The Liberty Bell
The previous two posts dealt with cultural chaos and chaos in too many homes across America. This post is going to be more a big picture of America’s founding, both political and cultural. This will take two posts. In this post I’d like to cover some basic American history and relate some examples of “selfless sacrifice”, an alien core civic value to probably most Americans today, but completely still understood by almost every member of the US Armed Forces. Then in the next post, I’m going to attempt to explain some small steps, using more personal examples, that I believe, might help America become a united country again and help alleviate some of the cultural chaos.
The picture above is The Liberty Bell, located in Philadelphia, PA and considered an iconic symbol of American liberty. In the 1830s, abolitionist societies in America adopted the Liberty Bell as a symbol for freedom too. The inscription on the Liberty Bell speaks to the Christian faith of America’s founding fathers:
“The Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the Bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania’s original Constitution. It speaks of the rights and freedoms valued by people the world over. Particularly forward thinking were Penn’s ideas on religious freedom, his liberal stance on Native American rights, and his inclusion of citizens in enacting laws.
The Liberty Bell gained iconic importance when abolitionists in their efforts to put an end to slavery throughout America adopted it as a symbol.
As the Bell was created to commemorate the golden anniversary of Penn’s Charter, the quotation “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” from Leviticus 25:10, was particularly apt. For the line in the Bible immediately preceding “proclaim liberty” is, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year.” What better way to pay homage to Penn and hallow the 50th year than with a bell proclaiming liberty?”
Just as keeping order in your family and community is the way to assure everyone can live peacefully, the same applies to government too. Sure, all sorts of governmental structures exist and most people survive, even under the most oppressive governmental systems, but America is unique in world history. Our founding fathers sat down and devised a governmental system based on a careful study of history, weighing pros and cons, while determined to create a system of government that completely deviated from history, by establishing a government run as a bottom-up system, where the people control the government rather than the government controlling the people. We have a republic, where checks and balances were carefully incorporated into The Constitution, and where the rule of law was established to protect individual liberty, while establishing laws necessary to maintain social order. We have a system of:
Ordered Liberty: freedom limited by the need for order in society
Russell Kirk, in his 1974 book, The Roots of American Order, describes the influence of Hebraic Covenant and Law to the American social order and the thinking behind the American founding fathers when setting up The Constitution. Kirk writes:
“Throughout western civilization, and indeed in some degree through the later world, the Hebraic understanding of Covenant and Law would spread, in forms both religious and secular. The idea of an enduring Covenant, or compact, whether between God and people or merely between man and man, took various styles in various lands and ages; it passed into medieval society through Christian teaching, and became essential to the social order of Britain, from which society most settlers in North America came. This concept and reality of Covenant was not confined to those American colonies—notably the New England settlements and Pennsylvania— which were fundamentally religious in their motive. Like the people of Israel and Judah, the Americans broke solemn covenants repeatedly; but like Israel, America nevertheless knew that without a covenant, the people would be lost.
And from Israel, even more than from the Roman jurisconsults, America inherited an understanding of the sanctity of law. Certain root principles of justice exist, arising from the nature which God has conferred upon man; law is a means for realizing those principles, so far as we can. That assumption was in the minds of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. A conviction of man’s sinfulness, and of the need for laws to restrain every man’s will and appetite, influenced the legislators of the colonies and of the Republic. Thomas Jefferson, rationalist though he was, declared that in matters of political power, one must not trust in the alleged goodness of man, but “bind him down with the chains of the Constitution.”
A principal difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution was this: the American revolutionaries in general held a biblical view of man and his bent toward sin, while the French revolutionaries in general attempted to substitute for the biblical understanding an optimistic doctrine of human goodness advanced by the philosophes of the rationalistic Enlightenment. The American view led to the Constitution of 1787; the French view, to the Terror and to a new autocracy. The American Constitution is a practical secular covenant, drawn up by men who (with few exceptions) believed in a sacred Covenant, designed to restrain the human tendencies toward violence and fraud; the American Constitution is a fundamental law deliberately meant to place checks upon will and appetite. The French innovators would endure no such checks upon popular impulses; they ended under a far more arbitrary domination.
