Political Sermons Of The American Founding Era, 1730–1805 -- By: Ellis Sandoz

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 08:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: Political Sermons Of The American Founding Era, 1730–1805
Author: Ellis Sandoz

Political Sermons Of The American Founding Era, 1730–1805

Ellis Sandoz

Dr. Sandoz is the Hermann Moyse, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He interacted with Dr. Holcomb while Holcomb was interim Pastor at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.

Over a number of years, as I did research on the American founders’ political philosophy, I discovered that the “pulpit of the American Revolution” – to borrow the title of John Wingate Thornton’s 1860 collection – was the source of exciting and uncommonly important material. What had passed for pamphlets in my reading of excerpted eighteenth-century American material often turned out to be published sermons. I began to realize that this material, showing the perspective of biblical faith concerning fundamental questions of human existence during our nation’s formative period, was extraordinarily abundant and extraordinarily little known.1

To permit the religious perspective concerning the rise of American nationhood to have the representative expression is important because a steady attention to the pulpit from 1730 to 1805 unveils a distinctive rhetoric of political discourse: Preachers interpreted pragmatic events in terms of a political theology imbued with philosophical and revelatory learning. Their sermons also demonstrate the existence and effectiveness of a popular political culture that constantly assimilated the currently urgent political and constitutional issues to the profound insights of the Western spiritual and philosophical traditions. That culture’s political theorizing within the compass of ultimate historical and metaphysical concerns gave clear contours to secular events in the minds of Americans of the vital era. Religion gave birth to America, Tocqueville observed long ago.2 On the eve of revolution, in his last-ditch attempt to stave off impending catastrophe, Edmund Burke reminded the House

of Commons of the inseparable alliance between liberty and religion among Englishmen in America.3 Mercy Otis Warren noted in her 1805 history of the American Revolution: “It must be acknowledged, that the religious and moral character of Americans yet stands on a higher grade of excellence and purity, than that of most other nations.”4 Of the Americans on the eve of the Revolution Carl Bridenbaugh has exclaimed, “who can deny that for them the ...

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