The Calvinist Roots of the American Revolution and the Second Amendment:

That's the topic of a new article I've written for Liberty magazine. First year law students may be interested in observing the importance of contract law in the right of revolution against tyranny.

Also, the latest version of my draft article, Pacifist-Aggressives vs. the Second Amendment: An Analysis of Modern Philosophies of Compulsory Non-violence is now on-line. (3 Charleston Law Review, no. 1, forthcoming). VC readers first saw this article, as a working paper, last fall. It's been significantly revised, in part thanks to helpful commenters from VC readers.

Calvinist? I don't think so. You could reasonably say that about the French Revolution, but the American revolutionaries, prior to 1800, at least, and excluding the Dreamer-In-Chief (Jefferson) had a healthy contempt for the Jacobin tendencies so exquisitely exhibited by that intolerant Genevan heretic-burner. Feh.
9.9.2008 8:35pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Thanks for posting this. I look forward to reading it. I've studied this in meticulous detail and know the story is very very complicated. For one John Calvin, in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, was against revolution and were he alive would have been on the Tory's side.
9.9.2008 9:16pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I haven't read the whole thing but look forward to reading it in detail when I get home from work tonight and blogging about it in the next few days on American Creation (dedicated solely to discussing issues of religion and the US Founding) and my other websites.

The "Institutes of the Christian Religion" was Calvin's masterpiece. It was first published in 1536, and revised editions appeared until 1560. In this work, he argued that legitimate governments ruled with the consent of the governed....

Hmmm. Perhaps he did in not so many words, I seriously doubt (I might be wrong) Calvin ever used the phrase "consent of the governed."

For the other side -- the side that argues Calvinism is ACTUALLY the spiritual side of divine right of kings -- see this excellent article by Dr. Gregg Frazer who teaches at The Masters College which extensively quotes from Calvin's "Institutes."

Here's a taste:

Calvin said: "We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office,even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes." And "we must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him" and "if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid." He warned, "Make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God." One more from Calvin: "And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord's vengeance [on tyrants], we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer." [Emphasis mine] (Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion")

Look in the original for the italics that didn't reproduce.
9.9.2008 9:27pm
Dave N (mail):

Yes, Calvinist, as in that signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon and the Revolutionary leaders who studied at (the Calvinistic Presbyterian) Princeton University while he was its president--you know, such political non-entities as James Madison and Aaron Burr.
9.9.2008 9:35pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
One thing of interest to me is the structure of the Presbyterian Church, as compared to the other traditional churches, and to our country. The Presbyterian Church is not a direct democracy, as are some others, notably the Congregational, and is not top-down like the Methodist (and Roman Catholic) religions. Rather, it has a federal type organization, with the power really being at the Presbytery level, which is similar to, and in many cases in this country, parallel to our states. Congregations send delegates to the Presbytery (lay delegates being elected). Ministers are hired by a congregation through the Presbytery, and can only be fired by the Presbytery (which is a major endeavor). The Presbytery in turn sends delegates to the national organization. In other words, it is organized very similarly to how our country is, or at least how it was originally organized. Or, alternatively, the U.S. was organized like the Presbyterian Church.
9.9.2008 10:17pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
There is no significant evidence that Witherspoon's Calvinism at all influenced his opinion on revolt. To the contrary, he was imbibed in Locke and the Scottish Enlightenment. Further, I've seen it argued Locke was influenced by the Calvinist Rutherford, but no evidence shows that he was.
9.9.2008 10:35pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

In other words, it is organized very similarly to how our country is, or at least how it was originally organized. Or, alternatively, the U.S. was organized like the Presbyterian Church.

Jefferson, J. Adams, G. Morris and others hated Calvinism and thought Presbyterianism to be too powerfully top down. Calvinism may have had some qualified influence on the key Founders, but like with Rousseau and Hobbes it was by osmosis.
9.9.2008 10:40pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

In the American colonies, the hotbed of revolution was New England, where the people were mainly Congregationalists—descendants of the Calvinist English Puritans. The Presbyterians, a Calvinist sect which originated in Scotland, were spread all of the colonies, and the network of Presbyterian ministers provided links among them. The Congregationalist and Presbyterian ministers played an indispensible [sic] role in inciting the American Revolution.

Okay -- this paragraph is problematic. Kopel knows well (because he wrote an article on Jonathan Mayhew where he accurately described him as an Enlightenment unitarian preacher) that many of the 18th Century pro-revolt New England Congregational preachers were not trinitarian Calvinists but unitarian Arminians. These preachers like Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Samuel West were arguably the antithesis of "Calvinists" and as unitarians, arguably not even "Christians" whatever they called themselves.
9.9.2008 11:10pm
Mark Field (mail):
Jon Rowe, in your view would Roger Sherman qualify as a Calvinist?
9.9.2008 11:18pm
Mark Field (mail):

Yes, Calvinist, as in that signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Rev. John Witherspoon and the Revolutionary leaders who studied at (the Calvinistic Presbyterian) Princeton University while he was its president--you know, such political non-entities as James Madison and Aaron Burr.

