The truth concerning the development of this document and the origin of the United States of America cannot be accurately told without considering the major Christian influences that birthed the greatest nation in the history of the world. Faced with the death penalty for high treason, 56 courageous men debated long before they picked up the quill pen to sign the parchment that declared the independence of the young colonies of America from the mother country of Britain, the most powerful nation in the world at the time, on July 4, 1776. Thomas Jefferson is regarded as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and for this reason, secularist have believed that to depict Jefferson as anti-Christian would ensure their efforts to characterize the American Revolution as a “godless” secular effort.
Law in Colonial America
One influence that is routinely overlooked by secular and irreligious historians is the legal context that preceded America becoming an independent nation apart from British rule. While North America and lands that would become the United States of America had been explored and claimed by other European government, the first permission granted by the English crown to explore the New World was granted to John Cabot (March 5, 1496) and Sir Humphrey Gilbert (June 11, 1578). The “patents” that granted permission to these men to explore the New World were filled with religious language that clearly associated the English government with advancing and extending the Christian Church to those lands that would come under the control of the British crown.
But the patents or permission to explore the New World on behalf of England were not the same as giving permission to settle in designated areas claimed by the crown. The first permission to settle within land that came to be claimed by England was given in the form of a charter to Sir Walter Raleigh to settle the Roanoke Colony in 1584––which failed. The charter for Jamestown was granted in 1606, with other charters being subsequently granted for territories that eventually became the Thirteen Colonies of England in North America. Like the patent given to John Cabot, these charters were filled with religious language that acknowledged that the British crown––by settling the new colonies––was doing so with the blessing of God and was advancing the cause of the Christian Church in turn. One of the many documents that demonstrated the Christian purpose of the settlers was the Mayflower Compact, regarded as the first legal document to be written in the British American colonies. The commitment to a Christian legal foundation by the settlers is evident.
In fact, the Christian convictions that composed the Mayflower Compact were evident in every single charter given for the English colonies in the New World. As the colonies began to make laws and provide for government for their individual colonies, the Christian convictions of the legislators of each colony became evident in the entire legal structure and the laws that were made. One reason irreligious anti-American public educators must not allow students of public schools to read these documents without removing the numerous references to Christianity is because the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that America’s legal foundation from the earliest era was clearly and convincingly Christian!
The Great Awakening and Government
Contemporary secular historians have for nearly a century attempted to hide the Christian influences that gave rise to the American Revolution. Since the 1920s and 1930s, a Marxist or economic rationale has been given for the Revolution: “…no taxation without representation.” This argument has been so successful that even among “conservatives” this is frequently the first reason offered for the American Revolution. But the fact is that if the American Revolution––like the French Revolution––had been the result of secularism, similar atrocities to those that occurred under the name of “secularism” in France would have occurred in America. But this did not happen. The atrocities, bloodletting, and horrors of the French Revolution were a direct result of the lawless anti-God secularism of Voltaire, Rousseau, the Encyclopedists, and others who arrogantly rejected God’s law and determined to impose their wills upon France, Europe, and the world.
In America, however, the colonists were determined to follow God’s laws (natural law), not merely because of a slavish commitment to their Christian legal heritage, but because of deeper Christian convictions that had formed as a result of the First Great Awakening. The conviction that the law of the land must be founded upon God’s law was the greatest contributing factor to reject the lawlessness of King George III. Before the declaration, all men were NOT deemed as created equal. Those who were not born into noble blood (commoners) were unable to be or do things that the ‘noble‘ were privileged to be or do.
The First Great Awakening was a spiritual revival that began in the 1730s and continued through 1743. Jonathan Edwards, one of the earliest leaders of the revival, was a minister at Northampton, Massachusetts from 1726-1750. While ministering in Northampton, Edwards witnessed two revivals come to his church and community. One was in the mid-1730s and the other was in the early 1740s. In 1740, the Anglican revivalist, George Whitefield (known as the “Grand Itinerant”), visited New England, the middle colonies, and the southern colonies, fanning into a great flame the smoldering embers of spiritual interest. Whitefield became friends with Benjamin Franklin who helped secure a place for Whitefield to preach in Pennsylvania, which was the beginning of Penn State University. For this reason, Whitefield’s statue remains on the campus of Penn State to this day. The result of revivalistic efforts by Edwards, Whitefield, and others was the First Great Awakening, which provided a Christian moral code by which the actions of King George against the colonies could be evaluated and condemned in the Declaration of Independence. For this reason, the Signers of the Declaration would emphasize “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” for they regarded King George as having violated biblical standards of human government. With an understanding of the influence of the First Great Awakening upon the rise of the Revolution, it is easy to understand why the motto of the American Revolution became, “No king, but King Jesus!”
