Early Americans Studied the Bible
Nearly every state of the Union has now followed the federal requirements and guidelines to instigate a rigid set of curriculum standards in nearly every subject taught in elementary, middle, and high school. Teachers are required to include these very specific items in their instruction and to show where they are assessing the students' mastery of these standards. Most states now require students to pass a rigid state test based on these standards in order to graduate.
One of the interesting trends that have been observed in the development of Social Studies standards in the states is the fascination with ancient Greece and Rome. It is assumed now in nearly every history and political science class in high school and college that the roots of our American system of government can be found in an in-depth study of these two civilizations.
America's Founding Fathers would disagree.
The Founders of America had an incredible and extensive knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. After all, if one is seeking for ideas on how to form a government, books on ancient democracies and republics would be most attractive. And the Founders read the Greek and Roman classics extensively, even more so than we do today. But what is startling to some is the fact that many of the ideas presented in those books were rejected by the Founders. While appreciating the perspective of those in these ancient civilizations, the Founders looked to other sources for their real insights into civil liberty and a proper structure of government that would protect the liberties of the people. They rejected the materialism and secularism of Greece and Rome.
Instead, America's Founders turned to the Bible for their roots and examples. Dr. Skousen explains:
"Recently, Dr. Donald S. Lutz and Dr. Charles S. Hyneman made an extensive study to determine which books the Founders relied upon for the basic ideas that went into the formulation of the United States Constitution.
"They reviewed an estimated 15,000 items, and closely perused the political content of 2,200 books, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and monographs which were published between 1760 and 1805. The most significant items were selected which amounted to 916 articles. These were carefully analyzed and numerically coded as to content as well as the references cited by the leaders of that era.
"It very quickly became apparent where the focus of interest was concentrated in the minds of the Founding Fathers. Of the thousands of citations quoted to support their ideas, 34% came from one source -- the Bible. Most of these were from the book of Deuteronomy which is the Book of God's Law.
"Other citations were scattered over a broad spectrum of writings from historians, philosophers and political thinkers including Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke, Coke, Cicero, and other intellectual luminaries from the so-called 'Enlightenment.' But the linchpin that united their thinking on every important principle was the Bible." (Skousen, The Majesty of God's Law , p.1)
American Political Structure is Rooted in the Bible
While some of the elements of American government can be found in other civilizations, the Founders felt that the full beauty and advantage of these institutes of government was reflected in the inspired system set up by Moses in ancient Israel. For example:
- The national assembly of the whole people -- the House of Representatives
- The body of seventy "wise men" chosen from among the "Elders of Israel" -- the Senate
- The executive who administered the laws, set up the monetary system, provided for national defense -- the President
- The judges, chosen from the most mature and honest - the Judiciary
The Mosaic code was made for a unitary republic of one nationality and one faith. That is why some of the above functions were performed by the same people, for example, some of the administrators were also the judges. When the American Founders discussed how it might be possible to apply these concepts to a pluralistic society of many nationalities and many faiths, they finally accepted the suggestion of John Adams (who relied on his study of Montesquieu) to have these functions be separate. This doctrine was called "the separation of powers."
American Economic and Social Structure is Rooted in the Bible
Not only did the Bible provide the model for the political structure the Founders were seeking but it was also the only reliable source for social and economic truths which they felt would ensure a free, prosperous, and happy people under this political structure. Such concepts as equality of mankind, unalienable rights, private and public virtue, individual worth, etc., were not found in any other writings in any other civilization to the extent they were found in the Bible. The Founders knew only the Bible contained the necessary ingredients for the society they envisioned and would produce:
- A covenant society following somewhat the pattern of the Mayflower Compact signed by 41 men on November 11, 1620.
- "A Constitution" -- as John Adams said -- "made only for a moral and religious people." Then he added, "It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
- A nation of virtuous citizens who are prudent, responsible, and public spirited.
