“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”
THE DECLARATION OF DEPENDENCE
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Table of Contents
Friday, June 7, 1776. . . . . . . . . . 2
Monday, July 1, 1776. . . . . . . . . 3
Tuesday, July 2, 1776. . . . . . . . . 7
Wednesday, July 3, 1776 . . . . . 11
Thursday, July 4, 1776 . . . . . . . 18
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Friday, June 7, 1776
On June 7, the Continental Congress received official word that King George had purchased the use of German mercenaries to crush the rebellion in America. This news was more than some of the legislators could bear. It prompted Richard Henry Lee, on behalf of the Virginia delegation, to offer this resolution: “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
John Adams of Massachusetts immediately leaped to his feet and seconded the resolution. Not everyone shared the enthusiasm of Lee and Adams. This was a solemn matter, and very dangerous. Never in modern history had a colony succeeded in breaking away from a mother country.
The middle states were especially hesitant to vote for independence. They had not been as oppressed by the British as other colonists had been. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland were not ready for independence. Also, South Carolina was sluggish.
Debate on Lee’s resolution continued until Monday, June 10. The delegates tabled the motion for three weeks. The legislators wanted time to hear from their constituents again.
After the motion was tabled, a committee of five was appointed to write a declaration in case independence was later agreed to. Committee members were Sherman of Connecticut, John Adams of Massachusetts, Livingstone of New York, Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Jefferson of Virginia. They assigned Jefferson, already well known as a writer, the task of composing the declaration.
The thirty-three-year-old Virginian immediately went to work on the document. Much of the writing was done on a portable desk Jefferson had invented and designed. The desk fit comfortably across his knees. When he tired of sitting, Jefferson wrote while standing up.
The final draft, completed in seventeen days, drew heavily from patriotic publications Jefferson had read. A good portion of his phraseology was drawn from popular sermons of the day. The Declaration was given to the clerk of Congress on Friday, June 28. It would be considered by the whole Congress only if independence was declared.
Monday, July 1, 1776
It was time to debate Lee’s resolution for independence. The day dawned clear and bright. At 6:00 a.m. the temperature was already 68 degrees. Philadelphia was busy early every day. With a population of 38,000, it was the second largest city in the English-speaking world. Only London was larger.
As was his custom, Jefferson rose early and soaked his feet in a basin of cold water. He believed this ritual assured good health.
Charles Thompson, Clerk of Congress, arrived at his desk earlier than usual. He was a classical scholar who decided to take on the task of clerk as a respite from his life work of translating the Bible from its original languages. His Bible was published in 1808.
John Adams was up early. He had been anticipating this day for years. Many personal anxieties had constantly pressed on him. His wife and property had been near enemy troops, but his commitment to independence never wavered. Adams was unanimously agreed to be the most important figure in Congress the summer of 1776. Jefferson called him the “Atlas” of the debate for independence, “our Colossus on the floor.” Dr. Brownson of Georgia said when John Adams spoke, he fancied an angel was let down from heaven to illumine the Congress.
Adams was strictly moral, and placed huge importance on religion. On June 24 he had written to Samuel Chase, stating the members of Congress were doing “the work of the Lord.” In the winter of 1777 he told a friend, “We shall succeed in our struggle, provided we repent of our sins, and forsake them.”
Ben Franklin was awake early this morning. Troubled by gout, the seventy-year-old patriot had to be carried to and from the proceedings in a sedan-chair by two husky parolees from the city jail. Franklin was haunted by family troubles. His son, William, was the colonial governor of New Jersey and loyal to Great Britain. That state’s rebel assembly had arrested and imprisoned the Tory governor. It was a strange case – the old father, a rebel, the young son a traditionalist! In 1778 William was sent to England in a prisoner exchange. He eventually reconciled with his father, but remained in England till his death in 1813.
