by Ben Gilmore
Big doors swing on little hinges. John Locke was only seven years old. He is called “The Philosopher of American Liberty.” So we cannot credit “the world’s first written Constitution” to his influence. What then was the root inspiration for the citizens of three settlement villages along the Connecticut River in the inland wilderness of the Massachusetts colony to do something that had never been done before?
In 1382, Wycliffe translated the Bible into English. It was another hundred forty-four years before Tyndale’s Bible (1526), then The Great Bible (1539), Geneva Bible (1559), King James Bible (1611). Having the Bible available in English stimulated the greatest explosion of public literacy in human history. The man on the street wanted to read God’s word.
The New England Pilgrims and Puritans brought the Bible to North America and settled the northeastern coast. Literacy and the sound reason that goes with it were rampant in America. In the spring of 1637, a group of settlers, “about a hundred souls,”1 moved from the coast to start settlements (Windsor, Hartford, & Wethersfield) along the Connecticut River. They were led by Rev. Thomas Hooker.
We have notes, taken by a Mr. Henry Wolcott, of Hooker’s lecture on Thursday, May 31, 1638. This sermon was delivered at the opening session of the “General Court.” Rev. Hooker said, “The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people, that the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance”, and that “They who have power to appoint officers and magistrates have the right also to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them.”1
OK. That is good stuff. Where did Hooker get it? Mr. Wolcott’s notes of Rev. Hooker’s sermon read:
TEXT – Deuteronomy 1:13. ‘Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.’ Captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds – over fifties – over tens, etc.
DOCTRINE – I. That the choice of public magistrates belongs to the people by God’s own allowance.
II. The privilege of election which belongs unto the people, therefore, must not be exercised according to their humors, but according to the blessed will and law of God.
III. They who have power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is their power, also to set the bounds of the power and place unto which they call them.2
Wolcott’s notes continue as Rev. Hooker develops his Biblical based reasoning.
On the 14th of January 1639, all the freemen of the three towns assembled at Hartford, and adopted a written constitution in which the hand of the great preacher was clearly discernible. It is worthy to note that this document contains none of the conventional references to ‘dread sovereign’ or a ‘gracious king,’ nor the slightest allusion to the British or any other government outside of Connecticut itself, nor does it prescribe any condition of church-membership for the right of suffrage. It was the first written constitution known to history, that created a government, and it marked the beginnings of American democracy, of which Thomas Hooker deserves more than any other man to be called the father.3
Without the Bible translated in English, there would be no American Constitution.
Each American citizen is responsible before God for the “privilege of election.”
We are responsible for setting the limits of civil authority.
I understand 40% of church members are not registered to vote! Please go to http://www.wallbuilders.com/vote/.
See if you are registered to vote. Then check on your friends and associates. If they are not registered to vote, send them a note inviting them to register. Most post offices, fire stations, and city halls have voter registration forms.
We have a priceless heritage – Please don’t waste it!
- “History of the First Church in Hartford – 1633 – 1883” by George Leon Walker, 1884
- “Beginnings of New England” by John Fiske – 1889
- “Old South Leaflets” No. 8
Ben Gilmore has been a Korean War era era Sabre Jet pilot, Youth with a Mission evangelist, and political candidate and activist. For the last thirty years or so, Ben has actively pursued and taught America’s Christian history and government. With his dear wife Fran, accomplished scholar and writer, the Gilmores founded ACH Study Groups. These courses prepare Christians to think and act in practical, systematically Biblical, relational terms regarding our civil responsibilities. Ben also serves as media spokesman for NPI’s new title by Mary-Elaine Swanson John Locke: Philosopher of American Liberty. You may contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay originally published by ACH Study Groups as a part of an e-newsletter, June 12, 2012.
Used by Permission