February 22 marks President George Washington’s 285th birthday. Beloved as the Father of our country, the elements of Washington’s life captivate historians and spectators alike. Visitors can wander the gardens and grounds of his adored Mount Vernon home. Docuseries examine the Washington’s courtship and marriage. Biographies detail the Chief Founding Father’s exemplary military skills, judicious presidency, and morally upright character.
Yet, with so much of Washington’s history preserved and at our fingertips, his religious beliefs are ever-debated.
Many note the lifelong Anglican was indeed a sincere Christian. Others argue Washington was religiously ambivalent while some others say he was a Deist. That is, someone who acknowledges God exists but believes He is detached from the activities of mankind. This faith debate marches on, even as Washington’s own words and materials seem to substantiate a devout, albeit private, confidence in traditional Christian teachings.
Happily I found biographer Peter Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire on my local library’s bookshelf. Lillback’s research authenticates Washington’s Christian piety by examining everything from the use of a 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church, his incorporation of the Scriptures in his writings, to copious handwritten letters and speeches. The evidence points to an astute leader nurturing religious freedom in a new nation, not rejecting his Savior.
So in honor of George Washington’s birthday, here’s a look at 10 of his quotes recognizing God’s Providence:
1. “The Man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently manifested in our behalf.”
—Washington’s letter to Samuel Langdon, September 28, 1789
2. “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land—whose Providential Agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent Nation—still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”
—Letter to the Hebrew congregation of Savannah, Georgia
3. “Glorious indeed has been our Contest: glorious, if we consider the Prize for which we have contended, and glorious in its Issue; but in the midst of our Joys, I hope we shall not forget that, to divine Providence is to be ascribed the Glory and the Praise.”
—Letter to Reverend John Rodgers, June 11, 1783
4. “I flatter myself that a superintending Providence is ordering everything for the best, and that, in due time, all will end well.”
—Letter to Landon Carter regarding American patriot’s prisoners in the North, October 27, 1777
5. “It is not a little pleasing, nor less wonderful to contemplate, that after two years Manoeuvring and undergoing the strangest vicissitudes that perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation both Armies are brought back to the very point they set out from and, that that, which was the offending party in the beginning is now reduced to the use of the spade and pick axe for defense. The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations, but, it will be time enough for me to turn preacher, when my present appointment ceases; and therefore, I shall add no more on the Doctrine of Providence…”
—Private letter to Brigadier General Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778
6. “What will be the consequences of our Arming for self defense, that Providence, who permits these doings in the Disturbers of Mankind; and who rules and Governs all things, alone can tell. To its all powerful decrees we must submit, whilst we hope that the injustice of our Cause if War, must ensue, will entitle us to its Protection.”
—Letter to Revered Jonathan Boucher, August 15, 1798
7. “And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly…”
—Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, October 3, 1789
8. “I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would…most graciously be pleas’d to dispose us all to do Justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves, with that Charity, humility & pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion & without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.”
—Washington’s Circular Letter to the States, June 8, 1783
9. “Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our fore-fathers to this western world…and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.”
—Washington’s General Orders, November 27, 1779
10. “While I reiterate the professions of my dependence upon Heaven as the source of all public and private blessings; I will observe that the general prevalence of piety, philanthropy, honesty, industry, and economy seems, in the ordinary course of human affairs particularly necessary for advancing and conforming the happiness of our country.”
—Answering a letter from the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in the United States, May 1789