Monday, July 31

The Dominion of Providence

Born in Scotland, educated at Edinburgh, and a leader among the Presbyterian Jacobites during the great Rising of 1745, John Witherspoon came to America in 1768 to be president of Princeton College. He has been called the most influential professor in American history, not only because of his powerful writing and speaking style but because of the vast number of leaders he trained and sent forth. Nine of the fifty-five participants in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were his students--including James Madison. Moreover, his pupils included a president and a vice-president, twenty-one senators, twenty-nine representatives, fifty-six state legislators, and thirty-three judges, three of whom were appointed to the Supreme Court.

His sermon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, caused a great stir when it was first preached in Princeton and published in Philadelphia on this day in 1776, about two months after he was elected to the Continental Congress.

In the sermon, he made a strong Biblical argument for the Declaration of Independence--and even a war for freedom, if necessary--based on the covenantal violations of king and Parliament as evidence of God’s providential dealings in this poor fallen world.

He wrote: "The doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete in the sacred oracles. It extends not only to things which we may think of great moment, and therefore worthy of notice, but to things the most indifferent and inconsiderable; Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, says our Lord, and one of them falleth not to the ground without your heavenly Father; nay, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. It extends not only to things beneficial and salutary, or to the direction and assistance of those who are the servants of the living God; but to things seemingly most hurtful and destructive, and to persons the most refractory and disobedient. He overrules all his creatures, and all their actions."

He continued asserting, "Thus we are told, that fire, hail, snow, vapor, and stormy wind, fulfill his word, in the course of nature; and even so the most impetuous and disorderly passions of men, that are under no restraint from themselves, are yet perfectly subject to the dominion of Jehovah. They carry his commission, they obey his orders, they are limited and restrained by his authority, and they conspire with every thing else in promoting his glory. There is the greater need to take notice of this, that men are not generally sufficiently aware of the distinction between the law of God and his purpose; they are apt to suppose, that as the temper of the sinner is contrary to the one, so the outrages of the sinner are able to defeat the other; than which nothing can be more false. The truth is plainly asserted, and nobly expressed by the psalmist in the text, Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."

The sermon was instrumental in convincing a large number of very reluctant patriots to see the issues if independence through the lens of covenantal obedience rather than through the lens of revolutionary fervor--a critical distinction. In the end, Witherspoon's argument won the day and independence was declared.

I have included the complete sermon in my book, The Patriot's Handbook, published by Cumberland House.

Friday, July 28

Malory's Chivalry

Sir Thomas Malory always seemed to give his readers more of a glimpse of his own age than of the age he was purportedly writing about. His tales were ostensibly about the daring-do exploits of King Arthur and his knights--but his times invariably showed through. And for good reason--he lived during the days when the Hundred Years War had finally shuddered to a conclusion and the Wars of the Roses had suddenly erupted. Like his mentor Geoffrey Chaucer, he was caught in the midst of this horrendous power struggle between the two great houses of the English royal line. And like Chaucer he served the Lancastrian line against the Yorkists. It was a time of anarchy, confusion, and widespread destruction.

Malory looked back longingly on the fading glory of chivalric feudalism. Beginning on this day in 1466, when he was imprisoned during one of the lawless scuffles that marked the Wars of the Roses, he determined to recall that time and those values in some permanent form. Le Mort d'Arthur was the result.

Not surprisingly, the ancient code of chivalry plays a prominent role in every aspect of the book--from character development to plot lines to conflict resolution. The code--formalized in the eleventh century by Bernard of Clairveuax--comprise twelve distinctive elements:

