What is "providence?" What did the Signers of the Declaration of Independence mean by this term?
- "Providence" is the opposite of "Deism."
- "Deism" is the view that the creator created the world and then walked away, and never becomes directly involved in altering, or setting aside "natural law."
- "Providence" is the view that God is a loving and personal God who answers prayer by supernaturally intervening in human history to change the "natural" course of events.
America's Founding Fathers believed in "Providence," not "deism."
On this webpage we'll see the following:
Providence in American History
William Bradford wrote about God's "providence" in his "History of Plimouth Plantation," (1620):
And I may not omit here a special work of God's providence. There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the sea-men, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would always be contemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily with grievous execrations, and did not let to tell them, that he hoped to help to cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey's end, and to make merry with what they had; and if he were by any gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly. But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard. Thus his curses light on his own head; and it was an astonishment to all his fellows, for they noted it to be the just hand of
God upon him….
The first Charter of Virginia, granted by King James I (of "King James Version" fame) on April 10, 1606, reads,
III. We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those Parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government; DO, by these our Letters Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires;
Capt. John Smith describes how God "violated" the free will of the indians in his description of the Settlement of Jamestown, 1607:
So to Jamestown with 12 guides Powhatan sent him. That night they quartered in the woods, he still expecting (as he had done all this long time of his imprisonment) every hour to be put to one death or other: for all their feasting. But almighty God (by his divine providence) had mollified the hearts of those stern barbarians with compassion. The next morning betimes they came to the fort, where Smith having used the savages with what kindness he could, he showed Rawhunt, Powhatan's trusty servant, two demi-culverins and a millstone to carry Powhatan:
CAPTAIN EDWARD JOHNSON, who came to Massachusetts Bay in 1630 with Governor Winthrop, and founded the town of Woburn, was a typical Puritan farmer-colonist, pious, brave and fond of recording current events. For twenty-eight years, from 1643 to 1671, he represented the town in the General Court, and served on many important committees.
His history of the settlement of Massachusetts is best known under its sub-title, "The Wonder-working Providence of Zion's Savior," published anonymously in London in 1654. It is valuable as a minute record of civil and ecclesiastical procedure in the Bay Colony, and has been incorporated in the Massachusetts Historical Collection.
In 1669 the commissioners of the New England colonies requested Nathaniel Morton, Secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to compile a history of New England. He called the work which he published at Cambridge, Massachusetts, "New England's Memorial, or a Brief Relation of the Most Remarkable and Memorable Passages of the Providence of God Manifested to the Planters of New England." In that work we have this account of the acts of Roger Williams:
He persisted, and grew more violent in his way, insomuch as he staying at home in his own house, sent a letter, which was delivered and read in the public church assembly, the scope of which was to give them notice, That if the church of Salem would not separate not only from the churches of Old England, but the churches of New England too, he would separate from them: the more prudent and sober part of the church being amazed at his way, could not yield unto him: whereupon he never came to the church assembly more, professing separation from them as antichristian, and not only so, but he withdrew all private religious communion from any that would hold communion with the church there, insomuch as he would not pray nor give thanks at meals with his own wife nor any of his family, because they went to the church assemblies. . . which the prudent
magistrates understanding, and seeing things grow more and more towards a general division and disturbance, after all other means used in vain, they passed a sentence of banishment against him out of the Massachusetts Colony, as against a disturber of the peace, both of the church and commonwealth. After which Mr. Williams sat down in a place called PROVIDENCE, out of the Massachusetts jurisdiction, and was followed by many of the members of the church of Salem, who did zealously adhere to him, and who cried out of the persecution that was against him: some others also resorted to him from other parts.
The Massachusetts "Body of Liberties," the first code of laws established in New England, was compiled by Nathaniel Ward (c. 1578-1652) a leading English Puritan minister, who had been trained as a lawyer. He came to the colony in 1634, and was for a time pastor at Ipswich. The "Liberties" were established by the Massachusetts General Court in December, 1641. Section 4 reads:
4. No man shall be punished for not appearing at or before any Civill Assembly, Court, Councell, Magistrate, or Officer, nor for the omission of any office or service, if he shall be necessarily hindred by any apparent Act or providence of God, which he could neither foresee nor avoid. Provided that this law shall not prejudice any person of his just cost or damage, in any civill action.
