There are those in America’s modern culture that question the founding ideals of our American heritage; therefore, we want to share with you Peter Marshall’s speech given to the Texas State Board of Education in Austin, Texas on September 17, 2009.He was invited to speak as an expert witness as to what should be included in American history textbooks. Rev. Marshall is one of the most knowledgeable men of this century on America’s Christian and biblical heritage. He understands the link between Christianity and the intent of the founding fathers establishment of our government. Questions regarding our nation’s history can be satisfied by reviewing statements made by our founding fathers. For example: John Quincy Adams our sixth President said, “Is it not that in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior?...”The U.S. founding fathers mutually understood that “rights and freedoms” are a gift from God and not bestowed by a king or government. The roots of our judicial system are in divine law.
The Uniqueness of the American Experiment in Self-Government.
". . . Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Luke 12:56)
In 1776, the Founding Fathers of the United States made an extraordinary announcement to the rest of the world. In the most famous written paragraph in American history, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Why do I call this “an extraordinary announcement”? Because this was the only time in human history that a nation’s government was founded on a creed, a statement of faith, a profession of belief.
The Declaration of Independence is the statement of America’s founding ideals, a vision statement, if you will, that is utterly unique in world history. Further, this uniquely American contribution to the history of humanity — the belief that all men are created equal — is the bedrock of our civilization. Any progress we Americans have made through the centuries in creating a society of liberty and justice for all has come by the application of this self-evident truth to the way we Americans live with each other.
At the time of every great social crisis in our history this question has been at the heart of the conflict: Do we truly believe that all men are created equal, or are these just empty words and political window-dressing? This issue was the pivotal issue of the American Revolution, the struggle against slavery, the women’s movement, the Civil Rights movement, and is now at the center of the pro-life movement.
This is why I believe that the Declaration needs to have a pre-eminent place in the teaching of history to our children — because this idea of human equality has literally created American history.
Down through the centuries the American people have always believed that any public policy that robs some people of their basic equality with other people is fundamentally wrong.
Notice that Thomas Jefferson said that these announced truths were “self-evident.” What he meant was that it was not just the Founding Fathers themselves that believed all men are created equal — it was pervasive throughout the American colonies. That means that this was an “uh-huh” statement — everybody knew this. Jefferson said that he was not trying “to say things which had not been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject.”
How could the Founding Fathers say these truths were self-evident? What shaped their thinking?
James Otis, the orator of the American Revolution, wrote that government . . . Has an ever-lasting
foundation in the unchangeable Will of God, the author of nature, whose laws never Vary . . . There can be no prescription old enough to Supersede the law of nature, and the grant of God Almighty, who Has given all men a natural right to be free.1
Alexander Hamilton: The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged For among
parchments and musty records. They are Written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of Human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and Can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.2
Samuel Adams: The right of freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is Not in the power of man
to alienate this gift.3
Thomas Jefferson ...asserted that the only basis for American freedoms was the conviction
among the people that “these liberties are the gift of God.”4
There are so many other similar quotes from the Founding Fathers that it is obvious beyond contradiction that they structured American government on the basis of the natural rights of mankind, which they firmly believed are the gift of God. Equally obvious is the fact that these beliefs were not exclusive to them — they were shared by the vast majority of Colonial Americans. Some historians like to lump together the American and French Revolutions, since they both were based on the natural rights of mankind. But, the uniqueness of the Declaration of Independence as the basis of American government is seen in the fact that at no point in either of the French declarations of “the rights of man” is there any statement that these rights derive from God. Perry Miller, the late dean of Puritan history at Harvard, was fond of decrying what he termed the “obtuse secularism”5 of those who, in LSU Professor Ellis Sandoz’s words: Approach the founding as a merely rationalistic enterprise. Of men preoccupied with the European Enlightenment’s Progressive notions and contemptuous of traditional religion.”6 Miller insisted that Protestant Christianity was at the heart of the American Revolution. In his famous essay, “From the Covenant to the Revival,” Professor Miller wrote: The basic fact is that the Revolution had been preached To the masses as a religious revival, and had the astonishing Fortune to succeed.7
