January 23, 2014
Instructor: Douglas V. Gibbs
41669 Winchester Rd.
· Founding Documents, and Other Influential Documents
The Four Founding Documents are the Articles of Association, The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and The United States Constitution. Many other documents were also a great influence on the Constitution.
· Holy Bible, Old Testament, Torah
· The Laws of the Twelve Tables of the Roman Republic (About 450 B.C.)
· Magna Carta (1215)
· English Bill of Rights (1689)
· Connecticut Fundamental Orders (1689)
· Articles of Association (1774)
· Declaration of Independence (1776)
· Articles of Confederation (1781)
· Northwest Ordinance (1787)
· United States Constitution (1787)
Holy Bible, Old Testament, Torah
Included in the list of influences on the Founding Fathers, during the Constitutional Convention, is the Holy Bible. More specifically, the American Constitution is largely rooted in ethical and political principles from the Torah, the Five Books of Moses.
The founders were dominantly Protestant, and were encouraged by the revolutionary reform launched by the Protestant Reformation. As “Bible Believing” Christians, the ranks of the originators of the American System saw in the Five Books of the Bible written by Moses an important framework for modern government. Many of the Colonial governments adopted or adapted Torah principles and values in organizing their own systems.
The government of the Hebrews was, historically, the first republic, and one that played a large role in shaping the American experiment.
No nation has been more profoundly influenced by the "Old Testament" than America. The political design of Israel was no doubt a large part of establishing the general model of governance of the United States of America.
Throughout America’s founding documents, the doctrine of a Higher Law is present. The documents make reference to “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” the “Supreme Judge,” the “Creator,” and “Divine Providence” in a continuous fashion. The freedoms attained are called the “Blessings of Liberty,” in the Constitution.
Prior to the formation of the United States as a nation, the colonies adopted and adapted various Hebraic laws for their own governance. The legislation of New Haven, for example, in thirty-eight of seventy-nine statutes, derives their authority from the Hebrew Bible. The laws of other colonies were also based on the same premise.
In his “Farewell Address,” President George Washington declared: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports…. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in the exclusion of religious principle.”
To remain a free people under the union of States, Washington believed, requires national morality, a precondition of which is religion. Morality and religion are a check against human nature, a natural tendency to sin, man’s tendency to seek self-indulgence and his tendency to chase the immediate gratification of his own desires. Without religion and morality, a culture war would emerge where the citizens would fail to exhibit self-restraint and consideration of others. Religion inspires men, encourages individuality, and directs him with reverence, wisdom, and a desire for self-reliance.
As prescribed by the Constitution, The House of Representatives is designed to contain representatives from distinct districts, where the people of each district elect one person to represent their views and interests. District elections is implicit in the Book of Deuteronomy. “Select for yourselves men who are wise, understanding, and known to your tribes and I will appoint them as your leaders” (Deut. 1:13). The word “election” comes from the word “elect,” and the “elect” means men of high intellectual and moral character.
A principle of Jewish law reads, “No legislation should be imposed on the public unless the majority can conform to it” (Avoda Zara 36a). According to the principles established by the Torah, legislators are required to consider or consult the opinions of their constituents. Representatives must be “men who are wise, and understanding,” but also men that legislate in a manner that is in line with his constituents.
The Senate and the States are also concepts influenced by Hebrew principles of governance. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel had its own distinct identity, its own governor and its own judicial system.
Even the presidency finds itself to have influences from the political system of the Ancient Israelites. Unlike parliamentary systems like most governments in Europe, the United States has a Unitary Executive, the President. When Moses told Joshua to consult the elders when he was about to lead the Jews across the Jordan, God countermanded Moses: there can only be one leader in a generation. Further examination recognizes that though the representative government was important, a single executive was also important, rather than many heads, or a collective leadership where the perceived head is also a part of the legislative body.
“The adoption of the Constitution will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it.” - George Washington
“I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a transaction [the framing of the Constitution] of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions…should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent…and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live, and move, and have their being.” - Benjamin Franklin
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” - John Adams
The Laws of the Twelve Tables of the Roman Republic
Among the oldest influences on the American Form of Government was Roman law. Roman Law was based on the Law of the Twelve Tables.
During the era of the Roman Republic (509 to 49 BC), lawmaking was bicameral. An assembly of the citizens, the lower legislative body, passed legislation. It was then approved by the representatives of the upper class, or the senate, and issued in the name of the senate and the people of Rome. In the United States we also have a bicameral legislative body, requiring that all laws go through two legislative bodies before being presented to the executive. In the United States government, these Houses of Congress are called The House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.
The Twelve Tables of Roman law governed crimes, property, debts, and injuries. They were recorded on bronze and wooden tablets ("tables") around 450 B.C. and put on display at the Forum in Rome for all to see. A thousand years later, in 535 A.D., by order of the emperor Justinian, the tables were put into writing. The Justinian Code became a large influence on the evolution and development of modern law in Europe, and in countries around the globe where European influence was felt.
Magna Carta (Great Charter)
The greatest of the influences on the Founding Fathers came from their own history in England. Before they fought the American Revolution, or began penning the American founding documents that proclaimed freedom, and independence, was the Magna Carta.
