Middle School

The Law of Nature and Nature’s God: The American Basis and Standard for Just Civil Law

April 11, 2019
The Founding

The American Founders recognized the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” the universal moral law of mankind, in the United States’ Declaration of Independence as the moral and legal basis for creating a new, independent nation.  For this law served as the foundation of man’s natural rights and the limits of earthly power.  To the Founders, as to various historical thinkers, this basic moral law or “Golden Rule” found in man’s conscience and the Bible—that tells one to live honestly, love others, treat others with dignity and respect, harm no one, and render to everyone his due—was also, more specifically, the standard for the new nation’s government and civil laws.  Civil laws are just and legitimate, the Founders recognized, only when they adhere to the higher moral law.  Civil laws that disregard the moral law are thus unjust and illegitimate.  As such, the Law of Nature and God served and serves as a general legal framework and aspiration for the U. S. Constitution and the nation’s civil laws and amendments.

The idea that the Law of Nature and God should serve as a higher law to guide man’s civil law was found among various European thinkers in history who impacted the early Americans.  Enlightenment-era thinkers influential to the American Founding—including Charles de Montesquieu, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Algernon Sidney—all affirmed this principle.

In his 1748 Spirit of the Laws, French philosopher Charles Baron de Montesquieu, the most cited secular thinker of the American founding era, asserted the value for civil law of the universal moral law to love others found in the Bible.  He observes, “The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would, without doubt, have every nation blest with the best civil, the best political laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.”

British lawyer and jurist William Blackstone, the second most frequently cited secular thinker of the American founding era, confirmed in his 1765-1769 Commentaries on the Laws of England that the Law of Nature and God was the standard of all just civil laws.  He writes, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation [God’s revelation as found in the Bible or Holy Scripture], depend all human laws.  That is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.”

British philosopher John Locke, the third most frequently cited secular thinker of the American founding era, also asserted that the legitimacy of man-made laws comes from the Law of Nature and God.  In his 1689 Second Treatise of Civil Government, he explains, …

In his 1698 essay, Discourses Concerning Government, British politician and theorist Algernon Sidney shared Locke’s view that civil governments and laws can only rightly exist if they abide by the Law of Nature and God.  He says, “If it be said that every nation ought in this to follow their own constitutions, we are at an end of our controversies.  For they ought not to be followed, unless they are rightly made.  They cannot be rightly made, if they are contrary to the universal law of God and nature.”

Like these God-oriented Enlightenment thinkers, the American Founders and leading early Americans—including James Wilson, James McHenry, Joseph Story, and John Quincy Adams—acknowledged the Law of Nature and God as the basis for a new nation and the standard for the United States’ civil laws.  Man-made laws, they affirmed, are not legitimized merely by an earthly civil power or by the people’s majority.  Man-made laws must abide by the higher moral law in order to be valid, just, and worthy of obedience.  If a civil state violates this moral law by, for example, legalizing or ordering the cold-blooded murder of an innocent person, such a law or order would be considered illegitimate and should not be obeyed.

American Founder James Wilson

American Founder and lawyer James Wilson observed in his 1790-1791 Lectures on Law the importance of God’s moral law in the Bible in the forming of human civil law.  He asserts, “Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law which is divine [God’s moral law in the Bible].  …  Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.  Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.  The divine law, as discovered by reason and moral sense, forms an essential part of both.”

Portrait of James McHenry by H. Pollock, 1873.

Constitution signer, U. S. Secretary of War, and founder and president of the Baltimore Bible Society, James McHenry also expressed the value of the Bible and its moral law to civil law and society.  He expresses, … 

Portrait of Joseph Story by George P. A. Healy.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, and author of Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Joseph Story similarly saw the importance of the Bible and its commandments to the foundation of American civil law. In his 1829 induction speech as Harvard law professor, he states, “One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is, that Christianity is a part of the common law, from which it seeks the sanction of its rights, and by which it endeavours to regulate its doctrines.  ….  There never has been a period, in which the common law did not recognise Christianity as lying at its foundations.”

Portrait of John Quincy Adams c1843-1848.

Sixth U. S. President and U. S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, son of Founder John Adams, would later aptly observe that the Declaration of Independence committed Americans to the biblical moral law.  He observed in his July 4, 1821, address titled “The Nation’s Birth-Day” that “From the day of the Declaration, the people of the North American union and of its constitutent states were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians, in a state of nature, but not of anarchy.  They were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledge as the rules of their conduct.”

The early Americans reflected the spirit of the moral law in establishing just constitutional laws and amendments that ultimately respected the individual rights and dignity of citizens—including the right to vote, abolition of slavery, free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection under the law, trial by impartial jury, assistance of counsel, habeas corpus, innocence until proven guilt, no cruel and unusual punishment, no unreasonable search and seizure, etc.

Evidently, just as the American Founders articulated in the Declaration of Independence that the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” were the foundation for a new nation, they also held an understanding and view that this moral law was and/or should be the basis and standard for the nation’s civil laws.  The early Americans created their constitutional government and civil laws with an aspiration and commitment to this moral law.  As such, the U. S. Constitution and our nation’s foundational civil laws and amendments were (and aspired to be), in their approach and spirit, directed by the universal moral law that aligns with the Bible.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source for more information:
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.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
3.  The American Revolution
4.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
5.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
6.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
7.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
8.  The American Quest for Self-Government
9.  The Creator God:  The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America
10.  The Law of Nature:  The Universal Moral Law of Mankind
11.  The Law of Nature in the Bible
12.  The Law of Nature and Nature’s God:  One Moral Law Revealed by God in Two Ways  

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 6:  Identifying Biblical Principles in the Declaration, p. 237, 372-376.  MS-HS.

Identifying Biblical Principles in the Declaration…. 

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn key principles of the Declaration of Independence including Creator God, God as Supreme Judge, Law of Nature and Nature’s God, Rule of Law, Popular Sovereignty, and Consent of the Governed, and how historical, influential thinkers and early Americans connected these concepts with the Bible.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 7 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 7.1 to 7.12, 7.18, & pp. 236-237.
2) Essay/Handout:  Principles of the American Revolution by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 354-356, or in the “Miracle of America Snapshots” handout under member resources at americanheritage.org.
3)  “Historical Figures Quoted in Miracle of America” and “References to the Law of Nature and Natural Rights in Miracle of America” in “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 347-348, 360-61, 366-371.
4)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

Matching Card Game:
Beforehand, the teacher should print, copy, and cut the matching game cards for a class set.  If students work in small groups of 2 or 3, the teacher will only need to create 10-15 plastic bags of cards to make a class set.  Before the game, the teacher should show and discuss the art image “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo with students.  Students should be familiar with this image before playing the game.  Follow game instructions.  See “The Creation of Adam” Michelangelo painting and the “Matching Card Game” instructions and cut-outs in the “Supporting Resources” section of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 372-376.

