The US Constitution was the first written constitution in the world. The idea of an inspired Constitution is rare in contemporary public discourse and wholly absent from contemporary constitutional and historical scholarship. Seeking to discern the hand of divinity in America’s beginnings was common among the founding fathers, in popular rhetoric of the day, and among eminent 19th-century historians such as George Bancroft. George Washington was perhaps the first to use the word miracle in describing the drafting of the U.S. Constitution that brought together 13 colonies that differed in so many ways. The constitution is key in guaranteeing the rights and liberties of not only Americans, but those of many other nations whose constitutions were inspired by the U.S. Constitution.
Between the critical years of 1783 and 1787, an outsider viewing the affairs of the United States would have thought that the thirteen states, different in so many ways, could never effectively unite. The world powers were confident that this nation would not last. Eventually, twelve of the states met in Philadelphia to address the problem. Madison said at the beginning of the Convention that the delegates “were now digesting a plan which in its operation would decide forever the fate of Republican Government” (26 June 1787, Records of the Federal Convention, 1:423). Four months later, the Convention delegates had completed their work. As William Gladstone said, it was “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man” (Gladstone, North American Review, Sept.–Oct. 1878, p. 185).
The delegates were the recipients of heavenly inspiration. James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution, wrote: “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution” (The Federalist, no. 37, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983, p. 222).
Alexander Hamilton, famous as the originator of The Federalist papers and author of fifty-one of the essays, said: “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest” (Essays on the Constitution of the United States, ed. Paul L. Ford, 1892, pp. 251–52).
Charles Pinckney, a very active participant and author of the Pinckney Plan during the Convention, said: “When the great work was done and published, I was struck with amazement. Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war … could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole” (Essays on the Constitution, p. 412).
As Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be” (Letter to Colonel Charles Yancey, 6 Jan. 1816). John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (The Works of John Adams, ed. C. F. Adams, Boston: Little, Brown Co., 1851, 4:31). If the Constitution is to have continuance, the American nation must be virtuous which is why Satan has made it a battleground of good vs. evil.
The United States Constitution is one of the most brilliant documents ever written. But then why wouldn’t it be, the very core of it comes straight from the Bible. The men that authored our Constitution were not perfect men, but they knew where to find perfection. Our Founding Fathers were men who knew and studied scripture. Their lives were wrapped in God’s Word; it was the chief source of their education. They relied on the Bible and philosopher’s whose own works and commentaries also relied on Holy Scripture. Scripture is what all laws are to be based upon. In Romans 13:3-4; “For rulers hold not terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good.” Governments’ duty is to be God’s minister to the people. This is far different from what we think of our government leader’s responsibility today. At the same time, the people are to pray for their leaders as said in I Timothy 2:2-4; “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
To fully understand the influence Bible scripture had on the writing of the U.S. Constitution, you must read the Founders own words. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, the writer’s spelled out very clearly whom they owed their obedience to and whom their ultimate trust laid. They acknowledged a Creator and that our rights come from Him and that governments are instituted to protect all of those rights. They then listed their grievances and why they wanted to be free and independent. The U.S. Constitution was the remedy for all of the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence. Remember these men pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor when they signed their names to the document.
The Constitution begins with the language “Blessings of Liberty” and “do ordain and establish” in the preamble and ends with the words “in the Year of our Lord September 17, 1787.” Please take notice of the word, “our.” The signers all agreed to this word and it implies that they were Christians. These are not just words; they have meaning and are an example of how much the Bible influenced the writers. They were men of faith, some more than others, but they were men that knew the power of prayer. During the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin requested a break and called for prayer at a time when it was much needed. Benjamin Franklin is often labeled a Deist by historians, yet his own words appear to contradict that claim. Who knows where we would be today without that prayer.
Historical documents proves overwhelmingly how scripture influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States. It appears Benjamin Franklin believed in divine providence when he said at the convention “…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 possible that an empire can rise without His aid?” George Washington presided as president over the Constitutional Convention and was sworn in as our first president. He took the oath of office that is written in Article One, Section Two of the Constitution and added the words “so help me God.” When he left office after two terms he said this in his farewell speech: “Of all dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” These quotes surely suggest our founders’ principles were based on scripture and a firm belief and faith in God.
