As we celebrate our nation’s birth this July Fourth with parades, fireworks, and BBQs, we revisit the year 1776 to ask about the reasons for the American Revolution. What inspired thousands of ordinary Americans to risk their lives and fight against the British, the most powerful empire in the world?
At least part of the answer is because the colonists believed that they were fighting for a religious cause.
During the 1770s and 1780s, most Americans did not draw sharp boundaries between politics and religion, and under the pressures of war they increasingly imagined the Bible as a defense of political as well as spiritual liberty.
More than any other book in the eighteenth century, the Bible framed the way that ordinary people thought about their lives. The Revolution was first and foremost about political principles, but as patriots decried British tyranny, they sought legitimation for their beliefs in the Bible.
What they discovered is that the Bible could be reinterpreted as a defense of a republican form of government. As John Adams insisted, the Bible “is the most Republican Book in the world.” This was a dramatic transformation: for centuries Christians had assumed that monarchy was God’s will.
Perhaps no biblical story was more inspirational for American patriots than Exodus, the story of the enslavement of the Israelites and their journey to freedom.