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Grove City College Defeats Harvard for First Place at 2019 American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl

January 31, 2019
The Founding

2019 2nd AHWCCB Finalists (from L to R): For Grove City, Dr. Jason R. Edwards, Elena Peters, Noah Gould, Carolyn Hartwick; AHEF Co-Founder Jack Kamrath, AHEF President Angela Kamrath; For Harvard, Liam Warner, Finnian Brown, Portia Berry-Kilby, Dr. Danilo Petranovich

AHEF’s Second American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl™ (AHWCCB) held on January 25-26, 2019, at The King’s College of NY in New York City was a great success!

Grove City College defeated The Abigail Adams Institute at Harvard in the finals in a close match (537-526) to win first place academic recognition along with $4,000 scholarship prizes and copies of AHEF President Angela Kamrath’s book, The Miracle of America!

Student teams from Grove City College, Harvard University (Abigail Adams Institute), Princeton University (James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions), and The King’s College of New York competed in the event.

All students received a cash scholarship award of between $1,000-$4,000 according to their order of finish.

The event is sponsored by the American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF) in Houston, TX. (www.americanheritage.org)

WATCH:  2nd AHWCCB Finals
WATCH:  Presentation on AHEF’s History, Founding, & Mission

2019 Semi-Finals Essay Topic:
“Since the beginning of human history, most people have lived under some form of authoritarianism.  In such regimes, rulership was largely a matter of the elite few ruling over and living off of the unprivileged many.  Only during the last few hundred years has the idea of the constitutional accountability of government to the populace as a whole risen to prominence.  Discuss the philosophical and historical causes of the ascendancy of this idea, including key events, leaders, and reasoning.”

2019 Finals Essay Topic:
“Discuss the origins, development, and justification of the fundamental American idea that ‘all men are created equal’ (as in the Declaration of Independence).”

For Grove City (L to R): Elena Peters, Carolyn Hartwick, Noah Gould

For Harvard (L to R): Liam Warner, Portia Berry-Kilby, Finnian Brown

For Princeton (L to R): Alvin Zhang, Nicholas Sileo, Emerson Salovaara

For The King’s College (L to R): Abigail Rose-Smith, Michael Napoli, Ellen Rogers


Semi-Finals
:  Friday, January 25, 2019
5 PM – Grove City College vs Princeton University
7 PM – The King’s College vs Harvard University

Finals:  Saturday, January 26, 2019
2 PM – Finalists

Location:
The King’s College, 56 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 (City Room, 5th Floor)
212-659-7200 / 888-969-7200

Academic Curriculum Analyst:
-The National Association of Scholars (NAS)

Moderator:
-Mr. Jeremy Tate, Co-Founder and President of the Classic Learning Test

Academic Teams:
-Grove City College – Coach: Dr. Jason R. Edwards.  Student Team: Noah Gould, Carolyn Hartwick, Elena Peters
-Harvard University – Coach: Dr. Danilo Petranovich.  Student Team: Portia Berry-Kilby, Finnian Brown, Liam Warner
-Princeton University – Coach: Dr. Russ Nieli.  Student Team: Emerson Salovaara, Nicholas Sileo, Alvin Zhang
-The King’s College of New York – Coach: Dr. Josh Kinlaw.  Student Team: Michael Napoli, Ellen Rogers, Abigail Rose-Smith

Academic Judges:
-Dr. Stephen Balch, Director of The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, Texas Tech University; Co-Founder of the National Association of Scholars
-Dr. Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy and Co-Founder of The Western Civilization and American Institutions Program, The University of Texas at Austin

Hosted by the American Heritage Education Foundation Inc. in partnership with The King’s College of New York.

Related articles/videos:
AHEF Pioneers Innovative History & Civic Education Initiatives
American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl – Program Information
AHWCCB™ Video
1st American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl (AHWCCB) – 2017
AHWCCB 2019 Printable Flyer (PDF)

In the news:
King’s to Host Western Civilization Challenge Bowl with Princeton, Harvard, and Grove City College, The King’s College, Nov 1, 2018
GCC Tapped for History, Western Civilization Challenge, Grove City College, Jan 18, 2019
The King’s College to Host Western Civilization Challenge Bowl with the James Madison Program at Princeton, the Abigail Adams Institute at Harvard and Grove City College, RFD TV, Jan 19, 2019
Grove City College Faces Princeton in History Challenge Bowl, The Business Journal, Jan 22, 2019
GCC Team Beats Harvard in American History Challenge, Grove City College, Jan 29, 2019
Grove City College Beats Harvard in American History Challenge, Butler Radio, Jan 30, 2019

AHWCCB is a college-level academic competition and scholarship where students compete in their knowledge and understanding of Western Civilization and America’s founding history and philosophy to determine the nation’s top colleges in these subjects.

AHEF started AHWCCB to address a growing problem in our nation–confirmed by many studies–which is that many Americans are not informed about America’s heritage or the American idea.  This is a concerning problem in a self-government like ours which depends on an educated citizenry to continue and improve.  AHWCCB aims to encourage schools to teach and students to learn these subjects–including Western Civilization and America’s founding history, philosophy, laws, governing process, and free enterprise system.  Further, AHWCCB aims to inspire citizens’ education and understanding of the American idea so that they may become informed, engaged participants and contributors in our democracy, who can perpetuate and improve the practice of our nation’s founding principles for present and future generations.

Topics covered in the competition are relevant to America’s founding heritage.  Topics span from ancient, classical civilizations of the Greco-Romans and Hebrews to the medieval and modern eras including the Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment to the history and founding of the United States of America.

For more information about AHWCCB, please visit americanheritage.org.

If you or someone you know would like to sponsor our next challenge bowl, please see our Donate page or contact us at 713.627.2698.  Thank you!

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

January 25 & 26, 2019: 2nd American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl in NYC

January 7, 2019
The Founding

Challenge Bowl 2017 026 - Copy

AHEF’s second American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl™ (AHWCCB) will be held on January 25-26, 2019, at The King’s College of NY in New York City!  Student teams from Grove City College, Harvard University (Abigail Adams Institute), Princeton University (James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions), and The King’s College of New York will compete for scholarship prizes and academic recognition at the 2019 event.

AHEF initiated the challenge bowl to encourage and incentivize colleges and universities to teach, and students to study, the objective and factual content of Western Civilization and America’s founding history and philosophy.  Studies in the last 20 years show that Americans of all backgrounds are not as informed as we need to be about these subjects or our nation.  Further, many schools are no longer teaching these subjects.  Such trends are a dangerous matter in a self-governing republic like ours which depends on an educated citizenry.  The challenge bowl aims to motivate and improve citizens’ education and intellectual and practical understanding of the American idea so that Americans may become informed, engaged participants and leaders in our democracy who can perpetuate and improve the realization of our nation’s founding principles and values in present and future generations.

Topics covered in the competition are relevant to America’s founding heritage.  Topics span from ancient, classical civilizations of the Greco-Romans and Hebrews to the medieval and modern eras including the Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment to the history and founding of the United States of America.

The 2019 Semi-Finals Essay Topic has been released as follows:
“Since the beginning of human history, most people have lived under some form of authoritarianism.  In such regimes, rulership was largely a matter of the elite few ruling over and living off of the unprivileged many.  Only during the last few hundred years has the idea of the constitutional accountability of government to the populace as a whole risen to prominence.  Discuss the philosophical and historical causes of the ascendancy of this idea, including key events, leaders, and reasoning.”

Semi-Finals:  Friday, January 25, 2019
5 PM – Grove City College vs Princeton University
7 PM – The King’s College vs Harvard University

Finals:  Saturday, January 26, 2019
2 PM – Finalists

Location:
The King’s College, 56 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 (City Room, 5th Floor)
212-659-7200 / 888-969-7200

Academic Curriculum Analyst:
-The National Association of Scholars (NAS)

Moderator:
-Mr. Jeremy Tate, Co-Founder and President of the Classic Learning Test

Academic Teams:
-Grove City College – Coach: Dr. Jason R. Edwards.  Student Team: Noah Gould, Carolyn Hartwick, Elena Peters
-Harvard University – Coach: Dr. Danilo Petranovich.  Student Team: Portia Berry-Kilby, Finnian Brown, Liam Warner
-Princeton University – Coach: Dr. Russ Nieli.  Student Team: Emerson Salovaara, Nicholas Sileo, Alvin Zhang
-The King’s College of New York – Coach: Dr. Josh Kinlaw.  Student Team: Michael Napoli, Ellen Rogers, Abigail Rose-Smith

Academic Judges:
-Dr. Stephen Balch,  Director of The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, Texas Tech University; Co-Founder of the National Association of Scholars
-Dr. Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy and Co-Founder of The Western Civilization and American Institutions Program, The University of Texas at Austin

All team members will receive scholarship prizes according to their order of finish of between $1,000-$4,000.

Free Admission.  Please register to attend in person or watch in livestream.

AHWCCB 2019 Printable Flyer (PDF)

Hosted by the American Heritage Education Foundation Inc. in partnership with The King’s College of New York.

In the news:
King’s to Host Western Civilization Challenge Bowl with Princeton, Harvard, and Grove City College, The King’s College, Nov 1, 2018

Related articles/videos:
AHEF Pioneers Innovative History & Civic Education Initiatives
American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl – Program Information
AHWCCB™ Video
1st American History & Western Civilization Challenge Bowl (AHWCCB) – 2017

For more information about AHWCCB, please visit americanheritage.org.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

The Law of Nature and Nature’s God: One Moral Law Revealed by God in Two Ways

December 14, 2018
The Founding

The Sermon on the Mount by Henrik Olrik, c1855. In the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught the Golden Rule, to “do to others as you would want them to do to you.”

The Declaration of Independence of 1776 tells much about the founding philosophy of the United States of America.  One philosophical principle that the American Founders asserted in the Declaration was the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God.”  This universal moral law served as their moral and legal basis for creating a new, self-governing nation.  One apparent aspect of this law is that it was understood in Western thought and by early Americans to be revealed by God in two ways—in nature and in the Bible—and thus evidences the Bible’s influence in America’s founding document.

The “Law of Nature” is the moral or common sense embedded in man’s heart or conscience (as confirmed in Romans 2:14-15).  It tells one to live honestly, hurt no one, and render to everyone his due.  The law of “Nature’s God” as written in the Bible and spoken by Jesus Christ consists of two great commandments—to love God and love others (as found in Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, and Luke 10:25-28).  The first commandment, first found in Deuteronomy 6:5, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”  The second commandment, often referred to as the Golden Rule and first found in Leviticus 19:18, is to “love your neighbor as yourself” or, as expressed by Jesus in Matthew 7:12, to “do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Thus the content for both the natural and written laws is the same.

The law of Nature and God can be traced through the history and writings of Western Civilization.  This principle is found, for example, in medieval European thought.  In his 1265-1274 Summa Theologica, published in 1485, Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas acknowledged a “two-fold” moral law that is both general and specific: … 

Aquinas explained that the written law in the Bible was given by God due to the fallibility of human judgment and the perversion of the natural law in the hearts of many.  In the 1300s, medieval Bible scholars referred to the “Law of Nature and God” as a simple way to describe God’s natural and written law, its two expressions.  The phrase presented this law in the same order and timing in which God revealed it to mankind in history—first in creation and then in Holy Scripture.

During the Reformation period, French religious reformer John Calvin affirmed this two-fold moral law in his 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, observing, “It is certain that the law of God, which we call the moral law, is no other than a declaration of natural law, and of that conscience which has been engraven by God on the minds of men.”  He further explains, “The very things contained in the two tables [or commandments in the Bible] are…dictated to us by that internal law which…is…written and stamped on every heart.”  Incidentally, Puritan leader John Winthrop, who led a large migration of Calvinist Puritans from England to the American colonies, identified God’s two-fold moral law in his well-known 1630 sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, delivered to the Puritans as they sailed to America.  He taught,

There is likewise a double law by which we are regulated in our conversation one towards another:  …the law of nature and the law of grace, or the moral law and the law of the Gospel….  By the first of these laws, man…is commanded to love his neighbor as himself.  Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law which concerns our dealings with men.

