Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Celebrating Our Patriotic Holy War

continental congress stained glass.jpg John Adams wrote to Abigail on July 3, 1776 that July 2 ought to be celebrated not only with “bells, bonfires and illuminations” but “as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
It makes sense since many Americans at the time viewed it as a Holy War.
Some believed that unless colonists rebelled, the Church of England was going to send what one preacher called “an Army of Bishops” to suppress Americans. “Is it not enough that they persecuted us out of the old world?” asked Boston minister Jonathan Mayhew. “Will they pursue us into the new to convert us here?”
Ironically, some raged against Great Britain for supporting religious tolerance. After Parliament passed the Quebec Act, giving religious freedom to Catholics in Canada, Alexander Hamilton fumed, “Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass an Act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such an extensive country? Your loves, your property, your religion are all at stake.”
Some argued that rebellion against Britain fulfilled a divine apocalyptic plan. Rev. Samuel Sherwood declared that Great Britain was the seven-headed beast mentioned in chapter 13 of the Book of Revelations while Joseph Warren said the war pitted “the cause of heaven and against hell–of the kind Parent of the universe, against the prince of darkness.”
Finally, many Founders believed it was a religious war in that their greatest ally was God. Time and time again, the patriot leaders called upon the Almighty for help – and ascribed battle field victories to the intervention of what George Washington called, “the God of Armies.” In 1779 the Continental Congress reminded Americans how the nation had “without arms, ammunition, discipline, revenue, government or ally, with a ‘staff and a sling’ only, dared, ‘in the name of the Lord of Hosts,’ to engage a gigantic adversary.”
In his most disconsolate moments, Washington despaired that he must rely on God because he surely wasn’t going to be able to count on his poorly trained and occasionally mutinous army: “Providence has heretofore saved us in remarkable manner and on this we must principally rely.”
Amazingly, this was the perahps the first and last Holy War that resulted in widespread religious freedom — one of America’s greatest achievements. We are among the most religiously diverse, and religiously free, nations on earth. The Founders’ approach for religious freedom — promoting religion by having government leave it alone — has worked magnificently well. Thank you, Founders.
Happy Fourth of July.

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posted June 12, 2009 at 4:38 pm

What good does it do to go on and debate these things?
We won’t know our religion until we test with blades of faith.
It makes no sense to believe what anyone else says or to criticize
without feeling in our own self what is truly divine.

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Paul Willosn

posted July 4, 2009 at 12:46 pm

The concept of the Revolution being a “holy war” is absurd. It was in my reading on the subject over taxation & representation. Those who feared an an “army of bishops” must have been in New England the Episcopal (Anglican) church was quite established in many places. As for the being upset over the toleration shown in the Quebec Act 1763. They are upset on the 1 hand and on the other they want the citizens of Canada (at the time Quebec Nova Scotia * New Brunswick) to join the revolution . If they had what would have hapopened non conformist preachers, Edwards Fin ney et al ride north ? Won’t work.
I am also wondering how did they justify calling for obedience to a President & Congress when they had just rebelled against their lawful monarch ? IMHO it wo seem hyupocritical to call for allegiance to the one over the other. And remember that the colonissts really had about the same in put to governance in London as did a welshmaan in Holyhead or a scot in Glasgow, I won’t mention the irish thats too painful.
HAPPY 4th of July all

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