Friday, July 2

Tour de Lance

Let the cyclysm begin! He's on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, and Outside! His little yellow LiveStrong wristbands are everywhere. And now, Lance Armstrong goes to work in an attempt to do what no man has ever done: win six times at the Tour de France. Follow all the action on the OLN cable network. Get up to speed on the uniqueness of this, perhaps the most challenging sporting event on the planet, in Bob Roll's wonderful new illustrated guidebook, The Tour de France Companion (Workman Press). And follow the daily developments on,, or on the official Tour website Viva la Lance!

Running to the Roar

This weekend the intrepid wounded knee runners on the King's Meadow and Servant Group team will once again be raising awareness and funds for the Classical Schools of the Medes in Iraq. We'll be up and out very early Saturday morning for the annual Firecracker 5K in Brentwood, TN. If you're interested in supporting our efforts, prayers may be sent heavenward and donations may be sent officeward.

Celebrating the Presbyterian War for Independence

This weekend our nation will celebrate. We will celebrate freedom. We will celebrate the victory of liberty, prosperity, and hope over tyranny, bureaucracy, and dispair. In other words, we will celebrate the peculiar ideas and the extraordinary blessings of Presbyterianism. That after all, is what the July Fourth holiday is all about. Just as many Americans try to celebrate Christmas without any inking of the incarnation or Easter without reference to the resurrection, so they will try their best to shoot off their fireworks and grill their brats without reference to the Reformational realities that make their celebration possible. But all to no avail--because the connections are inesapable and unavoidable.

My good friend Ben House, a devoted educator, pastor, and frequent correspondent in this space, has done a great job in summarizing the historical background of these connections. This is a wonderful story that must be told again and again and again--lest we forget:

On July 4 we celebrate our nation's victory in the War for Independence. We acknowledge our Declaration of Independence, addressed to the world, about the British government-a government that protected the colonies for over 150 years and provoked them for about twelve years.

The 13 colonies revolted against the most liberal (in the best sense of that word) government of its day. They revolted over a tea tax with rates so low as to make any modern libertarian green with envy. They separated themselves from the land of their mother tongue, cultural heritage, and religious background. Some of the actual causes were so principled as to baffle us in our age of pragmatism. The risks and improbabilities of success were so great as to as astound us in our age of careful calculations. The degree of internal colonial dissent is perplexing to us in an age of 'truth by polling.' The number of Patriot leaders that emerged-political, military, and theological leaders-seems mythical to use in an age of mediocrity. The rhetoric of freedom and the political acuity amazes us in our age of political banality.

From our school days and from some famous paintings, we as Americans share some common images of the war, some slightly distorted by the facts. We hear the galloping horse and Paul Revere's voice, breaking the midnight calm, announcing, “The Redcoats are coming.” We see Gen. Washington, standing at the stern of a boat, surrounded by the boatmen-soldiers, crossing the Delaware River. We have images of Sons of Liberty, gathered in taverns with tankards of brew and pipes, joined in impassioned discussions of no taxation without representation. We remember a room filled with solemn men, with powdered wigs and finely tailored jackets, signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4. We picture three ragged and tattered soldiers with drum and fife and flag embodying the Spirit of '76. We picture Betsy Ross intently sewing stars on the flag.

Thanks to recent grand and epic (and best-selling) biographies of such men as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, Americans are renewing an interest in the war and early days of the Republic. Thanks to Mel Gibson's movie “The Patriot” from a few years back, the vast public that learns history at the box office imbibed some of the images and complexities of the southern campaigns of that war. (Where were the critics warning of potential violence and prejudice against the English when the movie first aired?)

Still, we know little about our War for Independence. It was twice as long as that other long war, the War Between the States. (It was seven years after the signing of the Declaration and nine years after the firing of the first shots of the war.) It also was, in a true sense, an actual civil war, with about a third of the colonists-the Patriots-fighting for independence, a third-the Tories or Loyalists-fighting just as fiercely against independence, and another third straddling the fence.

