Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

FIRST NEW ENGLAND HISTORY

October 5th, 2011

We have read about the signing of the Mayflower Compact. One can imagine that it was crowded in that small ship when they gathered with wives and children to watch the 41 men sign the Mayflower Compact. It was a profound moment and a model of self-government and was the beginning of our country as a Christian nation. God and his law were guiding the basic and simple principles in the Compact.

The New England's Memorial_1669 Edition

To get a first-hand history, we are going to rely on a book written by Nathaniel Morton. The book, The New England’s Memorial, along with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation comprise of a comprehensive history of the Plymouth Colony.

From December 1645 until his death, Morton was annually elected Secretary of Plymouth Colony, and most of the colony records are in his handwriting. His careful maintenance of the records enabled him [to] compile New England’s Memorial, considered the first comprehensive history of the colony, published at Cambridge in 1669 – and widely considered the first book of history published in the United States. Much of Memorial was based on the history of the colony written by Morton’s uncle, Gov. Bradford, a manuscript that was lost for many years following the American Revolutionary War, when it was likely appropriated by an English soldier. It later turned up in the library of the Bishop of London in 1855, and was returned to Massachusetts.

Morton also wrote First Beginnings and After Progress of the Church of Christ at Plymouth, in New England. Annually since 1961, The Wall Street Journal publishes an excerpt from Morton’s history of Plymouth Colony as an op-ed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day.

Morton was also the first to record the list of signers of the Mayflower Compact in his work of 1669. The document itself was lost.

Nathaniel Morton was born in England in 1613 and immigrated to Plymouth with his father on the ship Ann in 1623. After his father’s premature death, Nathaniel was taken into the household of his Uncle William Bradford, then governor of Plymouth.

Morton married Lydia Cooper (1615-23 Sep 1673) on 25 Dec 1635. They had nine children: Remember, Mercy, Hannah, Eleazer, Lydia, Nathaniel, a stillborn daughter, Elizabeth and Joanna. After the death of Lydia, Nathaniel married Anne Pritchard (ca. 1624-26 Dec 1691). Remember Morton, daughter of Nathaniel Morton, married Abraham Jackson of Plymouth, another initial proprietor of the colony. Their descendant Lydia Jackson became the second wife of philosopher, poet and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.1

Many scholars consider the Bradford history the better-written volume of the two, and some even classify Morton’s book as an abridgment of his uncle’s work.2

For the early years he drew directly on his uncle’s book, transcribing large portions of it. Until the discovery of the Fulham manuscript, Morton’s book was the best source for Bradford’s text. The part which was concerned with the years following Bradford was written by Morton himself, and is meagre and disappointing, but Johnson and he were long the standard historians for the average New Englander. They may be considered the last of the early group, and in their manner and purposes they looked forward to the second group, men who were either born in America or who arrived after the American ideals were well enough formed to master the newcomers.3

Nathaniel Morton, in his Dedication to the Right Worshipful, Thomas Prince, Esq., Governor of the Jurisdiction of New Plymouth; with The Worshipful, The Magistrates, his assistants in the said government; wrote “N.M. wisheth Peace and Prosperity in this life, and Eternal Happiness in that which to come.” He stated the reason of writing was “…to commemorize to future generations the memorable passages of God’s providence to us and our predecessors in the beginning of this plantation …”4

Morton states the Plymouth colony came about by God’s will; “I have made bold to present your Worships with, and to publish to the world, something of the very first beginnings of the great actions of God in New England, begun at New Plimoth”5 He ties God’s will with the founding of Plymouth and New England; “I should gladly have spoken more particularly of the neighboring united colonies, whose ends and aims in their transplanting of themselves and families, were the same with ours, viz.., the glory of God, the propagation of the gospel, and enlargement of his Majesty’s dominions;” Morton closes his dedication statement by sealing that he not only sees God’s will directing them, but the foundation of Plymouth and other colonies is a ‘City on the Hill’, a divine manifest destiny of our new country; “Your good acceptance whereof, shall ever oblige me to answerable returning of gratitude, and administer to me further cause of thankfulness, that God hath given me an habitation under your just and prudent administrations; and wish for a succession of such as may be skillful to lead our Israel in this their peregrination; and when God shall take you hence, to receive the crown of your labors and travels.”5

Nathaniel Morton addresses the readers as “Christian Reader” and states “Grace and Peace be multiplied; with profit by this following narration.”  The spirit of this world absolutely rejects God. To say that we are a Christian nation nearly stirs up hatred. Yet, we see Nathaniel Morton clearly declaring in his history [for future generations] it was God’s Will.  His letter to the Christian Reader clarifies the godly foundation of our country. This is from the original 1669 book:

Gentle Reader,

I have for some length of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent, especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz. The first beginners of this plantation in New-England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the sacred Scriptures, that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us, we may not hide from our children, shewing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord. Psal. 78. 3, 4. That especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen, may remember his marvellous works (Psal. 105. 5, 6.) in the beginning and progress of the planting of New-England, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this w^ilderness; that he cast out the heathen and planted it; and he also made room for it, and he caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land; so that it hath sent forth it’s boughs to the sea, and it’s branches to the river. Psal. 80. 8, 9. And not only 30, but also that He hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance, (Exod. 15. 13.) in respect of precious gospel-enjoyments. So that we may not only look back to former experiences of God’s goodness to our predecessors,”* (though many years before) and so have our faith strengthened in the mercies of God for our times; that so the Church being one numerical body, might not only even for the time he spake with us in our forefathers, (Hos. 12. 4.) by many gracious manifestations of his glorious attributes, Wisdom, Goodness, and Truth, improved for their good, but also rejoyce in present enjoyments of both outward and spirituall mercies, as fruits of their prayers, tears, travels and labours; that as especially God may have the glory of all, unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed saints that were the main instruments of the beginning of this happy enterprize.

So then, gentle Reader, thou mayest take notice, that the main ends of publishing this small history, IS, that God may have his due praise, his servants the mstrumcnts have their names embalmed, and the present and future ages may have the fruit and benefit of God’s great work in the relation of the first planting of New-England. Which ends, if attained, will be great cause of rcjoycing to the publisher thereof, if Psal. G6. C. God give him life and opportunity to take notice thereof.