During the Enlightenment period, British philosopher John Locke, who was influential to the Founders, wrote of the “law of God and nature” in his 1689 First Treatise of Civil Government.  This law, he noted, “being everywhere the same, the Eternal Rule of Right, obliges Christians and all men everywhere, and is to all men the standing Law of Works.”  English legal theorist William Blackstone, another oft-cited thinker of the American founding era, recognized the two-fold moral law in his influential 1765-1769 Commentaries on the Laws of England.  This law, he believed, could be known partially by man’s imperfect natural reason and completely by the Bible.  Due to man’s imperfect reason, Blackstone like Aquinas observed, the Bible’s written revelation is necessary: …

Portrait of Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley, 1772.

Founding-era Americans themselves recognized the two-fold moral law of nature and God.  American revolutionary leader Samuel Adams was, for example, one significant voice on the law of Nature and God during the American Revolution.  He referred to this law as the source of man’s natural rights in his 1772 Report on the Rights of Colonists, asserting, “‘Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty’ in matters spiritual and temporal is a thing that all men are clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature.”  Later, in a 1792 address to the Massachusetts legislature, Adams again referred to this two-fold law:

All men are equally bound by the laws of nature, or to speak more properly, the laws of the Creator.  They are imprinted by the finger of God on the heart of man.  Thou shall do no injury to thy neighbor, is the voice of nature and reason, and it is confirmed by written revelation [in the Bible].

In his 1796 Senate notes, American Founder and second president John Adams recognized the two-fold Law of Nature and God as the same moral law:

One great advantage of the Christian Religion is that it brings the great principle of the Law of nature and nations—Love your neighbor as yourself, and do to others as you would that others should do to you—to the knowledge, belief, and veneration of the whole people.

Official Portrait of U. S. Supreme Court Justice James Wilson

American Founder, Supreme Court Justice, and lawyer James Wilson elaborated on the natural and written moral law in his 1790-1791 Lectures on Law: …

Both the natural and written law, Wilson emphasized, are given by God and necessary for fully understanding God’s moral law.  He explained, “The law of nature and the law of revelation [in the Bible] are both divine.  They flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source.  It is, indeed, preposterous, to separate them from each other.  The object of both is to discover the will of God—and both are necessary for the accomplishment of that end.”  This law, Wilson asserted, upholds the maxims to obey God, to injure no man, and to faithfully fulfill one’s engagements.

In conclusion, while Americans have complete religious freedom and are not required to hold a religious belief in the Bible or Judeo-Christianity, it is important for Americans to recognize and appreciate that the early colonists held a certain philosophical worldview when founding the United States.  This worldview derived largely from Western thought and their beliefs and values.  Indeed, they apparently affirmed the two-fold idea of a moral law for mankind, found in nature and the Bible.  When the Founders wrote the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God” into the Declaration, therefore, they were likely referencing the law that came not only from human nature and reason but from written revelation in the Bible.  Thus the Declaration, as Gary T. Amos observes in his Defending the Declaration:  How the Bible and Christianity Influenced the Writing of the Declaration of Independence, “makes the Bible a fundamental part of the legal foundation of America.  …The phrase…incorporates by reference the moral law of the Bible into the founding document of our country!”

Portrait of Benjamin Rush by Charles Willson Peale, c1818

The Declaration’s “Law of Nature and Nature’s God” serves not only as the legal basis for the American founding but is also a testament to the philosophical, religious beliefs and values of a people who sought to create a godly, free, and just nation—a nation that closely reflected the kingdom of heaven on earth.  It is the creed of a people who sought to abide, with God’s grace and help, by God’s law of love.  Citing the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35, American Founder Benjamin Rush expressed well an American view of such values in a 1791 letter on the “Defense of the Use of the Bible in Schools:”

Let us not be wiser than our Maker.  If moral precepts alone could have reformed mankind, the mission of the Son of God into our world would have been unnecessary.  He came to promulgate a system of doctrines, as well as a system of morals.  The perfect morality of the Gospel rests upon a doctrine which, though often controverted, has never been refuted.  I mean the vicarious life and death of the Son of God.  This sublime and ineffable doctrine delivers us from the absurd hypotheses of modern philosophers concerning the foundation of moral obligation, and fixes it upon the eternal and self-moving principle of LOVE.  It concentrates a whole system of ethics in a single text of scripture:  “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you.”

Michael Novak in his On Two Wings:  Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding affirms the biblical, Judeo-Christian values that influenced early Americans and shaped the American founding:  “In those days, faith permeated philosophy and lifted it above its own limitations.  …  The vast majority of the American Founders and the whole ratifying people thought and acted in the conviction that the American theory of rights is religious as well as reasonable.”

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Sources for more information:
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.

Aquinas, Thomas.  The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Part 2, No. 1/QQ 1-XXVI.  Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.  New York:  Benziger Brothers, 1911.  Google Books.  See Question 91, Articles 4 & 5, and Question 94, Article 5.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
3.  The American Revolution
4.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
5.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
6.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
7.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
8.  The American Quest for Self-Government
9.  The Creator God:  The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America
10.  The Law of Nature:  The Universal Moral Law of Mankind
11.  The Law of Nature in the Bible

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 6:  Identifying Biblical Principles in the Declaration, p. 237, 372-376.  MS-HS.

Identifying Biblical Principles in the Declaration…. 

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn key principles of the Declaration of Independence including Creator God, God as Supreme Judge, Law of Nature and Nature’s God, Rule of Law, Popular Sovereignty, and Consent of the Governed, and how historical, influential thinkers and early Americans connected these concepts with the Bible.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 7 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 7.1 to 7.12, 7.18, & pp. 236-237.
2) Essay/Handout:  Principles of the American Revolution by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 354-356, or in the “Miracle of America Snapshots” handout under member resources at americanheritage.org.
3)  “Historical Figures Quoted in Miracle of America” and “References to the Law of Nature and Natural Rights in Miracle of America” in “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 347-348, 360-61, 366-371.
4)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

Matching Card Game:
Beforehand, the teacher should print, copy, and cut the matching game cards for a class set.  If students work in small groups of 2 or 3, the teacher will only need to create 10-15 plastic bags of cards to make a class set.  Before the game, the teacher should show and discuss the art image “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo with students.  Students should be familiar with this image before playing the game.  Follow game instructions.  See “The Creation of Adam” Michelangelo painting and the “Matching Card Game” instructions and cut-outs in the “Supporting Resources” section of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 372-376.

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Self-Evident Truth: A Philosophy of Rights in the Declaration of Independence

November 29, 2018
The Founding

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis, c1785.

