The Truth about Revisionism

David Barton – 12/2008
Confronting Civil War Revisionism: Why the South Went To War

The rewriting of history in any area is possible only if: (1) the public does not know enough about specific events to object when a wrong view is introduced; or (2) the discovery of previously unknown historical material brings to light new facts that require a correction of the previous view. However, historical revisionism – the rewriting “of an accepted, usually long-standing view… especially a revision of historical events and movements” 1 – is successful only through the first means.

Over the past sixty years, many groups, exploiting a general lack of public knowledge about particular movements or events, have urged upon the public various revisionist views in order to justify their particular agenda. For example, those who use activist courts to advance policies they are unable to pass through the normal legislative process defend judicial abuse by asserting three historically unfounded doctrines: (1) the judiciary is to protect the minority from the majority; (2) the judiciary exists to review and correct the acts of elective bodies; and (3) the judiciary is best equipped to “evolve” the culture to the needs of an ever-changing society. These claims are directly refuted by original constitutional writings, especially The Federalist Papers. (See also the WallBuilders’ book, Restraining Judicial Activism.)

Likewise, those who pursue a secular public square seek to justify their agenda by asserting that the Founding Fathers: (1) were atheists, agnostics, and deists, and (2) wrote into the Constitution a strict separation of church and state requiring the exclusion of religious expressions from the public arena. These claims are also easily rebuttable through the Founders’ own writings and public acts. (See also the WallBuilders’ book, Original Intent.)

A third example of historical revisionism involves the claim that the 1860-1861 secession of the Southern States which caused the Civil War was not a result of the slavery issue but rather of oppressive federal economic policies. For example, a plaque in the Texas State Capitol declares:

Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united together in an organization called “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strength, enthusiasm, and love of justice can exert its influence. We therefore pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals; to honor our veterans; to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery), and to always act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors. (emphasis added)

Other sources make the same false claim, 2 but four notable categories of Confederate records disprove these claims and indisputably show that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was indisputably the driving reason for the formation of the Confederacy.

1. Southern Secession Documents

From December 1860 through August 1861, the southern states met individually in their respective state conventions to decide whether to secede from the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to decide in the affirmative, and its secession document repeatedly declared that it was leaving the Union to preserve slavery:

[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding [i.e., northern] states to the institution of slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations. . . . [T]hey have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery. . . . They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes [through the Underground Railroad]. . . . A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States [Abraham Lincoln] whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common government because he has declared that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. . . . The slaveholding states will no longer have the power of self-government or self-protection [over the issue of slavery] . . . 3

Following its secession, South Carolina requested the other southern states to join them in forming a southern Confederacy, explaining:

We . . . [are] dissolving a union with non-slaveholding confederates and seeking a confederation with slaveholding states. Experience has proved that slaveholding states cannot be safe in subjection to non-slaveholding states. . . . The people of the North have not left us in doubt as to their designs and policy. United as a section in the late presidential election, they have elected as the exponent of their policy one [Abraham Lincoln] who has openly declared that all the states of the United States must be made Free States or Slave States. . . . In spite of all disclaimers and professions [i.e., measures such as the Corwin Amendment, written to assure the southern states that Congress would not abolish slavery], there can be but one end by the submission by the South to the rule of a sectional anti-slavery government at Washington; and that end, directly or indirectly, must be the emancipation of the slaves of the South. . . . The people of the non-slaveholding North are not, and cannot be safe associates of the slaveholding South under a common government. . . . Citizens of the slaveholding states of the United States! . . . South Carolina desires no destiny separate from yours. . . . We ask you to join us in forming a Confederacy of Slaveholding States. 4

On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede, announcing:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. . . . [A] blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution [slavery], a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787. [On July 13, 1787, when the nation still governed itself under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance (which Mississippi here calls the “well-known Ordinance of 1787”). That Ordinance set forth provisions whereby the Northwest Territory could become states in the United States, and eventually the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were formed from that Territory. As a requirement for statehood and entry into the United States, Article 6 of that Ordinance stipulated: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.” When the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, the Founding Fathers re-passed the “Northwest Ordinance” to ensure its continued effectiveness under the new Constitution. Signed into law by President George Washington on August 7, 1789, it retained the prohibition against slavery. As more territory was gradually ceded to the United States (the Southern Territory – Mississippi and Alabama; the Missouri Territory – Missouri and Arkansas; etc.), Congress applied the requirements of the Ordinance to those new territories. Mississippi had originally entered the United States under the requirement that it not allow slavery, and it is here objecting not only to that requirement of its own admission to the United States but also to that requirement for the admission of other states.]. . . It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves and refuses protection to that right on the high seas [Congress banned the importation of slaves into America in 1808], in the territories [in the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854], and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction. . . . It advocates Negro equality, socially and politically. . . . We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property [i.e., slaves] worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers to secure this as well as every other species of property. 5

(Notice that the Union’s claim that blacks and whites were equal both “socially and politically” was a claim too offensive for southern Democrat states to tolerate.)

Following its secession, Mississippi sent Fulton Anderson to the Virginia secession convention, where he told its delegates that Mississippi had seceded because they had unanimously approved a document “setting forth the grievances of the Southern people on the slavery question.” 6

On January 10, 1861, Florida became the third state to secede. In its preliminary resolutions setting forth reasons for secession, it acknowledged:

All hope of preserving the Union upon terms consistent with the safety and honor of the Slaveholding States has been finally dissipated by the recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment in the Free States. 7

On January 11, 1861, Alabama became the fourth state to secede. Like the three states before her, Alabama’s document cited slavery; and it also cited the 1860 election victory of the Republicans as a further reason for secession, specifically condemning . . .

. . . the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America by a sectional party [the Republicans], avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions [slavery] and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama . . . 8

Georgia similarly invoked the 1860 Republican victory as a cause for secession, explaining:

A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the federal government has been committed [i.e., the Republican Party] will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia [in favor of secession]. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican Party under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. . . . The prohibition of slavery in the territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its [Republican] leaders and applauded by its followers. . . . [T]he abolitionists and their allies in the northern states have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions [i.e., slavery]. 9

Why was the Republican election victory a cause for secession? Because the Republican Party had been formed in May of 1854 on the almost singular issue of opposition to slavery (see WallBuilders’ work, American History in Black and White). Only six years later (in the election of 1860), voters gave Republicans control of the federal government, awarding them the presidency, the House, and the Senate.

The Republican agenda was clear, for every platform since its inception had boldly denounced slavery. In fact, when the U. S. Supreme Court delivered the 1857 Dred Scott ruling protecting slavery and declaring that Congress could not prohibit it even in federal territories, 10 the Republican platform strongly condemned that ruling and reaffirmed the right of Congress to ban slavery in the territories. 11 But setting forth an opposite view, the Democrat platform praised the Dred Scott ruling 12 and the continuation of slavery 13 and also loudly denounced all anti-slavery and abolition efforts. 14

The antagonistic position between the two parties over the slavery issue was clear; so when voters gave Republicans control of the federal government in 1860, southern slave-holding Democrat states saw the proverbial “handwriting on the wall” and promptly left the United States before Republicans could make good on their anti-slavery promises. It was for this reason that so many of the seceded states referenced the Republican victory in their secession documents.