Jefferson and the Declaration
To ensure that America would come to deny and despise the influence of Christianity upon the origin of America, irreligious secularism has sought to malign and deny the Christian influence of the individual Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson was one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers. Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson, and others have been characterized as “deists” who rejected the principles of Christianity. However, historical evidence demonstrates that Franklin and Jefferson were not deists, and what is more, none of the Founding Fathers were deists! Efforts at portraying the Fathers as deists have been secular attempts to rob them of their Christian identities.
Thomas Jefferson is regarded as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and for this reason, secularist have believed that to depict Jefferson as anti-Christian would ensure their efforts to characterize the American Revolution as a “godless” secular effort. But in fact, Jefferson claimed to be a Christian. In a letter to his friend and fellow Founding Father, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Jefferson affirmed his faith:
To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.
While the present author does not believe Jefferson was a Christian in an evangelical sense, Jefferson believed the morals of Christ and Christianity must be part of the legal foundation of America. In fact, Jefferson was close friends with many pastors––including his own Anglican pastor, Rev. Charles Clay ––and the language of their sermons became part of his public writings for state and federal governments:
Given the close friendship and identification that Jefferson publicly made with Clay and his sermons, the language therefore that is found in these sermons is important because of its similarities with much of Jefferson’s terminology in his public writings. The phrase “Providence” or “Divine Providence,” used 34 times in [Clay’s] sermon on The Governor Among the Nations, is similar to the closing phrase in the Declaration of Independence which declared reliance “on the protection of Divine Providence.” . . . Clay also referred to “God as the Author of Nature,” “God the Supreme ruler,” “God the Fountain of All power,” “the Supreme Governor of the World,” “the Supreme Universal King and Lord,” “the Governor among the Nations,” and the “Great Governor of the World, the King of Nations.” These terms were common to the sermons of the day, and to the common prayer books, and therefore if Jefferson used such language in his writings, it would not be accurate to assume that he derived it from enlightenment or deistic sources.
Contrary to what most secularists have foisted upon America, the language of Jefferson in public documents was not deistic, but Christian, and the language of the Declaration of Independence was Christian! A deist would never have believed that God continued to have an interest in the government of mankind as is affirmed within the Declaration of Independence.
Pastor’s Son Signs First
After years of attempting to negotiate with King George on those issues that bitterly divided them from their Mother Country, the American Colonies were answered with only deepening hostility from the King and his Parliament. Negotiations were fruitless. Finally, on April 19, 1775 on the village green of Lexington, Massachusetts, the first shot of the Revolution was fired as British soldiers attempted to confiscate resources of the American patriots.
By the time the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, the Thirteen Colonies were already at war with their Mother Country. The First Continental Congress had briefly convened from September 5 to October 26, 1774. One of the final decisions of the First Continental Congress was to make provision for a Second Continental Congress to meet on May 10, 1775 should the British government fail to repeal its harsh legislation against the Colonies. Forced to convene because of a rising tide of hostility toward the colonies, the Second Continental Congress met in six sessions from 1775 to 1781, at four different locations:
- May 10, 1775 – December 12, 1776, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- December 20, 1776 – March 4, 1777, Baltimore, Maryland
- March 5, 1777 – September 18, 1777, Philadelphia
- September 27, 1777 (one day only), Lancaster, Pennsylvania
- September 30, 1777 – June 27, 1778, York, Pennsylvania
- July 2, 1778 – March 1, 1781, Philadelphia
One of the most important sessions of this Congress was the first session that met in Philadelphia, at Independence Hall––of particular concern were the opening months of this session, June and July. During the Second Continental Congress, there was a lot of debate whether they should declare independence and risk a war with Britain or should they try to negotiate with King George III. The Patriots wanted to work the problems out in a reasonable fashion and had offered “The Olive Branch Petition” to try to avoid war, but King George III refused to read it and continued to goad the Colonists. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense published in February 1776 convinced many who were undecided there was no choice but to declare independence.
The Patriots had pushed the British out of Boston with a buildup of artillery at Dorchester and were victorious at Charleston where they fought against Admiral Howe’s navy which was trying to capture the port city. There was a lot of frustration over some of the Patriots not wanting independence at the cost of war. On April 12, 1776, representatives from North Carolina proposed that the Colonies formally declare their independence from Britain. On May 15, a similar resolution was proposed by the Virginia delegation, and on June 7, Virginia representative, Richard Henry Lee, argued the motion before the Congress (making it the Lee Resolution). Finally, on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee made a formal proposal that the Colonies declare their independence from England and King George III:
RESOLVED, That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Finally, on Monday afternoon, June 10, 1776, the representatives to the Second Continental Congress voted to postpone a decision on the matter until Monday, July 1 to allow a “Committee of Five” men to draft a statement to present to the world, defending their resolve to remove the colonies from the British Empire. The Committee of Five was given a three-week period to complete the assignment and was composed of John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.
The same day Congress appointed a five-man committee led by Thomas Jefferson to write a declaration of independence for the 13 colonies. Jefferson’s journal has this entry:
It appearing in the course of these debates that the colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland & South Carolina were not yet matured for falling from the parent stem, but that they were fast advancing to that state, it was thought most prudent to wait a while for them, and to postpone the final decisions to July 1, but that this might occasion as little delay as possible a committee was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence. The Commee. were John Adams, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston and myself. Committees were also appointed at the same time to prepare a plan of confederation for the colonies, and to state the terms proper to be proposed for foreign alliance.
Between June 10 and July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was drafted and revised until it received it final form. When the Committee of Five convened, a general outline was agreed upon, and John Adams persuaded the Committee to appoint Thomas Jefferson to draft a document in keeping with the outline that had been discussed. After Jefferson had composed his draft, he submitted it to the other members of the Committee who made extensive changes to it. Incorporating the suggestions of his fellow committee members, Jefferson composed a second draft which was submitted to the thirteen-member “Committee of the Whole” on June 28, bearing the title, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.” Personal liberty was the basic theme, but he also listed all the things King George III did as the main reasons for the Colonies wanting independence.
On July 1, the entire Congress debated whether to declare independence from Britain. After hearing the debate, the members of the thirteen-member “Committee of the Whole” then voted, 9 to 2 (with two members abstaining) in favor of independence. On the afternoon of the following day, July 2, Congress received the report of the Committee of the Whole and declared the United Colonies independent of the British Empire and sovereign concerning their own government. Before adjourning on July 2, the Declaration was given a second reading by the Committee of the Whole. On July 3, additional modifications were made to the text of the Declaration, and late morning of July 4, Congress gave its consent to the final form. The document was referred back to the Committee of Five to make final corrections and prepare it for publication––which was complete in the early evening of July 4.
John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, and said:
…will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that prosperity will triumph in that days’ transaction, even though we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.
It is amazing that on the very day they approved the Declaration, Adams was already foreseeing that their actions would be celebrated by future generations. Adams contemplated whether it would be proper to hold such celebrations, but then concluded that the day should be commemorated – but in a particular manner and with a specific spirit. As he told Abigail:
“It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
John Adams believed that the Fourth of July should become a religious holiday – a day when we remembered God’s hand in deliverance and a day of religious activities when we committed ourselves to Him in “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” Such was the spirit of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of those who led it, evidenced even further in the words of John Quincy Adams, one who was deeply involved in the activities of the Revolution.
In 1837, when he was 69 years old, he delivered a Fourth of July speech at Newburyport, Massachusetts. He began that address with a question:
“Why is it, friends and fellow citizens, that you are here assembled? Why is it that entering on the 62nd year of our national existence you have honored [me] with an invitation to address you. . . ?”
The answer was easy: they had asked him to address them because he was old enough to remember what went on; they wanted an eye-witness to tell them of it! He next asked them:
“Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day [the Fourth of July]?”
An interesting question: why is it that in America the Fourth of July and Christmas were our two top holidays? Note his answer:
“Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?”
According to John Quincy Adams, Christmas and the Fourth of July were intrinsically connected. On the Fourth of July, the Founders simply took the precepts of Christ which came into the world through His birth (Christmas) and incorporated those principles into civil government.
To see the turmoil in other nations, their struggles and multiple revolutions, and yet to see the stability and blessings that we have (mostly) had here in America, we may ask how has this been achieved? What was the basis of American Independence? John Adams said “The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”
The final form of the Declaration of Independence was submitted to the printer, John Dunlap. The secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson––who was an accomplished Bible scholar––attested that there was only one signature on the Declaration when it was submitted to the printer. The only signature on the Declaration at that time was the authenticating signature of the president of the Congress, John Hancock. Prior to the Revolution, Hancock was one of the wealthiest individuals of the Thirteen Colonies and a protégé of Samuel Adams. What is little known is that John Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress and first signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the son and grandson of Christian pastors and was a graduate of Harvard while the college remained under the influence of its evangelical Christian origin. Calling attention to his heritage, one biographer notes:
His father and grandfather were both ministers of the gospel. His father is represented as a pious, industrious, and faithful pastor; a friend of the poor, and a patron of learning.
Four days later, on July 8, members of Congress took that document and read it aloud from the steps of Independence Hall, proclaiming it to the city of Philadelphia, after which the Liberty Bell was rung. The inscription around the top of that bell, Leviticus 25:10, was most appropriate for the occasion:
“Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.”
On July 19, Congress decided to produce a handwritten copy to bear all the delegates’ signatures which occurred on August 2nd. Secretary Thomson’s assistant, Philadelphia Quaker and merchant Timothy Matlack, penned the draft.
Have you ever considered what it meant for those 56 men – an eclectic group of ministers, business men, teachers, university professors, sailors, captains, farmers – to sign the Declaration of Independence? This was a contract that began with the reasons for the separation from Great Britain and closed in the final paragraph stating “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Faced with the death penalty for high treason, courageous men debated long before they picked up the quill pen to sign the parchment that declared the independence of the colonies from the mother country on July 4, 1776. For many hours they had debated in the State House at Philadelphia, with the lower chamber doors locked and a guard posted.
According to Jefferson, it was late in the afternoon before the delegates gathered their courage to the sticking point. The talk was about axes, scaffolds, and the gibbet, when suddenly a strong, bold voice sounded–
“Gibbet! They may stretch our necks on all the gibbets in the land; they may turn every rock into a scaffold; every tree into a gallows; every home into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die! They may pour our blood on a thousand scaffolds, and yet from every drop that dies the axe a new champion of freedom will spring into birth! The British King may blot out the stars of God from the sky, but he cannot blot out His words written on that parchment there. The works of God may perish; His words, never!
“The words of this declaration will live in the world long after our bones are dust. To the mechanic in his workshop they will speak hope: to the slave in the mines freedom: but to the coward kings, these words will speak in tones of warning they cannot choose but hear.
“Sign that parchment! Sign, if the next moment the gibbet’s rope is about your neck! Sign, if the next minute this hall rings with the clash of falling axes! Sign, by all of your hopes in life or death, as men, as husbands, as fathers, brothers, sign your names to the parchment, or be accursed forever! Sign, and not only for yourselves, but for all ages, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the bible of the rights of man forever.
“Nay, do not start and whisper with surprise! It is truth, your own hearts witness it: God proclaims it. Look at this strange band of exiles and outcasts, suddenly transformed into a people; a handful of men, weak in arms, but mighty in God-like faith; nay, look at your recent achievements, your Bunker Hill, you Lexington, and then tell me, if you can, that God has not given America to be free!
“It is not give to our poor human intellect to climb to the skies and to pierce the Council of the Almighty One. But methinks I stand among the awful clouds which veils the brightness of Jehovah’s throne.
“Methinks I see the recording Angel come trembling up to the throne and speak his dread message. ‘Father, the old world is baptized in blood. Father, look with one glance of Thine eternal eye, and behold evermore that terrible sight, man trodden beneath the oppressor’s feet, nations lost in blood, murder, and superstition, walking hand in hand over the graves of the victims, and not a single voice of hope to man!’
“He stands there, the Angel, trembling with the record of human guilt, But hark! The voice of God speaks from the awful cloud: ‘Let there be Light again! Tell my people, the poor and oppressed, to go out from the old world, from oppression and blood, and build my alter in the new.’
“As I live, my friends, I believe that to be his voice! Yes, were my soul trembling on the verge of eternity, were this hand freezing in death, were this voice choking in the last struggle, I would still, with the last impulse of that soul, with the last wave of that hand, with the last gasp of that voice, implore you to remember this truth–God has given America to be free!
“Yes, as I sank into the gloomy shadows of the grave, with my last faint whisper I would beg you to sign that parchment for the sake of those millions whose very breath is now hushed in intense expectation as they look up to you for the awful words: ‘You are free.’”
The unknown speaker fell exhausted into his seat. The delegates, carried away by his enthusiasm, rushed forward. John Hancock scarcely had time to pen his bold signature before the quill was grasped by another. It was done.
The delegates turned to express their gratitude to the unknown speaker for his eloquent words. He was not there. Who was this strange man, who seemed to speak with a divine authority, whose solemn words gave courage to the doubters and sealed the destiny of the new nation? His name is not recorded; none of those present knew him; or if they did, they did not one acknowledged the acquaintance. How he had entered into the locked and guarded room is not told, nor is there any record of the manner of his departure.
Just as the Constitution of the United States was born out of the context of Christianity, so the Declaration of Independence was conceived and birthed within the context of Christianity! It is no surprise that secularists, the irreligious, and even other world religions wish to usurp the place of Christianity by crediting themselves with that which is not and never will be theirs! Summarizing the relationship of Christianity to the birth of America, President John Quincy Adams, who was a boy at the time of the Revolution, related the following:
“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. From the day of the Declaration … they (the American people) were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct.”