WAS THE UNITED STATES ORIGINALLY
A CHRISTIAN NATION?
Russell Creech The Willison Center. 10-18-04
Part 1. The Revolutionary Period, was it Deism, Atheism, or Biblical Christianity ?
There have been many articles as of late which contend that the government of this country was in the main the design of Deists and atheists, in concert with Enlightenment thinking which was popular in certain circles at the time. We are usually given such a view of key individuals in the American Revolution, and the thinking of colonials in general that accommodates this belief, but is it true to the written historical record ?
George Washington seems to be one high profile subject of this characterization, so a concise overview of his activities is in order. Did Christianity play a significant part in his public service? We must recall that Washington was a member of the Church of England, served as a vestryman in Truro Parish, and in this capacity played a key part in the construction of Pohick Church He also maintained a family pew (no. 16) in the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg along with Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, John Marshall and others. (Source: The Rewriting of America's History, Catherine Millard.pp 72. 291). Bruton parish church is active today, and regularly hosts the public in its scheduled events, so you have the opportunity to sit in the same pews which they once owned.
Washington participated in the Lord’s Supper with other churches, which occurred during the winter encampment at Morristown. NJ. 1776- 77, after asking for permission from the Presbyterian minister there. As General, he also issued the order for all officers and soldiers to attend divine services when not engaged on actual duty, the purpose for which he wrote: "To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian." (Source: The Story of New Jersey Vol. II, William Starr Myers. Phd. pp.299). We must note that to hold office in the vestry, and to be admitted to a Presbyterian Lord’s Supper would require a credible public profession of one’s faith as a Christian.
Now as to the idea that a Christian view of life was not a major factor in shaping the thought of the Founders, perhaps we should recall that all the schools of higher learning (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton. etc.) were primarily Seminaries teaching Reformation based theology.
Princeton in particular. played a major role in supplying leaders for the new nation through the able leadership of its president, Dr. John Witherspoon. D.D. (1768-1792). This pre-eminent Scottish minister, second only to Washington for his "presence", was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, participated in more than 100 committees of the Continental Congress, including two of the most important; the committee on Foreign Affairs and the Board of War. After the war, his governmental activities included work on developing the executive branch, forming useful alliances, prominent participation in drawing up instructions to the Peace Commission, and the writing of many important State papers. Frequently, when in Philadelphia on government business, he would wear his cleric’s robes at sessions of Congress, and in addition to this work, preach in area churches. (Source: The Christian History of the American Revolution, Verna M. Hall, pp 572).
Witherspoon's influence extended far beyond himself, as his pupils at Princeton included nine participants of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison included. In total there was one president, one vice president. twenty-one senators, twenty-nine representatives, fifty six state legislators, and thirty-three judges, three of which were appointed to the Supreme Court. Compound this by the number of participants from the other schools, and we find the Christian world view the unifying factor among both the leaders and populace in the contest for Independence.
So, to move on, we find that the Deist / atheist error is not a new one, as in 1818, Jesse Appleton. D.D.. the President of Bowdoin College corrected his hearers in his Election Sermon to the incoming officers of Massachusetts. He states: "Would the happiness of families, would property or life be secure in a nation of Deists ? If Christianity is the most powerful guardian of morals, are you not, as Civilians, bound to give it your support and patronage ?"
Since the evidence presented here (with references) contradicts the Deist/atheist portrayal of the minds of leading colonials, perhaps the words of Rev. J.K. Converse, in his 1833 discourse against the same erroneous ideas circulating in his day should be considered with great attention: "Now it is often asserted in our reviews and newspapers and by some of our politicians that Christianity has no connexion with the law of the land or with our civil and political institutions. The impression itself is not true, as I shall now proceed to show by a reference to the following facts." He then reviews the laws of the New England settlers, and sums them up thusly: "The framers of the constitution of the United States acted upon the same principle, and all our national legislation, (till recently, at least), has been conducted on the ground that Christianity is the established religion of the nation. Now, the great principle derived from a review of our colonial history, from an examination of the constitutions of the several states, and of that of the United States, is this, viz. That the people of this country have retained the Christian religion as the great foundation of their civil, social, and political institutions, while they have refused to bestow a legal preference to any one of its forms over another. (The Historical definition of establishment"). And now, if the pillars of moral and social order which Christianity has furnished, are overthrown, the political edifice must also fall. "And the friends of Christianity, in such an issue, will not suffer alone" * (emphasis added). (Source: pamphlet, sermon, The Relation of Christianity and of the Several Forms of Christianity to the Republican Institutions of the United States, by J.K. Converse, of Burlington. VT., June24, 1883).
