Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Was The Declaration of Independence A Covenant With God?

Most secularists reject the idea the Declaration of Independence was a covenant with God. Upon closer examination, whether from Revelation or Natural Law, the DOI implores God's protection, with the understanding, God's judgment will follow our National Sins. God's protection is contingent.
Daniel J. Elazar, from The Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs, explains, "the concept and intention of the Declaration is more covenantal than compactual in the American context. As Jefferson remarked nearly fifty years later:"


Neither aiming at originality of principles or sentiments nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American Mind 1
I cannot read this quote, in its context, supporting a covenant. However, this compact was definitely copied from a particular and previous writing, that John Adams alluded to. The idea had been established in every colony for over one-hundred years, starting with the Mayflower Compact on Nov. 11, 1620:
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-writen, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., haveing undertaken, for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutualy in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
Founding Father John Q. Adams claimed the Mayflower Compact was a Covenant with God 2, as well as calling it the foundation for the Constitution in a speech in 1802.  Samuel Adams told Congress his feelings:

In 1777, many of the warmest friends of America, began to despair. It was at this critical juncture, after Congress had resolved to adjourn from Philadelphia to Lancaster, that some of the leading members accidentally met in company with each other. A conversation in mutual confidence ensued. Mr. Adams, who was one of the number, was cheerful and undismayed at the aspect of affairs, while the countenances of his friends were strongly marked with the desponding feelings of their hearts. The conversation naturally turned upon the subject which most engaged their feelings. Each took occasion to express his opinions on the situation of the publick cause, and all were gloomy and sad. Mr. Adams listened in silence, till they had finished. He then said : " Gentlemen, your spirits appear to be heavily oppressed with our publick calamities I hope you do not despair of our final success ?" It was answered, that " the chance was desperate." Mr. Adams replied: " If this be our language, it is so, indeed. If we wear long faces, they will become fashionable. The people take their tone from ours, and if we despair, can it be expected that they will continue their efforts in what we conceive to be a hopeless cause ? Let us banish such feelings, and show a spirit that will keep -alive the confidence of the people, rather than damp their courage. Better tidings will soon arrive. Our cause is just and righteous, and we shall never be abandoned by Heaven, while we show ourselves worthy of its aid and protection."
Furthermore, at Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address, he stated our Republic was a "choosen country." Although I doubt he believed what he said, he understood what the people believed.

There are many similiarities with the Sinai Covenant, however, as  Elazar writes, "the Declaration invokes God as both a witness and guarantor. This sets it apart from a simple compact." It is quite striking that our DOI appears much more than a compact, as H. Richard Niebuhr describes:

Covenant meant that political society was neither purely natural nor merely contractual, based on common interest. Covenant was the binding together in one body politic of persons who assumed through unlimited promise responsibility to and for each other and for the common laws, under God. It was government of the people, for the people and by the people but always under God, and it was not natural birth into natural society that made one a complete member of the people but always the moral act of taking upon oneself, through promise, the responsibilities of a citizenship that bound itself in the very act of exercising its freedom. For in the covenant conception the essence of freedom does not lie in the liberty of choice among goods, but in the ability to commit oneself for the future to a cause and in the terrible liberty of being able to become a breaker of the promise, a traitor to the cause.3
Another important fact resides in the Covenant relationship in Federalism.This form of Federalism is completely Puritan. The Puritan form of Federalism ultimately grew into our society by way of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism. Elazar explains, "there were no extant models for the framers of the U.S. Constitution except New England. Furthermore, representatives from New England, especially Connecticut and Massachusetts, were influential in the Constitutional Convention. The principal compromise of the Convention, The Connecticut Compromise, was initiated by those delegates accustomed to the New England legislative system in which one house provided for representation of towns."

Samuel Adams' Oration to the people tell us the DOI was a covenant:

We have explored the temple of royalty, and found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes which see not, ears that hear not our prayers, and a heart like the nether millstone. We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient.
-Samuel Adams, An Oration: Delivered at the State-House in Philadelphia, to very Numerous Audience, as Thursday the 1st of August, 1776. (Philadelphia, 1776).





Notes

1. Saul K. Padover, Jefferson (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1942), p. 54.

2. John Quincy Adams, The Social Compact, Exemplified in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; with Remarks on the Theories of Divine Right of Hobbes and of Filmer, and the Counter Theories of Sidney, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, concerning the Origin and Nature of Government, a lecture delivered before the Franklin Lyceum at Providence, R.I., November 25, 1842 (Providence: Knowles and Vose, 1842).

3. H. Richard Niebuhr, "The Idea of Covenant and American Democracy."



 


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