American Revolution Debate: The American Quest for a New Republic

Moses Elects the Council of Seventy Elders by Jacob de Wit, 1737

American colonists supported the American Revolution and independence from Britain for political, economic, and religious reasons.  One reason colonists supported resistance was their desire to depart from Britain’s autocratic, monarchic government in the hope of creating a new republican government in America.

Revolutionary colonists and ministers looked to the governing practices of the ancient Israelites in the Bible to support and defend republican government.  They noted God’s preference for what they saw as a “republic” in the nation of Israel.  A republic is a state governed by representatives of the people.  Israel resembled a republic, they saw, because it had no earthly absolute king and appointed representatives to govern.  In support of this view, they cited Judges 8, 1 Samuel 8, and 1 Kings 12 to show Israel’s peace and prosperity under its original government of judges, God’s disapproval of their desire for a king (who ruled not for God but on his own behalf), and Israel’s division and suffering under various evil kings.

Support for a republic grew among colonists following a 1775 sermon given by Harvard College President Samuel Langdon before the Massachusetts Legislature.  Langdon outlined the qualities of Israel’s original government of judges prior to absolute monarchy:

The Jewish government…was a perfect Republic.  The heads of their tribes and elders of their cities were their counselors and judges.  They called the people together in general or particular assemblies, took their opinions, gave advice, and managed the public affairs according to the general voice.  …  And let them who cry up the Divine Right of Kings consider, that the only form of government which had a proper claim to a divine establishment was so far from including the idea of a King that it was a high crime for Israel to ask to be in this respect like other nations.  When they were gratified, it was rather as a just punishment of their folly…than as a divine recommendation of kingly authority.

Every nation, when able and agreed, has a right to set up over themselves any form of government which to them may appear most conducive to their common welfare.  The civil Polity of Israel is doubtless an excellent general model….  At least some principal laws and orders of it may be copied, to great advantage, in more modern establishments.

Langdon then pointed out to the legislature the potential opportunity in the revolution to create a new republic in America:

Who knows but in the midst of all the distresses of the present war to defeat attempts of arbitrary power, God may in mercy restore to us our judges as at first, and our counselors as at the beginning.

On your wisdom, religion, and public spirit, honored gentlemen, we depend to determine what may be done as to the important matter of reviving the form of government…that we may again have law and justice.

Soon after Langdon’s sermon, Thomas Paine’s widely-read 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, was published which questioned not only Britain’s policies but the legitimacy of the king’s rule and power.  It influenced thousands of colonists with the idea that monarchy was disapproved by God based on the Bible’s teachings and the practices of the ancient Israelites.  It thus refuted the Divine Right of Kings doctrine in favor of popular sovereignty or the people’s rule, and it asserted that the law is or should be king, as in the rule of law.

Republicanism was the form of government, revolutionary Americans believed, most preferred by God for Israel and thus for America.  Revolutionary leader and Declaration signer Samuel Adams reflected the views of many Americans when he wrote in a 1785 letter to Declaration signer Richard Henry Lee of his belief that God prefers a republic for America:  “I firmly believe that the benevolent Creator designed the republican form of government for man.”

Ultimately, Americans declared their independence from Britain with the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and formed a new, self-governing nation, the United States of America.  They set up the nation as a constitutional republic based on the principles of popular sovereignty, consent of the governed, representative government, limited government, and rule of law.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Related posts/videos:
1. 
The Doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings
2. An Introduction to Popular Sovereignty
3. Why the Pilgrims Identified with the Ancient Israelites
4. The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact as a Covenant
5. The Puritans in America Identified with the Ancient Israelites and Practiced Covenants
6. The Puritans in America Elected Representatives to Govern in their Colonies
7. Why the Puritans Favored Limited Government
8.  Thomas Hooker as the “father of American Democracy”
9.  Why Thomas Hooker Favored Democracy over Aristocracy
10.  The Great Awakening Affected Unity, Democracy, Freedom, and Revolution 
11.  The American Revolution:  An Introduction
12.  The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era
13.  American Revolution Sometimes called the “Presbyterian Rebellion”
14.  American Revolution Debate:  Submission to Authority
15.  American Revolution Debate:  God Desires Freedom, Not Slavery, for His People
16.  How the American Revolution Shed Light on the Moral Problem of Slavery

17.  American Revolution Debate:  Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:  God’s Opposition to Absolute Monarchy
18.  American Revolution Debate:  The American Quest for a New Republic
19.  American Revolution Debate:  The Principle of Civil Covenants
20.  American Revolution Debate:  Obedience to God Over Man
21.  American Revolution Debate:  Ancient Israel’s Resistance to Oppression & Divided Kingdom
22.  American Revolution Debate:  The Lawfulness of Defensive War

23. The American Principle of Equality in the Declaration
24. The American Defense of Unalienable Rights in the Declaration
25. When the People Rule: The Principle of Popular Sovereignty in the U. S. Declaration and Constitution
26. The American Social Contract in the Declaration and Constitution
27. The Principle, Practice, and Morality of a Constitutional Republic in America
28. A Brief Overview: The Moral Dimension of Rule of Law in the U. S. Constitution
29. Unabridged: The Moral Dimension of Rule of Law in the U. S. Constitution
30. The Principles of Limited Government and Separation of Powers in the U. S. Constitution
31. The Covenant-Inspired Principle of Federalism in the U. S. Constitution
32. Freedom:  The First Most Important Characteristic of America

Poster:  Declaration of Independence

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 6, Part 2, Activity 3:  Bible-Based Justification for Revolution, p. 219, 359.  MS-HS.

Bible-Based Justification for Revolution

Purpose/Objective:  Students examine the bible-based arguments made by Patriot Americans in support of revolution against Britain.  Students learn about the influence of the Bible during the Founding era.

Suggested Readings:
1)  Chapter 6 of Miracle of America reference/text.  Students read sections 6.1 to 6.12.
2) Essay/Handout:  Principles of the American Revolution by Angela E. Kamrath found in the “Supporting Resources” of the Miracle of America HS Teacher Course Guide, pp. 354-356, or in the “Miracle of America Snapshots” handout under member resources at americanheritage.org.
3)  Related blogs/videos (see above).

Patriot Revolutionary Chart:
In your own words, explain/describe the following biblical principles or arguments used by many patriot Americans to justify/support the American Revolution.  Students may include the sources/thinkers who promoted each argument.  Provide relevant scripture verse(s) for each argument.  See the “Bible-Based Justification for Revolution” Patriot Chart in the “Supporting Resources” section of the course guide, p. 359.

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To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

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