|The Westminster Assembly|
D'Elia and myself, appear in agreement with the false exhaltation of Enlightenment philosophy into our founding:
It is anachronistic to think.. that the founding generation did not believe that government must submit to divine positive law. Here the author confuses the Enlightenment minimalistic natural law views of Thomas Jefferson and a relatively small group of Founders with the consensus of the overwhelming majority of the American people in 1776 and 1789 that the state indeed has an obligation to worship God or perish. The Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution, as well as the state constitutions, however they may be celebrated and interpreted in liberal historiography today, were seen at the time as having meaning only within the much larger “oral constitution” of what was a Christian culture-not an Enlightenment culture.Signer of the DOI, Benjamin Rush, is another man who rejected the notion of Lockean Enlightenment Philosophy into the document adhered to by Thomas Jefferson and his miniscule minority:
Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) of Philadelphia signed the Declaration of Independence, but his understanding of its meaning as an evangelical Protestant was very different from that of his secular minded friend, Thomas Jefferson. The “unalienable Rights” of the Declaration, Rush believed with many, many other Americans, were bestowed on man not immediately by some abstraction called nature in the Jeffersonian and Lockean sense, but directly and immediately by the living God. This was no dogmatic individualism! “Self-existence” he protested against the eighteenth century spirit of presumption that would culminate in the French Revolution, “belongs only to God.” The 'language” of American independence, Rush wrote in 1783 to his English Quaker friend, Granville Sharp,has for many years appeared to me to be the same as that of the heavenly host that announced the birth of the Saviour of mankind. It proclaims “glory to God in the highest — on earth peace — good will to man..How foolish it was, how presumptuous it was, to think that some autonomous Jeffersonian man had brought this about, relying only on natural reason! Fulton J. Sheen was much closer to the truth about the meaning of the Declaration of Independence to the American people at the nation's Founding. While no friend of Catholicism, such as he understood it, Dr. Rush would have agreed with the Bishop's characterization of the Declaration of Independence as also a Declaration of Dependence. “The Declaration of Independence” Sheen had the historical insight to realize, “asserts a double dependence: dependence on God, and dependence on law as derived from God... .”Dependence on God is implicit in the DOI, making God the foundation of the covenant as D'Elia notes:
Read the Declaration of Independence and there find the answer: [I might add to the nature of the “American idea”] “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Notice these words: The Creator has endowed men with rights and liberties; men got them from God! In other words, we are dependent on God, and that initial dependence is the foundation of our independence.The Constitution was founded on the principles of the DOI, not the personal viewpoints of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine:
Everyone in the country in 1776, except for a decided minority of men like Jefferson and Thomas Paine who mocked revealed religion, understood the Declaration and the constitution of the United States, including the Federal charter, in this way. Rush believed that the hand of God was to be seen in the Federal Constitution, as much as it had been in His dividing the Red Sea to give a passage to the children of Israel.  The divine character of the new government of the United States was professed from a thousand pulpits, and one did not have to look far to see this confirmed in newspapers and magazines.All the State Constitutions, Fast Day Proclamations by the Congress, were part of Puritan Covenant Theology that imbedded the entire nation:
What John Henry Newman called the “goodly framework of society which is the creating of Christianity” was still in place in the period of the nation's Founding.  Religion was the “bond of society,” and real law of the land, not, what was often ridiculed as `parchment” constitutionalism. Tocqueville was right to say, and many years had passed from the creating of the Republic when he said it, that the Christian religion was “the foremost of the political institutions of the United States (my italics)..In 1776, though, Dr. Benjamin Rush was representative of the great majority of Americans in giving explicit Christian and biblical meaning to the Declaration of Independence and all the other national and state charters that were to follow. They were covenants, having a solemn religious character as among the ancient Hebrews, no mere secular contracts or Lockean compacts. Their model, whether consciously realized or not, was that of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 applying ideas of church government to civil government. Only the Anglicans to some extent, were exempted from what Perry Miller has called the “Federal or Covenant Theology,” the American people's intense awareness of their being “a chosen race, entered into specific covenant with God, by the terms of which they would be proportionately punished for their sins.” The over-exaggeration of John Locke's influence, by missing the forest for the trees, is a smoke-screen for modern liberal secularists, to twist the Declaration and Constitution into whatever they will:
