John Eidsmore, Pastor, Assn. of Free Lutheran Congregations, and Professor at Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy has written a post on Firm Foundation about John Calvin's legacy to our Founding.
Calvin was no doubt the Greatest of Reformers during the Protestant Reformation, being the only person to give a succinct Christian Theology. Calvin greatly influenced the Founding Fathers in their understanding of Law and Government, as Eidsmore explains:
"But if, as Calvin taught, every plowboy should be able to read and interpret the Scriptures for himself, then every plowboy must be taught to read. This led to widespread literacy, which made republican self-government possible."
It is true, the framers wanted literacy to be a great part of Republican Government. Benjamin Rush was among the many who labored hard for literacy to any and everyone, not to mention, nearly all the framers affirmed Calvin's Human Depravity which leads to Republican Representative Government:
"Calvin’s emphasis on Sola Gratia led to a recognition of the total depravity of human nature. Because of man’s sinful nature, we cannot live in a state of anarchy; we need government to maintain law and order. But because those in authority have the same sinful nature as the rest of us, we cannot trust government with too much power. This led to the system of limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, and reserved individual rights that characterize republican self-government."
The framers employed Calvin's Human Depravity into Representative Government, which led to consent of the governed, separation of powers, etc. Representative government derives from the Calvinist concept of solidarity; the Biblical notion of persons (The King) representing the group, and the group judged by actions of the one (King). This Calvinist (Biblical) idea, being "In Adam" because of the imputation of sin, and "In Christ" by the imputation of Christ's Righteousness, is based on solidarity. In fact, Calvin's espousal of Original Sin is an air-tight case, quoting James 3:9 as scriptural support. If man is to deny Original Sin, he must deny man is made in the image of God as well.
Other historians have claimed Calvin's great influence on our Founding:
"But Leopold von Ranke, founder of the modern school of history in Germany, stated flatly, “John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.” And George Bancroft, the leading American historian of the first half of the 1800s, though not a Calvinist himself, called Calvin the “father of America” and added, “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”
Calvin on Romans 13, and the responsibility of civil rulers:
'Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the well-being of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects; they are therefore debtors to them."
-Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 481.
And in some cases it appears Calvin allowed lower magistrates to overthrow a wicked ruler:
"For if there are now any magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings (as in ancient times the ephors . . .), I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dis-simulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance."
- Calvin, Institutes 4. 20. 30