The single most paradoxical aspect of American history is that though the country’s Founding Fathers were deists and not Christians, the nation got off to a Christian start nonetheless. Both the American Revolution and the founding documents arising from it turned out to be—often in spite of the motives of their creators—fully compatible with historic Christian faith. In this sense our national origins might be said to exemplify the fundamental principle of divine economy that men are saved by God’s free grace and not by their own works—“lest any man should boast!”

True enough, as Staughton Lynd (Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism) and others with radical axes to grind maintain, the deists were the ones who in particular strove for revolution, having confidence in their own ability to define the eternal moral law and lacking any restraint from biblical revelation. Moreover, studies of the Loyalists by Mary Beth Norton and other specialists have emphasized the extent to which the Christians among them relied upon Romans 13: the believer’s duty to be subject to the governmental powers under which he lives. Indeed, in the Federalist reaction that occurred some years after the Revolution, President Timothy Dwight of Yale—one of the great names in evangelical Christianity during Revolutionary times—could say that the Revolution had “unhinged the principles, the morality, and the religion of the country more than could have been done by a peace of forty years.”

But the support of orthodox Christians for separation from the mother country was at least as powerful as opposition to it. One thinks at once of Revolutionary general John Peter Muhlenberg (eldest ...

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