Yesterday I saw a comment that the Founders were libertarians and as such didn’t care about social values. For one thing, that’s false, and for another thing, values neither need, nor should have that adjective. A person’s values and morality are not compartmentalized into separate boxes, but are a dye that colors across his entire personality into his attitudes and actions.
Over the past eight years I’ve read many words to the effect of denying the beliefs of the Founders. In The Founders & Christianity, I quoted from M.E. Bradford’s book, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution. I also used a quote from a Department of State website*. Here is that quote extended to include the understanding of the Founders on Christian morality and their opinion on whether or not prosperity was connected to the country’s faith in God. If you think they are wrong, I invite you to consider the evidence around you.
The Continental-Confederation Congress, a legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men. The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging the practice of religion in the new nation exceeded that expended by any subsequent American national government. Although the Articles of Confederation did not officially authorize Congress to concern itself with religion, the citizenry did not object to such activities. This lack of objection suggests that both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational, nonpolemical Christianity.
Congress appointed chaplains for itself and the armed forces, sponsored the publication of a Bible, imposed Christian morality on the armed forces, and granted public lands to promote Christianity among the Indians. National days of thanksgiving and of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” were proclaimed by Congress at least twice a year throughout the war. Congress was guided by “covenant theology,” a Reformation doctrine especially dear to New England Puritans, which held that God bound himself in an agreement with a nation and its people. This agreement stipulated that they “should be prosperous or afflicted, according as their general Obedience or Disobedience thereto appears.” Wars and revolutions were, accordingly, considered afflictions, as divine punishments for sin, from which a nation could rescue itself by repentance and reformation.
The first national government of the United States, was convinced that the “public prosperity” of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a “spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens,” Congress declared to the American people, would “make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people.”
The Christian faith, my friends, was upstream from the politics of the Founders.
*The link is no longer at the Department of State’s site. The text has been moved to the Library of Congress.
The Assembly Room, in which the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drafted and signed, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rdsmith4. (CC BY-SA 2.5.