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Friday, December 21, 2007

How many Founding Fathers were involved in Church Ministry?

In October, during one of the numerous presidential debates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination, made the following statement:

"When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them."

Were most of the Signers clergymen? The answer is No, but by Webster's definition of what constitutes a minister of the Gospel, there are at least three. J.L. Bell, at his blog, “Boston 1775" identifys only one: John Witherspoon.

Of course, Republican Candidate Mike Huckabee's statement is incorrect, showing his knowledge of history. Going back to the foundation of our country, with the inclusion of the Signers of the Articles of Association, and Confederation, there may be more.

Signer of the Declaration of Independence Robert Treat Paine was a minister, no matter how long his tenure:

Robert G. Ferris (editor), Signers of the Declaration: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Washington, D.C. (revised edition 1975), page 115-116:
"A clergyman turned lawyer-jurist, Robert Treat Paine"

"He acted as chaplain of the troops on the northern frontier in 1755 and subsequently preached in the pulpits of the regular clergy in Boston and vicinity."

Webster's in 1828, supports my description of Paine:

ORDA''INED, pp. Appointed; instituted; established; invested with ministerial or pastoral functions; settled.

CHAPLAIN, n. 1. An ecclesiastic who has a chapel, or who performs service in a chapel. The king of Great Britain has forty-eight chaplains, who attend, four each month, to perform divine service for the royal family. Princes also, and persons of quality have chaplains, who officiate in their chapels.
2. A CLERGYMAN who belongs to a ship of war, or to a regiment of land forces, for performing divine service.

It is true, Paine departed from Christianity and became a unitarian, this point being irrelevant, as Paine was orthodox while helping to form the nation.

Signer of the Declaration Lyman Hall was a minister:

"In 1749 he began preaching in Bridgeport and adjacent towns. Young and immature, he probably entrapped himself in the middle of a liberal-conservative schism and in some way alienated his congregation. But repentance brought quick reinstatement from dismissal in 1751, and for a couple of years he temporarily filled vacant pulpits."
Robert G. Ferris (editor), Signers of the Declaration: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Washington, D.C. (revised edition 1975), pages 65-67

"Hall graduated from Yale College in 1747 and studied theology with his uncle, Rev Samuel Hall (1695-1776; Yale 1716) in Cheshire, CT. In 1749, he was called to the pulpit of Stratfield Parish (now Bridgeport, CT). His pastorate was a stormy one"

Constitution Signer Abraham Baldwin was a minister:

"He graduated in 1772. Three years later, he became a minister and tutor at the college. He held that position until 1779, when he served as a chaplain in the Continental Army."

Being called and licensed to preach is sufficient to being considered a minister, the strict interpretation of being "ordained" is a cop out. The greatest preacher of the Great Awakening, Jonathon Edwards, preached for years without being ordained.

How many more founding fathers were ministers of the Gospel?


Anonymous said...

In addition to those listed, I believe one other (from the National Archives). Hugh Williamson from NC, signer of the Constitution, was born of Scotch-Irish descent at West Nottingham, PA., in 1735. He was the eldest son in a large family. Hoping he would become a Presbyterian minister, his parents oriented his education toward that calling. Hugh Williamson spent time after his education settling his father's estate. Then training in Connecticut for the ministry, he soon became a licensed Presbyterian preacher but was never ordained.

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Could someone please point me to the source of the quote by Mike Huckabee? I need this for a book I'm writing and I can't find a source anywhere. It's a great quote if its reliable.

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