There is a rich orthodoxy that brought the universal principles of the Declaration to the American mind. That the nation was founded upon the principles of God’s Word is well documented by the founding compacts, covenants and constitutions.
In 1620, the Pilgrims drafted our nation’s first self-governing document, the Mayflower Compact: “We . . . having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, do . . . solemnly and mutually in ye presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politic . . .. And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”
The King of England left the colonists alone for 150 years. Without the albatross of paternalistic authoritarianism, the colonists experienced the benefits of personal responsibility and hard work. People would come together with their pastor or a prominent student of the Bible as moderator and search the scriptures for principles of government that would uphold civility in their community.
In 1630, the famous sermon by John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, reflected the great sense of purpose that has prevailed since the arrival of the Pilgrims. Later quoted repeatedly by Ronald Reagan, Winthrop declared: “We are to be ‘a City upon a hill,’ a beacon of light for the world to follow.” He continued, “The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”*
In 1638, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut stated: “[We] enter into a combination and confederation together to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which we now profess.”
Foundational to liberty and the American approach to government is the fact that man is of divine origin, sovereign under God over government. His spiritual or God-honoring religious nature is held as supremely important.
*Robert C. Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity,” discourse written aboard the Arbella during the voyage to Massachusetts, 1630, In Life and Letters of John Winthrop, 1867, 19.
~ D. Norris