The Virginian, tall and stately and ramrod straight, stepped onto the crowded second-floor balcony of the old Federal Building in lower Manhattan and took his place beside a large decorative Bible. A thunderous roar erupted from the sea of people on Wall Street, followed by tense silence as everyone strained to hear the man’s voice. He would not say much—only two words—but both syllables would shape the ages to come. This man was about to change history. He was about to take the oath of office as the first president of the United States of 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. . . . The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.
On that spring day in 1789, hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Washington lay his hands on God’s Word and kiss its pages. And those who heard his remarks took notice of his reverence toward the God of heaven who has revealed His “eternal rules of order and right,” an unmistakable reference to Scripture.
The founders of the United States of America revered the Bible because it reflected their awareness of God’s authority over the nations. Washington did not place his hand on the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States, as hallowed as those documents are. Nor did he kiss the pages of any other religious or secular tome. It was the Bible that sanctified the moment. The Bible, he knew, had ushered American history to this point. It is the Bible that made America.
Not every Founding Father was a Christian, a Bible-believer, or a paragon of virtue. Not every president has honored the Bible. Not every leader has appreciated its influence. Some of the Founding Fathers—Thomas Jefferson, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine—were disciples of Enlightenment rationalism. But even they were intimately acquainted with the contents of the Bible. They vigorously studied Scripture and respected its ethical teachings.
I am not commending all those whose stories I tell in these pages, but I am commending the book they held in their hands. Trying to explain American history without its Bible is like trying to understand the human body without its bloodstream. Had there been no Bible, there would be no America as we know it. The nation would not have been born as it was.
Perhaps it would not have been born at all.
John Adams wrote, “The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that was ever conceived on earth. . . . I believe [it] to be the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in the world.”
John Jay, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, said, “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the Word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”
“In regard to this Great Book,” wrote Abraham Lincoln in a letter dated September 7, 1864, “I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.”
“Hold fast to the Bible,” wrote Ulysses S. Grant on June 6, 1872, “as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts, and practice them in your lives.”
Calvin Coolidge said, “The foundation of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.”
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, addressing the Long Island Bible Society just weeks before being thrust into the presidency by the assassination of William McKinley, said, ‘A very large number of people tend to forget that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally—I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally—impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed.’
President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic.”
The Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path; when it burns low, our culture grows dark. The best way to keep America strong is to know her history, to honor her roots, to preserve her legacy, and to cherish the eternal God who, in His providence, placed this continent between two shimmering seas, and who, in His goodness, provided a Book that became her moral and intellectual foundation: the Holy Bible.