The method I have observed, is (as I could) in some measure answerable to the ends aforenamed, in inserting some acknowledgement of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth upon special occasions, with allusion to the Scriptures; and also taking notice of some special instruments, and such main and special particulars as were pej’spicuouslj remarkable, in way of commendation in them, so far as my intelligence would reach; and especially in a faithful commemorizing, and declaration of God’s wonderful works for, by, and to his people, in preparing a place for them by driving out the heathen before them; bringing them through a sea of troubles; preserving and protecting them from, and in those dangers that attended them in their low estate, when they were strangers in the land; and making this howling wilderness a chamber of rest, safety, and pleasantness, whiles the storms of his displeasure have not only tossed, but endangered the overwhelming of great states and kingdoms, and hath now made it to us a fruitful land, sowed it with the seed of man and beast; but especially in giving us so long a peace, together with the Gospel of peace, and so great a freedom in our civil and religious enjoyments; and also in giving us hopes that we may be instruments in his hands, not only of enlarging of our prince’s dominions, but to enlarge the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, in the conversion of the poor blind natives.

And now, courteous Reader, that I may not hold thee too long in the porch, I only crave of thee to read this following discourse with a single eye, and with the same ends as I had in penning it. Let not the smallness of our beginnings, nor weakness of instruments, make the thing seem little, or the work despicable, but on the contrary, let the greater praise be rendered unto God, who hath effected great things by small means. Let not the harshness of my style, prejudice thy taste or appetite to the dish I present thee with. Accept it as freely as I give it. Carp not at what thou dost not approve, but use it as a remembrance of the Lord’s goodness, to engage to true thankfulness and obedience; so it may be a help to thee in thy journey through the wilderness of this world, to that eternal rest which is only to be found in the heavenly Canaan, which is the earnest desire of

Thy Christian friend,

Nathaniel Morton.6

1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Morton

2 IBID, footnote

3 The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I; II. The Historians, 1607-1783, 9. Nathaniel Morton; http://www.bartleby.com/225/0209.html

4 Nathaniel Morton, Epistle Dedicatory, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

5 IBID, p2, 3

6 Nathaniel Morton, Christian Reader, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE FOUNDING OF OUR COUNTRY

September 15th, 2011

Before we continue the history of the Mayflower and the Puritans, let us consider the term “Christian nation.” It originates in the fact that our country was founded by those who believed in God and His sovereign rule over the universe, nations, and humanity.

God’s sovereignty determined our country as a Christian nation. As Creator of the universe, nations and humanity, He administers His grace and mercy over all, believers and non-believers; He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The Old and New Testaments state that He created the nations; “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” (Genesis 17:6) and “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live” (Acts 17:26).

God’s promise to Abram, “In you all families of the earth will be blessed,” (Genesis 12:1-2; 17:6), was a promise to the world. The promise embraced land, family, social order, government and blessing. The specific reference to “all nations will be blessed” is a pronouncement of future destiny and goodness. More specifically, God’s blessing brings freedom, peace, joy, and prosperity (both spiritually and materially) to people and a nation. A great example of how God blesses a nation was during the reign of the Pharaohs (Genesis 41) in Egypt. A young Israelite, Joseph (read Genesis 39:3, 5), ends up in Egypt and rises to power as Administrator over the entire country. An interpretation of a dream predicted a seven-year famine. He set his hand to prepare for it and as a result saved Egypt and its people. “You have saved our lives,” they said (Genesis 47:25). What is amazing about God’s blessings on this nation was the Egyptian people did not worship or follow God, but were believers in false gods! 1

How did God’s sovereignty lead to America? Norseman reached Iceland in 874 and Greenland a century later. Leif Erickson, around the year 1,000, established a short-lived colony in Vinland (Newfoundland). There is speculation he may have reached the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, but there is no documentation or proof of this. During a stay in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity.2 Interestingly, his visit or visits had no influence on North America other than possibly being the first to discover it.

Christopher Columbus

The next and more important event was Christopher Columbus.  He made four voyages between 1492 and 1504. Columbus was “earnestly desirous of taking Christianity to heathen lands.”3   He declared his purpose was to be led by the Holy Spirit and The Word of God was his foundation, he said. God sent him as a forerunner to prepare the way for those who were to possess the land. He wrote; “No one should be afraid to take on any enterprise in the name of our Savior if it is right and the purpose is purely for His holy service.” (Fols. 4-6 of Book of Prophecies by Christopher Columbus).4   He landed in the Bahamas and then Cuba. Over the course of three more voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming them for the Spanish Empire.

Columbus’ voyages led to the first lasting European contact with America and inaugurated a period of European exploration and colonization of foreign lands that lasted for several centuries and had, therefore, an enormous impact in the historical development of the modern Western world.5 Columbus himself saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion.

What is evident is how God led the discovery of our country. Columbus had opened up the trail for others to follow and Christianity came throughout the settled areas and eventually in the western and southern regions of the United States. Spain, France and England moved to establish their presence from South America to North America and from Canada to Mexico. Even though Christianity came to parts of what was to be our country, it was the English and Puritans that led to establishing our government as a Christian nation. This brings us back to the Mayflower.

Pastor John Robinson’s letter7 to the passengers of the Mayflower spoke clearly about living in peace with all men, living godly lives, and work for the good of all and to establish a civil government promoting the common good based on God’s ordinance for your good. These are Christian principles as taught by God and recorded in the Old and New Testaments of the bible. His instructions reflected their belief in God’s sovereignty and determination of the nations. In other words, he was encouraging those coming to America to obey God, and apply God’s principles in their lives and in establishing a government. He wrote in the conviction that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). His letter was prophetic.

The Mayflower voyage was to settle in Virginia: Before the Pilgrims sailed, they were granted a charter that authorized them to start a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony.”7The

Mayflower

Mayflower never got to Virginia: “However, since they were in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, the charter was no longer considered valid, and leaders worried about a possible mutiny. The Mayflower Document was originally drawn up to be an interim governing document between charters. The Pilgrims eventually requested a new charter, and in 1621, they were granted the Second Peirce Patent. However, the Mayflower Compact remained in effect until 1691.”8

It was clearly an Act of God that the Mayflower never reached the intended destination. Instead, they reached Massachusetts where they settled.  Prior to departing from the Mayflower, the original Charter no longer applied and another Charter (Mayflower Compact)was formed. 9 It was this simple Compact and the lives of the Puritans that led to the foundation of our country as a Christian nation. What is even more interesting is that earlier Christian settlements by the Spanish and French that came out of Christopher Columbus’ voyages did not play a role in the formation of our nation. Most of that land remained under foreign control until the Louisiana Purchase, which took place in 1803.10  What did occur was the Christian influence through all these settlements that added to the transformation of our nation.

