“The Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution was defended in its day on a variety of grounds — with Enlightenment arguments among the most well known. It is no small commentary for this volume, however, that every one of the guarantees in the 1791 Bill Of Rights had already been formulated in the prior two centuries — by Calvinist theologians and jurists among others. Some of these rights were already formulated by Theodore Beza and the French and Scottish resistance fighters of the the later sixteenth century, more by Johannes Althusius and the Dutch constitutionalists at the turn of the seventeenth century, still more by John Milton and the English Puritans in the middle of the seventeenth century, and more yet by the New England Puritans from John Winthrop and Nathaniel Ward in the seventeenth century to Elisha Williams and John Adams in the eighteenth. Moreover, a number of the core ideas of American constitutionalism — popular sovereignty, federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, church and state, and more — were also quite fully formulated by Calvinists in the prior two centuries, especially in the Netherlands, England, and New England….The Calvinists wove many strong theological threads into the fabric of early American Constitutionalism.
John Witte Jr.
The Reformation Of Rights; Law, Religion, And Human Rights In Early Modern Calvinism — pg. 31-32
The very idea of an American Nation grew up out of the soil of Calvinistic Christianity. This doesn’t mean that all of the Founding Fathers were Calvinists or Christian. Nor does it mean that those who were Christian were perfectly consistent in their Christianity. What it does mean is that the origin, shape, and trajectory of These United State was Christian and Calvinistic. Even those Founding Fathers who were furthest away from Christian thought had been largely immersed in a cultural milieu wherein they imbibed Christian and Calvinistic political thought categories. Indeed, one can argue that even the Enlightenment arguments stemming from Locke, Rousseau, and others that some used to justify disunion with England were arguments that owed their origin to Christian categories.
In the book quoted from above Witte’s labor is to show how a long history of Calvinistic thinking in political theory by eminent theologians and jurists ended up shaping the West’s jurisprudential self understanding when it comes to the issue of natural religious rights. Witte contends that Reformed political theory eventually became so standard that it became the proverbial water in which Westerner’s swam for centuries.
This thesis runs contrary to much of what we are taught growing up about how the Enlightenment, as crystallized in the French Revolution, yielded to men rights of individual liberty that were unknown due to the stultifying presence of Christian ideas of Monarchy, Aristocratic privilege, and religious establishment. What Witte has done is to uncover the long Christian and Reformed legacy that spoke of the right of men to liberty against tyranny, tracing the story from Calvin’s genesis work on political theory in relation natural religious rights, to Beza’s development in light of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre by Roman Catholic upon the Hugenots, to Althusius development in light of the Dutch Revolt against the Roman Catholic Philip of Spain, to Milton’s work in England during the conflict with King Charles I, and finally to the work of New England Puritan in the Holy Commonwealth. In each successive stage Witte draws out how Calvinistic political theory developed and adapted to the events swirling about and how Calvinist political theory sought to apply Scripture as a means by which men could understand their roles given their times.