George Washington, having once aspired to be a British officer, led the Continental Army, but lost far more battles than he won. In fact, at the Battle of Saratoga, usually proclaimed to be the turning point, Washington was not even present. Someone who was present and who played a key role in America's success in that battle was Benedict Arnold, usually remembered only as a traitor.

That same battle not only netted the Patriots a great victory, but it turned the war into a World War. France, believe it or not, actually sided with the U.S. France, believe it or not, sent supplies, soldiers, and naval support that helped secure our victory. Spain, the Netherlands, and Russia also supported the Colonial cause.

Britain, so long blessed with so many talented leaders in the halls of government and the fields of battle, spawned a host of political incompetents and military imbeciles. America, thought to be backward and rustic, produced not only a war-winning first string of leaders, but also a second and third string of brilliant men. The most brilliant British politician of that day, Edmund Burke, defended the American cause before Parliament.

In this war, the British issued an 'emancipation proclamation', but the slaveholders, like Washington, Jefferson, and others-denounced by no less than Samuel Johnson-won the war fought in the name of human freedom. In this war, the secessionists-their justification presented in the Declaration of Independence-won. This war resulted in the world, as many knew it, being turned upside down.

This war secured the American Northwest Territory-the area from the Ohio River Valley to the Mississippi River-, which kept the fledgling United States from being a narrow coastal nation comparable to Chili. This opened a new frontier that enabled the nation to fulfill its Manifest Destiny. This was due to the victories at such places as Kaskasia by one of the less known heroes, George Rogers Clark.

In this war German-speaking Hessian mercenaries did battle against German- speaking Patriots at such battles as Trenton. Highland Scots donned Red Coats and raised the musket against Ulster Scots and Scots-Irish uniformed in American homespun at such battles as Moore's Creek. Americans faced fellow Americans, neighbors against neighbors, brothers against brothers, and uncivilly used bayonet and torch against the lives and properties of each other.

Like so many wars within the confines of historic Christendom, men who read the same Bible, recited the same creeds, and prayed the same prayers to God, shouldered muskets and marched off to battle and killed each other.

The Patriots were not perfect or blameless; the war was not neat and pretty; the causes were not altogether as clear-cut as one might wish. In a world of wars and rumors of war, war itself creates its own momentum, and what was the main cause is superseded by circumstances outside of the cause.

"Why do men fight?" is a question that baffles the philosopher and the general as well.

In this mix of shared images, forgotten details, and complexities, we have much neglected the religious aspects of this war. Carl Bridenbaugh, in his book Mitre and Sceptre, stood almost alone among modern historians in proclaiming, “Religion was the cause of the American Revolution.” What has been somewhat slighted by modern historians and largely forgotten in the public mind was well known by the participants in that war.

Congregationalists in the New England colonies were the descendants of the Puritan Roundheads, those who raised the banner with Cromwell and Hamden against the Royal forces under King Charles I. Scots-Irish on the frontier were the descendants of the Covenanters who, in the tradition of John Knox and Andrew Melville, opposed the imposition of Anglican Prayer Books and Bishops. In our day, we still have enough cultural memory of our fathers' wars against Nazi and Japanese aggression and against Communist expansion to rile us anew against the tyranny of modern terrorism. In colonial America, the memories of fighting for the Crown Rights of King Jesus, for a free church, and religious freedom were not forgotten. British suppression of the rights of Englishmen and British imposition of taxation apart from representation dovetailed naturally with the fear of a British-appointed Anglican Bishop to the colonies.

So the spiritual sons of Calvin and Knox and the Puritans from New England through the Middle Colonies to the Southern frontier all armed for battle.

A Hessian captain wrote in 1778, “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian rebellion.” In Parliament, Horace Walpole agreed, saying, “There is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson.” In particular, he was referring to the Reverend John Witherspoon, a key Founding Father, and immigrant from Scotland who signed the Declaration of Independence. King George III himself was reported to have called the war a Presbyterian War.