1 Sarita D. Gallagher and Steven C. Hawthorne, Blessings as Transformation, Mission Frontiers magazine, September-October 2011, p 10-14

2 Leif Eriksson, Encarta Encyclopedia, Archived 2009-10-31

3 Esmond Wright, The Search for Liberty: From Origins to Independence (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) 5

4 http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=196

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus

6Scholastic Teacher – Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) Teaching Resources, Children’s Book Recommendations, and Student Activities. Milton Meltzer. Author, Columbus and the World Around Him

7 The Mayflower Farewell Letter, ACHG Blog, http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=632 (September 8, 2011)

8 The Mayflower Compact, ACHG Blog, http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91 (January 19, 2010)

9 IBID.

10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase

THE MAYFLOWER FAREWELL LETTER

September 8th, 2011

A pastoral farewell letter to those sailing on the first Mayflower trip to America reveals how God’s Sovereignty directed the founding of America, its government and social order.

Stone carving of the Mayflower, Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle, England

The reason for the Mayflower voyage and its small band of Pilgrims is so profound in its meaning that most of us are unaware of how the decisions that were made and the actions taken have chartered a course making the United States of America a Christian nation. Although our economy is in economic distress (as of this writing) and the secularization of our nation is increasing, it is the very founding principles of our country and dependence on God that may keep and deliver us.

Knowing our American Christian heritage is more critical today than ever before. This history reveals God’s Sovereignty and how He guides His people. Charles B. Galloway (1898) points out, as quoted in Christianity and the American Commonwealth, that God’s plan is the salvation of individuals  and to determine the character of our civil institutions and the course of our social progress.1

England was a country of religious intolerance in the early 17th century. Ministers of the gospel were silenced, imprisoned, or exiled2. The Pilgrims were reformers and made efforts to reform the Church of practices that did not conform to the scriptures. They were tolerated at first, but later, and under King James, they were persecuted. This led to separating themselves from the Church and organizing their own congregations. One group, led by Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, and William Brewster, made a decision to flee England and go to Holland, where religious freedom was permitted. Soon after the congregation settled in Leyden, John Robinson was publicly ordained as their new minister. Other English Separatists had already settled in Holland.3 The decision to relocate was made early in 1619, when Deacon John Carver and Robert Cushman, who had business experience, were sent to London to negotiate with the London Company. They carried with them articles of belief, written by Robinson and Brewster, as evidence of their loyalty and orthodoxy.

Only a minority of the congregation (thirty-five members), under William Bradford, sailed on the Mayflower from England to America. They were joined by sixty-six people from Southampton and London who had little or no religious motivation. The majority of the congregation remained in Leyden, and planned to make the voyage at a later date. John Robinson agreed in advance to go with the group that was in the majority, but did not make the great historic trip. Before Brewster and his group left Holland, a solemn service was held, at which Robinson chose Ezra 8:21 as his text:

“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”4

Pastor John Robinson wrote a farewell letter to the passengers of the Mayflower. It was read before departure. This letter set the tone of godly character and addressed the establishment of government. Here is his letter:

“Loving Christian friends, I do heartily and in the Lord salute you all, as being they with whom I am present in my best affection, and most earnest longings after you, though I be constrained for a while to be bodily absent from you. I say constrained, God knowing how willingly, and much rather than otherwise, I would have born my part with you in this first brunt, were I not by strong necessity held back for the present. Make account of me in the mean while, as of a man divided in myself with great pain, and as (natural bonds set aside) having my better part with you. And though I doubt not but in your godly wisdoms, you both foresee and resolve upon that which concerns your present state and condition, both severally and jointly, yet have I thought it but my duty to add some further spur of provocation unto them, who run already, if not because you need it, yet because I owe it in love and duty. And first, as we are daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses, so doth the Lord call us in a singular manner upon occasions of such difficulty and danger as lies upon you, to a both more narrow search and careful reformation of your ways in his sight; least he, calling to remembrance our sins forgotten by us or unrepented of, take advantage against us, and in judgment leave us for the same to be swallowed up in one danger or other; whereas, on the contrary, sin being taken away by earnest repentance and the pardon thereof from the Lord sealed up unto a mans conscience by his spirit, great shall be his security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses, with happy deliverance from all evil, whether in life or in death.

Now next after this heavenly peace with God and our own consciences, we are carefully to provide for peace with all men what in us lies, especially with our associates, and for that watchfulness must be had, that we neither at all in our selves do give, no nor easily take offense being given by others. Woe be unto the world for offenses, for though it be necessary (considering the malice of Satan and man’s corruption) that offenses come, yet woe unto the man or woman either by whom the offense cometh, says Christ (Matt. 18:7). And if offenses in the unseasonable use of things in themselves indifferent, be more to be feared than death itself, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 9:15), how much more in things simply evil, in which neither honor of God nor love of man is thought worthy to be regarded. Neither yet is it sufficient that we keep ourselves by the grace of God from giving offense, except with all we be armed against the taking of them when they be given by others. For how imperfect and lame is the work of grace in that person, who wants charity to cover a multitude of offenses, as the scriptures speak. Neither are you to be exhorted to this grace only upon the common grounds of Christianity, which are, that persons ready to take offense, either want charity, to cover offenses, or wisdom duly to weigh humane frailty; or lastly, are gross, though close hypocrites, as Christ our Lord teaches (Matt. 7:1-3), as indeed in my own experience, few or none have been found which sooner give offense, then such as easily take it; neither have they ever proved sound and profitable members in societies, which have nourished this touchy humor. But besides these, there are diverse motives provoking you above others to great care and conscience this way: As first, you are many of you strangers, as to the persons, so to the infirmities one of another, and so stand in need of more watchfulness this way, least when such things fall out in men and women as you suspected not, you be inordinately affected with them; which does require at your hands much wisdom and charity for the covering and preventing of incident offenses that way. And lastly, your intended course of civil community will minister continual occasion of offense, and will be as fuel for that fire, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance. And if taking of offense causelessly or easily at men’s doings be so carefully to be avoided, how much more heed is to be taken that we take not offense at God himself, which yet we certainly do so often as we do murmur at his providence in our crosses, or bear impatiently such afflictions as wherewith he pleases to visit us. Store up therefore patience against the evil day, without which we take offense at the Lord himself in his holy and just works.

