Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thockmorton, The Bible, and Effective Government

In a recent post Warren Thockmorton was quoted as stating,

"Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government."  

I am going to punt on the first half of this statement for now and focus on the second half. 

The phrase "Biblical Government" is a loaded phrase but in the most general sense I believe History proves Thockmorton wrong. This is because the history behind the most foundational phrase of the most foundational document in American history proves him wrong. 

The phrase is LONANG(Laws of nature and nature's God) and it most certainly has a long history in Christian Thought in referring to "general revelation" and "special revelation". Or more simply put, Natural Law and God's Law as found in the Bible. 

I have touched on this, off and on, here at American Creation over the years and cited the work of Gary Amos in doing so. I am not going to reproduce all of it here because I have simplified my views on this topic and do not want to muddy the waters. With that stated, here is a post on this topic from my blog excluding the intro that is not relevant to this site(Italics are the words of Amos and bold italics sources he quotes): 

"In my last post on this topic I cited a quote from James Otis is 1964 that clearly shows that the phrase LONANG(Laws of Nature and Nature's God) was in use before Thomas Jefferson used it in the Declaration of Independence. Thus, easily refuting modern secularists claims that Jefferson invented the phrase in order to make a break with Christian Tradition. 

In this post I refer once again to Gary Amos and his book Defending the Declaration to show that this phrase had a long tradition in both canon law and common law well before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. This is easily proven by looking into the writings of Sir William Blackstone and Sir Edward Coke. Both of whom had a profound effect on our Founding Fathers.

Here is Amos with some thoughts of my own below:  

From the canon law  of the Catholic Church, the term "law of nature" made its way into the common law of England. In the Christian common law tradition of England from Bracton(1268) to Blackstone(1760's) the term "law of nature mean the eternal moral law of God the Creator established over His created universe. It was a technical term for "creation law" - the original scheme of things purposed or willed by the Almighty. 
Sir William Blackstone was a contemporary of the framers. His Commentaries on the Laws of England  was one of the primary sources for the colonists' understanding of the English common law tradition. Blackstone was so popular in the colonies that as many of the copies were sold in the colonies in the ten year prior to the revolution as in England itself. Blackstone was required reading at almost all colonial universities. Here is how he defined the "law of nature."
When the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter....  When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion..... If we farther advance to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws,....  [The operations of inanimate and organic processes] are not left to change, or the will creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the Great Creator. Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is an entirely dependent being.... And consequently as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker's will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature. 
Amos goes on later:
Blackstone's view was not a new one. One hundred and fifty years before Blackstone, Sir Edward Coke gave a similar definition in Calvin's Case (circa 1610):
The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction; and this is lex aeterna the moral law, called also the law of nature. And by the law, written with the finger of God in the heart of man, were the people of God a long time governed, before the law was written by Moses, who was the first reporter or writer of the law in the world. The Apostle in the Second Chapter to the Romans saith, cum enim gentes quae legum non hadent naturaliter eaquae legis sunt faciunt [while the nations who do not have the law do naturally the things of the law]. And this is within the command of that moral law, honora patrem which doubtless doth extend to him that is pater patriae And that the Apostle saith, Om nis anim a potestatibus subdita sit [Let every person  be subject to authorities]. And these be the words of the Great Divine, Hoc Deus in Sacris Scripturis jubet, hoc lex naturae dictari, ut  quilibet subditus odediat superio....  [This God commands in Sacred Scripture, this the law of nature dictates, in order that anyone who is a subject might render obedience to the superior.] Therefore the law of God and nature is one to all....  This law of nature, which indeed is the eternal law of the Creator, infused into the heart of the creature at the time of his creation, was two thousand years before any laws written, and before any judicial or municipal laws. 

Both of these quotes show that Jefferson was using common law tradition and its understanding of the "law of nature" in the Declaration of Independence. Ideas that were in place long before Jefferson used them. As I stated in my last post, some of the more astute secularists will admit this and concede that Jefferson was not inventing anything new when he spoke of creation law. 

What they refuse to see is that the second half of LONANG is referring God's law as found in the Bible. Creation law is what many refer to as general revelation and God's Law is special revelation. In this line of thinking, the latter is needed because of the fall of man and corruption of creation. Coke's quote clearly shows that this concept was part of Christian law long before Jefferson used it when he states, "Therefore the law of God and nature is one to all." 

Amos goes on later:

Part of the Christian tradition was to speak of the "law of nature" and the "law of God" as two sides of the same coin. Here we find Coke speaking of the law of nature and of God as one and the same thing, simply two aspects of one law. The "law of nature" is God's eternal moral law inscribed in nature and on men's hearts. The "law of God" is the same eternal moral law revealed in scripture.
Like Coke, Blackstone equated the "law of nature" and the "law of God":
The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are found only in holy scriptures.... These precepts... are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature,.... As then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature. ... the revealed law... is the law of nature expressly declared to be so by God himself;.... Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws.... the law of nature and the law of God.... 