It was not just southern Democrats who viewed the election of Lincoln and the Republicans as the death knell for slavery; many northern Democrats held the same view. In fact, New York City Democrat Mayor Fernando Wood not only attacked the Republican position on slavery but he also urged New York City to join with the South and secede, explaining:

With our aggrieved brethren of the Slave States, we have friendly relations and a common sympathy. We have not participated in the warfare upon their constitutional rights [of slaveholding] or their domestic institutions [slavery]. . . . It is certain that a dissolution [secession of the State of New York from the Union] cannot be peacefully accomplished except by the consent of the [Republican New York] Legislature itself. . . . [and] it is not probable that a partisan [Republican] majority will consent to a separation. . . . [So] why should not New York City, instead of supporting by her contributions in revenue two-thirds of the expenses of the United States, become also equally independent [i.e., secede]? . . . In this she would have the whole and united support of the southern states. 15

Other northern Democrats also assailed the anti-slavery positions of the Republicans – including Samuel Tilden (a New York state assemblyman and later the chair of the state Democrat Party, state governor, and then presidential candidate). Tilden affirmed that southern secession be could halted only if Republicans publicly abandoned their anti-slavery positions:

[T]he southern states will not by any possibility accept the avowed creed of the Republican Party as the permanent policy of the federative government as to slavery. . . . Nothing short of the recession [drawing back] of the Republican Party to the point of total and absolute non-action on the subject of slavery in the states and territories could enable it to reconcile to itself the people of the South. 16

Even the editorial page of the New York World endorsed the Democrats’ pro-slavery positions and condemned Republicans:

We cannot ask the South – we will not ask anybody – to live contentedly under a government . . . which burdens white men with oppressive debt and grinding taxation to try an unconstitutional experiment of giving freedom to Negroes. . . . A proposal for an abolition peace can never gain a hearing in the South. If the Abolition Party [Republicans] continues in power, the separation is final, [both] in feeling and in fact. 17

However, returning to an examination of southern secession documents, on January 19, 1861, Georgia became the fifth state to secede. Georgia then dispatched Henry Benning to Virginia to encourage its secession. At the Virginia convention, Benning explained to the delegates:

What was the reason that induced George to take the step of secession? That reason may be summed up in one single proposition: it was a conviction – a deep conviction on the part of Georgia – that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. This conviction was the main cause. 18

On January 26, 1861, Louisiana became the sixth state to secede. Days later, Texas was scheduled to hold its secession convention, and Louisiana sent Commissioner George Williamson to urge Texas to secede. Williamson told the Texas delegates:

Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern Confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery. . . . Louisiana and Texas have the same language, laws, and institutions. . . . and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. . . . The people of Louisiana would consider it a most fatal blow to African slavery if Texas either did not secede or, having seceded, should not join her destinies to theirs in a Southern Confederacy. . . . As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of annexation [Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833; by 1843, southern statesmen were alleging – without evidence – that Great Britain was involved in a plot to abolish slavery in America. Southern voices therefore called for the immediate annexation of pro-slavery Texas into the United States in order to increase pro-slavery territory, but anti-slavery leaders in Congress – including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster – opposed that annexation. Their opposition was initially successful; and in his diary entry for June 10 & 17, 1844, John Quincy Adams enthused: “The vote in the United States Senate on the question of [admitting Texas] was, yeas, 16; nays, 35. I record this vote as a deliverance, I trust, by the special interposition of Almighty God. . . . The first shock of slave democracy is over. Moloch [a pagan god requiring human sacrifices] and Mammon [the god of riches] have sunk into momentary slumber. The Texas treason is blasted for the hour.” That victory, however, was only temporary; in 1845, Texas was eventually admitted as a slaveholding state.] not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slaveholding states are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery. The isolation of any one of them from the others would make her a theatre for abolition emissaries from the North and from Europe. Her existence would be one of constant peril to herself and of imminent danger to other neighboring slave-holding communities. . . . and taking it as the basis of our new government, we hope to form a slave-holding confederacy . . . 19

Williamson’s encouragement to the Texans turned out to be unnecessary, for on February 1, 1861, even before he arrived from Louisiana, Texas had already become the seventh state to secede. In its secession document, Texas announced:

[Texas] was received as a commonwealth, holding, maintaining, and protecting the institution known as Negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within [Texas] – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding states of the Confederacy. . . . In all the non-slave-holding states . . . the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party [i.e., the Republican Party] . . . based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these southern states and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men irrespective of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of divine law. They demand the abolition of Negro slavery throughout the Confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and Negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us so long as a Negro slave remains in these states. . . . By the secession of six of the slave-holding states, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North or unite her destinies with the South. 20

On April 17, 1861, Virginia became the eighth state to secede. It, too, acknowledged that the “oppression of the southern slave-holding states” (among which it numbered itself) had motivated its decision. 21

On May 8, 1861, Arkansas became the ninth state to join the Confederacy. Albert Pike (a prominent Arkansas newspaper owner and author of numerous legal works who became a Confederate general) explained why secession was unavoidable:

No concessions would now satisfy (and none ought now to satisfy) the South but such as would amount to a surrender of the distinctive principles by which the Republican Party coheres [exists], because none other or less would give the South peace and security. That Party would have to agree that in the view of the Constitution, slaves are property – that slavery might exist and should be legalized and protected in territory hereafter to be acquired to the southwest [e.g., New Mexico, Arizona, etc.], and that Negroes and mulattoes cannot be citizens of the United States nor vote at general elections in the states. . . . For that Party to make these concessions would simply be to commit suicide and therefore it is idle to expect from the North – so long as it [the Republican Party] rules there – a single concession of any value. 22

As Pike knew, the federal government under the Republicans was unwilling to abandon its anti-slavery positions; therefore the only recourse for the guarantee of continued slavery in Arkansas was secession – which Arkansas did.

Eventually, North Carolina and Tennessee became the tenth and eleventh states to secede, thus finishing the formation of the new nation that titled itself the Slave-Holding Confederate States of America. Southern secession documents indisputably affirm that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the driving force in its secession and thus a primary cause of the Civil War.

2. The Declarations of Congressmen who left Congress to Join the Confederacy

Beginning on January 21, 1861, southern Democrats serving in Congress began resigning en masse to join the Confederacy. During this time, many stood in their respective federal legislative chambers and delivered their farewell statements unequivocally affirming what the secession documents clearly declared.

For example, Democrat U. S. Senator Alfred Iverson of Georgia bluntly told his peers:

I may safely say, however, that nothing will satisfy them [the seceded states] or bring them back short of a full and explicit recognition and guarantee of the safety of their institution of domestic slavery. 23

Democrat U. S. Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia (soon to become the Secretary of State for the Confederacy, and then a general in the Confederate Army) declared that the seceded South would return to the Union only if their pro-slavery demands were agreed to:

What do these Rebels demand? First, that the people of the United States shall have an equal right to emigrate and settle in the present or an future acquired territories with whatever property they may possess (including slaves). . . . The second proposition is that property in slaves shall be entitled to the same protection from the government of the United States, in all of its departments, everywhere, which the Constitution confers the power upon it to extend to any other property. . . . We demand in the next place . . . that a fugitive slave shall be surrendered under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 without being entitled either to a writ of habeas corpus or trial by jury or other similar obstructions of legislation. . . . Slaves – black “people,” you say – are entitled to trial by jury. . . . You seek to outlaw $4,000,000,000 of property [slaves] of our people in the territories of the United States. Is not that a cause of war? . . . My distinguished friend from Mississippi [Mr. Jefferson Davis], another moderate gentleman like myself, proposed simply to get a recognition that we had the right to our own – that man could have property in man – and it met with the unanimous refusal even of the most moderate, Union-saving, compromising portion of the Republican party. . . . Mr. Lincoln thus accepts every cardinal principle of the Abolitionists; yet he ignorantly puts his authority for abolition upon the Declaration of Independence, which was never made any part of the public law of the United States. . . . Very well; you not only want to break down our constitutional rights – you not only want to upturn our social system – your people not only steal our slaves and make them freemen to vote against us – but you seek to bring an inferior race into a condition of equality, socially and politically, with our own people. 24 (emphasis added)

Democrat U. S. Senator Clement Clay of Alabama (soon to become a foreign diplomat for the Confederacy) also expounded the same points:

Not a decade, nor scarce a lustrum [five year period], has elapsed since [America’s] birth that has not been strongly marked by proofs of the growth and power of that anti-slavery spirit of the northern people which seeks the overthrow of that domestic institution [slavery] of the South, which is not only the chief source of her prosperity but the very basis of her social order and state polity. . . . No sentiment is more insulting or more hostile to our domestic tranquility, to our social order, and our social existence, than is contained in the declaration that our Negroes are entitled to liberty and equality with the white man. . . . To crown the climax of insult to our feelings and menace of our rights, this party nominated to the presidency a man who not only endorses the platform but promises in his zealous support of its principles to disregard the judgment of your courts [i.e., Lincoln had indicated that he would ignore the Supreme Court’s egregious Dred Scott decision], the obligations of your Constitution, and the requirements of his official oath, by approving any bill prohibiting slavery in the territories of the United States. 25

Democrat U. S. Senator John Slidell of Louisiana (soon to be a Confederate diplomat to France and Great Britain), echoed the same grievances:

We all consider the election of Mr. Lincoln, with his well-known antecedents and avowed [anti-slavery] principles and purposes . . . as conclusive evidence of the determined hostility of the Northern masses to our institutions. We believe that he conscientiously entertains the opinions which he has so often and so explicitly declared, and that having been elected on the [anti-slavery] issues thus presented, he will honestly endeavor to carry them into execution. While now [as a result of secession] we have no fears of servile insurrection [i.e. a slave revolt], even of a partial character, we know that his inauguration as President of the United States, with our assent, would have been considered by many of our slaves as the day of their emancipation. 26

Democrat U. S. House Representative William Yancey (who became a Confederate diplomat to Europe and then a Confederate Senator) similarly complained:

[The North is] united in pronouncing slavery a political and social evil. . . . There exists but one party that, either in spirit or sentiment, manifests any disposition to stand by the South and the Constitution, and that is the Democratic Party. . . . The institution of slavery. . . . exists for the benefit of the South and is its chief source of wealth and power; and now in the hour of its peril – assailed by the great Northern antagonistic force [the Republicans and abolitionists] – it must look to the South alone for protection. . . . The question then, naturally arises, what protection have we against the arbitrary course of the Northern majority? . . . The answer is . . . withdraw from it [i.e., secede]! 27

Perhaps the no-holds-barred pro-slavery position of Democrats and southern states was best summarized by Democrat U. S. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana (who became the first Attorney General of the Confederacy, then its Secretary of War, and finally its Secretary of State), who declared:

I never have admitted any power in Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories anywhere, upon any occasion, or at any time.28 (emphasis added)

Once the South seceded and organized its Confederate government, it immediately sought official diplomatic recognition from Great Britain and France, wrongly believing that by halting the export of Southern cotton into those nations they could strong-arm them into an official recognition of the Confederacy. But Great Britain and Europe already held large stores of cotton in reserve and also had access to textile imports from other nations, so the poorly conceived Confederate plan was unsuccessful.

France had been willing to extend official recognition to the Confederacy but would not do so unless Great Britain did the same. But Charles Francis Adams (U. S. Minister to England, and the son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams) rallied anti-slavery forces in Europe and England to successfully lobby Great Britain not to extend official recognition to the Confederacy. Those early diplomatic successes by the Union were bolstered by President Lincoln’s 1862 announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the American states in rebellion – an act very popular among working-class Britons. By October 1863, the Confederacy, not having received the official support it so badly needed, expelled British representatives from southern states.

Although Great Britain never extended official recognition, she did indirectly assist the South in many ways, including supplying the Confederacy with naval cruisers that pillaged Union merchant shipping and also providing weapons to southern troops, including the Whitworth rifle (considered one of the most accurate rifles in the Civil War). A number of Britons even crossed the ocean to serve in the Confederate Army; and in some British ranks, the sympathy for the Confederacy was so strong that after popular Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot down by his own troops, the mourning was just as visible in parts of England as it had been throughout the Confederacy. Some in the British press even likened the death of Jackson to that of their own national hero, Lord Nelson; and a British monument to General Jackson was even commissioned, paid for, and transported to Richmond, Virginia by Confederate sympathizers in Great Britain.

Christian leaders in France – seeing Britain’s unofficial support for the slave-holding Confederacy – dispatched a fiery letter to British clergy, strongly urging them to oppose every British effort to help the Confederacy. As the French clergy explained:

No more revolting spectacle has ever been before the civilized world than a Confederacy – consisting mainly of Protestants – forming itself and demanding independence, in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, with a professed design of maintaining and propagating slavery. The triumph of such a cause would put back the progress of Christian civilization and of humanity a whole century. 29

Foreign observers clearly saw what southern Democrat U. S. Representatives and Senators in Congress had already announced: the Civil War was the result of the South’s desire to perpetuate slavery.

3. The Confederate Constitution

On February 9, 1861 (following the secession of the seventh state), the seceded states organized their new Confederate government, electing Jefferson Davis (a resigned Democrat U. S. Senator from Mississippi) as their national president and Alexander Stephens (a resigned Democrat U. S. Representative from Georgia) as their national vice-president. On March 11 (only a week after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President [Confederate apologists not only claim that slavery was not the central issue to the Confederacy but they also frequently portray Abraham Lincoln as a dictator, tyrant, atheist, homosexual, incompetent, drunk, etc. To “prove” this view, they rely heavily on The Real Lincoln by Thomas Dilorenzo (2002), The Real Lincoln by Charles Minor (1901), and Herndon’s Lincoln by William H. Herndon (1888). These three books (and a few others) portray Lincoln in a negative light, but literally hundreds of other scholarly biographies written about Lincoln – including by Pulitzer Prize-winning historians such as Carl Sandburg, Ida Tarbell, Garry Wills, Merrill Peterson, Don Fehrenbacher, and others – reached an opposite conclusion. A similar corollary would be to study the life of Jesus only by reading The DaVinci Code or The Last Temptation of Christ, or to study the life of George Washington only by using W. E. Woodward’s George Washington: The Image and the Man. In both cases, those writings present a view of that person but hundreds of other writings present an opposite and more accurate view; so, too, with Lincoln. The view of Lincoln presented by Confederate apologists is indeed a view, but it is contradicted by scores of other writers who, after examining all the historical evidence, reached an opposite conclusion.]), a constitution was adopted for the new confederacy of slave-holding states – a constitution that explicitly protected slavery in numerous clauses:

ARTICLE I, Section 9, (4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed. ARTICLE IV, Section 2, (1) The citizens of each state . . . shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any state of this Confederacy with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired. ARTICLE IV, Section 2, (3) [A] slave or other person held to service or labor in any state or territory of the Confederate States under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall . . . be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs. ARTICLE IV, Section 3, (3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory. . . . In all such territory, the institution of Negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States. 30

Ironically, southern apologists claim that the Confederacy was formed to preserve “states’ rights,” yet the Confederacy expressly prohibited any state from exercising its own “state’s right” to end slavery. Clearly, the Confederacy’s real issue was the preservation of slavery at all costs – even to the point that it constitutionally forbade the abolition of slavery by any of its member states.

4. Declaration of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens

On March 21, 1861 (less than two weeks after the Confederacy had formed its constitution), Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens delivered a policy speech setting forth the purpose of the new government. That speech was entitled “African Slavery: The Corner-Stone of the Southern Confederacy.” In it, Stephens first acknowledged that the Founding Fathers – even those from the South – had never intended for slavery to remain in America:

The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature – that it was wrong in principle – socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent [temporary] and pass away. 31

What did Vice-President Stephens and the new Confederate nation think about these anti-slavery ideas of the Founding Fathers?

Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. . . . and the idea of a government built upon it. . . . Our new government [the Confederate States of America] is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid – its cornerstone rests – upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. That slavery – subordination to the superior [white] race – is his natural and moral condition. This – our new [Confederate] government – is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. 32 (emphasis added)

Notice that by the title (as well as the content) of his speech, Confederate Vice-President Stephens affirmed that slavery was the central issue distinguishing the Confederacy.

Were Economic Policies a Major Factor in Secession?

Many southern apologists assert that the primary cause of the Civil War was unjust economic policies imposed on the South by northerners in Congress, 33 but secession records refute that claim. In fact, of the eleven secession documents, only five mention economic issues – and each was in direct conjunction with slavery. For example:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions; and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. 34 MISSISSIPPI Texas [and] Louisiana . . . have large areas of fertile, uncultivated lands peculiarly adapted to slave labor; and they are both so deeply interested in African slavery that it may be said to be absolutely necessary to their existence and is the keystone to the arch of their prosperity. 35 LOUISIANA They [the northern abolitionists in Congress] have impoverished the slave-holding states by unequal and partial legislation [attempting to abolish slavery], thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance. 36 TEXAS We had shed our blood and paid our money for its [slavery’s] acquisition. . . . [But b]y their [the North’s] declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property [i.e., slaves] in the common territories of the Union. . . . To avoid these evils, we . . . will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquility [by forming the Confederacy]. 37 GEORGIA We prefer, however, our system of industry . . . by which starvation is unknown and abundance crowns the land – by which order is preserved by an unpaid police and many fertile regions of the world where the white man cannot labor are brought into usefulness by the labor of the African, and the whole world is blessed by our productions. 38 SOUTH CAROLINA

Clearly, even the economic reasons set forth by the South as causes for secession were directly related to slavery. Therefore, to claim that economic policies and not slavery was the cause of the Civil War is to make a distinction where there is no difference.