Ben’s father had wanted him to be a clergyman. Ben became everything else – printer, inventor, scientist, philosopher, politician, etc. He was educated as a Presbyterian. In adulthood, he sent offerings to the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, but never attended its worship services. He became a confirmed deist, his life’s goal being to imitate Jesus and Socrates. A clergyman wrote Franklin not long before the old patriot’s death and asked him to state clearly what his religious beliefs were. The elder statesman answered he no longer worried about such things, because he would very soon be finding out for himself.
At 9:00 a.m. John Hancock convened the session. The temperature was 81 degrees, the humidity was already oppressive. To assure privacy, windows were closed except for a little space at the top to allow ventilation. These openings did little to relieve the oppressive heat. Instead, they served as entrances for horseflies that came from the livery stable across the street.
Throughout the morning, routine matters of business were discussed. Many speakers had their words accented by loud slaps as the horseflies made havoc on the men’s silk-stockinged legs. At 1:00 p.m., the legislators finally turned their attention to the resolution for independence.
John Dickinson of Pennsylvania had for days been preparing for a speech against independence. Before he spoke, he bowed his head in silent prayer for a moment. He believed the time was not right for a drastic decision. He pleaded for the delegates to delay until a French alliance became reality. Dickinson came well prepared for his speech, armed with pamphlets and newspaper clippings to help explain his position.
During his speech, lightning and thunder rolled in across the Delaware River. By 4:00 p.m. rain had begun. The clouds so darkened the room that a pair of large candelabra were placed on the president’s table.
Dickinson “waxed eloquent” and spoke persuasively, but the three week delay proved fatal to those who opposed independence. While he was speaking, a message arrived from the Maryland legislature requiring its delegates to reverse themselves and vote in favor of independence.
Also, five rain-spattered men from New Jersey were approaching Philadelphia. The state’s rebel assembly was sending a completely new delegation to Congress to vote in favor of independence.
Delaware was also shifting to the independence column. On this day their delegation in Philadelphia was evenly split, one for and one against. A third delegate, Caesar Rodney, was at home tending to military matters. Thomas McKean, the Delaware delegate that favored independence, left the session while Dickinson was speaking. He dispatched an express rider, at his own expense, to find Caesar Rodney, who also favored independence.
When Dickinson finished his remarks, no one rose immediately to speak against him. Everyone was waiting for John Adams to rise. Adams, however, hated to speak again. He hoped “someone less obnoxious than myself, who had been all along for a year before, and was still . . . believed to be the author of all the mischief” would stand. He waited in vain. Finally, Adams rose and answered all the questions raised by Dickinson. Adams climaxed his speech, the best and most important of his long career, with these words:
“Before God, I believe the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it . . . Live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God, it shall be my dying sentiment, Independence now, and Independence forever!”
As he concluded his remarks, the New Jersey delegation arrived at the session. Witherspoon, the preacher-president of Princeton and head of the delegation, voiced the new sentiments of his state: “Gentlemen, New Jersey is ready to vote for independence. In our judgment, the country is not only ripe for independence, but we are in danger of becoming rotten for the want of it, if we delay any longer.”
By this time, it was quite late, almost six o’clock. The delegates decided to take an unofficial poll before they dismissed. For the official vote, each state would poll its own delegation, and have one vote. The final vote had to be unanimous. An abstention was not a vote. An undecided was a vote no.
Charles Thompson, clerk of Congress, called roll in the customary way, beginning with the northernmost colony and then continuing to the southernmost:
New Hampshire: Aye
Rhode Island: Aye
Connecticut: Aye (These first four states had always solidly favored independence. British troops had been on their soil.)
New York: Abstain (These delegates could not vote because they had received no instructions from their state legislature.)
New Jersey: Aye
Pennsylvania: No (the vote of this delegation was crucial. Theirs was the richest colony.)
Delaware: Undecided (One for, one against, Caesar Rodney absent.)
North Carolina: Aye
South Carolina: No
Thompson read the results: Aye 9, No 2, Undecided 1, and Abstain 1. Hancock dismissed the delegates until the next morning.