Another thing there is carefully to be provided for, to wit, that with your common employments you join common affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding as a deadly plague of your both common and special comfort all retiredness of mind for proper advantage, and all singularly affected any manner of way; let every man repress in himself and the whole body in each person, as so many rebels against the common good, all private respects of men’s selves, not sorting with the general convenience. And as men are careful not to have a new house shaken with any violence before it be well settled and the parts firmly knit, so be you, I beseech you, brethren, much more careful, that the house of God which you are, and are to be, be not shaken with unnecessary novelties or other oppositions at the first settling thereof.

Lastly, whereas you are become a body politic, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminence above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in their lawful administrations; not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinance for your good, not being like the foolish multitude who more honor the gay coat, than either the virtuous mind of the man, or glorious ordinance of the Lord. But you know better things, and that the image of the Lord’s power and authority which the magistrate bears, is honorable, in howsoever mean persons. And this duty you both may the more willingly and ought the more conscionably to perform, because you are at least for the present to have only them for your ordinary governors, which yourselves shall make choice of for that work.

Sundry other things of importance I could put you in mind of, and of those before mentioned, in more words, but I will not so far wrong your godly minds as to think you heedless of these things, there being also diverse among you so well able to admonish both themselves and others of what concerns them. These few things therefore, and the same in few words, I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that he who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of waters, and whose providence is over all his works, especially over all his dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in your ways, as inwardly by his Spirit, so outwardly by the hand of his power, as that both you and we also, for and with you, may have after matter of praising his name all the days of your and our lives. Fare you well in him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest.

An unfeigned well-willer of your happy success in this hopeful voyage,

JOHN ROBINSON.”5

Pastor Robinson emphasizes that they must live in godliness. He concludes the letter (second to last paragraph) by clearly giving instruction to forming a political body.  Again, he encourages the character of the government must also be based on godliness.

In the next blog we will re-visit the Mayflower trip and how God’s providence freed the passengers from their original charter.

1 Charles B. Galloway, Christianity and the American Commonwealth, p3 (American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, Georgia, © 2005, All rights reserved)

2 Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, p53 (2nd ed. American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, GA 30127, © 1993,1995, All rights reserved)

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robinson_%28pastor%29#Leaving_the_established_church

4 Ibid.

5 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1526201/posts

ENDNOTE:

Reread the original blog on the Mayflower Compact here:

http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91

GOD WHO GAVE US LIFE GAVE US LIBERTY

March 21st, 2010

If you take a trip to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., you will see panels inscribed with quotes by Jefferson. These are things that he wrote, and now are literally shouted from the rooftops at this memorial.

Jefferson Memorial

One panel reads in part:

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.

It comes from two different writings by Jefferson, and you can find the original quotes below. But in both works, he makes it clear that he believed our liberty comes from God. He isn’t even particularly talking about religion. He’s discussing slavery, commerce and taxing and regulations. But God was such a part of how Jefferson saw life, it affected his worldview immensely and that naturally flowed into his understanding of other matters of life such as commerce.

Note these things from this panel of quotes:
• God gave us life
• God gave us liberty
• Can a nation expect to keep liberties if the only firm thing they are based on—that these liberties are the gift of God—is taken away?
• Jefferson knows God is just and that there will be a judgment—and that made him tremble
• Implicit in that thought is the idea that we may draw God’s wrath if these liberties—given as a great gift and blessing by God—are misused, changed, infringed, defied, abused, broken, damaged, despoiled, ruined, encroached upon or not respected—That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?
• In fact, that is what Jefferson actually originally said in that phrase on the panel, which shortened the quote. He said, “can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . .

It is no wonder that when Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, that a part of it included that we were given certain rights by our Creator.

____________________________________________
End Notes:
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; the official website of Jefferson’s home, museum, library and archives. http://www.monticello.org/reports/quotes/memorial.html

The two original Jefferson quotes in their entirety:
“For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . .”
— Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia

“But let them [members of the parliament of Great Britain] not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, or to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”
–Thomas Jefferson, in A Summary View of the Rights of British America

OUR JUDEO-CHRISTIAN NATION

March 9th, 2010

Congressman Randy Forbes, R-VA

A few days ago an important speech and declaration was made before Congress concerning the Christian roots of the United States of America. We have reprinted it below and a video link  of the speech. It is good for us to know that there are people working today to acknowledge and bring our Christian roots to the forefront of our nation.

The speech and declaration was made by Congressman Randy Forbes, Republican, representing the Fourth District of Virginia. Placed prominently on the wall of Congressman Randy Forbes’ Washington office is a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence surrounded by portraits of the fifty-six founding fathers who signed the document asserting our nation’s freedom. He is working to protect our Christian heritage.  Congressman Randy Forbes founded and chairs the Congressional Prayer Caucus and has led this group of bipartisan Members in national efforts to protect prayer and our nation’s spiritual history.

Congressman Randy Forbes attends Great Bridge Baptist Church, where he has taught adult Sunday school for over 20 years. He was born and raised in Chesapeake, Virginia where he still resides with his wife Shirley. He and Shirley have been married since 1978 and have four children: Neil, Jamie, Jordan, and Justin.

Forbes (R-VA)
May 6, 2009, 4:20 PM – 4:24 PM U.S. House of Representatives

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, on April 6th of this year, the President of the United States traveled halfway around the globe, and in the nation of Turkey, essentially proclaimed that the United States was not a Judeo- Christian nation.

I don’t challenge his right to do that or dispute the fact that it is what he believes, but I wish he had asked and answered two questions when he did that. The first question was whether or not we ever considered ourselves a Judeo-Christian nation, and the second one was, if we did, what was the moment in time where we ceased to be so? If asked the first question, Mr. Speaker, you would find that the very first act of the first congress in the United States was to bring in a minister and have congress led in prayer, and afterwards read four chapters out of the bible. A few years later, when we unanimously declared our independence, we made certain that the rights in there were given to us by our creator. When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, it ended the revolutionary war and birthed this nation. The signers of that document made clear that it began with this phrase, “in the name of the most holy and undivided trinity.”