Numerous categories of official Confederate documents affirm that slavery was indeed the primary issue that drove the secession movement and was central to the rebellion; it is therefore blatant and unmitigated revisionism to assert – as do Confederate apologists – that “one of the most important” of the “truths of history” is “that the War Between the States [Many southerners ardently insist on describing the conflict as “The War Between the States” and strenuously object to use of the descriptor “Civil War” (see, for example, “Let’s Say ‘War Between The States’ “ (at: ). However, cursory examinations of dozens of Confederate documents, as well as histories of the war written by Confederates immediately following the conflict, demonstrate that the descriptor they themselves most frequently used was “Civil War.” (Other descriptors used much less often by southern authors include “War Between the States,” “War of Southern Secession,” and “War for Southern Independence.”) Therefore, the assertion that the term “Civil War” is an inaccurate or biased title for the conflict is refuted by an examination of Confederate soldiers and historians who lived at the time of that conflict.] was not a rebellion [While the question of whether the conflict constituted a “rebellion” was not addressed by this work, a simple query raises a significant implication: If the “war between the states” was not a “rebellion” (as modern southern apologists assert), then why did southern leaders during the Civil War describe themselves and other southern participants as “Rebels” – a derivate of the word “rebellion”? The simple descriptor “Rebels” used by the Confederates themselves certainly suggests that they certainly viewed the Civil War as a “Rebellion.”] nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” 39


Endnotes 1.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, © 2004, by Houghton Mifflin Company. (Return) 2. “Derby, Kansas Middle School Suspension Denounced by Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Sons of Confederate Veterans (at: which declares “[T]he War Between the States was fought over issues such as the rights of individual states to set their own tariffs, establish their own governments, and receive full profit from their agricultural production. . . . the question of slavery was brought into the war by Lincoln in late 1862 as an emotional one to bolster the sagging Northern war effort . . .”; and “Children of the Confederacy: Creed,” United Daughters of the Confederacy (at: which declares “We, therefore pledge ourselves . . . to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is, that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery)”; etc. (Return) 3.Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion (Washington: Philip & Solomons, 1865), pp.15-16, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” December 24, 1860. (Return) 4.Convention of South Carolina, “Address of South Carolina to Slaveholding States,” Teaching American History, December 25, 1860 (at: (Return) 5. “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, January 9, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: (Return) 6. Addresses Delivered Before the Virginia State Convention, February 1861 (Richmond: Wyatt M. Elliott, 1861), “Address of Hon. Fulton Anderson, of Mississippi,” p. 7. (Return) 7. Orville Victor, The History, Civil, Political and Military, of the Southern Rebellion (New York: James D. Torrey, 1861), Vol. 1, p. 194, Florida, “Preliminary Resolution Prior to Secession,” January 7, 1861. (Return) 8. Orville Victor, The History, Civil, Political, and Military, of the Southern Rebellion (New York: James D. Torrey, 1861) Vol. 1, p. 195, “An Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Alabama and the other States united under the compact styled ‘The Constitution of the United States of America,’” January 11, 1861. (Return) 9. “A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Georgia to Secede from the Federal Union, January 29, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: (Return) 10. Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U. S. 393, at 449-52 (1856). The Dred Scott decision is arguably the first example of judicial activism by the Supreme Court: it struck down the congressional law of 1820 prohibiting the extension of slavery into certain federal territories. (Return) 11. Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of All Political Parties, 1789-1905 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1906 original; reprint 1971), p. 98, Republican Platform of 1856. (Return) 12. See, for example, the Democrat Platform following the Dred Scott decision; not only was there no condemnation of decision, but the platform instead declared: “The Democrat Party will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States upon these questions of constitutional law.” McKee, Platforms, p. 108. (Return) 13. See, for example, the Democrat Platform of 1856 declaring: “That Congress has no power under the Constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States. . . . [And] the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made. . . . [T]he only sound and safe solution of the ‘slavery question.’ . . . [is] non-interference by Congress with slavery in state and territory, or in the District of Columbia.” McKee, Platforms, pp. 91-92. (Return) 14. See, for example, the Democrat Platform of 1856 declaring: “All efforts of the abolitionists, or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union.” McKee, Platforms, p. 91. (Return) 15. “Civil War Era: Mayor Wood’s Recommendation of the Secession of New York City,”, January 6, 1861 (at: (Return) 16. The Union! It’s Dangers! And How they can be Averted. Letters from Samuel J. Tilden to Hon. William Kent (New York: 1860), pp. 14-15.(Return) 17. William P. Rogers, The Three Secession Movements in the United States (Boston: John Wilson and Son, 1876), pp. 16-17, quoting an editorial in the New York World, September 1, 1864, “The Democratic Platform.” (Return) 18. Addresses Delivered Before the Virginia State Convention, February 1861 (Richmond: Wyatt M. Elliott, 1861), “Address of Hon. Henry L. Benning, of Georgia,” p. 21. (Return) 19. Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, E. W. Winkler, editor (Austin Printing Company, 1912), pp. 122-123, address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana, February 11, 1861. See also “Address of George Williamson to the Texas Secessiono Convention,” American Civil (at: (Return) 20. “A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: (Return) 21. “An Ordinance to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, April 17, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: (Return) 22. Southern Pamphlets on Secession, November 1860 – April 1861, Jon Wakelyn, editor (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 334, 338, “State or Province? Bond or Free?” by Albert Pike, March 4, 1861. (Return) 23. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 589, January 28, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), p. 214, farewell speech of Alfred Iverson, January 28, 1861. (Return) 24. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), pp. 268-270, January 7, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 148-152, 167, 169, 170-171, 172, farewell speech of Robert Toombs, January 7, 1861. (Return) 25. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 486, January 21, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 202, 204, farewell speech of Clement Clay, January 21, 1861. (Return) 26. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 721, February 4, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 222-223, farewell speech of John Slidell, February 4, 1861. (Return) 27. The Secession Crisis, 1860-1861, edited by P. J. Staudenraus (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963), pp. 16-18, speech of William Yancey, delivered at Columbus, Georgia, in 1855. (Return) 28. Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1861), p. 238, January 3, 1861. See also Thomas Ricaud Martin, The Great Parliamentary Battle and the Farewell Addresses of Southern Senators on the Eve of the Civil War (New York and Washington: Neale Publishing Co., 1905), pp. 222-223, speech of Judah P. Benjamin, January 3, 1861. (Return) 29. William J. Jackman, History of the American Nation (Chicago: K Gaynor, 1911), Vol. 4, p. 1124. (Return) 30. “Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861,” Avalon Project (at: See also Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion (Washington: Philip & Solomons, 1865), pp. 98-99. (Return) 31. Echoes From The South (New York: E. B. Treat & Co., 1866), p. 85. See also The Pulpit and Rostrum: Sermons, Orations, Popular Lectures, &c. (New York: E. D. Barker, 1862), pp. 69-70, “African Slavery, the Cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy,” by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy. (Return) 32. Echoes From The South, pp. 85-86. See also The Pulpit and Rostrum, pp. 69-70, “African Slavery, the Cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy,” by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy. (Return) 33. Mike Scruggs, “Understanding the Causes of the Uncivil War,” Georgia Heritage Council, June 4, 2005 (at: See also Charles Oliver, “Southern Nationalism – United States Civil War,” Reason, August, 2001 (at:;col1), where he is talking about Charles Adams viewing “the Civil War as a fight about taxes, specifically tariffs.” (Return) 34. “A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union,” The Civil War Home Page, January 9, 1861 (at: (Return) 35. Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, E. W. Winkler, editor (Austin Printing Company, 1912), pp. 122-123, address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana, February 11, 1861. See also “Address of George Williamson to the Texas Secessiono Convention,” American Civil (at: (Return) 36. “A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861,” The Civil War Home Page (at: (Return) 37. “Georgia Declaration of Secession,” The Civil War Home Page, January 29, 1861 (at: (Return) 38. Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion (Washington: Philip & Solomons, 1865), p. 15, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” December 24, 1860. (Return) 39. Plaque from the Children of the Confederacy hanging inside the Texas State Capitol. See also “Children of the Confederacy: Creed,” United Daughters of the Confederacy (at: (Return)


Danbury Baptists and Thomas Jefferson

(For the latest FBI forensic research on Thomas Jefferson’s letter click here. For an analysis of the context of this exchange between the Danbury Baptists and Jefferson, see Daniel Dreisbach’s “‘Sowing Useful Truths and Principles': The Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson, and the ‘Wall of Separation'” in the Journal of Church and State, Vol. 39, Summer 1997; or see David Barton’s article “The Separation of Church and State“)

Letter from the Danbury Baptists:

The address of the Danbury Baptist Association in the State of Connecticut, assembled October 7, 1801. To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America

Sir, Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your inauguration , to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in the Unite States. And though the mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe, that none is more sincere.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Sir, we are sensible that the President of the United States is not the National Legislator and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each State, but our hopes are strong that the sentiment of our beloved President, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these States–and all the world–until hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and goodwill shining forth in a course of more than thirty years, we have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the Chair of State out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you–to sustain and support you and your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.

And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

Signed in behalf of the Association,

Neh,h Dodge } Eph’m Robbins } The Committee Stephen S. Nelson }

*A cite for this letter could read:

Letter of Oct. 7, 1801 from Danbury (CT) Baptist Assoc. to Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Wash. D.C.

President Jefferson’s Reply:

Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen s. Nelson A Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut.

Washington, January 1, 1802

Gentlemen,–The affectionate sentiment of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.

Th Jefferson Jan. 1. 1802

* A cite for this letter could read: Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert E. Bergh, ed. (Washington, D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1904), Vol. XVI, pp. 281-282.


Separation of Church and State

David Barton – 01/2001
In 1947, in the case Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court declared, “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” The “separation of church and state” phrase which they invoked, and which has today become so familiar, was taken from an exchange of letters between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, shortly after Jefferson became President.The election of Jefferson – America’s first Anti-Federalist President – elated many Baptists since that denomination, by-and-large, was also strongly Anti-Federalist. This political disposition of the Baptists was understandable, for from the early settlement of Rhode Island in the 1630s to the time of the federal Constitution in the 1780s, the Baptists had often found themselves suffering from the centralization of power.

Consequently, now having a President who not only had championed the rights of Baptists in Virginia but who also had advocated clear limits on the centralization of government powers, the Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson a letter of praise on October 7, 1801, telling him:

Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we embrace the first opportunity . . . to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in the United States. . . . [W]e have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the Chair of State out of that goodwill which He bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you. . . . And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator. [1]

However, in that same letter of congratulations, the Baptists also expressed to Jefferson their grave concern over the entire concept of the First Amendment, including of its guarantee for “the free exercise of religion”:

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. . . . [T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. [2]

In short, the inclusion of protection for the “free exercise of religion” in the constitution suggested to the Danbury Baptists that the right of religious expression was government-given (thus alienable) rather than God-given (hence inalienable), and that therefore the government might someday attempt to regulate religious expression. This was a possibility to which they strenuously objected-unless, as they had explained, someone’s religious practice caused him to “work ill to his neighbor.”

Jefferson understood their concern; it was also his own. In fact, he made numerous declarations about the constitutional inability of the federal government to regulate, restrict, or interfere with religious expression. For example:

[N]o power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution. Kentucky Resolution, 1798 [3]

In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. Second Inaugural Address, 1805 [4]

[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808 [5]

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises. Letter to Samuel Millar, 1808 [6]

Jefferson believed that the government was to be powerless to interfere with religious expressions for a very simple reason: he had long witnessed the unhealthy tendency of government to encroach upon the free exercise of religion. As he explained to Noah Webster:

It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted position in the several States that the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors . . . and which experience has nevertheless proved they [the government] will be constantly encroaching on if submitted to them; that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious [effective] against wrong and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion. [7]

Thomas Jefferson had no intention of allowing the government to limit, restrict, regulate, or interfere with public religious practices. He believed, along with the other Founders, that the First Amendment had been enacted only to prevent the federal establishment of a national denomination – a fact he made clear in a letter to fellow-signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush:

[T]he clause of the Constitution which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes and they believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly. [8]

Jefferson had committed himself as President to pursuing the purpose of the First Amendment: preventing the “establishment of a particular form of Christianity” by the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, or any other denomination.

Since this was Jefferson’s view concerning religious expression, in his short and polite reply to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802, he assured them that they need not fear; that the free exercise of religion would never be interfered with by the federal government. As he explained:

Gentlemen, – The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association give me the highest satisfaction. . . . Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurances of my high respect and esteem. [9]

Jefferson’s reference to “natural rights” invoked an important legal phrase which was part of the rhetoric of that day and which reaffirmed his belief that religious liberties were inalienable rights. While the phrase “natural rights” communicated much to people then, to most citizens today those words mean little.

By definition, “natural rights” included “that which the Books of the Law and the Gospel do contain.” [10] That is, “natural rights” incorporated what God Himself had guaranteed to man in the Scriptures. Thus, when Jefferson assured the Baptists that by following their “natural rights” they would violate no social duty, he was affirming to them that the free exercise of religion was their inalienable God-given right and therefore was protected from federal regulation or interference.

So clearly did Jefferson understand the Source of America’s inalienable rights that he even doubted whether America could survive if we ever lost that knowledge. He queried:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? [11]

Jefferson believed that God, not government, was the Author and Source of our rights and that the government, therefore, was to be prevented from interference with those rights. Very simply, the “fence” of the Webster letter and the “wall” of the Danbury letter were not to limit religious activities in public; rather they were to limit the power of the government to prohibit or interfere with those expressions.

Earlier courts long understood Jefferson’s intent. In fact, when Jefferson’s letter was invoked by the Supreme Court (only twice prior to the 1947 Everson case – the Reynolds v. United States case in 1878), unlike today’s Courts which publish only his eight-word separation phrase, that earlier Court published Jefferson’s entire letter and then concluded:

Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it [Jefferson’s letter] may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the Amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere [religious] opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order. (emphasis added) [12]

That Court then succinctly summarized Jefferson’s intent for “separation of church and state”:

[T]he rightful purposes of civil government are for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order. In th[is] . . . is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State. [13]

With this even the Baptists had agreed; for while wanting to see the government prohibited from interfering with or limiting religious activities, they also had declared it a legitimate function of government “to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.”

That Court, therefore, and others (for example, Commonwealth v. Nesbit and Lindenmuller v. The People), identified actions into which – if perpetrated in the name of religion – the government did have legitimate reason to intrude. Those activities included human sacrifice, polygamy, bigamy, concubinage, incest, infanticide, parricide, advocation and promotion of immorality, etc.

Such acts, even if perpetrated in the name of religion, would be stopped by the government since, as the Court had explained, they were “subversive of good order” and were “overt acts against peace.” However, the government was never to interfere with traditional religious practices outlined in “the Books of the Law and the Gospel” – whether public prayer, the use of the Scriptures, public acknowledgements of God, etc.

Therefore, if Jefferson’s letter is to be used today, let its context be clearly given – as in previous years. Furthermore, earlier Courts had always viewed Jefferson’s Danbury letter for just what it was: a personal, private letter to a specific group. There is probably no other instance in America’s history where words spoken by a single individual in a private letter – words clearly divorced from their context – have become the sole authorization for a national policy. Finally, Jefferson’s Danbury letter should never be invoked as a stand-alone document. A proper analysis of Jefferson’s views must include his numerous other statements on the First Amendment.

For example, in addition to his other statements previously noted, Jefferson also declared that the “power to prescribe any religious exercise. . . . must rest with the States” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, the federal courts ignore this succinct declaration and choose rather to misuse his separation phrase to strike down scores of State laws which encourage or facilitate public religious expressions. Such rulings against State laws are a direct violation of the words and intent of the very one from whom the courts claim to derive their policy.

One further note should be made about the now infamous “separation” dogma. The Congressional Records from June 7 to September 25, 1789, record the months of discussions and debates of the ninety Founding Fathers who framed the First Amendment. Significantly, not only was Thomas Jefferson not one of those ninety who framed the First Amendment, but also, during those debates not one of those ninety Framers ever mentioned the phrase “separation of church and state.” It seems logical that if this had been the intent for the First Amendment – as is so frequently asserted-then at least one of those ninety who framed the Amendment would have mentioned that phrase; none did.

In summary, the “separation” phrase so frequently invoked today was rarely mentioned by any of the Founders; and even Jefferson’s explanation of his phrase is diametrically opposed to the manner in which courts apply it today. “Separation of church and state” currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant.


