It was 236 years ago today, on July 4, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. It marked the birth of this nation which, under God, was destined for world leadership. Of course, the Declaration was only the first step: Great Britain was not going to give up its 13 colonies without a fierce fight that was to last for six years, took the lives of 4,435 American patriots in battle at a then unimaginable cost of $104,000,000. We often forget that, in declaring independence from an earthly power, our founders made a forthright declaration of dependence upon Almighty God. The Declaration, written principally by Thomas Jefferson, acknowledges that “all men are created equal and are endowed b the Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and the closing words of the Declaration solemnly declare, “With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
The signers were not wild-eyed crazy radicals. What kind of men were they? Twenty-two were lawyers and judges. Eighteen were merchants and businessmen. Fourteen were farmers and large plantation owners. One was a physician, and one was a clergyman. These were all men of means and education. Seven were educated at Harvard, four at Yale, four at the College of William and Mary, and three at Princeton. John Witherspoon, the only clergyman, was president of Princeton University, and George Wythe was a professor at the College of William and Mary, whose former student was Thomas Jefferson. The British marked every signer for treason, and each became the object of vicious British manhunts. Time does not permit me to tell the tragic stories of each of the signers, but what these men and their families endured are not merely scenes from Mel Gibson’s The Patriot.
In addition to referring to the Creator and Divine Providence, the Declaration also appeals to “Nature’s God” and “the Supreme Judge of the World.” A number of years later, when the Constitution was published, something new had been created: a system of self-government by the consent of the governed. Our founders created a constitutional republic with individual liberty to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, elected representatives and limited government. Our founders created a republic in which the power to govern was checked and balanced by procedures designed to stop tyranny in its tracks. Our founders did not create a democracy, but rather a republic.
They knew Plato’s warning that unrestricted democracy must logically result in a dictatorship. They knew from the study of Greek history that a fanatical majority can deprive the individual of his rights, his life and his property. They had all studied Roman history, where after many centuries, the Roman republic gave way to the “bread and circuses” and the rise of the corrupt despotism of the Roman emperors that lasted until the collapse of the Roman Empire. The founders firmly believed that the republican government they were creating could last only if it was rooted in morality and religion. John Adams said, “A republic can only be supported by pure religion or austere morals.” George Washington said, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”
As early as 1811, the Supreme Court of New York, in a decision by Chief Justice Kent, for whom the Kent Law School in Chicago is named, stated: ”The people of New York, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice” and then continues, “we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity.” People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 294-295.
Notwithstanding the assertions of President Obama, who was a former constitutional law lecturer, to the contrary, in 1892, our Supreme Court, after giving example after example of the foundational importance of Christianity in public life from the discovery of the New World by Columbus throughout the history of United States, stated:
This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation . . . we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity . . . . we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth . . . These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass or organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.
Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 465-71 (1892)
In 1931, the Supreme Court again reaffirmed its earlier view: “We are a Christian people . . . and acknowledge with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.” U.S. v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605, 625 (1931). Sixty years later, in 1952, the liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, writing for the Supreme Court in the decision of Zorach v. Clauson, wrote, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses . . . We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility of religion.” Zorach, 343 U. S. 306, 313-15. Of course, over the past six decades, this view has significantly eroded. To a casual observer, the official policy of the federal government and its courts today is often state-sponsored atheism. This concept of a secular or atheistic state did not exist in 1776, when the Declaration was published, or in 1787, when the Constitution was adopted. To read the Constitution as a charter for a secular or atheistic state is to misread history, and to misread it radically. Our Constitution was designed to perpetuate an order based upon the Bible and Judeo-Christian worldview.
Independence Day 2012 is not just about fireworks, parades and a cold drink on a hot day. It is about a system of self-government by the consent of the governed. It is about a constitutional republic with individual liberty, elected representatives and limited government. On this Independence Day, let us take a moment to be deeply thankful to God that these great men lived, and for the wisdom of our nation’s founding patriots, and that we may be found worthy in our generati