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)

THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AND CHRISTIANITY

November 9th, 2010

Washington’s Views

“It appears to me,” writes Washington to Lafayette, February 8, 1788, “little short of a miracle that the delegates from so many States, differing from each other, as you know, in their means, circumstances, and prejudices, should unite informing a system of national government so little liable to well-founded objections. It will at least be a recommendation to the proposed Constitution that it is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction of tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted, than any government hitherto instituted among mortals. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but mankind in modern times have apparently made some progress in the science of government.” (1)

“We may with a kind of pious and grateful exultation,” writes Washington to Governor Trumbull, of Connecticut, July 20, 1788, “trace the finger of Providence through those dark and mysterious events which first induced the States to appoint a general convention, and then led them one after another, by such steps as were best calculated to effect the object, into an adoption of the system recommended by the general convention, thereby, in all human probability, layi8ng a lasting foundation for tranquility and happiness, when we had too much reason to fear that confusion and misery were coming upon us.” (2)

His Address on the Adoption of the
Constitution to the People of Philadelphia

On his way to New York, after its adoption, to assume the administration of the new government, processions and ovations were frequent in honor of the adoption of the Constitution and as a tribute to the good and great man who had presided over the convention that formed it. At Philadelphia twenty thousand people met and welcomed Washington with cries of “Long live George Washington! Long live the father of his country!” Washington, in addressing the people of that city, spoke as follows –

“When I contemplate the interposition of Providence, as it has been visibly manifested in guiding us through the Revolution, in preparing us for the General Government, and in conciliating the good will of the people of America towards one another in its adoption, I feel myself oppressed and overwhelmed with a sense of the Divine munificence.”

In that procession at Philadelphia, to honor the new Constitution, “the clergy formed a conspicuous part, manifesting by their attendance a sense of the connection between good government and religion. They marched arm in arm, to illustrate the General Union. Care was taken to associate ministers of the most dissimilar opinions with each other, to display the promotion of Christian charity by free institutions. “The rabbi of the Jews, with a minister of the gospel on each side, was a most delightful sight. It exhibited the political equality, not only of Christian denominations, but of worth men of every belief.”

“It has sometimes been concluded”, says a writer*, “that Christianity cannot have any direct connection with the Constitution of the United States, on the ground that the instrument contains no express declaration to that effect. But the error of such a conclusion becomes manifest when we reflect that the same is the case with regard to several other truths, which are notwithstanding, fundamental in our constitutional system. The Declaration of Independence says that ‘governments are instituted among men to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;’ and 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 a new government.’ These principles lie at the foundation of the Constitution of the United States. No principles in the Constitution are more fundamental than these. But the instrument contains no declaration to this effect; these principles are nowhere mentioned in it, and the references to them are equally slight and indirect with those which are made to the Christian religion. The same may be said of the great republican truth that political sovereignty resides in the people of the United States because this is nowhere expressly declared in the instrument, he ought, in reason, to be equally convinced that the same Constitution is not built upon and does not recognize the sovereignty of the people, and the great republican truths above quoted from the Declaration of Independence. This argument receives additional strength when we consider that the Constitution of the United States was formed directly for political and not for religious objects. The truth, is they are all equally fundamental, though neither of them is expressly mentioned in the Constitution.

“Besides, the Constitution of the United States contemplates, and is fitted for: such a state of society as Christianity alone can form. It contemplates a state of society in which strict integrity, simplicity, and purity of manners, wide diffusion of knowledge, well-disciplined passions, and wise moderation, are the general characteristics of the people. These virtues, in our nation, are the offspring of Christianity, and without the continued general belief of its doctrines and practices of its precepts that will gradually decline and eventually perish.” (3)

The Constitution declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (4)

(1) The Papers of George Washington, The Making of the Constitution, George Washington to Lafayette, 7 February 1788 (The Papers, Confederation Series, 6:95-97); Alderman Library, University of Virginia
(2) Life and Times of Washington, Volume 2, John Frederick Schroeder and Benson John Lossing, Pages 310-311; copyright 2007, The Echo Library, Teddington, Middlesex, UK
(3) *The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States, sermon by Reverend J. Adams, President, College of Charleston of Carolina and (exOfficio) Horry Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy February 13, 1833, St. Michael’s Church, Charleston
(4) EndNote: Entire article is quoted from The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris, American Vision, Inc., Pages 304-307; Sources added by Editor.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