From the colonies, an Episcopalian from Philadelphia said, “A Presbyterian loyalist was a thing unheard of.” A representative of Lord Dartmouth wrote from New York in November 1776: “Presbyterianism is really at the bottom of this whole Conspiracy, has supplied it with Vigour, and will never rest, till something is decided upon it.”

John D. Sergeant, a member of the Continental Congress from New Jersey, speaking favorably of the Presbyterians, credited the Scotch-Irish as being the main pillar supporting the Revolution in Pennsylvania. A New Englander, who took the opposite view of the war, called the Scotch-Irish “the most God-provoking democrats this side of Hell.”

An English official noted that the war “is at the bottom very much a religious war.” British wags caricatured the colonials in print with the character "John Presbyter," an ingrate, filled with deceit and pride against the pure maiden mother country.

The British and colonials did not just imagine this vast Calvinistic conspiracy. Alan Heimert, says, “When the time came for action, moreover, the Calvinistic ministry were the first and longest in the field.” As an example he cites the case of Benjamin Pomeroy, who at the age of 71, rushed to serve in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Other examples abound. Calvinist John Cleaveland served on Washington's staff. Calvinist Thomas Allen was described by Washington Irving as “a belligerent parson, full of fight.” Missionary David Avery fought at Bunker Hill and Ticonderoga (where a musket ball passed through his eye) and Saratoga. David Jones, a Baptist Calvinist in the tradition of Isaac Backus, nearly died at the hands of Tories in New Jersey. He went on to serve in the military from 1776 to 1781. Some years later, in the War of 1812, at the age of 76, he enlisted for his second war with Britain.

In one episode of the war, the Reverend James Caldwell in New Jersey was away from home when British soldiers killed his wife (whether intentional or not is not clear) and burned his home. With a price on his head and filled with desire to punish the enemy, Caldwell joined to meet the Patriot army in battle. At a point when the soldiers were running out of the paper wadding needed to hold the powder and ball in place in their muskets, Caldwell gathered up copies of Isaac Watts' Psalms and Hymns. Ripping out pages, he passed them out to the soldiers, saying, “Put Watts into 'em, boys! Give 'em Watts!”

Henry Alexander White tells the following story: “A call for soldiers to fight in the Revolutionary army was sent out by the Virginia legislature. When the people of Rockbridge Country met together to consider this call, they were addressed by [Pastor] William Graham. He urged the men to offer themselves for the battle, but only a few stepped forward. Then Graham walked out from the crowd and offered himself as a soldier. A large number of men followed him; the company of men were made up at once and William Graham was chosen as captain.”

When the British General Cornwallis entered Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, the men of seven churches congregated and formed a unit to oppose him. After confronting this assembly in battle, Cornwallis referred to this area as “the Hornet's Nest.” He wrote, “It is evident…that the counties of Mecklenburg and Rowan are more hostile to England than any in America.”

James Hall, the pastor of three Presbyterian congregations in Iredell County, North Carolina, preached to his congregations about the wrongs that had been inflicted upon their South Carolina countrymen, and then he called upon the men to take up arms and fight.

The men then called upon Pastor Hall to lead them. White tells us, “He put on a three cornered hat, buckled a long sword about him and rode away into the field. Whenever his men went into camp he preached to them the gospel of grace and liberty.”

This pattern of pastoral leadership in the pulpit and field was common throughout the colonies. Alan Heimert points out, “In the spring of 1775 whole Calvinist congregations, often in response to a single sermon, followed their preachers into battle, and for eight years members of the household of faith served at Valley Forge and Bennington, at Cowpens and Eutaw Springs.”

