Enumerated Powers

“The powers not delegated [i.e., enumerated] to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Tenth Amendment of the Constitution

Enumerated powers are the particular powers granted to Congress (those which are specifically listed) in the US Constitution. There are seventeen such enumerated powers.

Article I, Section 8 lists the first fifteen powers enumerated to, or permissible for the federal government. Articles II-VII add no additional powers but define how to apply the powers enumerated in Article I.

For example, Article II identifies the president as Commander-in-Chief over the military, but this is not a new power since the Preamble already authorized the federal government “to provide for the common defense.” Likewise, the president’s Article II authority to “make treaties” and “appoint ambassadors” is part of the Article I provision “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.”

The Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution added two additional federal powers. (But the other twenty-five Amendments to the Constitution added no federal powers.) With these two additional federal powers, the total number of constitutionally-authorized federal jurisdictions, or enumerated powers, is seventeen.

The Enumerated Powers Listed in the Constitution

The enumerated powers permissible to the federal government are:

  1. To raise revenue to pay off debt, protect the nation, and fulfill the specific obligations established in the enumerated powers. (“To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States”)
  2. “Borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
  3. Protect the free-enterprise system and ensure free flow of commerce. (“To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”)
  4. Establish immigration laws and processes. (“To establish an uniform rule of naturalization”)
  5. Establish the bankruptcy laws and processes. (“and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States”)
  6. Establish national currency, monitor its supply and value, and punish counterfeiters of that currency. (“To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures” and “provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States”)
  7. “Establish post offices and post roads.”
  8. Protect the private property (including the ideas, and the product of those ideas) of inventors, authors, and artists. (“To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”)
  9. If Congress so wishes, create and regulate federal courts. (“To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court”)
  10. To enforce international laws and prosecute offenses against it: “Define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the law of nations.”
  11. “Declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.”
  12. To provide funding for and establish the size and operation of a national military. (“To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; to provide and maintain a navy; to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces”)
  13. To call forth and train state militias for national needs. (“To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions; to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively the appointment of the officers and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”)
  14. Oversee and manage all federal property, including Washington, DC, as well as bases, federal buildings, and so forth. (“To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings”)
  15. “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other owners vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”
  16. To prevent slavery. (a power added by the Thirteenth Amendment)
  17. To prevent states from violating individual constitutional freedoms and inalienable rights secured to every individual in the federal Constitution. (a power added by the Fourteenth Amendment)

Some Founding Fathers on Enumerated Powers

“The powers delegated [that is, enumerated] by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The former [i.e., federal powers] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state. The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the state governments in times of peace and security.” James Madison1

“The state governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter [i.e., the federal] is no wise essential to the operation or organization of the former [i.e., the states].” James Madison2

(Warning what would eventually occur if Congress used the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution to become involved in more than its specifically enumerated powers):

“If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the ‘general welfare,’ and are the sole and supreme judges of the ‘general welfare,’ they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post roads. In short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police would be thrown under the power of Congress, for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the ‘general welfare’.” James Madison3

“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people’ [quoting the Tenth Amendment]. To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.” Thomas Jefferson4

“I am not a friend to a very energetic [activist] government. It is always oppressive.” Thomas Jefferson5

“What an augmentation [growth] of the field for jobbing, speculating, plundering, office-building, and office-hunting would be produced by an assumption of all the state powers into the hands of the [federal] government. The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best: that the States are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the [federal] government be reduced to foreign concerns only.” Thomas Jefferson6

(The Founders did not list all the powers the state possessed, but rather listed the few that the federal government was allowed to perform; all other powers belonged to the states.)

