Evidential Errors Abound
Hall argues that Calvinism’s teaching concerning total depravity and sin caused the founders to embrace separation of powers, checks and balances, limited government, and federalism. But the founders actually saw man as an alloy of virtue and vice. Madison said the good and virtuous qualities in man are present “in a higher degree” than man’s bad qualities and that self-government can’t work unless that is true (Federalist #55).
Hall regularly uses the words “sin” and “sinful” in relation to the founders’ views in this area, but they didn’t use the Christian or Calvinist word “sin,” preferring less judgmental words such as “weakness” and “venality.” The founders didn’t cite the Bible or Calvin when making these arguments and establishing institutions based on them. When not crediting Montesquieu, they cited “history” and “the least fallible guide”: experience.
In 1744, Elisha Williams based a sermon on the teachings of John Locke, calling him (already by that time) “the celebrated Mr. Lock.” References to Locke are ubiquitous throughout the period. Hall argues Locke wasn’t influential, largely because his work wasn’t printed in America until 1773. But Hall argues the Bible was all-important—despite not being printed in English in America until 1782! It’s not clear why a reference to Locke must come from an edition published in America in order to indicate influence. Hall doesn’t mention that, according to Lutz’s authoritative study, there were more Locke citations than to all Reformed thinkers combined, and that Locke is mentioned in 19 of the 28 pages in Lutz’s chapter on influences.