When American Founder Benjamin Franklin edited Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the United States’ Declaration of Independence, he changed the wording of one important phrase from “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  The notion of “self-evident” truth is the idea that some truths do not require complex reasoning or evidence to prove.  Such truths are simply understood by basic, original evidence and man’s innate moral or common sense.  They are often called “first principles” upon which other truths and arguments are based.  The Declaration of Independence of 1776 conveys the principle of self-evident truth in stating, “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.”  This principle contributes to the American understanding of and justification for the equality and natural rights of mankind.  While self-evident truth may hold value from a purely secular, scientific and rational standpoint, many early God-oriented thinkers also found it to be compatible with biblical, Christian teaching.  Franklin knew this.

The support for self-evident truth is found among Christian thinkers throughout history.  Augustine of Hippo in the 400s, John of Damascus in the 700s, Thomas Aquinas in the 1200s, and John Calvin and Richard Hooker of the 1500s all expressed ideas related to self-evident truth.  The concept was later supported by God-oriented Enlightenment-era thinkers including John Locke and, ultimately, by the American Founders.

In his 1265-1274 Summa Theologica, Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas acknowledged that some truths are “naturally implanted” in human beings and are therefore self-evident.  Such truths, he believed, include the existence of God and God’s natural, moral law.  Drawing from John of Damascus in Orthodox Faith, Aquinas writes, for instance, about the self-evident existence of God:  “These things are said to be self-evident to us, the knowledge of which is naturally implanted in us, as we can see in regard to first principles.  [Saint John] the Damascene says that the knowledge of God is naturally implanted in all.  Therefore, the existence of God is self-evident.”  Aquinas further asserted that the two Great Commandments in the Bible to love God and others, as found in Matthew 22, are also self-evident to mankind.  These principles of God’s universal moral law, he writes, “need no further promulgation after being once imprinted on the natural reason to which they are self-evident; as, for instance, that one should do evil to no man.”

French religious reformer John Calvin expounded on the existence of God based on self-evident truth in his 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, writing about “the knowledge of God naturally implanted in the human mind.”  For one, he draws from Romans 1:18-20 in which the Apostle Paul writes about the evidence of God in creation: …

Calvin consequently affirms that “the knowledge of God being manifested to all” means every person is “without excuse.”  In addition, Calvin asserts that the knowledge of God is self-evidently manifested through a person’s inward moral sense or conscience.  Alluding to Romans 2:15 in which the Apostle Paul says that God’s moral law is written on human hearts, Calvin explains, …

English theologian Richard Hooker, influenced by Augustine and Aquinas, also acknowledged self-evident truth.  He explains in his 1594-1597 Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity that “to make nothing evident of itself to man’s understanding were to take away all possibility of knowing anything.”  Hooker believed, for example, that a universal moral law or Law of Nature among humanity is self-evident.  He pointed out from Augustine that some truths are “universally agreed upon” and that from these truths the “greatest moral duties we owe towards God or man may without any great difficulty be concluded.”

British philosopher John Locke, influenced by Hooker, recognized self-evident truths that do not require complex reasoning to understand.  He asserts in his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, “There are a sort of propositions, which under the name of maxims or axioms, have passed for principles of science; and because they are self-evident, have been supposed innate.”  Locke affirmed the existence of a Creator God as self-evident based on natural creation.  Citing Romans 1:20, he expresses, “I judge it as certain and clear a truth, as can anywhere be delivered, that ‘the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made.’”

Just as Benjamin Franklin, American Founder James Wilson similarly recognized self-evident truths, calling them common sense and first principles.  Echoing Hooker and Locke, Wilson expounds on this idea in his 1790-1791 Lectures on Law (Vol. 1): … 

With their inclusion of the principle of self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence, the American Founders affirmed mankind’s creation by God and moral, common sense.  While this principle may at times be identified within secular science and reason, it is also strongly supported by the Bible.  In fact, this principle was historically acknowledged by Christian thinkers—with Romans 1 to support the existence of God through creation and with Romans 2 to support man’s moral sense.  It stands to reason that if God exists as creation evidences, and mankind is made in God’s image as the Bible and man’s conscience confirm, then all human beings possess dignity, equality, and God-given rights.  It is from this philosophy and simple line of reasoning that the Founders asserted some basic moral truths in the Declaration, that all human beings are “created equal” and that their Creator bestows on them the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The Founders knew that without these first principles or self-evident truths, the arguments and defense for man’s equality, rights, and freedoms would ring hollow.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Sources for more information:
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.

Calvin, John.  The Institutes of the Christian Religion:  A New Translation.  Vol. 1, Book 1, Ch. 3.  Translated by Henry Beveridge.  Edinburgh, Scotland:  Printed for Calvin Translation Society, 1845.  pp. 55-56.  Google Books.

Related blogs/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  The Puritans’ Moral Authority was the Bible
3.  Great Awakening Principle:  All Men Equal Before God
4.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
5.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Dignity of the Human Being
6.  How the Great Awakening Impacted American Unity, Democracy, Freedom & Revolution
7.  The American Revolution
8.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
9.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
10.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
11.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
12.  The American Quest for Self-Government
13.  The Creator God:  The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America
14.  The Law of Nature:  The Universal Moral Law of Mankind
15.  The Law of Nature in the Bible

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 2, Activity 3:  Unalienable Rights in the Declaration, p. 252, 318-319.  MS-HS.

Unalienable Rights in the Declaration (Revised)

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn key principles from the Declaration of Independence including self-evident truth, natural or unalienable rights, and how influential thinkers like Locke and Sidney as well as early Americans justified these rights and connected them with the Bible and other principles.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 7 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 7.1-7.17, 7.23, & pp. 236-237.
2) Essay/Handout:  Principles of the Declaration of Independence by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 362-364, or in the “Miracle of America Snapshots” handout under member resources (see Miracle of America articles) at americanheritage.org.
3)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

KWL Chart (Revised):
1.  At the outset of the lesson, ask students to write anything they know about unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence on a 3-column KWL Chart under the “K” column for “what I know.”
2.  Students will then respond to the question, “What do you want to know about unalienable rights?”  Students will write this information under the “W” column of their chart for “what I want to know.”  The teacher will then lead students in a reading, analysis, and discussion of unalienable rights and the self-evident truth philosophy that justifies them in the Declaration.
3.  As the lesson concludes, students will add new information they have learned under the “L” column of their chart for “what I’ve learned.”

(See KWL Chart in the “Supporting Resources” section of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 318-319.)

