Thursday, April 19, 2012

The "Black Regiment"

Elisha Williams, a follower of George Whitefield, published a pamphlet in 1744 which discussed equality and liberty. Natural liberty, as Williams defined the term meant freedom from any superior earthly power and subjection only to the law of nature. Williams explained the 'law of nature' to be the law of God.

As Reason tells us, all are born thus naturally equal, i.e. with an equal Right to their Persons; so with an equal Right to the Preservation; and therefore to such Things as Nature affords for their Subsistence...Thus every Man having a natural Right to...his own Person and his Actions and Labor, which we call Property; it certainly follows, that no Man can have a Right to the Person or Property of another: And if every Man has a Right to his Person and Property; he has also a Right to defend them, and a Right to all necessary Means of Defense, and so has a Right of punishing all Insults upon His Person and Property.”

Elisha Williams espoused the political philosophy of John Locke and principles which were enunciated throughout the era of the Great Awakening. His statement concerning the limitation of the powers of government reflect the his Lockean philosophy and the principles of the 1st Great Awakening.

[T]heir power is a limited one: and therefore the Obedience due is a limited Obedience.”

Williams referred to John Locke pertaining to what people must do to free themselves from tyranny. Hence, Elisha Williams, a minister of the Gospel in 1744, expressed the same arguments of the patriots of 1770. Subjects and their rulers are bound by a constitution and laws violating natural and constitutional rights are breaches of the law. Hence, laws that violate natural and constitutional rights are NO law which one can lawfully resist. Laws that violate constitutional law require NO obedience.

Clinton Rossiter made this declaration in his work Seedtime of the Republic: The Origin of the American Tradition of Political Liberty

“Here is clear evidence of the transmission through the clergy of the theories of Locke. The importance of this and like pamphlets is this; they show the thinking and the theory that came out in the Revolutionary period were uttered not alone in theoretical sermons but in practical disputes and controversies over church and individual rights long before the trouble with England arose.”

There are several sermons and pamphlets that address the political theories of John Locke and the influence of Calvinism upon political thought before 1770.

Sermons advanced the proposition that law which contradicts natural rights are null and void. In 1673, Jonathan Mayhew declared that true religion comprised love of liberty and ones country. Furthermore, Mayhew held that true religion comprised a hatred of all tyranny and oppression. Mayhew expressed the common convictions of the clergymen throughout the colonies that civil liberty which the American colonists cherished received its chief sanction from their common Christian faith.

Resistance to oppression was a favorite topic in Yankee pulpits. Twenty-five years prior to Paul Revere's ride to Concord and Lexington Jonathan Mayhew preached the following words:

It is blasphemy to call tyrants and oppressors God's ministers...When [magistrates] rob and ruin the public, instead of being guardians of its peace and welfare, they immediately cease to be the ordinance and ministers of God, and no more deserve that glorious character than common pirates and highwaymen.”

Fifteen years later, Jonathan Mayhew responded to the dreaded Stamp Act with these admonishments:

“The king is as much bound by his oath not to infringe the legal rights of the people, as the people are bound to yield subjection to him. From whence it follows that as soon as the prince sets himself up above all law, he loses the king in the tyrant. He does, to all intents and purposes, unking himself by acting out of and beyond that sphere which the constitution allows him to move in, and in such cases he has no more right to be obeyed than an inferior officer who acts beyond his commission. The subject's obligation to allegiance then ceases, of course, and to resist him is more more rebellion than to resist any foreign is making use of the means, and the only means which God has put into their power for mutual and self-defense.”

After the Stamp Act was repealed Mayhew declared:

God gave the Israelites a king in His anger, because they had not sense and virtue enough to like a free commonwealth, and to have Himself for their king. That the Son of God came down from heaven to make us 'free indeed' and that 'where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,' this made me conclude that freedom was a great blessing...And who knows, our liberties being thus established, but that on some future occasion, when the kingdoms of earth are moved and roughly dashed one against another....we, or our posterity, may even have the great felicity and honor to 'save much people alive.' and keep Britain herself from ruin!”

The members of the clergy throughout the colonies became more outspoken as conflict with Great Britain became imminent. The clergymen – the men of the “black regiment” were outspoken in their staunch opposition to oppressive government.