When our constitution was signed, the signers made sure that they punctuated the end of it by saying, “in the year of our lord, 1787”, and 100 years later in the supreme court case of Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, the Supreme Court indicated, after recounting the long history of faith in this country, that we were a Christian nation. President George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all disagreed with the President’s comments, and indicated how the bible and Judeo-Christian principles were so important to this nation. Franklin Roosevelt even led this nation in a six-minute prayer before the invasion of perhaps the greatest battle in history, in the Invasion of Normandy, and asked for God’s protection. After that war, congress came together and said, “Where are we going to put our trust?” It wasn’t in our weapons systems, or our economy, or our great decisions here. It was in God we trust, which is emboldened directly behind you. So, if in fact we were a nation that was birthed on those Judeo-Christian principles, what was that moment in time when we ceased to so be?

It wasn’t when a small group of people succeeded in taking prayer out of our schools, or when they tried to cover up the word referencing God on the Washington Monument. Or, when they tried to stop our veterans from having flag-folding ceremonies at their funerals on a voluntary basis because they mentioned God, or even when they tried in the new visitor’s center to change the national motto, and to refuse to put “in God we trust” in there. No, Mr. Speaker, it wasn’t any of those times because they can rip that word off of all of our buildings and still those Judeo-Christian principles are so interwoven in a tapestry of freedom and liberty, that to begin to unravel one is to unravel the other.

That’s why we have filed the Spiritual Heritage Resolution, to help reaffirm that great history of faith that we have in this nation and to say to those individual’s who have yielded to the temptation of concluding that we are no longer a Judeo-Christian nation, to come back. To come back and look at those great principles that birthed this nation, and sustain us today. We believe if they do, they will conclude as President Eisenhower did and later Gerald Ford repeated, that “without God, there could be no American form of government. Nor, an American way of life.” Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic expression of Americanism. Thus the founding fathers of America sought and thus with God’s help, it will continue to be.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back.

To watch Congressman Forbes deliver this speech, go here:  http://goo.gl/Zboh

Visit his web site at: http://forbes.house.gov/

FOUNDING FATHER’S BELIEVED FREEDOM IS FROM GOD

March 8th, 2010

FOUNDING FATHER’S BELIEVED FREEDOM IS FROM GOD

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence from

Thomas Jefferson

England, believed that:

  • All men are equal because God made them that way
  • He personally gave them certain rights of freedom that Americans enjoy today
  • These people God made, to whom He gifted these certain rights, are the ones who give their agreement for Government to govern righteously
  • Therefore, a just Government gets its power to govern righteously from the agreement of people whom God made and bestowed certain rights.

In other words, God gave us our freedom and by our consent we give righteous government its power to govern. President Jefferson believed this so strongly, that he made it the cornerstone of our country’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. A large number of Founding Fathers signaled their agreement that our rights flow from God by signing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson thought it apparent to all of them that God made people equal and gave them the right to life, liberty and to pursue success and fulfillment.

Here is what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Today, if you visit the Jefferson Memorial, you will see this inscribed on Panel One. These and other direct quotes from Jefferson are engraved on it, as a permanent record to all history that he believed men were free because of God.

_________
End Notes:
http://www.monticello.org/reports/quotes/memorial.html

WILLIAM PENN _ FOUNDER OF PENNSYLVANIA – PART 2

March 4th, 2010

Penn became convinced that religious toleration couldn’t be achieved in

William Penn in later years

England. He went to the King and asked for a charter enabling him to establish an American colony. Perhaps the idea seemed like an easy way to get rid of troublesome Quakers. On March 4, 1681, Charles II signed a charter for territory west of the Delaware River and north of Maryland, approximately the present size of Pennsylvania, where about a thousand Germans, Dutch and Indians lived without any particular government. The King proposed the name “Pennsylvania” which meant “Forests of Penn”–honoring Penn’s late father, the Admiral. Penn would be proprietor, owning all the land, accountable directly to the King. According to traditional accounts, Penn agreed to cancel the debt of £16,000 which the government owed the Admiral for back pay, but there aren’t any documents about such a deal. At the beginning of each year, Penn had to give the King two beaver skins and a fifth of any gold and silver mined within the territory.
Penn sailed to America on the ship Welcome and arrived November 8, 1682. With assembled Friends, he founded Philadelphia–he chose the name, which means “city of brotherly love” in Greek. He approved the site between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. He envisioned a 10,000 acre city, but his more sober-minded Friends thought that was overly optimistic. They accepted a 1,200-acre plan. Penn named major streets including Broad, Chestnut, Pine, and Spruce.

Penn was most concerned about developing a legal basis for a free society. In his First Frame of Government, which Penn and initial land purchasers had adopted on April 25, 1682, he expressed ideals anticipating the Declaration of Independence: “Men being born with a title to perfect freedom and uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature … no one can be put out of his estate and subjected to the political view of another, without his consent.”

Penn provided that there would be a governor–initially, himself–whose powers were limited. He would work with a Council (72 members) which proposed legislation and a General Assembly (up to 500 members) which either approved or defeated it. Each year, about a third of members would be elected for three-year terms. As governor, Penn would retain a veto over proposed legislation.

His First Frame of Government provided for secure private property, virtually unlimited free enterprise, a free press, trial by jury and, of course, religious toleration. Whereas the English penal code specified the death penalty for some 200 offenses, Penn reserved it for just two–murder and treason. As a Quaker, Penn encouraged women to get an education and speak out as men did. He called Pennsylvania his “Holy Experiment.”

Penn insisted on low taxes. A 1683 law established a low tax on cider and liquor, a low tariff on imports and on exported hides and furs. To help promote settlement, Penn suspended all taxes for a year. When the time came to re-impose taxes he encountered fierce resistance and had to put it off.