“In forming a federal constitution, which ex vi termine, supposes state governments existing, and which is only to manage a few great national concerns, we often find it easier to enumerate particularly the powers to be delegated to the federal head than to enumerate particularly the individual rights to be reserved.” Richard Henry Lee7

“[The Tenth A]mendment is a mere affirmation of what, upon any just reasoning, is a necessary rule of interpreting the Constitution. Being an instrument of limited and enumerated powers, it follows irresistibly that what is not conferred, is withheld, and belongs to the state authorities.” Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story8

“What is to become of constitutions of government if they are to rest not upon the plain [meaning] of their words but upon conjectural enlargements and restrictions to suit the temporary passions and interests of the day? Let us never forget that our constitutions of government are solemn instruments, addressed to the common sense of the people and designed to fix and perpetuate their rights and their liberties. They are not to be frittered away to please the demagogues of the day. They are not to be violated to gratify the ambition of political leaders. They are to speak in the same voice now and forever. They are of no man’s private interpretation. They are ordained by the will of the people and can be changed only by the sovereign command of the people.” Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story9


1 James Madison, No. XLV, The Federalist on the New Constitution Written in the Year 1788 (Washington, DC: Jacob Gideon, 1818), 292.

2 Madison, No. XLV, The Federalist (1818), 290.

3 Madison, February 6, 1792, The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1849), 2nd Cong., 1st Sess., 388.

4 Thomas Jefferson, “Opinion against the constitutionality of a National Bank,” February 15, 1791, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. H. A. Washington (Washington, DC: Taylor & Maury, 1854), VII:556.

5 Jefferson to Madison, December 20, 1787, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Charlottesville: F. Carr & Co., 1829), II:276.

6 Jefferson to Gideon Granger, August 13, 1800, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, ed. Randolph (1829) III:437.

7 [Richard Henry Lee], “Letter XVI,” January 20, 1788, An Additional Number of Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican (1788), 143.

8 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), III:752.

9 Story, Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), III:754.

FAQ: Inalienable Rights

America’s Founding Fathers emphasized inalienable rights in their writings as they considered knowing these rights to be very important. Inalienable rights are those that are not under the purview of the government, those rights that are automatically granted to each person.1 In fact, the Founders said that inalienable rights (sometimes also called natural rights) came from God.

Liberties dearer to you than your lives, “which God gave to you and which no inferior power has a right to take away.”2

The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.3

Here are some of the inalienable rights the Founders mentioned:4

  • Life or Self-Preservation
  • Liberty
  • Property
  • Conscience (specifically relating to worshipping God)
  • Happiness
  • Private Judgment
  • Association
  • Right to Necessary Things (air, water, earth)

Additional Resources

For more on this issue, see these articles from WallBuilders:

See also WallBuilders’ products that discuss inalienable rights:


1 Noah Webster, “inalienable,” An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828). Today there is a question of whether the correct term is “inalienable” (as now used in contemporary English) or “unalienable” (as it originally appeared in the Declaration). As seen in this definition by Noah Webster (a soldier in the American War for Independence, and a judge and legislator afterwards), “unalienable” is a synonym for “inalienable.”
2 John Dickinson letter to the Society of Fort St. David’s, 1768, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, ed. R. T. H. Halsey (New York: The Outlook Company, 1903), xlii.
3 Alexander Hamilton, “The Farmer Refuted,” February 5, 1775, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. John C. Hamilton (New York: John F. Trow, 1850), II:80.
4 See, for example: Samuel Adams, “The Rights Of The Colonists, A List of Violations Of Rights and A Letter Of Correspondence, Adopted by the Town of Boston, November 20, 1772,” The Life and Public Service of Samuel Adams, ed. William V. Wells(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1865), I:502; Samuel Adams, An Oration Delivered at the State House, in Philadelphia, to a Very Numerous audience; on Thursday the 1st of August, 1776 (London: E. Johnson, 1776), 4. John Adams, “A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000). James Madison, “Property,” from the National Gazette, March 29, 1792, The Writings of James Madison, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), VI:101-102. James Wilson, The Works of the Honourable James Wilson, ed. Bird Wilson (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), III:84-85. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1805), VII:77-78.

The Founders Thanksgivings

Some of America’s Founding Fathers were direct descendants of the hearty Pilgrim settlers from which the tradition of our modern Thanksgiving originates. Included in this group are John Adams, John Trumbull, and Noah Webster.1 These descendants openly maintained the faith of their forefathers and expressed continued thankfulness to God.