There is a lot here for sure that will need to be unpacked in the next several posts in this series. Nonetheless, I want to leave you with a few thoughts. One is that the quotes above clearly show that the phrase Laws of Nature and Nature's God is talking about "the law of nature" and the "law of God".  Second, is that this clearly shows that Jefferson was using a phrase that had a long history in Christian tradition and in no way could be considered "Deistic". 

Finally, if Jefferson, the committee that was selected to write the Declaration of Independence, and the Continental Congress that edited it and had final say were using Christian phrases this lends great evidence to those that claim America was a nation founded upon classically Conservative ideas that were heavily influenced by Christian Thought."

Were our Founders trying to set up a government based on ceremonial Jewish Law? Of course not. That is a red herring argument that is not even worth addressing. What is relevant to this discussion is whether or not they used the Bible as one of their guides in creating this great nation? I think Amos makes a very convincing case that they did it what is quoted above.

If I am correct then Thockmorton is in danger of over generalizing and dumbing down this discussion. I think almost all involved, including David Barton, will concede that many of our Founders were not Evangelical Christians and even those that were had little interest in having an established National Church like many nations in Europe.  But to imply that they did not consult the Bible, and thousands of years of Christian Thought largely based on it, when trying to create an effective government to guide this nation is bordering on absurd.

Jefferson was one of the more radical Founders in regards to religion and even he consulted Christian Thought that emphasized the Bible(among other sources of Classical Thought) when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Here are his words about the ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence:

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All it's [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney..."

This does not look like some great break with America's Christian past at all. In fact, it seems that even Jefferson embraced many of the ideals pertaining to good government that had been a part of Christian Thought going back many thousands of years.  What do you think?


Tom Van Dyke said...

What they refuse to see is that the second half of LONANG is referring God's law as found in the Bible.

I've never been convinced of this assertion. The "laws of nature" means "Natural Law," which had been around since Aquinas in the 1200s, and in the Greeks and Romans 1000+ years before that. Alexander Hamilton, in 1775's The Farmer Refuted [in fact, he quoted Blackstone here]:

"This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original." Blackstone.

Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind, the supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety.

Hence, in a state of nature, no man had any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property or liberty; nor the least authority to command, or exact obedience from him; except that which arose from the ties of consanguinity.

Hence also, the origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent? To usurp dominion over a people, in their own despite, or to grasp at a more extensive power than they are willing to entrust, is to violate that law of nature, which gives every man a right to his personal liberty; and can, therefore, confer no obligation to obedience.

"The principal aim of society is to protect individuals, in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature; but which could not be preserved, in peace, without that mutual assistance, and intercourse, which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities. Hence it follows, that the first and primary end of human laws, is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals." Blackstone."

[BF mine.]

Joe Winpisinger said...

Both Coke and Blackstone used the phrase "law of Nature and law of God" just the same as Jefferson used it. It is not some Deistic phrase. More importantly, "the law of God" is referring to the Bible.

This should not be hard to understand since Aquinas referred to general and special revelation all the time.

Rothbard is right that Locke was a Protestant Scholastic. Some of the views on sotierology changed but the political theory was unmolested. Divine Right of Kings seems to have been the exception in the European Mind not the rule.

(This is King of Ireland. My Google Profile is in my real name now for those that do not know)

Joe Winpisinger said...


I actually think the proper terms are Creation Law and Biblical Law. The latter is a loaded term. To some it means the "Law of Moses" but to most it means laws based on the teachings of the Bible.

Those that love to cry Theocracy!!!! every time God is mentioned in regards to government love to conflate the two. When the facts dictate that it is a minute minority of nut jobs the want to institute the "Law of Moses" in America.

Jefferson defeated Classical Conservatism by labeling Adams a monarchist when he was no such thing.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Divine Right of Kings seems to have been the exception in the European Mind not the rule.

Divine Right of Kings is exactly where natural law comes in--Romans 13 seems to demand absolute obedience to temporal rulers

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Eventually, they argued that tyranny was contrary to natural law, and therefore could be disobeyed. But that took until the 1600s to work up!

Ephesians 6:5

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

took even longer!

Look at it this way--"general" revelation, the "natural law," comes before the Bible is even written. The Bible is a clarification, a double-check if you will, but does not rewrite the natural law. So using the power of [God-given] reason, they could derive that tyranny and eventually slavery were contrary to the natural law, and that Romans and ephesians were advice on how to deal with it if you were conquered by the Roman empire or taken as a slave in battle.

