Article Series: The Pulpit and the Patriots
WEEK 3: The Pulpit and the American Revolution: Samuel Cooper (1725-1783)
A second minister worthy of mention is Samuel Cooper, Pastor of Brattle Street Church in Boston. Born March 28, 1727, Cooper was the third child of Rev. William Cooper and Judith, the daughter of the Chief Justice of the province.1 A graduate of Harvard in 1743 alongside James Otis, Cooper is known both for his fiery preaching and writing. Arguably one of the most influential Bostonians of the conflict, his popularity is seen through the abuse set upon him by British officers, who responding to his protests, altered his church into a British barrack.2
In regards to the central focus of this paper, the Pulpit, Samuel Cooper does not disappoint. Perhaps his best includes an artillery election sermon he wrote at the young age of twenty-six, entitled A Sermon on the Day of Commencement of the Constitution.3 In it we find what Ellis Sandoz states to be “regarded as the model of a patriotic sermon.”4 Several of the earlier mentioned Puritan themes are readily observable. In it he discusses Jeremiah 20 and 21, where he draws comparisons to the Israelites in a fashion defining America as “a nation chosen by God a theatre for the display of some of the most astonishing dispensations of his providence.”5 The earlier postmillennial theme is first noted, given the privileged and near-anointed state America is treated with throughout the letter. As the letter continues, we may also observe the above-mentioned theme of the Puritan’s fear of power, whereas Cooper orates:
Their sufferings, when they fell under the power of this haughty tyrant, as they are represented to us in sacred history, must harrow a bosom softened with the least degree of humanity. They give us a frightful picture of the effects of despotic power, guided and inflamed by those lusts of the human heart with which it is seldom unaccompanied.6
Cooper also expresses ideas which solidified and fueled the Revolutionary passions, speaking of “constitution,” “civil and religious liberty,” and “that no man has a natural claim of dominion over his neighbors.”7 Justification is further given to the American cause, where Cooper argues that “these states are innocent of the blood that hath been shed … we have stood upon the ground of justice, honor and liberty, and acted merely a defensive part.”8 The role this would play in society, both in its response to and after the Revolution, cannot be ignored. Pulpits such as Cooper’s provided the spark and cohesion that issues forth a ‘divine-mandate’ of providence to act against tyranny and in favor of God-given liberty. An underestimation of such influences would be a mistake.
Samuel Cooper was also well known and influential among various important Revolution figures.9 Besides being a regular contributor who opposed such issues as the Stamp Act in the Boston Gazette, Samuel Cooper was a friend of founders Benjamin Franklin, John and Samuel Adams. In addition, one of his church members was none other then John Hancock.10 Various letters between these figures are available, and some preserve positive explanations of Cooper. Of him, Franklin wrote: “Your candid, clear, and well written Letters, be assured, are of great use.”11
A fine example of Samuel Cooper’s influence upon the American Revolution can be found in his, A Sermon on the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution, delivered in 1780.
The Moral Liberal Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at Leonardooh.com
[i] Lutz, Donald S. “The Relative Importance of European Writers on Late Eighteenth Century. American Political Thought.” American Political Science Review, 1984.
[ii] Franklin Paul Cole, They Preached Liberty: 35.
[iii] Ellis Sandoz, quoting Samuel Cooper. “A Sermon On the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution.” Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805: Vol. 1 Chapter: 21: Samuel Cooper. Indianapolis: LibertyPress, 1991.
[iv] Ibid. 21
[v] Ibid. 21
[vi] Ibid. 21
[vii] Ibid. 21
[viii] Ibid. 21
[ix] His influence can be seen in the detailing of his days within his Diary: “July 5, 1775: Went in my horse and chaise with Mrs. Cooper to Cambridge. I waited on General Washington, Major Miffling, Reed, etc.” “July 6: Called at the Room of Committee of Safety, and conversed with them. Met at Major Johonnet’s Quarters, Col. Bowers and Lady. Called at Congress. Received letters from John and Sam Adams and Mr. Cushing bro’t by General Washington.”, “July 7: I wrote Letters to Messrs. Adams, Hancock, Cushing, Dr. Franklin, Madam Hancock.” The American historical review, Volume 6 By John Franklin Jameson, Henry Eldridge Bourne, Robert Livingston Schuyler.
[x] Franklin Paul Cole, They Preached Liberty: 36.
[xi] Ibid. 38.