Given the present national conditions of discord, divisiveness, chronic poverty, and increasing violence, we are challenged to reread and understand the ideals of the American Revolution. The histories of nations has shown that no other philosophy will provide a benevolent system of government that affords equal protection to the diverse and weakest members of the pluralistic society which we form. If we don’t know and re~apply them, the last line from Rev. Converse may very well sum up out individual futures.
Part 2. Revolutionary Biblical Spirituality.
How did such a concept of life actually manifest itself in Colonial affairs? The following selection is perhaps one of the best windows into the remarkable events of the time, and clearly demonstrate that, to paraphrase Franklin: "God governs in human affairs". The Colonies were slated for destruction and subjugation by England, as can plainly be seen in the selections from:
A DISCOURSE, DELIVERED IN IPSWICH, MASSACHUSETTS, ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1827, BEING THE FIFTY- FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, ON JULY 4th, 1776.
BY JOSEPH DANA, D. D.
ONE OF THE MINISTERS OF SAID IPSWICH.
( Joseph Dana graduated from Harvard, 1760, and received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Harvard (S.T.D.) in 1801. )
" So the mean time, the union of our New England was not a little strengthened1 by the detection of a great number of secret confidential letters, which manifested beyond a doubt what a change of government was intended for us; and how unworthy those were of the confidence of their countrymen who under the guise of friendship, had been concealed advocates for that change; hoping to find their account in it— and whose reputation for wisdom, and integrity, had been a snare to many. "
" But to pass from general observations; In our peace there were great specialties. First, we had escaped greater evils than nations ordinarily at the close of war, realize an escape from. For the object of this war, on the part of the assailants was, at last, nothing short of entire conquest; and the reduction of these States to absolute, unconditional subjection: Say, like the state of Ireland, that conquered country—Do not our hearts tremble, to think what we have escaped? "
What we have missed in most modern views of the events of July 4th, is the terrifying fact dominant in the minds of the Signers was that George III had already prepared for their destruction, by landing at Staten Island thousands of seasoned, and well equipped soldiers as they met in Philadelphia. Princeton President John Witherspoon, as a young man in Scotland was a witness, and then held captive during a military action there. ( The battle of Falkirk, between the Highlanders and royal troops, during the rebellion of 1745-6, Source, Bio Witherspoon http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/witherspoon.htm )
He knew full well what Britain was capable of, and pushed the issue by declaring " we are ripe for revolution, or will rot for the want of it". Thereafter, the severing of governmental ties with Britain became official. And they had no standing army, or navy in any sense at all, to confront the world's dominant military power. By any measure, they were doomed, except for Divine intervention as we see herein.
Well attested, is the Declarations' proposition of " a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence"
The following pages ( 3-13 ) from this discourse are included here to give the reader a greater understanding of the operations of "Divine Providence."
For the full text, see : The Willison Politics and Philosophy Resource Center
http://willisoncenter.com/ Link 12. The Dana Page/ Link 8. 4th of July Discourse.
Note: Bold Face added for emphasis.
Dana's 4th of July Discourse selection begins here:
Deuteronomy iv. 9.
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seem, and lest they depart from thy heart, all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, -and thy sons’ sons.
SO great is the occasion which every fourth of July Anniversary brings to remembrance; so filled with Divine Benignity; so unprecedented in the annals of our country; that one could wish, even now, for a new language to express it, and for unknown strains to celebrate it. For new hearts, we may well wish and pray, if sentiments of purest gratitude are not yet known.
Fifty one years are now past, since that magnanimous Declaration by our patriotic Fathers, which severed the political bands, which had connected us with the parent country: a Declaration made in the sight of their whole armament, recently arrived; a Declaration made at the hazard of life, of liberty, and all that is dear to man.
"0 pass not on—till thou hast bless’d their memory."
Nor let us ever think -ourselves not bound to imitate their virtues; their fortitude in duty. But most of all, bless Him;
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who, after a seven years conflict, established that Independence; and gave to our America this honorable standing among the nations, from whence have been flowing, ever since, security to the rights of man; security to our dearest liberties—legitimate government—liberty with order— unparalleled rapidity of population—unexampled prosperity. Shall we not consider it our incumbent duty to be deeply affected with such favor; not only at the first reception, but in all time after; and to do what in us lies to perpetuate the memory of what the Lord bath done for us?