Even the young men studying in the Classical Christian academies of that day joined in the cause. In the Prince Edward Academy, it is told, “After July, 1776, all of the students over sixteen years of age, about sixty-five in number, were organized as a military company. John Blair Smith was chosen captain. Each of the young soldiers wore as a uniform a hunting shirt colored with purple dye. The next year (1777) they answered the governor's call and marched to Williamsburg to meet the British.”

Pastor Samuel Doak prayed for the men who were marching off to the battle of King's Mountain and exhorted them saying, “Go forth, my brave men and may the sword of the Lord and of Gideon go with you.”

William Henry White summarized the war on the Southern frontier (arguably where the war was won) by saying, “And who were the men who destroyed Ferguson's force and caused the plans of Cornwallis to fail? They were mounted riflemen from the Presbyterian congregations of the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.”

Pastors and congregations paid a severe price for their commitment. British soldiers burned the house and books of Pastor John Simpson in Chester County, South Carolina. Pastor Simpson, meanwhile, was with the fighting men of his congregation, preaching to them.

British soldiers burned the home of Elder John James of Indiantown, South Carolina; also they burned his church and other homes. White says that they “flung into the fire every copy of the Bible and of the Scotch version of the Psalms that they could find. The British regarded the war in this region as against Presbyterians, and in revenge they destroyed houses of worship and books of devotion.”

Cornwallis's army destroyed the Waxhaws church in the Carolinas. At an earlier point in the war, this church had served as a field hospital for the wounded. The vicinity of the church was a staging area for some time for the frontier militia. This was the home region and church of a teenage frontiersman and soldier named Andrew Jackson. While he had his rough and rowdy years, he never forgot the Presbyterian faith of his youth; neither did he forget his bitterness toward the British. In his later years, he was known for being a faithful believer. A visitor to this region in 1767, the Anglican missionary, Reverend Charles Woodmason, had described it as “a very fruitful Spot”, but he lamented that it was “occupied by a Sett of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing-Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland.”

Henry Alexander White tells of another attack on a church. He says, “Some of the British solders went to Hugh McAden's church at the Red House, and encamped in the house of worship, and burned all of McAden's books. The main body of the British army encamped for a time on Caldwell's plantation; some of the officer's drove out the preacher's family and made their home in his house. Moreover, they burned his Bible and Psalm-books, and with them all the rest of his library and his papers.”

In his book, Presbyterians and the Revolution, W.P Breed states “more than fifty places of worship throughout the land were utterly destroyed by the enemy during the war.”

The Scots-Irish minister William Martin was imprisoned and taken before General Cornwallis. He most aptly and succinctly defended the cause and conduct of the Christians in the war.

He was told, “You are charged with preaching rebellion from the pulpit-you, an old man and a minister of the gospel of peace-with advocating rebellion against your lawful sovereign, King George III!”

Pastor Martin replied, “I am happy to appear before you. For many months I have been held in chains for preaching what I believe to be the truth. As to King George, I owe him nothing but good will. I am not unacquainted with his private character...As a king, he was bound to protect his subjects in the enjoyment of their rights. Protection and allegiance go together, and when one fails the other cannot be expected. The declaration of Independence is but a reiteration of what our [Scotch] Covenanting fathers have always maintained.”

The hodge-podge of an army that peppered and pounded Cornwallis' troops all through the Carolinas and inflicted defeats at Cowpens, King's Mountain, and Guilford Courthouse was largely manned by Presbyterian laymen-soldiers and led by Presbyterian elders and officers, often holding both titles. This same army pursued Cornwallis and his British army to the fateful village of Yorktown. Here they were joined with the Congregationalists from New England and other Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies. Led by the Anglican vestryman George Washington and aided by the Catholic French army and navy, this great ecumenical council ended the main British efforts to subdue to colonies.

Without blindly attributing the victory solely to Presbyterians, Scots-Irish, or even Southerners, it has to be recognized that something in the essence of Calvinistic theology made the difference. Along with being a War for Independence, more than being an American Revolution, more than being a war over tea and taxes, it was a Presbyterian War.

No comments: