As the colonists saw their freedom being diminished over time, the unfortunate reality of defense and retaliation began to take form.  The colonies in America had been formed by people who sought a new life across the ocean, away from tribulation and incessant tumult, in particular as regarded the free exercise of their religion.  With the Great Awakening a matter of historical religious significance, and with the increasing demands imposed on colonists by the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767, many felt that the time for declaring their autonomy would not be far off.  To aid them in their quest for nationhood and full independence, many colonists relied upon the Bible and their religious institutions to provide necessary support and validation to justify the cause of Revolution.  By searching the Sacred Scriptures, freedom lovers found inspiration and guidance to initiate a formal separation from a seemingly tyrannical government, and to put liberty as taught during the Great Awakening on the pedestal of the Providence of God.

Importance of the Bible in the Founding of America

For many in colonial America, the Bible was the source of truth, proclaiming the Good News, and demonstrating God’s Providence for men. As such, the Bible was the most accessible book in the colonies, and printing presses were specifically set up to aid in their printing.[1]  While it is true that many individuals owned a Bible (or at least their family owned a Bible), research indicates that most readers did not make specific declarations from the Scriptures on a consistent basis (unless they were called to the ministry), and such referencing was done more by way of phraseology.[2]  For example, in a society that could be argued as biblically literate, there was not a need to explicitly declare the chapter and verse of the biblical concept being referred to.  A further example would be to research the papers and speeches of George Washington.  It has been said that Washington had a Bible and read from it frequently.  During the founding era, it was not practical for Washington to cite chapter and verse when writing letters or giving speeches to his men.  An example would be that Washington often cited the message of Micah 4:4 to reinforce the important work of winning the war and establishing “a New Jerusalem”, without having to explicitly state his biblical source.[3]  Furthermore, the importance of the Bible was also stressed during the War for Independence, especially as regiments were called up for duty or when men were unsure of the godliness of fighting in a war that they may have thought unwinnable.  There was the Reverend John Carmichael who demonstrated the need to fight in a war, and used multiple biblical passages in his sermon such as passages from Matthew and Exodus.[4]  Beyond these instances of verbal and allegorical references, there are also instances of biblical textual references in many papers and documents of the times.  An interesting trend during the founding era was the prolific use of scriptural references to the book of Deuteronomy.  The Founders of America found a friend in the motifs of Deuteronomy which speak about a covenant between God and His chosen people.[5]  This covenantal teaching was then related to the importance of living in a society based on Christian values, and if the colonists did this, they would be victorious against their oppressors – the enforcers of King George III’s regular army.

Declaration and Constitution

There are many examples of the use of the Bible or specific references to biblical themes in the founding of the American nation.  Within the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, it is evident that a certain biblical understanding was held by the masses (hence an earlier assertion that most individuals were biblically literate), and especially by the Founders themselves.  Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence, inserted specific biblical themes within the document of freedom such as respect, equality, and prudence to name a few.[6]  Beyond the Declaration, the U.S. Constitution also has elements of biblical preference within it pages. When reading the historic document, most interested parties will see within the preamble further important truths about man’s dependence upon Almighty God, and His principles for living in society as instructed from Scripture.  During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin who many would describe as a Deist and influenced by Enlightenment principles, spoke these famous words: “I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.”[7]  Surely, Franklin knew his scriptures, and surely he knew that other men in the Convention did as well – else why speak of “the sacred writings” in such a way?


Conclusion

In closing, it is essential to understand that the American Founders had an innate understanding of biblical principles which guided their thinking and actions.  While specific and detailed biblical references were not always cited as they are today in our postmodern society, it must be understood that the citizens in the Revolutionary Era lived in a biblically literate and scripturally open society – one that was not vehemently opposed to the teaching and exhorting of biblical principles as it is today.  Without the Bible as the source for truth and morality, the political structure of a conglomeration of colonies would have never achieved independence to become the United States of America.


Bibliography

 

 

[1] Dreisbach, Daniel L. “The Bible and the Political Culture of the American Founding 1.” In Faith and the Founders of the American Republic, by Hall, Mark David, and Daniel L. Dreisbach, eds., edited by Mark David Hall, and Daniel L. Dreisbach. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dreisbach, Daniel L. “The “Vine and Fig Tree” in George Washington’s Letters: Reflections on a Biblical Motif in the Literature of the American Founding Era.” Anglican and Episcopal History 76, no. 3 (09, 2007): 299-326.

[4] Carmichael, John. A Self-Defensive War Lawful, Proved in a Sermon, Preached at Lancaster, before Captain Ross’s Company of Militia, in the Presbyterian Church on Sabbath Morning, June 4th, 1775.

[5] Connor, George E. “Covenants and Criticism: Deuteronomy and the American Founding.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 32 (2002 Spring// 2002): 4+.

[6] “The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription.” The Charters of Freedom.

[7] “Benjamin Franklin’s Prayer Speech at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.” Online Speech Bank: Benjamin Franklin’s Prayer Speech at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

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