As those of us in the United States this week celebrate freedom from British governance, consider the many ways that Presbyterianism influenced the decision to enter a war for independence and take up arms against a magistrate:
- Only a Presbyterian understanding of Romans 13 would allow us to enter a war. The Bible calls for submission to magistrates, but Presbyterians understood the nuances that allowed for rebellion against tyranny. (See James M. Wilson's Establishment and Limits of Civil Goverment for an exposition of Romans 13.)
- It was psalm singing Presbyterians like Rev. James Caldwell who helped win some battles--when paper for musket wads was unable to be found--Isaac Watts' Hymnbook was used instead. "Give 'em Watts, boys!"
- King George referred to the war for Independence as the "Presbyterian rebellion." The Anglicans were never fans of rebellious presbyterians.
- The prime minister of England, Horace Walpole said in Parliament that "Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson."
- “The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure...so intense, universal, and aggressive were the Presbyterians in their zeal for liberty..." Lorainne Boettner in "Calvinism in America."
- Historians note: "When Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate defeat and surrender at Yorktown, all of the colonels of the Colonial army but one were Presbyterians elders. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Presbyterians.”
- One German mercenary soldier wrote home: "Call this war by whatever name you may... it is nothing more or less than a Scots-Irish Presbyterian rebellion.”
- British troops, knowing the role of the Presbyterians in the war, turned Presbyterian church buildings into stables--or sometimes choosing to burn them to the ground.
- Joseph Galloway, former speaker of the house, fled back to England, blaming Presbyterians for the war, calling it a "religious quarrel."
- Harvard historian, Dr. G. Bancroft notes: “The first public voice in America for dissolving all connection with Great Britain came not from the Puritans of New England, the Dutch of New York, nor the Planters of Virginia, but from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the Carolinas.”
As you wave sparklers in the air, crack open a few cold ones, eat grilled meat, and watch the fireworks, remember that God used Presbyterians to give liberty in the new world. Have you thanked a Presbyterian today?
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