Christianity has had a major influence in America since the early European settlers moved there. Here, Daniel Smith considers how different Christian ideologies predominated in different parts of America – ultimately leading to differences between the North and South that lingered for a long time.
You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here), Medieval Jesters (here), How American Colonial Law Justified the Settlement of Native American Territories (here), and Spanish Colonial Influence on Native Americans in Northern California (here).
To understand the differing ideology behind the split regions of America, from North to South, you need to understand first that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation. In the early 1600s, when the first Europeans landed, they established settlements. Within every settlement was a Charter. This document solidified the legal framework for the colony to be run by. Within each colony’s Charter, you would have found reference to the Bible in one mention or another. Now let us fast forward a little bit in time to bring you into the know on – why,the colonies civil governments were run in the manner that they were… it’s called religion.
In the 1600s there were three American regions that had settlements in place. These three regions consisted of the Northern, Middle, and Southern colonies. Each colony had a separate form of Christian doctrine it followed, all depending on the region that you lived. Three distinct Christian movements came out of these regions, in major geographical areas. This was important because their views of church government determined their colonial form of civil government. This gets complex, but it is important to understand that with all sects of religion come subtle and major differences in how laws and morals are navigated.
The Southern colonies were the stronghold of Episcopalians’, who emphasize strong apostolic leadership. Southern government was well known for their aristocratic monarchial form of government. The effects of this form of church government would be apparent when the first representative assembly in America began in 1607 at the church in Jamestown, Virginia with Reverend Bucke leading the Burgess in prayer. The Burgess were considered the “plantation elite” at that time. The Reverend would be known to ask God to guide and sanctify their proceedings to his own glory and the good of the plantation. Jamestown would go on to issue laws requiring church attendance. In doing so, the thought process behind the decree was believing that men’s affairs cannot prosper where God’s service is neglected.
The Northern colonies were dominated by Congregationalists. A decade or two later, the Middle colonies dominated by the Presbyterian, and Reformed Catholic faiths merged with the Northern colonies. New England had the first American settlement settled in 1620. After decades of trying to expose the corruption in the Church of England, and showing little effect, they left for the New World. Puritans at Boston (1630) were known for their fundamental, or strict legalistic ways of Christianity that was dominated by the hierarchal Catholic denomination; whereas the Separatists (or Protestants) at Plymouth Bay colony emphasized the personal relationship and accountability to God without the strict adherence to the legalistic and ritualistic aspects of Catholicism.
It is important to note the major Puritan drawback was that they were still holding onto the idea of a State church. They saw nothing wrong with that, and compelled religion (as in Europe). The disapproval of issue in England was that Church and State were corrupt and unbiblical in many aspects. Eventually Protestant and Puritan ministers would work together with their theology to allow for more freedom of conscience and individual liberty.
A Christian Nation is molded by its formof government, not whoformed it. If the form of a nation’s government is molded by Biblical ideas, then the nation isa Christian nation. Now let us fast forward a little bit in time. In 1867 The North American Reviewstated that “The American government and Constitution is the … political expression of Christian ideas.”Our founders were all collectively convinced of this truth. Even unconventional believers such as Benjamin Franklin often cited Scripture.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin said:
“We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it’ [psalm 1237:1]. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builder of Babel [Genesis 11].”
The ideas embodied in the U.S. Constitution stem primarily from the Bible. The Founders reasoned from the Bible far more than any other source. This was once taken for granted by Americans until modern revisionist historians began to promote the view that nationalistic enlightenment thinkers were the major influence behind the Constitution.
How can we know for sure? Dr. Donald Lutz, a professor of political science from the University of Houston, conducted an exhaustive ten-year research of about 15,000 political documents of the Founders’ era (1760-1805), and recorded every quote or reference to another written source. This list of the 3,154 citations of the Founders was analyzed and published in Volume #78 of the American Political Science Review in 1983. The results would give quite an accurate measure of the influence of various sources of thought on the Constitution. The results were surprisingly contradictory to modern scholarship. By far, the most often quoted source of their political ideas was the Bible.
This would account for over one-third (34%) of all their citations. Another 50% of all references can be attributed to authors who themselves derived their ideas from the Bible. Therefore, it can be said that 84% of the ideas in our Constitution are based directly or indirectly on the Bible.The Bible and civil liberty are inseparable. Even Newsweek, on December 26, 1982, acknowledged after a major analysis of the Bible’s influence in America, that, “Now historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution is our Founding document.”
Some historians recognize that Franklin’s reference to “the Sacred Writings” (Scripture) and to “the builders of Babel” (Israel) in the Convention’s search for “political truth” (Christ’s teachings) was not a strange coincidental fluke. There was absolute meaning. So now that you understand a little more on how important religion and the colonial governments were so closely knitted together, it’s also important to note that even though not all Colonial Americans were Christians (although most were), all of them understood the importance and adherence of living by Christian principles. Simply put, they all ultimately believed that Scriptures “guidelines” were the right way of doing life.
There is a paradox to Christianity, and from a non-denominational standpoint, that paradox is the fundamental ideology of Old Testament Scripture. This should be considered a true error of Christian tradition. Well, how is that so? With every sect of Christianity, there is a molded tradition made out of how the Holy Bible is transliterated to Christian leaders and individuals alike. With the division of Christianity as a religion comes an inevitable vacuum, and that is the molding of Scripture to fit mankind’s agenda. This is of course part of the doctrinal fallacy that Scripture warns Christians about falling into belief over.
There always seemed to be a struggle between morality, temperance, education, and slavery. When these struggles become so heavy that they bleed out from the individual and into the churches – these internal struggles then bleed into politics and society. This is where the formation of civil government becomes very complex. Especially when it comes down to moral and spiritual beliefs. It becomes even more complex when you attempt to figure out how to codify laws for society to live by. This is where Christian principles come into play. The Colonists had already been living by a codified system, laid out through history based upon Christian values and laws.
Through a typically organic process called “gradualism”, Colonial America began to grow and adjust their laws (and morals) accordingly to their ways of doing life. With this societal gradualism occurring subtly since the early 1600s, it’s easy to see how certain aspectsof life’s principles can get twisted to fit people’s personal agendas. One man in particular, was a Northerner by the name of John Brown. He was a devout Calvinist. Mr. Brown was very much a “fire and brimstone” style of believer.
Calvinists’ doctrine of salvation by election; the belief that worldly success was a sign of God’s favor; the concept of the “calling,” according to which all people are called by God to vocations that, no matter how great or humble, are equal in his sight and whose diligent performance is a sacred duty; and the injunction against a waste, according to which wealth must be used for the glory of God through stewardship to mankind rather than squandered off in consumption and easy living.
With that, he also thought that because he was in a place of political positioning, that it was God’s will that he must have undertook a mission to help ignite the firestorm that ultimately freed the slaves. God does not grant permission to do Hiswill, however he did providentially use Mr. Brown as one of the dozen catalysts to actually advance the opening salvos of the Civil War. We will get to Mr. Brown’s story later. Christianity was the base foundation of how society was written for the North American colonies. It is always unfortunate when a few misled leaders push these personal twists that ultimately expand into their local communities, thus the Northern and Southern regions of the United States. Regardless of doctrinal belief of Christianity, national sins are what collapses a nations successes and longevity. Two national sin examples would be slavery and greed.
COMPROMISING MORALS & ETHICS
Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance Act in 1787 and 1789, which prohibited slavery in the new states. Congress also banned the exportation or transfer of slaves from anystate in 1794. It is evidence enough that all intentions of that generation were united in an effort to abolish slavery. England banned slavery in 1834 by the stroke of a pen. As new generations of Americans rose up to take the reins, they had seemingly less convictions on the matters of greed and slavery than their fathers before them.
They began to compromise their morals and ethics. This was due to greed. The trend towards emancipation came to a halt in the South, and even churches began to justify slavery for the first time around 1810. By that date, all slave trading had been made illegal; however slave owning itself became more firmly entrenched in the South. Between 1810 and 1820, America experienced not only growth but also its share of social problems associated with its polarization of “cultures.”
It was truly the first time America began to see morality wane and ethics bending to make ends meet. Specifically, the morals and ethics that were a big social issue for Yankee and Antebellum societies were drunkenness, prostitution, ignorance, and above all, slavery.Of course with every issue in America there is always an argument to the story. Protestantism experienced a modernization of ethics during the industrial-era of America. In fact, the temperance movement coincided at the exact same time as the industrial revolution.
It was the temperance movement in America that gave way to the reforming movements throughout the entire country, regardless of blue or grey ideology. These movements grew out of the Second Great Awakening. A Christian revival nationwide, with a refocus on man’s accountability to Jesus Christ, instead of only being held accountable to themselves. It was through the temperance movement that soberness, education, woman’s rights, and anti-slaveryfinally became front-and-center social issues for both the American North andSouth.
What do you think of the author’s arguments? Let us know below.
Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.org.
Hall, Verna M. 1980. The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America (CHOC).San Francisco. p. 198.
Madison, James. 1987. Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787.NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
Lutz, Donald. 1984. "The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late 18th Century American Political Thought." American Political Science Review189-197.
Newsweek. Dec. 26, 1982. "Historians Acknowledge American Biblical Link." Newsweek
Read: Book of Matthew. TheHoly Bible.
J. C. Furnas, The Americans: A Social History(New York, 1969) p. 505