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Scots and the Declaration Of Independence

Presbyterians in the Colonies, being dissenters, were untrammeled and free to speak their mind in defence of their country's right, and history shows that they did not fail their opportunity: the doctrine of passive obedience never finding favor with them. In the Colonies the Presbyterian ministers claimed equal rights, religious freedom, and civil liberty. Their teaching had great influence, particularly in the South, and Patrick Henry of Virginia, David Caldwell, Dr. Ephraim Brevard, Rev. Alexander Craighead (d. 1766), and James Hall of North Carolina, the two Rutledges and Tennant of South Carolina, William Murdoch of Maryland, James Wilson and Thomas Craighead of Pennsylvania, Witherspoon of New Jersey, Read and McKean of Delaware, Livingston of New York, and Thornton of New Hampshire, with their associates had prepared the people for the coming conflict. In Maryland the lower house of the General Assembly was a fortress of popular rights and of civil liberty. Its resolutions and messages, beginning in 1733, and in an uninterrupted chain until 1755 continually declared "that it is the peculiar right of his Majesty's subjects not to be liable to any tax or other imposition but what is laid on them by laws to which they themselves are a party." These principles were reiterated and recorded upon the journals of every Assembly until 1771. The resolutions, addresses, and messages of the lower house during this period discuss with remarkable fullness and accuracy the fundamental principles of free government, and most of them emanated from William Murdoch, born in Scotland (c. 1720), who was one of the leading spirits and the directing force of the discussion. He led in the resistance to the Stamp Act and in other ways he united his colony in solid resistance to the attempt to levy taxes and imposts without their consent. In May, 1775, the General Synod of the Presbyterian Church met in Philadelphia and issued its famous "Pastoral Letter," which was sent broadcast throughout the Colonies, urging the people to adhere to the resolutions of Congress, and to make earnest prayer to God for guidance in all measures looking to the defense of the country. This powerful letter was also sent to the legislature in every colony. Adolphus in his "History of England from the Accession of George III. to the Conclusion of Peace in 1783," published in London in 1802, declared that the Synod and their circular was the chief cause which led the Colonies to determine on resistance. There is no question that from the Scots Presbyterians and their descendants came many of the leaders in the struggle for independence, as Bancroft has well pointed out in the following words: "The first voice publicly raised in America to dissolve all connection with Great Britain came not from the Puritans of New England, nor the Dutch of New York, nor the planters of Virginia, but from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians." Joseph Galloway (1730-1803), the Loyalist, than whom, says Ford, "there could be no better informed witness," "held that the underlying cause of the American Revolution was the activity and influence of the Presbyterian interest," and further, that "it was the Presbyterians who supplied the Colonial resistance a lining without which it would have collapsed." And Joseph Reed of Philadelphia, himself an Episcopalian, said: "The part taken by the Presbyterians in the contest with the mother country was indeed, at the time, often made a ground of reproach, and the connection between their efforts for the security of religious liberty and opposition to the oppressive measures of Parliament, was then distinctly seen. A Presbyterian loyalist was a thing unheard of." Parker, the historian, quotes a writer who says: "When the sages of America came to settle the forms of our government, they did but copy into every constitution the simple elements of representative republicanism, as found in the Presbyterian system. It is a matter of history that cannot be denied, that Presbyterianism as found in the Bible and the standards of the several Presbyterian churches, gave character to our free institutions." Ranke, the German historian, declared that "Calvin was the founder of the American Government;" and Gulian C. Verplanck of New York, in a public address, traced the origin of our Declaration of Independence to the National Covenant of Scotland. Chief Justice Tilghman (1756-1827) stated that the framers of the Constitution of the United States were through the agency of Dr. Witherspoon much indebted to the standards of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in molding that instrument.

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