I just got this great little book of quotations on the Founders and Religion by James H. Hutson (which I may be reviewing for a pretty distinguished publication -- more on that later).
This book is very fair & balanced. And the quotes are all accurate.
Anyway, I found some interesting quotes from John Adams on the Trinity, more evidence that he and Jefferson were absolutely like-minded on the basic religious tenets. In fact, this quote sounds like one of Jefferson's. From his March 28, 1816 letter to his son John Quincy Adams:
An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity.
One reason why I focus so much on the Trinity/Unitarian fact is that this seems to be one of the key indicators of the heterodox theology in which our key Founders believed. In other words, usually, it's not just that one issue that separates the religious convictions of these key Founders from orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, but a whole slew of others as well. Indeed orthodox, conventional Christianity had many "Corruptions," of which the Trinity was but one, probably the most important. Adams argues that the Trinity was the "source" of the corruptions; it was the one belief which led to many other false teachings, like eternal damnation, salvation through grace, etc.
There certainly is much nuance to the Founders' beliefs as well (often, we don't fit so easily into little boxes). Many of the Founders who appear to be orthodox Christians -- certainly more orthodox than Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin -- nonetheless hedge on some of the more unappealing tenets of orthodox Christianity. For instance, John Jay appears to be an orthodox Christian. Yet, he hedges on the Trinity. He writes in his February 18, 1822 letter to Samuel Miller: "For proof of [the Trinity] I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider this Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."
Benjamin Rush likewise appears to be an orthodox Christian. Yet he denies eternal damnation. He writes in "Travels through Life," his autobiography:
At Dr. Finley's School, I was more fully instructed in these principles by means of the Westminster Catechism. I retained them but without any affection for them 'till abut the year of 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Revd. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and newly adopted Armenian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White,Chauncey, and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of these authors future punishment, and of long, long duration.
John Adams writes, in his letter to Francis van der Kemp, July 13, 1815:
"I believe too in a future state of rewards and punishments too; but not eternal."
All of this once again confirms what is written in this article by Gregg Frazer that the key Founders "believed in a personal after-life in which the wicked will be temporarily punished and the good experience happiness forever."
There is also much in the book that anti-secularists will find useful as well. Check out Hutson's book!