In fact, Noah Webster, “The Schoolmaster to America” and a descendant of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, defined Thanksgiving as:

A public celebration of Divine goodness; also, a day set apart for religious services, specially to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary dispensation of His bounties. The practice of appointing an annual thanksgiving originated in New England.2

War for Independence

Following the Pilgrim’s example, Thanksgiving celebrations were common throughout New England. After the April 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, a city in Massachusetts issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that November. It urged the people, even as war continued, to give thanks for all their blessings, including…

devoutly to offer up their unfeigned Praises to Almighty God…that the lives of our officers and soldiers have been so remarkably preserved, while our enemies have fell before them…that our unnatural enemies, instead of ravaging the country with uncontrolled sway, are confined within such narrow limits, to their own mortification and distress, environed by an American Army, brave and determined.3

Throughout the War for Independence, the Continental Congress called for official days of thanksgiving and prayer4 through eight separate Proclamations. (Congress also issued seven proclamations for times of fasting and prayer. Thus, the national governing body of which many Founders were a part, called for a total of 15 official times of prayer.5)

New Hampshire Speaker of the House John Langdon (later signer of the US Constitution and governor of New Hampshire) wrote a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1778 which is available in WallBuilders’ collection. Clearly acknowledged in this proclamation is a strong reliance on God:

The mercies which, notwithstanding our great unworthiness, we are constantly receiving at the hands of Almighty God, ought ever to remind us of our obligations to Him; and it becomes our especial duty at the close of a year, to unite together in rendering thanks to the Divine Disposer of all good for the bounties of His providence conferred on us in the course thereof.6

Early Federal Proclamations

America’s first national Thanksgiving occurred in 1789, after having won independence and adopting the US Constitution. According to the Congressional Record for September 25th of that year, the first act after the framing of the Bill of Rights was that:

Mr. [Elias] Boudinot said he could not think of letting the session pass without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:

Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer. . . .

Mr. Roger Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving on any single event not only as a laudable one in itself but also as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ. . . . This example he thought worthy of a Christian imitation on the present occasion.7

That congressional resolution was delivered to President George Washington who subsequently issued the first federal Thanksgiving proclamation, declaring in part:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. . . . Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November [1789] . . . that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.8

Following this 1789 initial proclamation, national Thanksgiving Proclamations occurred only sporadically. For example, another was issued by President Washington in 1795, John Adams issued proclamations in 1798 and 1799, and James Madison issued them in 1814 and 1815.9 Most official Thanksgiving observances during this time occurred at the state level.

Proclamation Examples

In fact, by 1815, the various state governments had issued at least 1,400 official prayer proclamations, almost half for times of thanksgiving and prayer and the other half for times of fasting and prayer.10

Below are representative examples of the scores of Thanksgiving proclamations penned by various Founding Fathers.

[Congress] recommended [a day of] . . . thanksgiving and praise [so] that . . . the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and . . . join . . . their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive [our sins] and . . . [to] enlarge [His] kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.11 Continental Congress, 1777 – written by SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION SAMUEL ADAMS AND RICHARD HENRY LEE

[I] appoint . . . a day of public Thanksgiving to Almighty God . . . to [ask] Him that He would . . . pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would . . . spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; . . . and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue.12 GOVERNOR THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1779

[I] appoint . . . a day of public thanksgiving and praise . . . to render to God the tribute of praise for His unmerited goodness towards us . . . [by giving to] us . . . the Holy Scriptures which are able to enlighten and make us wise to eternal salvation. And [to] present our supplications…that He would forgive our manifold sins and . . . cause the benign religion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be known, understood, and practiced among all the inhabitants of the earth.13 GOVERNOR JOHN HANCOCK, 1790

As it hath pleased Almighty God to continue to the people of this Commonwealth great and unmerited Favors in the course of the year past; it is highly becoming, that after the example of our pious and renowned ancestors, a day should be set apart, at this season of the year, for the special purpose of rendering to the Father of all mercies the just tribute of gratitude and praise.14 GOVERNOR SAMUEL ADAMS, 1794

See additional Thanksgiving Proclamations and Sermons on our Resources page. Below are a few specific items of interest:

  • See Thanksgiving Proclamations issued by the Continental Congress in 1777,15 1781,16 1782,17 and many other historic proclamations.
  • Read the 1795 Thanksgiving Sermon by the Rev. Thomas Baldwin18 in response to George Washington’s call for a Day of Thanksgiving.

