John Robbins ("Civilization and the Protestant Reformation") points out the many ways that America, and Western Civilization in general, were based on the Protestant Reformation:
- Democracy ("The Priesthood of All Believers") or "Representative Government"
- Constitutionalism ("Sola Scriptura") - "Original Intent"
- Religious Liberty - No National Church
- The Reformation in Law and Economics
- Legal historian Harold Berman of Harvard Law School has pointed out that "The Protestant concept of the individual became central to the development of the modern law of property and contract...."
- This, along with Luther's idea that all callings--all labor, not just the labor of monks and nuns--could be done to the glory of God, led to the development of the free market economy.
- One of Luther's most brilliant followers, John Calvin, systematized the theology of the Reformation. The seventeenth-century Calvinists laid the foundations for both English and American civil rights and liberties: freedom of speech, press, and religion, the privilege against self-incrimination, the independence of juries, and right of habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without cause. The nineteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke referred to Calvin as the "virtual founder of America."
America: A Bible-Based Protestant Nation
In particular, the Protestant idea that every layman should be allowed access to the Scriptures, instead of relying on the reports of clergy, had great impact in America:
Luther articulated the idea of the priesthood of all believers, and it became the foundation for modern political democracy--the equality of all men before God and the law. Ecclesiastical monarchy and aristocracy were destroyed by the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and with them went the theological underpinnings for civil monarchy and aristocracy.
The medieval structure of ecclesiastical authority could not withstand the Protestant idea of sola Scriptura -- the Bible alone. One Christian man with a Bible was superior to any pope or council or tradition without it. Luther translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German so the people could have it in their own language and not be subject to an ecclesiastical ruling class. By translating the Bible into the common language, Luther freed the German people from ecclesiastical totalitarianism: The Bible was the written constitution of the church, which the people could now read for themselves. His second major contribution to Western political thought was the idea of a written constitution--the Bible--limiting the power and authority of church (and later political) leaders. There is a direct connection between the Reformation cry of sola
Scriptura and the American idea of the Constitution--not any man or body of men--as the supreme law of the land.
Many settlers to America had suffered persecution for their Christian beliefs at the hands of other “Christians” (many of the civil abuses of Europe inexcusably occurred under the banner of Christianity—the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.). When Europe finally began to move away from such abuses, it did so because of the efforts of leaders like Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, John Huss, William Tyndale, and others. These individuals believed that it was the Biblical illiteracy of the people which had permitted so many civil abuses to occur; that is, since the common man was not permitted to read the Scriptures for himself, his knowledge of rights and wrongs was limited to what his civil leaders told him.
The American settlers, having been exposed to the Reformation teachings, believed that the proper protection from civil abuses in America could be achieved by eliminating Biblical illiteracy. In this way, the citizens themselves (rather than just their leaders) could measure the acts of their civil government compared to the teachings of the Bible. Consequently, one of the first laws providing public education for all children (the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” passed in Massachusetts in 1642 and in Connecticut in 1647) was a calculated attempt to prevent the abuse of power which can be imposed on a Biblically-illiterate people. That public school law explained not only why students needed an education but also how it was to be accomplished:
[The] Code of 1650, being a Compilation of the Earliest Laws and Orders of the General Court of Connecticut. Hartford: Silus Andrus, 1822. pp. 90-92; see also Holy
Trinity at 467, and David Barton, Original Intent, p. 80.
It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former time. . . . It is therefore ordered . . . [that] after the Lord hath increased [the settlement] to the number of fifty householders, [they] shall then forthwith appoint one within their town, to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write and read. . . . And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school . . . to instruct youths, so far as they may be fitted for the university.
But the Bible was interpreted along the lines of the Protestant Reformation. In 1699, Yale University was founded by ten ministers in order:
Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education (New Haven: Howe & Spalding, 1823), p. 237.
[T]o plant, and under the Divine blessing, to propagate in this wilderness the blessed reformed Protestant religion.
Documentary History of Yale University, Franklin B. Dexter, editor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916), p. 27, November 11, 1701, Proceedings of the Trustees.
A year after signing the Declaration—and now nearly a full year into the British embargoes against the Colonies—America began experiencing a shortage of several important commodities — including Bibles. Therefore, on July 7, 1777, a request was placed before Congress to print or to import more. That request was referred to a committee of Daniel Roberdeau, John Adams, and Jonathan Smith* who examined the possibilities and then on September 11, reported to Congress:
[T]hat the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great . . . your Committee recommend that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the States of the Union.
Journals of . . . Congress (1907), Vol. VIII, p. 734, September 11, 1777.
* Journals of . . . Congress (1907), Vol VIII, p. 536, July 7, 1777.
Congress agreed and ordered the Bibles imported. (Journals of . . . Congress (1907), Vol. VIII, p. 735, September 11, 1777.)
In 1780, Samuel Adams reminded the troops:
Samuel Adams, Writings, Vol. IV, p. 189, Samuel Adams article signed “Vindex” in Boston Gazette on June 12, 1780.
May every citizen in the army and in the country have a proper sense of the Deity upon his mind and an impression of the declaration recorded in the Bible, “Him that honoreth me I will honor, but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed” [I Samuel 2:30].
As the war prolonged, the shortage of Bibles remained a problem. Consequently, Robert Aitken, publisher of The Pennsylvania Magazine, petitioned Congress on January 21, 1781, for permission to print the Bibles on his presses here in America rather than import them. He pointed out to Congress that his Bible would be “a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.”* Congress approved his request and appointed a committee of James Duane, Thomas McKean, and John Witherspoon to oversee the project.
Memorial of Robert Aitken to Congress, 21 January 1781, obtained from the National Archives, Washington, D. C.; see also the introduction to the Holy Bible As Printed by Robert Aitken and Approved & Recommended by the Congress of the United States of America in 1782 (Philadelphia: R. Aitken,
1782) or the New York Arno Press reprint of 1968.
* Journals of . . . Congress (1914), Vol. XXIII, p. 572, September 12, 1782.
Even after the surrender of the whole British Army under the command of the Earl Cornwallis, work on the new Bible continued. As it neared its final stage of readiness in late summer 1782, James Duane, chairman of the Congressional committee, reported to Congress:
Journals of . . . Congress (1914), Vol. XXIII, p. 573, September 1, 1782.
