William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

The Christian Colonial Foundation of America

by William Einwechter
The Christian Statesman
July—August 1999

The history of the founding of the United States of America is important for our
understanding of who we are, and why, in the providence of God, this nation came into being. But where do we look for this understanding? Many look to the time of our Declaration of Independence from England and the constitutional settlement of 1787. The men who declared independence, guided the nation through the war with England, and drafted and ratified the Constitution of the United States of America are often referred to as our "Founding Fathers"; the period of time in which these men lived and these momentous events took place as the founding era of our country.

As important as the Declaration of Independence, the War for Independence, and
the Constitution were, and as important as men such as Adams, Washington,
Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison were, we should not look here for the
foundations of the United States. No, the actual foundations of this nation were
laid in the colonial period. It was during that era that the intentions of God
for America were made explicit; it was during that period that the true moral,
legal, and spiritual foundation of the nation were laid; it was then that our
forefathers defined America and bound themselves and their descendents to the
terms of that definition. Therefore, if we are to understand our roots as a
people, we should not look to 1776-1787 or the founding fathers of that era but
to the colonial period and the founding fathers of that era.

What was the original plan of the founders for the new land they had come to
colonize? Why did they leave their homelands for the uncertainty of the wilds of
America? The historical record reveals that the founding fathers of the colonial
era came to America to advance the kingdom of Christ; to propagate the gospel;
to plant churches where they would be free to worship God according to their
understanding of Scripture; and to establish civil governments that would be
based on the notions of justice and liberty revealed in the Bible. In short,
they came to establish colonies that would be explicitly Christian.

The original vision for America was that this new land would be the home of a
great Christian people who would live together in peace with vibrant churches
and a Christian civil government. Evidence to demonstrate this is at hand in the
writings of the founding fathers of the colonial period and in the official
documents of church and state from that period. The evidence selected for this
article will be grouped under five headings: 1) Purpose for Settling America; 2)
Religious Liberty; 3) The Biblical Standard for Law; 4) Oaths of Office and
Citizenship; 5) Sabbath and Blasphemy Laws.

Purpose for Colonizing America

There were a variety of reasons for why the early colonists came to America, but
one that stands out was their desire to advance the kingdom of God and the
gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the first Charter of Virginia (1606), England claimed the right to colonize
the land of America between the 34th and 45th parallels of latitude, which land
they called "Virginia." One of the stated goals for settling Virginia was that
"by the Providence of Almighty God" this work would "hereafter tend to the Glory
of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as
yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship
of God...." Thus, the glory of God through the propagation of the Christian
faith was acknowledged as one of the chief purposes for the colonization of
America in the territory of "Virginia."

The settlement of New England by the Pilgrims and Puritans was based in large
measure on a desire to advance the kingdom of God. While the Pilgrims were still
in Holland they discussed at length the possibility of and the reasons for the
moving of their congregation to America. In summarizing the results of their
deliberations, William Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation states their fourth
reason for coming to America:

Lastly (and which was not least), a great hope and inward zeal they had of
laying some way thereunto, for propagating and advancing the gospel of the
kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should
be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a

This desire of the Pilgrims to advance the kingdom of Christ was then formally
stated in the Mayflower Compact (1620): "Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honor of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the Northern parts of Virginia...." With the Charter for Massachusetts Bay (1629) the way was opened for the Puritan migration to New England. But why would a Puritan want to leave the comforts of England for the harshness and suffering of a new colony in a wild land? Cotton Mather in Magnalia Christi Americana transcribed a manuscript that contained eight reasons for undertaking the settlement of Massachusetts Bay. Two of the reasons were stated as follows:

First, It will be a Service unto the Church of great Consequence, to carry the
Gospel into those Parts of the World, and raise a Bulwark against the Kingdom
of Antichrist, which the Jesuits labour to Rear up in all parts of the World.
Seventhly, What can be a better or nobler Work, and more worthy of a
Christian, than to erect and support a reformed particular Church in its
Infancy, and unite our Forces with such a Company of Faithful People, as by a
timely Assistance may grow Stronger and Prosper; but for want of it, may be
put to great Hazards, if not be wholly Ruined.

Note that the task of colonizing New England is seen in terms of a service of
"great consequence" to the church, i.e., to the kingdom of Christ. The Puritans
desired to carry the gospel of Christ to the new world and raise in America a
bulwark of truth against all anti-Christian error. The truth of God being most
clearly set forth in the Reformed Faith, they came to establish Reformed
churches. The Puritans' driving motive was not personal gain or glory; their aim
was the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.

