Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Liberty Under God
America: A Calvinist Nation

Calvin was virtually the founder of America.”
~ German historian Leopold von Ranke
He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”
~ Harvard historian George Bancroft
Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect.”
~ John Adams, America’s second President

Calvin's doctrine on divine sovereignty was not a metaphysical conception but a practical idea, such as the social and political exigencies of his day required.
The kingdom of God which Christ came to establish, proclaiming as He did the will of God, seeking to bring men into conformity to it, was nothing more than the theocracy which Calvin and the Reformers advocated in such a confident and courageous manner.

CALVIN'S INFLUENCE ON CIVIC AND SOCIAL LIFE An Address before the Alumni Association, May 5, 1909, By Rev. J. ROSS Stevenson, D. D.
Auburn Seminary Record 1910.
Three basic ideas are crucial for the success of any religious, social, intellectual, and political movement.
    • First, the doctrine of predestination.
    Second, the doctrine of law.
    Third, the doctrine of inevitable victory.
The fusion of these three ideas has led to the victories of Marxism since 1848. The Communists believe that historical forces are on their side, that Marxism-Leninism provides them with access to the laws of historical change, and that their movement must succeed.
Islam has a similar faith.
In the early modern Christian West, Calvinists and Puritans had such faith
Social or religious philosophies which lack any one of these elements are seldom able to compete with a system which possesses all three.

Eschatology and The New Christian Right - Gary North
When many people hear "Calvinism" mentioned, they think about "the five points of Calvinism," or perhaps just "that odious doctrine" of "Predestination." This Website supports Predestination. It is a position held by very few people. If this were the only measure of success, Calvin would be a failure. But Calvin had a greater influence when it came to creating civil governments and guaranteeing political liberties. And if the Calvinist ideas which had the most impact on American political thinking were consistently implemented, the result would be Calvinist Anarcho-Capitalism

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, first edited by Philip Schaff (1819-1893), says "Calvinism"

Sometimes ... designates, more broadly still, the entire body of conceptions, theological, ethical, philosophical, social, political, which, under the influence of the master mind of John Calvin, raised itself to dominance in the Protestant lands of the post-Reformation age, and has left a permanent mark not only upon the thought of mankind, but upon the life-history of men, the social order of civilized peoples, and even the political organization of States.

Most Americans could not even begin to explain how Calvin affected "the political organization of States" or "the social order of civilized peoples." Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, delivering the Stone Lectures at Princeton University in 1898, said

And as a political name, Calvinism indicates that political movement which has guaranteed the liberty of nations in constitutional statesmanship; first in Holland, then in England, and since the close of the last century in the United States. In this scientific sense, the name of Calvinism is especially current among German scholars. And the fact that this not only is the opinion of those who are themselves of Calvinistic sympathies, but that also scholars who have abandoned every confessional standard of Christianity, nevertheless assign this profound significance to Calvinism. This appears from the testimony borne by three of our best men of science, the first of whom, Dr. Robert Fruin, declares that: “Calvinism came into the Netherlands consisting of a logical system of divinity, of a democratic Church-order of its own, impelled by a severely moral sense, and as enthusiastic for the moral as for the religious reformation of mankind.” Another historian, who was even more outspoken in his rationalistic sympathies, writes: “Calvinism is the highest form of development reached by the religious and political principle in the 16th century.” And a third authority acknowledges that Calvinism has liberated Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England, and in the Pilgrim Fathers has provided the impulse to the prosperity of the United States. Similarly Bancroft, among you, acknowledged that Calvinism “has a theory of ontology, of ethics, of social happiness, and of human liberty, all derived from God.”

MY THIRD LECTURE leaves the sanctuary of religion and enters upon the domain of the State–the first transition from the sacred circle to the secular field of human life. Only now therefore we proceed, summarily and in principle, to combat the unhistorical suggestion that Calvinism represents an exclusively ecclesiastical and dogmatic movement.
       The religious momentum of Calvinism has placed also beneath political Society a fundamental conception, all its own, just because it not merely pruned the branches and cleaned the stem, but reached down to the very root of our human life.
       That this had to be so becomes evident at once to everyone who is able to appreciate the fact that no political scheme has ever become dominant which was not founded in a specific religious or anti-religious conception. And that this has been the fact, as regards Calvinism, may appear from the political changes which it has effected in those three historic lands of political freedom, the Netherlands, England and America.
       Every competent historian will without exception confirm the words of Bancroft: “The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty, for in the moral warfare for freedom, his creed was a part of his army, and his most faithful ally in the battle.”1 And Groen van Prinsterer has thus expressed it: “In Calvinism lies the origin and guarantee of our constitutional liberties.” That Calvinism has led public law into new paths, first in Western Europe, then in two Continents, and today more and more among all civilized nations, is admitted by all scientific students, if not yet fully by public opinion.

1. BANCROFT, History of the United States of America. Fifteenth Edition; Boston 1853: I. 464; Ed. New York, 1891, I, 319

It would hardly be too much to say that for the latter part of his lifetime and a century after his death John Calvin was the most influential man in the world, in the sense that his ideas were making more history than those of anyone else during that period. Calvin’s theology produced the Puritans in England, the Huguenots in France, the ‘Beggars’ in Holland, the Covenanters in Scotland, and the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, and was more or less directly responsible for the Scottish uprising, the revolt of the Netherlands, the French wars of religion, and the English Civil War. Also, it was Calvin’s doctrine of the state as a servant of God that established the ideal of constitutional representative government and led to the explicit acknowledgment of the rights and liberties of subjects. . . . It is doubtful whether any other theologian has ever played so significant a part in world history.

J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia

Calvinism and Resistance to Tyranny

Calvinism and the Birth of America

Extremes of Opinion

Here is an exchange from a Discussion Board on America On Line (link works only for AOL subscribers).

Subject: Calvin's America
Date: 4/28/2001 10:55 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Message-id: <>

I wrote:

See John Eidsmoe's biographical essay on Adams in Christianity and the Constitution, pp. 257-96.

In message-id: <> dated: 4/28/2001 9:44 PM Pacific Daylight Time, RJohnson64 writes:

Is this the same John Eidsmoe who, in one of his words, affirmatively quoted Ranke's statement that "John Calvin is the virtual founder of America"?

I don't recall Eidsmoe quoting Ranke, I think he was quoting John Adams.
You may be thinking of Lorraine Boettner: 

See also Steve Wilkins: 



The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty; and, in the moral warfare for freedom, his creed was his most faithful counsellor and his never-failing support.

For "New England was a religious plantation, not a plantation for trade. The profession of the purity of doctrine, worship, and discipline was written on her forehead." "We all," says the confederacy in one of the two oldest of American written constitutions, "came into these parts of America to enjoy the liberties of the gospel in purity and peace." "He that made religion as twelve, and the world as thirteen, had not the spirit of a true New England man." Religion was the object of the emigrants, and it was their consolation. With this the wounds of the outcast were healed, and the tears of exile sweetened.
George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol.1, p.319
The influence of Calvin can be traced in every New England village
George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol.2, p.138 - p.139
Much of this sentiment may be traced to the influence exerted by the opinions of one man, John Calvin. "We boast of our common schools, Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of free schools. The Pilgrims of Plymouth were Calvinists; the best influences of South Carolina came from the Calvinists of France. William Penn was the disciple of the Huguenots; the ships from Holland that first brought colonists to Manhattan were filled with Calvinists. He that will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty. He bequeathed to the world a republican spirit in religion, with the kindred principles of republican liberty."
William Jackman, History of the American Nation, Vol.2, p.394
Their value today to the student of American civilization is found chiefly in the light they throw on Puritanism and Calvinism as influences in the making of New England culture from which, some 200 years after Cotton's day, American literature flowered in the American Renaissance
A Guide to the Study of the USA, Library of Congress 1960, p.5

Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

Subject: Re: Calvin's America
Date: 4/29/2001 3:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Message-id: <>

In message-id:
<> dated: 4/29/2001 6:13 AM
Pacific Daylight Time, RJohnson64 writes:

> Kevin posts:
The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty;
> and, in the moral warfare for freedom, his creed was his most
faithful counsellor and his never-failing support.
> RJohnson:
Interesting. Of the list I posted regarding the religious affiliations
> of the founders, how many of them would you classify as Calvinist?
> Kevin: Politically, virtually all of them were Calvinists.
Calvinism is a political philosophy???  Color me confused, but
> I was under the impression that Calvinism was a theological
> philosophy that transcended politics.  I'm curious what criteria
> you use to classify Calvinism as a political philosophy.

The judgments of Calvinists, as well as non-Calvinist historians.
> If it is the predestination aspect, I might remind you that a good
> number of the founders wrote avidly against predestination,
> Jefferson being perhaps the most vocal of these.
> However, I am interested in your support for this, so I will hold
> until you provide more information.

I hardly know where to begin. It's like meeting a primitive native of a lost continent who, having heard bits and pieces of info about a land far away, has the idea that being an "American" means playing a game called "baseball." Where do you begin telling this man that the differences between his culture and "America" are far greater than an occasional game of baseball?

A person who only believes in predestination is a very truncated Calvinist. In fact, a person whose views on predestination do not shape his politics doesn't believe in predestination at all.

"Predestination" is just the tip of the iceberg of a view of life which begins with the absolute sovereignty of God. It affirms the Creator-creature distinction as basic to metaphysics and ethics, and "the Crown-rights of Christ the King" in every area of life.

I guess I would direct you first to the lectures delivered by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands at Princeton University in 1898. These lectures are still in print, so far as I know.

That site says:

Dr. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch Calvinist theologian, philosopher and politician. As leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Netherlands he served as Prime Minister of his country from 1901 to 1905. A man of immense talents and indefatigable energy, he occupied himself with the task of reconstructing the social structures of his native land on the basis of its Calvinistic heritage in almost every area of life. He was editor of two Christian newspapers for over forty-five years, served his country as a member of parliament for over thirty years; in 1880 he founded the Free University of Amsterdam in which he occupied himself as teacher and administrator, and still found time to publish over 200 volumes of intellectually challenging material including Encyclopaedia of Sacred Theology, The Work of the Holy Spirit, and the classic devotional text To Be Near Unto God. At his seventieth birthday celebrations in 1907 it was said of him that “The history of the Netherlands in Church, in State, in Society, in Press, in School, and in the Sciences of the last forty years, cannot be written without the mention of his name on almost every page.”

Lectures on Calvinism uncover the riches of Calvinism as not just a set of theological dogmas but more importantly as the foundation of a whole view of life.

H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, 1939, writes:
Calvinism does not restrict itself to theology; but it is an all-comprehensive system of thought, including within its scope views on politics, society, science, and art as well as theology. It presents a view of life and of the universe as a whole -- a world- and life-view.

Another Dutch Calvinist on the Sovereignty of God and its relation to all of human culture:

Max Weber and R.H. Tawney have explored the Calvinist roots of American capitalism. Ernst Troeltsch can also be consulted here. See the Journal published 50 years ago, Progressive Calvinism:

"Federalism," "representative government," "social contract" -- these are ideas which are nothing else than political presbyterianism. The British called the American Revolution "The Presbyterian Revolt."

George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol.4,
Chapter 1: America Sustains the Town of Boston, May 1774, p.9
New York anticipated the prayer of Boston. Its people, who had received the port act direly from England, felt the wrong to that town as a wound to themselves, and even the lukewarm kindled with resentment. From the epoch of the stamp act, their Sons of Liberty, styled by the royalists "the Presbyterian junto," had kept up a committee of correspondence.

On politics:

Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order, p. 236
Politically, the tendency of Protestantism was toward democracy. Luther preached obedience to legitimate princes; Calvin established at Geneva a kind of aristocratic republic of virtue, governed in effect by presbyters (ministers and elders of the church). Yet the idea of the priesthood of all believers gradually would be transferred from the realm of religion to the realm of politics. The presbyterian form of Calvinism especially would become a forerunner of democratic institutions, even though in the beginning it had more nearly resembled the ancient Hebrew concept of theocracy.
Kirk, The Roots of American Order, p.256
The relatively democratic form of church government in Presbyterian Scotland passed over to Presbyterian churches in America, and presently began to influence the pattern of colonial politics. The idea of a Covenant, as declaration and frame of a common national purpose, would form part of the background of the Americans' Declaration of Independence and of the federal Constitution.

No less important, as influence upon the roots of American order, was the character which Knox and his allies gave to the Scottish people. The typical Presbyterian Scot was earnestly religious, frugal, and enterprising: he drew strength from his austere creed. He tended to be independent in judgment and assertive of his rights. The doctrines of justification by faith and of predestination made him God-fearing and stern of purpose, often. These were people well framed for civilizing a new land, and they began to settle in large numbers in the American colonies even in the seventeenth century. When the Act of Union, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, united the Scottish and English crowns and settled all parliamentary authority at Westminster, Scots poured into the Thirteen Colonies; so did their cousins, by race and religion, of Ulster.

Throughout the empire that Britain created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Scots even more than Englishmen prospered as administrators, soldiers, and merchants. In America as elsewhere, Scottish settlers often had the advantage of a sound schooling; only the Puritans of New England exceeded them in emphasis upon learning. [p.257] Popular education, nationally authorized, from elementary schools through the four Scottish universities, was Knox's aspiration, second only to his passion for establishing a religious faith drawn directly from the Bible. Such schooling was necessary, if the people were to be sufficiently literate to understand the Scriptures well.
Alain Besançon, "The Church Embraces Democracy,"
Crisis Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 8, September 1995, p. 34
Madison's point of view is doubtless connected with the idea of tolerance as it had been developed by Locke and the Anglo-French Enlightenment. But it also contains a trace of biblical influence. American Calvinism retained, against the optimism of the European Enlightenment, the consciousness of original sin. Madison did not seek to render man good, nor did he count on his goodness. He knew man's corruption and, thus, deployed what I will call the strategy of Babel. Following the Eternal, who had dispersed men so that they could not unite in the project of a fatally bad goal, Madison dispersed citizens into innumerable interest groups and religious denominations, in order to render them incapable of building the totalitarian city, of persecuting and oppressing one another, which would happen if a denomination became powerful enough to impose its will politically. Since men, because of original sin, see their most sublime enterprises (and especially those) turn to disaster and to crime, let us divide them so that they will only be capable of partial and localized evils.
George Bancroft points out that Locke's political ideas were not "enlightenment" ideas, but were largely lifted from Calvinists:
History of the United States
, Vol. 5, p. 229
In 1688 England contracted to the Netherlands the highest debt that one nation can owe to another. Herself not knowing how to recover her liberties, they were restored by men of the United Provinces; and Locke brought back from his exile in that country the theory on government which had been formed by the Calvinists of the continent, and which made his chief political work the text-book of the friends of free institutions for a century.

Dutch Calvinism, of course, has its roots in the Reformation, and the Calvin-Knox side more than the Lutheran. Secularists would like us to believe that American political ideas sprang full-grown out of the head of Jefferson. This is either ignorance or secularist deception.

Here is an analysis of the impact of Dutch Calvinism in America:

Jean Bethke Elshtain, "Protestant Communalism."
Crisis Magazine, October 1995, p.41
That his basic thesis will surprise and disturb many in the academy, perhaps tells us more about the academy than it does about American politics and history. Political theorist George Armstrong Kelly, in a brilliant and much ignored book, Politics and Religious Consciousness in America, published over twenty years ago, argued that it was impossible to understand American history and life without coming to grips with the "fragmenting" offshoots of Calvinist orthodoxy that quite literally peopled and defined the American republic.

Shain shows that the doctrines of original sin and human depravity grounded much of the political theory and practice of the day. But again, he treats the doctrines as Calvinist or Reformed, although his evidence shows that, within the limits here applicable, the Reformed theologians shared this ground with other Christians. Since he is right to stress the dominance of the Reformed churches, the criticism might seem a pedantic quibble.
Paul Gottfried, "Concepts of Government."
Modern Age: A Quarterly Review, Vol. 37, No. 3, p.267
To me it seems remarkable that one can discuss European and American republicanism without analyzing its Calvinist roots. The one reference by Rahe to Calvin is to the Protestant reformer's critical opinion of classical virtue. More important from a political and theoretical standpoint, how did the Calvinist ideas of Covenant and the right to rebellion influence English Puritans, Scottish Presbyterians, French Huguenots, and New England Congregationalists? Such a question is still asked in history classes, and for good reason.
Kirk, The Roots of American Order, p.212
Because the colonies were governed from London, sometimes Scottish contributions to young America are neglected by historians. But much of America's early energy, in politics, commerce, and on the frontier, was that of Scots—who would become more successful in America than any other ethnic group except the New England Puritans. James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Constitutional Convention, a principal author of the Constitution, and later an associate justice of the Supreme Court, was one of the more ardent advocates of popular sovereignty; he had been born and schooled at the Scottish university town of St. Andrews. Scottish Presbyterianism worked intricately upon American life and character.
Kirk, The Roots of American Order, p.230
The vast majority of people in the Thirteen Colonies professed the Christian religion in one or another of its Protestant aspects—chiefly in Anglicanism, in Puritanism (an offshoot of Calvinism), or in Presbyterianism (another outgrowth of Calvinism).