James Madison, the main author of the Constitution and one of the three contributors to the Federalist Papers, wrote of the dilemma a free republic would face without virtuous, righteous men. He wrote in Federalist #51: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” Knowing that man did not possess virtue and knowing this kind of individual freedom was not possible without virtue, the only solution was Christianity! John Adams said it like this: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” During the War for Independence when John Adams was asked by Dr. Benjamin Rush if he thought the war could actually be won, John Adams answered this: “yes! If we fear God and repent of our sins.” This is another of the many examples of our founding fathers’ divine faith and our Godly heritage. Too many people today do not even know this.
After the war was over and America was no longer under British rule, as an act of Congress, the Holy Bible was the first English language Bible printed in America to be circulated for use in schools. This was on September 12, 1782 and would be one of many acts of Congress promoting the Bible and Bible Societies. An early school text book called the New England Primer contained Bible scripture and was ordered to be reprinted by three of our founding fathers. Samuel Adams in Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania and Noah Webster in Connecticut all considered this book essential for children to have in school. This text book was used until the 1930’s. John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court is quoted as saying this: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers; and it is the duty- as well as the privilege and interest- of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Leaders in all branches of government believed we were a Christian nation and that in order to survive, our leaders needed to be Christian men with Christian values.
So how and why do so many people today believe in those four words, “separation of church and state”? One reason being, there are those that want it to be so. The other reason is that too many people just do not know any better. When something is repeated over and over, many simply begin believing it. There has been a huge effort to remove God and all references to God and religion out of our life today. At the same time, too many Christians remain silent and do not rebuke this lie. The actual words “separation of church and state” are taken from a letter President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. President Jefferson was answering the concerns of the Danbury Baptist Association in the state of Connecticut in regards to the establishment of a State religion or denomination. Our third president assured them that their first amendment rights would not be infringed. This is Thomas Jefferson’s actual quote from the letter. “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; thus building a wall of eternal separation between Church and State.” He was reassuring his commitment to upholding the first amendment. Years later, Supreme Court judges took those words out of context and reversed the original meaning of those words to support a decision of theirs. This was not the first or last time judges have twisted the words or changed the meanings of the Founders’ words to support a court decision.
The first amendment is this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It guarantees the people that Congress will not establish a State religion. It guarantees Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of religion. It protects the freedom of speech and the freedom to print, as well as the right of the people to assemble and the right of the people to petition their government with their grievances. It does not prohibit churches from being actively involved in matters of government policy. It does not prohibit public offices from displaying religious symbols. Our Founding Fathers would find it absurd for religious leaders not to have input on the very laws the legislator’s would write. They intended all citizens to be engaged in the legislative process and be knowledgeable of their very own constitutional rights. They thought it was the duty of the people and churches to keep a watchful eye on those serving in their representative republic. The standard to be used when debating new laws at that time was to primarily use the Ten Commandments. They would have thought laws that conflicted with God’s Law would be rendered unconstitutional, null and void.
We must remember too that such words as religion and state had different meanings than we think of today. When reading and studying the words of the Constitution we must understand the Founders’ original intent as the only manner in which to interpret. The Congressional record, required by the Constitution in Article One- Section Five, contains all the official words and acts that occur in congressional chambers. These are all available for us see and read. The Founders fully intended the States to be free and independent and that the federal government would be very small and the federal power would be very limited. The ninth and tenth amendments are evidence of this fact.
Our historical documents are full of biblical principles being applied to our Constitution. Our country was founded on Christian values and the very own words of our Founding Fathers leads us to no other view of our American heritage. If many today believe the lie of “separation of church and state,” what else will they also believe? Our Godly, Christian heritage is documented with beautiful quotes from so many of our leaders. Numerous signers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as well as famous statesmen like Patrick Henry affirmed this same view of America. We are and always have been a Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian values. Let’s repeat this over and over until it becomes the truth that it already is!
The United States Constitution was the first written constitution in the world. It has served Americans well, enhancing freedom and prosperity during the changed conditions of more than two hundred years. Frequently copied, it has become the United States’ most important export. After two centuries, every nation in the world except six have adopted written constitutions, (See “The Constitution,” Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1987, pp. 97, 126.) and the U.S. Constitution was a model for all of them. George Washington was perhaps the first to use the word miracle in describing the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. In a 1788 letter to Lafayette, he said:
“It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different states (which states you know are also different from each other in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well-founded objections.” – Letter from Washington to Lafayette, 7 Feb. 1788, quoted in Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia, Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1966, p. xvii.
It was a miracle. Consider the setting.