The Charter of Massachusetts Bay, issued by authority of Charles I on March 4,
1629, states the hope that the people of this colony "may be so religiously,
peaceably, and civilly governed, as their good Life and orderly Conversation,
may win and incite the Natives of Country, to the Knowledge and Obedience of the only true God and Savior of Mankind, and the Christian Faith, which in our Royal Intention, and the Adventurers free Profession, is the principal End of this

Before setting sail for New England the Puritan colonists drew up the Agreement
of the Massachusetts Bay Company at Cambridge, England on August 26, 1629. This Agreement is similar in function to the Mayflower Compact. In the Agreement these Christian men stated their purpose for coming to America:

Upon due consideration of the state of the plantation now in hand for New
England, wherein we (whose names are hereunto subscribed) have engaged
ourselves: and having weighed the greatness of the work in regard of the
consequences, God's glory and the church's good...fully and faithfully agreed
amongst us, and every one of us doth hereby freely and sincerely promise and
bind himself in the word of a Christian and in the presence of God who is the
searcher of all hearts, that we will so really endeavor the prosecution of his
work, as by God's assistance we shall be ready....

This Agreement indicates that the "work" of settling a colony in New England was
considered to be "his work," i.e., God's work for the glory of His name and the
good of His church.

In his celebrated sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," delivered on the deck
of the flagship Arabella in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, John Winthrop
affirms that the aim of the Puritans was to establish a Christian colony with
both church and state conforming to the Word of God. In so doing it was
Winthrop's hope that their Christian colony would walk in obedience, love, and
unity so that,

the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and
will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much
more of His wisdom, power, goodness, and truth than formerly we have been
acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of
us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a
praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations: "The Lord make
it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city
upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.

The metaphor of a city upon a hill is taken from the words of Christ to indicate
the witness of His people to a dark world through their "good works," i.e.,
obedience to the law of God. The goal was to raise up in America a testimony to
the truth that "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12).

In 1643 articles were drawn up and approved by the colonies of Massachusetts,
Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven to enter into the "New England
Confederation." In the opening words of the document, the original purpose of
these colonies is stated: "Whereas we all came into these parts of America with
one and the same end and aim, namely, to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace...."

The Fundamentals of West New Jersey (1681) stated the purpose of the colony in the preamble in the following words: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased God, to bring us into this Province of West New Jersey, and settle us here in safety, that we may be a people to the praise and honor of his name, and for the good and
welfare of our posterity to come...."

These statements indicate that America was founded for the purpose of
establishing Christian colonies that would advance the kingdom of Christ and be
a light to the world to the glory of God.

Religious Liberty

The founders of America came in search of religious liberty. It was their desire
to find freedom from the oppression of state churches in Europe that demanded
conformity to the worship and doctrines of the established church. Those such as
the Pilgrims and Puritans believed that the Church of England was compromised in
certain aspects of its doctrine and practice, and sought liberty from the
conformity required by that Church so that they could worship God in the manner
that they discerned in Scripture. They sought "liberty of conscience," i.e.,
freedom to believe and worship in accord with their own understanding of God's

The founders views on religious freedom and liberty of conscience has been much
misunderstood and perverted by secularists in pursuit of a secular society. It
is maintained that religious freedom meant freedom from religion, and liberty of
conscience meant liberty to believe and practice no religion or any religion.
However, the perspective of the founders of the colonial period was quite the

Their view on religious liberty and liberty of conscience was essentially this:
religious freedom meant liberty for all Protestant churches to organize and
teach; and liberty of conscience meant liberty to interpret the Scriptures
within the confines of Protestant Christianity, and to profess and practice your
interpretations without harassment or civil penalties. In New England, the
concept of religious freedom and liberty of conscience was more restricted,
being limited to the confines of the Reformed Faith. Religious freedom did not
mean a secular state, nor did it mean an absolute separation of church and state
(as in Jefferson's "wall of separation"). Liberty of conscience most definitely
did not provide a refuge for atheism, damnable heresies, or immoral practices.
The founders' concept of religious freedom provides strong support that America
was intended to be a Protestant Christian nation where the people of God might
flourish in peace.