The Calvinist who believes in a Sovereign God will not allow any king or prince to claim a similar sovereignty.

Predestination was not so much the basis for Calvinist politics;  God's Law served that function. But predestination animated Calvin's followers and gave them the drive to overthrow tyrants (cf. Heb. 11).

What Calvin placed in the center of his thinking was not predestination, but the theocracy after the manner of the Old Testament, and it was this that gave Calvinism its tremendous fighting edge and its political significance.
Thomas Cuming Hall, "Religion and American Capitalism," The Religious Background of American Culture, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1930, p. 211.

George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol. 1, pp. 608-10
The political character of Calvinism, which, with one consent and with instinctive judgment, the monarchs of that day, except that of Prussia, feared as republicanism, and which Charles II declared a religion unfit for a gentleman, is expressed in a single word—predestination. Did a proud aristocracy trace its lineage through generations of a high-born ancestry, the republican reformer, with a loftier pride, invaded the invisible world, and from the book of life brought down the record of the noblest rank, decreed from all eternity by the King of kings. His converts defied the opposing world as a world of reprobates, whom God had despised and rejected. To them the senses were a totally depraved foundation, on which neither truth nor goodness could rest.
They went forth in confidence that men who were kindling with the same exalted instincts would listen to their voice, and be effectually "called into the brunt of the battle" by their side. And, standing serenely amid the crumbling fabrics of centuries of superstitions, they had faith in one another; and the martyrdoms of Cambray, the fires of Smithfield, the surrender of benefices by two thousand non-conforming Presbyterians, attest their perseverance.

Such was the system which, for a century and a half, assumed the guardianship of liberty for the English world. "A wicked tyrant is better than a wicked war," said Luther, preaching non-resistance; and Cranmer echoed back: "God's people are called to render obedience to governors, although they be wicked or wrong-doers, and in no case to resist." English Calvinism reserved the right of resisting tyranny. To advance intellectual freedom, Calvinism denied, absolutely denied, the sacrament of ordination, thus breaking up the great monopoly of priestcraft, and knowing no master, mediator, or teacher but the eternal reason. "Kindle the fire before my face," said Jerome, meekly, as he resigned himself to his fate; to quench the fires of persecution forever, Calvinism resisted with fire and blood, and, shouldering the musket, proved, as a foot-soldier, that, on the field of battle, the invention of gunpowder had levelled the plebeian and the knight. To restrain absolute monarchy in France, in Scotland, in England, it allied itself with the party of the past, the decaying feudal aristocracy, which it was sure to outlive; for protection against feudal aristocracy, it infused itself into the mercantile class and the inferior gentry; to secure a life in the public mind, in Geneva, in Scotland, wherever it gained dominion, it invoked intelligence for the people, and in every parish planted the common school.

In an age of commerce, to stamp its influence on the New World, it went on board the fleet of Winthrop, and was wafted to the bay of Massachusetts. Is it denied that events follow principles, that mind rules the world? The institutions of Massachusetts were the exact counterpart of its religious system. Calvinism claimed heaven for the elect; Massachusetts gave franchises to the members of the visible church, and inexorably disfranchised churchmen, royalists, and all world's people. Calvinism overthrew priestcraft; in Massachusetts, none but the magistrate could marry; the brethren could ordain. Calvinism saw in goodness infinite joy, in evil infinite woe, and, recognising no other abiding distinctions, opposed secretly but surely hereditary monarchy, aristocracy, and bondage; Massachusetts owned no king but the king of heaven, no aristocracy but of the redeemed, no bondage but the hopeless, infinite, and eternal bondage of sin. Calvinism invoked intelligence against satan, the great enemy of the human race; and the farmers and seamen of Massachusetts nourished its college with gifts of corn and strings of wampum, and wherever there were families, built the free school.

Bancroft, the Unitarian, does not really understand Calvinism as a political philosophy, part of a unified weltänschauüng. But as a historian he was able to see the political effects of Calvinism, and able (unlike modern historians) to report it.

The separation of churches and state (a completely different doctrine than the modern myth of "separation of church and state) is a Calvinist doctrine.

See also:

J. T. McNeil, The History and Character of Calvinism.

Calvinism has had a greater influence on human history and institutions than any other theology ever formulated . . . .
C. Gregg Singer, John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits

"Presbyterianism in America," by Singer

(About C. Gregg Singer)

The American Dream, Puritan Version.