According to Bernard, a true Christian knight demonstrated chivalry first in integritas. He was to be trustworthy to all in his covenantal community. Second, a true Christian knight demonstrated chivalry in fidelitas. He was to be steadfastly loyal to all those with whom he was in relationship. Third, he demonstrated Christian chivalry in succurrere. He was to be helpful to any and all who might be in need. Fourth, he demonstrated benevolus. He was to be gracious and mannerly to everyone he met along the way. Fifth, he demonstrated urbanus. He was to be courteous upon every occasion. Sixth, he demonstrated benignus. He was to be selflessly kind. Seventh, he demonstrated referre. He was to obey all those that God had place in authority over him. Eighth, he deomonstrated hilaris. He was to be joyous and cheerful in the face of even the worst adversities. Ninth, he demonstrated frugalis. He was to be marked by an evident thrifty stewardship. Tenth, he demonstrated fortitudo. He was to be brave despite all the dangers that might cross his path. Eleventh, he demonstrated abulere. He was to be scrupulously clean in all his personal habits and hygiene. And finally, he demonstrated sanctus. He was to be piously reverent. Interestingly, the twentieth century British war hero, Robert Stephenson Baden-Powell, utilized Bernard’s code as the basis for the virtues to be inculcated in his Boy Scouts. But centuries before Lord Baden-Powell tapped the principles and elements of chivalry for his fledgling movement, Thomas Malory was building his tales of Arthurian romance around them.

There is perhaps no better guide to understanding the purpose and intent of Malory--and the times that he baptized upon the Arthurian legends--than this remarkable ethical code.

Monday, July 24

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers, Scottish Bible teacher, missionary, and author was born in 1874 on this day. His best-selling book, My Utmost for His Highest, was published shortly after his death in 1917--he had been serving British troops in Egypt during the First World War. The book remains the most popular daily devotional guide in print more than three quarters of a century later.

The devotion for today is particularly apt:

The characteristic of a disciple is not that he does good things, but that he is good in his motives, having been made good by the supernatural grace of God. The only thing that exceeds right-doing is right-being. Jesus Christ came to place within anyone who would let Him a new heredity that would have a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus is saying, "If you are My disciple, you must be right not only in your actions, but also in your motives, your aspirations, and in the deep recesses of the thoughts of your mind." Your motives must be so pure that God Almighty can see nothing to rebuke. Who can stand in the eternal light of God and have nothing for Him to rebuke? Only the Son of God, and Jesus Christ claims that through His redemption He can place within anyone His own nature and make that person as pure and as simple as a child. The purity that God demands is impossible unless I can be remade within, and that is exactly what Jesus has undertaken to do through His redemption.

No one can make himself pure by obeying laws. Jesus Christ does not give us rules and regulations— He gives us His teachings which are truths that can only be interpreted by His nature which He places within us. The great wonder of Jesus Christ’s salvation is that He changes our heredity. He does not change human nature— He changes its source, and thereby its motives as well.

Tristan Gylberd

The obscure but often quoted American poet, critic, and educator, Tristan Gylberd, was born in Houston, Texas on this day in 1954.


From The King's Meadow Assistants

Sunday, July 23

Jenny Geddes

Forced to listen to prayers prescribed by King Charles I and Archbishop Laud as read by Mr. James Hannay, the dean of St. Giles Kirk in Edinburgh, Jenny Geddes threw her stool and hit Mr. Hanny in the head. This incident, on this day in 1637, helped to spark the move for Scottish independence, the signing of the National Covenant at Greyfriars Kirk, and the English Civil War.

U.S. Grant

General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was one of the nation's greatest military heroes but one of its most unsuccessful Presidents. Decisive and masterful on the battlefield, a dynamic leader and a horseman of great prowess, he proved to be ingenuous in the political arena--but being a great general and a great politician does not necessarily translate into presidential success.

Raised on a farm, he early developed a love of horses and seemed always at his best on horseback. As leader of the victorious forces of the North, Grant was considered one of the saviors of the Union—even though he was held suspect by the Abolitionists since he was a slave-holder all through the war and allowed emancipation only after he was forced to release his slaves by the passage of the sixteenth amendment in 1865. Indeed, he once asserted that "if the war had been about slavery," he "would have fought for the South." Ironically, his greatest on-the-field adversary, Robert E. Lee had stated exactly the opposite sentiment.

Nevertheless, after Andrew Johnson’s unhappy term, Republicans turned readily to Grant. He knew nothing about politics. Innocent and sincere, Grant committed errors of judgment from the beginning: he appointed two unknowns from his home town in Illinois to cabinet positions. Later he allowed himself to be entertained by two stock manipulators--Jay Gould and Jim Fisk--who tried to corner the gold market, a mistake which left him open to charges of incompetence and corruption.

As the years passed, the evidences of corruption in his administration were such that Grant lost much of the popularity that first brought him into office. However, he managed to be re-elected to another term, one tarnished by even more corruption, more scandal.

In spite of the scandals, Grant scored a few victories. Passage of the Amnesty Bill in 1872 restored civil rights to many Southerners, relieving some of the harsh conditions of Reconstruction. And, against considerable opposition, Grant took courageous steps to fight the growing threat of inflation. But the battle-torn country was still in distress; the General who had brought the great uncivil war to a successful close was not the man to bind up the nation’s wounds.

His last years were sadly encumbered with woeful money problems. From the fall of 1884 until his death on this day in 1885, he raced against terminal cancer to finish his memoirs so that his widow would not live out her days as a pauper. As he had always been able to do before, he came through just in the nick of time.

Saturday, July 22

Scopes Trial

The American Civil Liberty Union's manipulated test case on evolution and creation--the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial--ended in 1925 on this day in Dayton, Tennessee. William Jennings Bryan won a conviction against teacher John T. Scopes who had violated the state law against teaching Charles Darwin's "Theory of Evolution" as scientific fact rather than as speculative theory. Though the loss in the celebrated trial was a temporary legal setback for the fledling ACLU, it was cunningly translated into a media victory which ultimately paved the way for the unquestioned hegemony of evolutionary presuppositions.

Tuesday, July 18

Science: the Fruit of Christianity

When the Royal Society was chartered by Charles II on this day in 1662, it was the first scientific society in history. Interestingly, devout Christians, with their interest in God's providencial creation, were most responsible in bringing it into existence. In fact, its membership was overwhelmingly Puritan in makeup.

The Society originally grew out of the meetings of the so-called "invisibles" who gathered at the home of Katherine Boyles. Earlier, she had supported the Parliamentarians and Puritans in the revolt against Charles I. Of deep intelligence, piety, and charity, she welcomed the group into her house so that she might share in the new scientific findings as the blessed fruits of Christian civilization.

The other stalwarts of the Society were likewise quite conservative in their theological inclinations. Theodore Haak, a professor at the largely Puritan Gresham College, initiated those early meetings of the "invisibles." He was a champion and sponsor of new scientific research and encouraged scientific patronage.

The chief architect and secretary of the Royal Society after the Restoration was John Wilkins, whose evangelical inclinations later led him to become a bishop and to prepare apologetic arguments in defense of the inerrancy of Scripture.

John Willis also helped inaugurate the Society. Considered one of the greatest physicians of his generation, he was so strong in his attachment to the Church of England that he was cold-shouldered at the royal court which inclined to Romanism. Among his many charities, he funded a clergyman to conduct worship services at hours when average working men could attend.

Likewise, Robert Boyle was also a devout believer. He not only engaged in a series of apologetics projects, he endowed a lecture series to defend Christianity, assisted persecuted Welsh clergymen, and subsidized Scripture translation. An innovative chemist, he developed Boyle's Law of Gases and wrote a book which debunked the pseudo-sciences of alchemy. He is often called the Father of Modern Chemistry.

Perhaps the most accomplished man of his day, Christopher Wren was also a founder of the Society. Best known for rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral, he was an anatomist who prepared the drawings for Willis' Cerebri Anatome, a geometer (Newton classed him among the best), a physicist (pioneering a number vital impact studies), a meteorologist, and a surveyor. He attempted some of the first blood transfusions and made microscopic studies of insects.

Since each of these founders were sincere Christians, it is not surprising that the motto adopted by the new organization was, "Nothing by mere authority." The history of the Society affords further evidence that modern science, rather than being contrary to Christianity, is in fact its natural fruit.

Sunday, July 16

Hilaire Belloc

Author and poet Hilaire Belloc died on this day in 1953 at his home, "Kingsland," in Sussex, England. Born in France, he was educated at Oxford and became a British citizen--eventually serving in Parliament from 1906 to 1910. A good friend of G.K. Chesterton, they edited a weekly journal for many years which espoused their conservative, "Distributivist," social views.

He was amazingly prolific, writing more than a hundred volumes in his life--in every genre and on every subject imaginable including fiction, poetry, social criticism, history, philosophy, economics, politics, biography, science, military strategy, travel, art, geography, cooking, gardening, engineering, sailing, and theology. I've been reading and collecting out-of-print Belloc books for twenty years now and have yet to exhaust their rich mines.

His best works include On Nothing (1908), The Bad Child's Book of Beasts (1896), Hills and the Sea (1906), Richelieu (1930), the six-volume History of England (1925). His text The Servile State (1912) was a profoundly influential analysis of Catholic economics, which provided a devastating free market critique of both mercantilist socialism and monopolist capitalism. The Path to Rome (1902) is a brilliant and beautiful paean to Western Civilization in its Catholic expression.

But my favorite of Belloc's books is his novel, The Four Men (1908). It is a wide-ranging farrago investigating all the various aspects of his own interests, which is to say, all the various aspects of Christendom’s glorious cultural flowering in the West. It is a work of stunning originality and creativity. In fact, just writing about it here makes me want to reread it even though I am currently in the middle of yet another book by Belloc, his French Revolution (1912).

Saturday, July 15


Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in Leiden to a family of modest means on this day in 1606. Rembrandt achieved a profound understanding of human emotion and nature coupled with brilliant technique. Much of his prodigious output portrayed Biblical and theological themes despite the fact that orthodox ideas and Scriptural vignettes were not considered serious subjects for art at the time in Holland. His works are characterized by chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and dark.

Friday, July 14

Birken'ead Drill

On this day in 1852, one of the worst naval disasters in modern history occurred in the shark infested waters of the South Atlantic. The British troopship Birkenhead struck a rock shelf just off the coast of South Africa. The decrepit wood-hulled vessel carried the famed regiment of the 78th Highlanders--Scottish warriors who had distinguished themselves in every imperial scrap from the Napoleonic Wars to the Crimean Conflict. Also aboard were their wives and children--and of course, the ship's crew.

It was almost immediately evident that the foundering ship was going to sink. Unfortunately, there were very few lifeboats aboard. Nevertheless, calm prevailed. Orders were given to remove the women and children first by placing them into the few precious lifeboat seats--there was just enough room for them. Within twenty minutes later the boat sank.

Not one woman or child was lost; not one man was saved. To make matters worse, the Highlanders and the crew of the Birkenhead had to endure grisly deaths--the sharks began circling even as the ship began to list. Their wives and children were forced to watch helplessly from the safety of the lifeboats.

Amazingly, in the last few moments before the boat dipped beneath the waves these brave and self-sacrificing men lined up in perfect military formation. Their piper band played the national air, "Scotland the Brave," as the ship went down. Like the men of the Titanic a half a century later, the Scottish stalwarts aboard the Birkenhead willingly exercised that age-old Christian virtue of chivalry--that in times of crisis men must give their lives that women and children may live.

The Birkenhead incident inspired poet Rudyard Kipling, one of the 20th century's most accomplished defenders of bold manhood, to pen his famous memorial verse, "So they stood an' was still to the Birken’ead drill; Soldier and sailor too."

And thus, the phrase Birken'ead Drill came to be synonymous with courage, valor, and self-sacrificing chivalry.

Bastille Day

This day is celebrated as the anniversary of the French Revolution in 1789 and as the French national holiday. This despite the fact that the Bastille was hardly a prison at all when it was "liberated" by the Republican mobs which ultimately brought anarchy to the streets and the tyranny of guillotine justice to the Parliament. For the next twenty-six years, the French people were subjected to a host of pillar-to-post horrors: from lawlessness and totalitarianism, from radical egalitarianism to oligarchical imperialism, from Robespierre to Napoleon, from nationalistic isolationism to jingoistic militarism. Bastile Day was in fact, the beginning of one of the darkest periods in the history of Western Civilization. Not exactly the sort of legacy I'd think folks might want to celebrate!

Tuesday, July 11

Chestertonian Paradox

Several years ago, I gave a talk at an education conference on the paradox of my love for both G.K. Chesterton and John Calvin. If you know anything at all about either of these great men, you'll know that my love for them is indeed a paradox. Thankfully, I am not the only one. Indeed, a man far wiser than I, James Sauer, has confessed an identifcal philosophical irony:

"I've got a problem with Chesterton. The problem is that I think he is a wonderful, wise, witty, and pious man; after reading his works, I never leave the page without feeling edified. Then what's the problem? Perhaps, the problem, if it is a problem, isn't in Chesterton, but in me. For I am a Protestant; but not just any Protestant. I am an American Evangelical Protestant. But there's more. I am a Conservative, Capitalistic, Bible thumping American Evangelical Protestant. And hold on to your seats folks, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse; I must confess, I am also a Calvinist. We all have our crosses to bear. Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Chesterton will see the great irony in my situation. I can only ask you not to blame me for this state of affairs, I didn't choose to be elected; it was irresistible grace. I was predestined for Presbyterianism. But since I have received this unmerited favor of God, I might as well enjoy it. I can only thank my Sovereign Maker for his predestination. Not only did he choose me to be among his chosen people, but he also destined me to be among that other elect who have had the privilege of meeting through literature the great mind and good heart of Gilbert Keith Chesterton."

Amen and amen.

Monday, July 10

John Calvin

Theologian and pastor John Calvin was born in Noyon, France on this day in 1509. By the time he was just 26 years-old, he had published the first edition of his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which propelled him as a thinker and spokesman to the forefront of the emerging Protestant movement. Calvin made his first trip to Geneva that same year while on the way to minister in the city of Strasbourg. He stayed and helped to reform the church until asked to leave two years later. But then in 1541, the city council asked Calvin to return to Geneva to continue his reforming work--he complied and then remained there the rest of his life.

Calvin worked particularly to improve the life of Geneva's citizens through health care, industry, and education. But more, through his systematic preaching and teaching of the Bible, he helped the town create model of freedom, opportunity, productivity, creativity, and ingenuity that would serve as the basis for the great flowering of Western Civilization ever afterward. His wisdom was manifest in virtually every one of the hundreds of sermons, commentaries, books, and tracts he produced throughout his prodigiously productive life:

"All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors."

"Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols."

"For there is no one so great or mighty that he can avoid the misery that will rise up against him when he resists and strives against God."

"However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts."

"No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief."

"Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness."

"The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul."

"There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence."

"There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice."

Sunday, July 9

The Lab Coats Are Coming

If tonight were
Paul Revere's ride
Instead of that fated night
In seventy five;

The alarm to arise
O'er the horse hooves drumming
Most assuredly would be:
"The lab coats,"
Hear ye,
"The lab coats are coming."

Friday, July 7

Ode to the National Education Association

Hey diddle diddle
Will rank as an idyll
If only we'd say as much.
Hickory dickory dock
Maintains the highest stock
With but our merest touch.

Whatever you read
Must befit our own creed
Tho' we know that's asking a lot.
It matters not a bit
That we know not a twit
Until--that is--we get caught.

TR on Action

Nearly a century after his death, Theodore Roosevelt is in the news again. Indeed, according to the latest edition of Time magazine, he continues to influence world events, public policy, and the character of the American presidency in a host of extraordinary ways. Perhaps the reason was that he had the extraordinary capacity to put criticism in perspective, to remain unflinching in the face of adversity, to maintain a happy reliance upon God's good providence, and to focus on doing what he knew he needed to do. His wisdom clearly remains as relevant and as poignant as ever:

"The man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic--the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done."

"A man can accomplish a certain amount by criticism if his criticism is intelligent and honest, but he can of course accomplish infinitely more by action."

"Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger."

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

"I hate a man who never does anything. Why, I'd rather do something and get it wrong, and then apologize, than to do nothing."

Thursday, July 6

The Great Schism

On this day in 1054, the Christian Church suffered a permanent schism when the four eastern Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch broke off fellowship with the one in the west, Rome.

The division came during the prelacies of Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Leo IX, Pope in Rome. The year before, Cerularius had circulated a treatise criticizing a number of the practices of the Roman church in unusually strong terms. Catholics did not allow their clergy to marry, for instance. This was contrary to both Scripture and tradition, according to Cerularius. In addition, Catholics used unleavened bread in their Eucharist, again in contradistinction to the long-held standards of church dogma.

But the most serious concern was that the Latin church had added the word filoque to the Nicene creed, asserting that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son. This, it seemed to the hierarchs of the East, to be a heinous flirtation with heresy. Cerularius excommunicated all bishops of Constantinople who used the Western ritual and closed down their churches.

Both the criticisms and the actions incensed Leo. He demanded that Cerularius cease and desist--and then as if to add insult to injury, he demanded that each of the other patriarchs submit to the pope. Any church which refused to recognize the pontiff as supreme was an assembly of heretics, he said--a synagogue of Satan. The Eastern patriarchs wasn't about to accept this characterization. The five patriarchates had always been held to be equal.

In an effort to enforce his decrees, Leo sent a delegation to Constantinople. The legates were led by a brilliant, though unyielding man, Cardinal Humbert. But Humbert was so rude to Cerularius that the patriarch refused to speak with him. Aggravated by this treatment, the legates issued a series of anathamas. To make matters worse, before they could get any further direction from Rome, Leo died.

Thus, taking matters into his own hands, Humbert and his delegation marched into St. Sophia on July 6, 1054, and placed a bull on the altar, excommunicating Cerularius. After this act, Humbert made a grand exit, shaking the dust off his feet and calling on God to judge.

In turn, Cerularius convoked a council and once more blasted Western practices. Humbert was anathematized. The Orthodox condemned all who had drawn up the bull. There was no chance of reconciliation between the factions. The unity of fellowship, forbearance, and love which Christ had said should mark his followers was irrevocably broken. Before long it could be truely said that the Orthodox were no longer orthodox and the Catholic were no longer catholic.

Tuesday, July 4

A Daring Resolution

On June 7th, 1776 Richard Henry Lee brought a daring resolution before the Continental Congress:

"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

On Saturday, June 8th, Lee's resolution was referred to a committee of the whole and delegates spent most of that day as well as Monday, June 10th debating the idea independence.

Then, in anticipation of a protracted debate, the Congress appointed various committees to begin to draft a declaration of independence, framing a set of articles for governing the country, and establishing diplomatic ties with foreign allies, most notably the French, Spanish and Dutch. When the committee drafting the declaration first met, there was a discussion of who would be the first to try to craft a document for the committee to work on. The most obvious choice was John Adams, but he deferred to his younger colleague, Thomas Jefferson. Despite being only thirty-two years old, Jefferson had already established a reputation as a solid writer and thinker with the publication of his pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Now he was given the awesome task of composing the Americans' public defense of independence.

When he began his first drafts of the declaration, Jefferson was anxious about events back in Virginia. The Convention was considering a new state constitution, and he wanted to be sure that the new document reflected the political lessons the colonists had learned over the past two decades of conflict with England. Needing some assurance that his views would be made known, he composed a few drafts of his own proposed state constitution and sent them off to Williamsburg. With only a few weeks before the July 1 debate on independence, Jefferson knew that he had to begin to put some of his thoughts to paper.

The first question that Jefferson had to address was the legitimacy of the Congress making a declaration of independence. In the past, the colonists had argued that their resistance was justified because it violated their rights as British citizens. But in recent years, the apologists for the Crown maintained that as colonists, they could not claim those rights and were subject to whatever rules the King and Parliament created. The Crown had absolute authority, they argued. Jefferson was faced with a second question: who was the audience to whom the declaration was directed? Was it just the King and people back in England? Or was the audience much wider?

Jefferson found one answer to both questions. Rather than relying on British law for their defense, the Americans would appeal to fixed moral standards of the natural law, or the law of nations, to make a worldwide public announcement of their new form of government and defense of their actions. The declaration would be a message to the world and to posterity about the propriety of their defensive actions against the oppressive British Empire.

Jefferson knew that with this approach, he had a lot of history to draw from. Not only were there a number of resolutions, protests and declarations that were submitted to the British since the Stamp Act crisis over a decade ago, he could reach back in time to use the language of the Dutch Declaration of Independence of 1581, when the Dutch Protestants freed themselves from Roman Catholic Spain. The Reformation had also birthed a wealth of political literature, transmitted through the French Huguenots, the Dutch Reformed, the Scottish Covenanters, and the English Puritans, that emphasized the limited and contractual nature of government. Such works, like Samuel Rutherford's Lex, Rex (1644) and the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (1572), which John Adams stated was a major influence in his political thinking, made the case that when rulers put themselves above the law to violate it, they become felons according to the law and can be resisted. It was from the Reformation that America received its belief in the contractual basis of society.

But not only did he have a good deal of historical precedent to draw on, he had the pattern of covenant lawsuits portrayed all throughout the Old Testament--and especially the Minor Prophets. If, as the Americans contented, Parliament and Crown had violated their covenantal agreements with their colonies, then the pattern of issuing a covenant lawsuit carried the justification of spiritual faithfulness as well as the justification of political expeditiousness.

There were other points to be made. One of the primary ideas Jefferson wanted to convey was that the Americans were being driven by necessity. The English were bringing troops to America to subdue it by force. They were burning towns and attacking innocent civilians. The Continental Congress had a duty to protect their citizens. It also needed to be made clear that the Americans were not grasping for power--this was not an American revolution. Quite the contrary; they were resisting the revolution by the English that asserted the unlimited powers of King and Parliament over the colonies. Not only had the English violated the terms of the colonial charters, they were infringing on the inalienable rights given by God to all people. Finally, the declaration had to state the level of resolve by the Americans. This had to be a complete and final separation from England, and the members of the Continental Congress had to affirm their absolute commitment to uphold it.

With these things in mind, Jefferson composed his first few drafts of the declaration. Making some revisions, he submitted it to the committee, where John Adams and Ben Franklin proposed some small alterations. Otherwise, the committee was submitted the American Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress for its review and consideration on June 29.

The day arrived when Congress was scheduled to consider Lee's motion for independence. Jefferson’s declaration was read aloud. Many members rose to speak, with the assembly leaning towards independence but still divided. John Dickinson said that time should be given to prepare and approve the articles of government. John Adams rose and gave a passionate defense for declaring independence. Yet, only nine of the thirteen states were prepared to support Lee’s motion. But before retiring for the day, a note arrived from General Washington informing the Congress that he anticipated the British to attack in New York at any moment. Congress agreed to take a vote the next day.

When the matter was taken up that following morning, July 2, 1776, it was clear that South Carolina and New York were now prepared to support the resolution. A vote was called and the motion for independence was approved without a single dissenting vote. But the cautious patriots wanted to be absolutely certain they were taking the right step, so they delayed making their vote public for a few more days.

On July 4, the Congress made some changes were suggested to the draft declaration, and once approved later that day, the representatives began to sign the covenant. On July 8, Congress ordered that copies of the Declaration of Independence should be made and distributed to the public. Thus, the immortal words resounded:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, government are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

The Declaration documented a train of abuses perpetrated by the British Empire and the attempts by the colonies to resolve the differences through peaceful means. But in the end, it was now clear that the time had come for the United States to take their leave from England. The American states were now free and independent. With a final appeal to Heaven, the Congress concluded the declaration with an unequivocal statement of their commitment: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

As word traveled throughout the states about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there were celebrations from north to south. But the British were not about to agree so easily. General Washington was trying desperately to hold onto New York, and there were British troops amassing in several states and in Canada to smash the growing rebellion. Now that the Americans had declared their freedom from England, they would have to fight to secure it.

The Dominion of Providence

Born in Scotland, educated at Edinburgh, and a leader among the Presbyterian Jacobites during the great Rising of 1745, John Witherspoon came to America in 1768 to be president of Princeton College. He has been called the most influential professor in American history, not only because of his powerful writing and speaking style but because of the vast number of leaders he trained and sent forth. Nine of the fifty-five participants in the Federal Convention in 1787 were his students--including James Madison. Moreover, his pupils included a president and a vice-president, twenty-one senators, twenty-nine representatives, fifty-six state legislators, and thirty-three judges, three of whom were appointed to the Supreme Court.

His sermon, The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men caused a great stir when it was first preached in Princeton and published in Philadelphia early in the summer of 1776. The sermon was an exposition of Psalm 76:10, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain." It later proved to be one of the most influential provocations to independence.

The fact that a man of faith like Witherspoon was a leading member of the Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration, a mentor to a host of the Founding Fathers, and a preacher whose sermons actually influenced public policy is the sort of thing that ought to drive our modernist-diversity-mavens in Congress, on the federal bench, in our public classrooms, and on the tube to utter distration--if only any of us actually remembered him.

Perhaps the recent article by Roger Kimball in the Wall Street Journal bemoaning his forgotten status can help to change that. One can only hope.