In New England, religious liberty was interpreted to mean liberty for Reformed
churches to carry out the principles of the Reformed faith free from the
interference and oppression of the Church of England. The Anglican Church, while Reformed in theology through the Thirty-Nine Articles, was considered
non-Reformed in church government (episcopal) and in worship, where many of the vestiges of Roman Catholicism remained.

Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, where he relates the history of "the
wonders of the Christian Religion, flying from the Depravations of Europe, to
the American Strand," states that the migration to America by the Puritans was
necessitated by the refusal of the Church of England to pursue "the Reformation
of Religion, according to the Word of God, and the Example of the best Reformed Churches...." Those who did seek this reformation were grievously oppressed by the Anglicans, so that "as our Great Owen hath expressed it, 'Multitudes of Pious, Peaceable Protestants, were driven, by their Severities, to leave their Native Country, and seek a Refuge for their Lives and Liberties, with Freedom, for the Worship of God, in a Wilderness, in the Ends of the Earth.'" Mather states of Magnalia Christi Americana:

It is the History of these Protestants, that is here attempted: Protestants
that highly honoured and affected The Church of England, and humbly Petition
to be a Part of it: But by the Mistake of a few powerful Brethren, driven to
seek a place for the Exercise of the Protestant Religion, according to the
Light of their Conscience, in the Deserts of America.

The desire to pursue the reformation of the church according to the Word of God
is reflected in The Watertown Covenant (1630). The people of Watertown said that they undertook "a long and hazardous Voyage from East to West, from Old England in Europe, to New England in America that we may walk before him and serve him, without Fear in Holiness and Righteousness, all the Days of our Lives." Then they went on to declare that they

...Promise, and enter into a sure Covenant with the Lord our God, and before
him with one another, by Oath and serious Protestation made, to Renounce all
Idolatry and Superstition, Will-Worship, all Human Traditions and Inventions
whatsoever, in the Worship of God; and forsaking all Evil Ways, do give
ourselves wholly unto the Lord Jesus, to do him faithful Service, observing
and keeping all his Statutes, Commands, and Ordinances, in all Matters
concerning our Reformation; his Worship, Administrations, Ministry, and
Government; and in the Carriage of our selves among our selves, and one
another towards another as he hath prescribed in his Holy Word.

This is the Puritan concept of religious liberty--liberty to serve God according
to the teaching of the Word of God. This is what the people of Massachusetts,
Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven desired for themselves and their posterity
when they stated in the New England Confederation that they had come to America "to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace."

While religious liberty in New England was generally confined to the practice of
the Reformed Faith, other colonies gave liberty to Christians, who did not
adhere in all points to Reformed doctrine, to establish churches and openly
profess their beliefs. Though broader in their understanding of religious
freedom and liberty of conscience, these colonies still limited that liberty to
Protestant Christians; they did not construe religious liberty to include
atheism, Mohammedanism, or (for most) Roman Catholicism.

Roger Williams and Rhode Island are often considered as champions of full
religious liberty. They did champion religious liberty, but it was for those who
professed the Christian Faith. In seeking a Charter for their plantations from
Charles II they asked for religious freedom. This was granted by Charles in the
Charter for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, July 8, 1663. The language
of the charter reflects the views of the colony on religious liberty. The
Charter refers to the inhabitants as those "pursuing, with peaceable and loyal
minds, their sober, serious, and religious intentions, of godly edifying
themselves, and one another, in the holy Christian faith and worship as they
were persuaded," and then states:

...and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colony cannot,
in their private opinions, conform to the public exercise of religion,
according to the liturgy and forms and ceremonies of the Church of England, or
take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalf;
and for that the same...[I] Have therefore thought fit, and do hereby publish,
grant, order and declare...that no person within the said colony, at any time
hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in
question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not
actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every
person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely
and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in
matters of religious concernments...they behaving themselves peaceably and
quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to
the civil injury or outward disturbance of others.... And that they may be in
the better capacity to defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties
against all the enemies of the Christian faith ...they shall have and enjoy
the benefit ...to create and make them a body politic or corporate, with the
powers and privileges hereinafter mentioned.

Thus, religious liberty was understood in reference to release from conformity
to the Church of England so that a man may live his Christian life according to
his understanding of the Scriptures. This "lively experiment" in religious
liberty was maintained by a people who were concerned to defend themselves
"against all enemies of the Christian faith."

