Building a Great Nation – Part 2
The Faith Paradigm
The second part of “Building a Great Nation” addresses what America’s Founders believed to be a key element for freedom, faith. A requirement for faith and both a virtuous citizenry and elected officials to support and protect freedom are among the 28 Founding Principles left for posterity as the recipe for liberty.
One Nation Under God
When colonists came to the New World seeking religious freedom, most brought with them their Bibles so they would have the Word of God to guide them.
The new settlers recognized that God is the source of truth and strength and believed God would reveal His will, truths and laws through the prophets and scriptures. They also believed God would help them in all areas of activities, including establishing a new form of government.
On June 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin made a powerful plea for prayer in the Constitutional Convention, exhorting members of the Convention to appeal to God for enlightenment.
Plea for Spiritual Guidance
In this plea, he exhorted the members of the Convention to appeal to God for enlightenment by referencing both the scriptures and God’s previous responses to their prayers during the revolution. At a critical time, Franklin powerfully demonstrated his belief in God as the source of truth and urged his colleagues to turn to God for help and enlightenment.
“I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? … I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”
[Benjamin Franklin, June 28, 1787, Constitutional Convention]
In the days of colonization and during most of the history of the Republic, the political leaders and population had no problem publicly acknowledging the hand of God in their daily lives. The people believed in God and trusted that He would enlighten their minds with truth and wisdom.
It was not unusual to have public worship such as days of fasting, prayer, and repentance. In the New England area especially, they believed that they were a “chosen people”, a “covenant people”, and “God’s New Israel” who had come to a “promised land” and had fled from “Pharaoh and Egypt” across the sea.
Colonists Felt a Destiny in Faith
Many colonists believed they had a manifest destiny to be the light on the hill to other countries. Religion was not something saved for Sunday, but it was a duty to God to live their lives accordingly.
A belief in God was the foundation of all oaths of office and the testimony of witnesses in courts of justice and people could not be expected to be truthful if they had no fear or respect of God. Oaths were held sacred and were taken in courts of justice and before congressional hearings to swear before God that they would tell the truth.
On Oct. 19, 1789 the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay, took his oath of office which ended with the words “So help me God” as would be required for all judges, under the Judiciary Act of 1789. The first United States Congress passed this act under which the first federal judiciary was organized.
“The greater part of evidence will always consist of the testimony of witnesses. This testimony is given under those solemn obligations which an appeal to the God of Truth impose; and if oaths should cease to be held sacred, our dearest and most valuable rights would become insecure.”
[John Jay, June 25, 1792 to grand jury in Vermont.]
President George Washington recognized that freedom would be lost if the oaths before God were ever taken lightly.
“Let it simply be asked where is the security, for property, for reputation, for life, it the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in the Courts of Justice?”
[George Washington, Farewell Address]
Alexis de Tocqueville, a French jurist, came to the United States in 1831, on behalf of the French, and studied every aspect of American life, the political, economic, religious, cultural and social life of the young nation. Tocqueville noted that faith played a leading role in American life.
Tocqueville: Faith in America
“While I was in America, a witness, who happened to be called at the Sessions of the County of Chester (state of New York) declared that he did not believe in the existence of God or in the immortality of the soul. The judge refused to admit the evidence, on the grounds that the witness had destroyed beforehand all the confidence of the court in what he was about to say.
In a note de Tocqueville added:
“The New York Spectator of August 23, 1831, related the fact in the following terms:”…The presiding judge remarked that he had not before been aware that there was a man living who did not believe in the existence of God; that this belief, this faith, constituted the sanction [in law, that which gives binding force] of all testimony in a court of justice; and that he knew of no case in a Christian country where a witness had been permitted to testify without such.
Congress and the Bible
In July 1777, Congress requested to print or import Bibles. A month later, 20,000 Bibles were ordered from Holland, Scotland and other countries where settlers had come from.
In January 1781, Congress authorized Robert Aitken to print a “neat edition of the Holy Scriptures” for use in schools. In 1782 when it was ready to print, the full Congress approved the Bible and had printed in the front the Congressional endorsement:
“Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled…recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” [David Barton, Original Intent pp. 103-108]
Building a Great Nation, Part 1, was featured on The Founding Project’s website and is viewable here: https://thefoundingproject.com/founders-vision-of-liberty/