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Summary evidence of Calvinistic influence upon early America

Patriots should know the history of Christian influence.
Patriots should know the history of Christian influence.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Christians decry modern historical errors, pointing to historical facts that our founders were specifically conservative Christians. Yet, how many conservative Christians know that it was not a generic conservative Christianity that substantially created America but rather Calvinism?

American historian, George Bancraft, asserted:

"He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty."

Yale history professor, George Fisher, who thought the similarities between Roman Catholics and Protestants greater than their differences, wrote:

“How is it, then, that Calvinism is acknowledged, even by foes, to have promoted powerfully the cause of civil liberty? The reason lies in the boundary line which it drew between church and State. Calvinism would not surrender the peculiar notions of the Church to the civil authority. Whether the church, or the Government, should regulate the administration of the Sacrament, and admit or reject the communicants, was the question which Calvin fought out with the authorities at Geneva…Calvinism and Romanism are the antipodes of each other."

Consider the following scholarly assessment of Religion and Ethics encyclopedia:

“In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings.”

Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, an Austrian Roman Catholic intellectual and National Review contributor asserted:

“If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather…the prevailing spirit of Americans before and after the War of Independence was essentially Calvinistic in both its brighter and uglier aspects.”

Historian Leyburn, of Washington & Lee University, wrote an essay in the American Heritage Magazine, which stated:

“A Hessian captain wrote in 1778, ‘Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.’ King George was reported to have characterized the Revolution as ‘a Presbyterian war,’ and Horace Walpole told Parliament that ‘there is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it.’ "

Historian, Daniel Elazer, a member of presidential committees and of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, eloquently summarized:

“A majority of the delegates to the Convention were affiliated with covenant-based churches…The Presbyterians, however, were already moving toward full-scale federalism. As Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., noted: ‘More than either [the Congregationalists or Anglicans] the Presbyterians in their reliance on federalist and representative institutions anticipated the political makeup of the future United States.’ Indeed, as the first government came into office under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the Presbyterians held their first nationwide General Assembly. In the Presbyterian system, congregations in a local area formed a presbytery; several presbyteries in a region formed a synod; and then came the General Assembly. As a result, the system of federal democracy established by the U.S. Constitution has often been referred to as Presbyterianism writ large for civil society…”

More can be written. But this should be enough to challenge the modern stereotypes and misconceptions. Calvinism did not single-handedly create America. But its influence was strongly felt. Lord willing, to recreate such a culture that helped birthed a free country, conservative Christians will have to discover the Reformation.

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