If you’ve been following along, you may have noticed that I’ve been thinking a bit about those guys who, “with a firm reliance on divine Providence” mutually pledged to each other their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor. I even asked, “Who were these guys?” And so, you can imagine my delight when I learned that today in 1776 John Witherspoon was elected to represent New Jersey in the Continental Congress. (1)
And you can imagine my further delight to learn that Witherspoon, a Scotsman, arrived in the Colonies in August 1768 with his family and 300
crappy old books for the New Jersey College Library! (2)
Witherspoon was a Presbyterian clergyman and President of New Jersey College– later to be called Princeton. He had ten children, five of whom died in early childhood. (2) His three sons all fought in the Revolution. One was killed at the battle of Germantown. (1, 3)
Witherspoon was the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. (3, 4)
From Bennett, I learn that Witherspoon said
There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.
It’s taken from the final paragraph of a sermon Witherspoon preached in May, 1776. (5)
If your cause is just, you may look with confidence to the Lord, and intreat him to plead it as his own. You are all my witnesses, that this is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit. At this season, however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without any hesitation, that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature. So far as we have hitherto proceeded, I am satisfied that the confederacy of the colonies has not been the effect of pride, resentment, or sedition, but of a deep and general conviction that our civil and religious liberties, and consequently in a great measure the temporal and eternal happiness of us and our posterity, depended on the issue. The knowledge of God and his truths have from the beginning of the world been chiefly, if not entirely confined to those parts of the earth where some degree of liberty and political justice were to be seen, and great were the difficulties with which they had to struggle, from the imperfection of human society, and the unjust decisions of unsurped authority. There is not a single instance in history, in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.
More on “minutemen and ministers” here.
References below the fold
(1) William J. Bennett and John T.E.. Cribb. The American Patriot’s Almanac. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Dallas, etc. 2008
(3) Matthew Spalding, ed. The Founders’ Almanac: A Practical Guide to the Notable Events, Greatest Leaders & Most Eloquent Words of the American Founders. The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. 2002
(4) Charles Van Doren. Webster’s American Biographies. G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Mass. 1979