Shall we then, in the first place, note some of the memorable things which the eyes of our fathers saw, and numbers of us have seen in the course of the revolutionary contest, and in its conclusion. Then bring up the important charge here given.
It is one painful circumstance attending our first proposition, that we cannot trace the goodness of a gracious GOD, without bringing up afresh the unkind maneuvers of man.— May divine mercy preserve us from every unhallowed feeling! It is now profound peace—blessed be our Rock—and let the peace of GOD rule in our hearts! If the parent country were once hard hearted, the Lord forgive them: if they thought evil against us, God meant it unto good.
But it is one of the memorables to be now mentioned, that, when such were the claims of that nation, that to have yielded, would have been relinquishing every idea of property, and laying our natural rights, chartered liberties, every valuable possession, down at her feet; and when that submission was demanded at the point of the bayonet; these states were spirited to united resistance; all animated by one soul in the great cause, notwithstanding such diversities of genius, habits, manners; notwithstanding every local prepossession.
It is a circumstance equally memorable, that this so great and determined union of these states for the defence of their liberties, was so long hidden from their adversaries. They
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ought have read it in every page of our transactions, had not a blindness happened to them. The candid part of that nation saw it early, and warned the rest: but the ruling part, and those whose special duty it was to obtain the best intelligence, must not see it until afterward, It was astonishing to us, to see how long the deception was kept up—that America was not united, America was a rope of sand. It had its effect. If it did not answer the ends of its propagators, it served the great intention of Providence. First, it cherished in the parent kingdom the idea of frightening the states into submission; next, of decaying them by promises, or of crushing them with ease, at all events; and thus it went on, till America, favored by Heaven, had escaped, as a bird out of the snare; and no art of the fowler could retake her. Praise the Lord—the snare was broken, and we escaped
It is another circumstance much to be noted in honor of the Divine over-ruling favor, that, when the contest must come to a decision by horrid War, the commencement of hostilities should be at such a period—no earlier—no later, First, that it was no earlier. Our people, unpractised
in the art of war, must have time to be instructed. And by whom? They were to learn it from the troops of Britain—-and those troops, before the war begins, must be stationed some length of time, in different parts of this continent. In that way, an idea of their discipline must be diffused. Our minds too, must be gradually fitted for the dreadful conflict; by insults—and by contemplation of what was practicable.
On the other hand it was probably a happy circumstance that the crisis was not later. Beside that a lower degree of fear and dread of their enemy, might not have been sufficient to unite these states so firmly as was necessary, and awaken their attention to the necessary means of safety.— Besides This, strenuous endeavours had been used to divide the Colonies, and so to rule them. More were to be
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employed (who knows with what effect.?) had not a particular instance of opposition to insidious designs of the ruling power, precipitated that government into a violent measure, (that of the Boston Port bill) which at once determined every state to make a common cause of it, and take a decided part. Adored be the overruling power!
So the mean time, the union of our New England was not a little strengthened1 by the detection of a great number of secret confidential letters, which manifested beyond a doubt what a change of government was intended for us; and how unworthy those were of the confidence of their countrymen who under the guise of friendship, had been concealed advocates for that change; hoping to find their account in it— and whose reputation for wisdom, and integrity, had been a snare to many.
To go on.. It was wonderful, considering the power we were to contend with, and the many
disadvantages we were under, what courage was given to this people at the very commencement of hostilities. Some kind invisible hand evidently strengthened their hearts; and, with all the fear and trembling, a prevailing persuasion., that Gracious Heaven would not leave us in the power of the oppressor, strangely pervaded all ranks of people. Bless the Lord—a panic at that time would probably have been fatal.
And let us not forget, what admirable good order, this people were influenced to maintain, for such a length time; when no courts of law were held., and we were in many respects without government.