Israel’s knowledge of the Law merely commenced with the experience under God imaginatively described in the books of Genesis and Exodus. This knowledge was broadened and deepened by a succession of prophets. The power of the prophets diminished with the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Babylon, and ended in the first century of the Christian era. Without venturing rashly here into the labyrinths of biblical scholarship, it is possible to describe the prophets’ enduring significance for modern men, and to suggest how deeply interwoven with the fabric of American order this prophetic teaching remains.”
Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order (Kindle Locations 777-799). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.
To understand America’s founding, it’s important to look at who the first settlers in America were and how the American colonies were set-up and developed. Originally the British colonies, who later broke off from England and the British crown, operated under proprietary colonies, royal charters, or charters:
“A charter is a document that gave colonies the legal rights to exist. A charter is a document, bestowing certain rights on a town, city, university or an institution. Colonial Charters were empowered when the king gave a grant of exclusive powers for the governance of land to proprietors or a settlement company. The charters defined the relationship of the colony to the mother country, free from involvement from the Crown. For the trading companies, charters vested the powers of government in the company in England. The officers would determine the administration, laws, and ordinances for the colony, but only as conforming to the laws of England. Proprietary charters gave governing authority to the proprietor, who determined the form of government, chose the officers, and made laws, subject to the advice and consent of the freemen. All colonial charters guaranteed to the colonists the vague rights and privileges of Englishmen, which would later cause trouble during the revolutionary era. In the second half of the seventeenth century, the Crown looked upon charters as obstacles to colonial control, substituting the royal province for corporations and proprietary governments.”
The American colonies, in essence, were business ventures, set-up to operate under a British legal structure, but the charter-holder had control of appointing whom would administer the law within the colony. In some colonies, the crown directly appointed an administrator for the colony. The colonial administrators varied widely in leadership ability, legal knowledge, experience and also administrative talent. However, the actual American settlers who embarked on setting up the colonies (business ventures) were almost exclusively Christians of various denominations and their Christian faith defined every aspect of their communities.
An excellent, although very detailed accounting of the American colonies, prior to American Revolution is in Volume 1 of the 5 volume set of The Life of George Washington, written by John Marshall, American revolutionary, friend of George Washington, 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and longest-serving Justice, who shaped the Supreme Court into a co-equal branch of the American government. So, along with his other achievements, John Marshall should have “historian” listed, because he spent 5 years writing 3,200 pages carefully chronicling George Washington’s life, but in Volume 1, he carefully chronicles the beginning of America’s life leading up to the American Revolution too.
During the last century many bizarre, yet deliberate, revisions, rewritings, or let me borrow a Obama administration term, creating new “narratives” indoctrinated Americans into believing that America’s Founding Fathers were not Christians, but rather Deists, that Christian faith played little or no role in America’s founding and that Christianity is a threat to American secular government. However, many of the philosophical and political underpinnings to modern-day progressivism and modern liberalism go back to before the American Revolution, but were not popular beliefs among America’s founding fathers and were completely rejected. America’s founding fathers borrowed ideas from ancient Greece and Rome, but the English common law and social order in the American colonies, which played an out-sized role in their political and philosophical beliefs were grounded firmly in their Christian faith.
Another often overlooked reality about the founding fathers is they had more than a century of actual, practical American experience at experiments in devising governmental systems within the colonies, from extreme religious communal control in some Puritan settlements to the scientific-type experiment, in the South Carolina colony, where the esteemed political thinker, John Locke, helped devise their constitution (it was an unmitigated disaster). Constitution writing was in vogue. When Napoleon seized power after the failed French Revolution, he became the premiere constitution writer of history, as he plundered his way across Europe and North Africa. Many of the American colonies had functioning constitutions before the American Revolution and throughout the colonial period, various colonies kept working out legal alliances, commonly mutual defense agreements, that often ended in disarray when one side would not provide the men requested to fight off Indians, the French or other threats.
Christian churches were a powerful social force and exerted a great deal of influence on politics in early America. All but one of America’s Ivy League colleges had connections to religious groups, with most originally being intended as institutions to educate and train clergy. Education in early America was directly connected to Christian religious groups, because churches wanted educated clergy preaching to their flock. These clergymen were instrumental in working within their communities to establish schools to educate American children.
