Recent years have witnessed a new birth of interest in the theological aspects of the American Revolution. People of diverse theological positions have claimed the Declaration of Independence for their respective camps. Evangelicals have rejoiced to identify the origins of the nation with the historic Christian faith, while Unitarians and champions of even more radical positions claim the document as their own. Before a positive claim is laid by either group, it is important to assess the position of Jefferson and his associates in terms of the theological and philosophical outlook of the eighteenth century in the light of the twentieth century. Such an evaluation offers embarrassments to both parties. On the one hand, it is quite obvious that the Unitarianism of the eighteenth century, with its strong reverence for Jesus Christ and its devotion to the Christian ethic, is not that of our day, but on the other hand, it is also quite true that most of the leaders of the Revolutionary movement were not evangelicals.
Although nearly all of them were deeply indebted to the biblical heritage for their ethical and political philosophy, the long-cherished belief that the leaders of the American Revolution were evangelical Christians is open to serious question in the light of the theological and intellectual developments which had been taking place in the colonies after 1700. Deism and Unitarianism had been slowly but steadily gaining influence in the colonial mind since 1720, or so, and by 1776 they could claim a considerable following among the intellectual classes in most of the colonies. The identification of the Natural Rights philosophy with the cause of American independence gave to both Deism and Unitarianism a respectability ...1
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