At the same time it is much to be remembered, to the praise of Divine compassion, that our
enemy did not think proper to bring forth all their strength against us, at the first. Unfurnished as we were with necessaries for the war—(not to mention how much time was required to collect a sufficient army, and form it into regular order)— who does not tremble at only looking back on the almost
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entire emptiness of our magazines after the action of Bunker Hill. But so early and striking discovery of spirit in the little handful of Americans, who were engaged in that memorable action, and the serious effects of their exertions, staggered their enemy. And so it pleased Heaven, that nothing further of any consequence was attempted by them, until more than fourteen months after, when they had collected all their force. Supplies in the meantime, such as were most wanted, were sent us in an extraordinary and almost miraculous manner. Who would have thought of a plenty of military store; which were intended for the army of Britain, captured on the Atlantic, by our little privateers and brought into our ports, while the coasts were lined by British ships of war—which is another circumstance worthy of lasting remembrance.
But it is quite time to mention a particular, which these states, I am very sure, have considered with great pleasure, and I believe will never forget. (The Lord enable us to remember it with devout acknowledgments to His great mercy, and give HIM all the praise)—That such a Commander in Chief was raised up for us :—whose great qualities I would not attempt to delineate at large, but am compelled to say—whose abilities in his important station, approved upon all occasions, formed a most striking counterpart to the diffidence with which he accepted it— whose admirable talent of at once commanding, and making happy, every soldier under him—whose respectable dignity, and yet easiness of access, and fatherly attention to the lowest person who had business with him——whose vigilance, consummate prudence, calm, cool temper, and yet enterprisingness, and greatness of spirit, appearing upon all great occasions; have all been so conspicuous—whose impartial treatment of the troops of every line, approved itself to all, and was of no small influence to banish invidious comparisons, and unite them as a band of brothers—whose
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patience in difficulties, great feeling for the lives and comfort of his troops, and generous participation of their hardships, have been of such infinite service to us in difficult times. What more? whose religious respect to sacred things, and whose blameless morals have been such a check upon profanity and licentiousness in the army—who, with all his military power, was never known to encroach on the civil department—who knew how to treat his enemies, and, by the elegant address appearing in all his communications, by his magnanimity, humanity, unspotted honor, and uniform adherence to the line of delicacy, was greatly revered by them, and as much trusted as by ourselves.
While we admire and love his memory, let us bless the GOD who made him such, and preserved him for so great an occasion. What passes for a great general in other countries, would not have been adequate to our necessities.
But in other respects, it is distinguishing favor, and distinguishing honors that ever there was such a character in America. Is it possible that, among the millions who have beheld it with such veneration, there are not large numbers whose ideas of greatness, and of honor, it has done much to improve? And shall not the very name of WASHINGTON correct, more or less, the false taste of modern times? and teach the disciples of Chesterfield how low are their conceptions. 0, if I were near enough to drop a word to the "vain persons" of the age, who would fain be something, and scarcely know what; sensualists, latitudinarians, profane monsters—any thing to figure away and be distinguished—I would say to them, behold this great man’s character, and ask if it was any defect in it, that he did not think himself above religion; that he was neither infidel, nor libertine.
But to return. It would he ingratitude not to acknowledge the goodness of a gracious GOD, in other great characters,
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both in the civil and military departments—Statesmen, whose virtues and abilities have shone conspicuous in that important struggle—Heroic Officers and Soldiers who have honored themselves and their country.—Praise the Lord, who, when he called these States to such a conflict, raised up such numbers of qualified persons to stand foremost in it.
But 0, how worthy of affectionate remembrance are the many signal interpositions of a gracious Providence, to extricate us out of our difficulties! Instance, the wonders on Bunker-hill, before mentioned; the astonishing deliverance of Boston out of the enemy’s hand, which every one seemed to have despaired of seeing recovered, except in ashes.— But the GOD of New England so provided, by planting in the night time, our beloved General, with his artillery, on Dorchester height, that the enemy was glad to leave Boston unharmed, on condition of being unmolested in his retreat.
Can We ever forget our army’s safe retreat from Long Island, after a hard and unequal combat with the enemy; which retreat, it is astonishing that they, when they were so near, did not discover, and defeat, in the first attempt.
Can we remember without trembling, the unpromising, but heaven-protected flight before the enemy? When, after the loss of all our fortresses near New York, our army, reduced by losses, and the expiration of enlistments, to a very small number; when that little band, with their beloved General, the faithful companion of their toils and dangers, was for so many days pursued through Jersey by their enemy then in full force; pursued in vain! for the Lord was their helper!
