As we continue to look at the influence of the pastors on the development of our government I want to finish an overall view of that influence and how the Christian principles became the foundation of what is today America’s exceptionalism. Though today’s government is a far cry from what it was intended to be, it is still the best in the world.
America’s first constitution came from the leadership of a minister of the gospel, Connecticut’s Reverend Thomas Hooker. His teachings were the foundation for the establishing of Connecticut’s “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut”.1 The establishing of a ‘corporate’ set of laws was not an unusual thing for the Colonies as they were all founded by Bible believing Christians with almost all of them using the Geneva Bible which with its footnotes and commentaries called for this style of government. Cornell University professor Clinton Rossiter wrote concerning these written documents:
The Bible gave a healthy spur to the belief in a written constitution. The Mosaic Code, too, was a higher law that men could live by – and appeal to – against the decrees and whims of ordinary men.2 In 1676 Christian minister William Penn wrote the governing document for West Jersey and stated concerning the type of government that had been established:
We lay a foundation for after ages to understand their liberty . . . that they may not be brought in bondage but by their own consent, for we put the power in the people.3
Penn’s style of government set forth limits on government’s powers:
Legislation was vested in a single assembly elected by all the inhabitants; the elections were to be by secret ballot; the principle of “No taxation without representation” was clearly asserted; freedom of conscience, trial by jury, and immunity from arrest without warrant were guaranteed.4
I could give more examples but the evidence is clear as to the major influence the
Pastors had on the type of governments that were established in the Colonies. This is a comment that Founding Father Noah Webster stated concerning the pastor’s great influence:
The learned clergy . . . had great influence in founding the first genuine republican governments ever formed and which, with all the faults and defects of the men and their laws, were the best republican governments on earth. At this moment, the people of this country are indebted chiefly to their institutions for the rights and privileges which are enjoyed.5
Daniel Webster, the great Defender of the Constitution, reiterated this belief of the role that the pastors played in developing the representative type of government that has made America the greatest nation on earth:
[T]o the free and universal reading of the Bible in that time men were much indebted for right views of civil liberty.6
The Christian ministers of the late 1600’s and early 1700’s were not weak preachers that we see today. They stood their ground under all conditions unrelenting in their fight for justice and resisting encroachments on the civil and religious liberties that they had helped secure.
As an example of their willingness to fight for the rights and liberties that they helped establish an instance arose where the crown appointed Governor Edmund Andros attempted to seize the charters of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, revoke the representative government and force the establishment of the British Anglican Church. Opposition to this attempt to revoke the freedoms and liberties they believed was the God ordained government they were to live by was led by the leaders of the church, the Revs. Samuel Willard, Increase Mather, and especially the Rev. John Wise.7
Reverend Wise was so instrumental in that opposition that he was imprisoned by Governor Andros. Even then he refused to back away from his stand for freedom that, even while imprisoned, in 1710 and 1717 two documents declaring that democracy was God’s ordained government in both church and State.8 These documents gave reason for historians to refer to Reverend Wise as ‘The Father of American Democracy”.9
This was not an isolated incident either. Several times the crown appointed governor refused to recognize the government chosen by the people. Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to recognize the Massachusetts legislature that had been elected by the people and Reverend Dr. Samuel Cooper led the opposition to remove that elected seat of government.10 The Reverend Thomas Harrison and Quaker minister William Edmundson led the opposition when Governor Berkley refused to recognize Virginia’s elected government.11 The attempted removal of the people elected governments in Virginia, New Hampshire and Georgia were all resisted by the ministers that helped establish those governments.
This opposition to the encroachment of Britain on the liberties of the colonies was so intense from American pastors that when the Stamp Act was enacted the front runners in the opposition were all pastors; Reverend Samuel Cooper, Reverend Andrew Eliot, Reverend Jonathan Mayhew, Reverend Charles Chauncey and Reverend George Whitefield.12 Reverend Whitefield even accompanied Benjamin Franklin to England for a meeting with Parliament in protest of the Act.13 When it is studied in detail you will find that the opposition from the ministers was the reason that the colonies resisted the Act. It was written that “clergy fanned the fire of resistance to the Stamp Act into a strong flame.”14
The ministers continued on their stand for the liberties that they believed were given by the Hand of God to mankind. As Britain pressured the Colonies more and more attempting to bring them into submission it was the ministers that began to call for the separation from England. Early historical records show that there was great respect for the clergy of the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Historian Benson Lossing summarized his study of these early pastors:
[T]he Puritan preachers also promulgated the doctrine of civil liberty – that the sovereign was amenable to the tribunal of public opinion and ought to conform in practice to the expressed will of the majority of the people. By degrees their pulpits became the tribunes of the common people; and . . . on all occasions, the Puritan ministers were the bold asserters of that freedom which the American Revolution established.15 (Emphasis added)
The pastors of the Founding era didn’t just preach freedom and liberty, they practiced it. In the first battle of the Revolutionary War the leader of the American patriots was Reverend Jonas Clark who had also trained them to fight.
