Christian Politics: Accountable to History Part 1
Christians have long argued that the United States was established as a Christian commonwealth. In addition, the claim is made that because this nation was a Christian republic at its inception, we should work to return to our roots.
The counter argument is that the Founding Fathers were primarily Deists and followers of enlightenment thought. It doesn't matter, they say, that Franklin called for daily prayer at the constitutional convention or that George Washington claimed the Christian religion as the foundation of good government in his farewell address. Those who dismiss any notion of an American Christian heritage claim that Franklin, Washington and the rest were merely pandering to the religious inclinations of the unenlightened common man. Indeed, they were merely practicing populist politics.
In a way the religions views of the men who were present at the constitutional convention are of no consequence. Granted, it has been shown that the majority of the Founding Fathers embraced orthodox Christian beliefs.1 What is more important, however, are the documents produced by those men and other men who were in positions of political authority at the birth of this nation.
For instance, when we examine the constitutions of the thirteen original states, it becomes clear that this country is indeed a Christian nation. The various state constitutions are important because they represent the views of the common man better than the opinions reveled at the constitutional convention. This is true simply because they were written, debated and ratified by men who were cheek by jowl to the colonial man on the street. In short, the state constitutions written and ratified in the late eighteenth century reveal to us the socio-political and religious temperament of this nation at its origin. Only Virginia produced a constitution that did not rest upon a specifically Christian foundation. Its 1776 Declaration of Rights did assume, however, the existence of God, the duty to worship Him and the superiority of Christian character . The New York constitution limited its acknowledgment of God to a repetition of the Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless the constitutions produced by the individual states in eighteenth century America show us that these United States were conceived as a new manifestation of Christendom. Thus, the evidences of our Christian political heritage are as follows:2
Fundamental Orders of 1639 and Connecticut Charter of 1662:
(Connecticut chose to retain its colonial government - excepting any allegiance to the British crown - after declaring independence. A state constitution was not drafted until 1818).
"For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth..."
Delaware 1776 Constitution:
ART. 22. "Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit: I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."
Georgia 1777 Constitution:
"ART. VI. The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county, who shall have resided at least twelve months in this State, and three months in the county where they shall be elected; except the freeholders of the counties of Glynn and Camden, who are in a state of alarm, and who shall have the liberty of choosing one member each, as specified in the articles of this constitution, in any other county, until they have residents sufficient to qualify them for more; and they shall be of the Protestant religion…"
Maryland 1776 Constitution:
"That every person, appointed to any office of profit or trust, shall, before he enters on the execution thereof, take the following oath; to wit :-" I, A. B., do swear, that I do not hold myself bound in allegiance to the King of Great Britain, and that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland; " and shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion."
Massachusetts 1780 Constitution:
"Article I. Any person chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, councillor, senator, or representative, and accepting the trust, shall, before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: I, A.B., do declare that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth; and that I am seized and possessed, in my own right, of the property required by the constitution, as one qualification for the office or place to which I am elected."
New Hampshire 1784 Constitution: "no person shall be capable of being elected a senator (representative or president), who is not of the Protestant religion"
New Jersey 1776 Constitution:
"That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect, who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects."
New York 1777 Constitution:
"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and 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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…
"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…"
North Carolina 1776 Constitution:
"That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State."
Pennsylvania 1776 Constitution:
"And each member, before he takes his seat (in electied office DEW), shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration. And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State."
Rhode Island Charter of 1663:
(Rohde Island chose to retain its colonial government - excepting any allegiance to the British crown - after declaring independence. A state constitution was not drafted until 1843).
"ffree inhabitants of our island, called Rhode-Island, and the rest of the colonie of Providence Plantations, in the Narragansett Bay, in New-England, in America, that they, pursueing, with peaceable and loyall minces, their sober, serious and religious intentions, of goalie edifieing themselves, and one another, in the holie Christian ffaith and worshipp as they were perswaded; together with the gaineing over and conversione of the poore ignorant Indian natives, in those partes of America, to the sincere professione and obedienc of the same ffaith and worship..."
South Carolina 1778 Constitution:
"No person shall be eligible to a seat in the said senate unless he be of the Protestant religion." - and - "The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State."
Virginia 1775 Declaration of Rights:
"That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed 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 that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. "
Although Tennessee and Vermont were not among the original thirteen states, I've thrown in excerpts from their original state constitutions for good measure.
Tennessee 1796 Constitution:
"No person who denies the being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state."
Vermont 1777 Constitution:
"And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. " I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Diverse, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the protestant religion." And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State."
Beyond a doubt the various bodies which came together to form the United States of America were Christian republics. The question is, in what way or to what degree are we obligated to that heritage? This will be the topic of discussion in my next article.
1. See for instance, John Eidsmoe, Christianity And The Constitution: The Faith Of Our Founding Fathers, (Grand Rapids: Baker book House, 1987).
2. To see the full text of each of the original thirteen state constitutions Click Here
NEXT UP: ACCOUNTABLE TO HISTORY PART 2
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