"Horace Mann, the End of Free-Market Education, and the Rise of Government Schools" notes that Mann was in rebellion against his Calvinist upbringing:

From Reformation to Revolution: 1500-1650

Much more could be given.

Calvinism has had more impact politically than theologically (when "theologically" is defined merely in terms of "predestination" and who goes where when they die.)

Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

Subject: Re: Calvin's America
Date: 4/29/2001 8:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Message-id: <>

I wrote:

A person who only believes in predestination is a very truncated Calvinist. In fact, a person whose views on predestination do not shape his politics doesn't believe in predestination at all.

In message-id: <> dated: 4/29/2001 6:19 PM Pacific Daylight Time, RJohnson64 writes:

But of course, a person who denies the doctrine of predestination is hardly considered a Calvinist, whatever else that person may believe.  Would you agree with that?

No, at least politically speaking, which is what this Message Board is all about. A person can be an atheist and have political views which are staunchly Calvinist, especially if he was raised a staunch Calvinist and moved toward deism only in theological terms.

Russell Kirk, speaking of Fisher Ames, the author of the First Amendment, in The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, p.84:
Of all the terrors of democracy, the worst is its destruction of moral habits. "A democratick society will soon find its morals the encumbrance of its race, the surly companion of its licentious joys….In a word, there will not be morals without justice; and though justice might possibly support a democracy, yet a democracy cannot possibly support justice." Here speaks the old Calvinism which finds milder expression in John Adams.
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, p.168
That zeal which flared like Greek fire in Randolph burned in Calhoun, too; but it was contained in the Cast-Iron Man as in a furnace, and Calhoun's passion glowed out only through his eyes. No man was more stately, more reserved, more regularly governed by an inflexible will. Calvinism moulded John C. Calhoun's character as it shaped his speeches and books; for though the dogma proper was dying in him as it had decayed in the Adamses—so that Calhoun, like John Adams, squinted toward Unitarianism—still there remained that relentless acceptance of logic, that rigid morality, that servitude to duty; and these things made the man constant in purpose, prodigious in energy.
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, p.225
This revolt of the masses against the social establishments, property, and intellectual traditions of the West, commencing in 1789, has continued with only uneasy intermittent truces down to the middle of the twentieth century. John Quincy Adams, judging from his prospect of France, said it might mean the return of barbarism; for popular detestation of the past, [p.226] once awakened, does not limit itself to annihilation of governments and economies: if the arts and sciences seem prerogatives of a minority, or if they appear to impede gratification of popular appetites, they are involved in the general catastrophe. No possibility could have been better calculated to rouse the mind of New England in opposition to radical innovation. Severe, industrious, practical, and Calvinistic, New England character also displayed a reverence for learning; nowhere, not even in Scotland, were schooling and reading more general; and an informed public opinion began to stir against Gallic notions as soon as the French Revolution commenced. "Resistance to something was the law of New England nature," Henry Adams writes in his Education; yet despite their reforming-itch, the New Englanders were in their hearts deeply attached to their ancestral institutions and alarmed at impersonal forces which were sweeping their little civilization into the rapids of nineteenth-century innovation.
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, p.243
"Experience has ever shown, that education, as well as religion, aristocracy, as well as democracy and monarchy, are, singly, totally inadequate to the business of restraining the passions of men, of preserving a steady government, and protecting the lives, liberties, and properties of the people." This admonition by John Adams meant nothing to Emerson. Only the balancing of passion, interest, and power against opposing passion, interest, and power can make a state just and tranquil, said Adams. John Adams believed the existence of sin to be an incontrovertible fact; while Emerson, discarding with the forms of Calvinism the very essence of its creed, never admitted the idea of sin into his system. "But such inveterate and persistent optimism," Charles Eliot Norton remarks of his friend Emerson, "though it may show only its pleasant side in such a character as Emerson's, is dangerous doctrine for a people. It degenerates into fatalistic indifference to moral considerations, and to personal responsibilities; it is at the root of much of the irrational sentimentalism of our American politics."

Recognition of the abiding power of sin is a cardinal tenet in conservatism. Quintin Hogg, in his vigorous little book The Case for Conservatism, re-emphasizes the necessity for this conviction. For conservative thinkers believe that man is corrupt, that his appetites need restraint, and that the forces of custom, authority, law, and government, as well as moral discipline, are required to keep sin in check. One may trace this conviction back through Adams [p.244] to the Calvinists and Augustine, or through Burke to Hooker and the Schoolmen and presently, in turn, to St. Augustine—and, perhaps (as Henry Adams does) beyond Augustine to Marcus Aurelius and his Stoic preceptors, as well as to St. Paul and the Hebrews.

Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, p.254
Now belief in the dogma of original sin has been prominent in the system of every great conservative thinker—in the lofty Christian resignation of Burke, in the hard-headed pessimism of Adams, in the melancholy of Randolph, in the "Calvinistic Catholicism" of Newman.

Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

Subject: Re: Calvin's America
Date: 4/30/2001 1:03 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Message-id: <>

In message-id: <> dated: 4/29/2001 8:37 PM Pacific Daylight Time, RJohnson64 writes:

Kevin posted the following:

Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot, p.168
That zeal which flared like Greek fire in Randolph burned in Calhoun, too; but it was contained in the Cast-Iron Man as in a furnace, and Calhoun's passion glowed out only through his eyes. No man was more stately, more reserved, more regularly governed by an inflexible will. Calvinism moulded John C. Calhoun's character as it shaped his speeches and books; for though the dogma proper was dying in him as it had decayed in the Adamses—so that Calhoun, like John Adams, squinted toward Unitarianism—still there remained that relentless acceptance of logic, that rigid morality, that servitude to duty; and these things made the man constant in purpose, prodigious in energy.

> Calvinism moulded Calhoun's character, yet he "squinted towards
Unitarianism"???  You do understand, don't you, that Calvin
oversaw the death of a Unitarian, one Michael Servetus, who was
burned at the stake for denying the Trinity and teaching Unitarianism?

You do understand, don't you, that "Calvinism" is a political philosophy as well as a view about theology and predestination?  A person can reject predestination and still hold a Calvinist political philosophy.

> How then, can Kirk seriously make the claim that Calvinism shaped
> the character of a person who leaned towards Unitarianism?  

Because Calhoun was still a political Calvinist.
I don't think you're aware of how political Calvinism was back in the days of our Founding Fathers. Get a taste here.
"Calvinism" cannot be limited to pure theology

> How can someone who embraces, or even tends toward,
Unitarianism hold to the doctrine of Calvinism which requires
acceptance of the Triune nature of God?

You speak of "the" doctrine of Calvinism. That's a mistake.
Calhoun rejected one doctrine of Calvinism but held to many others.
He held to a doctrine of Calvinism which holds that men are sinful and that a government of checks and balances is required. This distinguishes him from the French Revolutionaries of his day.

"Calvinism" does not consist in just one doctrine. There are many doctrines in "Calvinism." There are many theological doctrines, and many political doctrines. Did you look at any of the links I posted? Just because a person rejects one aspect of Calvinist theology does not mean he has also rejected the totality of Calvinist political theory.

> Perhaps the characteristics you are pointing to in our founders are
better labeled something other than Calvinist, for as far as I can see
at this time, by labelling them Calvinist you open your argument to

Not among the well-informed. Russell Kirk is very well informed.

> However, I have made your argument, it must stand or
fall on its own merits.

> Are you familar with Robert Nordlander?  He writes an interesting
series of articles which address the idea of Calvinism influencing
our founders.  Here is the link, for your convenience.
>  A Critical Response to Bernard Katz On Our Founding Fathers
> The words of Madison and Jefferson with reference to the nature of

and benefit of religion in the United States are well worth the read.

I've seen much better articles. The facts are thin and the logic is fallacious through and through. Just because someone rejects predestination does not mean they believe in a purely atheistic government. Adams violated the ACLU myth of "separation" at every turn. This article contains some very bad reasoning.

In fact, I'd be embarrassed to rely on this article if I were a separationist. I've never seen an article that more clearly commits this basic fallacy, and it makes obvious the point that anti-Calvinists and Unitarians can be -- and were -- very conservative and can use the government to endorse and promote their brand of theism.

I've written

A Critical Response to "A Critical Response to Bernard Katz On Our Founding Fathers"

I invite your comments.

Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

Subject: Re: Calvin's America
Date: 4/30/2001 1:16 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Message-id: <>

Calvin was a product of his times and believed many things which everyone in that day believed, but which are rejected today. America rejects many of those abuses because we were influenced by the genius of Calvin, who made it plain that governments were obligated to be Christian. Many things governments did in his day were not Christian. Calvin changed the world for the better, politically speaking, as most of the Founding Fathers would agree. I can't think of a single Unitarian 200 years ago who would not acknowledge a debt of freedom to Calvin.

