Young America’s Firm Reliance On God

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the book, Light of Liberty.

On July 4, 1776, after days of writing and countless drafts, Thomas Jefferson submitted the formal Declaration of Independence to be voted on by Congress.

This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.
—Thomas Jefferson

The motion passed unanimously.
After the announcement of the vote, silence moved over the delegates as they contemplated the magnitude of what they had just done. Some wept openly, while others bowed in prayer. They were no longer subjects. They were no longer colonists. Now, they were Americans.
The Declaration of Independence, therein, became a proclamation of faith. It was a letter to the newly crowned American citizens letting them know that sovereignty had been transferred from the tyranny of King George III and given to the citizenry.

It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.
—Benjamin Franklin

Our Founding Fathers adhered to such a firm reliance upon God, they insisted their biblical convictions be included in the Declaration of Independence. Thus, the phrases, “endowed by their Creator,” “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World,” and “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine providence,” were added to the final draft of this document. It reflects not only our founders’ faith in God, but also sheds light on the biblical principles that had been sown into the hearts of American colonists for more than 150 years, namely, through the first Great Awakening.
Beyond uniting the colonies against a common enemy, the Declaration of Independence was a broad acknowledgment of the divinely granted rights of mankind. Anger over the inequalities enforced by an oppressive monarchy, the colonists’ ideals of independence and desire for self-government were anchored by the belief in underlying principles—the principles of natural law. English philosopher and enlightenment writer, John Locke, advocated the notion of natural law and, in turn, the natural rights of man. A Christian himself, Locke was a great inspiration to the Founding Fathers, and more specifically, the three men who helped to craft the Declaration of Independence—Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams.
The fundamental assertions of Locke’s political theory served as the foundation for the most basic concepts of the Declaration; chief among them were equality, the right to life and liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness. Locke believed that men, in their natural state, were all equal and independent and endowed by God with natural rights to defend life, liberty, and property. This idea of natural rights cast aside the old world notion of the “divine right of kings,” challenged the conventions of imperial monarchy, and defied the very idea of kingship itself. Equality of all men meant that no one—not even royalty—was above God’s natural law.
This was not only revolutionary thinking, but for England and the king, it was treasonous. The very idea of a king as merely a man was in itself sacrilege. It was considered heresy to speak against, much less take action against, the Crown. To challenge the false foundations of divine power on which monarchies were built would redefine not only the direct relationship between man and government but also between man and God.
Monarchs had succeeded for centuries in subduing others— namely Christians—by taking certain Scriptures from the Word of God out of context and pinpointing them to ratify their sovereignty. Some nations justified their sovereignty through biblical authority by claiming that the king or queen’s lineage traced back to Adam and Eve, professing heritage as their reasoning for ruling the people as God’s will. America was ready to challenge all of that.
The stage was now set for armed conflict between Great Britain and the new American nation. There was still a reluctance to jump into a war that seemed nearly impossible to win, what with a disorganized and largely untrained militia made up of farmers and citizen soldiers, no significant Navy, no money or established supply lines, and, of course, no officially organized national government to speak of. But, it was imperative that they unite to have any chance at victory.

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
—Benjamin Franklin

There was no turning back now.

With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves.
—Thomas Jefferson

Americans may look back now and feel the warmth and proudness of its heritage, but the reality that Americans woke up to on July 5, 1776, was a little more unsettling. Their oath, “For king and country … To be faithful to the king and bear true allegiance to the king, so help me God,” was now null and void. No king, no religion, no state church held the leash of liberty any longer. They were on their own. They had gone from being disgruntled subjects of the most powerful empire on earth to citizens of a rogue nation.

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