Describing Madison as a Calvinist seems to me to be quite a stretch.
9.9.2008 11:19pm
Dave N (mail):
Jon Rowe,

You may have more expertise on these matters than I do (since this is an area of interest but one with which I pretend no expertise). However, the Wikipedia article on John Witherspoon that I linked above mentioned that in Scotland, "Witherspoon became prominent within the Church as an Evangelical opponent of the Moderate Party.[4] During his two pastorates he wrote three well-known works on theology, notably the satire "Ecclesiastical Characteristics" (1753) opposing the philosophical influence of Francis Hutcheson."

Francis Hutcheson, again according to Wikipedia, is described as "one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment."

I am not sure what to make of this--since it seems contrary to your assertion and I am interested in your thoughts.
9.9.2008 11:36pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Sherman was from what I have studied an orthodox Christian. I'm not sure whether he was a Calvinist; he may very well have been. I know he fervently argued against the notion of universal salvation which had become in vogue during the founding era.
9.9.2008 11:40pm
Cold Warrior:
Does Liberty magazine (WTF?) actually have editors?

Because as Splunge, et al, immediately noticed: this is a preposterous thesis. No, I'm not going to wait and read it first. John Calvin, revolutionary?

I eagerly await the sequel: Meister Eckhart and the Theological Underpinnings of the Prohibition on the Quartering of Soldiers in Time of Peace. Liberty's circulation will skyrocket!
9.9.2008 11:54pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Madison, though he may have had some Calvinist influence wasn't a Calvinist and arguably wasn't even a Christian.

Re Witherspoon I blogged about this issue in detail here. Money quote:

Witherspoon the naturalist and rationalist, not Witherspoon the Calvinist influenced James Madison et al. As Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden point out in "The Search For Christian America," though Witherspoon, in Scotland, defended orthodoxy against Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Francis Hutcheson, in his Lectures he "turned instinctively to the books of his erstwhile theological opponents, Hume, Hutcheson, and other philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment." [The Search For Christian America] pp. 88-89
9.10.2008 12:07am
Mark Field (mail):
Dave, I think the way to reconcile Witherspoon's views is to see him as a truly great teacher (which, by all accounts, he was). This meant that he exposed his students to the modern thinkers even if he himself opposed them. That's actually quite a tribute to the man.
9.10.2008 12:11am
Dave N (mail):
Jon Rowe,

Thanks. I found that very interesting.
9.10.2008 12:13am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

From what I've seen of Witherspoon and his relationship to Madison et al. you are right on the money. He had his students read all kinds of stuff many of which was totally inconsistent with Calvinism.
9.10.2008 12:13am
David Warner:
Jon Rowe,

"For one John Calvin, in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, was against revolution and were he alive would have been on the Tory's side."

Knox - not so much. As with Christ and Christians, sometimes the Calvinist apples fell quite far from the Calvin tree, for good and ill.

It can be argued whether the Scottish Enlightenment was a reaction to or an outgrowth of the Kirk, but surely the two are not unrelated, and therefore some chain of influence should exist with the American Revolution.
9.10.2008 3:15am
David Warner:

"John Calvin, revolutionary?"

Somehow I don't think Sadoleto would be so incredulous. What is revolutionary today is tomorrow commonplace, and yet some few of the underlying ideas retain their salience to future revolutionaries, at times under different names.
9.10.2008 3:22am
David Warner:
From Troelsch's Protestantism and Progress:

"Quite different was the development of the political spirit of Calvinism. Generally speaking, its State-adaptation of the Law of Nature is at bottom also conservative, though where it has open to it the possibility of the free choice and constitution of new authorities, it prefers a modified aristocracy, as is not surprising in view of its original connexion with the Genevan republic, and the prominence which it gives to the aristocratic idea of predestination. But in its great struggles with the Catholic governments which proscribed the pure word of God, that is to say, the Huguenot, Netherlandish, Scottish, and English struggles, Calvinism gave a much more radical development to its Law of Nature. It successfully established the principle of the right of resistance, which must be exercised on behalf of the word of God in the face of ungodly authorities, the exercise of which becomes the duty of the magistats inferieurs as the next in order as holders of the Divine commission, while, failing these, it must be put in practice even by the individual; indeed, in virtue of a special individual call thereto, the assassination of a tyrant is permissible, as in the case of Jael and Sisera.

This more radical conception gives to the Calvinistic Law of Nature a tendency towards progress, an impulse to reorganise governmental conditions when these were of an "ungodly" character. Moreover, in these attempts at reorganisation themselves, there appears a specifically Reformed idea of the State. For in all such reorganisations the germ-cell was the Reformed presbyterial and synodical Church-order, with its representative system. Thus, in the natural course of things, this system tended towards the theory that the State ought to be reorganised---the State
itself must be built up on representative lines and ruled by a collegium consisting of those put forward as the "best" by the choice of the electors. Under the influence of these ideas, as has been pointed out especially by Gierke, the Calvinistic conception of the Law of Nature took up into itself the idea of the State-contract. On these lines the Lex Naturae leads by the logic of events to a constitution and choice of authorities based on contract."
9.10.2008 3:38am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Yes that's the kernel of truth I see in Kopel's argument. Later Calvinists made arguments advocating resisting tyrannical Kings that Cavlin himself would not have agreed with. They tried to make the most out of Calvin's idea of "interposition."
9.10.2008 1:09pm
David Warner:
Jon Rowe,

I don't know - I've always thought of Calvin as sort of a hot-blooded libertarian law professor.

= )

Or at least he was until Farel dragged him away by the ear.
9.11.2008 3:34am