He [Mr. Aitken] undertook this expensive work at a time when from the circumstances of the war an English edition of the Bible could not be imported, nor any opinion formed how long the obstruction might continue. On this account particularly he deserves applause and encouragement.
On September 12, 1782, the full Congress approved that Bible which soon began rolling off the presses.* Printed in the front of that Bible (the first English-language Bible ever printed in America) was the Congressional endorsement:
Whereupon, Resolved , That the United States in Congress assembled . . . recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.
Journals of . . . Congress (1914), Vol. XXIII, p. 574, September 12, 1782.
*Journals of . . . Congress (1914), Vol. XXIII, p. 574, September 12, 1782; see also cover page of the “Bible of the Revolution,” either the 1782 original or the 1968 reprint by Arno Press.
Of this event, one early historian observed:
W. P. Strickland, History of the American Society from its Organization to the Present Time (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1849), pp. 20-21.
Who, in view of this fact, will call in question the assertion that this is a Bible nation? Who will charge the government with indifference to religion when the first Congress of the States assumed all the rights and performed all the duties of a Bible Society long before such an institution had an existence in the world!
54. Rush, Letters, Vol. 1, p. 521, to Jeremy Belknap on July 13, 1789.
55. Benjamin Rush, Essays, pp. 94, 100, "A Defence of the Use of the Bible as a School Book."
56. Fisher Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co., 1809), pp. 134-135.
57. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756.
58. John Adams, Works, Vol. X, p. 85, to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813.
59. Henry Laurens, The Papers of Henry Laurens, George C. Rogers, Jr., and David R. Chesnutt, editors (Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1980), Vol. VIII, pp. 426-427, to James Lawrenson on August 19, 1772.
60. Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854), p. 259, §446.
61. John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), p. 34.
62. Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821), p. 30, from “An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris on September 4, 1816.”
63. William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (Philadelphia: James Webster, 1818), p. 402; see also George Morgan, Patrick Henry (Philadelphia & London: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1929), p. 403.
64. Daniel Webster, Address Delivered at Bunker Hill, June 17, 1843, on the Completion of the Monument (Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1843), p. 31; see also W. P. Strickland, History of the American Bible Society from its Organization to the Present Time (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1849), p. 18.
65. John Jay, John Jay: The Winning of the Peace. Unpublished Papers 1780-1784, Richard B. Morris, editor (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980), Vol. II, p. 709, to Peter Augustus Jay on April 8, 1784.
66. Noah Webster, The Holy Bible . . . With Amendments of the Language (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1833), p. v.
67. Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland (Baltimore: Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.
But there were at that time a small number of deists and atheists who wanted the Bible removed from public schools. The vast majority of America's leaders opposed this idea, just as Luther did three centuries earlier:
The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating [extinguishing] Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.54 [T]he Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life. . . . [It] should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public temporal happiness. 55
BENJAMIN RUSH, SIGNER
OF THE DECLARATION
[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.56
FISHER AMES, AUTHOR OF THE HOUSE LANGUAGE FOR THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.57 I have examined all [religions] . . . and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.58
[T]he Bible. . . . [is] a book containing the history of all men and of all nations and . . . [is] a necessary part of a polite education.59
HENRY LAURENS, PRESIDENT OF CONTINENTAL CONGRESS; U. S. DIPLOMAT; SELECTED AS DELEGATE TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL
The Bible itself [is] the common inheritance, not merely of Christendom, but of the world.60
JOSEPH STORY, U. S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE; FATHER OF AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE
To a man of liberal education, the study of history is not only useful, and important, but altogether indispensable, and with regard to the history contained in the Bible . . . “it is not so much praiseworthy to be acquainted with as it is shameful to be ignorant of it.”61
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
The reflection and experience of many years have led me to consider the holy writings not only as the most authentic and instructive in themselves, but as the clue to all other history. They tell us what man is, and they alone tell us why he is what he is: a contradictory creature that seeing and approving of what is good, pursues and performs what is evil. All of private and of public life is there displayed. . . . From the same pure fountain of wisdom we learn that vice destroys freedom; that arbitrary power is founded on public immorality.62
PENMAN AND SIGNER OF THE CONSTITUTION
[The Bible] is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.63
[T]o the free and universal reading of the Bible in that age, men were much indebted for right views of civil liberty. The Bible is . . . a book which teaches man his own individual responsibility, his own dignity, and his equality with his fellow man.64
The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.65
JOHN JAY, ORIGINAL CHIEF-JUSTICE OF THE U. S. SUPREME COURT
The Bible is the chief moral cause of all that is good and the best corrector of all that is evil in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal [secular] concerns of men.66
Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses.67
JAMES MCHENRY, SIGNER OF THE CONSTITUTION
These are not the kind of statements you would hear from leaders in a Catholic or atheist nation. They are the statements of leaders in a Protestant nation that was being tested by advocates of secularist ideas being popularized in "Enlightenment" nations like France.
In his recent religious history of the Mexican-American war (Missionaries of Republicanism), John Pinheiro asks “What was the United States of America?” and answers: “An increasingly common answer by the 1840s was that the United States was all of those things that Mexico was not: free, Protestant, republican, and prosperous. . . . Whether politicians stressed political, religious, or anti-Mexican themes, what tied their rhetoric together was its rootedness in American's sense of identity as a republican race uniquely
blessed by Divine Providence” (3-4).
One Nation Under God | Peter J. Leithart | First Things
Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville traveled throughout the nation in the early 1830s and published his findings in 1835 in The Republic of the States of America, and Its Political Institutions, Reviewed and Examined—now called simply, Democracy in America. Notice some of his observations:
Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.
Alexis de Tocqueville, The Republic of the United States of America and Its Political Institutions, Reviewed and Examined, Henry Reeves, translator (Garden City, NY: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1851), Vol. I, p. 337.
Achille Murat, another French observer of America, published his findings in 1833 in A Moral and Political Sketch of the United States. Murat personally disliked religion and found America’s religious nature highly offensive. He exclaimed:
Achille Murat, A Moral and Political Sketch of the United States (London: Effingham Wilson, 1833), p. 142.
It must be admitted that looking at the physiognomy [discernible character] of the United States, its religion is the only feature which disgusts a foreigner.
[T]here is no country in which the people are so religious as in the United States; to the eyes of a foreigner they even appear to be too much so. . . . The great number of religious societies existing in the United States is truly surprising: there are some of them for every thing; for instance, societies to distribute the Bible; to distribute tracts; to encourage religious journals; to convert, civilize, educate the savages; to marry the preachers; to take care of their widows and orphans; to preach, extend, purify, preserve, reform the faith; to build chapels, endow congregations, support seminaries; catechize and convert sailors, Negroes, and loose women; to secure the observance of Sunday and prevent blasphemy by prosecuting the violators; to establish Sunday schools where young ladies teach reading and the catechism to little rogues, male and
female; to prevent drunkenness, &c.
Murat, pp. 113, 132.
Eleven years later, a French deist left the City of Philadelphia a very large sum of money to build schools. The accusation was made that since he was a deist, he intended the City of Philadelphia to stop teaching the Bible in public schools. The United States Supreme Court heard the case, and said that since this was a Christian nation, such an accusation would have to be proven with adequate evidence. The Court said there was no evidence that the government would not teach the Bible in its public schools:
Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as Divine revelation in the college [school]—its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained and its glorious principles of morality inculcated? . . . Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?
Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, 43 U. S. 126, 200 (1844).
This decision, America's roots in the Protestant Reformation, and the entire history of America, was ignored by the Supreme Court in the 20th century. In 1963 the Supreme Court removed the Bible from public schools (ABINGTON SCHOOL DIST. v. SCHEMPP, 374 U.S. 203). Not only did the Court disregard these stated beliefs of America's Founders, it falsely asserted:
Abington at 217, quoting Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U. S. 1, 31-32. emphasis added
The [First] Amendment’s purpose was not to strike merely at the official establishment of a single sect. . . . It was to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority.
69. Washington, Address . . . Preparatory to His Declination, pp. 22-23.
70. Moses Coit Tyler, Patrick Henry (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1897), p. 409, to Archibald Blair on January 8, 1799.
71. Joseph Story, Life and Letters of Joseph Story, William W. Story, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. II, pp. 8, 92.
72. James Madison, The Papers of James Madison, Henry D. Gilpin, editor (Washington: Langtree & O’Sullivan, 1840), Vol. II, p. 985, June 28, 1787.
73. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), pp. 5-6.
74. Daniel Webster, Mr. Webster’s Speech in Defence of the Christian Ministry and in Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young. Delivered in the Supreme Court of the United States, February 10, 1844, in the Case of Stephen Girard’s Will (Washington: Printed by Gales and Seaton, 1844), p. 41.
75. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. V, p. 272, “The Absolute Necessity of Salvation Through Christ,” January 2, 1758.
76. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Presented to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia at their Session in 1785 in Consequence of a Bill Brought into that Assembly for the Establishment of Religion (Massachusetts: Isaiah Thomas, 1786), p. 4.
77. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, p. 31, from his diary entry for Sunday, August 22, 1756.
78. Rush, Letters, Vol. II, pp. 820-821, to Thomas Jefferson on August 22, 1800.
79. Noah Webster, History, p. 300, ¶578.
80. Speeches of the . . . Governors . . . of New York, p. 47, Governor John Jay on January 6, 1796.
81. Speeches of the . . . Governors . . . of New York, p. 136, Governor Daniel Tompkins on November 5, 1816.
This absurd claim completely reverses the Founders’ intent; their purpose for the First Amendment was in fact to “strike at the official establishment of a single sect” and definitely was not to completely and permanently separate the religious sphere from the sphere of civil, political, governmental, or public matters. Notice (emphasis added in each quote):
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.69
The great pillars of all government and of social life . . . [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.70
One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law. . . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundations. . . . I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society.71
JOSEPH STORY, U. S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE;
FATHER OF AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE
We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.72
[T]he Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth. . . . [and] laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.73
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
[T]he Christian religion—its general principles—must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society.74
True religion always enlarges the heart and strengthens the social tie.75
Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.76
The study and practice of law . . . does not dissolve the obligations of morality or of religion.77
I have always considered Christianity as the strong ground of republicanism. . . . It is only necessary for republicanism to ally itself to the Christian religion to overturn all the corrupted political and religious institutions in the world.78
BENJAMIN RUSH, SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION
[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles. . . . and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.79
[N]ational prosperity can neither be attained nor preserved without the favor of Providence.80
JOHN JAY, ORIGINAL CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U. S. SUPREME COURT
As guardians of the prosperity, liberty, and morals of the State, we are therefore bound by every injunction of patriotism and wisdom . . . to patronize public improvements and to cherish all institutions for the diffusion of religious knowledge and for the promotion of virtue and piety.81
DANIEL TOMPKINS, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK; VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED
Nowhere can it be demonstrated that the Founders desired to secularize official society and “create a complete separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority.” The Abington decision represented a further step in the devolution of the First Amendment by rewriting the intent of those who created the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
America was a nation where the Protestant Principle of Sola Scriptura took root for 200 years, and was then choked out by an out-of-control federal judiciary.
The Original Establishment of Protestantism
Prior to the American Revolution, which may be said to have begun on July 4, 1776, America was a colony of Britain, and hence the Church of England was the established church nearly everywhere America. The Declaration of Independence meant instant disestablishment. None of the states wanted to pay taxes to support the Church of England, so they faced a choice: If the Church of England will no longer be the established church of this state, then which church? The Baptist Church? The Presbyterian Church?
It was as obvious to all that the establishment of a single denomination was as unacceptable as the continued establishment of the church of the "mother country," against whom a revolution had been successfully waged. Even those who might have wanted their own denomination established by law, knew that the power to do so contained the power to make a rival denomination the established church at some future date.
As a result, there was no established church in any of the colonies after 1776.
* John Adams and John Bowdoin, An Address of the Convention for Framing A New Constitution of Government For the State of Massachusetts-Bay to their Constituents (Boston: White and Adams, 1780), p. 17.
For example, in the framing of the Massachusetts constitution, John Adams explained that “the debates were managed by persons of various denominations” and that the “delegates did not conceive themselves to be vested with power to set up one denomination of Christians above another.”* Numerous other States enacted similar provisions. Notice:
And every denomination of Christians . . . shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.
[T]here shall be no establishment of any one religious sect . . . in preference to another.
[T]here shall be no establishment of any one religious church or denomination in this State in preference to any other.
And each and every society or denomination of Christians in this State shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights, and privileges.
Summarizing this tone, in 1793, Zephaniah Swift (author of America’s first law textbook) explained:
Christians of different denominations ought to consider that the law knows no distinction among them; that they are all established upon the broad basis of equal liberty, that they have a right to think, speak, and worship as they please, and that no sect has power to injure and oppress another. When they reflect that they are equally under the protection of the law, all will revere and love the constitution, and feel interested in the support of the government. No denomination can pride themselves in the enjoyment of superior and exclusive powers and immunities.
Zephaniah Swift, The Correspondent (Windham: John Byrne, 1793), p. 138.
The idea of a national church denomination was discussed 12 years after the Declaration of Independence, as the Constitution was being debated.
The Annals of Congress from June 8, 1789, to September 25, 1789, contain the complete official records of those who drafted and approved the First Amendment. Notice some of their discussions on its intent:
AUGUST 15, 1789. Mr. [Peter] Sylvester [of New York] had some doubts. . . . He feared it [the First Amendment] might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether. . . . Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry [of Massachusetts] said it would read better if it was that “no religious doctrine shall be established by law.” . . . Mr. [ James] Madison [of Virginia] said he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that “Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law.” . . . [T]he State[s]. . . seemed to entertain an opinion that under the clause of the Constitution . . . it enabled them [Congress] to make laws of such a nature as might. . . establish a national religion; to prevent these effects he presumed the amendment was intended. . . . Mr. Madison thought if the word “national” was
inserted before religion, it would satisfy the minds of honorable gentlemen. . . . He thought if the word “national” was introduced, it would point the amendment directly to the object it was intended to prevent.
The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington, D. C.: Gales and Seaton, 1834), Vol. I, pp. 757-759, August 15, 1789.
The State debates surrounding the ratification of the First Amendment reinforce this intended purpose. Notice, for example, Governor Samuel Johnston’s comments during North Carolina’s ratifying convention:
I know but two or three States where there is the least chance of establishing any particular religion. The people of Massachusetts and Connecticut are mostly Presbyterians. In every other State, the people are divided into a great number of sects. In Rhode Island, the tenets of the Baptists, I believe, prevail. In New York, they are divided very much: the most numerous are the Episcopalians and the Baptists. In New Jersey, they are as much divided as we are. In Pennsylvania, if any sect prevails more than others, it is that of the Quakers. In Maryland, the Episcopalians are most numerous, though there are other sects. In Virginia, there are many sects; you all know what their religious sentiments are. So in all the Southern States they differ; as also in New Hampshire. I hope, therefore, that gentlemen will see there is no cause of fear that any one
religion shall be exclusively established.
The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington, D. C.: Jonathan Elliot, 1836), Vol. IV, p. 199, Governor Samuel Johnston, July 30, 1788.
In that same convention, Henry Abbot further explained:
Many wish to know what religion shall be established. I believe a majority of the community are Presbyterians. I am, for my part, against any exclusive establishment; but if there were any, I would prefer the Episcopal.
Elliot’s Debates, Vol. IV, pp. 191-192, Henry Abbot, July 30, 1788.
While the First Amendment guaranteed that the newly-created federal government would not impose denominational conformity over the states, the states were still free to create denominational uniformity within their state, if they pleased.
For example, in his Commentaries on the Constitution, Justice Joseph Story explained that because of the First Amendment . . .
. . . the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State governments to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice and the State constitutions.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), Vol. III, p. 731, §1873.
Thomas Jefferson had previously confirmed this same scope of power:
I consider the government of the United States [the federal government] as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion [the First Amendment], but from that also which reserves to the States the powers not delegated to the United States [the Tenth Amendment]. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General [federal] Government. It must then rest with the States. (emphasis added)
Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph,
editor (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830), Vol. IV, pp. 103-104, to Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808.
Although it was completely permissible for the States to have their own State-established denominations, they had already chosen not to, as we have seen, after the Revolution. Most simply made provision for the encouragement of religion, or for the public teaching of religion in general—as, for example, in the constitutions of New Hampshire and Massachusetts:
As morality and piety rightly grounded on evangelical principles will give the best and greatest security to government and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to due subjection; and as the knowledge of these is most likely to be propagated through a society by the institution of the public worship of the Deity and of public instruction in morality and religion; therefore, to promote these important purposes, the people of this State have a right to empower, and do hereby fully empower, the legislature to authorize, from time to time, the several towns, parishes, bodies corporate, or religious societies within this State to make adequate provision at their own expense for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality. NEW HAMPSHIRE
Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America (Boston: Norman and Bowen, 1785), p. 4, New Hampshire, 1783, Article 1, Section 6, “Bill of Rights.”
As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the People of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their Legislature with power to authorize and require . . . the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic or religious societies, to make suitable provision at their own expense for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality. MASSACHUSETTS
Constitution or Frame of Government Agreed Upon By the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts-Bay (Boston: Benjamin Edes & Sons, 1780), pp. 7-8, Article III “Declaration of Rights.”
This was the prevalent sentiment across America. In fact, signer of the Declaration Charles Carroll (a Roman Catholic) even declared that the reason that he and many other Founders had entered the Revolution was to ensure that all Christian denominations were placed on an equal footing:
To obtain religious as well as civil liberty I entered jealously into the Revolution, and observing the Christian religion divided into many sects, I founded the hope that no one would be so predominant as to become the religion of the State. That hope was thus early entertained, because all of them joined in the same cause, with few exceptions of individuals.
Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737-1832, With His Correspondence and Public Papers (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898), Vol. II, p. 357-358, to the Rev. John Stanford on October 9, 1827.
The separation of church-denominations and the state was a result of the American Revolution against the British state-church. Disestablishment was not created by the Constitution or the First Amendment 12 years later.
But while all these states provided for religious freedom among Christian denominations, they did not allow Catholics in positions of government authority. This was reserved for Protestants.