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

The Law of Nature in the Bible

November 1, 2018
The Founding

Saint Thomas Aquinas by Carlo Crivelli, 1476 (National Gallery). Drawing from the ancient Greek philosophy of Aristotle as well as Romans 2:14-15 of the Apostle Paul, Italian Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas in his 1200s Summa Theologica notably identified the Law of Nature in man’s reason and “written in the hearts of men.”

In the Declaration of Independence of 1776, a key founding document, the American Founders presented the founding philosophy of the United States of America.  One important philosophical principle the Founders recognized in the Declaration is a universal moral law among mankind, the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” as the basis for self-government and just civil law.  The Founders’ view of this moral law was consistent with and supported by their God-centered and/or Judeo-Christian worldview, for this law is found in the Bible.

Emerging in the Old Testament and in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, the Law of Nature, or Natural Law, was understood as the moral law that dwells within the heart, conscience, and right reason of every person.  It includes mankind’s basic understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, and it supports the general view that one should not harm others but rather should love others, treating others with dignity and respect.  This basic morality exists among all humanity, regardless of nation, religious belief, culture, etc.  Indeed, it exists before civil society.

This universal moral law was arguably first found in the Old Testament in Genesis 9:6, written by Moses in 1400s BC, in which God sets a moral law to govern humanity:  “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  It is also reflected in God’s great commandment in the Bible to love others as ourselves as found in Deuteronomy 6, Leviticus 19, Matthew 22, Matthew 7, and Mark 12.  One of the key verses where this law was specifically identified was in Romans 2:14-15 in 50s AD by the Apostle Paul.  Paul writes in Romans 2:14-15:

When the Gentiles [non-Jews], who do not have the [written] law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a [natural] law for themselves….  They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times defending them.

Paul points out that this moral law written on the human heart is given by the Creator God to mankind in nature and is validated by a person’s innate moral sense and reason.

The Law of Nature was affirmed by God-oriented medieval and modern thinkers who recognized and cited Paul’s description in Romans 2.  These thinkers included Bible or religious scholars like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Richard Hooker, and William Ames; legalists Edward Coke and William Blackstone; and political philosophers Samuel Rutherford, Samuel Pufendorf, and John Locke.  These thinkers helped to shape Western Civilization and the American Founding.

From the Bible and ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, the Law of Nature was taken up by Christian thinkers and incorporated into European church theology and canon law.  It was then taken up by modern European political reformers as the basis for just civil law and government.  It also became part of Christian legal thought and English common law.  This idea, in turn, influenced those who migrated to and/or lived in the American colonies.  The principle of natural law was thus passed down from Christian thinkers to English legalists and European political theorists to the American Founders.

The Law of Nature was expressed in the United States’ Declaration of Independence as the legal foundation for a new, self-governing nation.  Further, civil laws in this nation aim to abide by this higher moral law.  Civil laws that align with the Law of Nature are considered just, while laws that contradict the Law of Nature are considered unjust.  While the Law of Nature is acknowledged by many secular rationalists, the expression of the Law of Nature in the Declaration shows that early American’s found it to be consistent with and complementary to the Bible and their God-centered, Judeo-Christian beliefs and worldview.  Indeed, the Law of Nature was largely advanced in Western Civilization by God-oriented thinkers.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source for more information:
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.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact Initiated Self-Government
3.  Great Awakening Principle:  All Men Equal Before God
4.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
5.  The American Revolution
6.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
7.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
8.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
9.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
10.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
11.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
12.  The American Quest for Self-Government
13.  The Creator God:  The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America
14.  The Law of Nature:  The Universal Moral Law of Mankind

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 5:  Understanding the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” p. 235, 347-348, 360-361, 366-371.  MS-HS.

Understanding the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God”…. 

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

The Law of Nature: The Universal Moral Law of Mankind

October 18, 2018
The Founding

Declaration of Independence, 1776.  The Declaration opens, “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 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.”

When the American Founders drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence of 1776 to form the United States of America, they set down the principles for the new nation’s founding philosophy.  One of the key principles of the Declaration acknowledged by Americans is a universal moral law, known as the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God.”  This law serves as the legal foundation of self-government and of all civil law in this country.

For a century before the new nation was founded, the American colonists had relied on the British constitution and their colonial charters and laws for the protection of their rights.  As such, when Britain began to impose more intrusive policies on the colonies in the mid-1700s, just prior to the American Revolution, the colonists cited the British constitution and their charters to defend their freedom.  However, when the colonists petitioned for their English rights, King George III rejected their petition, announcing that the colonies were in rebellion and must be controlled by force.  The colonists thus realized they could no longer defend themselves under British law and rule.  In response, they turned to God and His higher moral law, the Law of Nature, as their final defense and hope.  This law is supported by nature, reason, and the Bible.

Recognized for centuries in the West, the Law of Nature is understood as an eternal, constant moral law given by the Creator God to mankind.  This law is naturally revealed in a person’s reason and conscience, or in common sense, and it is considered a natural, rational version of God’s moral law of love in the Bible.  It sets down standards of right and wrong, how to treat others, and justice in society.  It cannot be abolished or changed by any earthly power but simply exists as the will of God.  God purposes this law for the morality, order, and preservation of mankind.  This law is superior to all man-made laws, existing before any civil state existed.  All people and nations are subject to this law at all times, and to oppose it would be ungodly and unjust.  Indeed, just civil laws reflect this higher law.  When applied to civil states, this law is sometimes called the Law of Nations.

Some of the earliest references to the Law of Nature can be found in Genesis written by Moses in 1400s BC, such as Genesis 9:6 in which God sets a moral law to govern humanity:  “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  Other early references came from ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in his 300s BC Rhetoric and from ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) in his 54-51 BC The Republic as reported in 3 AD by Lucius Lactantius, the Christian Roman author and advisor to first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine I.  Cicero was one of the first secular writers to articulate a moral law from God that ruled over all men.  He defined this moral law as man’s “right reason.”  The concept of “Law of Nature” emerged, then, in the Old Testament in ancient times and again during the time of the Gospel and New Testament.  It became part of Western tradition.

Some key historical thinkers who influenced early Americans in their understanding of the Law of Nature included Cicero, medieval churchmen Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suarez, and modern-era thinkers Edward Coke, Samuel Pufendorf, Richard Hooker, and William Blackstone.  These thinkers wrote from a God-oriented worldview.