October 29th, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

You will find a mixed bag of beliefs when it comes to Benjamin Franklin and his religion. He believed in God and His supremacy. Although he grew up under Calvinist teaching, he later came under the influence of British Deistic thought and he eventually became a prominent Deist, but rejected the more radical Deism. Yet, mixed in with his Deist belief was Calvinistic doctrine. One could say that Franklin became a new and prudent Deist.
Benjamin Franklin’s character demonstrates that from early youth he became independent in thought and actions. Enrolled in the Boston Latin School at the age of eight his father had to withdraw him after the first year. The Boston Latin School was well known for many of the famous Puritan divines, a future Franklin apparently did not want to follow. One author stated that while a youth he was reported not as pious or faithful, but as “skeptical, puckish . . . irreverent.”(1) He went to another school but soon educated himself from the age 10 and on.
Many would argue that because Franklin was a known Deist, our country could not have a Christian foundation. That argument ultimately denies the sovereignty of God to work through all of His creation. It also is an argument that clearly objects to and denies the true God of Christianity. They may say ‘not so;’ why then do they protest so much against Christianity? Benjamin Franklin held a firm belief and faith in God. He also believed in Divine intervention and God’s sovereignty. Although he did not conform to the traditional Christian faith, he embraced a firm and unmovable faith in God and His works in the founding of America. Read what he spoke when after four to five weeks the Constitutional Convention was stalled:

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.


I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.”(2)

Franklin’s belief in God was firm. He was fully convicted of His existence and sovereignty and he firmly believed that without the blessings and guidance of God they would not succeed. One can imagine that Franklin, who broke with traditional Christianity, is the one to stand before the Convention delegates and rebuke them for not seeking God’s guidance. The irony of it is humorous. God’s providence truly does work through all of humanity. That day the Constitutional Convention moved on and brought forth the foundation of America.
Franklin wrote a paper in 1732 entitled On the Providence of God in the Government of the World. He proceeds to “. . . go about to prove this first Principle, the Existence of a Deity and that he is the Creator of the Universe. . .”. He continues to make two more points of God giving life, sustenance, and His sovereignty over all of creation. After completing these arguments, Franklin then establishes his theme on the providence of God in the government of the world. He directly states that God “sometimes interferes by His particular providence and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by . . . causes.”(3)  He did not quote scripture, but many of his statements were built on specific scriptures he learned in his youth.
When Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, there was a picture of the Day of Judgment by his bedside. There is no question that Benjamin Franklin not only played a critical role in the founding of our country, he boldly declared that the United States of America was formed through the sovereignty of God.
1 Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), page 10
2 The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Reported by James Madison, a delegate from the state of Virginia. Ed. by Gaillard Hund and James Brown Scott, Oxford University Press, 1920.
3 Benjamin Franklin, “On the Providence of God in the Government of the World”, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, eds. Leonard W. Labaree, et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959-), 1:264; or online at http://www.franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp Volume 1: 1706-34
Bibliography: The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, David L. Holmes, © David L. Holmes 2006; Published by Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, NY; The Religious Views of Benjamin Franklin, Chapter 5, Pages 53-57.

THE FOUNDERS OF NEW ENGLAND

October 27th, 2010

New England Colonies (2)

Within twenty years from the planting of the Plymouth Colony all the other chief colonies in New England were founded, their governments organized, and the Atlantic coasts, from the Kennebec River almost to the Hudson, was marked by various settlements. Such were the founders of New England. They were iconoclasts, reformers, in church and State, men of strong religious convictions. To them the bible was everything; the source of religious principles, the basis of civil law, the supreme authority in matters of common life. Numbering many men of great learning who had been educated at the English university, they gave great prominence to classical education, and established schools, seminaries and colleges. They were men of self-denying, abstemious and industrious habits. Far in advance of their times in respect to integrity of conscience, they were nevertheless very defective in their views of toleration; but they were eminently religious, with high conceptions of the duty of living for God and advancing his kingdom in the world. “In coming to this new continent they were influenced by a double hope: the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom by the conversion of heathen tribes, and the founding of an empire of their own children in which his religion should gloriously prevail.”

The fathers of New England were no mean men. John Cotton, John Wilson, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepherd, Governor Winthrop, Dunstan and Chauncy, associates or correspondents of Milton, Bunyan, Lightfoot, Selden, Baxter, etc., are names which can never be obscured in history. They have left a deep and lasting impress upon New England.(1)

1. Christianity in the United States, Daniel Dorchester, D.D., © 2009 American Vision Press, Powder Springs, GA; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1888; Page 29

2. New England Colonies map, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

ELECTION DAY SERMONS

October 21st, 2010

The election day sermon was a 250-year New England tradition from 1634 to 1884, and many of the sermons still speak to modern concerns during this election season. The below article is an excerpt from Christianity in the United States, Daniel Dorchester, D.D., © 2009 American Vision Press, Powder Springs, GA; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1888.

