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So Why Did We Start This Country?

If you ask the next ten people you meet why we started this country, three or four will answer “taxation without representation” while the rest will shrug and amble on by. In truth, the Declaration of Independence listed twenty-seven reasons, and taxation is not even mentioned until number seventeen. It is doubtful most of us could name any of the other reasons given for forming this union without the help of Google or a pocket copy of the Declaration.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence addressed a wide variety of grievances that focused on moral and religious complaints against England and King George. Those grievances were not born in a vacuum, but rather found their way to our most famous document because of very real religious and moral issues the colonists could not overlook any longer.

In 1762, the king vetoed the charter for America’s first missionary society. King George also issued proclamations to suppress other religious freedoms and even prevent the colonists from printing English-language Bibles. Declaration signers such as Charles Carroll and Samuel Adams cited religious freedom as their grounds for becoming involved in the American Revolution.

Nearly half of the signers of the Declaration held what today would be considered seminary or Bible school degrees. For many founders, religious issues were an important motivation behind their separation from Great Britain. In spite of this, these reasons are all but ignored today.

The supreme moral issue of that day was slavery; and after several of the American colonies moved toward abolishing slavery in 1773, the King vetoed those anti-slavery laws and sustained slavery in America. Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin quickly founded America’s first abolition society as a direct response against the king’s order.

The desire to abolish slavery in America was a significant motivation not only for Franklin and Rush, but also for a number of others. There were many who wanted to end slavery but could not under Great Britain’s rule. While it would take years to settle the matter completely in our own Civil War, six of the thirteen colonies abolished slavery immediately after the Declaration of Independence.

There were many other noteworthy issues that led the formation of this country; so why aren’t Americans familiar with the rest? Beginning in the 1920s, a group of secular-minded writers such as W. E. Woodward, Charles and Mary Beard, and Fairfax Downey began to rewrite history. For these, economics was the only issue of importance, so they began to write texts accordingly. With a focus solely on economics, “taxation without representation” became the sole clause that Americans studied.

By eliminating the religious and moral reasons for our founding, we have been left with a purely secular mandate. Texts now convincingly emphasize that the American founding produced the first intentionally secular government in history. This is in spite of the fact our Declaration officially acknowledges God in four separate clauses.  John Hancock and John Adams are given credit as being the source of our independence, even though John Adams himself declared that the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper were two of the individuals “most conspicuous, the most ardent, and influential” in the “awakening and revival of American principles and feelings” that led to American independence.

In other words, the paradigm has been shifted from a well-rounded understanding of why this country was found to a narrowly focused one. Take the legendary minutemen. Even though they are still honored, their leader, the Rev. Jonas Clark, is no longer mentioned. Nor is there mention that many of the minutemen were deacons in his church.

Rev. James Caldwell is no longer acknowledged to have been a key leader of military forces in New Jersey, nor is the Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (who led 300 men from his church against the British) remembered as one of Washington’s most trusted generals.  Forgotten is the indispensable role played by pastors in the founding of our civil government. Americans have been subjected to revisionism that attempts to alter the way we see out history in order to cause a change in public policy.

Unfortunately, it has worked all too well.

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