William Penn, proprietor and founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, is
recognized as a champion of liberty of conscience. His colony was a haven for
those seeking religious freedom. But a careful study of his official grants of
religious liberty reveals that such grants were not absolute. It was Penn's
desire to provide a place where Christians, irrespective of their particular
views on religious matters, might live in peace and have the liberty to pursue
their understanding of the Bible.

On December 7, 1682 William Penn issued An Act for Freedom of Conscience. In the preface, he stated that "the glory of almighty God and the good of mankind" is the reason for civil government, and that the Proprietary, Governor, and freeman of the province had as their principal desire "to establish such laws as shall best preserve true Christian and civil liberty in opposition to all unchristian,
licentious, and unjust practices...." Thus, this Act for Freedom of Conscience
was enacted to preserve true Christian liberty against all that is unChristian.
The first article recognizes "Almighty God" as "being only Lord of conscience"
and "in due reverence to his sovereignty over the souls of mankind" that the
terms of this Act are given. It is then stated:

Be it enacted, by authority aforesaid, that no person now or at any time
hereafter living in this province, who shall confess and acknowledge one
almighty God to be the creator, upholder, and ruler of the world, and who
professes him or herself obliged in conscience to live peaceably and quietly
under the civil government, shall in any case be molested or prejudiced for
his or her conscientious persuasion or practice.

The purpose for this protection is that the citizens of the province may "freely
and fully enjoy, his, or hers, Christian liberty." The fact that this Act is for
the protection of Christians and Christian sects is then made clear:
But to the end that looseness, irreligion, and atheism may not creep in under
the pretense of conscience in this province, be it further enacted, by the
authority aforesaid, that, according to the example of the primitive
Christians as for the ease of the creation, every first day of the week,
called the Lord's day, people shall abstain from their usual and common toil
and labor that, whether masters, parents, children, or servants, they may the
better dispose themselves to read the scriptures of truth at home or frequent
such meetings of religious worship abroad as may best suit their respective

That freedom of conscience was intended for professing Christians is seen in
that the people of the province are to keep the Lord's day in rest so that they
might better study the Scriptures in pursuit of biblical truth. It is also clear
that Penn did not want immorality, anti-Christian sentiments, or atheism in his

In part 2 of this Act for Freedom of Conscience, the privilege of voting and
holding civil office is limited to "such as profess and declare they believe in
Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the savior of the world." Part 3 provides
penalties for swearing in "common conversation by the name of God or Christ or
Jesus." Part 4 does the same for any who "shall speak loosely and profanely of
almighty God, Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the scriptures of truth."
Clearly, Pennsylvania was intended to be a Christian colony.

The Charter of Liberties and Privileges for New York was issued on October 30,
1683. It too contained a provision for religious liberty that was specifically
intended for Christians:

That No person or persons which profess faith in God by Jesus Christ Shall at
any time be any ways molested punished disquieted or called in Question for
Difference in opinion or Matter of Religious Concernment, who do not actually
disturb the civil peace of the province, But that all and every such person or
persons may from time to time and at all times freely have and fully enjoy his
or their Judgments or Consciences in matters of Religion throughout all the
province, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this
Liberty to Licentiousness nor to the civil Injury or outward disturbance of

The Standard of Biblical Law

As the early colonists organized their civil governments and drew up the laws
that would govern the colony, where did they look for guidance? To what standard did they repair in pursuit of just laws? In part, and as Englishman, they looked to the laws of England and the common law. Since England was a Protestant nation and the common law was rooted in biblical law, this was a natural thing for those who were establishing Christian colonies. But the primary source for the framing of civil law was the law of God as revealed in Scripture.

One of the most remarkable statements on the source of early colonial law is
found in the 1658 revision of the Pilgrim Code of Law of 1636 that was called
The Book of the General Laws and Liberties of the Inhabitants of New Plymouth.
This Book of Laws and Liberties stated:

To our beloved brethren and Neighbors and Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of
New Plymouth; the Gour: Assistants and Deputies assembled at the general Court
of that Jurisdiction held at the Town of Plymouth the 29th day of September
Anno: Dom: 1658, wisheth grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ; it was the
great privilege of Israel of old and so was acknowledged by them Nehemiah the
9:13 That God gave them right Judgments and true laws; for God being the God
of order and not of confusion hath Commanded in his word; and put man into a
capacity in some measure to observe and be guided by good and wholesome laws which are so far good and wholesome; as by how much they are derived from and agreeable to; the Ancient platform of God's law; for although sundry
particulars in the Judicial law which was of old enjoined to the Jews: did
more especially (at least in some circumstances) befit their Pedagogy; yet are
(they for the main) so exemplary being grounded on principles of moral equity
as that all men; (Christians especially) ought always have an eye thereunto;
in the framing of their Political Constitutions; and although several of the
heathen National who were Ignorant of the true God and of his law have been
famous in their times for the enacting and execution of such laws as have
proved profitable for the Government of their Commonwealth in the times
wherein they lived; yet notwithstanding their excellence appeared so far; as
they were founded upon grounds of moral equity which hath its original from
the law of God; and accordingly we who have been actors in the framing of this
small body of laws together with other useful instruments who are gone to
their rest; can safely say; both for ourselves and them; that we have had an
eye principally and primarily unto the aforesaid platform; and Secondarily
unto the Right Improvement of the liberties granted unto us by our Superiors
the state of England at the first beginning of this infant plantation which
was to enact such laws as should most befit a state in the nonage thereof; not
rejecting or omitting to observe such of the laws of our Native Country as
would conduce unto the good and growth of so weak a beginning as ours in this
Wilderness as any Impartial eye not forestalled with prejudice may easily
discern in the perusal of this small book of laws of our Colony....

It can be safely said, that in all the New England colonies the people and
magistrates had "an eye principally and primarily unto" biblical law in framing
their civil law. In The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts that were set forth
in 1647, it is stated:

The Inhabitants of the Massachusetts, the Governor, Assistants and Deputies
assembled in the General Court of that Jurisdiction with grace and peace in
our Lord Jesus Christ. So soon as God has set up Political Government among
his people Israel he gave them a body of laws of judgment both in civil and
criminal causes. These were brief and fundamental principles, yet withall so
full and comprehensive as out of them clear deductions were to be drawn to all
particular cases in future times.... Therefore among other priviledges which
the Lord bestowed upon his peculiar people, these he calls them specially to
consider of, that God was nearer to them and their laws were more righteous
than other nations.... This has been no small priviledge, and advantage to us
in New-England that our Churches, and civil state have been planted and grown
up (like two twins) together like that of Israel in the wilderness by which we
were put in mind (and had opportunity put into our hands) not only to gather
our Churches, and set up the Ordinances of Christ Jesus in them according to
the Apostolic pattern by such light as the Lord graciously afforded us: but
also withall to frame our civil Polity, and laws according to the rules of his
most holy word....

For this end about nine years we used the help of some of the Elders of our
Churches to compose a model of the Judicial laws of Moses with such other
cases as might be referred to them, with the intent to make sure of them in
the composing of our laws....

The section of the Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts dealing with capital laws
is based entirely on the judicial law of the Old Testament: 15 capital crimes
are listed along with references to the biblical texts upon which they are
based. The Capital Laws of Connecticut, Established by the General Court on
December 1, 1642, follows the same pattern and sets forth 14 capital crimes
along with scriptural authorization for each.

The political covenant established at Exeter in New Hampshire in 1639 bound the
people to establish a Christian government and laws according to the will of
God. The people agreed to

in the name of Christ & in the sight of God combine ourselves together, to
erect & set up amongst us such government as shall be to our best discerning,
agreeable to the will of God...binding ourselves solemnly to such godly &
christian laws as are established in the realm of England to our best
knowledge, & to all other such laws which shall upon good grounds, be made &
enacted amongst us according to God, that we may live quietly & peaceably
together, in all godliness and honesty.

The oath of office for civil rulers in Exeter required them to govern the people
"according to the righteous will of God."

In the Preface to the General Laws and Liberties of Connecticut Colony that was
published by order of the General Court in 1672, it is stated that they are
motivated by

The Serious Consideration of the Necessity of the Establishment of wholesome
Laws, for Regulating of each Body Politic, Hath inclined us mainly in
Obedience unto Jehovah the Great Law-Giver: Who hath been pleased to set down a Divine Platform, not only of the Moral but also of Judicial Laws, suitable
for the people of Israel.... Looking up to God for wisdom and strength to
engage in this solemn Service....

We have endeavored not only to Ground our Capital Laws upon the Word of God, but also other Laws upon the Justice and Equity held forth in that Word, which is a most perfect Rule.

