I Six Sources of the American Political Tradition
One important source is Protestant Christianity, ... The political creed of the American Puritans ... was "covenantal theology"-a sort of Old Testament Christianity that saw the American Puritans as New Israelites whom God had chosen to build a godly nation in this new land that would be "a city upon a hill" or a New Jerusalem. Their polity was a theocracy governed by a spiritual elite of "visible Saints" who were bound by a covenant with God to implement His divine law and by a covenant with the people to respect their consent. Other dissenting Protestants, such as Baptists, Quakers, and Mennonites, were not tolerated by the Puritans, but the dissenting sects have outlived the Puritans in later centuries because they have been less theocratic than the Puritans and more willing to accept religious liberty. Though the old Puritans are gone, a pale reflection of their original covenantal theology remains today in the vision of a divinely chosen Christian America among certain Protestants of the Christian Coalition (but rarely among Catholics, for whom America has never been a chosen land or New Jerusalem in the Biblical sense). Protestant Christianity has profoundly shaped American political culture, providing the inspiration for many social movements (including intense antiCatholicism at times), and continues today in various diluted and embattled forms.This is the kernel of truth in the "Christian America" thesis. However, orthodox Protestant scholars have rejected this thesis in part because it's bad theology. We continue:
A second source of the American political tradition is English common law. Unlike natural law or constitutional law, common law is loosely codified customary law-a compendium of practices, statutes, and judicial decisions that together make up the historic rights and privileges of Englishmen. ...
... In a recent book, The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, andthe American Tradition, M. Stanton Evans argues that notions of freedom and consent in America owe more to common law and feudal contracts than to Enlightenment theories of individual rights. James R. Stoner also notes the influence of common law on America's "unwritten constitutionalism." Stoner argues that the long list of grievances in the central part of the Declaration of Independence (largely unread today) were taken from traditional English common law principles, such as trial by jury, opposition to the quartering of troops without consent, and opposition to taxation without consent. Robert L. Clinton also argues in God and Man in the Law that many provisions of the U. S. Constitution were specifically taken from English common law (a traditional, particularistic claim) and to the natural rights of all mankind (a rational, universalistic claim) in justifying their actions.
A third element of the American political tradition is also part of the English heritage, namely, an aristocratic notion of gentleman statesmanship. Some of the great Puritan leaders, such as John Winthrop, were gentleman rulers who appealed to social hierarchy as well as to covenant theology for their authority. Many leaders of the American Revolution, as well as many framers of the U. S. Constitution, were members of Virginia and Massachusetts dynasties of political families and social elites. Though not possessing hereditary titles or noble birth in the feudal sense, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and others were not simply men of the people, either. They were gentlemen politicians-members of the social aristocracy (some possessing landed estates) who constituted an educated and cultivated elite enjoying the leisure to devote their lives to politics, manners, war, and scholarship.
The reference to "sacred honor" at the end of the Declaration of Independence is undoubtedly a reflection of the gentlemen's code of honor-a pledge to dedicate their lives, fortunes, and honor to the cause of the Revolution. ... For the first generation of the American republic, they stood as a quasi-aristocratic counterweight to the democratic revolution that they fostered; and even those among them who were completely selfmade men, such as Benjamin Franklin, were molded by the manners of courts and aspired to some of the social distinctions of gentlemen. They were (somewhat inconsistently) gentlemen politicians dedicated to republican government.