#156: Presidents, Leadership, and God

Here in the United States, we celebrate President’s Day the third Monday of February. The origins of the holiday trace back to 1879 when congress enacted a federal holiday in honor of our first president, George Washington.

Presidents, Leadership, and God

The holiday honoring Washington remained for nearly 100 years until 1968 when the idea of President’s Day was established in an attempt to honor all our presidents.

I thought it would be informative to take a look back in history to see what some of our early presidents had to say about leadership and God.

George Washington—1st President

Washington said the virtue he most desired was to be known as an honest man,

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

Regarding the importance of religious principle, Washington said,

“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Washington said the standard of a leader should be that he is as wise and honest as possible and the rest is in God’s hands,

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.”

John Adams—2nd President

Adams believed independence of the nation derived from the principles of Christianity. He said,

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

Adams was especially concerned that moral men of character assume positions of importance in society. He said,

“Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”

Adams believed our form of government would only be sufficient to govern a moral and religious people. He said,

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Thomas Jefferson—3rd President

Jefferson recognized God’s justice falls on all nations when he said,

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Jefferson recognized the difference between success and failure was often a matter of the leader’s attitude. He said,

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Jefferson believed a leader is someone who is ready to take action and that those actions define the leader. He said,

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

John Quincy Adams—6th President

Adams understood the power of a leader to inspire the people to be all they can be. He said,

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Standing on principle, even if you stand alone, is important. Adams said,

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

According to Adams, principles of Christianity cannot be separated from the principles of civil government. He said,

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

Andrew Jackson—7th President

Jackson believed a man who shirks is duty has little value to his country. He said,

“The brave man inattentive to his duty, is worth little more to his country than the coward who deserts in the hour of danger.”

Jackson was a man who would think about an issue, and then act. He said,

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”

Jackson’s faith grew later in his life. He believed the Bible was an important foundation of the new republic. He said,

“The Bible is the rock on which this Republic rests.”

Close to his death, Jackson made clear his faith in our Lord and savior. He said,

“Sir, I am in the hands of a merciful God. I have full confidence in his goodness and mercy…. The Bible is true… Upon that sacred volume, I rest my hope for eternal salvation, through the merits and blood of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Abraham Lincoln—22nd President

Lincoln was a man used to confronting trials and taking responsibility as the leader. He said,

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Lincoln quoted scripture often in his speeches. In this speech, he expressed his trust in God and asked the people to continue to pray for him. He said,

“Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me.”

Lincoln believed God had favored this land and that continued reliance on God would deliver the country from the civil war.

“Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”


Reviewing these few quotes I am struck by the depth of their thought. These presidents, as many that followed them, established themselves as leaders through the adversity and trials of war.

While their theology differed, it is plain to see that belief in God shaped their lives and their leadership of this country.

They did not separate their Christian values from their lives as leaders. In fact, they often proudly and publically proclaimed their faith as they led.

It is, to me, a shame that many of today’s leaders, perhaps even a majority, do not speak proudly and consistently of their faith and reliance on God.

As Christians who wear the mantle of leadership, it is incumbent upon us to let our light shine before men so that others will see it and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

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Category: Personal Development | Character

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