The GEORGIA Constitution of 1777 said:
Article VI. The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county ... and they shall be of the Protestant religion. . . .
The MASSACHUSETTS Constitution of 1780:
Article III. . . . the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require ... the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politics, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of GOD, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to . . . enjoin upon all the subjects an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid. . . .
And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship . . . shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the
support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid toward the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.
And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.
The language was used in the NEW HAMPSHIRE Constitution of 1784.
The NEW JERSEY Constitution of 1776:
Article XVIII. That no person shall ever, within this Colony, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall any person within this Colony, ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rates, for the purpose of building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or has deliberately or voluntarily engaged himself to perform.
Article XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another: and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on
account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect.. . shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature.
The North Carolina Constitution of 1776:
Article XXXII. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
In the South Carolina Constitution of 1778, only Protestants could hold public office, and:
Article XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. . . . the respective societies of the Church of England that are already formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship, shall still continue incorporate and hold the religious property now in their possession. And that whenever fifteen or more male persons, not under twenty-one years of age, professing the Christian Protestant religion, and agreeing to unite themselves in a society for the purposes of religious worship, they shall
(on complying with the terms hereinafter mentioned) be ... esteemed and regarded in law as of the established religion of the State, and on a petition to the legislature shall be entitled to be incorporated and to enjoy equal privileges ... each society so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles, without which no agreement or union of men upon pretence of religion, shall entitle them to be incorporated and esteemed as a church of the established religion in this State:
No person shall, by law, be obliged to pay towards the maintenance and support of a religious worship that he does not freely join in, or has not voluntarily engaged to support. But the churches, chapels, parsonages, glebes, and all other property now belonging to any societies of the Church of England, or any other religious societies, shall remain and be secured to them forever.
- 1st. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.
- 2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped.
- 3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion.
- 4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.
- 5th. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth....
The 1777 Vermont Frame of Government, Section 9:
... And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz.: “I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the Protestant religion.”
The federal constitution of 1789 did not require these state constitutions to be altered. Before the states would ratify the new Constitution, they demanded assurance that the new federal government would make no law respecting their establishments of religion. They received this guarantee in the First Amendment. Those who wrote the federal constitution returned home and in many cases wrote new state constitutions with the same provisions as these.
Why was it that most American colonies did not allow Roman Catholics to hold political office? Many Founding Fathers, like John Jay, co-author of the Federalist Papers and first U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, have been attacked by modern secularists as "anti-Catholic bigots."
The Founders were not opposed to Catholics as individuals. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that signer of the Declaration Charles Carroll and signers of the Constitution Thomas FitzSimmons and Daniel Carroll were Roman Catholics. In fact, there were numerous Roman Catholic patriots and leaders in the struggle for American liberty, including Commodore John Barry, General Casimir Pulaski, and General Stephen Moylan. The Founders were not fearful of Roman Catholics, but rather of the aspect of Catholic doctrine which they viewed as repugnant to America’s unique form of government. Specifically, they opposed the vesting of total, absolute, and irrevocable power in a single body (the Papal authority) without recourse by the people —- and they were able to point to specific examples to bolster
18. David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution (Dublin: William Jones, 1795), Vol. I, p. 212.
19. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Frances Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. III, p. 449, “Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law.”
20. Story, Commentaries, Vol. III, pp. 706-707, §1841-1842, quoting Blackstone.
21. John Adams and John Bowdoin, An Address of the Convention for Framing A New Constitution of Government For the State of Massachusetts-Bay to their Constituents (Boston: White and Adams, 1780), p. 17.
22. Constitutions (1785), p. 138, North Carolina, 1776, Section 32.
23. The Constitutions of the Several States Composing the Union (Philadelphia: Hogan and Thompson, 1838), p. 202; 1835 amendments to the North Carolina Constitution of 1776, Article 4, Section 2.
For example, Dr. David Ramsay (a member of the Continental Congress, a surgeon during the Revolution, and an historian) noted that during America’s struggle for independence:
[T]he Roman Catholic clergy [in Canada]. . . . used their influence in the next world as an engine to operate on the movements of the present. They refused absolution [forgiveness of sins] to such of their flocks as abetted [aided] the Americans.
John Adams similarly criticized the Roman Catholic “power of deposing princes and absolving [releasing] subjects from allegiance.”19 Understandably, the Founders did not want individuals leading American government who maintained a sworn oath of allegiance to a “foreign power” (the Pope). The concern was that such individuals might be required to resist American government by their obedience to an authority who conceivably could issue a hostile decree. As Joseph Story explained:
[If ] men quarrel with the ecclesiastical establishment, the civil magistrate has nothing to do with it unless their tenets and practice are such as threaten ruin or disturbance to the state. He is bound, indeed, to protect. . . . papists [Roman Catholics]. . . . But while they acknowledge a foreign power superior to the sovereignty of the kingdom, they cannot complain if the laws of that kingdom will not treat them upon the footing of good subjects.
It was the implications of this Roman Catholic doctrine which caused many States to exclude from office those who claimed a sole and absolute allegiance to a “foreign power.” As the framers of the Massachusetts constitution explained:
[W]e have . . . found ourselves obliged . . . to provide for the exclusion of these from offices who will not disclaim these principles of spiritual jurisdiction which Roman Catholics in some centuries have held and which are subversive of a free government established by the people.
The North Carolina constitution similarly prohibited from office those who denied “the truth of the Protestant religion” or who held “religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State.”22 However, as already noted, this was not a rejection of Roman Catholics in general, just of those who embraced doctrines “subversive of a free government established by the people.” In fact, when the people of North Carolina later amended their constitution, they maintained the clause excluding from office those who held “religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State,” but they changed “Protestant” to “Christian,”23 thus acknowledging that many American Catholics no longer embraced this
Therefore, Catholics were generally excluded from political office, just as any Confederate might have been unable to get elected in post-Civil War America. The 1776 Constitution of North Carolina (§32) prohibited from office those who denied "the truth of the Protestant religion," because they held "religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State."