Portrait of Sir William Blackstone by Thomas Gainsborough, 1744

British lawyer and judge William Blackstone was one of the most frequently cited secular sources of the American founding era.  He affirmed for Americans that the Law of Nature was the highest law, given by God, and that civil law should be based on it.  Blackstone acknowledged the Law of Nature in his 1765-1769 Commentaries on the Laws of England, the best-known description of English common law.  He sought to compare the common law with “the Laws of Nature and of other Nations.”  His Commentaries, taken from his lectures at Oxford University, became the basis of legal education in England and America.  It sold as many copies in America as in England.  Blackstone’s work, observes Russell Kirk in his The Roots of American Order, “confirmed Americans in their appeal to a justice beyond parliamentary statute.”  Blackstone expounds on the Law of Nature as the first and highest moral law, given by God to mankind, and as the basis of just civil law: …

The early Americans, including the American Founders who wrote and signed the Declaration, largely understood and affirmed the Law of Nature as presented by Blackstone.  Blackstone described the Law of Nature through a God-oriented, Bible-based worldview as the law and will of the Creator God and the universal moral law of right and wrong to which all men and all civil laws are accountable.  This law was a key principle and value held by the American people.

Founding-era Americans ultimately based their independence and new self-governing nation on the Law of Nature.  For if one nation’s civil laws or rulers repeatedly violated the Law of Nature by a “long train of abuses,” that nation’s laws and/or rulers were no longer just or legitimate.  The people had a right to separate and govern themselves under just civil laws.  The Declaration of Independence thus opens by stating, “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 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.”  As such, the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God” served as the legal foundation for the American people’s freedom and right to govern themselves as an independent nation, as the United States of America.  Later, the “Law of Nations” was acknowledged in Article I, Section 8, of the U. S. Constitution.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

This article is available as a printable PDF handout in the member resources section on americanheritage.org.  Simply sign up and login as a member (no cost), go to the resources page, and look under Miracle of America articles.

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Source for more information:
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.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  The Mayflower Compact:  The Pilgrims’ First Self-Governing Act in America
3.  Great Awakening Principle:  All Men Equal Before God
4.  Great Awakening Principle:  The Judeo-Christian Law of Love
5.  The American Revolution
6.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
7.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
8.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
9.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
10.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
11.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
12.  The American Quest for Self-Government
13.  The Creator God:  The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 5:  Understanding the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God,” p. 235, 347-348, 360-361, 366-371.  MS-HS.

Understanding the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God”…. 

—–

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

The Creator God: The Basis of Authority, Law, & Rights for Mankind in the United States of America

October 4, 2018
The Founding

Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1932. The painting depicts Founders Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams.

During the American Revolution in the 1700s, the American Founders drafted what would become a key founding document for their new nation, the U. S. Declaration of Independence of 1776.  This document announced their forming of a new nation, the United States of America.  It reflected the values of the American people and comprises principles based on a God-oriented worldview including the recognition of a Creator God as the basis of authority, law, and rights for mankind.

Influenced by a Bible-based and/or Judeo-Christian worldview, the Declaration notably acknowledges a Creator God, just as early Americans had always done.  Whether or not they held orthodox Christian beliefs, most of the American Founders (including those who contributed to the writing of the Declaration like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams) acknowledged a Creator God as well as this widely-held belief among the American people.  Their view of a Creator God of mankind is essential to understanding their perspective on the law, rights, and value assigned to human beings.

American Founder, professor, and Supreme Court Justice James Wilson, for example, explained in his 1790-1791 Lectures on Law how the Creator God is the basis for all authority and law.  He cited Swiss theorist Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui’s 1748 Principles of Natural Law on the point.  Influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, Burlamaqui was often quoted in political sermons of the American founding era, and his Principles was often used as a textbook.  Burlamaqui notably referenced the Bible in his view of God.  Wilson paraphrased Burlamaqui and his allusion to Acts 17:28 to explain the Creator God as the source of all authority and law: … 

Wilson affirmed this idea that the Creator of mankind is the ultimate ruler and law-maker of mankind.  Human beings have an obligation to this Creator and to His laws which are made to preserve moral order.  Further, humanity’s own man-made laws should necessarily reflect the Creator’s for the same purpose.  Wilson observed that this principle raised by Burlamaqui “contains a solemn truth, which ought to be examined with reverence and awe.”  Wilson asserted, “That our Creator has a supreme right to prescribe a law for our conduct, and that we are under the most perfect obligation to obey that law, are truths established on the clearest and most solid principles.”

An excerpt from the Declaration of Independence appears on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

American Founder James Madison—primary writer of the U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and fourth U. S. president—also acknowledged that recognition of a Creator God was essential to the order and benefit of mankind.  He observed, … 

In addition to upholding the moral order and law of the Creator God, the Declaration upheld the dignity and rights of the individual human being.  For human beings are created by God and made in His image and likeness according to Genesis 1 and 2 in the Bible.  The individual’s worth in the eyes of God became the basis for man’s natural rights.  Russell Kirk affirmed in his The American Cause that man’s dignity as God’s creation is the source of man’s rights and freedoms.  He elaborates, …

In sum, the American Founders laid the groundwork for the American philosophy in the U. S. Declaration of Independence of 1776, with its reference to a Creator God and to a moral, natural law and natural rights.  In the new nation of the United States of America, God as Creator and Supreme Judge is recognized as the highest moral authority.  And all individual citizens, as human beings created by God, are recognized as possessing certain unalienable rights and freedoms.  Later, the Founders would base the U. S. Constitution on these principles—in its rule and application of just law and in recognizing that citizens have certain legal rights and protections.

To be sure, United States citizens have religious freedom and are not required to believe in God.  However, it is important for citizens to recognize that individual dignity, rights, and freedoms in the United States are, in fact, based on the philosophical idea of a Creator God.  Removing God from America’s founding philosophy would make the nation more vulnerable to abuse of power, tyranny, corruption, and loss of individual rights and freedoms.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

This article is available as a printable PDF handout in the member resources section on americanheritage.org.  Simply sign up and login as a member (no cost), go to the resources page, and look under Miracle of America articles.

—–
Source for more information:
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.

Related articles/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact Initiated Self-Government
3.  Great Awakening Principle:  Dignity of the Human Being
4.  Great Awakening Principle:  All Men Equal Before God
5.  The American Revolution
6.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
7.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
8.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
9.  American Revolution Debate:  Submission to Authority
10.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
11.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
12.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
13.  The American Quest for Self-Government

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 4:  Principles of the Declaration of Independence, p. 235, 354-356.  MS-HS.