The Brief Narrative of John Eliot, missionary to the Indians, can be found in Harvard Classics (1910), Vol.43, p.147 - p.148:
Upon the 17th day of the 6th month, 1670, there was a Meeting at Maktapog near Sandwich in Plimouth-Pattent, to gather a Church among the Indians: There were present six of the Magistrates, and many Elders, (all of them Messengers of the Churches within that Jurisdiction) in whose presence, in a day of Fasting and Prayer, they making confession of the Truth and Grace of Jesus Christ, did in that solemn Assembly enter into Covenant, to walk together in the Faith and Order of the Gospel; and were accepted and declared to be a Church of Jesus Christ. These Indians being of kin to our Massachuset-Indians who first prayed unto God, conversed with them, and received amongst them the light and love of the Truth; they desired me to write to Mr. Leveredge to teach them: He accepted the Motion: and performed the Work with good success; but afterwards he left that
place, and went to Long-Island, and there a godly Brother, named Richard Bourne (who purposed to remove with Mr. Leveredge, but hindered by Divine Providence) undertook the teaching of those Indians, and hath continued in the work with good success to this day; him we ordained Pastor:
In an undated description of Pennsylvania, written by William Penn as a prospectus to attract new settlers, we read:
I bless God, I am fully satisfied with the country and entertainment I get in it; for I find that particular content which hath always attended me, where God in his providence hath made it my place and service to reside. You cannot imagine my station can be at present free of more than ordinary business, and as such, I may say, it is a troublesome work; but the method things are putting in will facilitate the charge, and give an earlier motion to the administration of affairs. However, as it is some men's duty to plow, some to sow, some to water, and some to reap; so it is the wisdom as well as the duty of a man, to yield to the mind of Providence, and cheerfully, as well as carefully, embrace and follow the guidance of it….
General James Edward Oglethorpe, the founder of the Colony of Georgia, was the beneficiary of God's Providence, according to Joel Chandler Harris, in 1733:
Providence favored Oglethorpe in this matter. He had to deal with an Indian chief full of years, wisdom, and experience. This was Tomochichi, who was at the head of the Yamacraws. From this kindly Indian the Georgia Colony received untold benefits. He remained the steadfast friend of the settlers, and used his influence in their behalf in every possible way, and on all occasions. Altho he was a very old man, he was strong and active, and of commanding presence. He possessed remarkable intelligence; and this, added to his experience, made him one of the most remarkable of the Indians whose names have been preserved in history…. Thus, with Oglethorpe to direct it, and with Tomochichi as its friend, the little Georgia Colony was founded, thrived and flourished.
From John Adams' chronicle of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, 1774:
7. Wednesday. Went to Congress again, heard Mr. Duche read prayers; the collect for the day, the 7th of the month, was most admirably adapted, though this was accidental, or rather providential. A prayer which he gave us of his own composition was as pertinent, as affectionate, as sublime, as devout, as I ever heard offered up to Heaven. He filled every bosom present….
George Washington describes his capture of Boston, 1776:
Upon their discovery of the works next morning, great preparations were made for attacking them; but not being ready before afternoon, and the weather getting very tempestuous, much blood was saved, and a very important blow, to one side or the other, was prevented. That this most remarkable interposition of Providence is for some a wise purpose, I have not a doubt.
In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had written:
And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
But Congress amended it to read:
And for the support of this declaration, [with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence,] we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Samuel Adams, from a speech delivered at the State House in Philadelphia, "to a very numerous audience," on August 1, 1776:
There are instances of, I would say, an almost astonishing providence in our favor; our success has staggered our enemies, and almost given faith to infidels; so we may truly say it is not our own arm which has saved us. The hand of Heaven appears to have led us on to be, perhaps, humble instruments and means in the great providential dispensation which is completing. We have fled from the political Sodom; let us not look back lest we perish and become a monument of infamy and derision to the world.
Doctor Albigence Waldo was a surgeon from Connecticut, of Puritan ancestry, who had volunteered his services to General Washington in the Fall of 1777 and remained throughout that memorable winter with the army at Valley Forge. This is perhaps the best account of the heroism displayed in the darkest period of American affairs, before the French alliance assured money, ships and troops in aid of the Revolution. It is part of a daily diary kept by Dr. Waldo during his military service, beginning on December 12, 1777.
Dec. 24th.—Party of the 22d returned. Huts go on slowly—cold and smoke make us fret. But man kind are always fretting, even if they have more than their proportion of the blessings of life. We are never easy—always repining at the Providence of an All wise and Benevolent Being—blaming our country—or faulting our friends. But I don't know of anything that vexes a man's soul more than hot smoke continually blowing into his eyes, and when he attempts to avoid it, is met by a cold and piercing wind….
On September 23, 1780, Benedict Arnold's treasonous plot was exposed.
GENERAL NATHANIEL GREENE'S ADDRESS TO THE ARMY:
TREASON of the blackest dye was yesterday discovered.
