuriated and began pursuing the outnumbered Americans. He waited the night at the Catawba River, which the U.S. troops had crossed just two hours earlier. Miraculously, a storm arose during the night causing the river to be uncrossable for five days. Cornwallis nearly overtook Americans at the Yadkin River, but another flood arose, allowing Americans to escape.
- The French navy seized control of the Chesapeake Aug. 30, 1781, driving out British ships. Washington rejoiced and besieged Cornwallis' stronghold at Yorktown. With no ships to escape upon, Cornwallis surrendered.
- Washington wrote Congress, "I take a particular pleasure in acknowledging that the interposing Hand of Heaven...has been most conspicuous and remarkable."
- During the oath of office, when Washington became president, he chose to take the oath with a Bible.
- President Washington often spoke on the importance of prayer and signed the first official Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in US history.
We can have confidence in the fact that faith in God was very important to President George Washington and that he was a strong Christian.