Forged in Faith

How Faith Shaped the Birth of the Nation 1607-1776

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About The Book

This fascinating history, based on meticulous research into the correspondence and documentation of the founding fathers leading up to and encompassing the crafting of the Declaration of Independence, sheds light on how the Judeo-Christian worldview motivated America’s founding fathers, influenced national independence, inspired our foundational documents, and established the American nation. Written with the pacing and drama of an enticing drama, Forged in Faith is crafted for popular appeal with a compelling mix of dramatized story and action-driven narrative, yet with the authenticity and academic verity of historian Rod Gragg.

Excerpt
CHAPTER 1

“Plead Our Cause, O Lord”


Already they were bickering. It was day two of the First Continental Congress—Tuesday, September 6, 1774. Delegates from twelve of America’s thirteen colonies had assembled at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia to officially react to deteriorating relations between Great Britain and its American colonies. Decades of disagreement had led to a tense crisis between the colonies and the Mother Country. In an attempt to resolve the issues, the colonies had dispatched delegations to Philadelphia’s grand assembly, which was the first of its kind in America. Opening deliberations had been cordial and productive. The delegates had voted to call their assembly the “Continental Congress,” had appointed Virginia delegate Peyton Randolph as its president, and had agreed to meet in Philadelphia’s Carpenters’ Hall. Then came day two—and the opening display of cooperation sank into a mire of argument.1

At issue was the question of how to count votes. Large colonies wanted their large populations to count for more. Small colonies wanted equal representation. Amid the debate, Philadelphia’s church bells began tolling at the news that British forces were bombarding the city of Boston. It was a false alarm, but it added to an atmosphere of anxiety in Congress. The dark mood may have been heightened by the deadly risk each delegate faced by simply being there. The unprecedented assembly was unauthorized by Britain’s King George III or the British Parliament. Among the delegates in attendance were men who believed the British government’s treatment of the American colonies amounted to tyranny. Such politics were deemed treasonous by some, and the delegates undoubtedly knew what grisly fate sometimes befell traitors to the Crown.2

If arrested and convicted of high treason, a delegate might find himself in Great Britain’s notorious Tower of London, waiting to be “drawn and quartered.” If so sentenced, he would first be hanged until almost dead, then cut down and disemboweled. While still alive, he would be forced to watch his intestines burned. Then, one by one, other bodily organs would be torturously removed until death finally occurred. Afterward, his corpse would be beheaded and his torso cut into quarters. Finally, his head would be publicly mounted on a post. “Let us prepare for the worst,” New Jersey delegate Abraham Clark at one point advised a colleague; “we can Die here but once.” Debate on how to count votes concluded with a consensus—a single vote for each delegation—but the tension among delegates led some to fear that the Continental Congress might dissolve in disunity.3

Then Massachusetts delegate Thomas Cushing made a motion. Cushing was a forty-nine-year-old Boston lawyer, a Harvard alumnus, and a successful merchant. A member of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, he was a prominent champion of Colonial political rights—always “busy in the interest of liberty,” according to a colleague. He observed the second day’s tense deliberations with the savvy of a seasoned statesman—then he acted. From now on, Cushing formally proposed, Congress should officially open its day with prayer. The motion reflected Cushing’s personal faith—he was a deacon at Boston’s Old South Congregational Church—and it also reflected the common faith of most delegates. Even so, Cushing’s motion for prayer provoked an immediate challenge.4

Concerns were voiced by John Rutledge of South Carolina and John Jay of New York. A thirty-five-year-old London-educated attorney, Rutledge was renowned for his eloquence and political acumen. The older of two brothers in the South Carolina delegation, he would eventually become his state’s governor and later the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was anything but a critic of Christianity: tutored by clergymen as a child, he was an Anglican who worshipped at Charleston’s St. Michael’s Church.5

John Jay was also a believer. At twenty-eight, the New York attorney was a prominent member of New York City’s Trinity Church. Descended from French Huguenots who had been driven from Europe for their Protestant faith, he would eventually become president of the American Bible Society. Like Rutledge, he too would someday become a governor and a U.S. chief justice, and—like Rutledge—he made no argument for separation of church and state. They were merely concerned that a congressional prayer might increase disunity because so many Christian denominations were represented in Congress. Could the delegates unite in a congressional act of worship?6

Massachusetts delegate Samuel Adams believed so—and he quickly rose to support Cushing’s prayer motion. By almost any measure, Sam Adams was the most famous advocate of Colonial rights in America—and the most controversial. Politics was his passion, and he was a master of the craft. An instrumental leader in the Massachusetts legislature, he was viewed by many as Colonial America’s leading defender, but Britain’s leaders called him an “angel of darkness.” He too was devout. Raised in a family of committed Christians, he had considered the ministry in his youth. Now, as a middle-aged Calvinist, he took his faith seriously, and was said to possess “the dogmatism of a priest.”7

