Providential Destiny and Duty — or Not?


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 Providence that would alter the course of history for the better?

Whatever the average 21st Century historian or political scientist might conclude — the American Founders had strong beliefs surrounding the subject, beliefs the average American student rarely hears, views which ought to be heard, if for no other reason then to add 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 us, or that the world would rise or fall with our success or failure, but along the line that God had a hand in it, that He set America apart for a special mission.

When Roger Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island, for instance, he selected the 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 his 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)

Can anyone doubt it? The colonist did not. Neither did their early successors.

Thomas Paine, the famed author of Common Sense, was 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)

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, John Dickinson 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 our dependence upon Almighty God.

Said Franklin:

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)

We all know what Washington said on the matter — repeatedly — that “he must be worse than an infidel … and more than wicked,” who “lacks faith,” and “has not gratitude” for the Divine Hand which so conspicuously brought us successfully through the revolution and then set us up as a free people. (9)

And so we come full circle back to Hamilton. This was Federalist 1. 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 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 our enemies within and without who fire their anti-God, anti-morality, anti-freedom weapons at this magnificent ship, this wonderful gift of God. Yes, to remember, to rediscover, to stand by and stand up for our Divine Destiny.

Steve Farrell is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Self-Educated American, one of the original and most popular pundits at (1999-2007), and the author of the inspirational novel Dark Rose.


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.