If you allow the Lockes and Blackstones and Hamiltons to think, to use "right" reason, the Bible--"special" revelation--will not end up contradicting them.

This is what Aquinas and Blackstone and James Wilson all agree on, that all truth, "general" [natural law] or "special" [the Bible] is all truth: Truth cannot contradict truth.

But to say that the declaration is specifically citing the Bible, yes, some read it that way no doubt, but they also knew that others like Jefferson would not.

But since natural Law cannot be in conflict with the Bible anyway [say in the area of judeo-Christian morality], it was a moot point.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I think my thoughts on bad interpretations of Romans 13 that are horribly inconsistent with the rest of the Bible are on record here.

To your larger point I hear you but disagree. Natural Law and God's Law were seen as two paths to the same location. You do not have to go around the Bible to resist. You do have to go around bad interpretations of it. Big difference.

Canon Law allowed for interposition against tyrants going back to way before Aquinas. They saw no contradiction with Romans 13. Freaking Hitler quoted Romans 13 I think.

Joe Winpisinger said...

"But to say that the declaration is specifically citing the Bible, yes, some read it that way no doubt, but they also knew that others like Jefferson would not."

That is where the American Mind quote is a major blow to the "Harvard Narrative". Jefferson says the ideas were nothing new(Conservatism at its essence) and credits Locke and Sidney. Locke and Sidney both most certainly used the Bible in their arguments.

The most important point in all of this is that the DOI was nothing new. We did not repudiate our Christian past. We just repudiated certain aspects of it. Mainly the Divine Right of Kings. But as I stated, that was not the only view within Christian Thought about government. I would argue that it was the minority view in its strictest sense.

It did not take until the 1600's to get to interposition. As I stated, Canon Law allowed for it.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I have come to the conclusion that America was a Classically Conservative Republic heavily influenced by Christian Thought. France was the deviation not America. At least not in 1776- 1800.

Adams warned Jefferson that he was treading on promoting hedonism and it would ruin the nation. Adams was right. Many think Hamilton and Adams agreed. Not in the least. Adams and Jefferson agreed a lot more.

I liken modern True Conservatives like Jaffa to Adams and Modern Libertarians to Jefferson. Modern Liberalism is a deviation from both.

I agree with Adams who I think thought much like Locke when he coined the phrase, "Liberty not license".

Important to know the History in order to understand the present. You won me over to true Conservatism TVD.... Libertarianism flirts with license too much for my taste and can easily turn into hedonism and anarchy.

Strauss was right about a lot. Just not about Locke.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Your work on "interposition" has always been ace--although we seldom find the word directly used.

However, we still can't get to the place where the Bible replaces right reason and natural law, and if the enlightenment is a factor in all this [we both agree it's overblown in the "Harvard Narrative"]

we must note that specific Bible verses were used less and less compared to the Puritan days. And neither is there anything wrong with making one's arguments with the language of right reason and natural law. [In fact, that's all conservatives have left these days, and it's not going all that well.]

Indeed, arguing for a too-Biblical Founding only results in a backlash against the Founding principles. If

Natural Law and God's Law were seen as two paths to the same location.

Thomas Paine used Biblical arguments because most people were religious-Biblical. Locke was religious but used non-Biblical arguments more than Biblical ones. These days it's better to skip the Bible-thump in favor of the argument from Right Reason.

As for the Biblicism of the Founding, I see the problem today as more one of not understanding their underlying Judeo-Christian assumptions. Hell, I bet not 1 American in 100 can even tell you what Natural Law even is.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Libertarianism flirts with license too much for my taste and can easily turn into hedonism and anarchy.

This has been hitting me a lot lately. The irony is that both liberals and conservatives are more communitarian each in their own way--libs want to share the material health and wealth, cons want a healthy and cohesive culture.

And yes, Jefferson was in the end a hedonist.

Strauss was right about a lot. Just not about Locke.

Yes, Straussians accuse Locke of being one too. But he's a lot more complex and a lot less hypocritical for us to compare him directly to TJ.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I totally agree that too much emphasize on the Bible can lead down a bad road in regards to the Founding or government in general.

That is why I put my emphasis on American being a Classically Conservative Republic more than it being heavily influenced by Christian Thought. Romans and Greeks came up with some good stuff. Aquinas acknowledged it why can't modern Evangelicals?

What I speak of, if explained correctly can bring in most Libertarians and when that happens the party structures will change dramatically. Hopefully hedonism does not win out this time around again. Lot of parellels to 1787 to 1812 period right now.

You should read more Adams. He was a twit at times but was a smart twit. The Passionate Sage made me an Adams fan..... Ellis wrote it....

Keep up the good fight TVD.....

