FACT CHECK: Did George Washington Say This Quote About ‘Christian Religion’?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

An image shared on Facebook claims that former President George Washington once said, “The gov’t of the US is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. The United States of America should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy.”

Verdict: False

There is no evidence that Washington authored the statement. The first sentence comes from a version of the Treaty of Tripoli; the second may actually be a variation of a line from a biography of Albert Gallatin, the treasury secretary from 1801 to 1814.

Fact Check:

Washington, a founding father and the nation’s first president, is frequently ascribed sayings on governance and religion. (RELATED: Did George Washington Say This Quote About The ‘Willingness With Which Our Young People Are Likely To Serve In Any War’?)

However, there is no evidence that Washington ever said or wrote the expression attributed to him in the Facebook post. It appears nowhere in the Papers of George Washington or his recorded speeches.

A quick internet search revealed that the first line actually comes from the English-language version of the Treaty of Tripoli. The treaty, which was ratified in 1797, sought to protect American ships from Barbary pirates.

Katie Blizzard of the Washington Papers at the University of Virginia confirmed in an email to the Daily Caller that the second sentence of the alleged quote does not appear in Washington’s writings but was unable to provide “any definite information” on its origin.

“There does not appear to be any basis for Washington authoring the quote after which you are inquiring,” Blizzard told the Caller in an email. “Though Washington respected religious diversity, he also believed religion to be important to the preservation of democracy.”

The second sentence is often attributed to Gallatin, a former treasury secretary, yet it does not appear in the “Writings of Albert Gallatin,” according to Blizzard. It may actually be a variation of a line from John Austin Stevens’ 1883 biography of Gallatin that readers then mistakenly ascribed to Gallatin.

In the biography, Stevens offered an interpretation of what he perceived to be Gallatin’s beliefs, writing, “Private zeal could alone be relied upon to establish the new enterprise on a foundation free from the influence of clergy; an indispensable condition of success. These were the views of Mr. Jefferson in 1807. These were the views of Mr. Gallatin.”

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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