Penn’s First Frame of Government was the first constitution to provide for peaceful change through amendments. A proposed amendment required the consent of the governor and 85 percent of the elected representatives. Benevolent though Penn was, people in Pennsylvania were disgruntled about his executive power as proprietor and governor. People pressed to make the limitations more specific and to provide stronger assurances about the prerogatives of the legislature. The constitution was amended several times. The version adopted on October 28, 1701 endured for three-quarters of a century and then became the basis for Pennsylvania’s state constitution, adopted in 1776.

Collecting rent due Penn as proprietor was always a headache. He never earned enough from the colonies to offset the costs of administration which he paid out of his personal capital. Toward the end of his life, he complained that Pennsylvania was a net loss, costing him some £30,000.

Penn achieved peaceful relations with the Indians–Susquehannocks, Shawnees, and Leni-Lenape. Indians respected his courage, because he ventured among them without guards or personal weapons. He was a superior sprinter who could out-run Indian braves, and this helped win him respect. He took the trouble to learn Indian dialects, so he could conduct negotiations without interpreters. From the very beginning, he acquired Indian land through peaceful, voluntary exchange. Reportedly, Penn concluded a “Great Treaty” with the Indians at Shackamaxon, near what is now the Kensington district of Philadelphia. Voltaire hailed this as “the only treaty between those people [Indians and Christians] that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed.” His peaceful policies prevailed for about 70 years, which has to be some kind of record in American history.

Defending Pennsylvania

Penn faced tough challenges defending Pennsylvania back in England. There was a lot at stake, because Pennsylvania had become the best hope for persecuted people in England, France, and Germany. Charles II tried to establish an intolerant absolutism modeled after that of the French King Louis XIV. Concerned that Pennsylvania’s charter might be revoked, Penn turned on his diplomatic charm.
Behind the scenes, Penn worked as a remarkable diplomat for religious toleration. Every day, as many as 200 petitioners waited outside Holland House, his London lodgings, hoping for an audience and help. He intervened personally with the King to save scores of Quakers from a death sentence. He got Society of Friends founder George Fox out of jail. He helped convince the King to proclaim the Acts of Indulgence which released more than a thousand Quakers–many had been imprisoned for over a dozen years.

Penn’s fortunes collapsed after a son was born to James II in 1688. A Catholic succession was assured. The English rebelled and welcomed the Dutch King William of Orange as William III, who overthrew the Stuarts without having to fire a shot. Suddenly, Penn’s Stuart connections were a terrible liability. He was arrested for treason. The government seized his estates. Though he was cleared by November 1690, he was marked as a traitor again. He became a fugitive for four years, hiding amidst London’s squalid slums. His friend John Locke helped restore his good name in time to see his wife, Guli, die on February 23, 1694. She was 48.

Harsh experience had taken its toll on Penn. As biographer Hans Fantel put it, “he was getting sallow and paunchy. The years of hiding, with their enforced inactivity, had robbed him of his former physical strength and grace. His stance was now slightly bent, and his enduring grief over the death of Guli had cast an air of listless abstraction over his face. “ His spirits revived two years later when he married 30-year-old Hannah Callowhill, the plain and practical daughter of a Bristol linen draper.

But he faced serious problems because of his sloppy business practices. Apparently, he couldn’t be bothered with administrative details, and his business manager, fellow Quaker Philip Ford, embezzled substantial sums from Penn’s estates. Worse, Penn signed papers without reading them . One of the papers turned out to be a deed transferring Pennsylvania to Ford who demanded rent exceeding Penn’s ability to pay. After Ford’s death in 1702, his wife, Bridget, had Penn thrown in debtor’s prison, but her cruelty backfired. It was unthinkable to have such a person govern a major colony, and in 1708 the Lord Chancellor ruled that “the equity of redemption still remained in William Penn and his heirs.”

In October 1712, Penn suffered a stroke while writing a letter about the future of Pennsylvania. Four months later, he suffered a second stroke.

While he had difficulty speaking and writing, he spent time catching up with his children whom he had missed during his missionary travels. He died on July 30, 1718. He was buried at Jordans, next to Guli.

Long before his death, Pennsylvania ceased to be a spiritual place dominated by Quakers. Penn’s policy of religious toleration and peace–no military conscription–attracted all kinds of war-weary European immigrants. There were English, Irish, and Germans, Catholics, Jews, and an assortment of Protestant sects including Dunkers, Huguenots, Lutherans, Mennonites, Moravians, Pietists, and Schwenkfelders. Liberty brought so many immigrants that by the American Revolution Pennsylvania had grown to some 300,000 people and became one of the largest colonies. Pennsylvania was America’s first great melting pot.

Philadelphia was America’s largest city with almost 18,000 people. It was a major commercial center–sometimes more than a hundred trading ships anchored there during a single day. People in Philadelphia could enjoy any of the goods available in England. Merchant companies, shipyards, and banks flourished. Philadelphia thrived as an entrepôt between Europe and the American frontier.

With an atmosphere of liberty, Philadelphia emerged as an intellectual center. Between 1740 and 1776, Philadelphia presses issued an estimated 11,000 works including pamphlets, almanacs, and books. In 1776, there were seven newspapers reflecting a wide range of opinions. No wonder Penn’s “city of brotherly love” became the most sacred site for American liberty, where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and delegates drafted the Constitution.

By creating Pennsylvania, Penn set an enormously important example for liberty. He showed that people who are courageous enough, persistent enough, and resourceful enough can live free. He went beyond the natural right theories of his friend John Locke and showed how a free society would actually work. He showed how individuals of different races and religions can live together peacefully when they mind their own business. He affirmed the resilient optimism of free people.

Source: http://www.ushistory.org/penn/bio.htm; Independence Hall Association, Philadelphia, PA., edited.

WILLIAM PENN – FOUNDER OF PENNSYLVANIA

March 3rd, 2010

Portrait of Young William Penn in Armor, date and artist unknown; Atwater-Kent Museum

William Penn (October 14, 1644–July 30, 1718) founded the Province of Pennsylvania, the British North American colony that became the U.S. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The democratic principles that he set forth served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution. Ahead of his time, Penn also published a plan for a United States of Europe, “European Dyet, Parliament or Estates.”

