ALEXANDRIA, La. – Many liberal historians contend the United States was founded by secularists and nominally religious individuals who wanted the public square free from the influence of biblical precepts and principles. Evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
Were there godless men among those who helped establish America? Yes, of course there were. But some of those cited by liberal historians as examples of irreligious founders made only a minor contribution.
Thomas Paine, for example, was hostile to Christianity. While there is no doubt he was a zealot of the Revolution, Paine did not arrive in the United States until 1774. He remained only a short time and did not help write the Constitution.
Paine died in 1809. In the book The Life of Thomas Paine, Moncure D. Conway, an admirer and contemporary of Paine’s, observed that only a handful of people attended his funeral because of Paine’s relentless ridicule of Christianity.
By contrast, a thorough examination of the personal letters, public statements and biographies of many of the key figures in America’s founding reveals evidence that the men were deeply influenced by Christianity. Among them were John Adams, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Witherspoon.
One example of the significance Christianity had in the minds of early citizens is contained in the words to a poem penned Sept. 13, 1814.
Originally titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” the poem was written by Francis Scott Key as he witnessed Maryland’s Fort McHenry being shelled by the British during the 32-month War of 1812.
Key’s poem found its way into newspapers. Eventually John Stafford Smith set the words to a popular tavern tune of the time, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” As it grew in popularity people began referring to the song by Key’s vivid description of the flag, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 declared “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be played at all official events, and in 1931 it was adopted as America’s national anthem.
The man who penned the words of our national anthem was born in 1779 in Maryland. Key became a successful lawyer and eventually was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
The backdrop for Key’s poem was the War of 1812. After a series of trade disagreements, the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. British troops invaded Washington, D.C., in August of 1814 and burned the White House, Capitol building and Library of Congress.
After wreaking havoc in D.C., the British moved on to Baltimore. A friend of Key’s, William Beanes, was taken prisoner and held on a ship anchored in Chesapeake Bay. Key located the ship and boarded it in an effort to negotiate his friend’s release.
The British agreed to release Beanes but would not allow anyone to leave until the bombing of Fort McHenry had ceased. The British gave up after approximately 25 hours of relentless shelling failed to destroy the fort.
Key watched the bombardment from the British perspective.
When the shelling ceased, Key was elated to see the American flag still flying over the war-torn fort and penned his poem in tribute to what he had witnessed.
We know well the first stanza of Key’s tribute:
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
There actually are four stanzas to Key’s poem and America’s national anthem. The first three recount the bombing of Fort McHenry. It is the final stanza that is most revealing of Key’s perspective on the event and America’s founding.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Note the following phrases of the last stanza: “may the heav’n rescued land,” “Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us as a nation,” and “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’” These give evidence that Key, and most Americans at the time, believed it was the God of the Bible who was the strength of the nation.
Despite what liberal historians insist, the evidence shows that America’s foundation was laid on biblical principles and precepts. Has our nation strayed from divine instruction? Yes, too many times. It seems even now we are neglecting, in Key’s words, “the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.”
Because our nation was founded on biblical standards, correction is always a possibility. May we as a nation once again say, “In God is our trust,” and may heaven again rescue our land.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)