- A cadre of virtuous leaders with a vibrant sense of public service and a high resolve to fulfill the aspirations of the Founders.
- A population divided into small, manageable units where every adult has a voice and a vote.
- A system of strong, local self-government, with only limited and necessary powers assigned to the state and national governments.
- A structure of society built on close-knit family unity.
- A strong moral and religious people who recognize the manifest destiny of the United States and the clear evidence of divine intervention in the affairs of this nation from its beginning.
- A universal moral and religious ethic in business, government and society, but a clear separation of church and state.
- A system of justice based on reparation to the victim where possible, and appropriate punishment where necessary.
- A corps of honest, firm and fair-minded judges who will faithfully guard the Constitution against subversion or unlawful usurpation of power by the various departments of government.
- The protection of life and property with a law enforcement policy which makes certain that crime does not pay.
- A well-informed citizenry with comprehensive education in basic knowledge and practical skills.
- A dynamic competitive economy based on a strong and efficient work ethic and high production goals.
- A sound monetary system based on gold and silver and no credit or currency except that which is backed 100% by tangible assets and precious metal.
- A low tax structure designed to encourage home ownership and the launching of new business enterprises.
- No national debt except that which can be readily paid off by each generation.
- A strong emphasis on private social security with a home free and clear and a community life that can insure its inhabitants against disability, unemployment, retirement, and provide comprehensive health service.
- Compassionate concern for the poor, the weak, and the handicapped.
- Encouragement of private loans to the poor without interest to help them become independent and self-sufficient. (For a full treatment of this subject, see Skousen, The Majesty of God's Law , Chapters 1-9)
Some early congressmen felt so strongly in favor of Biblical principles and such disgust for the policies of the British monarchy that they even put forth the idea that Hebrew be adopted as our national language! Until 1817, annual commencement addresses at Harvard were delivered in Hebrew, and at Yale, Hebrew was required for all freshmen. Many lower schools also stressed Hebrew.
The Founders Attempt to Popularize Biblical Law
In 1639, the first written Constitution in America was prepared for Connecticut by Rev. Thomas Hooker and his friends. It was based on the first chapter of Deuteronomy. Later, the settlers of Rhode Island copied it for their own constitution.
Around 143 years later, following the Declaration of Independence, these two states were the only ones that had the political structure required for a self-governing commonwealth, and they were the only states that did not have to write new constitutions after the national Constitution was adopted.
For these two states, the principles of God's Law in the first chapter of Deuteronomy proved superior to any precepts used by the other states.
Eventually, most of New England took a leaf from the first chapter of Deuteronomy and organized their communities on the basis of approximately 100 families per unit just as Moses had organized ancient Israel. These units in New England consisting of approximately 100 families were called "wards" -- which in the Bible meant a "watched over" or "guarded" place.
The Founders Warned Not to Depart from the Bible
The Founders seemed to have a sense that forces were at work then and would be at work in later years to detract Americans from their reliance on the Bible as the source of their government, their laws, and the happiness of the people. Listen to their counsel and warning:
Benjamin Rush ( signer of the Declaration of Independence)
"The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools. The Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life. It should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public temporal happiness."
Fisher Ames (author of House language of the First Amendment)
"Why should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impresses in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind"
"Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited.What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be. I have examined all [religions]. and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen"
John Quincy Adams
"To a man of liberal education, the study of history is not only useful, and important, but altogether indispensable, and with regard to the history contained in the Bible.it is not so much praiseworthy to be acquainted with as it is shameful to be ignorant of it"
"To the free and universal reading of the Bible in that age, men were much indebted for right views of civil liberty. The Bible is.a book which teaches man his own responsibility, his own dignity, and his equality with his fellow man."
Somehow, Americans need to again recapture the reverence and respectability for the Bible. It seems that history, in its cyclical, repetitive nature, will demand that we do it-one way or the other. Perhaps a good place to start is for each of us to undertake a serious study of this incredible book.
Earl Taylor, Jr.