After being declarers of independence, Americans became constitution-makers. One of the great wrong-headed pictures portrayed by the Progressive History Lesson is that we were preoccupied with politics. Many more Americans were concerned with–and participated in–the making of church constitutions than in the making of state and national constitutions. In the 1780s Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, and even Congregationalists and Baptists formed national, regional, and local covenants and constitutions. The two most visible, because they were large and Philadelphia-based, were the attempts of Presbyterians and Episcopalians to form orderly national churches. It was not uncommon, in 1787, to see men moving from one constitutional convention to another, and most of them would have been hard pressed to say which was more important.

The most prominent in this group was the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, prominent Scots-Presbyterian, signer of the Declaration, member of Congress, President of Princeton (and also primary agent of the “American philosophy,” the basis of the liberal arts in America for over a hundred years), and author of the Introduction to “The Form of the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.” One can argue, and I often have, that he was as important to the formation of the republic as his student in theology, James Madison.

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