Religious Beliefs

Although born into a distinguished Anglican family and the son of Admiral Sir William Penn, Penn joined the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers at the age of 22. The Quakers obeyed their “inner light”, which they believed to come directly from God, refused to bow or take off their hats to any man, and refused to take up arms. Penn was a close friend of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers. These were times of turmoil, just after Cromwell’s death, and the Quakers were suspect, because of their principles which differed from the state imposed religion and because of their refusal to swear an oath of loyalty to Cromwell or the King (Quakers obeyed the command of Christ to not swear, Matthew 5:34).

“If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God, and to do that, thou must be ruled by him….Those who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” –William Penn

Penn was a frequent companion of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, travelling in Europe and England with him in their ministry. He also wrote a comprehensive, detailed explanation of Quakerism along with a testimony to the character of George Fox, in his Introduction to the autobiographical Journal of George Fox.

Persecutions

The persecution of Quakers became so fierce that Penn decided that it would be better to try to found a new, free, Quaker settlement in North America. Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New England Puritans, especially, were as negative towards Quakers as the people back home, and some of them had been banished to the Caribbean.

The founding of Pennsylvania

In 1677, Penn’s chance came, as a group of prominent Quakers, among them Penn, received the colonial province of West New Jersey (half of the current state of New Jersey). That same year, two hundred settlers from the towns of Chorleywood and Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire and other towns in nearby Buckinghamshire arrived, and founded the town of Burlington. Penn, who was involved in the project but himself remained in England, drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement. He guaranteed free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

King Charles II of England had a large loan with Penn’s father, after whose death, King Charles settled by granting Penn a large area west and south of New Jersey on March 4, 1681. Penn called the area Sylvania (Latin for woods), which Charles changed to Pennsylvania in honor of the elder Penn. Perhaps the king was glad to have a place where religious and political outsiders (like the Quakers, or the Whigs, who wanted more influence for the people’s representatives) could have their own place, far away from England. One of the first counties of Pennsylvania was called Bucks County, named after Buckinghamshire (Bucks) in England, where the Penn’s family seat was, and from whence many of the first settlers came.

Although Penn’s authority over the colony was officially subject only to that of the king, through his Frame of Government he implemented a democratic system with full freedom of religion, fair trials, elected representatives of the people in power, and a separation of powers — again ideas that would later form the basis of the American constitution. The freedom of religion in Pennsylvania (complete freedom of religion for everybody who believed in God) brought not only English, Welsh, German and Dutch Quakers to the colony, but also Huguenots (French Protestants), Mennonites, Amish, and Lutherans from Catholic German states.

Penn had hoped that Pennsylvania would be a profitable venture for himself and his family. Penn marketed the colony throughout Europe in various languages and, as a result, settlers flocked to Pennsylvania. Despite Pennsylvania’s rapid growth and diversity, the colony never turned a profit for Penn or his family. In fact, Penn would later be imprisoned in England for debt and, at the time of his death in 1718, he was penniless.

From 1682 to 1684 Penn was, himself, in the Province of Pennsylvania. After the building plans for Philadelphia (“Brotherly Love”) had been completed, and Penn’s political ideas had been put into a workable form, Penn explored the interior. He befriended the local Indians (primarily of the Leni Lenape (aka Delaware) tribe) , and ensured that they were paid fairly for their lands. Penn even learned several different Indian dialects in order to communicate in negotiations without interpreters. Penn introduced laws saying that if a European did an Indian wrong, there would be a fair trial, with an equal number of people from both groups deciding the matter. His measures in this matter proved successful: even though later colonists did not treat the Indians as fairly as Penn and his first group of colonists had done, colonists and Indians remained at peace in Pennsylvania much longer than in the other English colonies.

Penn began construction of Pennsbury Manor, his intended country estate in Bucks County on the right bank of the Delaware River, in 1683.

Penn also made a treaty with the Indians at Shackamaxon (near Kensington in Philadelphia) under an elm tree. Penn chose to acquire lands for his colony through business rather than conquest. He paid the Indians 1200 pounds for their land under the treaty, an amount considered fair. Voltaire praised this “Great Treaty” as “the only treaty between those people [Indians and Europeans] that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed.” Many regard the Great Treaty as a myth that sprung up around Penn. However, the story has had enduring power. The event has taken iconic status and is commemorated in a frieze on the United States Capitol.

Penn visited America once more, in 1699. In those years he put forward a plan to make a federation of all English colonies in America. There have been claims that he also fought slavery, but that seems unlikely, as he owned and even traded slaves himself. However, he did promote good treatment for slaves, and other Pennsylvania Quakers were among the earliest fighters against slavery.

Penn had wished to settle in Philadelphia himself, but financial problems forced him back to England in 1701. His financial advisor, Philip Ford, had cheated him out of thousands of pounds, and he had nearly lost Pennsylvania through Ford’s machinations. The next decade of Penn’s life was mainly filled with various court cases against Ford. He tried to sell Pennsylvania back to the state, but while the deal was still being discussed, he was hit by a stroke in 1712, after which he was unable to speak or take care of himself.

Penn died in 1718 at his home in Ruscombe, near Twyford in Berkshire, and was buried next to his first wife in the cemetery of the Jordans Quaker meeting house at Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire in England. His family retained ownership of the colony of Pennsylvania until the American Revolution.

Source: http://www.ushistory.org/penn/bio.htm; Independence Hall Association, Philadelphia, PA., edited.

Painting: Portrait of Young William Penn in Armor, date and artist unknown; Atwater-Kent Museum

WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA

February 11th, 2010

G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, journalism, biography, Christian apologetics, fantasy and detective fiction. He had published over 111 books before his death in 1936. One major work was Orthodoxy (1908), which has become a classic of Christian apologetics.

G. K. Chesterton, on coming to the United States for a series of lectures, wrote an essay entitled, “What I saw in America”. In the opening he made the statement that America is the only nation in the world founded on a creed, referring to the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Here is what he wrote in the opening of his essay:

“America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly.” [1]

Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson, as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was echoing what he understood in the Christian New Testament. His terms Creator and self-evident echoes Paul’s statement in the New Testament, ” . . . because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” [2]

Jefferson was writing to Christians who understood these terms. He was also establishing our independence by severing our ties with Great Britain on the grounds that it had violated the laws of nature and of nature’s God. He based the statement of “unalienable rights” on the gift of God towards men. He wrote:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan.” [3]

G. K. Chesterton certainly saw the greatness of America in the Declaration of Independence as the Creed of a nation. Thomas Jefferson, prime author of the Declaration of Independence, indicated that on his death it was important to reflect what he had given the people, not what people had given him. In line with his wishes, his epitaph reads,

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE
DECLARATION
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
FOR
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826

The epitaph is a fitting tribute to Thomas Jefferson, yet a stronger testimony to the Divine Providence of God that led to the founding of this nation and guiding our founding fathers.