I wrote:

I would undoubtedly have been executed for my anarchistic views in any city in Europe in 1540. But secular governments are far more lethal than Christian governments. Its no contest. You can complain all you want about a nutcase like Servetus, but in a now-secular America 4,000 mothers kill their own babies every day, and atheistic civil governments have killed an average of 5,000 more innnocent people PER DAY every day in the 20th century.

The author of the page you have excerpted (whoever he or she is -- is this another triumph of Heather Anne Buettner?) is clearly hostile to Christianity, but is spiritually blind to the genocide of the messianic state. 

Overall, Calvin's ideas brought the flowering of western civilization and less-tyrannical republican governments. Anti-Calvinist governments are best seen in Communist China and the gulags of the "former" soviet union.

I'll take Calvin in a heartbeat.

In message -id: <> dated: 4/30/2001 6:37 AM Pacific Daylight Time, RJohnson64 writes:

Thank you for this clear explanation of how you would implement your version of anarchy on the rest of society.  I appreciate the discussion we have had, and leave you to promulgate your theories and reconstruct your vision of history.  When you come into power and begin the purges, let me know...I'd rather die on the stake than live in a society that conforms to your vision of Christianity.

Are you saying you're quitting the discussion??
What a disappointing, irrational, emotional response that would be.
My vision of Christianity is a decentralized, non-violent society described by the Old Testament prophet Micah as a world in which men do not train for war and everyone owns their own "Vine & Fig Tree." You would rather live in a society in which people are executed on the stake?? Why??? What kind of mindless reactionary nonsense is this?

Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

In the sixteenth century the intimate association of Church and state was assumed to be natural and desirable by all but a small minority. The distinction was really not that of Church and state as we understand these today, but between the ecclesiastical and the secular government of the same community. The word "theocracy" is often applied to the Geneva of Calvin's time, but the word is now ambiguous to most minds. Many confuse "theocracy," the rule of God, with "hierocracy," the rule of the clergy. With reference to Geneva, James Mackinnon, indeed, suggests the word "clerocracy." "Bibliocracy" and "christocracy" have been proposed by other writers. Certainly the system was a theocracy in the sense that it assumed responsibility to God on the part of secular and ecclesiastical authority alike, and proposed as its end the effectual operation of the will of God in the life of the people. In principle, at least, it was not hierocratic. Calvin wished the magistrates, as agents of God, to have their own due sphere of action. but so intense was his consciousness of vocation, and so far did his mental energy outstrip that of his political associates, that he ultimately gained ascendancy to the point of mastery.

To say that he ruled as a dictator is, in our generation, to raise to the imagination a figure in the similitude of Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, living as chief actor in a drama of lawless power. with secret police, armed guards, vainglorious titles and insignia, massed demonstrations, and vociferous public acclaim. Calvin used lawful means, went unarmed and unguarded, lived modestly and without display, sought advice from many, claimed no authority save as a commissioned minister of the Word, assumed no title of distinction or political office. It was not until Christmas Day, 1559, after he had been instrumental in the admission of hundreds of refugees to citizenship, that he himself, on invitation of the magistrates, became a citizen. He had avoided seeking this privilege lest a charge of political ambition be raised to add to his difficulties.

John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, Oxford Univ. Press, 1954, pp. 183ff.

Sandefur’s idea of a certain kind of Lockean founding also encounters another obstacle: as Mark David Hall recently demonstrated in a fine biography of Connecticut Founder Roger Sherman, natural rights/natural law talk was not purely, or perhaps even primarily, a Lockean argot at the time of the Revolution. Far more Americans subscribed to Calvinism than to any other creed in America in the late eighteenth century, and Calvinism included the ideas of natural right, the right of revolution, etc., just as Lockeanism did. In fact, Hall speculates that Calvin influenced Locke, so that one might nearly say that Locke was a Calvinist on this score. If, then, we are to read the Constitution through a natural-law lens because that is the way the people meant for it to be read when they ratified it, there is reason to doubt that an overwhelmingly Protestant, highly Calvinist population understood natural right in the way that Sandefur wants today’s officials to understand it.
“Shall We Be Ruled By Libertarian Philosopher-Judges?” A Review of Timothy Sandefur’s The Conscience of the Constitution | Nomocracy In Politics


"Consent of the Governed" vs. "Democracy"

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