Continue reading about the history of Thanksgiving: https://dev.americasheritage.com/resource/modern-thanksgiving-celebrations/


1 (Additionally, numerous Presidents can trace their lineage to the Mayflower Pilgrims, including John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Bush, and George W. Bush. See for example “The Pilgrims of the Mayflower,” June 2015, Pilgrim Monument: Provincetown Museum, https://www.pilgrim-monument.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Pilgrims-Bio-Information-rev-6-20151.pdf; Gary Boyd Roberts, “#42 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Yankee Ancestors, Mayflower Lines, and Royal Descents and Connections of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.,” American Ancestors, December 1, 1999.)
2 “Thanksgiving,” Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828).
3 Watertown City Council, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued November 4, 1775, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1775-massachusetts/.
4 Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, “Religion and the Congress of the Confederation,” Library of Congress, accessed August 30, 2023, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel04.html.
5 See the Journals of the Continental Congress (1905) for June 12, 1775; March 16, 1776; December 11, 1776; November 1, 1777; March 7, 1778; November 17, 1778; March 20, 1779; October 20, 1779; March 11, 1780; October 18, 1780; March 20, 1781; October 26, 1781; March 19, 1782; October 11, 1782; October 18, 1783.
6 Meshech Ware & John Langdon, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued November 19, 1778, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1778-new-hampshire/.
7 The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1834), I:949-950.
8 George Washington, Proclamation for a National Thanksgiving on October 3, 1789, Writings of George Washington, ed. Jared Sparks (Boston: Russell, Odiorne and Metcalf, 1838), XII:119; George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued on October 3, 1789, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1789/.
9 See, for example, H. S. J. Sickel, Thanksgiving: Its Source, Philosophy and History With All National Proclamations (Philadelphia: International Printing Co, 1940), 154-155, “Thanksgiving Day- 1795” by George Washington; 156-157, “Thanksgiving Day – 1798” by John Adams; 158-159, “Thanksgiving Day – 1799” by John Adams; 160, “Thanksgiving Day – 1814” by James Madison; 161, “Thanksgiving Day – 1815” by James Madison; etc.
10 Deloss Love, in his work The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England, lists some 1,735 proclamations issued between 1620 and 1820, in a non-exclusive list. Of those, 284 were issued by churches and 1,451 by civil authorities. 1,028 of the civil proclamations were issued prior to July 4, 1776, and 413 from July 4, 1776 to 1820. 278 of the church proclamations were issued before July 4, 1776, and six afterwards. These, however, are only a portion of what were issued; for example, the author personally owns hundreds of additional proclamations not listed in Love’s work. While the exact number of government-issued prayer proclamations is unknown, it is certain that they certainly number in the thousands.
11 Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907), IX:855, November 1, 1777.
12 Thomas Jefferson, Proclamation Appointing a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, November 11, 1779, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 3:178.
13 John Hancock, Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving (Boston, 1790), from an original broadside in possession of the author.
14 Samuel Adams, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued October 15, 1794, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1794-massachusetts/.
15 Continental Congress, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued November 1, 1777, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1777/.
16 Thomas McKean & Continental Congress, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued October 26, 1781, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1781/.
17 John Hanson & Continental Congress, “Thanksgiving Proclamation,” issued October 11, 1782, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/proclamation-thanksgiving-day-1782/.
18 Thomas Baldwin, “Thanksgiving Sermon,” February 19, 1795, WallBuilders, https://wallbuilders.com/sermon-thanksgiving-1795-massachusetts/.

FAQ: Founders & Slavery

The issue of slavery in America’s Founding Era was complex. Initially, many people saw slavery as a normal part of life; this perspective is acknowledged by Chief Justice John Jay, who stated that, before the War for Independence, very few “doubted the propriety and rectitude of it.”1

However, the changing attitude towards slavery was evident even before the War for Independence when several colonies passed anti-slavery laws.2 (Each of these were overturned by King George III.3) Notably, a section of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson criticized the king for maintaining slavery and the slave trade.4

After the Declaration of Independence, states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey abolished slavery.5 Additionally, Virginia, in 1778, outlawed the further importation of slaves.6

Among the Founders themselves, some slave-owners, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, openly spoke against slavery.7 Conversely, others were demonstrably pro-slavery.8 There were also Founders involved in abolition movements. For example, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush helped establish the first abolition society in 1774.9 Furthermore, John Jay served as president of the New York abolition society.10

Again, this was a complicated issue for Americans during the Founding Era, but the actions of many demonstrate that this reprehensible practice had much opposition among the Founders. For more information on this topic, please see these additional resources.