When Paul Revere set out on his famous midnight ride on the 18th of April 1775 he headed for the home of Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington as this is where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were. When it was revealed that the British were on their way for the main purpose to capture Adams and Hancock the two patriots asked Reverend Clark if his men were ready to fight. Reverend Clark did not hesitate in his answer and replied that he had “trained them for this very hour; they would fight, and, if need be, die too, under the shadow of the house of God.”16
Reverend Clark’s men were called and when that first battle was over, eighteen Americans lay on Lexington Green; seven were dead – all from the Rev. Clark’s church.17 Historian Joel Headly commented on Reverend Clarks sermons: “The teachings of the pulpit of Lexington caused the first blow to be struck for American Independence,”18
When the British returned to Boston from the Battle of Lexington they encountered several different groups of patriots that engaged them in battle. Many, if not most, of the patriots were led by local pastors like Reverend Balch19 and Reverend Phillips Payson20 who, after hearing about the unprovoked attack on Americans, had taken up arms and gathered the members of their churches to meet the British as they returned.
As word of the attack at Lexington spread, many pastors gathered men and arms to ‘greet’ the British on their return trip to Boston. In New Hampshire the Reverend Stephen Farrar led 97 of his congregants to Boston.21 Those joining the forces to resist the British grew mostly through the efforts of the Christian ministers who “were far more effective than army recruiters in rounding up citizen-soldiers.”22
The dedication of the pastors was so great during the Founding era that in one instance a preacher, the Reverend David Grosvenor, left the pulpit, with gun in hand, when he had heard that the Battle of Bunker Hill had started.23 He was joined by Reverend Jonathan French.24
This was a common response from the Founding pastors all through the War. The Reverend Joseph Willard raised two full companies and then led them in battle.25 Reverend Thomas Reed joined the battle to defend Philadelphia against the British General Howe.26 The Reverend Isaac Lewis was a leader in the resistance to the British landing in Norwalk, Connecticut.27 The Reverend William Graham joined the military as a rifleman as to encourage others in his district [parish] to do the same.28 There were some preachers that would fight during the week and then preach on the battlefield on the Sabbath as did Reverend John Craighead. Reverend John Blair Smith, president of Hampden-Sidney College, was captain of a company that rallied to support the retreating Americans after the battle of Cowpens. Rev. William Graham rallied his own neighbors to dispute the passage of Rockfish Gap with Tarleton and his British dragoons.29
Pastors lead in every manner necessary to fight for freedom and liberty. If we had pastors in the pulpits today with this kind of fire in their belly, we could take back all of what government has taken from us in less than a year.
1 John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1898), pp. 127-128.
2 Clinton Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1953), p. 32. See also, J. M. Mathews, The Bible and Civil Government, in a Course of Lectures (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), pp. 67-68.
3 Ernest Sutherland Bates, American Faith (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1940), pp. 186-187.
4 Ernest Sutherland Bates, American Faith (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1940), pp. 186-187.
5 Noah Webster, Letters of Noah Webster, Harry R. Warfel, editor (New York: Library Publishers, 1953, p. 455, letter to David McClure, October 25, 1836.
6 Daniel Webster, Address Delivered at Bunker Hill, June 17, 1843, on the Completion of the Monument (Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1843), p. 31.
7 John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1898), pp. 267-272.
8 John Wise, A Vindication of the Government of New- England Churches (Boston: John Boyles, 1772), p. 45.
9 “Top Ipswich Patriots by Thomas Franklin Waters & Mrs. Eunice Whitney Farley Felten,” Lord Family Album, 1927 (at: http://www.bwlord.com/Ipswich/Waters/TwoPatriots/JohnWise.htm).
10 Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930), s.v. “Samuel Cooper.”
11 John Fiske, Old Virginia and Her Neighbors (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1901), Vol. II, p. 57, and Vol. I, pp. 306, 311.
12 Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1958), p. 90; Stephen Mansfield, Forgotten Founding Father: The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield (Cumberland House, 2001), p. 112.
13 Stephen Mansfield, Forgotten Founding Father: The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield (Cumberland House, 2001), p. 112.
14 Alice M. Baldwin, The Clergy of Connecticut in Revolutionary Days (Yale University Press, 1936), p. 30.
15 Benjamin Lossing, Pictorial Fieldbook of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851), Vol. I, p. 440.
16 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 34. Only source we can locate is Cole’s.
17 J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864), pp. 79-82
18 J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution (New York: Scribner, 1864), p. 82.
19 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
20 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
21 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
22 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
23 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
24 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
25 Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 36.
26 J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864), p. 68.
27 J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864), pp. 71-72.
28 J. T. Headley, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution (New York: Chrarles Scribner, 1864), p. 69.
29 Daniel Dorchester, Christianity in the United States from the First Settlement Down to the Present Time (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1888), p. 265.