Was the establishment of the United States, this ‘light on the hill’ republic, an event of mere chance or was it a pivotal event in the wisdom of God that would alter the course of history for the better?
Whatever the average 21st Century historian or political scientist might conclude — the American Founders held strong convictions regarding the subject, convictions which are now taboo to share in our secularized schools, but which ought not to be taboo if for no other reason then to provide needed insight and historical honesty to the American discussion.
Reflected Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 1, the first of 85 essays by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison in which they hoped to persuade the people of the states to sign on to the new constitution:
“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
“If there be any truth in the remark,” and we fail to choose right, he said, it would be to “the general misfortune of mankind.” (1)
Hamilton was summing up the American take on the issue, matter of fact —for frequent remarks were made on this very theme dating back to the colonial era, and not just along the line that the world was watching America, or that the world would rise or fall with America’s success or failure, but pointedly that God himself had a hand in it, that He himself set America apart for a special mission.
The word often used when so speaking of God’s role for and in America was “Providence” or “Divine Providence.” When Roger Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, he selected that very name to express unbroken confidence in the mercies of God, and, said he, “I desired it might be a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.” (2)
What was the aim of Providence became the aim of America.
Johnathan Mayhew, in a 1766 Thanksgiving discourse, said of the American colonies:
“God … hath inspired the people of America with a noble spirit of liberty, and remarkably united them in standing up for that invaluable blessing.”
He prayed to God,
“Long mayest thou reside among us, the delight of the wise, good and brave; the protectress of innocence from wrongs and oppressions, the patroness of learning, arts, eloquence, virtue, rational loyalty, religion! And if any miserable people on the continent or isles of Europe, after being weakened by luxury, debauchery, venality, intestine quarrels, or other vices, should in the rude collisions, or now uncertain revolutions of kingdoms, be driven, in their extremity, to seek a safe retreat from slavery in some far-distant climate; let them find, O let them find one in America under thy brooding, sacred wings; where our oppressed fathers once found it, and we now enjoy it, … the most glorious freedom!” (3)
This prayer was fulfilled, as was Reverend Mayhew’s prophetic insight that “good [would] come out of our late troubles,” and his prediction that the day would come that after liberty was established firmly in America, that we would, in turn, “save much people alive,” among the nations of the earth, keeping “Britain herself from ruin.” (4)
Should anyone doubt it? The colonist who were its first hand witnesses, and who were by in large a devout Christian people, did not. Neither did their early successors.
Thomas Paine, the famed author of “Common Sense,” who regardless of his later fall from faith in France, was at the time of his inspired involvement in the American Revolution, convinced that the discovery and eventual independence of America were “the design of Heaven.” Said he, “The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open up a sanctuary to the Persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.” (5)
A remarkable insight. Americans then and for generation upon generation since then, sensed, even proclaimed its truth.
Key founder John Adams, the voice of the Declaration of Independence, and the second President of the United States solemnly observed in like manner:
“I always, consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.” (6)
Eight years prior to the Revolution, Dickenson, also, was persuaded that “Almighty God himself, will look down upon [our] righteous contest with approbation … [We] are assigned by Divine Providence, in the appointed order of things, the protector of unborn ages, whose fate depends upon [our] virtue.” (7)
This was the Universal feeling in America. So much so, that an aged and ailing Benjamin Franklin felt impelled during a time when spirits were hot at the Constitutional Convention, when the hopes for a permanent United States of America, a permanent refuge for the free and the brave, seemed dashed on the rocks of selfish local interests and personal pride, to remind his fellow delegates of a little bit of history, a little bit about America’s dependence upon Almighty God.
“Mr. President, The small progress we have made after four or five weeks’ close attendance and continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes — is, me—thinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We, indeed, seem to feel our own want of political wisdom since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist. And we have viewed modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
“In this situation of this assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time; and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And, if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and byword to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
“I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.” (8)
General and later President George Washington never neglected to express his firm conviction on the matter, repeating again and again that “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked that has not gratitude to acknowledge his obligations” for the Divine Hand which preserved and brought America successfully through the revolution and then set her up as a free people. (9)
And so we come full circle back to Hamilton. This was Federalist Number One. He was laying the foundation for an extended discussion as to why we must unite under this new constitution. He was reminding us all, even today, that there was unity among his peers and forefathers to this one point — that God raised up this nation for the “saving of much people alive,” “for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth,” that it was our destiny, even our duty to stay together, not tear apart.
He was right.
He is still right. America with all her faults and present challenges is not through in blessing this world. We have a Divine mandate to keep the good ship America going, to patch her up where necessary, to return to and defend her inspired Constitution where we have departed far from it, to beware of her misguided opponents within and without who fire atheistic, anti-morality, anti-freedom weapons at this magnificent ship, this wonderful bounty from God, The United States of America.
Yes, and this Thanksgiving, shall we not as families and individuals bow in prayer to remember and thank God for the blessings of living in America? Shall we not implore His kindly aid to rediscover and receive both intellectual and spiritual confirmation of the meaning and truthfulness of the fundamental principles embodied in that Constitution He inspired and those founding era writings that accompany it and shed light upon original intent? And finally, shall we not then plea for faith, courage, and enduring will and wit to stand by and stand up for America’s pre-appointed Mission and Destiny under Heaven? This is my Thanksgiving prayer for all of us. I hope you will claim it yours as well.
Copyright © 2012-13 Steve Farrell.
Steve Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of Self-Educated American, and the author of the highly praised inspirational novel Dark Rose.
See what the reviewers had to say about “Dark Rose,” and then get yourself a copy at Amazon.com.
1. Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist Papers,” Essay 1
2. Bancroft, George. “History of the United States, Volume 1,” p. 254.
3. Sandoz, Ellis. “Political Sermons of the Founding Era, 1730-1805,” p. 259, quoting Mayhew’s “The Snare Broken.”
4. Ibid. p. 260.
5. Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.”
6. Bancroft, George. “History of the United States, Volume 3,” p. 95.
7. Ibid. p. 281-282.
8. Madison, James. “Journal of the Federal Convention, Volume 1,” p. 259-260.
9. Bancroft, George. “History of the United States, Volume 5,” p. 286-287. See also Letter to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778 as but one of many of the times Washington expressed this profound conviction.