Guest essay by Bobbie Ames
The Christian Idea of Man and Government in America’s History
Early in our country’s history, the mother country caused great distress among her children. American colonists opposed the English government’s Declaratory Acts, Stamp Act, and other measures. Counted among the opponents were the Whigs, Patriots, and the Sons of Liberty. Others submitted willingly to the Crown. Both sides claimed conformity to the government of English royalty and loyalty to the British Constitution.
In reading Buchanan, Locke, Milton, Sidney, and other historians, we commonly find what we call the Christian idea of man, the embodiment of the very principles which formed the Declaration of Independence. It became our very own theory of government. Those who signed the document were mostly Whigs, and prominent leaders in their own localities. Whigs did not, at first, gain wide support. Strong in conviction and bold in their assertions, they produced fierce opposition. Soon these Whig leaders grew so able and convicting in their arguments that the number of patriots grew to a national party of tremendous influence.
The leading Tories, in opposition, maintained the principle of supremacy of current statutory law. They felt indebted and loyal to the Crown for their prestigious and profitable positions. In this, they defended the arbitrary power of kings and themselves had considerable political power. Nonetheless over time, the Whigs successfully created a mass network called committees of correspondence. The Sons of Liberty, in opposition to the Stamp Act—taxing virtually all paper used in the colonies—marched under the banner, “Liberty, Property, and No Stamps.”
In Richard Frothingham’s The Rise of the Republic, we read that the “love of liberty under law was the reigning principle….They nurtured the idea that devotion to the cause of justice was a higher obligation than fidelity to the old flag, when it was used to cover despotic power. They revolved [pondered] the saying of a great patriot, that freedom and security, under Providence depended on themselves.”
These English patriots then turned to their own past and to God’s Word, reasoning, as Frothingham continues, that “Englishmen in former ages had been justly renowned, and might turn the Great People to call on the name of the Lord, and to seek a redress of their grievances with the spear and lance at that glorious seat of justice, where Moses brought the Egyptians and Samson the Philistines.”*
Through the Declaration of Independence, the patriotic leaders would establish a new American system. Local governments for the States and a national government for the Union would characterize this new system. Each would have sovereignty, each in its own appropriate sphere. Americans set themselves free from foreign authority and interference. They acknowledged their rights as from the Creator, inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We can affirm that the rights of the American system of government and culture come from the Christian idea of Man.
Fifty six patriots, true sons of liberty, signed the Declaration of Independence. Have you ever wondered who these men were, and what happened to them after signing this document of our liberty?
For years we have circulated a document sent out in this generation by the National Federation of Independent Business. Their office is located in Washington, D.C. The document, titled “The Price They Paid,” we quote in part (emphases added):
“What kind of men were they? Twenty five were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine were farmers or large plantation owners. These were men of means and education. Yet, they signed the Declaration knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.
“When these courageous men signed, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom and independence.
“Richard Stockton returned to New Jersey in the fall of 1776 to find the state overrun with the enemy. He removed his wife to safety, but was himself captured. His home, his fine library, his writings….All were destroyed. Stockton was so badly treated in prison that his health was ruined, and he died before the war’s end.
“Carter Braxton was a wealthy planter and trader. One by one, his ships were captured by the British Navy. He loaned a huge sum of money to the American cause, it was never repaid. He was forced to sell his plantations and mortgage his other property to pay his debts.
“Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he had to move his family, almost constantly. He served in the Continental Congress, without pay, and kept his family in hiding.
“Vandals or soldiers, or both, looted the properties of William Ellery, George Clymer, Lyman Hall, Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, Benjamin Harrison, Francis Hopkinson, and Philip Livingston.
“At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British general, Cornwallis, had taken over the family home for his headquarters. Nelson urged George Washington to open fire on his own home. This was done and the home was destroyed. Nelson later died bankrupt.
“Frances Lewis also had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife for two months, and that with other hardships so affected her health that she died two years later.
“’Honest’ John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside when she was near death. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. Hart’s fields and his grist mill were laid waste. While eluding capture, he never knew where his bed would be the next night. He often slept in forests and caves. When he returned home, he found that his wife had died, and his children were gone.
“Such were the stories and sacrifices typical of those who risked everything to sign the Declaration of Independence. These men were not wild-eyed ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance of the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’”
Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) was one of the youngest signers of the Declaration in 1776. He was a distinguished physician and scientist who held the first chemistry professorship in America. In 1770, he published the first American chemistry textbook, A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry. He established the first free dispensary in America, and published the first American work on mental disorders in 1813. He also helped form the first abolition society in America. He was appointed by President John Adams as the Treasurer of the U.S. Mint in 1797.
His passion for the Bible as the basic textbook in schools, is understood in the context of his personal faith and passion for God’s Word. Throughout his life, he was an advocate for the Bible as the source of knowledge.
Quoting from Benjamin Rush’s writings and speakings,
- “Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy.
- “That a better knowledge of this religion is to be acquired by reading the Bible than in any other way.
- “That the Bible contains more knowledge necessary to man in his present state than any other book in the world.
- “That knowledge is most durable, and religious instruction most useful, when imparted in early life.
- “That the Bible, when not read in school, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life.
“My arguments in favor of the Bible as a schoolbook are founded.”
As a Scientist, Rush declared, “The memory is the first faculty which opens in the mind of children. Of how much consequence, then, must it be to impress it with the great truths of Christianity… so necessary for our happiness.” Rush was very aware that many in the field of Science were skeptics and this made him even more passionate about the necessity of the Bible as a school text book in America’s schools. He spoke with passion, “We profess to be republicans and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican form of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and all those sober and frugal virtues which constitutes the soul of republicanism.”
Today, our challenge as Americans is to restore our heritage of this Christian Idea of Man and Government, as mandated by the God of the Bible and the Judeo-Christian religion. This writer has spent a lifetime in education that focuses on the Christian idea of man and government, through the Christian education of children.
*Richard Frothingham, The Rise of the Republic of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1872), 291, 292.
Mrs. Ames is a lifelong educator and advocate for the faith of Jesus Christ and liberty under law. In 1965, with her husband’s help, she co-founded what would eventually become Emerald Mountain Christian School in Montgomery, Alabama. The associated Hoffman Educational Center and Emerald Mountain School continue to serve the community and nation.
© 2017 Used by Permission