In 1638, the second Rhode Island colony was founded at Pocasset. Their political
covenant read as follows:

We whose names are underwritten do here solemnly in the presence of Jehovah
incorporate ourselves into a Body Politic and as he shall help, will submit
our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings
and Lord of Lords and to all those perfect and absolute laws of his given us
in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby. Exod. 24:3, 4; 2
Chron. 2:3; 2 Kings. 2:17.

This explicitly Christian political covenant binds the people to the authority
of Christ and biblical law.

When the founders of the New Haven colony arrived from Boston in April of 1638,
they established the Plantation Covenant at Quinnipiack. This covenant bound the
people to the civil laws revealed in the Bible:

We the assembly of free planters do solemnly covenant, that as in matters that
Concern the gathering and ordering of a Church, so likewise in all public
offices which concern Civil orders as Choice of magistrates and officers,
making and repealing of Laws, dividing allotments of Inheritance, and all
things of Like nature, we would all of us be ordered by those Rules which the
scripture holds forth to us.

When William Penn drew up his original Frame of Government of Pennsylvania in
1682, he began with a lengthy preface that outlined the nature and purpose of
civil government. In this preface he stated that civil government was an
ordinance of God, and that its purpose was twofold: "first, to terrify evil
doers; secondly, to cherish those that do well." In support of his position,
Penn quoted parts of Romans 13:1-6. Additionally, Penn evidently believed that
the law of God is the basic standard for defining evil, for he said:

...that such as would not live conformable to the holy law within, should fall
under the reproof and correction of the just law without, in a judicial
administration. This the Apostle teaches in divers of his epistles: "The law
(says he) was added because of transgression": In another place, "Knowing that
the law was not made for the righteous man; but for the disobedient and
ungodly, for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers, for whoremongers,
for them that defile themselves with mankind, and for manstealers, for liars,
for perjured persons," &c...

In the body of the Frame of Government where the "Laws Agreed Upon in England" are given, reliance on the law of God is seen. In the provision for marriage it is said: "That all marriages (not forbidden by the law of God, as to nearness of blood and affinity by marriage) shall be encouraged...." Penn also understood the reality of divine sanctions against a people who broke the law of God:

That as a careless and corrupt administration of justice draws the wrath of
God upon magistrates, so the wildness and looseness of the people provoke the
indignation of God against a country: therefore, that all such offenses
against God, as swearing, cursing, lying, profane talking, drunkenness,
drinking of healths, obscene words, incest, sodomy, rape, whoredom,
fornication, and other uncleanness (not to be repeated); all treasons,
misprisions, murders, duels, felony, seditions, maims, forcible entries, and
other violences, to the persons and estates of inhabitants within this
province; all prizes, stage-plays, cards, dice, May-games, gamesters, masques,
revels, bull-baitings, cock-fightings, bear-baitings, and the like, which
excite the people to rudeness, cruelty, looseness, and irreligion, shall be
respectively discouraged, and severely punished....

Oaths and Tests of Citizenship and Political Office

Further evidence that the American colonies were established as Christian
colonies is seen in the oaths required of magistrates and citizens, and in the
religious requirements for voting and holding office.

The Plymouth Oath of Allegiance and Fidelity (1625) called upon all inhabitants
to "swear by the name of the great God...& earth & in his holy fear, & presence"
to fulfill certain responsibilities, and concluded by saying, "And this you
promise & swear, simply & truly, & faithfully to perform as a true Christian
[you hope for help from God, the God of truth & punisher of falsehood]."
In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, church membership was necessary for any who would vote or hold office. The perspective of this colony is summarily set forth by John Cotton: "That form of government in which the power of civil
administration is denied unto unbelievers and is committed to the saints is the
best form of government in a Christian Commonwealth..." ("A Discourse about
Civil Government"). By 1634 it was possible to be a citizen in Massachusetts
without being a church member. However, the oath of citizenship remained a
Christian oath requiring a Freeman to "swear by the great & dreadful name of the
everliving God" binding himself "in the sight of God" and concluded with, "So
help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ."

The Agreement of the Settlers at Exeter in New Hampshire of July 5, 1639
established an explicitly Christian oath for rulers and the people. The oath for
rulers was as follows:

You shall swear by the great and dreadful Name of the High God, Maker and
Governor of Heaven and earth and by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of the
Kings and rulers of the earth, that in his Name and fear you will rule and
govern his people according to the righteous will of God, ministering justice
and judgment on the workers of iniquity, and ministering due encouragement and
countenance to well doers, protecting of the people so far as in you lieth, by
the help of God from foreign annoyance and inward disturbance, that they may
live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. So God be
helpful and gracious to you and yours in Christ Jesus.

