How are we as Catholics to view America's founding fathers?

How are we as Catholics to view America’s founding fathers?

George Washington and Ben Franklin for example, were freemasons according to different sources. These two men, for example, helped shape this nation and are considered “heroes” by many American patriots.

Are these men “bad” ??

Is is wrong to for example have a poster of them on your wall??

So, how can one be a Catholic, and at the same time a patriotic American that loves/respects and considers many founding fathers to be “heroes”??

Thanks for your responses.

View them as you would anybody else. Recognize their strengths and good actions they performed, but be mindful of their fallen nature and admit they weren’t perfect.

The founding fathers aren’t the mythological figures that some people make them out to be. They did some great things and had some great ideas. But they were human and also did some pretty awful things, and had some horrible morals at times.

I would not view them as heroes, but I understand how some people can view some of their actions as heroic.

The US Founding Fathers were heroes. They created modern constitutional democracy. The Battle of Concord Bridge was truly the “Shot heard round the world.” George Washington performed not one, but three key historic roles: Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, President of the Constitutional Convention, and first President of the US.

Washington and the other founders were often not the most orthodox Christians but they were men of great honor. The first US Catholic bishop, John Carroll, was very close to the Founding Fathers. George Washington sent Father Carroll on a secret mission to Montreal to meet with the French Canadians. The fact that Washington was a Mason does not mean that he was anti-Catholic.

One has to do a great deal of research to know what is fact and fiction.

From George Washington’s Farewell Address - 1796 (published in newspapers from the period)

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Next, what were the religious affiliations of the Founding Fathers?

The other thing to keep in mind is that settlers were coming to America to escape religious persecution.


Can you cite a source that shows George Washington was a Mason and what type of Mason?


I feel very strongly that the US founding fathers were heroes.

What makes a hero? That’s an open question. I personally think that willingness to face personal danger and/or financial ruin and/or public scorn, not for personal gain but rather for ideals which are universally good, i.e., freedom of self-determination; freedom from tyranny/evil; betterment of humanity as a whole or at least betterment of society, etc., are high on the list of heroic traits.

The founding fathers had those traits in abundance. They also seemed to generally recognize God as the source of human rights and human abundance. Requiring them to, for example, be Catholic, seems to require that all heroes be Catholic, which would disqualify a lot of universally-recognized heroes, i.e., Martin Luther King, Jr., coming to mind.

I’ll look for a link somewhere about what happened to many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Many lost their homes; their careers; their fortunes, for the stand they took by signing. Heroes all, IMHO, whether they were Catholic or not.

This is as well-established a fact as his false teeth (which weren’t wood, but hippo ivory). Among other things, you can Google the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA. There are contemporary portraits of him in Masonic regalia.

The US was not founded on Christian principles for sure. It was founded more on deist principles than Christian. In fact American culture has replaced classic, liturgical Christianity with an American secular religion.

We have our saints - the Founding Fathers

Our holy scriptures - the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Gettysburg Address

Our holy sites - Washington, Concord Bridge, Liberty Bell etc

Holy days - 4th of July, President’s Day, Thanksgiving

Our messiah - Abraham Lincoln

Holy wars - WWII, the cold war

And this secular religion elevates liberty as the highest moral value, the value by which all things are measured. In fact even the concepts of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as understood by the founders would be totally foreign to a Catholic in the 14th century.

But only when it served their self-interest.

Take George Washington for instance.

He touted freedom and independence. But he owned slaves, and wanted to squash all slave revolts. He has the country fund money to France to suppress a slave rebellion in Haiti.

He believed in no taxation without representation. But when the treasury started taxing the westerners on one of their main products, they revolted because they were being taxed without local representation. Many of these people were the same people that fought in the Revolutionary War. But Washington rode out and suppressed the rebellion. Because, of course, his livelihood wasn’t impacted by these taxes. (Read about the Whiskey Rebellion).

Sorry, awke, I’m calling bunk on the totality of your posts.

There is no United States without George Washington.

So he had flaws. All men do.

Here is a very well-reasoned thoughtful article about the man, which discusses his flaws (which were existent, but few) and his heroic qualities (which were legion):

In a pantheon of American heroes, he’s at the summit IMHO (and in the opinion of a few million others).

Self-interest? The man took actions which would have led to his death for treason, many times over.

being brave and being heroic don’t always go together. I would ague that the founding fathers were brave. But I don’t think they were all heroic. John Adams was perhaps one of most honorable men among them, and gets the least acknowledgements. But even John Adams had character flaws.

Most of the founding fathers were more like “Nick Fury” or “Black Widow” and not more like “Captain America.”


As heroic, but human, men. Many, perhaps most, people do not have the emotional capital to see the truth of their of own shortcomings and sins; certainly not the wherewithal to see them and drastically change. Those are the great ones, indeed. That’s why when looking at the lives of the SAINTS, it’s the last 2-3 decades that matter most.

These men didn’t just die for a cause, they lived bravely, with suffering, for a cause that perhaps wasn’t perfectly just, but advanced justice around the globe. That is worthy of rememberence, indeed.

“We Catholics” have voted for anti-Catholic politicos, so whaddya mean “we Catholics”? George Washington spent an hour each morning on his knees before a chair holding a Bible from which he read and prayed. Washington wrote a letter affirming the sway of Freemasons, the very “Freemason lobby” Pope Francis mentioned 200+ years later; this in reply to a concerned missive from a preacher worried about Washington’s ties with Freemasons:

*Mount Vernon, October 24, 1798.

Revd Sir: I have your favor of the 17th. instant before me; and my only motive to trouble you with the receipt of this letter, is to explain, and correct a mistake which I perceive the hurry in which I am obliged, often, to write letters, have led you into.

It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am.

The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of seperation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a seperation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.

My occupations are such, that but little leisure is allowed me to read News Papers, or Books of any kind; the reading of letters, and preparing answers, absorb much of my time.*
In skirmishes with natives, they attested that their fine warriors unquestioningly plugged Washington and that the Creator must have had a hand in his survival, and were honored to surrender to him for that reason. Washington’s slave said he converted to Catholicism on his death bed, it is rumored; and Washington had a picture of Jesus Christ AND the Virgin Mary in his belongings as accounted after his death. There is the vision of General Washington relayed by his aide de camp about three wars on American soil relayed by a woman of stunning beauty crowned with the words “UNION.” The final war was a red cloud of death swamping the USA, and she barely survives this final assault. God bless America and saint if not Saint George Washington.

As a Canadian, I find comments like this terrifying.

I might also note that I’ve read much the same treatment of Washington from a racist, southern Baptist perspective, where Washington is “Saint Southern Baptist Washington.”

People of all countries though especially Americans in my experience are capable of whitewashing their own history and remolding it to suit their fancy. One has only to critique the American superhero stereotypes coming out of Hollywood (Anyone remember Argo; where the CIA became the heroes and the reputations of Great Britain and New Zealand were besmirched in the name of creating dramatic tension for the American heroes?) to see that Americans often do not see themselves rightly but through a rose colored lens.

PLUS, Americans in particular have a tendency to assign the USA a quasi-divine role in the world that is very scary to non-Americans. Every time I read an American history curriculum or talk to an American about history, I find that fear growing. I’m not saying the USA is terrible - it’s done some wonderful things in the world - but it has its share of sins too that ought not to be lost in the haze of patriotism and hero worship.

Sam, I don’t see why any nation’s founders can’t be held up as heroes by their people, outside of those situations where leaders are clearly tyrants.

That said, there is a disturbing trend on this board of bashing the USA and it’s accomplishments. Recently I had a heated discussion with a board member who couldn’t find anything good to say about the USA - and who I suspect was about 16 years old and not really in any position to take any sort of balanced view of world history. Further, the poster was clearly American.

Also, this board is so filled with radical Catholics that it sometimes seems to me that any adulation of anyone who wasn’t a Catholic saint is trashed by the posters (maybe see above!) or that qualities that are heroic are twisted to be uncatholic: military leadership becomes being violent and warlike; bravery becomes failure to turn the other cheek, etc.

I think your observations about the attitudes of some here towards the U.S. are correct. Occasionally there are threads that ask, in effect, was the American Revolution “justified?” I’m not sure what to do with a question like that. If the answer is “no” (because, say, it is seen as a revolt against legitimate authority), does the moral implication become that faithful Catholics need to flee to Canada, which maintained its ties to England? Then there’s the current horror that Washington and some (many?) of the Founding Fathers were Masons. Meanwhile, the “Catholic” kings of, say, France (“Eldest Daughter of the Church”) spent how much time with their many mistresses, while Washington, as noted above, began each day on his knees with the Bible.

That is a common error.

"The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

"IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

"The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


With all due respect, this is precisely what I am talking about - the idea people who bash America must be 16 years old and are traitors because they are Americans. Or perhaps they’re radical Catholics, or godless communists, or Muslims.

A balanced view of world history is one I have trouble eliciting from Americans, even though I would have no trouble getting a list of heroes and villains. The same applies for books, movies and even school curricula from the States. The same thing happens with current elections; one non-Christian in Canada was asking me if George W. Bush was really ordained by God as a messianic Saviour figure for the United States because that’s what American Christians were telling him about, and I know of others who wept when Obama was voted in because they thought the reign of the antichrist was beginning.

Look, cards on the table, I’m of the opinion that the United States is the or at least one of the most benevolent superpowers in history. They’ve done a lot of good and in many ways have been deeply shaped by Christian ideals. But they’re not perfect, not the center or apex of history either sacred or secular, and maybe one day will be just like ancient Rome - a fond memory.

the freemasons were different then they are today. Just like the democrats of your
granddaddy days are much different then democrats today. Polls and statistics show
how much more left their attitudes and policies have become.

Sam, I happen to agree with you that America is very benevolent but is not without problems. On that we will agree.

My issue is with those posters - Americans or non-Americans - who are much too far the other extreme, i.e., they see nothing but bad in America: Americans are arrogant; greedy; violent; cowboys; ignorant; capitalist pigs; whatever – including by people who don’t really appreciate how benevolent America has been historically (the 16 year old kid, who’d never left the USA and had no concept of how bad a lot of the rest of the world has it now, let alone had in, say, 1941). There are a lot of people who I could appreciate such sentiment from: Perhaps a Japanese-American who sat in a detainment camp in WWII, but not from a 16 year old. Moreover, this kid could find literally nothing good to say about the USA. Not 1 thing, so much so I felt bad for the kid after a while. The same is true of posters who, as above, trash someone like George Washington, without the slightest effort at objectivity.

A LOT of that, when it comes from a foreigner, just comes across to this American as jealousy/sour grapes/etc., and elicits as much irritation from Americans, as I’m sure American arrogance engenders in foreigners, with a very large caveat: *It’s rarely if ever their countries who pull Americans out of the fire, but the other way around. * Earthquake in their country? Americans collect money; send teams of doctors; etc. Earthquake here? Where are the foreigners? At home, that’s where. There are US soldiers battling ebola, now. Their armies? What armies?

This all reminds me of the old yarn in WWII where the British complained that Americans were "overpaid, oversexed, and over here ." The Americans responded – with great justification IMHO, that the British were underpaid; undersexed – and under Eisenhower!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit