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American freedom based on God as monarch

As America struggles with the highest inflation rates in a generation, it is helpful to look at the thinking of the founding fathers who rescued early America from an inflationary crisis and put us on the course of almost two centuries of price stability, with occasional short bouts of inflation and deflation. Interestingly it is John Witherspoon, whose thought we will look at most closely, who led the way in establishing sound money as part of the Constitution (https://www.amazon.com/Money-Finance-Rev-John-Witherspoon/dp/193657702X).

Upon the formation of the United States, the American colonists took a different tact than the typical compactual form. They separated the compact into two separate but intimately linked documents. The Declaration of Independence formed the social compact—a covenant, as it wholly relied on and called upon God’s providence in all arenas of governance. The second half came later, first under the Articles of Confederation; then later, in order to form a more perfect union, under the Constitution.

Donald Lutz explained, “The Declaration of Independence together with the first national constitution, the Articles of Confederation, were the Americans’ national compact…There was no need to replace the Declaration of Independence, since the people it created still existed. Changing the government but leaving the social compact untouched was in line not only with Locke’s theory but also with long-standing practice in America. If the social compact represented by the Declaration of Independence had not still been in effect, there would have been no basis for a new national constitution. Americans, then, still live under a national compact.”

Separating the two parts–the social compact and constitution–allowed for the Great Experiment to experiment, but retain the direct and intimate link between each part and, even more importantly from a moral construct, keep God squarely where the American Colonies placed Him, as their king. Thomas Paine in Common Sense declared God the “proper Sovereign, the King of heaven.”

All of this behavior on the part of the Continental Congress was entirely in line with the State legislatures and what they had accomplished prior to the separation from England and upon the separation from England. All of the States ratified constitutions upon the departure from the Motherland reflecting this same pattern, although generally establishing both in a single compact; thus firmly linking these two features of social compact and constitution, and, of course, obedience to God. At the national level, “Americans still live under a national compact of which the Declaration is a part. The Declaration contains the grounding for the Constitution, as well as the values underlying the American system of government.”

This obedience to God as King, or Creator—as He was often referred to by many of the American Founders and Forefathers—is a manifestation of the philosophies of the renowned Scottish theologian Reverend Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford’s brilliant treatise on theology and politics, Lex, Rex, which influenced Enlightenment writers such as Locke and Montesquieu, but, also, Founding Fathers such as John Witherspoon, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. “[T]hat Being, who is the great Monarch of the universe,” as Colonial Pastor Chauncey Whittelsey eloquently stated.

John Witherspoon played multiple roles during the American Revolution. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Second Continental Congress during the summer of 1776, a congressman, and served as a legislator for the State of New Jersey. He also served as the President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), where he oversaw the education of many of the Founding generation who served in congress, governorships, and state legislatures. Witherspoon, an immigrant from Scotland, deeply understood God’s Providence in the American Founding. In a sermon Witherspoon preached in May 1776, he advocated:

Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion; or, in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavoured to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners makes a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and flavery must ensue. On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes.

John Witherspoon was, by far, the most prolific teacher of the Founding Fathers. He was not only active Founder in participation–signing all three founding federal compacts–he also was responsible for the education of well over one hundred Founding era convention delegates, congressmen, President, Vice President, state and federal judges, senators, attorney generals, foreign ministers, and a secretary of state. Witherspoon was “the most influential teacher in the entire history of American education."

Rutherford’s thesis rejected the divine right of kings and established the proposition based on Scripture that kings are placed in power by God but only through the consent of people, and the incoming king must affirm an oath to validate his obedience to God and to serve the people.  Rutherford writes, “No man is born a king, as no man is born a subject; and because the people maketh him king, therefore he is to swear [an oath]…An oath is a religious obligation.” In this statement Reverend Rutherford implies: men are not subjects, therefore they are citizens; no man has a right to be king, only appointed to a position of power by the citizens (that is, at the consent of the governed); and that the appointed king must take an oath, a covenant, to serve God by justly serving His people.  “We hold that the covenant is made betwixt the king and the people,” wrote Rutherford, “betwixt mortal men; but they both bind themselves before God to each other.”  Rutherford continues, “But, certainly, whoever maketh a covenant with the people, promising to govern them according to God’s word, and upon that condition and these terms."

Nearly a century later, in 1742 in Massachusetts, Pastor Nathaniel Appleton would repeat the same proclamation of how civil servants must obey the Word of God and His Law when serving in government.  Appleton states that “for the foundation upon which moral duties are put and the principles from which the obedience must flow.  He will go into no polices but those warranted by the Word of God.  He will take his measures of government from the divine methods and not from the manners of the world.  He will follow the way of mankind no further than he sees them following the divine pattern.”

Pastor Appleton continued by acknowledging Divine Law, which was commonly referenced during the period in meaning God’s Law or Scripture, in contrasting following contemporary or worldly views, stating, “When rulers despise the divine Law, when they have no principle of justice, truth, or mercy to govern them, but are governed by worldly maxims, by private interests and selfish views, what can be expected for such a people but ruin and misery?” A few year later in 1747 clergyman Charles Chauncy would declare that civil government must “likewise obliged to be just…in their respective stations,” and if they act “not from a principle of justice, but under the influence of worldly views and selfish designs,” the King, God Almighty, would wage His wrath upon them, and they would also be “accountable to that JESUS, whom God hath ordained to be the judge of the world.”  And these ungodly magistrates would suffer “the wrath of the lamb.” Whether the wrath of the lamb or not is for God to say, but clearly Americans are now suffering economic woes which have come from disobedience to God in the matter of currency and just weights and measures.

Jim Huntzinger is the President and Founder of Lean Frontiers, Inc., which develops knowledge and learning communities on the Lean Enterprise for business and industry. With a background and experience in manufacturing and operations, he has also extensively researched the history and development of American manufacturing and also published several books on the lean business model, manufacturing history, and economics.

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