Hooker, Paine, Roots of the Law, and the Need to Reform

The Moral Liberal with Steve Farrell

It was in the spring of 1638 when three Connecticut towns, Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield, chose representatives and held a general court at Hartford to decide upon a general government. In the opening session the Reverend Thomas Hooker stood and preached a powerful sermon on the text “the foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people” — a remarkable idea, one that was, however, the natural offspring of the good reverends’ Calvinistic, and more specifically, his Puritan training.

It had been brewing for some times, for it also had much to do with something freemen, even common men were reading, first in England, but ever more freely in colonial America, even the Bible. A privilege mind you, or shall we say, an inalienable right that was denied to so many men for so many centuries in Europe with its state run churches. But not now, not here in the Americas. Here all were reading freely words written in their own tongue, with their own eyes, freely reasoned upon in their own minds, feeling and believing in their own hearts and souls — principles, laws, and lessons which liberated rather than enslaved man; principles, laws, and lessons which took precedence over lesser principles, laws, and lessons of men, or in other words those that were found not to be in harmony with God’s law.

And so Reverend Hooker hesitated not to cite the Biblical injunction to his fellow Bible reading, Bible believing citizens: “Take ye wise men, with understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.” Nor did he hesitate to interpret that passage thus: “the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people, by God’s own allowance.” A God-given right to representative government.

And how about this startling principle? “They who have power to appoint officers and magistrates,” meaning the people, “[have it] in their power, also, to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them”; or in other words Hooker taught that vital, liberty protecting principle that would find its way into the United States Constitution 150 years later of limiting the power of the state and its rulers to specific, well defined powers. A firm and unflinching “this far, and no farther” doctrine.

And again he reasoned with them:  “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.”  Or an inalienable right to government by consent. Why? Because so goes the thinking of this Biblically educated generation: Because man is a child of God, endowed with conscience, reason, and free will, and who thus, as a matter of the obvious design of his Maker, and from what is clearly seen in the Scriptural accounts that man is not an animal to be put in a cage, or an insect to be crushed under the finger of a fellow child of God, but one who is to have dominion over these things … but not each other, not without consent, and then with limits.

As to the Fundamental Order of Connecticut (the first written constitution that created a government) that Hooker’s speech inspired, the Order declares:

“Where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require”.

Or in other words, the authority for Government in the first place comes from God, and that it ought to be organized upon principles that are consistent with the laws of God. But back to that fundamental principle that God authorizes government for man. One can easily imagine that this mention of the necessity to uphold “peace” and “order” rather than anarchy and confusion, the quoting of so many different scriptures as authority for the same, including this one: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)  True enough.

There was also a concern in this Connecticut Order that government had a duty “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us.” This, no doubt, was intended, at least in part, as a protection against any outside attempts from the Massachusetts Bay Colony (where they recently had departed from), or the English Government, or from any future legislative body in Connecticut, to meddle in the affairs of the various Churches, and/or to deny their members the right to freely worship as they please, and the right to vote and otherwise engage in the affairs of state.

In the Order there is also the idea of the need to appeal to God’s Higher Law to resolve hard cases that are not clearly spelled out in the civil law, or are ignored altogether by it. Thus, governors and magistrates were to “administer justice according to the Laws here established, and for want [lack] thereof, according to the Rule of the Word of God.”

Next, elections would be annual, an intended check on corruption and poor leadership.

And again, all who were “admitted freeman,” and had “taken the Oath of Fidelity” (to the laws of the State), and who lived in the appropriate jurisdictions where they desired to vote, were permitted to vote. An improvement over the situation in Massachusetts that extended the vote to the “faithful” members of the Church only.

Also, voters were instructed to write down their choices on individual pieces of paper which they would hand to an election official. They would also hand in blank pieces of paper for those they did not support. The votes and the blank pieces of paper would then be counted and the winner declared. Here was the right to a secret ballot.

Certainly unique, bold, and potentially dangerous for the time was this interesting ommission in the Order: Nowhere to be found was a reference to “our dread Sovereign” or “our gracious Lord the King.” No small point. It reminds one of Thomas Paine’s bold and insightful 1776 declaration in his political tract Common Sense:

“But where some say is the king of America? I´ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”

Who is the King of America? Paine answers, “God.” And what is his Constitution? “[T]he divine law, the Word of God.”

Revolutionary, liberating thoughts, inspired by the Bible, and accepted and put in to action by many men in America who believed the Bible. Yes, it is easy to see the Christian influences on that greatest of all constitutions, the American Constitution, though let’s admit it, this is a fact forgotten, ignored, and out and out denied by teachers, administrators, and politicians today as socialists have replaced locally controlled schools with one centralized system controlled by men and women hostile to our way of life, hostile to our Constitution, hostile to the truth about the roots of American Law.

But some of us will remember, and never forget, right? For there is a point to all this:  It is a bad idea to forget, or let other people outlaw, a recounting of whence cometh the blessings of liberty, and what are the fundamental and specific laws and principles of that liberty, and how did they operate upon the minds of the men of the founding generation, and to what purpose.

Nor is it a good idea to fail to express gratitude to that Great Source. For wasn’t this pride and arrogance and sinfulness that comes of forgetting the Great Source of all our blessings the very thing Lincoln said, ultimately caused the Civil War? What he called our great National Sin?

If we are to avoid a repeat or something worse, including the complete overthrow of our liberties, it seems to be that a return to our Christian roots, to knowledge of them, and to a living of them, is the sensible, indeed, the only remedy powerful enough to inspire millions upon millions to say enough is enough! That it is time to reform, and here is the path … a straight and narrow path at that.


Steve Farrell is one of the original pundits at Silver Eddy Award Winner, NewsMax.com (1999–2008), the author of the highly praised inspirational novel Dark Rose, and Founder and Editor in Chief of The Moral Liberal.