Politico-religious sermons were introduced early into New England. As early as 1633 the governor and council of the Massachusetts Bay Colony began to appoint one of the clergy to preach on the day of elections – which was the first of the long list of “Election Sermons.” Governor Winthrop’s critical notice of the discourse of Rev. Nathaniel Ward, of Ipswich, in June 1641, is the earliest sketch of an Election Sermon now extant. By the charter of William and Mary, October 7, 1691, the last Wednesday in May was established as “election day,” and it remained so until the Revolution. This was the date on which the new General Court, as the Legislature of Massachusetts has ever been called, assembled, and the election sermon was at the opening of the session. Another sermon was also delivered, a little time after, on which was called the artillery election day. The sermons on these occasions discussed politico-religious topics, were printed, and widely circulated. They reasoned, instructed, and discussed speculative questions of government, ‘when there was nothing in practice which could give any grounds for forming parties.”

The annual election sermons widely promoted the study of political ethics, which had become a prominent feature in New England history in the middle of the last century, and laid the foundation for that “earnestness which consciousness of rights begets, and those appeals to principle which distinguished the colonies.” The highest glory of the American Revolution, in the estimation of Hon. John Quincy Adams, was the ripe fruitage of this old custom: “It connected, with one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

Occupying a position of such eminent respect and influence in society, it is not strange that the clergy shared the sympathy of the people in the civil struggles through which they were passing, and that “The Pulpit of the Revolution” came to be one of the great factors of the times in the Middle and the New England colonies. God was involved in the civil assemblies, and the teachers of religion were called upon for counsel from the Bible. /Sermons were preached, religion and politics were closely united, and with Bibles and bayonets they entered into the struggle. “This was the secret of that moral energy which sustained the Republic in its material weakness against superior numbers and discipline, and all the power of England. To these sermons the State fixed its imprimatur, and this they were handed down to future generations with a twofold claim to respect.”*

*The Pulpit of the American Revolution, Preface by J. W. Thornton. Boston: Gould & Lincoln, 1860.

VIRGINIA BILL OF RIGHTS QUOTE

April 15th, 2010

[R]eligion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and this is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

Source: Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16, June 12, 1776

No Intermeddling and No Flagrant Usurpations

April 14th, 2010

James Madison

Founding Father and U.S. President James Madison is often called the “Father of the Constitution”, having written most of it at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He then wrote over one-third of the Federalist Papers, essays that were intended to sway public opinion to ratifying the new Constitution.

Significantly, Madison has often also been referred to as a primary source for the separation of church and state. He, and others, has been used to justify acts such as removal of prayers in schools, or limiting religious expression by teachers in public schools. Those court decisions have had the effect of chilling free speech in the classroom, at least in regards to religion.

Madison certainly came out in opposition of anything that directed tax monies from taxpayers to go directly to churches. For example, there was a move in Virginia in 1784-85 to create a special tax to pay ministers of churches. Eventually the popular bill let each taxpayer decide which church should receive his share of the tax. Madison, a Virginian, saw problems with this down the road, and didn’t think the government had any business directing church funding. He opposed it vigorously, even working to get the bill’s principal supporter elected governor so he could not vote for the bill.

But believing that Government should not be involved in religion is the polar opposite of Government prohibiting freedom of religion, or more distinctly, the prohibition of the expression of religion. Madison apparently believed Government should not be involved in religion (though if you look at the context of the culture and times in which he lived, he would have never dreamed of creating a government that promoted a vacuum of religion). But he also did not believe in Government prohibiting the free exercise of religion. As Virginians considered whether or not to ratify the U. S. Constitution he wrote, some suggested he include a clause in it to establish the protection of religion. He argued it already did protect it:

Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment–I believe it to be so in the other states. There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom.

Even the tiniest little bit of  “intermeddling” would be a “flagrant usurpation.” Merriam-Webster defines “usurpation” as “to seize and hold (as office, place, or powers) in possession by force or without right.” If government interfered with religion at all, it would be a most flagrant seizure and taking of power, without right, and by force! He was saying, literally, that government would take the place that it had no right to take—the place of power to determine or limit religious expression.

Furthermore, he pointed out that even a bill of rights would not protect people from being taxed to outright support certain religions:

Is a bill of rights a security for religion? Would the bill of rights, in this state, exempt the people from paying for the support of one particular sect, if such sect were exclusively established by law? If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.