The Great English Charter served as an historical precedent for asserting their rightful liberties from the British Crown, and the English Parliament. The framers of the Constitution drew inspiration and direction from the assembly of barons in 1215 that confronted a despotic and financially bankrupt King John, demanding that traditional rights be recognized, written down, confirmed with the royal seal, and sent to each of the counties to be read to all freemen. The Magna Carta served as an incredible achievement in 1215, and later provided inspiration for the American colonists forging a new nation.
Originally known as the "Articles of the barons," the formal version of the Magna Carta was issued on June 19, 1215. There was a minor change in the new document, when the final provision was drafted, replacing the term "any baron" with "any freeman" in stipulating to whom the provisions applied. The term would eventually include all English, and was a starting point for the Constitution’s Preamble, where “any freeman” was changed once again, but this time to the first three words of the American document: "We the People."
The Magna Carta's primary purpose was restorative: to force King John to recognize the supremacy of ancient liberties, to limit his ability to raise funds, and to reassert the principle of "due process." The final clause of the document created an enforcement council of tenants-in-chief and clergymen, severely limiting the king's power and introduced something new to English law: the principle of "majority rule." At John's urging, during the following September, Pope Innocent II annulled the "shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the king by violence and fear." The civil war that followed ended in King John's death in October of 1216.
The Magna Carta was reissued in 1217 by the monarchy, in hopes of gaining support for the new king, John's 9-year-old son, Henry III. It was again issued by Henry when he assumed personal control of the throne in 1225. Both times the charter was reintroduced, it lacked some provisions, including that providing for the enforcement council, found in the original.
The English Colonists developed legal codes largely incorporating liberties guaranteed by Magna Carta and the 1689 English Bill of Rights. Though the education of the colonists varied, and few could afford legal training in England, they were familiar with English common law. During one parliamentary debate in the late 18th century, Edmund Burke observed, "In no country, perhaps in the world, is law so general a study."
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson drew inspiration from the doctrines of the British constitution, or in what were called English liberties.
America was a place where freemen adopted the best of the English system, while adapting it to new circumstances. The English Colonies was a place where a person could rise by merit, not birth; a place where men could voice their opinions and actively share in self-government. When the British Crown challenged these beliefs, turning to the colonies as a source of revenue to help alleviate the Crown’s substantial debts, and the growing expense of keeping troops on American soil, the colonists questioned the government in Britain, challenging the actions of parliament, arguing that without consent or direct representation in Parliament, the acts by the motherland were "taxation without representation," and an act of tyranny against the free peoples of the colonies.
The influence of the Magna Carta, and the demand for liberty, was with the colonists long before the War of Independence. As John Adams later wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "The Revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of 15 years before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington."
The Americans would have their rights, and they would fight for them. The seal adopted by Massachusetts on the eve of the Revolution summed up the mood--a militiaman with sword in one hand and Magna Carta in the other.
When it was time to form a new government, embodied in the Constitution of the United States, where the authority emanated directly from the people, not from any governmental body, like the Magna Carta, the Constitution would be "the supreme Law of the Land." Under the Magna Carta, no man, not even the king, was considered to be above the law. That was the basis of constitutional thought in the United States.
"A government of laws, and not of men." - John Adams
English Bill of Rights
As a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the English Bill of Rights (1689) further limited the monarchy in England. The English Bill of Rights is still in effect and is a cornerstone of law in the United Kingdom. It calls for freedom of speech, regular elections, the right to petition, the right to bear arms, no cruel or unusual punishment and calls for the consent of the people.
A number of provisions in the Constitution are taken by direct influence of the English Bill of Rights. Included in these provisions influenced by the English Bill of Rights are the clause requiring that the President faithfully execute the laws enacted by Congress; the possession of the purse strings by the House of Representatives; the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances; the Third Amendment which forbids the quartering of soldiers in private homes; the right to keep and bear arms; free elections; free speech; jury of our peers; and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Connecticut Fundamental Orders
The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was the first written constitution in North America. The document was comprised of a preamble, and eleven orders. The document was heavily influenced by biblical principles, and remained the colony’s law until 1662. The Orders called for a “good and orderly government” to “order and dispose” of peoples’ affairs as the reason for people to “associate and conjoin” themselves into a Commonwealth. The purpose of the Commonwealth was “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus,” as well as to formulate “Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees” to guide civil affairs.
The Orders provided for election of a governor and six magistrates, and the body of government had a legislative body, an executive, and a judicial power. It also included guidelines for representation, paying taxes, and contained a bill of rights.
Articles of Association
In response to the Boston Tea Party on December 17, 1773, and other colonial acts of destruction of British property, the British Parliament enacted the Coercive Acts in the spring of 1774.
Seeking to quell the "commotions and insurrections" taking place in Boston, the passage of the acts was designed to punish the dissent in Massachusetts, and to serve as a visible consequence for rebellious activities.
The first act closed the port of Boston on 1 June 1774. Parliament added the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act, to take effect in the summer of 1774. These three acts, together with the Quebec Act and the Quartering Act, completed the collective group of British legislation known collectively as the "Coercive Acts."
