George Washington's Birthday Transcendence Civil Religion

Washington’s Birthday & Transcendence

on February 19, 2018

The Netflix series The Crown chronicles Queen Elizabeth II’s constitutional continuity as chief of state while heads of government, Churchill-Eden-Macmillan, quit in not always planned ways. It also spotlights the monarchy’s and British state’s ultimate reliance on transcendence. Kings and queens are anointed by God and serve Him, Elizabeth was instructed by her grandmother Queen Mary. Elizabeth of course is head of state and head of church for her realm. Her encounter with visiting Billy Graham strengthens her faith while also allowing her the pleasure of briefly being, as she explained to him, a “simple Christian.”

Graham’s America, although a child of Britain, of course has no monarchy or state church and finds transcendent authority for its constitutional order somewhat differently. Gordon Wood’s recent book Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson describes the contrasting visions of America’s new order offered by the two Founding Fathers across their decades of political collaboration and friendship, interrupted by enmity, then concluding in renewed concord if not full agreement.

Jefferson was a hyper American exceptionalist who saw America divorced from Britain and Europe as a new and superior creation. Adams saw America as intrinsically interconnected with the traditions and sins of the old world. Jefferson romanticized the French Revolution before finally and reluctantly realizing its disastrous consequence. Adams dreamt that America would be, like Britain, a place of inevitable hierarchy and inherited positions as elites supinely rose and ruled over the common people. Both at times across long lives lost touch with the original aspirations of the Declaration of Independence.

Both Jefferson and Adams were at times bonkers and erratic, if still brilliant. They were essential to America’s founding but only together and with others could they synthesize the new republic and its constitutional order. Wood’s history focuses on the two frenemies of 50 years, but by explaining their flaws and incomplete visions it also illustrates the sanity and irreplaceability of George Washington.

Adams often resented the man he nominated to command the Revolution and under whom he served as first Vice President. Jefferson as Washington’s Secretary of State, and later, plotted against the policies of the administration and privately mocked the president. Yet each knew and acknowledged to each other in the correspondence of their last years that their experiment in America’s new regime needed him. In 1814 Jefferson recalled Washington in a lengthy review to another correspondent:

His was the singular destiny & merit of leading the armies of his country succesfully thro’ an arduous war for the establishment of it’s independance, of conducting it’s councils thro’ the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train, and of scrupulously obeying the laws, thro’ the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.

Jefferson concluded of Washington: “His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, & a great man.”

Washington had to do what Jefferson and Adams did not: serve as the model for all following presidents and governments. Absent a monarch, his example would have to suffice. And so it has. Despite their criticisms and sometimes jealousies, the presidencies of Jefferson and Adams yielded to Washington’s precedent and built upon it, even when contrary to their own original views. Washington was the rock and ballast that would steady America’s constitutional order. He also understood its need for transcendence.

Jefferson, a great friend to religious liberty, often went too far in denying the state’s need for roots in transcendence, advocating a more separationist approach. Adams was more European, effectively believing state supported churches were required to uphold morals and social order. Both were Unitarians who had lost faith in orthodoxy and were perplexed by early America’s turn to revivalism.

Washington was reserved about his religion but worshiped throughout his life in Anglican churches, as James Madison noted: “He took these things [religion] as he found them existing, and was constant in his observance of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church in which he was brought up.”

As the longtime communicant of a state church that was disestablished, Washington understood the need for society and the state to rest on transcendence without imposition of specific dogma. He was first president but was also first priest of American civil religion, which he mediated through his acts and words, setting a precedent his successors wisely would follow.

This American civil religion, with the Constitution that Washington helped craft, and the presidential rites he punctiliously invented, have provided for America the social and political order that the monarchy has ensured for Britain. Jefferson didn’t like celebrating Washington’s Birthday during Washington’s presidency, which he thought monarchical. But surely he would approve its celebration today, as should all who are grateful to Washington as founder of the world’s oldest and most successful great republic, of “which the history of the world furnishes no other example.”

  1. Comment by Theresa Newell on February 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Like you, we have enjoyed watching THE CROWN. Surprised that it was allowed to be made while Queen E II is alive and reigning! Delighted to see Billy Graham included and QE’s sweet spirit in hearing him (We have friends who were saved in those UK Crusades by Graham). Also saw great providence of God in the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. We might all be speaking German today!!

  2. Comment by Ted R. Weiland on February 24, 2018 at 9:02 am

    There’s more to George Washington then usually told, such as Washington being a Freemason or his tyrannical involvement in the Whiskey Rebellion.

    It’s also never mentioned that, as President of the Constitutional Convention, Washington was therefore complicit in the constitutional framers’ seditious against Yahweh as America’s sovereign and thus His law as supreme:

    “…What of George Washington, who is extolled as one of America’s greatest Christian6 statesmen? What kind of President was he?

    “To discuss Washington may seem a departure from this book’s primary objective, but because he was a key figure in the Constitutional Convention and the United States’ first President, it is important to understand what kind of man he was. We find conflicting contemporary testimony regarding Washington’s Christianity. Some say he was a Christian, while others – including his own pastor Dr. James Abercrombie – say he was not. One thing everyone agrees upon is that Washington never made a public confession of Christ as His Lord and Savior….

    “Washington was indisputably a Freemason:

    ‘Washington had served as Grand Master [actually Worshipful Master7]
    of the Alexandria [Virginia] lodge in 1788 and 1789. When he was inaugurated President of the U.S., he was therefore a Grand [Worshipful] Master, the only Mason to be inaugurated President while serving as a Grand [Worshipful] Master….

    ‘As President, he … never wavered in his attachment to Masonry. …Washington wrote: “Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the Masonic Fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.”…’8.

    “Washington, although hardly a Christian, was a Freemason of the rankest sort….

    “Twenty-eight of the forty constitutional signers were Freemasons or had Masonic connections. Sixteen presidents and thirty-five Supreme Court Justices were Freemasons, the most notable being Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835), reputed to be the “Father of the Judiciary” and the “Great Expounder of the Constitution.” Marshall served as Grand Master of the Virginia Masons from 1793 to 1795….

    “That Freemasons and antichrists, such as Washington and Jefferson (who cut the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and ascension of Christ – what he described as a “dunghill” – out of his cut-and-paste New Testament18), could be elected President speaks volumes of the non-Christian character of the Constitution.19….”

    For more, see online Chapter 5 “Article 2: Executive Usurpation” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at

    Then find out how much you really know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey in the right-hand sidebar and receive a complimentary copy of the 85-page “Primer” of “BL vs. USC.”

  3. Comment by Look4truth on February 28, 2018 at 8:59 am

    If during the last century our Christian leaders had spent more time and effort in proclaiming the “good news” of Christ’s message instead of righteously condemning those who weren’t living up to our expectations, our culture would not have turned away from the message considering us rude and irrelevant.

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