Saturday, October 26, 2013

Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic - By Mark David Hall

Who is Roger Sherman?  The name sounded vaguely familiar to me but didn't bring up any definite information in my head. I understood that he had something important to do with the founding of our nation.  What interested me in this book was that it appeared to be an argument against an exclusively secular interpretation of the founding documents.  "Historians are better than political scientists and law professors at recognizing that faith mattered to many Americans in the founding era, but even they have a tendency to treat America's founders as deists who embraced a rationalist approach to politics and who embraced secular documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…"  Hall points out that, when discussing the founders' views of the separation of Church and State, people normally look at a select group of the most famous founders.  He believes that this is not the best course of action as, "these men are not representative of the founders as a whole." 

The more I read, the more interesting Rodger Sherman himself became to me.  Sherman was the only founding father who signed and helped create all what are probably the most important documents in the formation of America:  The Declaration and Resolves, the Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and also helped with the Bill of Rights.   This book is not really a biography, though it is biographical. Using Sherman as the primary example, the author makes a compelling case that many of the founders were Calvinistic/Reformed or that that was their religious background, and he demonstrates how their views of government were impacted/formed by their religious beliefs.  Hall states that, "Within a generation of Calvin, virtually every reformed civil and ecclesiastical leader was convinced that the Bible taught that governments should be limited, that they should be based on the consent of the governed, that rulers should promote the common good and the Christian faith, and that unjust or ungodly rulers should be resisted or even overthrown."   It is observed that this political Calvinism was more influenced by Theodore Beza and David Pareus than John Calvin.   

Sherman did not believe that he was disobeying God by going against England, being "convinced from a relatively early date that Parliament's constitutional authority extended only to geographical areas represented in the body."  Having no representation in that governing body, he believed that colonies were their own governments.  And as the King was not doing his duty of protecting them, he believed that they were not obligated to remain loyal to him.  When it came to the formation of a new government, he believed that man was innately sinful, not basically good, and so was for limited government with checks and balances, and was very much for states' self-government in the making of the United States.  It was very interesting to read about some of the debates that took place in the drafting of our ruling documents. Sherman and other 'Reformed' Founders were significant participants in the  founding of our nation, and so deserve more attention in our examination of its principal documents. Hall makes the significant point that "Sherman, like Thomas Jefferson, authored a significant state law concerning religious liberty, and, unlike Jefferson, he participated in debates on the First Amendment.  It is therefore striking that when Supreme Court justices have used history to interpret the First Amendment's religion clauses, they have made 112 distinct references to Jefferson but have mentioned Sherman only three times."

This book was well written and, in a way, riveting.  It was very exciting to learn of what type of men God used to form the United States of America.  Even though it was more of an overview and not very long, Hall does a great job of making a good argument in a small space.    On a side note, I was fascinated to discover that Jonathan Edwards Jr. (son of sr.) became Sherman's pastor, and that Sherman "remained supportive of Jonathan Edwards Jr. after most of his church abandoned him."  

I highly recommend this book to those interested in the history of the U. S. A.  To end this review, here is one more quote from the book:  "Like their descendants, Puritans were concerned with "liberty", but it is critical to recognize that they never understood the concept to include the excessively individualistic idea that men and women are free to do anything except physically harm others.  They distinguished between liberty and personal license.  Puritans were primarily interested with freedom from sin, but they also understood liberty as the ability of a people to govern themselves and to do what God requires of them."
 
Many thanks to Oxford University Press for sending me a free review copy of this book(My review did not have to be favorable).

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