Chapter 1. The Christian Idea Of Man

Excerpts from The Rise of the Republic of the United States by Richard Frothingham

The foundation of the American republic was comprised of many Biblical principles. The Christian idea of man and government was one of these. The Declaration of Independence (see Chapter 2) reflects this idea in many ways.

The following excerpts are from Richard Frothingham's The Rise of the Republic of the United States, 1890.

The vast region which the flag of the United States protects was, two centuries and a half ago, the roaming ground of tribes of Indians.... It was virtually a waste awaiting, in the order of Providence, the magic influence of an incoming race, imbued with the spirit of a new civilization. The period referred to was an epoch in which there had been a providential preparation for great events in the Old World. It was an era of wonderful discovery in the heavens and the earth. It was also the period of the Reformation. This, in its essence, was the assertion of the principle of individuality, or of true spiritual freedom; and in the beginning, not by Protestants alone, of whom Luther was the great exponent, but by Catholics also, represented in the polished and profound Reuchlin. Though first occupied with subjects not connected with political speculation, yet it was natural and inevitable, that inquiry should widen out from the realm of the Church into that of the State. Then a fresh impetus was given to that transformation of society, which began when Christianity—the basis of the good, permanent, and progressive in modern civilization—first appeared in the world. At that time, social order rested on the assumed natural inequality of men. The individual was regarded as of value only as he formed a part of the political fabric and was able to contribute to its uses, as though it were the end of his being to aggrandize the State. This was the pagan idea of man. The wisest philosophers of antiquity could not rise above it. Its influence imbued the pagan world. The State regarded as of paramount importance, not the man, but the citizen whose physical and intellectual forces it absorbed. If this tended to foster lofty civic virtues and splendid individual culture in the classes whom the State selected as the recipients of its favors, it bore hard on those whom the State virtually ignored,—on laboring men, mechanics, the poor, captives in war, slaves, and woman. This low view of man was exerting its full influence when Rome was at the height of its power and glory. Christianity then appeared with its central doctrine, that man was created in the Divine image, and destined for immortality; pronouncing, that, in the eye of God all men are equal. This asserted for the individual an independent value. It occasioned the great inference, that man is superior to the State, which ought to be fashioned for his use. This was the advent of a new spirit and a new power in the world. The struggle between the pagan and Christian elements was severe. In four centuries, civil society was transformed from the pagan basis to that of Christianity. But, long after Rome had crumbled, the influence of Paganism, under various forms, continued to operate; and especially the idea, that man was made for the State, the office of which, or of a divine right vested in one or in a privileged few, was to fashion the thought and control the action of the many. Its embodiment in arbitrary power, both in ecclesiastical and political affairs, continued to oppress and benumb the intellect, until the Reformation roused a spirit of activity in the bosom of the Church. The new life thus started in the domain of religion soon communicated itself to other provinces.... There then rose, above the low level of a corrupt political world, a class of thinkers who grasped the idea that the State ought to exist for man; that justice, protection, and the common good, ought to be the aim of government.... Among them were John Milton, imbued with the very spirit of the Reformation, who defended the noble thesis, that freedom is the native right of man, and gave the world a mighty and still unsurpassed plea for liberty of utterance; John Locke... was so successful in catching and expressing the liberal spirit of his age, in his work on Civil Government, that it became the platform of a great political party, and gradually widened out into an influence that operated far beyond the thought or the theory of its adherents; so that, Hallam says, "while silently spreading its fibres from its roots over Europe and America, it prepared the way for theories hardly bolder in their announcement, but expressed with more passionate ardor, from which the last and present age have sprung." This historical judgment is applicable to a line of illustrious characters, who grasped the Christian idea of man; and, because of the brilliancy of their service in behalf of human rights, they deserve a place among the morning stars of the American constellation.