Can you remember sitting in school and asking the question, “Why do I have to take this course?” History is one of those courses about which you should never have those thoughts. It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. America has been a unique and great nation in the annals of history. It has not been a perfect nation – however, America has done a lot of good in this world. More importantly, it has played an important role in furthering God’s kingdom on earth. America was founded upon spiritual roots and has been blessed because of it.
If we are going to maintain our heritage of being a free and prosperous nation we must never lose sight of our history. There is not enough space in this short article to go into depth on the history of America, but I would like to take a brief walk into our past and look at a few of the events that shaped us as a nation. I also want us to consider the Bill of Rights and what it means to us as Christians. Finally, we will study some of the forces at work trying to destroy this country as we know it, along with the freedoms we cherish.
Columbus discovered the America’s in 1492. Not long after that the European colonists followed – motivated by a variety of things. For some it was wealth, for others it was a new start away from an oppressive government, and there were those who simply sought freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their heart. One of these groups was the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
England had some of the largest settlements along the east coast with Jamestown in Virginia being the first in 1607. They were not the only colonizers – the Dutch, French, Swedes, Portuguese and Spanish came also. One of the first colonies in the New World was the Spanish colony of St. Augustine in Florida, settled in the early 1500’s. Faith was an important part of this new land. The Puritans settled most of New England and gave birth to the Congregational church. The Baptists formed Rhode Island ,Pennsylvania was home to the Quakers, Maryland the Catholics, the Dutch Reformed Church spread through the middle colonies, and Scotch-Irish spread the Presbyterian Church on the frontier.
As we came out of the colonial period as a nation there were some key political events that birthed our Revolutionary Period. One of these was the French and Indian War, which lasted from 1754-1763. This war ended much of the influence of England’s biggest rival on the new continent – France and their allies, the North American Indians. England was able to then gain control of much of France’s territory here. It also moved the colonies to come together more politically. It gave birth to Franklin’s call to “join or die.” This would prepare the stage for the unity needed during the Revolutionary War.
Another event was the Stamp Act of 1765. This was a tax on the colonies by England to pay for keeping troops in America. England saw this as fair since America was benefitted by the troops. However, we saw it differently. The colonists saw a conflict of economic interests developing between them and England. This complaint, “No taxation without representation” was heard in the land. Soon there was the Boston Tea Party in 1773. English tea was dumped in Boston harbor in protest to the tax Britain levied on it. Soon the first and then the second Continental Congresses were called to address these grievances with the Crown. When there was no proper response from King George and additional troops were dispatched from England to keep the colonists inline, the rebellion began (1775). Independence was declared on July 4, 1776. George Washington led the Continental Army against the most powerful army in the western hemisphere for the next seven years. It was an amazing day when the British surrendered and sailed out of New York harbor in 1783.
A New Nation, A New Government
We should digress a moment to understand the historical events that helped shape the minds and education of the brilliant and wise thinkers we call the Founding Fathers. These events are the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening. Let us look briefly at each and see what they contributed to the birth of America.
The Renaissance was the rebirth of learning that took place in Italy and France in the 14th and 15th Centuries. After coming out of the Dark Ages, following the fall of the Roman Empire and the Medieval Period, there was a rediscovering of the knowledge of the ancient philosophers. Many of the original leaders in this movement felt that the painter, musician, or scholar, by expressing their intellectual powers, was fulfilling divine purposes. This new old knowledge became the basis of what was considered a classical education in America well into the 20th Century. This type of education gave our founders the intellectual capacity and the historical framework to craft our amazing government.
The Reformation took place in the 16th Century and was a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church. It began with Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany. It soon spread to other European nations and gave birth to most of today’s Protestant denominations. The foundational principles of this movement were the sole authority of scripture; justification is by faith alone without human works, and the priesthood of the individual believer. These concepts found their way into our founding documents and culture in the form of personal responsibility, the Protestant work ethic and moral discipline.
The Enlightenment was an 18th century movement begun by thinkers in London and Paris with roots in the 13th Century. Thomas Aquinas would attempt to use the logic of Aristotle to defend the teachings of Christianity. This emphasis on logic and reason would eventually be used against the church and give birth to humanistic thinking. However, it did give help launch the modern scientific age.
The Great Awakening, from 1730-1740, was a revivalism that spread through the colonies. The emphasis was on a personal salvation rather than church dogma. The church was filled with unbelievers who did not have a personal relationship with God. Leaders such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and John and Charles Wesley spread a hunger for God that gave a moral foundation and personal responsibility to our culture. This would be a necessary element in making a republic function and last.
The Bill of Rights
With this foundation after the Revolution our Founding Fathers would craft a document that would be the basis upon which America would be governed – the U.S. Constitution. Our government was a republic not a democracy. The founders knew a democracy would be too unwieldy as the nation grew. They also knew from trying to govern under the Articles of Confederation that a democracy was not strong enough to protect the nation in times of war or national crisis. The principles of a republic are:
The people are sovereign, not kings.
Citizens have a duty to be involved in their government.
We are to fear corruption in government.
We are to reject an aristocracy and have individual liberty and equality.
After coming out of the Revolution, some still feared a strong central government. So, 10 amendments were added to the Constitution to deal with these fears in order to get the states to ratify the Constitution. These first 10 amendments became known as the Bill of Rights. On September 25, 1789, Congress proposed these amendments to the states. Every American should take the time to read both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Space does not permit me to list these 10 amendments here but allow me to paraphrase a few of them.
Article 1 – Freedom of religion, the press, and free assembly.
Article 2 – Right to keep and bear arms.
Article 4 – No unreasonable search and seizure, warrants necessary.
Article 5 – No double jeopardy, right to due process of law.
Article 6 – Right to speedy and public trial.
Article 10 – Powers not delegated to the federal government are retained by the states.
Dangers to Our Freedom
America has been a noble and wonderful experiment in self-government. However, we wonder if it can continue. There have always been those who would seek to change the very fabric of who we are as a nation. In order to do this they know they have to do certain things – among them are: Rewrite our history. They have to deny our Judeo-Christian roots that have acknowledged our dependency upon God. They have to deny the proof in the writings of our founders.
Eliminate personal responsibility by shifting it to the federal government. Develop in the people a sense of entitlement and a “getting something for nothing” attitude. Looking to the government for all of the answers grows government larger and personal freedom smaller.
Destroy the American family and replace it with the state. When you remove God from a culture, eliminate private property rights, and watch the family disintegrate you will eventually destroy America, as we have known it.
Silence the pulpits of America that call a people to righteousness. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830’s he stated, “America is great because her churches are great.”
God gives people the government they deserve. The less internal control a people have the more external control they need. A republic requires a moral people to exist. A moral people require a religious basis for their morality. The secularization of our culture and the denial of the theological reality of the sinfulness of man is the greatest threat to America, as we know it. The answer to our issues lies not in a political party but in a return to the God who blessed our nation and the principles that forged the greatness of the American character.
Dr. John Hawkins can be reached at [email protected]