The oath for the people stated:

We do swear by the Great and dreadful Name of the High God, Maker and Governor of heaven and earth, and by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Savior of his people, that in his Name and fear, we will submit ourselves to be ruled and
governed according to the will and word of God, and such wholesome laws and
ordinances as shall be derived therefrom by our honored Rulers and lawful
assistants, with the consent of the people, and that we will be ready to
assist them by the help of God, in the administration of justice and
preservation of peace, with our bodies and goods and best endeavors according
to God. So God protect and save us and ours in Jesus Christ.

The oath of office for a magistrate established in the Fundamental Orders of
Connecticut (1639) is another example of a Christian oath:

I, N. W. being chosen a Magistrate within this Jurisdiction for the year
ensuing, do swear by the great and dreadful name of the everliving God, to
promote the public good and peace of the same, according to the best of my
skill, and that I will maintain all the lawful priviledges thereof according
to my understanding, as also assist in the execution of all such wholesome
laws as are made or shall be made by lawful authority here established, and
will further the execution of Justice for the time aforesaid according to the
righteous rule of God's word; so help me God, in the name of the Lord Jesus

In the Fundamental Articles of New Haven (1639), it is related how a Mr.
Davenport showed from the Scripture that the men who could be trusted with the
matters of civil government are those who meet the qualifications set forth in
Exodus 18:21, Deuteronomy 1:13 and 17:15, and 1 Corinthians 6:1-7. So it was
agreed among them:

That magistrates should be men fearing God.
That the church is the company whence ordinarily such men be expected.
That they that choose them ought to be men fearing God.

Hence the law was that "church members only shall be free burgesses, and that
they only shall choose magistrates & officers among themselves to have the power
of transacting all the public affairs of this Plantation...."

In William Penn's Act for Freedom of Conscience issued on December 7, 1682, the
right to vote and hold office in Pennsylvania was granted only to Christians:

And be it further enacted by, etc., that all officers and persons commissioned
and employed in the service of the government in this province and all members
and deputies elected to serve in the Assembly thereof and all that have a
right to elect such deputies shall be such as profess and declare they believe
in Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the savior of the world, and that are
not convicted of ill-fame or unsober and dishonest conversation and that are
of twenty-one years of age at least.

In the Act to Ascertain the Manner and Form of Electing Members to Represent the Province of South Carolina (1721), the authority to vote was limited to those
men "professing the Christian religion."

Sabbath and Blasphemy Laws

The presence of civil laws regarding the due observance of the Lord's Day and
the prohibition of blasphemy is an indication of a Christian civil government.
Laws such as these were widespread in the colonial era in America.
The early Virginia colony had some of the strongest laws prohibiting blasphemy
and enforcing Sabbath observance. In the Articles, Laws, and Orders, Divine,
Politic, and Martial for the Colony in Virginia (1610-1611), the law concerning
blasphemy read in part:

That no man speak impiously or maliciously, against the holy and blessed
Trinity, or any of the three persons, that is to say, against God the Father,
God the Son, and God the holy Ghost, or against any known articles of the
Christian faith, upon pain of death. That no man blaspheme God's holy name
upon pain of death.... No man shall speak any word, or do any act, which may
tend to the derision, or despite of God's holy word upon pain of death....

The law in regard to the Sabbath stated:

Likewise no man or woman shall dare to violate or break the Sabbath by any
gaming, public or private abroad, or at home, but duly sanctify and observe
the same, both himself and his family, by preparing themselves at home with
private prayer, that they may be better fitted for the public, according to
the commandment of God, and the orders of our Church, as also every man shall
repair in the morning to the divine service, and Sermons preached upon the
Sabbath day, and in the afternoon to divine service, and Catechising, upon
pain for the first fault to lose their provision, and allowance for the whole
week following, for the second to lose said allowance, and also be whipt, and
for the third to suffer death.

In the New England colonies, the laws regarding blasphemy and the Sabbath were equally strong. The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts (1647) made blasphemy a capital offense:

If any person within this Jurisdiction whether Christian or Pagan shall
wittingly and willingly presume to blaspheme the holy Name of God, Father, Son
or Holy-Ghost, with direct, express, presumptuous, or highhanded blasphemy,
either by willful or obstinate denying the true God, or his Creation, or
Government of the world: or shall curse God in like manner, or reproach the
holy religion of God as if it were but a political device to keep ignorant men
in awe; or shall utter any other kind of Blasphemy of the like nature & degree
they shall be put to death. Levit. 24:15, 16..

