Saturday, June 29, 2019
THE MARRIAGE OF FAITH AND FREEDOM IN EARLY AMERICA
Faith and freedom were married in the thinking of America’s founding generation. They were convinced that there could be no real freedom apart from faith in the God of the Bible. This is why George Washington insisted on placing his hand on a Bible to take the presidential oath of office. It is why he said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
The marriage of faith and freedom in the founding generation is why the Liberty Bell is inscribed with the jubilee passage from Leviticus 25:10, Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof. It is why John Adams wrote to his cousin, Zabdiel, a minister of the gospel, two weeks before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and said,
Statesmen, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles, upon which Freedom can securely stand" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 173.)
Faith and Citizenship Were Linked in Early America
This marriage of faith and freedom was expressed by James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, when he wrote, "Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe." Madison also wrote,
The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 131).
The Founders functioned on the assumption of a divine Creator to whom all creatures owe their love, honor and respect, and this is made clear by the many proclamations for days of prayer, repentance and thanksgiving issued by the Continental Congress and by founding presidents.
That the First Amendment had nothing to do with secularizing the American government is made clear by the fact that the day after ratifying the First Amendment, those same Founders issued a proclamation for a Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. The First Amendment was the Founders rejection of an official state church like the nations of Europe.
They rejected the idea of a state church, but they all agreed that only Christianity provided the moral fabric for a stable society. Thomas Jefferson was referring to this when he said, “Of all the systems of morality that have come under my observations, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus.” This why the well-known Catholic scholar, William Novak, wrote:
Far from having a hostility toward religion, the founders counted on religion [Christianity] for the underlying philosophy of the republic, its supporting ethic, and its reliable source of rejuvenation" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 174).
America's Founders Believed Faith to Be Essential for Freedom
America’s Founders were unanimous in their belief that only Christianity provided the moral and intellectual underpinnings for a stable and prosperous nation. This was made clear by George Washington in his Farewell Address after serving two terms as America’s first president. He said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."
When the founders use the word "religion," they are referring to Christianity, and Washington here warned of the inherent dangers in the neglect of religion and morality. And notice that he did not call religion [Christianity] optional. He referred to Christianity and morality as indispensable for political prosperity. In his thinking, faith and freedom were married and could only be divorced to the hurt of the nation.
Thomas Jefferson was in complete agreement with Washington, and he made Washington's Farewell Address required reading at the University of Virginia, which he had founded. He also invited churches of all sects and denominations to establish schools of instruction adjacent to or within the precincts of the university. He wrote,
The students of the University will be free and expected to attend religious worship at the establishment of their respective sects, in the morning, and in time to meet their school at the University at its stated hour (Hyatt, Pilgrims andPatriots, 151).
As President, Jefferson sat on the front row of church services that were held each Sunday in one of the chambers of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
At one point, displeased with the music, he ordered the Marine Band to be present in the service on Sundays and to provide music for the singing of psalms and hymns. The Band was paid out of the federal treasury. No one protested because faith and freedom were married in the thinking of America’s founding generation.
Jefferson and all the founders knew that the success of the free Republic they had formed hinged on the moral character of its citizens and their ability to govern themselves according to Christian values. This is clearly borne out in a 1798 address by John Adams to the officers of the Massachusetts Militia. He declared,
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious [Christian] people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other" (Hyatt, Pilgrims andPatriots, 173).
Missionaries Sent Out to Establish Faith and Freedom
When the young French sociologist, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited America in 1831 to study her institutions, he found a Christian people who saw their citizenship linked with their faith. He discovered that missionaries were being sent to the western frontier out of concern that if the new settlements did not have the gospel, they would not be able to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution. He then said, "Thus, religious zeal is warmed in the United States by the fires of patriotism" (Hyatt, 5 Pillars of the American Republic, 31).
Tocqueville also told how a judge at the court in Chester County, New York threw out the testimony of a witness when he learned that the witness did not believe in the existence of God. The judge said that by denying the existence of God, the witness had, "Destroyed all the confidence of the court in what he was about to say."
There were no complaints because faith and freedom were still married in America. The judge said it was the first time he had met someone who did not acknowledge the existence of God. He also said that he knew of no case in a Christian country where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief in God.
Tocqueville concluded that in America, "From the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance that which has never been dissolved" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 168).
The U.S. Supreme Court Affirms the Marriage of Faith and Freedom
John Marshall (1755-1835) served as the second Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for thirty-four years (1801-1835). Many consider him the greatest Chief Justice the court has known. During his tenure, he heard many cases and offered groundbreaking opinions that continue to guide the Supreme Court and the United States Government today.
In one of his writings, Marshall clearly states what every Founder assumed--that the founding documents and institutions on which the nation was formed presuppose a commitment to Christian principles and values. He wrote,
No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion in the happiness of man, even during his existence in this world. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not refer to it, and exhibit relations with it (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 166).
While Chief Justice, Marshall made the Supreme Court facilities available to a local congregation for their Sunday gatherings. So, each Sunday, the singing of Christian hymns and the preaching of God’s Word could be heard ringing through the chambers of both the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court. This was neither surprising nor offensive to anyone, for it fit perfectly within the mindset of the founding generation.
The marriage of faith and freedom was still a part of the American mindset as recent as 1892, when in the ruling of Church of the Holy Trinity vs The United States, the United States Supreme Court declared,
Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of The Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian . . . From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation . . . we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth that this is a Christian nation (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 167).
Modern Secularists Have Departed from the Vision of America’s Founders
The modern divorce of faith from freedom is a sharp departure from the founding generation where religious liberty was considered a God-given right. The modern removal of crosses, nativity scenes, Bible reading, and prayer from public schools and other public venues would horrify the nation’s Founders who considered Christianity the moral fiber that would hold the nation together.
This is illustrated by the fact that Benjamin Franklin refused to print a manuscript by the Deist, Thomas Paine, in which Paine railed against orthodox Christianity. Franklin suggested to Paine that he burn the manuscript and then said, "If men are this wicked with Christianity, what would they be if without it" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 142).
Faith and Freedom Must Be Married Once Again
Faith was not something optional for America’s Founders, as Washington made clear in his Farewell Address. They considered faith to be “indispensable” for the life of the nation. After a meticulous study of the Founders, Novak wrote, "The founders did not believe the constitutional government they were erecting could survive without Hebrew-Christian faith" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 174).
Yes, the modern liberal, progressive is the one that has departed from the vision and values of America's Founders. We must, therefore, not be intimidated by their misguided attempt to remake America in their own image.
We must stand for truth and be salt and light in this generation. We must also pray that God will visit us once again with a heaven-sent revival that will awaken His church and alter the course of this nation—a revival in which faith and freedom will be married once again.
This article was derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's books, Pilgrims and Patriots and 5 Pillars of the American Republic, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. Eddie is an author, biblical scholar and ordained minister with a passion to see America return to its Christian roots as a nation born out of spiritual awakening. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.