Endnotes 1. Letter of October 7, 1801, from Danbury (CT) Baptist Association to Thomas Jefferson, from the Thomas Jefferson Papers Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. (Return) 2. Id. (Return) 3. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, John P. Foley, editor (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), p. 977; see also Documents of American History, Henry S. Cummager, editor (NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1948), p. 179. (Return) 4. Annals of the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1852, Eighth Congress, Second Session, p. 78, March 4, 1805; see also James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897 (Published by Authority of Congress, 1899), Vol. I, p. 379, March 4, 1805. (Return) 5. Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. I, p. 379, March 4, 1805. (Return) 6. Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830), Vol. IV, pp. 103-104, to the Rev. Samuel Millar on January 23, 1808. (Return) 7. Jefferson, Writings, Vol. VIII, p. 112-113, to Noah Webster on December 4, 1790. (Return) 8. Jefferson, Writings, Vol. III, p. 441, to Benjamin Rush on September 23, 1800. (Return) 9. Jefferson, Writings, Vol. XVI, pp. 281-282, to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802. (Return) 10. Richard Hooker, The Works of Richard Hooker (Oxford: University Press, 1845), Vol. I, p. 207. (Return) 11. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1794), Query XVIII, p. 237. (Return) 12. Reynolds v. U. S., 98 U. S. 145, 164 (1878). (Return) 13. Reynolds at 163. (Return)


American Revolution (Rebellion?)

David Barton – 05/2009
The American Revolution: Was it an Act of Biblical Rebellion?Was the American Revolution an act of rebellion against God and the Bible? Many today claim that it was. For example, John McArthur (Pastor of Grace Community Church and host of the national radio program “Grace to You”) asserts:People have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. That’s why many contemporary evangelicals believe the American Revolution was completely justified, both politically and scripturally. They follow the arguments of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are Divinely endowed rights. . . . But such a position is contrary to the clear teachings and commands of Romans 13:1-7. So the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers. 1

Oklahoma church leader Albert Soto similarly claims:

The Colonists’ act of rebellion flies in the face of [Romans 13:1,2]. Did they overlook this verse? No, these were not men ignorant of Scripture. In fact, they used Scripture to support their cause in the most devious of ways. The deception that prevailed during this period of history was immense. God and Scripture was the vehicle of mobilization that unified the cause, gave it credence, and allowed the Deist leaders at the top to move the masses toward rebellion. Scripture was the Forefathers’ most useful tool of propaganda. 2

Others hold the same position.3 In fact, Dr. Daryl Cornett of Mid-America Theological Seminary maintains that the American Revolution occurred because . . .

Deistic and Unitarian tendencies in regards to religion. . . . were of such strength that even orthodox Christians were swept up into rebellion against their governing authorities. . . . Those Christians who supported physical resistance against the tyranny of Britain generally turned to Enlightenment rhetoric for validation, propped up by poor exegesis and application of the Bible.

While such charges certainly reflect the personal views of these critics, they definitely do not accurately reflect the extended theological debates that occurred at the time of the American Revolution. In fact, contrary to Dr. Cornett’s claim that the Founding Fathers “turned to Enlightenment rhetoric for validation” of the American Revolution, the topic of civil disobedience and resistance to governing authorities had been a subject of serious theological inquiries for centuries before the Enlightenment. This was especially true during the Reformation, when the subject was directly addressed by theologians such as Frenchman John Calvin, 4 German Martin Luther, 5 Swiss Reformation leader Huldreich Zwingli, 6 and numerous others. 7

It was not strange that such Biblical discussions should have arisen in that period, for many tyrannical civil leaders who felt personally threatened by Biblical Reformation teachings attempted to suppress the spread of those teachings through bloody purges, brutal tortures, and barbaric persecutions – such as when French leaders conducted the famous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, resulting in 110,000 Reformation followers being killed, or when Henry VIII (1491-1547) similarly utilized public executions and burnings at the stake (a practice continued by Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I, and subsequent monarchs). In fact, those civil leaders even deliberately enacted laws specifically prohibiting Reformation adherents from practicing their Scriptural beliefs.

Facing such civil opposition, Reformation leaders turned to the Bible and found much guidance on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance to tyrannical civil authority. In fact, numerous famous heroes of the Bible – including many of those listed in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 as well as in other passages – were accorded their special position of honor because they committed civil disobedience (e.g., Daniel, the Three Hebrew Children, the Hebrew midwives, Rahab, Moses, etc.; and the Apostles in Acts 4-5 also declared their willingness to be civilly disobedient against tyrannical commands of civil and religious rulers).

Some of the important theological works on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance published during that time included the 1556 Short Treatise of Politic Power and of the True Obedience which Subjects Owe to Kings and Other Civil Governors by Bishop John Poynet (1516-1566), and the 1579 Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (A Defense Of Liberty Against Tyrants), published by French Reformation theologian Philippe Duplessis-Mornay (1549-1623) and French Reformation leader Hubert Languet (1518-1581) in response to the horrific St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. Both works undertook an in-depth Biblical examination of how God’s people throughout the Scriptures had responded to civil rulers, including both good and bad rulers. Those theological discussions continued in England during the brutal reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547), the repressive abuses of James I (1566-1625), and the ruthless rule of the Tudor monarchs, including that of Bloody Mary (1516-1558).

In fact, James I, in addition to using brutal persecutions and murders to help combat the theological teachings and writings leveled against him, even ordered Church leaders (recall that James I was the official head of the English Church) to concoct two new “church” doctrines: (1) the Divine Right of Kings (that kings stand in the place of God, representing Him to the people), and (2) Complete Submission and Non-Resistance to Authority (that because kings have an allegedly Divine position, they are not to be resisted – ever, for any reason). Not surprisingly, Reformation followers openly opposed James’ “irrational and unscriptural doctrines,” 8 thus prompting him to level even harsher persecutions against them, including mutilation, hanging, and disemboweling.

In 1644, during in the reign of Bloody Mary, Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford penned the important theological work Lex Rex, demonstrating that the law is king rather than vice versa. For asserting that Biblical position, Rutherford was charged by British monarchy with high treason but died before he could be tried. Not surprisingly, Lex Rex was banned by the Crown and every person who had a copy was ordered to turn it in to a king’s official.

James II continued the persecution of believers, and not surprisingly, the theological debates also continued. For example, when clergyman Abednego Seller penned a defense of James’ reign, urging complete obedience to the Crown in his Passive Obedience Prov’d to be the Doctrine of the Church of England, from the Reformation to These Times (London, 1689), clergyman Samuel Johnson responded with An Answer to the History of Passive Obedience (London, 1689).

Significantly, the many theological writings penned during these brutal and tyrannical reigns provided the underpinning for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which: (1) tyrannical monarchs were set aside; (2) England made its first attempts to separate State from Church and thus end religious tyranny and murders wrongly committed in the name of Christ; and (3) representative government was instituted under William of Orange (1650-1702).

When British autocratic tyranny began to increase toward America preceding the Revolution, those ancient theological debates were renewed. The Quakers and Anglicans adopted the position set forth by King James I (and subsequently embraced by Dr. Cornett, Rev. MacArthur, and others of today’s critics), but the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists, and most other denominations of that day adopted the theological viewpoint presented by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Rutherford, Poynet, Mornay, Languet, Johnson, and other theologians across the centuries. In fact, John Adams specifically recommended the theological works of Poynet (A Short Treatise of Politic Power, 1556) and Duplessis-Mornay and (A Defense Of Liberty Against Tyrants, 1579) to readers who wanted to understand the theological thinking in the American founding.9

On the basis of those numerous historic theological writings (which, significantly, had also been regularly preached from American pulpits for decades prior to the American Revolution 10 ), Americans embraced two specific theological positions that guided their thinking and conduct in the conflict with Great Britain.

The first was that most Christian denominations during the Founding Era held that while they were forbidden to overthrow the institution of government and live in anarchy, they were not required blindly to submit to every law and policy. Those in the Founding Era understood that the general institution of government was unequivocally ordained by God and was not to be overthrown, but that did not mean that God approved every specific government; God had ordained government in lieu of anarchy – He opposed anarchy, rebellion, lawlessness, and wickedness and wanted civil government in society. Therefore, a crucial determination in the colonists’ Biblical exegesis was whether opposition to authority was simply to resist the general institution of government (an institution ordained by God Himself), or whether it was instead to resist tyrannical leaders who had themselves rebelled against God. (The Scriptural model for this position was repeatedly validated when God Himself raised up leaders such as Gideon, Ehud, Jepthah, Samson, and Deborah to throw off tyrannical governments – leaders subsequently praised in Hebrews 11:32 for those acts of faith.) That the Founders held the view that the institution of government is not to be opposed by that tyranny is, is a position clearly evident in their writings.

