During this month in 1789, George Washington receives many letters from civic groups, churches, and elected officials. He was mere days away from being inaugurated as the first President of the United States.
Americans were excited about the commencement of their new government! And they were thrilled that Washington would be their first President. They wrote to congratulate him and to wish him well in his new role.
Washington took time to respond to many of these letters. As he did so, he often wrote of the intervention of God (he usually said “Providence”) in the American Revolution. But for divine intervention, he did not believe that the war would have been won.
In a letter dated April 19-20, he spoke to the Officials of Wilmington, Delaware of “that gracious Providence, which sustained us through our struggle for Liberty.” He similarly wrote to the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Common Council of Philadelphia (April 20, 1789): “When I contemplate the Interposition of Providence, as it was visibly Manifested, in guiding us thro’ the Revolution in preparing us for the Reception of a General Government, and in conciliating the Good will of the People of America, towards one another after its Adoption, I feel myself oppressed and almost overwhelmed with a sence of the Divine Munificence.”
Another letter was written to the German Lutherans of Philadelphia in April 1789 (no specific day noted). Washington said he would be fearful that citizens were expecting too much from the new government, except for one thing: “the same providence which has been visible in every stage of our progress to this interesting crisis, from a combination of circumstances, give us cause to hope for the accomplishment of all our reasonable desires.”
On the last day of the month, of course, Washington would give his first Inaugural Address. In that speech, he spoke even more strongly of the divine assistance that had been provided to America:
“No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
Sometimes, you’ll hear people speak of the Founders as if they were a bunch of Deists. They could not have been, at least not as that term is defined today. Consider the fact that modern Deists believe in a God that does not intervene in human affairs. Washington’s correspondence does not contemplate such an inactive divine being. Instead, Washington appears to be speaking to a people who saw an almighty hand, actively helping them in their struggle for freedom.
More information about George Washington and issues of
church & state can be found in my book with Joseph C. Smith, Jr., here.