Texas State Judge, Albert M. McCaig, Jr. (Buddy), kindly gave me permission to use whatever portions of his 4th of July sermon he delivered at the Waller Baptist Church this year. In June, Buddy was inducted into the Army ROTC National Hall of Fame. He is an Evangelical Christian, deacon in his church, author of “Praying with Passion” and a trusted friend of mine. I’m a lukewarm Lutheran/Reformed, struggling with faith, homemaker, who gets invited to churches all the time. In fact, last week a dear friend of mine, here in GA, invited me to her small Pentecostal church.
Despite my avoidance of joining organized churches, I firmly believe that the Christian faith was instrumental to America’s founding and to America’s Founding Fathers’ moral, social and political viewpoints and that Christian faith in America remains a potent force for good. This is not intended to denigrate other religions or those who don’t believe, nor is it to question the secular nature of our government. It is, however, to make the case that America’s founding fathers and the American colonial social order were grounded in the Christian faith.
Before I discuss Buddy’s sermon, I want to relate a small true story of how sometimes you can utter a phrase, intending nothing ill, and later others point out how your words probably registered. We were in a car heading to my daughter’s wedding. She was marrying Buddy’s nephew. So, I was in Texas, in the backseat of a car with my two sons and Buddy’s sister and brother-in-law were in the front seat. Buddy’s brother-in-law was engaged in a conversation about guns, hunting and gun-related issues. Without thinking, I made a comment referring to “gun nuts” and one of my sons bumped me with his shoulder and gave me this look that said, “Are you crazy?”. My other son gave me this glare. And without missing a beat, Buddy’s brother-in-law firmly said, “They’re not gun nuts; they’re gun enthusiasts.”
Once I was alone with my sons, the lectures started, “Are you crazy? You’re in Texas and you call people gun nuts!” My son, who is a gun nut, started his 2nd Amendment lectures and told me that at least in Texas they understand our rights. My other son said, “Way to go to get along with your daughter’s in-laws!” And so it went… Perhaps, I need to cut some slack to President Obama and his, “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Back to America’s Christian history from Buddy’s sermon, Faith of Our Founding Fathers:
“For the support of this declaration,
with firm reliance on the protection
of the divine providence, we mutually pledge
to each other, our lives,
our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Last line of Declaration of Independence
Those are some of the words of our founding fathers. There are many more such quotes, and our history is full of such sayings by such men. So,have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?
What happened to these men of faith who stood strong in the founding of this great nation? Five were captured by the British, jailed as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.
Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
Mostly, those men were financially well off and well-educated. They were comfortable in their own lives, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing they could lose it all, and knowing that the penalty would be death if they were captured because they had become traitors to the British Crown.
They had security in their own lives; but they valued liberty more. Standing together, they made this pledge:”For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
And, fully 25 percent of them died during the war. With all they had, including their lives, they gave you and me a free and independent United States of America.
There’s been a lot of chatter in the media and in politics, and even in Christian circles, about the faith of the Founding Fathers and the status of the United States as a “Christian nation.”
I mentioned earlier the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. That was largely written by Thomas Jefferson, in 1776. Interestingly, there were 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, which took place in 1787. And, only a few men served in both.
The denominational affiliations of the men who signed the Constitution are interesting:
2 Dutch Reformed
2 Roman Catholics
Leaders, such as George Washington, Samuel Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson were the true political philosophers of their time.
Their lives and the history they leave us give us a very complete record that shows that these men were deeply influenced by Christianity
That means that the most influential group of men shaping the political foundations of our nation, were almost all Christians.
We get a very clear picture of the character of those men by what they created:
• Virtually all those involved were Christian; and most were Calvinistic Protestants.
• The Founders were deeply influenced by a biblical view of man and government. They devised a system of limited authority and checks and balances.
• A fear of God, moral leadership, and a righteous citizenry were necessary for the new government to succeed.
• They structured a political climate that was encouraging to Christianity, but at the same time accommodating to all religion. They sought to set up a just society, not a Christian theocracy.
• They specifically prohibited the establishment of Christianity
— or any other faith– as the religion of our nation.
As we look at the relationship between religion and government in the United States as it was viewed in the beginning by those men, we can draw two conclusions.
First, at the founding of our nation, Christianity influenced virtually every aspect of American life, from education to our work ethic to families and to politics. Second, the Founders did not give Christianity any legal privilege over other faith. In their view, believers were to be salt and light of the world; not the rulers of the country.