General Arnold, who commanded at West Point, lost to every sense of honor, of private and public obligation, was about to deliver up that important post into the hands of the enemy. Such an event must have given the American cause a dangerous, if not a fatal wound; but the treason has been timely discovered, to prevent the fatal misfortune. The providential train of circumstances which led to it affords the most convincing proof that the liberties of America are the object of Divine protection. At the same time that the treason is to be regretted, the general cannot help congratulating the army on the happy discovery.
In November, 1783, General Washington bade his army farewell. The scene which attended Washington's farewell to the rank and file of his army at Rocky Hill, near Princeton, New Jersey, on Sunday, November 2, 1783, was only less affecting than his formal leave-taking with his leading officers at Fraunce's Tavern in New York a month later when Washington said: "With a heart full of love and gratitude I must now take my leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable…. I shall be obliged to you if each will come and take me by the hand." Many of the officers, including Washington, wept audibly.
His much more elaborate address at Princeton, written in the third person, is said to have been prepared by Alexander Hamilton. In tone it is very similar to Washington's splendid letter of June 8, 1783, to the Governors of the States with regard to the necessity of establishing a firm and dignified Federal Government. An excerpt:
A contemplation of the complete attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object, for which we contended against so formidable a power, cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the armies of the United States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.
The following letter, dated Princeton, New Jersey, July 15, 1783, was written by Elias Boudinot, the president of the Continental Congress, to our ministers plenipotentiary, Adams, Franklin and Jay, who were in Paris negotiating the treaty of peace with Great Britain, which concluded the Revolutionary War. It was Boudinot who signed its ratification.
A few days before this letter was written, Congress, being openly defied and menaced by a considerable number of Pennsylvania recruits, who objected to being discharged from the army without pay, had hurriedly adjourned from Philadelphia to Princeton.
The sergeants describe the plan laid by these officers as of the most irrational and diabolical nature, not only against Congress and the council, but also against the city and bank. They were to be joined by straggling parties from different parts of the country, and after executing their horrid purposes were to have gone off with their plunder to the East Indies.
However incredible this may appear, the letters from Sullivan to Colonel Moyland, his commanding officer, from Chester and the capes, clearly show that it was a deep-laid scheme. It appears clearly to me that next to the continued care of Divine Providence, the miscarriage of this plan is owing to the unexpected meeting of Congress on Saturday, and their decided conduct in leaving the city until they could support the Federal government with dignity.
The treaty of peace between Britain and America begins as follows:
DEFINITIVE TREATY OF PEACE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY,
CONCLUDED AT PARIS, SEPTEMBER 3, 1783;
RATIFIED BY CONGRESS, JANUARY 14, 1784;
PROCLAIMED, JANUARY 14, 1784.
IN the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.
It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts—of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg, Arch Treasurer and Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, &c., and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore; and to establish such a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse between the two countries. . . .
Treaty With Great Britain, Harvard Classics (1910), Vol.43, p.185
Madison records Ben Franklin's words in the Constitutional Convention:
In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.
Congress was sitting in New York on April 30, 1789, when Washington took the oath of office as Chief Executive. From his Inaugural Address:
Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to the Almighty Being, who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my
fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And, in the revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with a humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.
These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.
In his Farewell Address, Washington reminded the nation:
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports.—In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. —The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.—A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.—Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.—Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of
peculiar structure—reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.—
Yet Secular Humanists would exclude religion -- and most of American history -- from the schools. Washington continued:
Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.—Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it?—It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a People always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.—Who can doubt that in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature.—Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
Major General Henry Lee gave an eloquent tribute to the "Father of His Country" before the two Houses of Congress on December 26, 1799, twelve days after Washington died at Mount Vernon:
Desperate, indeed, is any attempt on earth to meet correspondingly this dispensation of Heaven; for, while with pious resignation we submit to the will of an all-gracious Providence, we can never cease lamenting, in our finite view of Omnipotent Wisdom, the heart-rending privation for which our nation weeps.
In short, according to the Founding Fathers, the United States of America is one huge, massive, cosmic violation by God of the "free will" of Great Britain.
Calvinism in American History
Providence is the belief that God controls the creation. God is sovereign over all our enemies. God is even sovereign over us. This is the belief that made America great.
To understand the worldview of America's Founding Fathers, we have to go back to the education received by the Founding Fathers. Concerning the Westminster Standards, Richard Gardiner writes:
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 slightly 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.
A restored belief in "Providence" will restore America's greatness.
We have only two choices: belief in the Providence of God, or belief in the sovereignty of man.
The "sovereignty of man" always boils down to the sovereignty of The State.
Belief in Providence is belief in "The Free Market." "Capitalism" is trusting in "The Invisible Hand" of Providence rather than the Visible Fist of Government.
This website consists of hundreds of webpages designed to show that we can have "a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence," and need not have "Swarms of Officers" governing every area of our lives. This website advocates abolishing all these officers, and trusting in Divine Providence.
- From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.