The Puritans practiced the “Rule of Law,” the principle that every person is subject to the law, in their early American colonies in accordance with the Bible. They implemented Rule of Law in the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut based on equity and justice as found in the moral law of the Bible and in reformed writings.
Puritan leader Rev. Thomas Hooker supported the need for a constant law based on
the Bible. In a letter to fellow Puritan John Winthrop in 1638, he argues for Rule of Law based on Deuteronomy 17:10-11, Acts 5:12-40, and Acts 4:18-20. In Deuteronomy, for example, the Israelites are instructed by God to judge cases according to the “sentence of the Law” and not according to their own discretion.
The Bible-inspired principle of Rule of Law influenced the Puritans to define their community civil laws with constitutions. A constitution is an outline of civil laws agreed upon by those in the community and which are regularly enforced, not arbitrarily applied. This practice was beneficial and necessary because, while the Bible was the Puritans’ primary source of civil law, many civil issues were not literally or directly addressed in the Bible. Such issues were subject to the interpretation or discretion of their governors. Some colonists like Thomas Hooker feared that too much judicial discretion might lead to violations of justice and civil rights. In response, the Puritans created written codes of laws—constitutions—to prevent arbitrary rule and to articulate and secure their freedoms. Indeed, the practice of Rule of Law naturally led to constitutions in America.
From AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
Source: Kamrath, Angela E. The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.
Activity: Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 1: Drawing Essential Understandings / Answering Guiding Questions (Question 1), p. 113, 118. MS-HS.
Drawing Essential Understandings/Answering Guiding Questions…
Purpose/Objective: Students learn and answer Essential Understandings/Guiding Questions in this part of the unit.
Suggested Reading: Chapter 3 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text.
Essential Understandings & Guiding Questions to consider:
- The values, beliefs, and experiences of a people often shape and affect the values of their civil society.
1. What were the political ideas of John Winthrop and Thomas Hooker? What basis did they use to ground their civic views and the governing principles of their commonwealth? Consider the role of government and citizens, popular sovereignty, consent, Rule of Law, covenants, constitutions, limited government, chosen representatives, individual rights, literacy, and Protestant/Puritan work ethic.
Pre-Test/Post-Test: Writing Warm-up and Wrap-up. At the beginning and close of this part of the unit, students write brief responses to guiding questions in this section. Students may turn these in and/or share responses in pairs, groups, or whole class. The writing process should take less than 5 minutes, and sharing can go as long as teacher and class decide. The Writing Warm-up may serve as a pre-test of students’ current knowledge and understanding. The Writing Wrap-up may serve as a post-test of students’ learning and understanding of this section’s instruction and content. In the Writing Wrap-up, students might compare their answers/responses to those they wrote in their Writing Warm-up/pre-test. How have their answers changed? What did they learn? Students might use a comparison chart to write and compare their warm-up and wrap-up responses.
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