In our Constitution, the First Amendment insured the liberty needed for Christianity to be a preserving influence— the salt— and a moral beacon— the light— but it also insured that Christianity would never be the law of the land.
It is very clear that our nation was founded on the principles of Christ; but not in such a way as to oppressively rule over others.
So, to answer the contemporary question of are we a Christian nation, the overwhelming evidence says, Yes, we were founded as a Christian nation.
So, the historical record, and it is an extensive one at that, since many of America’s founding fathers left vast amounts of writings, clearly shows their Christian beliefs, character and principles they lived by. The “salt” and “light” belief can be found repeatedly in quotes from founding fathers, warning that our American republic was intended only for a morally upright people:
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.”
Wherever American communities sprang up, invariably early Americans set up churches. The first white settlers to the Kunkletown area (where my ancestors settled) were Moravian missionaries, who were trying to spread Christianity to local Delaware Indians. Massacres and disease doomed the missionaries. My direct ancestor, Abraham Schmidt, moved into the “West-End” of Northampton territory in 1762, after 7 years of watching the abandoned Moravian mission area. He donated the land in 1774 to set up one of the first churches in that area of northeast Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Most of these early German-American settlers were Lutheran or Reformed, but due to the only other German-speaking immigrants setting up “Union” churches, almost all of the churches became “Union” churches. The first log cabin church, which later became St. Matthew’s UCC in Kunkletown was a “Union church”.
Photo: Front of recent church cookbook shows St. Matthew’s UCC church, my childhood church, in Kunkletown, PA. The annex extending off the right side was added in recent years.
Abraham Schmidt was also the first constable and he was tasked with setting up a militia, as early as 1774, with a quota set at 82, which he easily filled. He was the captain of the militia too. The militia joined General George Washington and as the page from “The Story of Kunkletown” (records acquired through Northampton County records) shows, his militia was still active in 1780.
From The Story of Kunkletown, a Bicentennial Pennsylvania history compiled by local historically minded citizens, like my wonderful pastor’s wife, Beatrice Goldman Boehner. mentioned in many of my posts. Reverend Adan Boehner was the pastor of St. Matthews UCC Church from 1926-1969.
The 1976 book, “The Story of Kunkletown”, historical research and writing was done primarily by Rev. Perry L. Smith, who was born in Kunkletown in 1897, received a B.D from Franklin and Marshall College and graduated from the Marshall Theological Seminary. Although Rev. Smith left Kunkletown behind, he spent years researching, gathering information and historical material, long before the American Bicentennial. He even had already researched the Abraham Schmidt family tree, back to Philadelphia, when the Schmidts arrived. Mrs. Boehner gave me a typed family tree in 1976 and told me, “Susie, your ancestor was very important to this community.”
Buddy mentioned the sacrifices of the founding fathers and most Americans can relate to the Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, yet never really grasp that while this story is fictional and as Wikipedia explains, Gibson’s character: “Benjamin Martin is a composite figure the scriptwriter claims is based on four factual figures from the American Revolutionary War: Andrew Pickens, Francis Marion, Daniel Morgan and Thomas Sumter.”
Buddy mentioned the sacrifices without grim details, so here’s a little more detail to give you a taste of how much many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence sacrificed:
“The British had a particular zeal for destroying the homes and property of the signers. Those suffering this fate included Benjamin Harrison, George Clymer, Dr. John Witherspoon, Philip Livingston, William Hooper and William Floyd. The sacrifices of John Hart and Francis Lewis are particularly noteworthy. “While his wife lay gravely ill, Redcoats destroyed Hart’s growing crops and ripped his many grist mills to pieces. Bent on taking him, they chased him for several days. They almost nabbed him in a wooded area, but he hid in a cave. When he returned home with his health broken, he found his wife dead and their 13 children scattered.”
The story of Francis Lewis was equally tragic. “When the British plundered and burned his home at Whitestone on Long Island, they took his wife prisoner. She was thrown into a foul barracks and treated cruelly. For several months she had to sleep on the floor and was given no change of clothing. George Washington was able eventually to arrange for her exchange for two wives of British officers the Continental Army was holding prisoner. Her health was so undermined that she died two years later.””
The price paid for your liberty, by Dr. Harold Pease
Once again, they pledged:
“For the support of this declaration,
with firm reliance on the protection
of the divine providence, we mutually pledge
to each other, our lives,
our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
And they lived up to their word.