Throughout the evening hours, there was a frightful rain and windstorm. This did not dampen the spirit of the patriots. Through the evening hours they worked behind the scenes on the loyalists. Late that night, John Adams learned that the South Carolina delegation had decided to vote in favor of independence for the sake of unanimity. Sam Adams spent the evening trying to persuade John Morton of Pennsylvania to change his vote. Morton’s vote could very easily break a tie in that state’s delegation. Thomas McKean of Delaware went to sleep hoping the express rider would find Caesar Rodney.
Tuesday, July 2, 1776
At 1 a.m., the well-to-do, 47 year old bachelor, Caesar Rodney, was rudely awakened. An express rider was pounding at his door. The rider was shocked when the door was opened by a man whose face was gruesomely disfigured. In public, Rodney always wore a green silk handkerchief over the left side of his face, which was eaten away with cancer. He did not want to offend people with the sight of a cancer-eaten cheek.
Rodney listened to McKean’s message. It was 86 miles to Philadelphia, and stormy, but Rodney never hesitated a moment. He knew his duty, and knew there was not a minute to lose. He immediately left on horseback. His journey would lead him over muddy roads through a driving rainstorm.
The rain did not reach Philadelphia until late morning. At 6:00 a.m. the temperature was 70 degrees; at 9:00 a.m., 80. It remained hot and humid until the rain started. The horseflies seemed worse than ever.
Customary matters of business were considered first. Pro-independence delegates argued about everything, trying to stall the final vote until Rodney arrived. McKean kept slipping in and out of the room, anxiously awaiting his colleague. Morning became afternoon, with no sign of Rodney.
Finally, President Hancock decided he could delay no longer. It was time to vote. Suddenly, Rodney arrived, so bespattered by mud that he was hardly recognizable. He was emaciated as he entered the room. He looked like a man dying; his doctor said he was. Half-carried into the room, Rodney was barely able to speak. He could only say, “As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, my own judgment concurs with them. I vote for independence.”
With that, the Delaware deadlock was broken. That state would now vote for independence.
Rodney paid a heavy price when he cast his vote that day. His doctor and friends had advised him to go to England, the only place in the world where he could receive enough medical and surgical attention to ease the pain of his cancer. Everyone knew it was his only hope.
A vote for independence meant he could never go to England. Rodney knew it. The delegates knew it. That day he signed his own death warrant. He would never receive help from England for his cancer.
With South Carolina and Delaware in the affirmative, only Pennsylvania was still opposed. Even this delegation was wavering. Two of the state’s strongest anti-independence men, John Dickinson and Robert Morris, had stayed away from the session, sensing the feelings of the Congress. Both were not ready to vote for independence, yet neither of them wanted to resist the overwhelming tide. They would not fight the inevitable. Both men later distinguished themselves in support of the American cause. Dickinson fought bravely under Washington; Morris became America’s main financier of the War.
Their absence meant the Pennsylvania delegation was split as follows: two solidly for, two solidly against, one undecided. John Morton could not make up his mind. He had once been staunchly against independence, but Sam Adams had been very persuasive the night before. He would now have to decide.
President Hancock instructed the clerk to read the roll for an official vote regarding the resolution for independence:
New Hampshire: Aye
Rhode Island: Aye
New York: Abstain (Their vote for independence would come several days later.)
New Jersey: Aye
Pennsylvania: (. . . All eyes were on John Morton. He paused a moment, and then voted.) Aye
North Carolina: Aye
South Carolina: Aye
Charles Thompson announced the final tally: Aye 12, Abstain 1. Independence had been approved without a dissenting vote. These men had declared three million people to be free. The colonies were now states.
A long, heavy silence followed the announcement of the vote. The deed was done, and the magnitude of it all weighed heavily on them. They were no longer Englishmen, but citizens of a new nation.
No cheers arose. The moment was too solemn for celebration. Many stared out the windows. Others looked at the floor. Some wept openly. A few, like Witherspoon, bowed their heads and closed their eyes in prayer.
The silence was broken by President Hancock, whom the British had been trying to capture for fifteen months: “Gentlemen, the price on my head has just been doubled.”
Sam Adams, Father of the American Revolution, whose motto for years had been “No King but King Jesus,” rose to speak. “We have this day restored the Sovereign, to Whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and . . . from the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.”
The session was adjourned. John Adams wrote his wife that evening: “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day’s transactions.”
Adams believed the vote for independence “ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.”
As Adams went to sleep that night, his thoughts were focusing on the declaration itself, which would be considered the next day.
Wednesday, July 3, 1776
This morning the weather was “fine, clear, and cool.” A northern breeze indicated the hot spell might finally be broken.
Someone had anonymously left a bomb threat on the presiding officer’s desk. Some of the delegates wanted the cellar to be searched. Joseph Hewes of North Carolina strongly objected. “I would almost as soon be blown up as to discover to the world that I think myself in danger.” The staunch New Englanders applauded his show of courage, and the matter was dropped.
It was near 1:00 p.m. before the Declaration was considered. The clerk read aloud, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America.” This was the first time the colonies had been called the United States of America.
The line-by-line reading and editing of the Declaration was a harrowing experience for its author. Like most writers, Jefferson was very sensitive. Throughout the debate he sat silently on the back row next to Ben Franklin.
The Declaration had an obvious purpose: it was a political treatise, written to justify to the world our rebellion against King George. The representatives wanted everyone to know exactly why they were casting off the rule of Britain.
By the time the debate ended, the Declaration had become a religious document, containing four references to God. The Declaration became an official statement regarding the nation’s basic belief and faith in God.
These men declared independence from Britain, but at the same time made it clear they were declaring dependence on God. They denounced servitude to any earthly power, but announced dependence on a heavenly one. The document is known to us as the Declaration of Independence. It was also the Declaration of Dependence. On this initial day of deliberation, the representatives considered and approved the first two references to God.
The colonies were breaking away from Britain in order “to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”
The colonists knew they had been wronged, but struggled to figure out under what law the King could be charged with guilt. Where did the colonists’ “right to rebel” come from? These representatives were not anarchists. They felt a strong need to justify in the eyes of the world their actions.
The colonists could not appeal to their charters. These had all been revoked. Nor could they appeal to the British Constitution and common law. According to the understanding of that era, the King was sovereign, and could do nothing wrong. But the colonists knew they had been wronged. They felt betrayed. They had been taxed without representation, and Boston had been unlawfully besieged and occupied.
King George would have to be accused by a law outside the British Constitution, and superior to it. Sam Adams forcefully argued the whole British legal system had its foundation in “the law of God and nature,” meaning the constitution was subservient to God’s laws as revealed in the Bible. This would be their justification: as men, they enjoyed natural God-given rights which were meant for all men. God, not King George, was “the” Lawmaker.
The delegates decided any government that tried to suppress its citizens and make them subservient was acting against the will of God, for it was denying those people their “separate and equal station” God intended. Once the colonists could be convinced King George was opposing God, they would support the revolution. This would be especially true for those of the Protestant-Puritan persuasion (for example, Congregationalists and Presbyterians), who were heavily influenced by the words of John Calvin: “The designs of rulers must not be incompatible with obedience to Him to whose will the wishes of all kings should be subject . . . The Lord, therefore, is King of Kings . . . We are subject to men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord. If they command anything against Him, let us not pay the least heed to it.”
This appeal to a “Higher law” was also supported by many outside the Protestant-Puritan persuasion (for example, Anglicans and deists). To them it was an argument based more on Natural law philosophy than on Natural law theology. They appealed to the works of John Locke, an English philosopher who wrote almost a century earlier to justify the Britons removal of King James II from the throne. Locke justified this action by appealing to “natural law.”
The representatives in Congress were merely applying good old English philosophy to a present emergency. The philosophical roots of the Declaration were totally English, not French, as is often incorrectly contended.
