Saturday, June 9, 2012

America's 'Fighting Chaplain' rides again

For a change, perhaps something good from WorldNetDaily. It's about Rev. James Caldwell. This was actually reprinted from Leben. I don't know enough about the history of Presbyterians and the American Revolution to comment. But I know friends, among others John Fea and Mark David Hall, are interested in this subject matter. Perhaps they can chime in on the accuracy of the article.


JMS said...

Jon- like you, I toil in the trenches of a community college (and love it). So, I’m no historian at the high scholarly level of John Fea or Mark David Hall (both whom I admire).

But I lived in Morristown, NJ for many years, and did a lot of off-and-on local historical research into the colonial and revolutionary eras. The secondary source stories about Presbyterian Reverend James Caldwell, as recounted in the Leben article, are well known.

He was the pastor of Elizabethtown’s Presbyterian church, which had many prominent NJ Whigs in its congregation: Governor William Livingston, Abraham Clark (signer of the Declaration of Independence), Elias Boudinot (see David Holmes’ chapter on him in “Faith of the Founding Fathers”), and General Elias Dayton.

NJ loyalists dubbed Caldwell “the Rebel High Priest.” He served as a chaplain and deputy quartermaster in the Continental army. The June 1780 tragic and accidental shooting death of his wife Hannah by a British soldiers during the invasion of Connecticut Farms (today Union), and Caldwell’s dispersal of Watts’ hymnals to a Continental artillery brigade that ran out of wadding for their cannons at the Battle of Springfield are oft’ told tales. See Thomas Fleming’s “The Battle of Springfield” (I can’t seem to locate my copy) or John Cunningham’s “The Uncertain Revolution: Washington & the Continental Army at Morristown.”

But more to the point of American Creation, the best overview of the role of religion in New Jersey during the American Revolution comes from a New Jersey Historical Commission article entitled, “The Religious Issue in Revolutionary New Jersey.” It has a great three page bibliography at the end.

But as American Creation contributors and readers know, I’m guessing your posting this article immediately raises the Glenn Beck and David Barton “black regiment” controversy. I’ll defer my own comments and refer you to an excellent January / February 2011 Liberty magazine “Black-Robed Regiment article at

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks for this!

JMS said...

Jon - you are welcome.

I meant to add two caveats to the article which I still recommend highly.

1) The article was commissioned by the New Jersey Historical Commission for the Bicentennial (copyright date is 1975).

So, while I recommend the bibliography, it cannot account for the intervening 37 years of great scholarship.

2) As Joseph Waligore has documented, the "clockmaker God" thesis related to Enlightenment Deism is a misrepresentation, and that misnomer is repeated on p. 24 of this article.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As Joseph Waligore has documented, the "clockmaker God" thesis related to Enlightenment Deism is a misrepresentation, and that misnomer is repeated on p. 24 of this article.

David Barton is right again!

I say this out of sheer deviltry because it explodes brains, but the fact is that this amateur has got as far as he has because the secular academic world did indeed bleach God and religion out of the Founding.

Just as Parson Weems and others re-fashioned GWash into a traditional devout Christian, and others did the same for Lincoln immediately after his death, the 20th century saw the pendulum swing the other way, toward a relatively godless Founding and freedom FROM religion.

That JMS reports that this "blind watchmaker deism" whitewash of America's religious history was the uncontroversial "accepted wisdom" only 37 years ago [1975!] shows what fertile ground David Barton had to sow when he began in 1987.

Google "Founders and deist" and a zillion hits come up, many of them crap.

To his credit, friend-of-the-blog John Fea comes up @ #4 with


bpabbott said...

Re: "David Barton is right again!"

I'm confident Barton hasn't asserted this. Isn't Barton's claim that the Founders weren't Deists? And that the "blind watch-maker" is the God of Deism?

Has he ever asserted that the blind watch-maker is incongruent with Deism of The Enlightenment?

This does remain fertile ground and would gain Barton a great deal of credibility. Have I missed something ?

Features of Deism in the 18th century are understood to include;

Critical elements of deist thought included:
* Rejection of all religions based on books that claim to contain the revealed word of God.
* Rejection of all religious dogma and demagogy.
Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies and religious "mysteries".
Constructive elements of deist thought included:
* God exists, created and governs the universe.
* God gave humans the ability to reason.

Earlier (more "orthodox"?) Deism was explicitly more more presonal

* There is one Supreme God.
* He ought to be worshipped.
* Virtue and piety are the chief parts of divine worship.
* We ought to be sorry for our sins and repent of them
* Divine goodness doth dispense rewards and punishments both in this life and after it.

Using this understanding of Deism, there is a lot of overlap between Christianity and Deism. It is also easy to see where distinct differences exist. There is a great deal of Christine doctrine which is inconsistent with both Deism and many of the Founder's writings. There is also a great deal of evidence that the founder's embraced beliefs that were inconsistent with Deism.

To say the founder's weren't Christian or weren't Deists is terribly wrong. Both perspectives of theism played important roles in their theistic opinions.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There is a great deal of Christine doctrine which is inconsistent with both Deism and many of the Founder's writings.

Not really. Franklin and Jefferson, ho hum. JAdams in his post-presidential letters. Then you're down to Ethan Allan and the bottom of the barrel. The deism thing is way overblown.

Jonathan Rowe said...


John Adams rejected the Trinity in the 1750s.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's what he said. Nobody knew, though, until his post-presidential letters.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Nobody" knew? Or those who were not in on his secrets.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Do you have any evidence where the public John Adams presented himself as anything but an orthodox Christian? I'm unaware of any.

In fact, his Thxgiving proclamation of 1799 uses Trinitarian language, and according to Adams, lost him the 1800 election because of his being viewed as in league with the Presbyterians.

And in the "Judeo-Christian" context, Jesus' divinity is not a factor anyway, since Jews don't do the Trinity either.

What Adams wrote to his friends after he left office in spring 1801 is of no historical consequence.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I think every word Adams ever spoke is of historical importance.

I'm not sure how and when JA's Diary became public, but he most certainly did deny orthodox Christian doctrines there in the 1750s AND he noted conversations with the orthodox then where he disputed their doctrines.

For instance, Feb. 13, 1756:

"Major Greene this Evening fell into some conversation with me about the Divinity and Satisfaction of Jesus Christ. All the Argument he advanced was, 'that a mere creature, or finite Being, could not make Satisfaction to infinite justice, for any Crimes,' and that 'these things are very misterious.'

"(Thus mystery is made a convenient Cover for absurdity.)"

Tom Van Dyke said...

JAdams' post presidency is no more important than Jimmy Carter's or Richard Nixon's.

As for the Trinity, it simply was never an issue in the colonial and revolutionary US, any more than the Eucharist was.