The power of a group or an individual can at times be best seen through the eyes of an opponent. Peter Oliver was the last chief justice of the colonial regime in Massachusetts. He detested dissenting ministers whom he considered to be henchmen of patriot James Otis. James Otis (1725 – 1783) realized that Oliver saw from the first the need of securing “the black regiment” if he were to rouse the people. The clergymen of colonial America were called the “black regiment” because of the color of their clerical robes. The British realized that the “black regiment” was key to fanning the flames of resistance among the American colonists.

Boston pastor, Jason Haven preached a widely read sermon in 1769 specifically noted by the English. Haven spoke of the fall of king Charles I and the right of the citizens of Massachusetts to elect a council. Furthermore, he asserted that he hoped the council would continue till the end of time.

Reverend Haven quoted from John Locke on the right of resistance to everyone who was to encroach upon the natural and constitutional rights of the colonists. He declared that the people had the duty, right and privilege to call those in authority to account. The people had the right to take from them power whenever abused.

Prior to the Revolution, American clergymen promoted opposition to tyranny by Great Britain within American colleges. As teachers, the clergymen inculcated the principles of government while permitting debate on questions which caused disturbances. Ministers promoted opposition to England through their personal association with students in American colleges.

In 1769, the students of Brown University debated whether or not it was good policy for Americans to establish an independent state while under the conditions of their era.

Alice M Baldwin wrote the following statement in her work The New England Clergy and the American Revolution:

Andrew Eliot, a somewhat conservative man though constantly friendly to the American cause, said in 1769 that the Harvard students had imbibed the spirit of the times and that their declarations and debates were full of the spirit of liberty. This, he said, had been encouraged, even if sometimes it got out of bounds, because their tutors were afraid to check too decidedly a spirit which might thereafter fill the country with patriots.”

The people of Boston and Americans throughout the colonies were excited about the Boston Massacre of March 1770. The Sunday which followed the Massacre was eventful for it greatly excited the people of Boston. Pastor John Lathrop of the Old North Church preached a sermon that Sunday titled: “The Voice of Thy Brother's Blood Cryeth Under Me from the Ground.”

The clergymen of colonial America were bitterly resented by Chief Justice Oliver. He declared before the trial of the British soldiers:

“Pulpits rang their Chimes upon blood Guiltiness, in Order to incite the People.” After the conclusion of the trials the pulpits “rang their Peals of Malice against the Courts of Justice.”

An observer asserted that the people were led by inflammatory sermons to feel as if they may lawfully resist the king's truth as if he were a foreign enemy.

A pamphlet was published by Reverend Isaac Skillman in which he asserted the rights of American colonists. He believed there was a good prospect that Americans would unite. Skillman asserted that if Americans united; they had the right to resist any military forces which they had “by the law of God, of nature and of nations.”

Furthermore, Reverend Skillman argued: 

"Shall a man be deem'd a rebel that supports his own rights? It is the first law of nature, and he must be a rebel to God, to the laws of nature, and his own conscience, who will not do it.”

A gentleman in New York wrote to a friend in London on May of 1774. He excoriated the clergy of New England for their...
“most wicked, malicious and inflammatory harangues...spiriting their godly hearers to the most violent opposition to Government; persuading them that the intention of the Government was to rule them with a rod of iron, and to make them all slaves; and assuring them that if they would rise as one man to oppose these arbitrary schemes, God would assist them.”

Clergymen throughout the American colonies preached resistance to the various laws and acts which the Parliament of Great Britain passed to exercise its alleged authority in order to control the colonies.

By 1774, the clergymen of Boston refused to read any proclamations of the governor and council which were appointed by Great Britain.

General Gage refused to permit a day of fasting and prayer for he believed “the request was only to give an opportunity for sedition to flow from the pulpit.” The clergymen of Boston responded immediately with political sermons in which some were violent in tone. The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts appealed to the clergy of Boston. The clergy of Boston were requested to advise strict obedience to the Continental Congress.

The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts advised the clergy to...

“make the question of the rights of the colonies and the oppressive conduct of the mother country a topic of the pulpit on weekdays.”

The politic-religious sermons of the American clergymen were recognized as having highly significant value by the Continental Congress. It was common for sermons of this nature to be published as patriotic pamphlets.

During the era of colonial America, the pulpit was a primary source of news and current events. The contemporary news media of modern America was non existent. Essentially, the American pulpit was the only place where American citizens would be taught the doctrines of resistance and just warfare.