Most historians agree that one simply cannot properly teach the history of America’s founding period unless the impact of the First Great Awakening is taken into account. Why? Because this explosive revival, which began in the 1720’s in New Jersey, and carried the colonies through the Revolution and the establishment of our new government, was characterized by preaching that stressed the equality of mankind, thereby strongly promoting American democratic beliefs. For instance, the preaching of George Whitefield, the best- known evangelist of the age, who gave over 18,000 sermons from Maine to Georgia, and, according to Ben Franklin, drew 10,000 people to Market Square in Philadelphia, emphasized that God is no respecter of persons, meaning that He pays no attention to people’s social status, and that all alike must surrender to Christ and receive salvation from Him. This democratic and leveling impact of the evangelical pulpit that helped the American people revolt against the social and political tyranny being waged by a corrupt British aristocracy cannot be overestimated. The message was unmistakably clear: the only legitimate government in both Church and State, in the sight of Him who made all men equal, is that which governs by the consent of the governed. The contrast between an American people that deeply believed that all men are created equal and the aristocratic and tyrannous attitudes of an elitist British government could not possibly have been more stark. The Founding Fathers’ belief in human equality came from the teachings of Reformer John Calvin on civil government, the teachings of English Puritans on civil government, and Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford’s important 1744 work Lex, Rex, (the law is king) — thoroughly familiar to the Founding Fathers — in which he wrote that “all are born alike and equal.”8
The importance of religion to the Founding Fathers in the Continental Congress is further seen in the fact that the Congress called for 16 separate days of prayer and fasting, or thanksgiving and prayer, depending on the progress of the war, during the five years of its duration. For example, on December 11, 1776, the colonists were: . . . To reverence the Providence of God . . . and beg the Countenance of his Providence in the prosecution of The present just and necessary war.9
Their language here was not just some kind of religious boilerplate. So concerned were they about the moral and spiritual lives of the soldiers that on June 30, 1775, the Continental Congress decreed: It is earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers diligently to attend Divine service; and all officers and soldiers who shall behave indecently or irreverently at any place of Divine worship, shall . . . be brought before a court martial.10
It is not possible to accurately teach American history without taking into account the religious motivations and worldview of those who discovered this continent, settled the original colonies, fought for our independence from Britain, and established our government. The sharing of that Bible-based worldview on the part of both the people and their political leadership during the founding period meant that there was fundamental agreement on the self-evident truths that motivated the struggle for independence and the founding of our government. Americans still believe that all men are equal before God and before the law; we still believe that these human beings who are created equal are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; we still believe that governments exist primarily to secure these rights; we still believe that the authority of government rests only on the consent of the governed, and that if the government loses that consent, the people have the right to alter or abolish it. These self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence that are the basis for American government are still unique among the nations to this very hour. Let us teach our children the uniqueness of America — that this is a godly experiment in self-government that has no equal in all of human history. Let us pass on to them a love of this great nation; and let us lay on their hearts a sense of duty and responsibility to ensure that this experiment succeeds, that what Lincoln called “the last, best hope of earth” does not fail, and that Lady Liberty’s torch in New York Harbor is never allowed to go dark.
1) M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom, (Washington, DC:
Regnery Publishing, 1966) p. 238.
2) Ibid, p. 239.
3) Ibid, p. 238.
4) Ibid, p. 240.
5) Ellis Sandoz, A Government of Laws, (Columbia, MO: University
of Missouri Press, 2001) p. 156.
6) Ibid, p. 134.
7) John M. Mulder and John F. Wilson, eds., Religion in American
History: Interpretive Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
8) Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince, Google
Books (Online version), p. 25.
9) Worthington C. Ford, et al. (eds.), Journals of the Continental
Congress, 1774-1789, (Washington, D.C., 1904-37), Vol. IX, pp.
10) Avalon Project, Yale University (Online), Journals of the Continental
Congress, “Articles of War, June 30, 1775,” Article II.