Jonathan Elliot, Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 4, p.191, records the Debates in the Convention of North Carolina, Wednesday, July 30, 1788
Mr. HENRY ABBOT, after a short exordium, which was not distinctly heard, proceeded thus: Some are afraid, Mr. Chairman, that, should the Constitution be received, they would be deprived of the privilege of worshipping God according to their consciences, which would be taking from them a benefit they enjoy under the present constitution. They wish to know if their religious and civil liberties be secured under this system, or whether the general government may not make laws infringing their religious liberties. The worthy member from Edenton mentioned sundry political reasons why treaties should he the supreme law of the land It is feared, by some people, that, by the power of [p.192] making treaties, they might make a treaty engaging with foreign powers to adopt the Roman Catholic religion in the United States, which would prevent the people from
worshipping God according to their own consciences.
Loyalty to the Pope was considered treasonous, and also inconsistent with loyalty to a republican form of government. The greatest authority on the US Constitution, founder of Harvard Law School and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, explains the rationale of excluding Catholics: It was their political loyalty to the Pope.
Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray & Co., 1833) vol. III, p.383 §400.
[If] men quarrel with the ecclesiastical establishment, the civil magistrate has nothing to do with it unless their tenets and practice are such as threaten ruin or disturbance to the state. He is bound, indeed, to protect . . . papists . . . . But while they acknowledge a foreign power superior to the sovereignty of the kingdom, they cannot complain if the laws of that kingdom will not treat them upon the footing of good subjects.
It is no surprise that Virginia was one of the last states to separate state and clergy, because Episcopalianism is merely a modified papism. As George Bancroft wrote in History of the United States, Vol.3, p.327-28:
EPOCH SECOND Britain Estranges America -- From 1763 to 1774;
Its [Massachusetts'] ecclesiastical polity was in like manner republican. The great mass were Congregationalists, of whom each church formed an assembly by voluntary agreement, self-constituted, self-supported, and independent. They were clear that no person or church had power over another church. There was not a Roman Catholic altar in the place; the usages of "papists" were looked upon as worn-out superstitions, fit only for the ignorant. But the people were not merely the fiercest enemies of "popery and slavery," they were Protestants even against Protestantism; and, though the English church was tolerated, Boston kept up the fight against prelacy. Its ministers were still its prophets and its guides; its pulpit, in which now that Mayhew was no more Cooper was admired above all others for eloquence and patriotism, inflamed by its
weekly appeals alike the fervor of piety and of liberty. In the "Boston Gazette" it enjoyed a free press, which gave currency to its conclusions on the natural right of man to self-government.
Chapter 25: The King and Parliament Against the Town of Boston, Hillsborough Secretary for the Colonies, October 1768-February 1769
Thomas Paine (who in 1776 was not an atheist) wrote against Popery in Common Sense. After discussing the Bible and its condemnation of monarchy in his exposition of 1 Samuel chapter 8, Paine says,
That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchical government, is true, or the scripture is false. And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of kingcraft, as priestcraft, in withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries. For monarchy in every instance is the Popery of government.
In other words, to be a true American, one must oppose monarchy and the withholding of Scripture from the public. Catholics who believe in ecclesiastical monarchy and oppose the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura are not pure Americans.
|Jay's position was well stated some years ago by a Secular Humanist named Paul Blanshard, in a book on American Freedom and Catholic Power. It is truly ironic that Secularists would now turn around and welcome "papists" with open arms, and sweep both Blanshard and Jay under the carpet.
Paine and other Founding Fathers were not writing against catholic religion (liturgy) so much as they were against catholic politics.
This is not anti-catholic "bigotry" any more than saying "America is a Christian nation" is "anti-semitism." The question is not whether a Bible-believing, Trinitarian Christian who happens to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church is actually a real Christian. The question is whether John Jay and other Founding Fathers were justified in drawing a distinction between Christian nations and Catholic nations. I personally believe that Bible-believing Trinitarians who are members of a Roman Catholic church are Christians. And I would rather have public offices filled by a Catholic like Joan Andrews (who, for non-violently protesting abortion, was
imprisoned for a decade by anti-Christian Secular Humanist bigots) than some of today's politicians who carry a big Bible to church in front of the Press on Sunday but ignore the Bible the rest of the week (or even the rest of the day). The Founding Fathers, regardless of whether they believed an individual papist could be a Christian, wrote laws excluding them from public office because they believed papist political principles were antithetical to the American principles of liberty and democratic participation. Papal political theory, according to the Founders, was monarchical, and subversive of the Republican form of government established in this country. To accuse John Jay, Thomas Paine, or other
Founders of "bigotry" is simply a demonstration of one's ignorance of historical and political realities.
One of the core doctrines of Protestantism is "The Priesthood of All Believers." "Democracy" in its best sense means "government by the people," and in America, the people used the Bible as a blueprint for government in every area and throughout every level of society. Voluntary associations in the private sector were the wellspring of public service.
For Roman Catholics, "religion" is liturgy, ritual, bead-counting, and ceremony. For Christians,
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
This is the religion which created literacy, hospitals, orphanages, and other charities which were lauded by the U.S. Supreme Court as evidence that America is a Christian nation and which distinguish a Christian nation from slavish and medieval Catholic nations.
The Founders agreed with the theories of Max Weber or R.H. Tawney (which would be written generations later), whose works explore the relationship between The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (to use the title of Weber's thesis). The Founding Fathers knew all of this. They knew that Catholic countries were backward, economically and politically, though less so than nations dominated by pagan
The question is not whether a person who is a member of the Roman Catholic Church can have his sins atoned for by Jesus. The question is whether the political principles of papism are compatible with the political principles of a Christian nation like America. The Founding Fathers were virtually unanimous in their answer: NO. Even those men who were members of the Roman Catholic Church and signed America's founding documents downplayed their political allegiance to the Pope, in much the same way John F. Kennedy did during his presidential campaign. They adhered to Protestant principles of freedom, not monarchical principles of papal submission.
Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that "Puritanism . . . was scarcely less a political than a religious doctrine." The Puritans established schools because they believed that knowledge of the Bible would lead to political liberty. Papists believed that the laity should not study the Bible, because they might get out from under papal domination. Tocqueville says of the Puritans of 1642:
But it is by the attention it pays to Public Education that the original character of American civilization is at once placed in the clearest light. "It being," says the law, "one chief project of Satan to keep men from the knowledge of the Scripture by persuading from the use of tongues, to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors..." Here follow clauses establishing schools in every township, and obliging the inhabitants, under pain of heavy fines, to support them. Schools of a superior kind were founded in the same manner in the more populous districts. The municipal authorities were bound to enforce the sending of children to school by their parents; they were empowered to inflict fines upon all who refused compliance; and in case of
continued resistance society assumed the place of the parent, took possession of the child, and deprived the father of those natural rights which he used to so bad a purpose. The reader will undoubtedly have remarked the preamble of these enactments: in America religion is the road to knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to civil freedom.
The Puritan religion, says de Tocqueville,
perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man, and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of the intelligence. Contented with the freedom and the power which it enjoys in its own sphere, and with the place which it occupies, the empire of religion is never more surely established than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength. Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Reeves, Trans. vol.1,
The roots of America's "democratic republic" are in Puritanism, and they conflict with papism. Another great American historian, George Bancroft, in History of the United States, vol.1, p.317-18, says:
The principles of Puritanism proclaimed the civil magistrate subordinate to the authority of religion. . . . In the firmness with which their conviction was held, the Puritans did not yield to the Catholics; and, if the will of God is the criterion of justice, both were, in one sense, in the right. The question arises, Who shall be the interpreter of that will? In the Roman Catholic Church, the office was claimed by the infallible pontiff, who, as the self-constituted guardian of the oppressed, insisted on the power of dethroning kings, repealing laws, and subverting dynasties. The principle thus asserted could not but become subservient to the temporal ambition of the clergy. Puritanism conceded no such power to its spiritual guides; the church existed independent of its pastor, who owed his office to its free choice; the will of the majority was its
law; and each one of the brethren possessed equal rights with the elders. The right, exercised by each congregation, of electing its own ministers was in itself a moral revolution; religion was now with the people, not over the people. Puritanism exalted the laity. Every individual who had experienced the raptures of devotion, every believer, who in moments of ecstasy had felt the assurance of the favor of God, was in his own eyes a consecrated person, chosen to do the noblest and godliest deeds. For him the wonderful counsels of the Almighty had appointed a Saviour; for him the laws of nature had been suspended and controlled, the heavens had opened, earth had quaked, the sun had veiled his face, and Christ had died and had risen again; for him prophets and apostles had revealed to the world the oracles and the will of God. Before Heaven he prostrated
himself in the dust; looking out upon mankind, how could he but respect himself, whom God had chosen and redeemed? He cherished hope; he possessed faith; as he walked the earth, his heart was in the skies. Angels hovered round his path, charged to minister to his soul; spirits of darkness vainly leagued together to tempt him from his allegiance. His burning piety could use no liturgy; his penitence revealed itself to no confessor. He knew no superior in holiness. He could as little become the slave of priestcraft as of a despot. He was himself a judge of the orthodoxy of the elders; and, if he feared the invisible powers of the air, of darkness, and of hell, he feared nothing on earth. Puritanism constituted not the Christian clergy, but the Christian people, the interpreter of the divine will; and the issue of Puritanism was popular sovereignty.
George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol.4, p.81:
Protestantism, in the sphere of politics, had hitherto been the representative of that increase of popular liberty which had grown out of free inquiry, while the Catholic church, under the early influence of Roman law and the temporal sovereignty of the Roman pontiff, had inclined to monarchical power.
Being an extraordinary American requires you to be Protestant in your political thinking.
Becoming an extraordinary American requires you to know a little about the Protestant Reformation and its political implications.
Individual American Catholics are far more protestant than Catholics in less-protestant nations, such as those in Central or South America.
But America was not just a Protestant Nation, it was a Calvinist Nation. Find out more about America's Calvinist roots.
Much of the foregoing is plagiarized from David Barton's work, Original Intent. You should read it. Order it here.
Important Protestant Works
Directly Related the the American Revolution
Selected From "The Colonists' Library," compiled by Richard Gardiner
On Secular Authority, Luther (1523). This document started the political discussion about religious liberty which led to the American Revolution. In this document Luther sets forth the idea of "two kingdoms," one is political and the other is spiritual, and the two ought be separate. President James Madison commended this "due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God." (Madison to F.L. Schaeffer, December 3, 1821).
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1540). Calvin's magnum opus. The most celebrated American historian, George Bancroft, called Calvin "the father of America," and added: "He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty." To John Calvin and the Genevan theologians, President John Adams credited a great deal of the impetus for religious liberty (Adams, WORKS, VI:313). This document includes a justification for rebellion to tyrants by subordinate government officials; this particular justification was at the root of the Dutch, English, and American Revolutions.
A Short Treatise on Political Power, John Ponet, D.D. (1556) President John Adams credited this Calvinist document as being at the root of the theory of government adopted by the the Americans. According to Adams, Ponet's work contained "all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by Sidney and Locke" including the idea of a three-branched government. (Adams, Works, vol. 6, pg. 4). Published in Strassbourg in 1556, it is one of the first works out of the Reformation to advocate active resistance to tyrannical magistrates, with the exception of the Magdeburg Bekkentis (the Magdeburg Confession).
The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, John Knox (1558). A vigorous critique of the tyranny of "Bloody Mary's" reign in England, and a call to resist. A large portion of the Americans who fought in the American Revolution were adherents to Knox's doctrines as set forth in this document.
Act of Supremacy, Elizabeth I (1559). After the brief and bloody reign of her sister, Mary I, who executed numerous Protestants for the cause of Roman Catholicism, this document states Elizabeth's intention to reaffirm the English Church's independence from Rome. Her beloved status among her subjects caused the first settlers of America to name their colony "Virginia" in honor of this virgin queen.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563). Detailing the bloody persecutions of Puritans during the reign of Mary I, this book was second only to the Bible in its popularity in the American colonies.
Supralapsarian Calvinism, Theodore Beza (1570) Laying out the principle that God willed and predestined the fall of Adam and the existence of sin and evil. This assertion became the most controversial philosophical conflict among American colonists up through the 19th century.
Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, or, A Vindication Against Tyrants (1579). This Calvinist document is one of the first to set forth the theory of "social contract" upon which the United States was founded. The idea was disseminated through the English Calvinists to the pen of John Locke, and eventually into the Declaration of Independence. John Adams reported the relevance of this document to the American struggle.
The Dutch Declaration of Independence (1581); This Calvinistic document served as a model for the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In his Autobiography, Jefferson indicated that the "Dutch Revolution" gave evidence and confidence to the Second Continental Congress that the American Revolution could likewise commence and succeed. Recent scholarship has has suggested that Jefferson may have consciously drawn on this document. John Adams said that the Dutch charters had "been particularly studied, admired, and imitated in every State" in America, and he stated that "the analogy between the means by which the two republics [Holland and U.S.A.] arrived at independency... will infallibly draw them
The Geneva Bible, 1599 update of the translation made by the Puritans in Geneva 1560. This was the Bible of choice in New England. These are the footnotes which provide a Calvinistic theological interpretation of the Bible
Canons of Dort (1619). The Synod at Dort in the Netherlands was called to respond to the views of the Arminians. Participating in this Synod moderated by Gomarus was the leader of the Pilgrims, as well as William Ames (the leading Puritan theologian of the day). As a result of this synod, the "five points of Calvinism" were developed. The "five points," also called TULIP, became a centerpiece of Puritanism and were ardently defended by American Calvinists such as Jonathan Edwards. The conflict between Calvinists and Arminians was perhaps the most explosive debate in America in the early 18th century. On the Calvinist side, Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards wrote philosophical defenses; on the Arminian side, John Wesley was the premiere mouthpiece. While
Madison wrote in defense of Calvinism, Thomas Jefferson utterly repudiated it.
The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, Sir Edward Coke (1628) Written by a Puritan leader of Parliament, this document was almost the only textbook for lawyers (e.g., Jefferson) during the American Colonial Period. Coke's influence over the minds of American politicians is inestimable. Clear traces between Coke and the U.S. Constitution are apparent in this work.
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) Acknowledged by scholars to be a prototype of the U.S. constitution.
Declaration to Justify Their Proceedings and Resolutions to Take Up Arms (1642) Thomas Jefferson, in his Autobiography,said that this Puritan "precedent" was an inspiration to the American cause.
Lex Rex, Samuel Rutherford (1644). This treatise systematized the Calvinistic political theories which had developed over the previous century. Rutherford was a colleague of John Locke's parents. Most of John Locke's Second Treatise on Government is reflective of Lex Rex. From Rutherford and other Commonwealthmen such as George Lawson, through Locke, these theorists provided the roots of the Declaration of Independence. This page provides the list of questions Lex Rexaddresses.
Lex, Rex, Samuel Rutherford (1644). This excerpt shows Rutherford's social contract theory and includes the Puritan theory of resistance to a tyrant.
Areopagitica, John Milton (1644). A treatise arguing that true Christianity can win its own arguments, and does not need to worry about challenges from other points of view, and therefore, the Government should not prevent the publication of any ideas. This idea was later articulated by Locke in his Letters Concerning Toleration, and picked up by Madison and Jefferson in their establishment of religious liberty in the U.S.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) In addition to being the decree of Parliament as the standard for Christian doctrine in the British Kingdom, it was adopted as the official statement of belief for the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Although slighlty altered and called by different names, it was the creed of Congregationalist, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches throughout the English speaking world. Assent to the Westminster Confession was officially required at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Princeton scholar, Benjamin Warfield wrote: "It was impossible for any body of Christians in the [English] Kingdoms to avoid attending to it."
The Westminster Catechism (1646) Second only to the Bible, the "Shorter Catechism" of the Westminster Confession was the most widely published piece of literature in the pre-revolutionary era in America. It is estimated that some five million copies were available in the colonies. With a total population of only four million people in America at the time of the Revolution, the number is staggering. The Westminster Catechism was not only a central part of the colonial educational curriculum, learning it was required by law. Each town employed an officer whose duty was to visit homes to hear the children recite the Catechism. The primary schoolbook for children, the New England Primer, included the Catechism. Daily recitations of it were required at these schools.
Their curriculum included memorization of the Westminster Confession and the Westminster Larger Catechism. There was not a person at Independence Hall in 1776 who had not been exposed to it, and most of them had it spoon fed to them before they could walk.
The Instrument of Government, 1653; The Constitution of the English Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. Many of the founders, such as Samuel Adams, considered Oliver Cromwell their hero, and considered the Commonwealth as the glory years of England.
Healing Question, Sir Henry Vane, 1656, published the following tract, expounding the principles of civil and religious liberty, and proposed that method of forming a constitution, through a convention called for the purpose, which was actually followed in America after the Revolution.
A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes; Showing That it Is Not Lawful For Any Power on Earth to Compel in Matters of Religion, John Milton (1659). A formative influence upon the ideals of religious toleration adopted by John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
The New England Primer, The best-selling textbook used by children in the colonial period. Millions of copies were in print. Filled with Calvinist principles, the influence of this little document is inestimable.
The King's Oath (1689) Established the requirement that the monarch uphold "the Protestant reformed religion"
English Bill of Rights (1689) Early model for recognizing natural rights in writing. Much of its language appeared later in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.
Second Treatise on Government John Locke (1689) Principal proponent of the social contract theory which forms the basis for modern constitutional republican government.
[T]he Law of Nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men's actions must . . . be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e., to the will of God. [L]aws human must be made according to the general laws of Nature, and without contradiction to any positive law of Scripture, otherwise they are ill made.
Locke, Two Treatises on Government, Bk II sec 135. (quoting Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, 1.iii, §
A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke (1689) Classic statement of the case for toleration of those holding different views.
Lastly, those are not all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of toleration.
Chas Sherman ed., (NY: Appleton-Century, 1937) pp. 212-13; Works, vol 5, p. 47.
The Reasonableness of Christianity, John Locke.
Regulations at Yale College (1745) Showing the centrality of Calvinism and the Westminster Confession in colonial higher education.
A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, Jonathan Mayhew (1750) About this sermon, John Adams wrote, "It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies... It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament." This sermon has been called the spark which ignited the American Revolution. This illustrates that the Revolution was not only about stamps and taxes but also about religious liberty. Discussion.
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