Washington Letter to Presbyterian Church in Northern New England, December 5, 1789

Letter from George Washington to the leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Northern New England.

The Massachusetts Centinel for December 5, 1789, contains correspondence between George Washington and the leaders of the Presbyterian Churches in Northern New England regarding the omission of any reference to the Christian religion in the Constitution. The Presbyterian Church, among others, had expressed their concern over the lack in the Constitution of any reference to God or the Christian religion. Washington’s response to their letter did much to relieve them of these concerns. According to Washington, the absence in the Constitition of any mention of the Christian religion was very simple. Because the “path of true piety is so plain,” it required little if any political direction. This direction was best left to the ministers of the various religious sects, as given through instruction, encouragement, and the various ecclesiastical laws.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

To the MINISTERS and Ruling ELDERS delegated to represent the Churches in Massachusetts and New-Hampshire, which compose the first PRESBYTERY of the Eastward.


The affectionate welcome, which you are pleased to give me to the eastern parts of the Union, would leave me without excuse, did I fail to acknowledge the sensibility which it awakens; and to express the most sincere return, that a grateful sense of your goodness can suggest.

To be approved by the praise-worthy, is a wish as natural to becoming ambition, as its consequence is flattering to our self-love.

I am, indeed, much indebted to the favourable sentiments, which you entertain towards me, and it will be my study to deserve them.

The tribute of thanksgiving, which you offer to the gracious FATHER OF LIGHTS, for his inspiration of our publick councils with wisdom and firmness to complete the National Constitution, is worthy of men, who, devoted to the pious purposes of religion, desire their accomplishment by such means as advance the temporal happiness of their fellow men. And, here, I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe, that the path of true piety is so plain, as to require but little POLITICAL direction.

To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation respecting religion from the Magna Charta of our country. To the guidance of the Ministers of the Gospel, this important object is, perhaps, more properly committed. It will be your care to instruct the ignorant, and to reclaim the devious: And in the progress of morality and science, to which our Government will give every furtherance, we may confidently expect the advancement of true religion, and the completion of our happiness.

I pray the munificent Rewarder of virtue, that your agency in this work, may receive its compensation here and hereafter.

G. Washington.

Letter from George Washington to the leaders of the Presbyterian Church, in Massachusetts Centinel, December 5, 1789, quoted in 1 Church and State in the United States, at 536-37 (Anson Phelps Stokes 1950).