Tom Van Dyke said...

That is why I put my emphasis on American being a Classically Conservative Republic more than it being heavily influenced by Christian Thought. Romans and Greeks came up with some good stuff. Aquinas acknowledged it why can't modern Evangelicals?

Oh, Joe---by all means don't stop using the term "Christian thought!" If I had to define it, it would be

Natural Law
the Old Testament
Plato and Aristotle
the Roman Stoics [mostly Cicero]
The New Testament
Constantinism [probably not good on the whole]
Middle Ages Canon Law [per Brian Tierney]
Aquinas' Thomism/Aristotelianism/Scholasticism
Political Calvinism

and our more secular friends would argue for a place for Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment.

All meeting with boots on the ground in the English Civil Wars--the Puritan revolution of the 1640s, finally resolved with the Glorious Revolution of 1688--all traces of Puritan "protector" Oliver Cromwell's body disgraced and erased, Charles II's attempt to restore Roman Catholicism as the English state religion thwarted.

Foreigners William and Mary come to the throne as joint monarchs with the understanding that Parliament is really now in charge.

The United Kingdom becomes Earth's longest-running political show.

As much as I've come to argue that we can't understand the Founding without understanding Calvinist Resistance Theory, I'm realizing we we can't understand it either without Cromwell.

He hated Christmas as Biblically impure [which it is. Like being ruled by Dean Wormer. What a tool.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You should read more Adams. He was a twit at times but was a smart twit. The Passionate Sage made me an Adams fan..... Ellis wrote it....

I can find little evidence that Adams' epic

was quoted by anybody, let alone even read.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Some prominent thinker at the time took 20 years to refute it. Adams help write most of the state Constitutions. Most of his best work was pre-Independence. Big fan of Cicero and "The One", "The Few", and "The Many".

I say Christian Thought because all of those great ideas were sifted through a Christian lense. Others were exclusively Christian or Judeo-Christian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brother Throcky gonna eat you up, Joe, if he ever comes around again.

wsforten said...

I came across a comment by Adams that the two of you might find interesting:

the Teutonic institutions, described by Caesar and Tacitus, are the most memorable experiment, merely political, ever yet made in human affairs. They have spread all over Europe, and have lasted eighteen hundred years. They afford the strongest argument that can be imagined in support of the position assumed in these volumes. Nothing ought to have more weight with America, to determine her judgment against mixing the authority of the one, the few, and the many, confusedly in one assembly, than the wide-spread miseries and final slavery of almost all mankind, in consequence of such an ignorant policy in the ancient Germans. What is the ingredient which in England has preserved the democratical authority? The balance, and that only. The English have, in reality, blended together the feudal institutions with those of the Greeks and Romans, and out of all have made that noble composition, which avoids the inconveniences, and retains the advantages of both.

Tom Van Dyke said...

My dear Mr. Fortenberger, you're the first person I've ever seen quote John Adams'

including anyone who lived at the time. The Joe Biden of the Founding.

Joe Winpisinger said...


Not sure what you mean about Thockmorton eating me up. Sounds a lot like Gregg Frazer to me. Some good points but a flawed premise to their thinking.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Mr. Forsten,

Great quote. I think he turned out to be right. Got falsely a monarchist when he stated stuff like this though. Hamilton was the monarchist.

Tom Van Dyke said...


Not sure what you mean about Thockmorton eating me up. Sounds a lot like Gregg Frazer to me. Some good points but a flawed premise to their thinking.

Dr. Throck is VERY good. JoeW and BillF would make a fulkuva a team though--I pity the fool that gets in their way.

Joe Winpisinger said...


That piece on "Confederacy" was trash. I was very disappointed in Mr. Throckmorton.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Guilt by association mostly, and a handful of losers. That Petrouska guy IS up to something, though, although Throck needed to show exactly WHAT was objectionable in the "course." Otherwise, it is indeed a McCarthy-type trash.

Petrouska explicitly disavows racism, and although secession is a crank idea, it's only a theoretical and not altogether unjustified constitutional argument.

Joe Winpisinger said...


I am weary of the "The Tea Party is all of bunch of racists" BS. There are some elements for sure. But it is small minority.

Stuff like that post that lumps everyone together is abuse of History.

With that stated, some of Throck's other posts did ask some good questions and I think were helpful in calling out some of the white supremacists. I want nothing to do with that shit but do believe in federalism and states rights.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"States' rights" is a dirty word since their failure in 1964. The Democrats got away with the Dixiecrat filibuster if the Civil Rights Act [incl Al Gore Sr.]

but the GOP never lived down nominating Barry Goldwater for president, even though his support for states' rights was based on the Constitution, not race.

Lesson: Never let principle get in the way of demagoguery.