Add to these the brilliant retreat from Trenton, a few nights after the memorable enterprize upon the Hessians at that post. Can we ever forget that night, when the two armies, our own and that of the enemy, far superior in numbers, both encamped in the same town, on opposite sides of a bridge; (as if it’had been on opposite sides of our Ipswich
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river;) and the British thought sure of their prey, when the morning should arrive. Yet, when the morning opened, our people, with their artillery and baggage, were at twelve miles distance; and had intercepted a British regiment, before the enemy at Trenton had one idea of their having moved a step from thence. Blessed be the Lord, who gave to our beloved Commander such presence of mind at that hour, and inspired him with such invention !
Need I mention the distress at the Northward, and the paleness upon all faces, at the evacuation of Ticonderoga, and the triumphant progress of the British army toward Albany? Who would have thought that such distress and fear would soon be succeeded by the joy of such victory as that at Bennington, that at Saratoga, and the surrender of a whole army there? Glory to the Most High, who in this instance, and in many beside, over ruled the success of our enemy to his greater disappointment in the issue.
Shall I call to mind the deplorable state of affairs at the Southward, when Charleston, after a long and gallant defence by the brave LINCOLN, had surrendered ; and the enemy reigned triumphant in all that region? And, yet, how soon the face of things was changed! and in the issue, all recovered ! Much praise is due to the illustrious GREENE; but who inspired him and the little army under him, to those great actions: and covered them with such glory?
How worthy of lasting remembrance, is the Divine favor, in raising up for us such a powerful ally, in the King of France! And how much is due to heroic and liberal spirits of that nation, for their early friendship to the American cause! Great Britain, in the mean time, could form no alliances; so general was the disposition of Europe to favor our cause, even beyond what the most sanguine had preconceived.
Time would fail me to recount one half of the memorables of a war so distinguished. But let me add, that,
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although we have too often had cause to deplore the failure of public spirit in our countrymen ; yet it is, on the whole, a great wonder, that the spirits of this people were so kept up amidst the embarrassments, and great sufferings to many, from a sinking currency, that deplorable, and yet perhaps, in our case, necessary evil. That our sinking currency did not sink us; that we were so much aided, as well as endangered by it, and at last straggled to the shore—we may well remember with great thankfulness., Our poor bark went to the bottom ; but we, through surprising favor, were safe landed.
But how great, and memorable an event, was the cessation of war, which our beloved country, after so many conflicts, and dangers—at length experienced! In the most general view, how sweet is the return of peace, after an eight years absence! If defending our country by arms, against the invader, is sometimes necessary, and a duty indispensable; still WAR, in its nature, is dreadful. Men and brethren, Christians, in name, and of kindred blood, destroying each other, plundering one another, distressing each other; and striving " which shall do the other the most harm ;"—what a sight is this, for angels to behold !—How long, blessed Savior, before that day shall arrive, when the nations shall learn war no more: when there shall be no invader, none to hurt or destroy? How pleasant have we found it, after so many tearful alarms, as our land has witnessed—to sit quietly, and have none to make us afraid!
Peace is a sweetener of every sweet—a cherisher of industry, arts, learning, every valuable improvement ; friendly to commerce, and, what is more than all, friendly to virtue and piety. Heaven bless it effectually to these ends.
But to pass from general observations; In our peace there were great specialties. First, we had escaped greater evils than nations ordinarily at the close of war, realize an escape from. For the object of this war, on the part of the
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assailants was, at last, nothing short of entire conquest; and the reduction of these States to absolute, unconditional subjection: Say, like the state of Ireland, that conquered country—Do not our hearts tremble, to think what we have escaped?
In the second place, we had much more confirmed to us by treaty, than we contended for, or even dreamed of, at the beginning of the contest. The utmost we then had in view was to be placed on the footing we were upon in 1763; when a King, at three thousand miles distance, had a negative upon all our laws—appointed most of our Governors through the States; in some, a whole train of principal Magistrates and Officers; the British parliament to regulate our trade at pleasure. But such, in the progress of things, was the alternative: we must be independent, or be slaves—We chose the first: and through the smiles of Heaven, this Independence was not barely left to us; but acknowledged ; with this memorable circumstance, that those who had thought to bring us to their feet, confessed themselves compelled to that acknowledgment. Praised be the Lord, by whose favor, our horn was so exalted. We are left to govern ourselves by our own best judgment—Heaven grant us the wisdom for it, and the integrity ! —Add to this, an extent of territory confirmed to us, which exceeds what had been our utmost expectations. What shall we render?