For example, Founding Father James Otis explained that the only king who had a “Divine right” was God Himself; beyond that, God had ordained that power should rest with the people (c.f., Exodus 18:21, Deuteronomy 1:15-16, etc.):

Has it [government] any solid foundation? – any chief cornerstone. . . ? I think it has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God. . . . Government. . . . is by no means an arbitrary thing depending merely on compact or human will for its existence. . . . There can be no prescription old enough to supersede the law of nature and the grant of God Almighty, Who has given to all men a natural right to be free; and they have it ordinarily in their power to make themselves so if they please….If both those powers are retained in the hands of the many (where nature seems to have placed them originally), the government is a simple democracry, or a government of all over all. . . . [God is] the only monarch in the universe Who has a clear and indisputable right to absolute power because He is the only one Who is omniscient as well as omnipotent. 11

Founding Father John Dickinson (a signer of the Constitution) also affirmed that spiritual view:

Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness. . . . We claim them from a higher source – from the King of kings and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us, exist with us, and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives. 12

In fact, Samuel Adams (the “Father of the American Revolution” and a signer of the Declaration of Independence) specifically recommended a study of the Scriptures in order to understand the basis of America’s struggle against a tyrannical king, explaining that:

The Rights of the Colonists as Christians. . . . may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament. 13

The Founders clearly believed that they were not in rebellion to God’s ordained institution of civil government; they were only resisting tyranny and not the institution itself. In fact, Rev. Jacob Duché (a supporter of the British) argued from the Bible in favor of the American position, explaining:

Inasmuch as all rulers are in fact the servants of the public and appointed for no other purpose than to be “a terror to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well” [c.f., Rom. 13:3], whenever this Divine order is inverted – whenever these rulers abuse their sacred trust by unrighteous attempts to injure, oppress, and enslave those very persons from whom alone, under God, their power is derived – does not humanity, does not reason, does not Scripture, call upon the man, the citizen, the Christian of such a community to “stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ….hath made them free!” [Galatians 5:1] The Apostle enjoins us to “submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,” but surely a submission to the unrighteous ordinances of unrighteous men, cannot be “for the Lord’s sake,” for “He loveth righteousness and His countenance beholds the things that are just.” 14

Despite the Americans embracing what they believed to be a fully-supported Biblical position, some British leaders nevertheless specifically accused the Americans of anarchy and rebellion – a charge to which John Quincy Adams forcefully responded:

[T]here was no anarchy. . . . [T]he people of the North American union and of its constituent states were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians in a state of nature but not of anarchy. They 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. 15 (emphasis added)

Declaration signer Francis Hopkinson (also a church musician and choir leader) agreed:

Q. It has often been said, that America is in a state of rebellion. Tell me, therefore, what is Rebellion? A. It is when a great number of people, headed by one or more factious leaders, aim at deposing their lawful prince without any just cause of complaint in order to place another on his throne. Q. Is this the case of the Americans? A. Far otherwise. 16

Reflective of the Founding Father’s belief that they were not rebelling against God or resisting ordained government but only tyranny was the fact that the first national motto proposed for America in August 1776 was “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” 17 – a summation of the famous 1750 sermon 18 preached by the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew (a principle figure in the Great Awakening).

The second Scriptural viewpoint overwhelmingly embraced by most Americans during the Revolutionary Era was that God would not honor an offensive war, but that He did permit civil self-defense (e.g., Nehemiah 4:13-14 & 20-21, Zechariah 9:8, 2 Samuel 10:12, etc.). The fact that the American Revolution was an act of self-defense and was not an offensive war undertaken by the Americans remained a point of frequent spiritual appeal for the Founding Fathers. After all, Great Britain had attacked America, not vice versa; the Americans had never fired the first shot – not in the Boston Massacre of 1770, the bombing of Boston and burning of Charlestown in 1774, or in the attacks on Williamsburg, Concord, or Lexington in 1775.

Illustrative of this belief was the famous command to the Lexington Minutemen, “Don’t fire unless fired upon!” Yet, having been fired upon without having broken any law, the Americans believed they had a Biblical right to self-defense. In fact, the Rev. Peter Powers, in a famous sermon he preached in front of the Vermont Legislature in 1778, 19 specifically noted that America had “taken up arms in its own defense” 20 – that she had no initiated the conflict but was only defending herself after being attacked.

The Framers’ writings repeatedly emphasized this point of spiritual appeal. For example, Founding Father Francis Hopkinson made this clear in his 1777 work “A Political Catechism”:

Q. What is war? A. The curse of mankind; the mother of famine and pestilence; the source of complicated miseries; and the undistinguishing destroyer of the human species. Q. How is war divided? A. Into offensive and defensive. Q. What is the general object of an offensive war? . . . A. [F]or the most part, it is undertaken to gratify the ambition of a prince, who wishes to subject to his arbitrary will a people whom God created free, and to gain an uncontrolled dominion over their rights and property. . . . Q. What is defensive war? A. It is to take up arms in opposition to the invasions of usurped power and bravely suffer present hardships and encounter present dangers, to secure the rights of humanity and the blessings of freedom to generations yet unborn. Q. Is even defensive war justifiable in a religious view? A. The foundation of war is laid in the wickedness of mankind . . . . God has given man wit to contrive, power to execute, and freedom of will to direct his conduct. It cannot be but that some, from a depravity of will, will abuse these privileges and exert these powers to the injury of others; and the oppressed would have no safety nor redress but by exerting the same powers in their defense and it is our duty to set a proper value upon and defend to the utmost our just rights and the blessings of life, otherwise a few miscreants [unprincipled individuals] would tyrannize over the rest of mankind, and make the passive multitude the slaves of their power. Thus it is that defensive is not only justifiable but an indispensable duty. Q. Is it upon these principles that the people of America are resisting the arms of Great Britain, and opposing force with force? A. Strictly so. . . . And may Heaven prosper their virtuous undertaking! 21

Founding Father James Wilson (a signer of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and an original Justice on the U. S. Supreme Court) affirmed:

The defense of one’s self . . . is not, nor can it be, abrogated by any regulation of municipal law. This principle of defense is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man. It is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those to whom he bears a peculiar relation – of his wife, of his parent, of his child. . . . As a man is justified in defending, so he is justified in retaking his property. . . . Man does not exist for the sake of government, but government is instituted for the sake of man. 22

According to the Founders’ Biblical understanding, the fact that they were engaged in a defensive action made all the difference – they believed that they could boldly approach God and sincerely seek His aid and blessing in such a situation. In fact, so cognizant were American leaders they that they would account to God for their actions – and so convinced were they that they would be held innocent before Him – that the flag of the Massachusetts Army proclaimed “An Appeal to God,” and the flag of the Massachusetts Navy likewise declared an “Appeal to Heaven.” 23

The Continental Congress also issued a manifesto reflecting a similar tone of submission to God:

We, therefore, the Congress of the United States of America, do solemnly declare and proclaim that. . . . [w]e appeal to the God Who searcheth the hearts of men for the rectitude of our intentions; and in His holy presence declare that, as we are not moved by any light or hasty suggestions of anger or revenge, so through every possible change of fortune we will adhere to this our determination. 24

Believing that they were thus operating under fundamental Biblical principles, Founding Father Samuel Adams therefore boldly warned British officials:

There is One above us Who will take exemplary vengeance for every insult upon His majesty. You know that the cause of America is just. You know that she contends for that freedom to which all men are entitled – that she contends against oppression, rapine, and more than savage barbarity. The blood of the innocent is upon your hands, and all the waters of the ocean will not wash it away. We again make our solemn appeal to the God of heaven to decide between you and us. And we pray that, in the doubtful scale of battle, we may be successful as we have justice on our side, and that the merciful Savior of the world may forgive our oppressors. 25

Significantly, the Americans had been militarily attacked for well over two years before they finally announced a separation; and for eleven years preceding that announcement (from 1765 to 1776), they had diligently pursued reconciliation and not conflict, offering documents such as their famous appeal of 1775 and the May 1776 “Olive Branch Petition,” each of which was submitted in a completely submissive and conciliatory tone. Reflective of this tone was the writing of Founding Father Stephen Hopkins (a signer of the Declaration and Governor of Rhode Island) in which he explained to the British:

We finally beg leave to assert that the first planters of these colonies were pious Christians – were faithful [British] subjects who, with a fortitude and perseverance little known and less considered, settled these wild countries by God’s goodness and their own amazing labors [and] thereby added a most valuable dependence to the crown of Great-Britain; were ever dutifully subservient to her interests; so taught their children that not one has been disaffected to this day but all have honestly obeyed every royal command and cheerfully submitted to every constitutional law; . . . have carefully avoided every offensive measure . . . have never been troublesome or expensive to the mother country; have kept due order and supported a regular government; have maintained peace and practiced Christianity; and in all conditions and in every relation have demeaned themselves as loyal, as dutiful, and as faithful subjects ought; and that no kingdom or state hath, or ever had, colonies more quiet, more obedient, or more profitable than these have ever been. 26

The Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon (also a signer of the Declaration) also affirmed:

On the part of America, there was not the most distant thought of subverting the government or of hurting the interest of the people of Great Britain, but of defending their own privileges from unjust encroachment; there was not the least desire of withdrawing their allegiance from the common sovereign [King George III] till it became absolutely necessary – and indeed, it was his own choice. 27

Significantly, as Dr. Witherspoon had correctly noted, it was Great Britain who had terminated the entreaties; in fact, during the last two years of America’s appeals, her peaceful pleas were directly met by armed military force. King George III dispatched 25,000 British troops to invade his own Colonies, enter the homes of his own citizens to take their private possessions and goods, and imprison them without trials – all in violation of his own British Common Law, English Bill of Rights, and Magna Carta (centuries old documents that formed the basis of the covenant between British rulers and citizens). Only when those governmental covenants had been broken by their rulers and America had been directly attacked did the Americans respond in self-defense.

On the basis of these two theological understandings (that God Himself had ordained the institution of civil government, and that God had explicitly authorized civil self-defense) the Founding Fathers and the majority of American Christians in that day believed that they were conducting themselves in a manner that was not in rebellion to God or the Scriptures.

Consequently, Dr. Cornett’s claim, as well as those of John MacArthur and other critics, that the Founders “generally turned to Enlightenment rhetoric for validation, propped up by poor exegesis and application of the Bible” merely reflects the side that they have taken in the historic theological debate – the same as if they had been 1776 Quakers arguing against Presbyterians, or Anglicans against Congregationalists. However, just because these modern critics may disagree with the theology of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Mornay, Rutherford, and other theologians does not mean that from an historical viewpoint the Americans’ approach was “propped up by poor exegesis and application of the Bible,” or that the Founders “generally turned to Enlightenment rhetoric for validation.” It simply means that today’s critics are either uninformed about the actual historical and theological writings from the Reformation through the Revolution, or that they disagree with the theological positions held by the Founding Fathers, theologians, and ministers of that era, but it does not mean that there was no Biblical basis for the American Revolution.

In fact, the spiritual nature of America’s resistance was so clear even to the British that in the British Parliament:

Sir Richard Sutton read a copy of a letter relative to the government of America from a [Crown-appointed] governor in America to the Board of Trade [in Great Britain] showing that. . . . If you ask an American, “Who is his master?” He will tell you he has none – nor any governor but Jesus Christ. 28

Such spiritual declarations – confirming what was readily evident even to America’s opponents – certainly are not consistent with what critics inaccurately claim is the Unitarian, Deistic, and Secular Enlightenment rebellion basis of the American Revolution.

Endnotes 1. Dr. John MacArthur, see his declaration that “The truth is, the United States was born out of a violation of Romans 13:1-7,” from “The Christian and Government: The Christian’s Responsibility to Government – Part 1” (at: 2. Albert Soto, “The American Revolution Rebellion” A True Church (Return) 3. For example, see Dr. Jack Arnold, “Dare You Resist Your Government? Romans 13: 2-4” (at:, originally published in IIIM [Third Millennium] Magazine Online, April 16-April 22, 2001, Vol. 3, No. 16 (Dr. Arnold is Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian in Orlando, CA, and established “Equipping Pastors International” in 1997); and Dr. John Brug, “The Christian’s Dual Citizenship: Concerning the American Revolution” (at: (Dr. Brug is Professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary); and Pastor Robert L. Deffinbaugh, “Was the American Revolution Biblically Supported?” (at: (Pastor Deffinbaugh is at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas); etc.(Return) 4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Henry Beveridge, translator (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845, the first English translation by Thomas Norton was published in London: 1561, the original Latin version was published in 1536), Book 4, Chapter 20: Of Civil Government (at: 5. Martin Luther, Temporal Authority: To What Extent Should it be Obeyed? (1523), (at: 6. Americanized Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Belford-Clarke Co., 1890), pp. 6456-6457, s.v. “Huldreich Zwingli.”(Return) 7. John Harty, The Catholic Encyclopedia. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912), “Tyrannicide” (at:; see also Rev. John C. Rager, “Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence,” The Catholic Mind, Vol. XXVIII, No. 13, July 8, 1930 (at: 8. J. M. Mathews, The Bible and Civil Government, in a Course of Lectures (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), p. 231.(Return) 9. John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (Philadelphia: William Young, 1797), Vol. III, pp. 210-211.(Return) 10.See, for example, numerous sermons cited in Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1958), pp. 22-23, 26, 27-28, 34-37, 65-68, 86-87, 89-95,101-104, as well as sermons by Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning the Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (Boston: 1750), pp. 37-41, Jonathan Ellis, The Justice of the Present War against the French in America, and the Principles that Should Influence us in the Undertaking Asserted: A Sermon Preached to the Soldiers, Sept 22, A.D. 1755. from I Sam. Xviii. 17 (Newport: J. Franklin, 1755), John A. Lidenius, The Lawfulness of Defensive War. A Sermon Preached before the Members of the Church; at Chiechester, in the County of Chester, and Province of Pennsylvania, upon their Association for Defense, February 14, 1756 (Philadelphia: James Chattin, 1756), etc. (Return) 11.James Otis, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved(Boston: J. Williams 1766), pp. 11, 13, 16-18, (Return) 12.John Dickinson, The Political Writings of John Dickinson (Wilmington: Bonsal and Niles, 1801), Vol. I, p. 111. (Return) 13. Samuel Adams, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, William V. Wells, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865), Vol. I, p. 504. (Return) 14.Jacob Duche, The Duty of Standing Fast in our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties, A Sermon Preached in Christ Church, July 7, 1775. Before the First Battalion of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: James Humphreys, Jr., 1775), pp. 13-14. (Return) 15.John Quincy Adams, An Address Delivered at the Request of the Committee of Arrangements for the Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence at the City of Washington on the Fourth of July 1821 upon the Occasion of Reading The Declaration of Independence (Cambridge: Hilliard and Metcalf, 1821), p. 28. (Return) 16.Francis Hopkinson, The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. (Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1792), Vol. I, pp. 115-116. (Return) 17.John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), Vol. I, p. 152, letter to Abigail Adams, August 14, 1776. (Return) 18.Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning the Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1968, originally printed in Boston: 1750), pp. 37-41. (Return) 19.The Rev. Peter Powers, Jesus Christ the true King and Head of Government; A Sermon Preached before the General Assembly of the State of Vermont, on the Day of Their First Election, March 12, 1778 at Windsor (Newbury-Port: Printed by John Michael, 1778). (Return) 20.The Rev. Peter Powers, Jesus Christ the true King and Head of Government…..March 12, 1778, p. 18. (Return) 21.Francis Hopkinson, The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. (Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1792), Vol. I, pp. 111-115. (Return) 22.James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Bronson and Chuncey, 1804), Vol. II, pp. 496-497. (Return) 23.Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts. 1776 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1984, originally published in Watertown, MA: 1776), Vol. 51, Part III, pp. 196-197, April 29, 1776. (Return) 24.Samuel Adams, Writings, Vol. IV, p. 86, “Manifesto of the Continental Congress” on October 30, 1778. (Return) 25.Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Harry Alonzo Cushing, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), Vol. IV, p. 38, to the Earl of Carlisle and Others on July 16, 1778. (Return) 26.Stephen Hopkins, The Grievances of the American Colonies Candidly Examined, (New York: Research Reprints Inc., 1970, first published London: J. Almon, 1766), pp. 45-48. (Return) 27.John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. IX, p. 250, “The Druid,” Number III. (Return) 28.Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America (Baltimore: William Ogden Niles, 1822), p. 198. (Return)

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