In his mind, there was never any doubt that men would be able to freely discuss and take part in religion as they wished. He never even mentions those who were outside religion as having the right to supersede and direct those who were practicing religion. And with a multiplicity of sects—diverse groups of believers in different denominations—freedom of religion would be guaranteed by the sheer numbers of different churches, with no sect taking precedence over other groups. But others wished to see freedom of religion clearly delineated in the American government, and so it became part of the U.S. Bill of Rights as the First Amendment. As the First Amendment has been twisted in the last 50 years to enforce the limitation of the freedom of expression of religion, Madison may been right in that even an official government recognition of religious freedom in the form of a bill of rights would not be enough to protect the freedom to express religion.

________
End Notes:

About James Madison
http://americanhistory.about.com/od/jamesmadison/p/pmadison.htm
http://americanhistory.about.com/od/jamesmadison/a/ff_j_madison.htm

Virginia Ratifying Convention:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Ratifying_Convention

Madison’s Speech at the Ratifying Convention
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions49.html
James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention
12 June 1788Papers 11:130–31
The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment I (Religion), Document 49
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions49.html
The University of Chicago Press
The Papers of James Madison. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962–77 (vols. 1–10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977–(vols. 11–).

Usurpation definition:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/usurpation

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

RELIGION AND THE FOUNDING OF AMERICA

February 25th, 2010

PART 2

Against a prevailing view that eighteenth-century Americans had not perpetuated the first settlers’ passionate commitment to their faith, scholars now identify a high level of religious energy in colonies after 1700. According to one expert, religion was in the “ascension rather than the declension”; another sees a “rising vitality in religious life” from 1700 onward; a third finds religion in many parts of the colonies in a state of “feverish growth.” Figures on church attendance and church formation support these opinions. Between 1700 and 1740, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the population attended churches, which were being built at a headlong pace.

Toward mid-century the country experienced its first major religious revival. The Great Awakening swept the English-speaking world, as religious energy vibrated between England, Wales, Scotland and the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. In America, the Awakening signaled the advent of an encompassing evangelicalism–the belief that the essence of religious experience was the “new birth,” inspired by the preaching of the Word. It invigorated even as it divided churches. The supporters of the Awakening and its evangelical thrust–Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists–became the largest American Protestant denominations by the first decades of the nineteenth century. Opponents of the Awakening or those split by it–Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists–were left behind.

Another religious movement that was the antithesis of evangelicalism made its appearance in the eighteenth century. Deism, which emphasized morality and rejected the orthodox Christian view of the divinity of Christ, found advocates among upper-class Americans. Deists, never more than “a minority within a minority,” were submerged by evangelicalism in the nineteenth century.

THE APPEARANCE OF EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY CHURCHES

Churches in eighteenth-century America came in all sizes and shapes, from the plain, modest buildings in newly settled rural areas to elegant edifices in the prosperous cities on the eastern seaboard. Churches reflected the customs and traditions as well as the wealth and social status of the denominations that built them. Hence, a new Anglican Church in rural Goose Creek, South Carolina, was fitted out with an impressive wood-carved pulpit, while a fledgling Baptist Church in rural Virginia had only the bare essentials. German churches contained features unknown in English ones.

THE EMERGENCE OF AMERICAN EVANGELICALISM:
THE GREAT AWAKENING

Evangelicalism is difficult to date and to define. In 1531, at the beginning of the Reformation, Sir Thomas More referred to religious adversaries as “Evaungelicalles.” Scholars have argued that, as a self-conscious movement, evangelicalism did not arise until the mid-seventeenth century, perhaps not until the Great Awakening itself. The fundamental premise of evangelicalism is the conversion of individuals from a state of sin to a “new birth” through preaching of the Word.

The first generation of New England Puritans required that church members undergo a conversion experience that they could describe publicly. Their successors were not as successful in reaping harvests of redeemed souls. During the first decades of the eighteenth century in the Connecticut River Valley a series of local “awakenings” began. By the 1730s they had spread into what was interpreted as a general outpouring of the Spirit that bathed the American colonies, England, Wales, and Scotland. In mass open-air revivals powerful preachers like George Whitefield brought thousands of souls to the new birth. The Great Awakening, which had spent its force in New England by the mid-1740s, split the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches into supporters–called “New Lights” and “New Side”–and opponents–the “Old Lights” and “Old Side.” Many New England New Lights became Separate Baptists. Together with New Side Presbyterians (eventually reunited on their own terms with the Old Side) they carried the Great Awakening into the southern colonies, igniting a series of the revivals that lasted well into the nineteenth century.

More tomorrow in Part 3.

[1] Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress; Exhibition, America As Refuge, Section 1, Part 2 [edited]