Let us now, as compendiously as is allowable, bring up the memorable charge in the text. "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen; and lest they depart from thy heart, all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons."—The words are still of the same authority, in every case like that which Moses had now in view; and if ever they were justly applicable to a nation since Israel’s time, they are to us.
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It will not be forgotten, that there is one humiliating sentiment implied in this charge; namely, that man is but too capable of forgetting even the greatest wonders of Divine favor. May we then note this with humility; and ever watch and pray, and keep our souls diligently; against so great an evil.
At the same time there is an intimation, that nothing is more clearly due to the Sovereign of the world,—nothing more indispensable, than keeping in grateful remembrance such great instances of his Divine favor. This emphatic force is evidently carried in the word only. (Only take heed to thyself.) As if it had been said, Be this the every thing—in a manner—of thy pious care.
We are likewise reminded, that such great things must be retained, not in our memories alone, but in our hearts; with every pious affection which heart can feel: And that we must never be content with any forms of celebration, which do not include this. Such are the deep-felt remembrances, which we are to carry with us all the days of our lives; and therefore be able to teach them to our children, not only of the first, but of the second generation, (if we shall stay long enough for it,)—and teach them, with the same pious recognition of that GOD, who did such wonders in our day, for us, and for them. We shall, if we feel the subject properly.
Such wonders have a claim to be handed down to remotest posterity. And, if we religiously do our part, distant ages will speak of these wondrous works of the Lord, and the might of his terrible acts.*
All the prayers, which were offered in times of America’s distress, bind us inviolably to this; and if instead of it, there shall he a negligence, an ungrateful forgetfulness—we shall sink wonderfully in a moral view. On the other hand,
* Psalm cxlv.
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maintaining a suitable remembrance of the wonders of our revolution, in which so much of GOD is to be seen, must have a general influence into the state of religion, arid of virtue at large, through the land. 0 that the experiment could be fully made! and made under that same direction, which Moses has here given! "
Section 3. " Christianity is the only religion which the world has yet seen, which renders it at once practicable and safe for a people to be free. " Daniel Dana, Pres, Dartmouth.
Now, let us turn to Dana's explanation to the American view of liberty properly used:
( Election Sermon, Massachusetts, 1837 by Daniel Dana, A.M., pp. 9-13. ( Yale, 1782 ) D. D. (Yale, 1788) and Dartmouth President. )
For the full text, see : The Willison Politics and Philosophy Resource Center
http://willisoncenter.com/ Link 12. The Dana Page/ Link 2. 1837 Dana's Election Sermon.
Note: Bold Face added for emphasis.
The following begins our selection:
"If, in New England, and in these United States, the experiment of liberty has been hitherto more successful, we know the cause. The settlement of New England was a religious settlement. The United States are a Christian nation. Through the length and breadth of our country, are enjoyed, in a greater or less degree, the instructions and ordinances of that gospel which teaches man to govern himself, and thus renders him fit to be trusted with a generous portion of civil and political liberty. Christianity is the only religion which the world has yet seen, which renders it at once practicable and safe for a people to be free. Laying all men prostrate on one common level, as sinners ; proffering to them all a part in one common and great salvation, and summoning them all to one common
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bar of impartial judgment, and eternal retribution, it inculcates a species of universal equality. It teaches, at least, that all secular and civil distinctions are mere trifles, compared with the relation in which every member of the community stands to God, and to eternity. Thus it prepares the way for as equal a participation of rights and privileges, as reason demands, or the case admits. In the mean time, it eminently favors the preservation of liberty. It reminds every member of the community that his civil privileges are a sacred trust, involving a high responsibility, and succeeded by a solemn account. It presents him, in every step of his path; with a holy and all-surrounding Deity. It occupies the mind with great and ennobling thoughts It fills the heart with pure and purifying sentiments. It inspires universal conscientiousness of conduct. It connects time with eternity, and earth with heaven. These are some of the methods in which Christianity tends to restrain the excesses of liberty, and prevent its degenerating to absolute licentiousness.