[1] What I Saw in America, G. K. Chesterton, The Project Gutenberg EBook, November 2008; “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We . . . solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states. . . And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”, as quoted on Panel One, Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.
[2] Romans 1:19-20 (NAS)
[3] As quoted on Panel Three, Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.

MEETING HOUSES

February 10th, 2010

View from the pulpit; Paul Wainwright Photographer

Meeting Houses played an important part of our country’s early history. There was little distinction between the settler’s Christian faith and the community-at-large. Seeking religious liberty, the settlers were primarily English Protestants and came to America as Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Baptists. Dedicated and serious about their faith, the very earliest Christian worship and meetings were held outdoors.

Beginning in 1648, the central focus of every New England town was the meetinghouse. These structures were usually the largest building in the town. These were always very simple buildings, with no statues, decorations, or stained glass. Not even a cross hung on the wall. The meetinghhouses were used for both religious worship and town business and were the central focus of the community, and were an important point of contact for all. The origin of the “town meeting” form of government, can be traced to meeting houses of the colonies [1]

When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth they at once assigned a Lord’s

Olde Meeting House, Sandown, NH; Paul Wainwright Photographer

Day meeting-place for the Separatist church, —” a timber fort both strong and comely, with flat roof and battlements;” and to this fort, every Sunday, the men and women walked reverently, three in a row, and in it they worshipped until they built for themselves a meeting-house in 1648.

As soon as each successive outlying settlement was located and established, the new community built a house for the purpose of assembling therein for the public worship of God ; this house was called a meeting-house. Cotton Mather said distinctly that he ” found no just ground in Scripture to apply such a trope as church to a house for public assembly.” The church, in the Puritan’s way of thinking, worshipped in the meeting-house, and he was as bitterly opposed to calling this edifice a church as he was to calling the Sabbath Sunday. His favorite term for that day was the Lord’s Day.

The settlers were eager and glad to build their meeting-houses; for these houses of God were to them the visible sign of the establishment of that theocracy which they had left their fair homes and had come to New England to create and perpetuate. But lest some future settlements should be slow or indifferent about doing their duty promptly, it was enacted in 1675 that a meeting-house should be erected in every town in the colony; and if the people failed to do so at once, the magistrates were empowered to build it, and to charge the cost of its erection to the town. [2]

There were also ‘churches’ that were built. It appears that these were not community established, but were Anglican and Lutheran houses of worship and, in mostly Maryland, Roman Catholic churches, all founded by their respective denominations.

What make the meetinghouses so important are the beginnings of American democracy. A distinctive political format began in these meetinghouses called town meetings. These town meetings were an outgrowth out of the church meetings of elders. It is interesting to see that our Christian roots are deeply based in the faith of the settlers and the government of the church. These town meetings provided the citizens a place to gather to discuss issues of the day. Only men of property could vote. Nonetheless, town meetings afforded New Englanders an unusually high level of participation in government. Such meetings still function in many New England communities today

Old South Meeting House

In Boston, Massachusetts the Old South Meeting House still stands today as a testimony to the power and influence of these town meetings. The Old South Meeting House was Colonial Boston’s largest building. In New England, meetinghouses were often used for public gatherings as well as for worship. In Boston, meetings too large for Boston’s town hall, Faneuil Hall, were often held at the Old South Meeting House because of its great size and central location. The steeple of Old South Meeting House also served a community purpose, housing an enormous clock, installed by the town in 1770, which is still in place today. The congregation that built the Old South Meeting House in 1729 was descended from the Puritans who founded Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century.

In the years leading to the American Revolution, colonists gathered at the Meeting House to challenge British rule. In the late 1760’s and early 1770’s, many Bostonians became increasingly outraged at the way they were treated by the British government. Boston’s anger at British taxes and policies exploded during town meetings. As the largest building in town, the Old South Meeting House became a favorite stage in Boston’s drama of revolution. Here are a few events that came out of these meetings;

THE BOSTON MASSACRE

Boston’s patriots were outraged by the arrival of British troops sent to keep order in 1768. They considered the redcoats quartered in Boston a blatant challenge to their liberty. On March 5, 1770, tensions erupted when British soldiers fired into a menacing crowd, killing 5 men. The next day a mass meeting of several thousand people gathered at Old South. Led by Samuel Adams, the angry assembly forced Acting Royal Governor Hutchinson to remove the British troops to a fort in the harbor. The patriots’ victory demonstrated Adams’s genius for organizing political dissent and getting results. Each year from 1771 to 1775, large meetings were held at Old South to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, with rousing speeches by patriots such as John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren.

THE BOSTON TEA PARTY

Yet it was the meeting that took place on December 16, 1773 that sealed Old South’s fate as one of this country’s most significant buildings. On that day, over 5, 000 men crowded into Old South and joined in a fiery debate on the controversial tea tax. When the final attempt at compromise failed, Samuel Adams gave the signal that started the Boston Tea Party. The Sons of Liberty led the way dumping 342 chests of tea into the harbor at Griffin’s Wharf. [3]

[1] New England, InfoPlease.com
[2] The Sabbath in Puritan New England, Alice Morse Earle, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891
[3] Old South Meeting House, History and Mission, www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org

Endnote: A Space for Faith, The Colonial Meeting Houses of New England, a book of photographs by large-format photographer Paul Wainwright available this spring. Visit his web site to view photos and selections from the book and place an order at www.colonialmeetinghouses.com

Bibliography:
• The New England Meeting Houses of the Seventeenth Century, Marian Card Donnelly
Meetinghouse & Church in Early New England, Edmund W. Sinnott
Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American Religious Architecture, Jeffrey Howe
Early Connecticut Meeting Houses, J. Frederick Kelly (1947)
Colonial Meetinghouses of New Hampshire, Eva Speare (1955)
Some Old-Time Meeting Houses of the Connecticut Valley, Charles A. Wright (1911)
An Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses, Christopher Stell (Four Volumes)