Many American patriots supported the American Revolution and independence from Britain in accordance with the Bible-based principle of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty, or the people’s rule, asserted that human beings are created equal, given dominion by God, and thus should be governed based on consent. Many Americans refuted the Divine Right of Kings or the absolute, unlimited rule of a monarch or earthly power over their country. For God was their king.
One of the most influential tracts of the revolution that refuted the Divine Right of Kings in support of popular sovereignty and independence from Britain was political pamphleteer Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense. Paine, an English-born American who came to Philadelphia in 1744, questioned not only the king’s policies but also the legitimacy of the king’s rule and power. To do this, he took references from the Bible (which were also found in earlier Christian political writings in Europe including John Ponet’s 1556 Short Treatise and Samuel Rutherford’s 1644 Lex Rex) and put these ideas fresh into the minds of revolutionary-era Americans. Paine argued that the American cause should be one not just of revolution against taxes but of independence. Selling more than 500,000 copies, Paine’s pamphlet, more than any other revolutionary writing, paved the way for the Declaration of Independence.
Paine questioned the authority of King George III and absolute rulers on biblical grounds in favor of representative government. He argued that since all men are created equal, it was unnatural for one man to rule over others without their consent. Paine also pointed to God’s disapproval of Israel’s adoption of kings found in 1 Samuel 8 due to the fallen nature of mankind and because God Himself was supposed to be their king. Citing 1 Samuel 8:6-9, he observes, …
The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the Heathens is something exceedingly unaccountable; but so it was, that laying hold of the misconduct of Samuel’s two sons who were entrusted with some secular concerns, the Israelites came in an abrupt and clamorous manner to Samuel, saying, Behold you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations. And here we cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, ie. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much unlike them as possible. But the thing displeased Samuel…and he prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me and served other Gods, so do they also to you. Now therefore hearken unto their voice, albeit protest solemnly unto them and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them, ie. not of any particular king, but the general manner of the kings of the earth whom Israel was so eagerly copying after. And not withstanding the great distance of time and difference of manners, the character is still in fashion. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked him for a king. And he said this shall be the manner of king that shall reign over you. …And you shall cry out in that day because of your king which you have chosen, and THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY. This accounts for the continuation of Monarchy. Neither do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title or blot out the sinfulness of the origin. The high encomium given of David [King of Israel] takes no notice of him officially as a king but only as a man after God’s own heart.
Paine suggested that, like the Israelites, Americans are not destined to be arbitrarily ruled by an earthly absolute ruler or power that might oppress them. God is their king and provider of freedoms, and the law is their guide. He explains, …
But where, say some, is the King of America? I’ll tell you friend, He reigns above, and does not make havoc of mankind…. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter. Let it be brought forth and placed on the Divine Law, the Word of God. Let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.
Thus Americans declared their independence from Britain with the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and formed a new, self-governing nation, the United States of America. They set up the nation as a constitutional republic based on the principles of equality, God-given unalienable rights, consent of the governed, and rule of law.
Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
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.
1. The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2. The Pilgrims Identified with the Israelites
3. The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact was a Covenant
4. The Puritans Identified with the Israelites and Practiced Covenants
5. The Puritans Elected Representatives to Govern in their American Colonies
6. Why the Puritans Favored Limited Government
7. Thomas Hooker as the “father of American Democracy”
8. Why Thomas Hooker Favored Democracy over Aristocracy
9. Great Awakening Effects: Unity, Democracy, Freedom, and Revolution
10. The American Revolution: An Introduction
11. The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
12. The American Revolution was sometimes called the “Presbyterian Rebellion”
13. American Revolution Debate: Submission to Authority
14. American Revolution Debate: God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
15. How the American Revolution shed light on the Moral Problem of Slavery
16. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense: God’s Opposition to Absolute Rule
17. American Revolution Debate: The American Quest for a New, Bible-Inspired Republic
18. American Revolution Debate: The Principle of Civil Covenants
19. American Revolution Debate: Obedience to God Over Man
20. American Revolution Debate: Ancient Israel’s Resistance to Oppression & Divided Kingdom
21. American Revolution Debate: The Lawfulness of Defensive War
22. Freedom: The Most Important Characteristic of America
Poster: Declaration of Independence
Activity: The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 6, Part 2, Activity 3: Bible-Based Justification for Revolution, p. 219, 359. MS-HS.
Bible-Based Justification for Revolution
Purpose/Objective: Students examine the bible-based arguments made by Patriot Americans in support of revolution against Britain. Students learn about the influence of the Bible during the Founding era.
1) Chapter 6 of Miracle of America reference/text. Students read sections 6.1 to 6.12.
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).
Patriot Revolutionary Chart:
In your own words, explain/describe the following biblical principles or arguments used by many patriot Americans to justify/support the American Revolution. Students may include the sources/thinkers who promoted each argument. Provide relevant scripture verse(s) for each argument. See the “Bible-Based Justification for Revolution” Patriot Chart in the “Supporting Resources” section of the course guide, p. 359.
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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