OUR secular form of government is an outgrowth of the great religious revolution of three centuries ago—the great Reformation. It was the independence of thought that was there stimulated and the self-reliance then generated that resulted in the free political system of the United States of America. Following Luther and the other Reformers, English philosophers and reformers developed social and political theories until the ultimate conception was the absolute freedom incorporated in our national Constitution.
Notwithstanding this fact, there are those who speak of our system as the outgrowth of Gallican atheism, etc.—blind to all the evidence that American history and American writers afford. John Adams wrote the following in his “Defense of the Constitutions” of Government of the United States of America:—
The English nation, for its improvements in the theory of government, has, at least, more merit with the human race than any other among the moderns. The late most beautiful and liberal speculations of many writers, in various parts of Europe are manifestly derived from English sources. Americans, too, ought forever to acknowledge their obligations to English writers, or rather have as good a right to indulge a pride in the recollection of them as the inhabitants of the three kingdoms. The original plantation of our country was occasioned, her continual growth has been promoted, and her present liberties have been established, by these generous theories. There have been three periods in the history of England, in which the principles of government have been anxiously studied, and very valuable productions published, which at this day, if they are not wholly forgotten in their native country, are perhaps more frequently read abroad than at home.
These three periods he refers to as (1) the English Reformation, producing writers whose works set men everywhere to thinking; (2) the Interregnum (Cromwellian period—the Commonwealth), producing “Harrington, Milton, the Vindicie contra Tyrannos, and a multitude of others;” and (3) the English Revolution, producing Sidney, Locke, Hoadley, Trenchard, Gordon, and many others.
In all these movements, the leading religious thought of the times played the leading part, and, in general, developed the governmental philosophy. Especially Milton and Locke in England, and Roger Williams in America. In fact, “secularism” is sometimes called “the Miltonian right of schism,” as by Professor Gervinus, indicating its Christian origin.
Madison also referred it to the teachings of Christ, through the Reformation, which “through the genius and courage of Luther” opened up the agitation on the question of civil government and religion, making the world realize their duty to render unto Cesar that which is Cesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.
The greatest statesmen of the times also made the claim that American ideas were the direct outgrowth of the grand ideas for which English reformers had suffered and died. Burke, in his famous speech on “Conciliation with America,” attributed the American spirit to the fact that the colonists were of English descent, and “therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.” Some in Parliament even went so far as to call Washington’s army, “our army,” and the principles of the colonists, “our principles.”
Francis Lieber, in his work “On Civil Liberty and Self-Government” (London, 1853), page 214, says:—
American liberty belongs to the great division of Anglican liberty [contradistinguished from Gallican liberty]. It is founded upon the checks, guarantees, and self-government of the Anglican tribe. The trial by jury, the representative governments, the common law, self-taxation, the supremacy of the law, publicity, the submission of the army to the Legislature, and whatever else has been enumerated, form part and parcel of our liberty. There are, however, features and guarantees which are peculiar to ourselves, and which, therefore, we may say constitute American liberty, They may be summed up, perhaps, under these heads: Republican federalism, strict separation of the State from the Church, greater equality and acknowledgment of abstract right in the citizen, and a more popular or democratic cast of the whole polity.”
These last features, however, are but the logical outgrowth of the principles of Anglican liberty.
Mr. Eben Greenough Scott, also, after summing up the successive steps of liberty and enlightenment following the great Reformation, in the introduction to his work, “The Development of Constitutional Liberty in the English Colonies of America,” says:—
The United States of America, then, are results of that mighty force, which, bounding into existence through the throes of the Reformation, still continues its triumphant march.
Hence, the present agitators of secularism are simply the men who are carrying on the work of the Reformation.