Although the three of the Coercive Acts were directed at Boston and Massachusetts, the colonial leaders worked furiously to remind all colonists that they "suffer in the common cause."
A committee formed, calling for a plan of resistance known as the Solemn League and Covenant. The covenant called upon all colonists to boycott British goods.
In September of 1774, representatives from twelve of the American colonies gathered in Philadelphia to discuss a unified course of resistance to the Coercive Acts. The Continental Congress appealed to King George III for redress.
What came out of the gatherings was the Articles of Association, which united the colonies through a universal prohibition of trade with Great Britain. The Articles of Association prohibited import, consumption, and export of goods with England. Most of the associations prior to the Articles of Association were individual associations. The Articles of Association in 1774 established citizen committees to enforce the act throughout the colonies.
Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence is heralded as having been written by Thomas Jefferson, and though he penned it, the writing of the document was actually by committee. The committee of five appointed by the Continental Congress was Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert R. Livingston of New York. Roger Sherman, interestingly enough, is the only Founding Father whose signature is on each of the four founding documents, the Articles of Association, The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.
The Declaration was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and outlined the reasons why the colonies were seeking independence from Great Britain.
The document declares that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish their government should it become destructive. It also states that these truths are self-evident, and that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
A list of grievances are given, most of which are also iterated in the U.S. Constitution. The Declaration calls for fair representation, encourages immigration, a judiciary separated from the will of the monarchy, a stop to the presence of a standing army, a stop to the quartering of troops in the houses of the citizens, fair trials, due process, free trade, fair taxation, a protection of rights, and for the Crown to hear the redress of grievances by the colonists.
The call for independence then ends with an incredible statement. “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Articles of Confederation
A constitution existed before the U.S. Constitution, and it was called the Articles of Confederation. The government under the Articles of Confederation, however, was too weak to protect the union of states, so the founders met in May of 1787 to fix the Articles of Confederation, and if necessary, form a whole new government with the writing of a new constitution.
The Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation during the Revolutionary War, as a way to create and maintain the Continental Army. The problem was, because of the great fear of the existence of a central government, the government under the Articles of Confederation was given the job of enabling diplomacy, printing money, resolving controversies between the states and coordinating the war effort (which included the creation and maintenance of the Continental Army), but the government under the Articles of Confederation was given no authorities to accomplish the tasks.
Under the Articles of Confederation, the congress could request States to send soldiers, but they couldn't demand or enforce the request. The central government could print money, but they could not tax.
Printing money to pay for the war, but not backing the money with anything, led to incredible inflation. By the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the currency was worthless. When the government under the Articles of Confederation asked the States to raise taxes to back the currency, most refused and began printing their own money.
Under the Articles, the legislature consisted of only one house, and each State only had one vote. They needed 9 of 13 states to enact a law, and in order to amend the articles themselves, they needed unanimous agreements from the States.
The articles were originally written to give the colonies some sense of a unified government. But since the Articles of Confederation was written with such a strong emphasis on State autonomy, it gave little care to the union, or the external issues that accompanies a national structure.
The Articles made the states and legislature supreme. The President was a figurehead with no power. Judicial functions were very limited, and virtually non-existent.
Many of the principles of the Constitution were, however, introduced in the Articles of Confederation. Understanding the Articles of Confederation gives clues as to why the founders drafted the Constitution in the manner that they did.
Under the Articles of Confederation, while the United States Constitution was being drafted, in 1787, the Northwest Ordinance was passed. The Northwest Ordinance established a process for admitting territories to the Union as States. The territories were to be governed by Congress until it had 5,000 free, white males. Once the territory reached that level of population, the settlers could vote whether to become a permanent State with all the rights of the other States in the Union.
The Northwest Ordinance also disallowed slavery in the new territories, granted freedom of religion, and the right to trial by jury.
Now on to the The Path to the United States Constitution. . . And don’t worry, we didn’t forget the Mayflower Compact. Read about it in the beginning of the next lesson!
- Articles of Confederation, Avalon Project - Yale University: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/artconf.asp
- Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, Bill of Rights Institute: http://billofrightsinstitute.org/resources/educator- resources/americapedia/americapedia-documents/orders-of-connecticut/
- John L. Hancock, Liberty Inherited: The Untold Story of America’s Exceptionalism; Liberty Lane Media (2011)
- The Articles of Assocation; October 20, 1774, Avalon Project - Yale University:
- The Jewish Torah Roots of the American Constitution by Prof. Paul Eidelberg, Destination Yisra’el: http://destination-yisrael.biblesearchers.com/destination- yisrael/2010/07/the-jewish-torah-roots-of-the-american-constitution-by-prof-paul- eidelberg.html
- The Laws of the Twelve Tables, Constitution.org: http://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm
- The Magna Carta, Constitution.org: http://www.constitution.org/eng/magnacar.htm
- W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap: The 28 Great Ideas That Changed The World, Washington: National Center for Constitutional Studies (1981)
Copyright: Douglas V. Gibbs, 2014