AMERICA, GOD, AND SLAVERY

By Steven Buckardt

America has forgotten where it comes from and what it was all about. America was a nation that once unabashedly declared to be a Christian nation following the laws of the Creator.

America has also forgotten much of its own history when people celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. If you ask people why America separated from Great Britain, most would respond by saying “taxation without representation.”

Taxation without representation was certainly one aspect, but it was a lesser one compared to many others. It was grievance number 17 out of 27, listed alongside Britain’s suppression of immigration and interference with foreign trade.

The Declaration put far more emphasis on thing like the abuse of representative powers, military powers, and judicial powers. So, why is it that so many people today believe taxation was the main reason America separated from Great Britain?

The answer is the re-writing of history, especially in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Several historical authors, including Fairfax Downey, and Charles and Mary Beard seemed to believe that money was the only motivating factor in life. They put emphasis on economics in their approach to history. The only economic clause in the Declaration was “taxation without representation.”

Generations in America have now been taught that economics is the only thing that matters. Political elections seem to bear that out. How often do election polls show that the economy is the most important issue to voters? How many times have you heard pundits give advice to politicians to “stick to the economy” in order to win an election?

Modern culture has deemed economics more important than moral issues such as lying and adultery. Is it no wonder that so many liars, thieves, and adulterers get elected these days? However, history books written prior to those authors paint a very different picture. Issues that motivated individuals in early America were not primarily based on economics.

In 1762, America’s first missionary society was chartered. It was called “The Society to Propagate the Gospel among Indians and Others in North America.” Americans were in favor of the idea, but King George III saw it as a threat to the nationally established Church, so he vetoed the charter.

America’s founders were alarmed by the actions of the King. They saw the veto as a threat to religious liberty. Charles Carroll and Samuel Adams, both Founding Fathers, cited religious freedom as a reason they became involved in the American Revolution.

Then, there was the issue of slavery. If you get a public education in modern day America, you might come out of it with the belief that America’s Founding Fathers were a bunch of racist slave owners. It is true that some were pro-slavery, but as David Barton explains in his book, “The Role of Pastors and Christians in Civil Government,” most were anti-slavery and some Colonies were attempting to end slavery and believed separating from the British Empire was necessary to abolish slavery.

In 1773, Pennsylvania passed a law to end slavery. Other colonies followed. However, the King vetoed those laws. King George III was pro-slavery, Great Britain practiced slavery, and as along as America was part of the British Empire, it too would practice slavery.

Henry Laurens, a President of Congress during the American Revolution said, “I abhor slavery. [But] I was born in a country where slavery had been established by British kings and parliaments…ages before my existence.” (David Barton, The Role of Pastors and Christians in Civil Government, p.5)

Ending slavery was so important to many Founders, that when America did separate from Great Britain in 1776, several States began abolishing slavery including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.

Thomas Jefferson included a strong denunciation of the slave trade in the original draft of the Declaration, but delegates from Georgia and South Carolina complained to get the clause removed in favor of a milder condemnation instead. That didn’t deter many Founders from wanting to end slavery.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

America’s first anti-slavery society was founded in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush, whom were both signers of the Declaration of Independence. Considering the society was formed two years before separation from Great Britain, it was an act of civil disobedience. Dr. Rush, a devout Christian, even went on to head the national abolition movement.

Many Founders were religiously motivated in their desire to abolish slavery. John Quincy Adams harbored such a hatred for slavery and fought so relentlessly to abolish it that he was nicknamed “the hell-hound of abolition.” Adams cited Luke 4 when he declared abolition to be a goal of the Savior and one all Christians should pursue.

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush

The importance of clergy in forming America and abolishing slavery cannot be understated. John Adams declared that Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew and Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper were two of the most influential people awakening American principles that led to independence.

Other ministers such as Rev. George Whitfield, Rev. James Caldwell, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Edwards, Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, and his brother Rev. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, were instrumental in providing leadership and moral clarity.

Church leaders in the early America taught a practical Christianity. No matter what occurred or what the issue happened to be, they consulted the Bible and waited on God to provide answers. America is in desperate need of spiritual giants to provide that type of leadership again today.

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