But Christianity, while it promotes and restrains and perpetuates the liberties of a people, is not less decisively favorable to the energy of government. It reminds the citizens that civil rulers, duly elected or appointed, are ordained by God; and that to
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resist them in the proper exercise of their authority, is to resist the ordinance of God. This, surely, does not invest rulers with omniscience, or infallibility. Still less does it justify or palliate any misuse of their powers. The sacredness of their office renders its prostitution but the more criminal. And it would be at once absurd and impious to suppose that the God of heaven will sanction their acts, when they contravene his own authority. Still, the fact, that in the regular and right exercise of their high functions, they act in the name, and by the authority of God, is a fact of great significance. Conscientious and reflecting men will beware how they oppose such an one in the discharge of his duties; how they vilify his character, or sport with his sensibilities, or mar his just influence. And while they exercise an independent judgement, and a just discrimination, concerning rulers, they will beware of inflicting on their reputations or feelings a wanton injury. The reckless and inhuman severity with which public men are sometimes treated, is in every view unjustifiable. As it regards those who are honestly devoting themselves to the good of the community, it is ungrateful and cruel. And the injury done to the public may be greater still. The direct effect of such severity is to drive from office the best men,
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and fill the places of trust and honor with men of callous and vulgar feelings. On the other hand, the just honor and gratitude which is paid to the upright and meritorious ruler, recoils, with a medicinal effect, on the community. While it soothes the cares of office, and rewards virtuous exertion, it gives a healthful tone to the public morals, and secures to the government the affections of the people.
There is another method in which religion contributes its influence to the energy of government. It forms rulers to the very character which is calculated to command the confidence and veneration of the community. It is true, there are other paths to public honor, than those of virtue and merit. "In the corrupted currents of this world," ambition, selfishness, artifice, may find their way to the very highest places of the state. Still, the world is not yet so bad, but that there is one need which virtue alone can purchase; I mean, the honest esteem and love of the community. And how truly venerable the ruler whose character is formed on the model supplied by the Sacred Volume. Entering on office with diffidence, perhaps with reluctance, he still makes a cheerful consecration of his faculties, his affections and solicitudes to the public good.. Acting as under the eye of God,
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and leaning on his arm; imploring his aid, and anxious only for his approbation, he calmly pursues a plain and straight-forward path. Not the dictates of ambition, or of interest; of party feeling, or state chicanery; not the ever changing opinion of the multitude; but his Maker’s law’; the eternal, unchanging principles of truth and rectitude; these, these are evermore the guides and measures of .his conduct.
Who does not see that rulers of this description are the strength, the riches, the glory of the state? Their characters command universal respect; their measures, universal confidence. They are enthroned in the hearts of the virtuous portion of the community. The influence which they send abroad through society is most precious and salutary. It strengthens and unites the good. It appalls licentiousness and vice. It paralyzes faction. It refines the public sentiment. It elevates the tone of public morals. It dries up a thousand sources of evil, and purifies society to its very fountain. Thus firmness, consistency and energy are secured to the government, and real happiness to the people.
It were easy to prove that Christianity is friendly to the best and wisest legislation, and to the purest administration of justice. "
In closing, ponder what has been said here by those who were the witnesses, and by the record of those who were the architects of our Republic. Be aware, that the shelves of our great libraries contain thousands of works of a similar nature, just see for yourself from the catalogs at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, the Library of Congress, or any number of other private or university collections.
The doctrines we have explored here in this short essay, are the consistent doctrines you will find expounded forcefully from ca. 1620 through about 1900, and if a generation rises, and in a "rage for innovation", rejects them will find: " And now, if the pillars of moral and social order which Christianity has furnished, are overthrown, the political edifice must also fall. And the friends of Christianity, in such an issue, will not suffer alone. No, those evil minded men, who, to gratify their hatred of the truth, would overturn these pillars, will find themselves in the same condition with the Israelitish champion, who, when brought into the house of Dagon to make sport for the festive assembly, ended by pulling it down upon the heads of the guests, and by that act involved himself in the same common ruin."
Source: THE RELATION OFCHRISTIANITY AND OFTHE SEVERAL FORMS OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE REPUBLICAN INSTITUTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES: A SERMON, PREACHED BEFORE THE CHITTENDEN COUNTY CONSOCIATION, IN MILTON, JUNE 24, 1833.
BY J,K, CONVERSE, Pastor of the Calvinistic Congregational Church, Burlington. Vt.
( John Kendrick Converse: Dartmouth Hampden-Sydney Princeton 1833. )
For the full text, see : The Willison Politics and Philosophy Resource Center
http://willisoncenter.com/ Link 2. Main Index / Link 31. 1833 John K. Kendrick.
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