He was “no Bigot,” Sam Adams told his fellow delegates. He “could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country”—and he heartily endorsed the call to congressional prayer. Congress agreed—and promptly passed Cushing’s motion. Beginning the next day, the Continental Congress would officially open every day’s session with prayer. But who would be the first to pray? In an obvious display of congressional unity, Samuel Adams, a Puritan Congregationalist, nominated an Anglican clergyman to offer the first official prayer. Congress approved his nomination and promptly sent an invitation to the selected minister.8

His name was Jacob Duché, and at age thirty-seven, he may have been the most popular preacher in Philadelphia. The Anglican pastor of Philadelphia’s prestigious Christ Church, Duché was the son of a former Philadelphia mayor and brother-in-law to congressional delegate Francis Hopkinson. A graduate of Cambridge University, he was well educated, served as professor of oratory at the College of Philadelphia, and was renowned for his eloquence in the pulpit. The invitation to open Congress with prayer was a measure of his prominence, but carried genuine risk: Duché was a minister in the Church of England, Britain’s official state church, and accepting the invitation could have put him in harm’s way with the British government. He accepted anyway.9

The next morning—Wednesday, September 7, 1774 — the pastor appeared before the delegates attired in Anglican clergyman’s robes. When the Congress was called to order, he opened the day’s session with a formal prayer, then followed it by reading from the Bible. The Bible passage Duché read was the Anglican “collect” for the day—the scripture scheduled for that day in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer—Psalm 35:

Plead my cause, OLORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.

Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of theLORDchase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of thelordpersecute them.

For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. And my soul shall be joyful in theLORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation. …Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me.

Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let thelordbe magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant. And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.10

Assembled in the intimidating shadow of Royal power, the delegates found the relevance of Psalm 35 to be extraordinary. It was all the more striking for those who realized that particular Psalm had been placed in the prayer book as the reading for September seventh many years earlier. “It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning,” Massachusetts’ John Adams wrote his wife. Duché’s prayers were apparently equally moving. The Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thompson, managed to record one of them as it echoed in the stillness of Carpenters’ Hall.

O! Lord, our heavenly father, King of Kings and Lord of lords: who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth and reignest with power supreme & uncontrouled over all kingdoms, empires and governments, look down in mercy, we beseech thee, upon these our American states who have fled to thee from the road of the oppressor and thrown themselves upon thy gracious protection, desiring henceforth to be dependent only on thee.

To thee they have appealed for the righteousness of their Cause; to Thee do they look up, for that countenance & support which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under thy nurturing care: give them wisdom in council, valour in the field. Defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries. Convince them of the unrighteousness of their cause. And if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, O! let the voice of thy unerring justice sounding in their hearts constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their enerved hands in the day of battle.

Be thou present, O God of Wisdom and direct the counsels of this honourable Assembly. Enable them to settle things upon the best and surest foundation, that the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that harmony and peace may effectually be restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety prevail and flourish amongst thy people. Preserve the health of their bodies and the vigour of their minds; shower down upon them and the millions they represent such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ thy son, Our Saviour, Amen.11

Some delegates were moved to tears. Duché’s prayer, marveled John Adams, was “as pertinent, as affectionate, as sublime, as devout, as I ever heard offered up to Heaven. He filled every Bosom present.” Connecticut’s Silas Deane said the congressional devotion was “worth riding One Hundred Mile to hear.” On a motion by New York’s James Duane, the delegates unanimously voted to award Duché the official thanks of Congress. After the prayer and Bible-reading, some said, Congress had a renewed sense of purpose and unity.

Their decision to find their way by faith was typical of Colonial America.12 In eighteenth-century America, observed Colonial scholar Patricia Bonomi, “the idiom of religion penetrated all discourse, underlay all thought, marked all observances [and] gave meaning to every public and private crisis.” The philosophical foundation of Colonial American culture, law, and government was the Judeo-Christian worldview. It was also the flame of inspiration that fired the American quest for freedom. The common people of Colonial America and their leaders would soon establish a new nation, and it would be founded on an old Book—the Bible.13

© 2010 Rod Gragg
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Forged in Faith includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

INTRODUCTION

In a series of vignettes featuring a who's who of America's Founding Fathers, Rod Gragg sets out to illustrate the influence Judeo-Christian values had on the forging of our nation. From the founding of Jamestown in 1607 up until the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Gragg weaves biographical profiles with historical narrative, expertly giving the reader a bird's eye view of the developing colonies before swooping closer and leading us through the great moments in American history

Forged in Faith allows readers to look at a familiar story through a new lens. Readers get to know Samuel Adams as the “Last Puritan,” a moniker given to him because of his strict faith, experience William Penn's “Holy Experiment” that ends up becoming the state of Pennsylvania, and decide whether they would have been a "New Light" or "Old Light" during The Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century. Gragg is an able and eager guide through the annals of history, retracing the acts of faith and moments of humility demonstrating that America was, in fact, Forged in Faith.

TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1. In the introduction, Gragg writes, “As the American national consensus shifts from a traditional, God-centered worldview to a secular, man-centered philosophy, perspectives and priorities changed” (p. 6). Do you agree that America is currently shifting to a secular philosophy rather than God-centered worldview? What are some examples that this shift is occurring?

2. Do you think the first of America's colonies, Jamestown, lived up to its billing as the New Jerusalem? In what ways did Sir Thomas Gates and Sir Thomas Dale help the sustained success of Virginia?

3. “If any does not work, neither shall they eat” (p. 34). In the Plymouth settlement, we see an example of a biblical maxim being used in early government. Do you think that all Bible-based laws used in early America were inherently moral?

4. How has the connotation of the word pilgrim changed since the early seventeenth-century settlers first arrived in America? Do you think of them as “the embodiment of all that was best in human kind,” as Professor Clarence Ver Steeg suggests would have been the popular view prior to the twentieth century (p. 50)?

5. According to Gragg in Chapter 6, under the guidance of Roger Williams, Rhode Island became the first American colony to offer its people full religious liberty. This simply meant that there would be no government-endorsed religious denomination. Why do you think it took nearly forty years for this to happen in a nation founded by religious separatists?

6. William Penn also adopted the notion of religious freedom in his colony of Pennsylvania, partially to allow a place for his fellow Quakers to thrive. Soon, however, Gragg notes that they were outnumbered and became a religious minority. Is there danger in allowing freedom of religion in a developing country where there are multiple branches of one theology? If there was any doubt that their own branch of the faith would have remained predominant, do you think religious freedom would have been promoted so readily?

7. Do you see the creation of America as a reaction against the Church of England, or as a unification of like-minded believers following their calling? Would a land of religious freedom eventually have become a reality even without dissent?

8. In Chapter 8, Gragg shows excerpts from documents from each of the thirteen colonies, and notes that all were constructed on the pillars of faith and freedom. Do you think it would have been possible for one of the colonies to ignore the notion of faith and still have survived?

9. During the Great Awakening, the theologically liberal Christians became known as the Old Lights and the more conservative “new birth” Christians as the New Lights. Discuss the differences between the Old Lights and New Lights. Why did the split occur? Can you still see any lingering effects of this differentiation today?

10. What do you make of Sam Adams’s assertion that “We must obey God rather than men,” (p. 139). Was it arrogant or humble? Do you think the British also felt that they were obeying God?

11. In contrast to his cousin Sam, John Adams’s faith came accompanied with an “independence of thought” (p. 148), according to biographer David McCullough. Both were evident in his politics. What relationship do you think faith and independent thinking should have? Even though our historical documents were forged in faith, were they also influenced by political realities?

12. Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the Founding Father most conflicted in his faith, as demonstrated by his creation of the Jeffersonian Bible and his dabbles in Unitarianism and Deism. Ultimately, however, he condemned critics of Christianity. If Jefferson had ultimately rejected Christianity, do you think he still would have played a big role in the shaping of American history?

ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

1. There are a number of historic sermons quoted in the book. Sermons make up a large part of the extant literature we have from that time in American history, and tell us a lot about the values and priorities of the people in the congregations. Look up a few of these sermons and read them aloud in your book club. They are available on the web, or in many compendiums of early American literature. There are also great books devoted to the subject, like American Sermons edited by Michael Warner. Some sermons referenced in the book include:“An Oration on the Beauties of Liberties” by John Allen, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards, and “The American Vine” by Jacob Duche.

2. The First Great Awakening in American history helped lay the foundation of the political and religious climate for many of our laws, but it was not the only period of religious transformation in America dubbed a Great Awakening. There have been three others since, the second occurring from 1790–1840, the third from 1850–1900, and the fourth from roughly 1960–1980. You can learn about these other periods in American religious history in books, such as Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People by Jon Butler.

Do you think America is currently going through a fifth Great Awakening? How would we know if we were? How do the different Great Awakenings compare to each other?

3. In Chapter 15, Gragg writes about what must have been a great moment in American history: when Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams were tasked with designing a national seal for the United States. We all know what the end result was, but who knew that Franklin favored an image of Moses parting the Red Sea or that Jefferson championed “The children of Israel in the wilderness led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” (p. 182)?

Break into groups within your book club and come up with your own designs for America’s national seal. Try to put yourself into the mindset of Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson and the American ethos at the time. Would it have religious undertones, perhaps depicting a scene from the Bible? What would your national motto be?

 
About The Author

A former journalist, historian Rod Gragg is director of the Center for Military and Veterans Studies at  Coastal Carolina University, where he also serves as an adjunct professor of history.  His works have earned the Fletcher Pratt Award, the James I. Robertson Award and other honors, and have been selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club, the History Book Club and the Military History Book Club.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Howard Books (May 2011)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451623505

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