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M. Stanton Evans rightly complained against what he termed “the Liberal History Lesson”, the lie that Americans got our freedom by turning from Christianity.[1] That tale is supported by other fictitious claims, such as that the statesmen who gave us our independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of  Rights were Deists, rationalists, and skeptics who wanted to separate Christianity from politics and establish a “religiously neutral” or secularist political order over these United States.  None of that fits the evidence—when all the evidence is considered.  The pertinent evidence must be summarized,[2] but the evidence from our first states’ constitutions, declarations and/or bills of rights is sufficient to make the case.[3]

Christianity, overwhelmingly Protestant Christianity, was the religious commitment of the people of every state.[4]  Early American education—at all levels including college, in all colonies and areas of the colonies/states—was overwhelmingly Christian: before, during, and long after the “Revolution” and the “Founding Era.”[5]  Christianity was fundamental and dominant in early American law, legal thought, and legal education during and after this time.[6]  Christianity was much more influential on early American political thought than we have been told.[7]  Moreover, the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution created by representatives of the several states and ratified by the respective state legislatures or specially elected state ratification conventions were not Deists, skeptics, rationalists, or secularizers, but were overwhelmingly Christians.[8]

Two states retained their manifestly Christian colonial charters as their state constitutions: Connecticut until 1818, and Rhode Island until 1842.  New Hampshire and South Carolina created their constitutions in 1776, before the colonies’ Declaration of Independence, as temporary expedients in case no accommodation could be reached with England.  Virginia and New Jersey crafted their constitutions before the Declaration too, but as permanent governmental devices.  Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia and New York framed their constitutions, declarations, and bills of rights after the Declaration but completed the process by early 1777.[9]  The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 was the first to be created by a constitutional convention and approved by popular vote.  Thus, says McClellan, it was “the first written constitution resting on a thoroughly republican base, and in this respect set the standard for the Federal and State constitutions that were to follow.”[10]  Though they had important similarities, the states had different histories, religious and ethnic compositions (in religion, overwhelmingly among Christian denominations), social orders, economic interests, and internal politics.  They were thirteen peoples, not one.[11]

The new state constitutions, declarations and/or bills of rights created by the states were clearly Christian, though not flawless, and the people of each state learned from the fundamental laws created by the representatives of the peoples of other states, as well as from their own.  These documents were adaptations of the inherited forms, structures, and principles of the respective colonies’ governments and laws.[12]

Our states’ first fundamental laws featured Christian rhetoric, statements of God’s—and no other god’s—attributes and authority, including His providential, covenantal governance of history, and a Christian view of the Source and rightful content of law.

Concerning civil government, they set forth a covenantal, republican view that civil government must, under God, be based upon the consent of the governed.  Concerning man, the rulers and the ruled, they affirmed that he is created with certain unalienable God-given rights, but rejected notions that man is either “neutral” or naturally good.  They affirmed the unpleasant reality of Original Sin and designed their governments to protect liberty and justice against it.  Because they knew the fallen nature of man, they designed limited republics with written constitutions and bills of rights.  Those republics had both democratic and aristocratic features, designed to protect the majority and the minority against injustices.  They were not egalitarian, and sought to protect property by means of graded property qualifications for government offices.  To protect and promote godly laws and liberty, they had Christian qualifications for public office; in respect for Christians who believe that God forbids men to swear an “oath,” they let them make an “affirmation” instead.  To promote the benefits of education in all mental, practical, and geographical areas of a state, they encouraged the towns, precincts, and voluntary associations to promote Christian instruction.

Due to the states’ colonial heritage, some of them (Virginia, North Carolina, New York) had the Anglican, or Episcopal Church as the legally established church of the state.  In Connecticut and Massachusetts the Congregational Church was the de facto established church.  In South Carolina, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, Protestantism was the quasi-established not church but religion.[13]  In Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, and Rhode Island Christianity was quasi-established.[14]  When the states finally did away with their particular de jure or de facto established or quasi-established church, they were not motivated by rationalism, “neutrality” among all religions, or secularism, but by Christianity, Christian leadership, and a desire for religious liberty within the boundaries of Christian, or Biblical ethics (later including Jews).

Because they knew the fallen nature of man, they created systems of separation of powers with accompanying checks and balances among institutions to protect liberty and justice.  For the same reason, they stated the right of the people to resist tyranny.  And to protect their people against simplistic philosophies of freedom, they reminded them of the biblical connection between Christianity, virtue, and liberty: faith in God, obedience to His commandments, and God’s blessings upon the people of the state.  Such historical realities the “Liberal History Lesson” omits.

Archie P. Jones, Ph.D., Teacher, Librarian, Author of The Gateway to Liberty: The Constitutional Power of the Tenth Amendment

[1] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom; Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1994), 3-21.

[2] Benjamin F. Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, [1864] 2007), provides more than 800 pages of pertinent evidence about Christianity and the states in general.

[3] Morris, 267-292, deals with the state constitutions framed during the “Revolution.”

[4] For extensive evidence on this, see Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, 55-138.

[5] Archie Preston Jones, “Christianity in the Constitution: The Intended Meaning of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Dallas, 1991), 79-144.

[6] Jones, “Christianity in the Constitution,” 145-230.  See also John Eidsmoe, Historical and Theological Foundations of Law, 3 volumes (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Press, Tolle Lege Press, 2011), especially Vol. I, pages 243-468, Vol. II, pages 582-620, 687-960, and all of Volume III.

[7] Since political sermons were often part of public affairs in early America before, during and after the War for Independence, see Ellis Sandoz, ed., Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805 (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1991).  Further evidence of the influence of Christian political thought on early America see Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz, eds., American Political Writing during the Founding Era, 1760-1805 (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1983).

[8] M.E. Bradford, A Worthy Company; Brief Lives of the United States Constitution (Marlborough, New Hampshire: Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1982), and M.E. Bradford, Religion and the Framers: The Biographical Evidence (Marlborough, New Hampshire: Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1991).

[9] James McClellan, Liberty, Order and Justice; An Inrtoduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (Washington, D.C.: Center for Judicial Studies, 1989), 84-86.

[10]McClellan, 87.

[11] Abel P. Upshur, The Federal Government: Its True Nature and Character; Being a Review of Judge [Joseph] Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (New York: Van Evrie, Horton & Co., 1868), Reprinted by St. Thomas Press, Houston, Texas, 1977, provides a 242-page, point-by-point refutation of Story’s unhappily influential work.

[12] On the colonial charters and states’ constitutions see Conrad Henry Moehlman, The American Constitutions and Religion; Religious References in the Charters of the Thirteen Colonies and the Constitutions of the Forty-eight States; A Sourcebook on Church and State in the United States (Berne, Indiana, 1938); Benjamin P. Poore, ed., Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters and Other Organic Laws of the United States, 2 volumes (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, [1877] 1888); and William J. Federer, The Original 13; A Documentary History of Religion in America’s first Thirteen States (St. Louis, Missouri: Amerisearch, Inc., 2014).

[13] That is, Protestants’ religious freedom was protected.

[14] That is, Christians’ religious freedom was protected.

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2 replies
    • Archie P. Jones
      Archie P. Jones says:

      You are more than welcome.
      And it is a good method to read the document for oneself, thinking about its meaning(s), rather than beginning with the assumption that what our textbooks and (all too many) teachers tell us about the document is so.

      Thanks again for your interest in these important, neglected things!

      Reply

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