Principles of the Declaration of Independence

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn key principles of the Declaration of Independence including Creator God, Law of Nature and Nature’s God, Popular Sovereignty, Unalienable Rights, and Social Contract, and how historical, influential thinkers and early Americans connected these concepts with the Bible.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 7 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 7.1 to 7.20, 7.23, & pp. 236-237, 240.
2) Essay/Handout:  Principles of the American Revolution by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 354-356, or in the “Miracle of America Snapshots” handout under member resources at americanheritage.org.
3)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

Reading and Questions:
Have students read the “Principles of the American Revolution” reading handout and, as desired, relevant sections in Miracle of America text as indicated on the handout.  Assign specific sections to read, and then analyze and discuss the reading together as a class.  You may wish to project some text on-screen.  Answer questions, clarify vocabulary, and fill in other information as needed.  (The text analysis will help students grasp the terms and concepts, and it is a great practice for having students read historical texts.)  After the reading, have students write answers to the questions that follow on the handout.  Discuss.  This reading or portions of this reading may be done in either the first or second part of this unit as the teacher finds appropriate.  See “Principles of the American Revolution” reading and questions in the “Supporting Resources” section of this course guide, pp. 354-356.  (These questions are also found in Chapter 7 of Miracle of America text, p. 240.)

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

The American Quest for Self-Government

September 20, 2018
The Founding

Patrick Henry Before the House of Burgesses by Peter Frederick Rothermel, 1851.  American Revolutionary leader Patrick Henry addressed the Virginia colonial legislature on May 29, 1765, concerning the Stamp Act (a British act which many colonists viewed as taxation without representation).  The American colonial legislatures served as practical examples of self-government and inspired the new, self-governing nation of the United States.

For a century in the new world, in the 1600s and early 1700s, the American colonies had enjoyed much freedom to govern themselves, with little interference or oversight from Britain.  But in the mid-1700s, King George III began to impose more intrusive, oppressive taxes and policies on the colonies.  Fearing that their hard-won freedoms would be lost, the American colonists asserted their right to representation in British parliament overseas, which they did not have, with regard to colonial policy.  Yet they wanted more.  They wanted complete self-governance, something they had tasted in their colonies for years.

The Americans’ quest for self-government was a highly controversial challenge to the existing authoritarian model of government known and practiced for ages throughout the world.  Such self-government was largely unknown and unpracticed in history.  The position was questioned by some loyalists to Britain.  One loyalist Samuel Seabury, for example, saw this position as a threat to law and order, responding that … 

To Seabury and loyalists, such a position would only lead to chaos and anarchy, for if one person “has a right to disregard the laws of the society to which he belongs, all have the same right; and then government is at an end.”

Despite the loyalists’ argument, the American colonists had proven that self-government was possible.  In unprecedented circumstances, they had governed themselves by their colonial assemblies for generations without falling into disorder and anarchy.  And they were determined to maintain their way of life.

Since British law and rule did not validate the American experience, colonists were compelled to look for justification of their freedoms and sovereignty elsewhere, outside of British law.  “If England insisted that New England’s conception of liberty and sovereignty was wrong,” Harry Stout reflects in his The New England Soul, “then the British constitution…would have to be removed.”  In this predicament, the Americans, true to character, were heading into uncharted territory.  They found themselves, says Stout, “propelled down paths none had dared travel before to a destination none could clearly perceive.”  Yet they were sure of their means to get there.  They believed that men possessed the right to choose their form of government and governors.  American Founder Alexander Hamilton’s later expression about government choice likely reflected the thoughts of revolutionary-era Americans.  Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper 1, … 

Ultimately, the Americans looked to the higher source of God as Creator and Supreme Judge, a universal moral law known as the Law of Nature and Nature’s God, and reason as the basis for their freedoms and rights.  They appealed to such scriptural revelation, nature, and reason in their Declaration of Independence of 1776.  “Without this metaphysical background,” observes Michael Novak in his On Two Wings:  Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, “the founding generation of Americans would have had little heart for the War of Independence.  They would have had no ground for believing that their seemingly unlawful rebellion actually fulfilled the will of God—and suited the laws of nature and nature’s God.”  This Bible-based ethic, worldview, and rationale provided colonists with the moral justification as well as exceptional moral strength and courage to fight the American Revolution when all odds were against them.

With the Declaration of Independence, the American colonies announced their independence from Britain and formed a new nation, the United States of America.  The Americans’ quest for self-government led to the creation of a new republic—a nation self-governed by and for its people, with the people’s consent—that recognized the God-given, natural rights and freedoms of its citizens.  This nation has become the most prosperous and powerful nation in the history of the world.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Sources:
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.

Related blogs/videos:
1.  The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2.  How Reformed Political Thinkers Defended Popular Sovereignty from the Bible
3.  The American Revolution
4.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
5.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
6.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
7.  American Revolution often called the “Presbyterian Rebellion”
8.  American Revolution Debate:  Submission to Authority
9.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
10.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
11.  American Revolution Debate:  The Principle of Civil Covenants
12.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
13.  American Revolution Debate:  Ancient Israel’s Resistance to Oppression & Divided Kingdom

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 7, Part 1, Activity 4:  Principles of the Declaration of Independence, p. 235, 354-356.  MS-HS.

Principles of the Declaration of Independence

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn key principles of the Declaration of Independence including Creator God, Law of Nature and Nature’s God, Popular Sovereignty, Unalienable Rights, and Social Contract, and how historical, influential thinkers and early Americans connected these concepts with the Bible.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 7 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 7.1 to 7.20, 7.23, & pp. 236-237, 240.
2) Essay/Handout:  Principles of the American Revolution by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 354-356, or in the “Miracle of America Snapshots” handout under member resources at americanheritage.org.
3)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

Reading and Questions:
Have students read the “Principles of the American Revolution” reading handout and, as desired, relevant sections in Miracle of America text as indicated on the handout.  Assign specific sections to read, and then analyze and discuss the reading together as a class.  You may wish to project some text on-screen.  Answer questions, clarify vocabulary, and fill in other information as needed.  (The text analysis will help students grasp the terms and concepts, and it is a great practice for having students read historical texts.)  After the reading, have students write answers to the questions that follow on the handout.  Discuss.  This reading or portions of this reading may be done in either the first or second part of this unit as the teacher finds appropriate.  See “Principles of the American Revolution” reading and questions in the “Supporting Resources” section of this course guide, pp. 354-356.  (These questions are also found in Chapter 7 of Miracle of America text, p. 240.)

—–

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

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