Founding Fathers Separation Of Church And State Quotes – Is the ‘Damn Those Pesky Facts’ Quotes Meme Right? Memoir intended to show eight quotes on the subject of religion from three Founding Fathers and “Common Sense” author Thomas Paine.
The Damn Those Pesky Facts Quotes Meme features eight quotes about Christianity and religion from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and James Madison. (Photo via Facebook)
Founding Fathers Separation Of Church And State Quotes
The memoir, titled “Damn Those Pesky Facts,” features actual quotes about religion from former US presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison, as well as author Thomas Paine.
James Madison By Garry Wills
This meme shows eight quotes. Some quotes were true and others were false. See below for the full breakdown.
In July 2022, readers asked us to check the authenticity of the quotes in a meme titled “Damn Those Pesky Facts”. The meme was shared on Facebook and featured several quotes about Christianity and religion that came from three of the four founding fathers. Names shown above the statements included former US presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison, as well as author Thomas Paine.
In our research, we were able to find plenty of websites that host all the quotes included in the meme. However, websites that do nothing but collect famous quotes are generally not reliable sources of research. To establish specific corroboration for each quote, we looked at centuries-old literature as well as other reliable sources. On two occasions, we reached out to the researchers for more information. Our findings concluded that memory is neither entirely true nor false.
Many books have been written about the lives and thoughts of religion in relation to the four men featured in the meme. For the purpose of this story, we’ll focus primarily on examining individual citation facts.
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The first quote attributed to Jefferson, who served as the third President of the United States, was, “Christianity is not, nor ever will be, a part of the common law.” This is an authentic quote from Jefferson’s work entitled “Records of Cases Decided in the General Court of Virginia.” According to Encyclopedia Virginia, “common law” refers to “a tradition protected by precedent by the courts.” The full quote can be read as follows:
If, then, from the settlement of the Saxons, until the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not have been part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians; If they had their laws from that period to the end of the common law, if we find no such act of passage among them; We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity is not, nor ever was, a part of the common law.
A second quote bearing Jefferson’s name stated, “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone upon man.” According to Monticello.org, a website managed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., this was a paraphrase of something Jefferson wrote in 1801 to a clergyman, political theorist and physicist named Joseph Priestley. The quote is transcribed as follows:
This was the true basis of all the attacks upon you: let those who live on mystery and charlatanry crush your well-earned and well-deserved fame, fearing that you would nullify them by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the noblest and benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone upon man.
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The last quote attributed to Jefferson in the “Damn Those Pesky Facts” meme is, “Religions are all the same – based on fiction and mythology.” According to Monticello.org, there is no known record of him saying these words.
The meme included two quotes from Adams, who served as the country’s second president. The first quote read, “The government of the United States of America is not, in any way, founded on the Christian religion.”
This quote comes from the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, also known as the Treaty with Tripoli, from 1796. The treaty, published by usconstitution.net, was “one of many treaties made with the Barbary states at the turn of the century”. At the time, US ships were subject to costly attacks in the Barbary states for years. The 1796 treaty was part of an effort to stop piracy. After the treaty was negotiated, Joel Barlow, an American diplomat, translated the treaty from Arabic into English.
Because the government of the United States of America is in no sense founded on the Christian religion, — because it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of the Moslems — and the above-mentioned states have never entered. It is hereby declared by the parties that no war or act of hostility against any Mehometan nation, on any pretext arising from religious opinion, shall ever interfere with the existing harmony between the two countries.
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This document was originally signed by several parties in 1796. Washington was then president. In 1797, Adams signed it in the first year of his only presidency. To sum it up, there is no evidence that Adams wrote the words of the treaty. However, he signed his approval to the document.
A second Adams “Damn Those Pesky Facts” meme stated that “the United States is no more a Christian nation than a Jewish or Mohammedan nation.” We found that the quote was attributed not to Adams, but to former US President George Washington. This felt like a red flag to us that maybe the quote wasn’t really from Adams, or maybe even one of the men.
George Washington, the “Father of the Nation” famously declared – “The United States is no more a Christian nation than a Jewish or Mohammedan nation; it has no established religion and all religions practice. Perfect equality before the constitution and laws of the land.”
This was published in a periodical in 1878, so it’s reliable, right? Not quite. We found it strangely difficult to find in other literature at the time. We doubted that there was enough evidence to say definitively that this quote was true.
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We reached out to the team with Washington’s estate at MountVernon.org to see if they had any resources that might help confirm whether Washington actually said or wrote these words, which apparently didn’t come from Adams. In response, one of its staff told us it appeared to be a “poorly paraphrased and altered text” of the same treaty of peace and friendship from 1796 mentioned in the previous quote. (Separately, they pointed us to another quote from 1790 that is believed to be Washington’s most significant statement regarding religious freedom and “religious toleration”.)
The third person featured in the “Damn Those Pesky Facts” meme was Thomas Paine. The writer is perhaps best known for his paper entitled “Common Sense”.
The quote from the meme attributed to Paine reads: “When we read the obscenities, the indecent indecencies, the cruel and torturing, the unyielding vengeance that fills more than half of the Bible, it will be more consistent with us. It is more like the word of a demon than the word of God. was called and it served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.
Madison’s first quote in the meme read, “Religion and government are more pure than they are mixed together.” According to the National Archives, this is an exact quote from a letter Madison wrote to Edward Livingston on July 10, 1822. The letter contained the words “more purity” twice. Here is the context surrounding this actual quote:
The Founding Fathers Created The Separation Between Church And State To Protect The State From Christian Extremists, Not The Other Way Around.
Notwithstanding the general progress which has been made during the last two centuries for this branch of liberty, and its full establishment, there is, in some parts of our country, a strong tendency towards the old error. An alliance or coalition between government and religion, neither can be properly supported. Of course the tendency to such a coalition and its corrupting influence affect both parties, and the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against. In an opinionated government like ours, the only effectual defense must be found in the soundness and stability of public opinion on the subject. Therefore every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is important. I have no doubt that every new example will succeed as every one has done in the past in showing that religion and government. Both will remain in greater purity, the less likely they will mix together. It was once believed in all denominations that the establishment of religion by law was right and necessary; that the true religion should be established to the exclusion of all others; and the only question to be decided was what was the true religion. The example of Holland proved that a
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