1 John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1891), 3:342, to the English Anti-Slavery Society, June 1788.
2 W.O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (Columbus: J. & H. Miller, 1858), 386; George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharpless, 1827), 137; Thomas F. Gordon, The History of Pennsylvania from its Discovery by Europeans to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey, 1829), 554-555.
3 Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Jared Sparks (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore, and Mason, 1839), 8:42, to Dean Woodward on April 10, 1773; Benson J. Lossing, Harpers’ Popular Cyclopaedia of United States History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1892), 1299.
4 Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Albert Ellery Bergh (Washington DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), 1:34, from Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence. This section was removed on the objection of two states: Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, ed. Thomas Jefferson Randolph (London: Colburn and Bentley, 1829), 1:16, from his Autobiography.
5 A Constitution or Frame of Government Agreed Upon by the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts-Bay (Boston: Benjamin Edes and Sons, 1780), 7; An Abridgement of the Laws of Pennsylvania, ed. Collinson Read, (Philadelphia: 1801), 264-266; The Public Statute Laws of the State of Connecticut (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1808), Book I, 623-625; Rhode Island Session Laws (Providence: Wheeler, 1784), 7-8; The Constitutions of the Sixteen States (Boston: Manning and Loring, 1797), 50, New Hampshire, 1792; The Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming The United States of America, ed. Francis Newton Thorpe (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1909), 6:3762, Vermont, 1793; Laws of the State of New York, Passed at the Twenty-Second Session, Second Meeting of the Legislature (Albany: Loring Andrew, 1798), 721-723; Laws of the State of New Jersey Compiled and Published Under the Authority of the Legislature, ed. Joseph Bloomfield (Trenton: James J. Wilson, 1811), 103-105.
6 The Statues at Large; Being A Collection of all the Laws of Virginia From the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, ed. William Waller Henning (Richmond: J & G Cochran, 1821), IX:471-472, “An act for preventing the farther importation of Slaves,” October, 1778.
7 Paul Leland Haworth, George Washington: Farmer (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1915), 192; Mary V. Thompson, “The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret,” Mount Vernon, 1999; The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), 11:417, to Edward Coles on August 25, 1814; Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. H.A. Washington (New York: Riker, Thorne, & Co., 1855), 6:378, to Thomas Cooper on September 10, 1814; Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1794), 236-238, “Query XVIII.”
8 See, for example, Jeffrey Crow, “Liberty to Slaves: The Black Response,” Anchor, accessed August 23, 2023; James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1903), 4:267-268, “Journal of the Constitutional Convention,” August 22, 1787; The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, ed. Joseph Gales (Washington DC: Gales and Seaton, 1834), 1:1242-1243, February 12, 1790.
9 Constitution of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of Free Negroes, Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Begun in the Year 1774, and Enlarged on the 23rd of April, 1787 (Philadelphia: Joseph James, 1787), 8.
10 “Race and Antebellum New York City: The New York Manumission Society,” New York Historical Society, accessed August 23, 2023; The Works of Samuel Hopkins (Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1854), 2:548, Advertisement page for “A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans.”

FAQ: Difficulties and Sacrifices of the Declaration Signers

There were a total of 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They knew their signatures could cost them their lives but willingly signed anyway. Many, in fact, did make sacrifices and had to endure hard times as a result of their courageous action. Several would not live to witness the independence they had devoted their “lives, fortune, and sacred honor” to achieve. Below are just a few of the numerous examples.

Two signers suffered battle wounds: George Walton and Thomas Heyward, both of whom were also held as prisoners of war. Similarly, Arthur Middleton and Richard Stockton experienced imprisonment. Many signers were forced to flee their homes to evade capture. This group included Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, George Clymer, Thomas Jefferson, Arthur Middleton, Lyman Hall, Francis Lewis, and William Floyd.

