The American Quest for Self-Government
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 enjoyed 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 …
The position that we are bound by no laws to which we have not consented either by ourselves, or our representatives, is a novel position, unsupported by any authoritative record of the British constitution, ancient or modern. It is republican in its very nature, and tends to the utter subversion of the English monarchy.
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, …
It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
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.
 William J. Seabury, Memoir of Bishop Seabury (New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1908), 162.
 Samuel Seabury, Samuel Seabury’s Ungathered Imprints: Historical Perspectives of the Early National Years, ed. Kenneth W. Cameron (Hartford, CT: Transcendental Books, 1978), 70.
 Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York: Oxford U Press, 1986), 291-292.
 Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 1 in The Federalist Papers, ed. Clinton Rossiter (New York: Mentor/Penguin books, 1961), 33.
 Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2002), 12.
Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
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.
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
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.
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.
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