An observer declared: “During the entire Revolutionary period, the latter [clergy] were leaders and the most potent factors in resistance to British oppression...In the absence of a numerous newspaper press, the political education of the people then as now in sparsely settled regions was conducted largely from the pulpit – or the stump.”

Resistance to tyranny was a subject on which to preach and was one that was to be desired “at all costs.”

Sermons preached throughout American pulpits took on a radical tone. In August of 1775, a small town was burned. A recruiting officer vainly attempted to recruit men from the town of Harpswell, Maine. Reverend Samuel Eaton was asked to speak on Sunday morning to his congregation. Reverend Eaton was a patriotic gentleman and was unwilling to preach the message at the Communion service on Sunday morning. He promised to address the men of his congregation on Sunday evening. Samuel Eaton preached a message titled “Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood” after sundown out of doors before the steps of the meetinghouse. Before the conclusion of the meeting, forty men of his congregation volunteered to serve the cause of American independence.

It is most important to understand the chief objective of these sermons and messages like them. The primary objective of these messages was to state clearly and repeatedly arguments in which men could be assured that they had inalienable rights given to them by their Creator. No one had the right to abuse and dissolve those God given rights.

Colonial American clergymen set forth the requirements of legally constituted government through their sermons. English and colonial governments if not abused were such governments. The clergymen sought to enumerate and enlarge upon the acts by which Parliament and the king abused their power. Furthermore, they sought to establish beyond doubt the legal right, moral duty and necessity of resist the encroachments of their liberty through tyranny.

The American clergymen did NOT refuse to obey constitutional authority but advocated resistance to unconstitutional acts.

Alice M. Baldwin The New England Clergy and the American Revolution

“Though recognizing the provocation to violence and though sometimes encouraging abuse of the Tories, there was many a minister who drew careful distinction between liberty and license. It was the liberty which was to their minds inextricably associated with constitutional, ordered government for which they were fighting.”

It is the sacred duty of a religious Christian people to resist tyranny. The clergy of New England and especially the Congregationalists preached a message of independence and preparation for independence several years before 1776.

The Continental Congress appointed a committee of five men to draft a Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. Thomas Jefferson was the first member of the committee whom the Congress chose. He served as chairman of the committee and wrote the first draft of the infamous document.

Thomas Jefferson has been given importance in forming the political outlook of the era. This is clearly an erroneous understanding of the political situation of colonial America. Actually, the greater influence of the clergy of American churches has been overlooked, ignored and omitted by historians.

The impact of colonial political thinking is far greater than suspected. The written works of clergymen bear out the truth of their profound influence upon political thought of the colonial era.

The Reverend Samuel West is among the clergymen who assisted in forming the basic philosophical foundation which found its way into the Declaration of Independence. Reverend Samuel West addressed the Council House of Representatives in Boston on May 29, 1776. His address to the Council was delivered some weeks before Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Reverend Samuel West (1730 – 1776) declared:

The only difficulty remaining is to determine when a people may claim a right of forming themselves into a body politick, and may assume the powers of legislation. In order to determine this point, we are to remember, that all men being by nature equal, all members of a community have a natural right to assemble themselves together, and to act and vote for such regulations, as they judge are necessary for the good of the whole. But when a community is become very numerous, it is very difficult, and in many cases impossible for all to meet together to regulate the affairs of the state; Hence comes the necessity of appointing delegates to represent the people in a general assembly. And this ought to be look'd upon as a sacred and unalienable right, of which a people cannot justly divest themselves, and which no human authority can in equity ever take from them...that no one be obliged to submit to any laws except such as are made either by himself, or by his representative.
If representation and legislation are inseparably connected, it follows, that when great numbers have emigrated into a foreign land, and are so far removed from the parent state, that they neither are or can be properly represented by the government from which they have emigrated, that then nature itself points out the necessity of their assuming to themselves the powers of legislation, and they have a right to consider themselves as a separate state from the other, and as such to form themselves into a body politik.
When a people find themselves cruelly oppressed by the parent state, they have an undoubted right to throw off the yoke, and to assert their liberty, if they find good reason to judge that they have sufficient power and strength to maintain their ground in defending their just rights against their oppressors: For in this case by the law of self preservation, which is the first law of nature, they have not only an undoubted right, but it is their indispensable duty, if they cannot be redressed any other way, to renounce all submission to the government that has oppressed them, and set up an independent state of their own; even tho' they may be vastly inferior in number to the state that has oppress'd them. When either of the afore-said cases takes place, and more especially when both concur, no rational man (I imagine,) can have any doubt in his mind, whether such a people have a right to form themselves into a body politick, and assume to themselves all the powers of a free state.”