Natural law philosophy is a strange, unknown concept to most of us today, but in colonial America it was very popular. Natural law, so its adherents reasoned, was older than man-made laws and therefore superior to them. People began in a state of nature, having no government over them. This natural state was primarily not the work of humans, but divinely instituted. Men were originally by nature free, equal, and independent. It was a state of liberty wherein men were free from any authority but God, except by their own consent to protect themselves.
To protect their lives, liberty, and property, they decided to band together and form a government. They conceded only enough power to protect their own God-given rights, and could not be subjected to a particular government without their own consent. Government existed to benefit neither itself, its members, a king, any particular church, nor an empire. Its sole purpose was to benefit its citizenry.
Unfortunately, as centuries wore on, natural law was suppressed. Government grew out of its original mold, and became a monster eating the very liberties it had been created to protect.
The natural law “philosophers” in colonial America were determined to resurrect these idealistic principles. They wanted to return to the “original order of things.” These men hoped a government based on “timeless” natural laws would itself be timeless. It would be eternal, getting better all the time.
Natural law “philosophers” believed men could use their own reasoning abilities to learn God’s law, but saw this theory’s potential danger of leading to anarchy. These men believed the Bible had to be retained as a sure means of letting man know when man’s “reason” became unreason. Even Jefferson, the ultimate deist, confessed, “I have said and always will say, that the studious perusal of the Bible will make better citizens, better husbands, and better fathers.”
Natural law “philosophy” not only needed the Bible to survive, it was also rooted in that Book. Locke claimed to be a Christian, though he had no belief in miracles, and his religious views could hardly be termed devout. He did believe Jesus was the Messiah, and the New Testament showed people the way to happiness in this life and the life to come.
Also, Locke’s ideas were not original to himself. His works rested heavily on the foundation of Richard Hooker’s “Ecclesiastical Polity.” Hooker (1553-1600) was an Anglican clergyman who wrote from the perspective of a theologian. His writings were an effort to justify Henry’s break with the Pope. Hooker’s basic argument was, government can be legitimate only if it rests on the consent of the governed. Due to the influence of the New Testament and Hooker on Locke, it can accurately be said that Natural Law “philosophy” came out of Natural Law “theology.”
Fortunately, the “philosophy” and the “theology” coalesced into enough agreement to produce our Declaration. The “Jefferson-Locke” school of thought and the “Adams-Calvin” persuasion were bound together by a mutually agreed on Court of Appeal.
As we dwell on this remarkable coalition, a pertinent fact should be emphasized. Natural Law “philosophy” is now gone. It no longer exists. There is no proof the first government was voluntarily formed by the consent of the governed. Hence, the treasured tenets of the Declaration rest solely on our adherence to its other (and ultimately its only) primal support, Natural Law “theology.” The rights declared in the Declaration are supported by people’s adherence to the precepts of Scripture. If this foundational support is removed, the rights we cherish could eventually disappear.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The drafters of the declaration believed some truths were self-evident, needing no further discussion or debate. Alexander Hamilton later wrote, “The sacred rights of man are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of divinity itself and can never be erased by mortal power.” Lest there be any doubt as to what truths were assumed to be self-evident, the Declaration enumerated them:
“All men are created equal.” It is good the Declaration was written in 1776. A modern author might say “all persons evolved proportionately.”
That men are created equal is a uniquely Christian teaching, taken solely from the Bible. The phrase meant all men have equal dignity and worth before God. Hence, no one has the right to oppress another. This did not refer to equal ability, talents, fortune, or wealth. It meant political equality, with all men receiving equal rights before the law and the government.
Our forbears felt they were fighting for principles that should be enacted universally, not just in America. The rights they advocated were for “all men” for all time in all places, whether inside or outside the British realm. They are the birthright of all men as equals before God.
As is usually the case, idealism and oratory were ahead of actual experience and reality. Not all people in America have enjoyed these rights equally. Non land-owning men, plus women, African-Americans, and Native Americans were left out. Nevertheless, the goal set forth by our founding fathers was a valid one, and remains the ideal for which we ought to strive.
The men who gave this Declaration to the world unhesitatingly affirmed their belief in the existence of God, and also acknowledged His role as “Creator.” Modern skepticism would refer to God as the “possible, yet improbable, coordinator of evolution.”
The rights of men were considered “unalienable,” which meant incapable of being surrendered or taken away. Why were these rights never to be forfeited? Because they were “endowed by their Creator.”
Herein is found a gaping difference between the attitude of 1776 and that of today. Back then, rights were considered an endowment from God Himself. Hence, they were to be counted as inviolable, beyond the jurisdiction of any government. Today, rights are considered as civil, which refers to the state as a political body. Rights are now seen as something a government can bestow or withdraw, based on its own interpretations of what should or should not be a right. What a paradox! We are now a citizenry advocating the very mindset our forefathers fought to overthrow.
“Life” was considered unalienable. People are to be allowed to live. They have the right to safety and security. No one should be allowed to harm another’s life or health. This right to life is unalienable. It should be denied to no one. Abortion on demand is a philosophy totally contrary to the whole tenor of the Declaration. Its basic premise is, the convenience of a mother is more important than the life of a child. No! Life is unalienable, a primal right of human beings.
The Declaration declared “liberty” to be an unalienable right. This meant freedom from the rule of a dictator, and the opportunity to participate in the process of government. Liberty was not viewed as absolute freedom, but as being relative, always limited by the freedoms of others.
This liberty was also curbed by people’s moral accountability. They were considered responsible beings, answerable to God. Their liberty was intended to be viewed as a way to help them fulfill their obligations to God. Charles Kinsley said, “There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought.” The drafters of the Declaration had primarily this latter freedom in mind.
“Pursuit of happiness,” which was a relatively new phrase, did not refer to having a good time. Locke had said men’s rights were life, liberty, and property. Jefferson changed the latter. He felt that having possessions was not as fundamental as the right to decide how possessions could be used. People have the right to use what they have to improve their lot and station in life.
This is the right of self-development. Our public education system is built on this premise. Everyone should have the right to improve their condition in life. People have the right to control their own future. Individuals have the final say in determining their own destiny. There would be no socially elite groups from which a person could be barred. There would be no Ladies, Lords, Nobles, or Dukes. Everyone could rise at will in the classes of society.
Since every person is unique, created by God to attain certain things, no one should be hindered in their efforts to become whatever this entails.
When the delegates approved the phrase “consent of the governed,” Government was for the first time ever, reduced from Master to Servant. It would exist solely because of loyalty from its citizens, not on the force of its troops.
Since time immemorial, people had believed themselves to be pawns of government, chained to its law and whims. Sovereigns had for centuries assumed they alone had rights, citizenry had only privileges.
This attitude was suddenly reversed. Each person was more important than any political system. Government would now serve individuals, not vice versa. Henceforth, citizens would have rights while sovereigns merely have privileges. No wonder Thomas Paine wrote, “The sun never shone on a cause of greater worth.”
Thursday, July 4, 1776
At 9:00 a.m. this morning, the temperature was 72. A breeze was blowing from the southeast. By midmorning, discussion on the Declaration resumed. During the two-day debate, 86 changes were made to Jefferson’s draft. The number of words were reduced by 480 words, leaving 1337.
Official approval for the Declaration happened about 2:00 p.m., after two important statements were added to the last paragraph. Several delegates felt Jefferson had been remiss by not referring more to the Almighty. Two more references to God were incorporated into the document.
The representatives declared they were “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”
Their logic was flawless. If the rebellion truly was in sync with the laws of God, and based on an accurate understanding of God’s original, created intent for humanity, then their efforts would be vindicated by God, Earth’s Supreme Judge.
John Locke had discussed the Biblical dispute against the Ammonites, where Jephthah had appealed to Heaven, “The Lord the Judge be judge this day.” Locke concluded, “Everyone knows what Jephthah here tells us, that the Lord the Judge shall judge” (“Of Civil Government” Book II, Sec. 21, Works of John Locke (ed. 1812), V. 350). In other words, all efforts based on Natural Law would be vindicated by God, earth’s supreme Judge.
Our Founding Fathers definitely believed they were committing themselves to a task honored by God. John Adams was as convinced as John Winthrop that the settlers of the new world had been called out of a corrupt world to establish a better political order than had ever been tried before. Adams felt nothing should be allowed to deter the colonies from this God-ordained task. Since it was God’s work, He would Judge it favorably, and vindicate it.
This appeal to God was not idle political rhetoric. The colonists sincerely committed their cause to the Lord. As the conflict with England intensified, separate state legislatures appointed days of humiliation and prayer more and more often. The Continental Congress declared fast days in March 1779 and April 1780. Days of thanksgiving were annually observed throughout the colonies from 1777 to 1783.
The Continental Congress asked the states to encourage “true religion and good morals” as “the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness.” Congress felt such things as the theatre and horse racing lead to “idleness, dissipation, and general depravity of principles and manners.” Since God had to be pleased for the cause to prevail, it was imperative nothing be done to offend Him.
“For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”
Having described God as Lawmaker, Creator, Giver of rights, and Judge, the Founding Fathers now called on Him as Protector. The colonies were rebelling against the strongest nation on Earth. The representatives knew they needed God’s protection.
According to the Declaration, the citizens of this new land saw their cause as God-ordained, themselves God-made, their rights God-given, their intentions God-vindicated, and their efforts God-protected.
Years later, the Founding Fathers remembered God when it came time to adopt a national seal. They wanted the seal to express thanks to God for His protection. Franklin wanted it to be an image of Moses dividing the Red Sea while the Egyptians were being overwhelmed by its waters. Old Ben hoped our motto would be, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Though a confirmed deist, even Franklin had finally confessed, “God surely was no idle spectator when this great nation was born in his name and with his grace.”
Jefferson was also feeling grateful. He suggested another Bible image. He wanted our national seal to picture the children of Israel in the wilderness “led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.”
Eventually, the legislators adopted a thirteen-layered pyramid, representing the 13 states, being watched over by the “eye” of God. Above this emblem were written the Latin words ANNUIT COEPTIS, which means “He has favored our undertakings.” (This seal can be seen on the back of a one dollar bill.)
Our country was true to the true spirit of our Founding Fathers when we adopted as our motto, “In God we trust,” when we put in our pledge of allegiance, “One nation under God,” and when we began singing “God Bless America.” However, the passing of time has taken its toll on our spiritual fiber. With her wealth and military might, America is showing signs of forgetting the God of our fathers.
We need to remember our heritage. The thought patterns of most early Americans were controlled by events of the past. Standards of right and wrong were believed to have been fixed unchangeably in the past. For most Americans this meant looking to the Bible for moral guidance. Not all the Founding Fathers were Christian, but all were guided by Biblical principles. Even the most ardent deists admired the Bible for its moral precepts.
We are now carving out a new destiny for ourselves. We are, as a society, drafting our own Declaration of Independence from God. When our Declaration of Dependence on God guided us, we laid a foundation for the greatest society earth has ever known. The new path we have chosen to trod is a dangerous one. Freedom from God will lead us to immorality, self-centeredness, slavery to our sinful passions, and could cause the dissolution of our culture.
Will Durant, famous philosopher-historian, succinctly clarified the real issue of our day: “The greatest question of our time is not communism versus individualism, not Europe versus America, not even East versus West. It is whether men can bear to live without God. Can civilization hold together if man abandons his faith in God?” I believe the answer is no.
Our Founding Fathers believed the answer is no. Hear their echo: Lawmaker, Creator, Source of rights, Judge, Protector, no King but King Jesus, Annuit Coeptis, He has favored our undertakings.
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