The Bible was the Most Cited Source of the American Founding Era

By AHEF and  Angela E. Kamrath – May-11-2018

The Bible had a definite influence on the American Revolution and on the founding of our nation.  During the revolutionary era, colonists debated fiercely over whether revolution was acceptable according to the Bible.  While some colonists opposed revolution as unbiblical, many colonists supported it as biblical.  Those who supported revolution were often called “patriots” or “Whigs” after the pro-reform political party in England.  Many patriot revolutionary leaders, congressional delegates, founders, clergy and ministers, and other colonists spoke and wrote in support of the cause of liberty from the Bible—educating, uniting, and mobilizing Americans for the cause and its principles.

In confirmation of this point, a groundbreaking study by Donald S. Lutz, as discussed in his 1988 The Origins of American Constitutionalism, shows that the Bible was the most frequently cited source in the political literature of 1760-1805 that influenced American political thought.  This literature included both secular writings and ministers’ sermons.  The secular European thinkers that Lutz found to be most influential to American political thought and writings were Charles de Montesquieu, John Locke, and William Blackstone.  These thinkers all cited or drew from the Bible and/or a God-centered, Judeo-Christian worldview.  Due to the frequency of biblical citations, Lutz observes,

When reading comprehensively in the political literature of the war years, one cannot but be struck by the extent to which biblical sources used by ministers and traditional Whigs undergirded the justification for the break with Britain, the rationale for continuing the war, and the basic principles of Americans’ writing their own constitutions.

The frequent use of the Bible in the public and private writings of the Founding era reveals the Bible’s strong cultural influence in society during that time.  Americans’ frequent references to the Bible in public discourse, asserts Daniel L. Dreisbach in his 2011 essay “The Bible in the Political Rhetoric of the American Founding” in Politics and Religion, “reveals as much about the Bible’s place in the hearts and minds of their audiences as it does about them.”  The Bible, he points out, was the lingua franca of the late 1700s, the “most authoritative, accessible, and familiar literary text in America.”  Americans, Dreisbach elaborates, held a strong spiritual and moral belief in the Bible and viewed this book as relevant to all areas of life and society.  They saw in the Bible a God who cares about mankind and human events, and they searched this book to understand how God might be involved in their nation’s development.

Thus, in addition to Whig revolutionary political thought and other influences, the Bible and religion were, as confirmed by statistical and contextual research, a significant influence—if not the most important influence—on the American Revolution and the new nation.  The fact that the Bible was intensively debated and discussed among Founding-era Americans reveals its importance to and influence on the revolutionary generation and the revolution itself.  Moreover, it reveals that Americans, after the revolution, looked to the Bible more than any other source for guidance on the founding, formation, and structure of our new nation, the United States of America.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.


Lutz, Donald S.  The Origins of American Constitutionalism.  Baton Rouge, LA:  Louisiana State U Press, 1988.
Dreisbach, Daniel L.  “The Bible in the Political Rhetoric of the American Founding.”  Politics and Religion 4, issue 3 (Dec 2011):  401-427.
Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

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