The message of Reverend Samuel West which he delivered to Council House of Representatives in Boston bears a striking similarity to the Declaration of Independence. Reverend West delivered the message on May 29, 1776 a few months before Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. The phraseology and words of the two documents bear a striking similarity to each other.

The similarities become even more apparent when parallel passages are arranged in columns.

Declaration of Independence
Samuel West

Laws of Nature
Law of nature
All men are created equal
All men being by nature equal
Unalienable rights
Unalienable right
It is their right
Undoubted right
It is their duty
Indispensable duty
Throw off such a government
Throw off the yoke
Institute new government
Forming themselves into a body politick
Separate and equal station
To consider themselves a separate state
Assume among the powers
Assuming to themselves the powers of legislation

It is clearly obvious that the Declaration of Independence reflects a broad range of colonial clerical preaching. The broad range of propositions found in the Declaration is greater than those found in any one sermon. The clergy in the churches of colonial America were the sounding boards for the writings of various political pamphleteers. They clergy were often the companions of many of the leaders.

The clergy of American protestant churches contributed to the thought of men within the legislature and those men who became members of the Continental Congress.

Within his diary, John Adams recounts of phrases which were the favorites of a minister he had heard. John Adams carefully studied and cherished the expressions which the clergy preached concerning matters of deep public concern. Often those sermons and messages were printed for public distribution.

The sermons of colonial clergymen formed a solid foundation of integrated thought. The sermons and messages of American clergymen of the colonial period made a most significant contribution to the philosophy of freedom. Those sermons and messages were founded upon the Bible.

Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead in his book An American Dream declared:

In short, colonial sermons formed a solid base of integrated thought. Founded upon the Bible, they made up a large part of the contribution of the philosophy of freedom which began to win a worldwide empire in the minds of men through the conflict which arose with Great Britain. And it would eventually assume a common fabric of rights, resistance, and futuristic optimism within the American psyche.”

Reverend Jonas Clark was the gentleman who drew up the papers urging Bostonians to resist British trade and taxation. He counseled them to seek redress for their wrongs and arm themselves.

Developments of the quarrel with England reached towns throughout the colonies through circular letters carried on horseback by the Sons of Liberty. The letters were sent from a committee formed in Boston in November of 1772. Samuel Adams, the leader of the movement was a committed Christian having been a convert to Christ during the Great Awakening.

In his monumental work The Rise of the Republic, Richard Frothingham wrote: 

“A town meeting was called in Faneuil Hall, to consider the question of the salaries of the judges...In the afternoon, Samuel Adams moved 'that a committee of correspondence be appointed, to consist of 21 persons, to state the rights of the colonies, and of this province in particular, as men, as Christians, and as subjects; to communicate and publish the same to the several towns in this province to the world...
This Report, after long deliberation, was adopted. Six hundred copies were ordered to be printed in a pamphlet, and a copy was directed to be sent to every town in the province. A copy was sent to prominent Whigs in other colonies...
It considered the relations of man not only as a citizen, but as a Christian, and claimed for him that equality which is the cardinal principle of Christianity. It claimed for him, under law, the position to which he is entitled, - the right to make the laws under which he lives, to select his field of labor and enjoy its fruits, and thus claimed fair play for the industrial energy which has contributed so much to the growth and glory of this country...
A few sentences from these responses [to the Report] will show the spirit of the whole... 'It becomes us to rely no longer on the arm of flesh, but on the arm of that all-powerful God who is able to unite the numerous inhabitants of this extensive country as a band of brothers in one common cause...'”

Historian George Bancroft said, 

“The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure. It was a natural outgrowth of the principles which the Presbyterians of the Old World planted in her sons, the English Puritans, the Scotch Covenanters, the French Huguenots, the Dutch Calvinists, and the Presbyterians of Ulster.”

Loraine Boettner quotes an American Tory of the Revolutionary period in a letter home to England.

I fix all the blame for these extraordinary proceedings upon the Presbyterians. They have been the chief and principal instruments in all these flaming measures. They always do and ever will act against government from that restless and turbulent anti-monarchial spirit which has always distinguished them everywhere.”

Prime Minister Horace Walpole made this remark to Parliament: “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson.” Walpole was actually referring to Reverend John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence and direct decedent of John Knox.