Moreover, 17 signers lost their homes or property. For instance, Josiah Bartlett and William Ellery’s residences were set ablaze. Lewis Morris faced property destruction and severe damage to his home. George Clymer endured the loss of his belongings and Lyman Hall had his property confiscated. John Hart’s house was looted while his mill and crops were destroyed. Richard Stockton, Francis Lewis, and Reverend John Witherspoon endured looted property and burnt libraries.

Additionally, several signers suffered family hardship. For example, two of Abraham Clark’s sons were taken as prisoners; Francis Lewis’ wife was held captive for months, resulting in broken health and leading to her untimely death; and John Witherspoon’s eldest son lost his life during the Battle of Germantown.

Discover more about the courageous Signers of the Declaration in the historical reprint Lives of the Signers. Read also, the hardships their wives shared in the companion book Wives of the Signers. Additional articles include:

FAQ: Declaration Signers as Ministers

While a number of Declaration signers received training as ministers, only a few were actively engaged in ministry at the time of signing. Notable among them was John Witherspoon, who was fulfilling a ministerial role. Robert Treat Paine was a military chaplain, and Lyman Hall had been a minister prior to the War for Independence. However, many other signers should be noted for their ministry work.

Francis Hopkinson, for instance, was a church music director and choir leader, and also compiled a famous American hymnbook. Roger Sherman wrote the doctrinal creed for his denomination in Connecticut. Benjamin Rush started Sunday School in America and helped to found the country’s first Bible Society. James Wilson trained as a clergyman in Scotland but became an attorney, teaching students the Biblical basis of civil law. And there are many others.

In fact, at least 29 of the signers had been trained in schools whose primary purpose was the preparation of ministers (listed below). They attended universities and seminaries of learning such as Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Princeton, Cambridge, and Westminster. You can read about each of these Declaration signers in WallBuilders’ book Lives of the Signers.

  1. John Adams
  2. Samuel Adams
  3. Carter Braxton
  4. Charles Carroll
  5. William Ellery
  6. Elbridge Gerry
  7. Lyman Hall
  8. John Hancock
  9. Benjamin Harrison
  10. Joseph Hewes
  11. William Hooper
  12. Francis Hopkinson
  13. Thomas Jefferson
  14. Francis Lewis
  15. Philip Livingston
  16. Thomas Lynch
  17. Arthur Middleton
  18. Lewis Morris
  19. Thomas Nelson Jr.
  20. William Paca
  21. Robert Treat Paine
  22. Benjamin Rush
  23. James Smith
  24. Richard Stockton
  25. William Williams
  26. James Wilson
  27. John Witherspoon
  28. Oliver Wolcott
  29. George Wythe

FAQ: America’s Founders as Christians

More than 250 individuals are considered Founding Fathers. These include those who signed the Declaration of Independence and/or the Constitution, played a role in drafting the Bill of Rights, served as state governors, commanded military forces during the War for Independence, etc. A more precise definition of those we consider Founding Fathers is given in our book Original Intent.

The vast majority of our Founders were God-fearing men, and most were Christians. But even though they are the exception, today’s critics typically focus on only a few Founding Fathers with less pronounced religious beliefs, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Americans often know very little about the more numerous and noteworthy Christian Founders. For example, most people are unaware that 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence possessed qualifications that would now be considered equivalent to Bible school degrees. Many of them also regularly and openly expressed their personal faith – men such as Benjamin Rush, John Adams, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, John Jay, John Hancock, and many more. It’s important to emphasize that none of the Founders adopted secular worldviews.

For more information on the faith of the Founders check out these articles (or search our resources for additional information):

The Founding Fathers on Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible
The Founders as Christians
The Founders and Public Religious Expressions
Was George Washington a Christian?

First US Congress Meets

On March 4, 1789, the first United States Congress under the Constitution met in New York City! It wasn’t until April 1st, when a quorum was reached that Congress began. (Pictured here is Federal Hall, their meeting place.) This Congress was very important in our nation’s history!

First, it passed the necessary legislation to implement the governing system established under the Constitution. This included: establishing federal courts; starting the Departments of State, War, Treasury; setting compensation for government officials (which was only about $6 a day); and more.

Original Bill of Rights

Second, this Congress passed what would become the Bill of Rights. James Madison, determined to address the shortcomings in the Constitution, presented 19 potential amendments drawn from mainly the various state constitutions. The House of Representatives passed 17 and the Senate 12; ten of these amendments would finally be ratified by the states to become the Bill of Rights.

Members of the first Congress were well-known individuals at the time. Many were signers of the Declaration and others had signed the Constitution. Some of the members who signed these founding documents include: Abraham Baldwin, Charles Carroll, William Floyd, Elbridge Gerry, William Samuel Johnson, Rufus King, John Langdon, James Madison, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman.

One of the lesser known members of this Congress is Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg who was the first Speaker of the House. He was an ordained minister from New York City who had left the city when the British invaded it during the War for Independence. Muhlenberg began his political career in the Continental Congress, served in the Pennsylvania state house, and was president of the state’s ratification convention in 1787 (four dozen ministers were involved in their state’s Constitution ratification debates). His signature appears on the original Bill of Rights document as passed by Congress.

Take time to study some of the events and people involved with this historic first US Congress!

Stamp Act Repeal Celebrations

On July 24, 1766 the repeal of the Stamp Act was celebrated in Massachusetts. Parliament imposed this tax upon the American colonists in 1765 which required that published materials be printed only on paper embossed with a royal stamp. Since America had no elected representatives in the British Parliament, they viewed this as a violation of their fundamental rights as citizens. Resistance to the Stamp Act occurred across America and its repeal was greeted with widespread rejoicing!

When news of this repeal reached them, Massachusetts’ leaders declared July 24, 1766 “a Day of General Thanksgiving to be observed throughout this Province, that the good People thereof may have an opportunity in a public manner to express their Gratitude to Almighty GOD for his great Goodness in thus delivering them from their Anxiety and Distress.”

The Rev. Charles Chauncey preached a famous sermon on that day to commemorate this event:

Another thing in this “news” making it “good” is the hopeful prospect it gives us of being continued in the enjoyment of certain liberties and privileges, valued by us next to life itself. Such are those of being “tried by our equals” and of “making grants for the support of government of that which is our own, either in person or by representatives we have chosen for the purpose.”

In 1815, John Adams identified the importance of Chauncey’s sermon as a catalyst in the movement leading to independence:

It has been a question whether, if the ministry had…sent a military force of ships and troops to enforce its [the Stamp Act‘s] execution, the people of the colonies would then have resisted. Dr. Chauncey and Dr. [Jonathan] Mayhew, in sermons which they preached and printed after the repeal of the Stamp Act, have left to posterity their explicit opinion upon this question…I subscribe without a doubt to the opinions of Chauncey and Mayhew.

Let’s remember the work that previous generations did to preserve our freedom and the great things that can be accomplished when the American people unite!

* Originally Posted: September 17, 2021

Is the Declaration Racist?

On July 4, 1776 a group of Americans approved a document declaring the United States of America free from English rule. This document was the Declaration of Independence, the nation’s birth certificate. The Declaration is currently being attacked as a racist document. Is this true?

Thomas Jefferson, the author of this document, laid out the reasons the American colonies were declaring themselves independent. One of the grievances he included in his original draft of the Declaration said:

He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere….Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.

This grievance was not included the final copy of the Declaration because of the objection of two states, but its inclusion by Thomas Jefferson shows how serious the issue of slavery was taken by our Founding Fathers.

For many generations the Declaration of Independence was recognized as being a document that brought “freedom to the slave [and] liberty to the captives” (John Quincy Adams). For example, Abraham Lincoln spoke about the importance of the Declaration as an equality document:

In their [the Founders] enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity…[I]f you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence…if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to…come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence.

(To learn more about the views of our nation’s Founders and heroes relating to the Declaration of Independence, see this WallBuilders video!)

In honor of the lasting truths set forth in the Declaration of Independence, let’s celebrate Independence Day in a way that was recommended by John Adams:

It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.