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 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?