On July 10, six days after our own Independence Day, the world will celebrate the birthday of John Calvin, the man most responsible for our American system of liberty based on Republican principles of representative government.
It was Founding Father and the second President of the United States, John Adams, who described Calvin as "a vast genius," a man of "singular eloquence, vast erudition, and polished taste, [who] embraced the cause of Reformation," adding: "Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect."
Calvin, a humble scholar and convert to Reformation Christianity from Noyon, France, is best known for his influence on the city of Geneva. It was there that his careful articulation of Christian theology as applied to familial, civil, and ecclesiastical authority modeled many of the principles of liberty later embraced by our own Founders, including anti-statism, the belief in transcendent principles of law as the foundation of an ethical legal system, free market economics, decentralized authority, an educated citizenry as a safeguard against tyranny, and republican representative government which was accountable to the people and a higher law.
In time, these ideas were imported to America. Certainly, the cause of American independence did not begin in 1776, but well over a century before as the first settlers arrived. These included the Huguenots of France, the Presbyterians of Scotland and Ireland, and the Puritans of New England. A common denominator of all these groups was their adherence to Reformed and Calvinistic confessions of faiths and a common heritage forged in the midst of civil and ecclesiastical tyranny. This is one reason why historians like Leopold von Ranke have observed that "Calvin was virtually the founder of America."
King George once dismissed the American War for Independence as a mere "Presbyterian rebellion." He did so because it was the colonial pulpit which most vociferously drew...
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