The thirteen colonies and three and one-half million Americans who had won independence from the British crown a few years earlier were badly divided on many fundamental issues. Some thought the colonies should reaffiliate with the British crown. Among the majority who favored continued independence, the most divisive issue was whether the United States should have a strong central government to replace the weak “league of friendship” established by the Articles of Confederation. Under the Confederation of 1781, there was no executive or judicial authority, and the national Congress had no power to tax or to regulate commerce. The thirteen states retained all their sovereignty, and the national government could do nothing without their approval. The Articles of Confederation could not be amended without the unanimous approval of all the states, and every effort to strengthen this loose confederation had failed.
Congress could not even protect itself. In July 1783, an armed mob of former Revolutionary War soldiers seeking back wages threatened to take Congress hostage at its meeting in Philadelphia. When Pennsylvania declined to provide militia to protect them, the congressmen fled. Thereafter Congress was a laughingstock, wandering from city to city.
Unless America could adopt a central government with sufficient authority to function as a nation, the thirteen states would remain a group of insignificant, feuding little nations united by nothing more than geography and forever vulnerable to the impositions of aggressive foreign powers. No wonder the first purpose stated in the preamble of the new United States Constitution was “to form a more perfect union.”
The Constitution had its origin in a resolution by which the relatively powerless Congress called delegates to a convention to discuss amendments to the Articles of Confederation. This convention was promoted by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, two farsighted young statesmen still in their thirties, who favored a strong national government. They persuaded a reluctant George Washington to attend and then used his influence in a letter-writing campaign to encourage participation by all the states. The convention was held in Philadelphia, whose population of a little over 40,000 made it the largest city in the thirteen states.
As the delegates assembled, there were ominous signs of disunity. It was not until eleven days after the scheduled beginning of the convention that enough states were represented to form a quorum. New Hampshire’s delegation arrived more than two months late because the state had not provided them travel money. No delegates ever came from Rhode Island.
Economically and politically, the country was alarmingly weak. The states were in a paralyzing depression. Everyone was in debt. The national treasury was empty. Inflation was rampant. The various currencies were nearly worthless. The trade deficit was staggering. Rebelling against their inclusion in New York State, prominent citizens of Vermont had already entered into negotiations to rejoin the British crown. In the western territory, Kentucky leaders were speaking openly about turning from the union and forming alliances with the Old World.
Instead of reacting timidly because of disunity and weakness, the delegates boldly ignored the terms of their invitation to amend the Articles of Confederation and instead set out to write an entirely new constitution. They were conscious of their place in history. For millennia the world’s people had been ruled by kings or tyrants. Now a group of colonies had won independence from a king and their representatives had the unique opportunity of establishing a constitutional government Abraham Lincoln would later describe as “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The delegates faced staggering obstacles. The leaders in the thirteen states were deeply divided on the extent to which the states would cede any power to a national government. If there was to be a strong central government, there were seemingly irresolvable differences on how to allocate the ingredients of national power between large and small states. As to the nature of the national executive, some wanted to copy the British parliamentary system. At least one delegate even favored the adoption of a monarchy. Divisions over slavery could well have prevented any agreement on other issues. There were 600,000 black slaves in the thirteen states, and slavery was essential in the view of some delegates and repulsive to many others.
Deeming secrecy essential to the success of their venture, the delegates spent over three months in secret sessions, faithfully observing their agreement that no one would speak outside the meeting room on the progress of their work. They were fearful that if their debates were reported to the people before the entire document was ready for submission, the opposition would unite to kill the effort before it was born. This type of proceeding would obviously be impossible today. There is irony in the fact that a constitution which protects the people’s “right to know” was written under a set of ground rules that its present beneficiaries would not tolerate.
It took the delegates seven weeks of debate to resolve the question of how the large and small states would be represented in the national congress. The Great Compromise provided a senate with equal representation for each state, and a lower house in which representation was apportioned according to the whole population of free persons in the state, plus three-fifths of the slaves. The vote on this pivotal issue was five states in favor and four against; other states did not vote, either because no delegates were present or because their delegation was divided. Upon that fragile base, the delegates went forward to consider other issues, including the nature of the executive and judicial branches, and whether the document should include a bill of rights.
It is remarkable that the delegates were able to put aside their narrow sectional loyalties to agree on a strong central government. Timely events were persuasive of the need: the delegates’ memories of the national humiliation when Congress was chased out of Philadelphia by a mob, the recent challenge of Shay’s rebellion against Massachusetts farm foreclosures, and the frightening prospect that northern and western areas would be drawn back into the orbit of European power.
The success of the convention was attributable in large part to the remarkable intelligence, wisdom, and unselfishness of the delegates. As James Madison wrote in the preface to his notes on the Constitutional Convention:
“There never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them.”
The drafting of the Constitution was only the beginning. By its terms it would not go into effect until ratified by conventions in nine states. But if the nation was to be united and strong, the new Constitution had to be ratified by the key states of Virginia and New York, where the opposition was particularly strong. The extent of opposition coming out of the convention is suggested by the fact that of seventy-four appointed delegates, only fifty-five participated in the convention, and only thirty-nine of these signed the completed document.
It was nine months before nine states had ratified, and the last of the key states was not included until a month later, when the New York convention ratified by a vote of thirty to twenty-seven. To the “miracle of Philadelphia” one must therefore add “the miracle of ratification.”
Ratification probably could not have been secured without a commitment to add a written bill of rights. The first ten amendments, which included the Bill of Rights, were ratified a little over three years after the Constitution itself.
That the Constitution was ratified is largely attributable to the fact that the principal leaders in the states were willing to vote for a document that failed to embody every one of their preferences. For example, influential Thomas Jefferson, who was in Paris negotiating a treaty and therefore did not serve as a delegate, felt strongly that a bill of rights should have been included in the original Constitution. But Jefferson still supported the Constitution because he felt it was the best available. Benjamin Franklin stated that view in these words:
“When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage over their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does. … The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.” – Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison, p. 653
In other words, one should not expect perfection—one certainly should not expect all of his personal preferences—in a document that must represent a consensus. One should not sulk over a representative body’s failure to attain perfection. Americans are well advised to support the best that can be obtained in the circumstances that prevail. That is sound advice not only for the drafting of a constitution but also for the adoption and administration of laws under it.
It was a miracle that the Constitution could be drafted and ratified. But what is there in the text of the Constitution that is divinely inspired? There is inspiration in the great fundamentals of the constitution, namely (a) the separation of powers into three independent branches of government in a federal system; (b) the essential freedoms of speech, press, and religion embodied in the Bill of Rights; (c) the equality of all men before the law; (d) popular sovereignty; and (e) the rule of law and not of men.
1. Separation of powers. The idea of separation of powers was at least a century old. The English Parliament achieved an initial separation of legislative and executive authority when they wrested certain powers from the king in the revolution of 1688. The concept of separation of powers became well established in the American colonies. State constitutions adopted during the Revolution distinguished between the executive, legislative, and judicial functions. Thus, a document commenting on the proposed Massachusetts Constitution of 1778, speaks familiarly of the principle “that the legislative, judicial, and executive powers are to be lodged in different hands, that each branch is to be independent, and further, to be so balanced, and be able to exert such checks upon the others, as will preserve it from dependence on, or a union with them.” (Quoted in Gerhard Casper, “Constitutionalism,” Occasional Papers from the Law School, The University of Chicago, no. 22, 1987).
Thus, we see that the inspiration on the idea of separation of powers came long before the U.S. Constitutional Convention. The inspiration in the convention was in its original and remarkably successful adaptation of the idea of separation of powers to the practical needs of a national government. The delegates found just the right combination to assure the integrity of each branch, appropriately checked and balanced with the others. As the prominent attorney in the Department of State, and Undersecretary of State for U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, Reuben Clark said:
“It is this union of independence and dependence of these branches—legislative, executive and judicial—and of the governmental functions possessed by each of them, that constitutes the marvelous genius of this unrivaled document. … As I see it, it was here that the divine inspiration came. It was truly a miracle.” (quoted in Hillam, “By the Hands of Wise Men,” p. 48.)
2. A written bill of rights. This second great fundamental came by amendment, but I think Americans all look upon the Bill of Rights as part of the inspired work of the Founding Fathers. The idea of a bill of rights was not new. Once again, the inspiration was in the brilliant, practical implementation of preexisting principles. Almost six hundred years earlier, King John had subscribed the Magna Charta, which contained a written guarantee of some rights for certain of his subjects. The English Parliament had guaranteed individual rights against royal power in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Even more recently, some of the charters used in the establishment of the American colonies had written guarantees of liberties and privileges, with which the delegates were familiar.
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