Monday, July 3

The Declaration of Independence

On June 9, 1776, the Continental Congress accepted a resolution of Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee to appoint a committee to draft a declaration of secession from the dominions of the English King and Parliament. On June 29, the committee--composed of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston--presented their draft for debate and a vote. Finally, on July 2, an amended version of that draft was accepted--the acceptance was confirmed by Congress on July 3, dated July 4, and finally ratified nearly a month later. The war that had been raging for more than a year had finally driven the reluctant revolutionaries to sever all ties with their motherland. The document remains a masterpeice of the "covenant lawsuit" form adopted and adapted from the Old Testament Minor Prophets:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government.

The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;

For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;

For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses;

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies;

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace, friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Sunday, July 2

The Vow of Washington

Following his successful campaign to insure the independence of his new nation, General George Washington surrendered his commission to President Thomas Mifflin and the assembled Congress of the United States on December 23, 1783. Though his troops were ready to declare him king, he desired to honor the federal government as it was then constituted. He then retired to private life at his home on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon. It would only be a short retirement however, the controversy over a new form of federalism ultimately brought him back into public life and ultimately to the presidency itself. This verse by John Greenleaf Whittier celebrates his extraordinary commitment and submission to authority:

The sword was sheathed: In April's sun
Lay green the fields by Freedom won;
And severed sections, weary of debates,
Joined hands at last and were United States.

O City sitting by the Sea!
How proud the day that dawned on thee,
When the new era, long desired, began,
And, in its need, the hour had found the man!

One thought the cannon salvos spoke,
The resonant bell-tower's vibrant stroke,
The voiceful streets, the plaudit-echoing halls,
And prayer and hymn borne heavenward from Saint Paul's!

How felt the land in every part
The strong throb of a nation's heart,
As its great leader gave, with reverent awe,
His pledge to Union, Liberty, and Law!

That pledge the heavens above him heard,
That vow the sleep of centuries stirred;
In world-wide wonder listening peoples bent
Their gaze on Freedom's great experiment.

Could it succeed? Of honor sold
And hopes deceived all history told.
Above the wrecks that strewed the mournful past,
Was the long dream of ages true at last?

Thank God! The people's choice was just,
The one man equal to his trust,
Wise beyond lore, and without weakness good,
Calm in the strength of flawless rectitude!

His rule of justice, order, peace,
Made possible the world's release;
Taught prince and serf that power is but a trust,
And rule alone, which serves the ruled, is just.

That Freedom generous is, but strong
In hate of fraud and selfish wrong,
Pretence that turns her holy truth to lies,
And lawless license masking in her guise.

Land of his love! With one glad voice
Let thy great sisterhood rejoice;
A century's suns o'er thee have risen and set,
And, God be praised, we are one nation yet.

And still we trust the years to be
Shall prove his hope was destiny,
Leaving our flag, with all its added stars,
Unrent by faction and unstained by wars.

Lo! Where with patient toil he nursed
And trained the new-set plant at first,
The widening ranches of a stately tree
Stretch from the sunrise to the sunset sea.

And in its broad and sheltering shade,
Sitting with none to make afraid,
Were we now silent, through each mighty limb,
The winds of heaven would sing the praise of him.

Saturday, July 1

Tour and Cup

The first of July is the anniversary for several significant events throughout history. It was on this day in 1863 that the bloody Battle of Gettysburg began. It would ultimately prove to be the decisive battle of the American War Between the States. Up to that time, the South had consistently maintained a strategic upper hand. But at Gettysburg, the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee was defeated by General George Meade and his Union troops. More than 37,000 men were killed or wounded in the three days of fighting.

Four years later on this day, in 1867, Canada became a self-governing dominion of Great Britain as the British North America Act took effect. And then, it was on this day in 1980 that O Canada was proclaimed the national anthem of Canada.

It was also on this day, in 1898, that Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders volunteer cavalry regiment secured an American victory in the Battle of Santiago by storming San Juan Hill in Cuba. To avoid capture, Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera retreated from Santiago harbor on July 3. The Spanish ships were attacked by the American fleet, burned and sunk. Two weeks later, Spain surrendered.

But with the start of the Tour de France and the last two games of the World Cup quarter-finals, I confess my attention is not exactly focused on Canada, TR, or General Lee. I’m just hoping someone can beat the brutal Portugal side and that the Americans can maintain Lance Armstrong’s legacy--each day I'll be following the results of the Tour on my Run Blog.