The General Laws and Liberties of New Hampshire (1680) enjoined the observance of the Christian Sabbath in the following words:

Upon information of sundry abuses and misdemeanors committed by divers persons on şe Lord's Day, It is therefore ordered and enacted by this General
Assembly, That what person soever within this Government shall profane şe
Lord's Day, by doing unnecessary work or travel, or by sports or recreation,
or by being at ordinaries in time of public worship, such persons shall
forfeit 10s., or be whipt for every such offense, and if it appears that şe
sin was proudly or presumptuously, and with a high hand, committed against the
known command and authority of şe Blessed God, such persons therein despising
and reproaching şe Lord, shall be severely punished at şe Judgment of şe

As stated earlier, Pennsylvania had explicit laws forbidding blasphemy and
calling for proper observance of the Lord's Day. Although blasphemy was not a
capital crime, it was to be punished by a fine of "five shillings or suffer five
days imprisonment in the house of correction at hard labor to the behoof of the
public and be fed with bread and water only during that time." In the Frame of
Government of Pennsylvania (1682) it was decreed,

That, according to the good example of the primitive Christians, and the case
of the creation, every first day of the week, called the Lord's day, people
shall abstain from their common daily labor, that they may the better dispose
themselves to worship God according to their understandings.


The evidence presented provides undeniable proof that Christians established the
original colonies of America for the glory of God and the advancement of the
Christian faith. The Christian character of these colonies is seen in their
churches, political covenants, civil laws, and perspective on religious liberty.

The true foundations of America were laid in the colonial period, and these
foundations were Christian. It can hardly be said that the events of 1776-1787
constitute the original foundation when the colonies preceded these events by as
much as 170 years, unless one means that a new kind of America was founded then.
This we believe is the case.

The Constitutional settlement of 1787 marked a significant departure from the
explicitly Christian foundations of the colonial period. This is evident when
one compares the U.S. Constitution to the political constitutions of the
colonial era. The absence of any reference to God, Christ, or the Bible in the
U.S. Constitution, the forbidding of any religious test for office, and the
absence of any Christian elements in the oath of office required under the
Constitution contrasts markedly with the Christian constitutions of the
colonies. It is true that the U.S. Constitution carries over many of the
biblically based elements of the colonial constitutions; this is its strength.
Its weakness is that the Constitution cuts itself off from the overt Christian
commitments of those colonial constitutions that acknowledged the authority of
God and His law as the only legitimate foundation for civil government.
The U.S. Constitution is a compromise document that incorporates biblically
based elements of civil law inherited from the Christian constitutions and
consensus of the colonial period into an Enlightenment, Christian natural law
perspective on civil government. The result is a Constitution devoid of any
expressed allegiance to the King of kings, with no greater authority recognized
than "We the People," and no higher purpose stated than that of securing "the
Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

The U.S. Constitution became the model for the individual state constitutions
which have been revised over the years, in one degree or another, to conform to
it. Thus, these United States of America have turned from the high purpose of
the founders of the original colonies to establish a Christian nation. Do we
think that God has not noticed? Do we believe that the Christian commitments
made by our forefathers for themselves and their posterity mean nothing? We, the
posterity of the courageous, committed Christian founders of America have become covenant breakers. We have broken the colonial covenant made with God and Christ to raise up in America a Christian nation that would be a light to the world in both church and state. We are now suffering the just curse of God upon covenant breakers, upon those who have repudiated the Lordship of Christ (Ps. 2:12). The solution is not an easy one, nor one that can be carried out in short order. We must "repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations" (Isa. 60:4), and return America to the colonial covenants of our forefathers. "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the
good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jer. 7:16;
cf. 18: 15).

William Einwechter is the vice president of the National Reform Association and editor of The Christian Statesman. He is vice moderator of the Association of Free Reformed Churches and a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

Richard L. Perry and John C. Cooper, eds., Sources of Our Liberties, Chicago:
The American Bar Association, 1959.
Donald S. Lutz, ed., Colonial Origins of the American Constitution,
Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 1998.
John F. Wilson and Donald L. Drakeman, eds., Church and State in American
History, 2nd ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.
Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, Books I and II, ed. Kenneth B.
Murdock. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.


Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Pilgrims and Puritans