E. L. Magoon in his work Orators of the American Revolution describes Witherspoon:

He was lineally descended from John Knox, the moral hero of Scotland, was born near Edinburgh, 1722, and from the time he adopted America as his country, was as much distinguished as a preacher as a patriot. Dr. Witherspoon was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, which he eloquently defended; through a trying period of congressional responsibility he was a very efficient legislator; and for many years performed the duties of a laborious, erudite, and eminently successful president of Princeton College. On taking his seat in Congress, he surprised his associates, as his brother Davies, had surprised the courts of Virginia, with his wonderful knowledge and skill as a civilian. He was associated with Richard Henry Lee and John Adams on several important committees and himself drew many valuable State papers...As soon as the liberties of the country were won, Dr. Witherspoon gladly resumed his classical pursuits and the work of the ministry...”

E.L. Magoon speaks of Dr. Samuel Sillman pastor of the First Baptist Church of Boston:

Standing in the presence of armed foes, he preached with a power that commanded respect...The best orators of every age have been created by the oppressive circumstance, in the midst of which they have suddenly arisen with resistless power, as if they gathered strength and inspiration from the terrors of the storm. When the age needs great men it will find them – heroes not of the timid mimosa kind, who 'fear the dark cloud, and feel the coming sound.' Preachers in Revolutionary times are eminently practical; nature supplies them with abundant ammunition, and necessity teaches them expressly to load and fire. They are the flying artillery of 'the sacramental host of God's elect.'”

John Locke was the son of a Puritan attorney. He felt that Separatists and Presbyterians went too far in their convictions and practices. He returned to England in 1689 having been in exile during the reign of Catholic James II.

James M. Bulman in his book It is there Right quotes Locke who maintained his deference for the Bible. Locke declared: I shall presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation of the Holy Scriptures.”

Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan in 1651 which Locke skillfully contested with a powerful rebuttal. Hobbes, the champion of totalitarianism, attacked religious orthodoxy and defended statism. Russell Kirk in The Roots of American Order speaks of Hobbes Leviathan

“To Hobbes, the state was a vast, necessary beast, Leviathan...Hobbes' system offered freedom from Church, town, guild, and local authorities – but in exchange for servitude to Leviathan.”

Locke, in secularized form, echoed Samuel Rutherford. Locke asserted; the people must hold political sovereignty in their hands. They are the ones to delegate power to a legislative body. John Locke deplored the “divine right of kings,” and believed that society was the result of a voluntary contract among men equal in a state of nature. Hence, the purpose of government was to protect the life, liberty, and property of all its citizens.

These ideas did not originate from Locke. Samuel Rutherford proclaimed the principles in his monumental work Lex, Rex which was published in 1644!

The principles which Rutherford postulated concerning republicanism were those of John Calvin of Geneva. Sir James Stephens, English statesmen and jurist summarized Calvin's four basic points his work Lectures on the History of France:

  1. The will of all the people was the one legitimate source of the power of rulers;

  1. The power was most properly delegated by the people, to their rulers, by means of elections...

  1. The clergy and laity were entitled to an equal and coordinate authority;

  1. Between the Church and State, no alliance, or mutual dependence, or other definite relation, necessarily or properly existed.”

King James I clearly understood the implications of Calvinism for he observed: 

“Presbytery agreeth as well with monarchy as God with the devil.”

Historian George Bancroft referred to the “Political character of Calvinism, which with one Consent and with instinctive judgment the monarchs of that day feared as republicanism.”

Alexis-Charles-Henri ClĂ©rel de Tocqueville called Calvinism: 

“a democratic and republican religion.”

J.C. Monsma analyzed Calvinism as applied to government:

The government is God's servant. That means that AS MEN all government officials stand on an equal footing with their subordinates; have no claim to superiority in any sense whatever...For exactly the same reason the Calvinist gives preference to a republican form of government over any other type. In no other form of government does the sovereignty of God, the derivative character of government power and the equality of men as men, find a clearer or more eloquent expression.”

I am indebted to Constitutional attorney, John W. Whitehead author of The Second American Revolution and An American Dream  
Thanks to Patricia O. Brooks author of The Return of the Puritans  
I am gratefully thankful to Reverend Peter Marshall author of The Light and the Glory 
I wish to thank David Barton of Wallbuilders 
I am also most thankful to Francis A. Schaeffer author of The Christian Manifestro and How Should We then Live? - the Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture  

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