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The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era

May 11, 2018

The Bible had a definite influence on the American Revolution and on the founding of our nation.  During the revolutionary era, colonists debated fiercely over whether revolution was acceptable according to the Bible.  While some colonists opposed revolution as unbiblical, many colonists supported it as biblical.  Those who supported revolution were often called “patriots” or “Whigs” after the pro-reform political party in England.  Many patriot revolutionary leaders, congressional delegates, founders, clergy and ministers, and other colonists spoke and wrote in support of the cause of liberty from the Bible—educating, uniting, and mobilizing Americans for the cause and its principles.

In confirmation of this point, a groundbreaking study by Donald S. Lutz, as discussed in his 1988 The Origins of American Constitutionalism, shows that the Bible was the most frequently cited source in the political literature of 1760-1805 that influenced American political thought.  This literature included both secular writings and ministers’ sermons.  The secular European thinkers that Lutz found to be most influential to American political thought and writings were Charles de Montesquieu, John Locke, and William Blackstone.  These thinkers all cited or drew from the Bible and/or a God-centered, Judeo-Christian worldview.  Due to the frequency of biblical citations, Lutz observes, 

The frequent use of the Bible in the public and private writings of the Founding era reveals the Bible’s strong cultural influence in society during that time.  Americans’ frequent references to the Bible in public discourse, asserts Daniel L. Dreisbach in his 2011 essay “The Bible in the Political Rhetoric of the American Founding” in Politics and Religion, “reveals as much about the Bible’s place in the hearts and minds of their audiences as it does about them.”  The Bible, he points out, was the lingua franca of the late 1700s, the “most authoritative, accessible, and familiar literary text in America.”  Americans, Dreisbach elaborates, held a strong spiritual and moral belief in the Bible and viewed this book as relevant to all areas of life and society.  They saw in the Bible a God who cares about mankind and human events, and they searched this book to understand how God might be involved in their nation’s development.

Thus, in addition to Whig revolutionary political thought and other influences, the Bible and religion were, as confirmed by statistical and contextual research, a significant influence—if not the most important influence—on the American Revolution and the new nation.  The fact that the Bible was intensively debated and discussed among Founding-era Americans reveals its importance to and influence on the revolutionary generation and the revolution itself.  Moreover, it reveals that Americans, after the revolution, looked to the Bible more than any other source for guidance on the founding, formation, and structure of our new nation, the United States of America.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Sources:
Lutz, Donald S.  The Origins of American Constitutionalism.  Baton Rouge, LA:  Louisiana State U Press, 1988.
Dreisbach, Daniel L.  “The Bible in the Political Rhetoric of the American Founding.”  Politics and Religion 4, issue 3 (Dec 2011):  401-427.
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 Effects:  Unity, Democracy, Freedom, and Revolution 
3.  The American Revolution:  An Introduction
4.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
5.  American Revolution often called the “Presbyterian Rebellion”
6.  American Revolution Debate:  Submission to Authority
7.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
8.  How the American Revolution shed light on the Moral Problem of Slavery
9.  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
10.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
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
14.  American Revolution Debate:  The Lawfulness of Defensive War
15.  Freedom:  The Most Important Characteristic of America
16.  John Locke & Algernon Sidney:  A Bible-based Defense of Equality and Popular Sovereignty

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 6, Part 1, Activity 3:  Principles of the American Revolution, p. 205, 354-356.  MS-HS.

Principles of the American Revolution

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn about the historical context of the American Revolution and the Bible-based principle of freedom that drove the colonists to support revolution against Britain.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 6 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 6.1 and 6.2 in particular.
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” handout and, as desired, relevant sections in Miracle of America sourcebook as indicated on the handout.  (The Miracle book is high-level reading, so if you wish to have students read directly from the book, assign specific sections 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 great practice for having students read historical text.)  After the reading, have students write answers to the questions that follow on the handout.  See “Principles of the American Revolution” handout and review questions in the “Supporting Resources” section of the course guide, pp. 354-356.  Review questions are also found in Chapter 6 of the Miracle of America sourcebook, p. 175.

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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.

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Published by: The Founding

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