The symbols of the covenant an jeremiad,” that popular recital of the Chosen People's sins, were what mattered. Even “British liberties” and the social and political philosophy of John Locke made sense only within this Gestalt .The Covenant structure was always in Orthodox Trinitarian language, not of the unitarian minority within the Boston area, or the infidel musings of TJ and Thomas Paine. Notice, Congress AGREED to this distinctly PURITAN proclamation:
On a report of a committee, consisting of Mr. [Joseph] Montgomery, Mr. [Oliver] Wolcott, and Mr. [John Morin] Scott, appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, to set apart a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer Congress agreed to the following Proclamation:
The goodness of the Supreme Being to all his rational creatures, demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; his absolute government of this world dictates, that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate his mercy favor and implore his protection.When the lust of dominion or lawless ambition excites arbitrary power to invade the rights, or endeavor to wrench wrest from a people their sacred and unalienable invaluable privileges, and compels them, in defence of the same, to encounter all the horrors and calamities of a bloody and vindictive war; then is that people loudly called upon to fly unto that God for protection, who hears the eries of the distressed, and will not turn a deaf ear to the supplication of the oppressed. Great Britain, hitherto left to infatuated councils, and to pursue measures repugnant to their her own interest, and distressing to this country, still persists in the chimerical idea design of subjugating these United States; which will compel us into another active and perhaps bloody campaign.The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, taking into consideration our present situation, our multiplied transgressions of the holy laws of our God, and his past acts of kindness and goodness exercised towards us, which we would ought to record with the liveliest gratitude, think it their indispensable duty to call upon the different several states, to set apart the last Thursday in April next, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, that our joint supplications may then ascend to the throne of the Ruler of the Universe, beseeching Him that he would to diffuse a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens; and make us a holy, that so we may be an happy people; that it would please Him to impart wisdom, integrity and unanimity to our counsellors; to bless and prosper the reign of our illustrious ally, and give success to his arms employed in the defence of the rights of human nature; that He would smile upon our military arrangements by land and sea; administer comfort and consolation to our prisoners in a cruel captivity; that he would protect the health and life of our Commander in Chief; give grant us victory over our enemies; establish peace in all our borders, and give happiness to all our inhabitants; that he would prosper the labor of the husbandman, making the earth yield its increase in abundance, and give a proper season for the in gathering of the fruits thereof; that He would grant success to all engaged in lawful trade and commerce, and take under his guardianship all schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of virtue and piety; that He would incline the hearts of all men to peace, and fill them with universal charity and benevolence, and that the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.-Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 TUESDAY, MARCH 19, 1782.
1. Quoted in D.J. D'Elia, Benjamin Rush: Philosopher of the American Revolution (Philadelphia, 1974), p.56. On Jefferson, see idem., The Spirits of `76: A Catholic Inquiry (Front Royal, Va., 1983), ch. 1, pp. 9-23; idem., “The Real Bicentennial: the Continual Quest for a Therapy of Order,” Faith and Reason 13, No. 4 (1986), pp. 353-362.
2. Quoted in Christopher Dawson, “The Trend to Secularism,” in James Oliver and Christina Scott, eds., Religion and World History: A Selection from the Works of Christopher Dawson (Garden City, N.Y., 1975), p.290.
3. “From the Covenant to the Revival,” in James Ward Smith and A. Leland Jamison, eds., The Shaping of American Religion , vol. I of Religion in American Life (4 vols.: Princeton, New Jersey, 1961), pp.325, 339.
4. Ibid., 328, “Our mental image of the religious patriot,” Perry Miller observed of the orations of the day, “is distorted because modern accounts do treat the political paragraphs as a series of theoretical expositions of Locke, separated from what precedes and follows. When these orations are read as wholes, they immediately reveal that the sociological sections are structural parts of a rhetorical pattern. Embedded in their contexts, these are not abstractions but inherent parts of a theology. It was for this reason that they had so energizing an effect upon their religious auditors,” ibid., p. 342.