Was the American Revolution an Act of Rebellion Against God?
I hear statements like, “the Bible does not support disobedience to the government.” People will refer to Romans 13:1 which says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
While I can understand the argument and I can see where the thoughts come from, I feel that this idea is a misunderstanding of the roots of the American Revolution and of what the Bible teaches about governmental authority.
The Declaration of Independence Gives Reasons
A good place to start is with the Declaration of Independence. It has a simple list of grievances that give the reasons ”it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” This list shows that England was ignoring our human rights and was in fact waging war against the colonies already.
The Revolutionary War was a defense of our self-evident, God given rights as humans.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Founding Father’s Words
One of the best defenses I have found on the Revolution is by Francis Hopkinson – a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Hopkinson wrote a A Political Catechism:
Question. What is war?
Answer. The curse of mankind; the mother of famine and pestilence; the source of complicated miseries; and the undistinguishing destroyer of the human species.
Q. How is war divided?
A. Into offensive and defensive.
Q. What is the general object of an offensive war? . . .
A. [F]or the most part, it is undertaken to gratify the ambition of a prince, who wishes to subject to his arbitrary will a people whom God created free, and to gain an uncontrolled dominion over their rights and property. . .
Q. What is defensive war?
A. It is to take up arms in opposition to the invasions of usurped power and bravely suffer present hardships and encounter present dangers, to secure the rights of humanity and the blessings of freedom to generations yet unborn.
Q. Is even defensive war justifiable in a religious view?
A. The foundation of war is laid in the wickedness of mankind . . . . God has given man wit to contrive, power to execute, and freedom of will to direct his conduct. It cannot be but that some, from a depravity of will, will abuse these privileges and exert these powers to the injury of others; and the oppressed would have no safety nor redress but by exerting the same powers in their defense and it is our duty to set a proper value upon and defend to the utmost our just rights and the blessings of life, otherwise a few miscreants [unprincipled individuals] would tyrannize over the rest of mankind, and make the passive multitude the slaves of their power. Thus it is that defensive is not only justifiable but an indispensable duty.
Q. Is it upon these principles that the people of America are resisting the arms of Great Britain, and opposing force with force?
A. Strictly so – The Americans had nothing in view but to live peaceably and dutifully. . . And may Heaven prosper their virtuous undertaking!
Founding Father John Dickens, who was a signer the Constitution in 1787 understood that our rights do not originate with governments. He stated,
Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness, as you confess those invaded by the Stamp Act to be. We claim them from a higher source—from the King of Kings and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives.
John Dickinson, The Political Writings of John Dickinson (Wilmington: Bonsal and Niles, 1801), Vol. I, p. 111.
Here are some biblical examples where tyrannical governments were disobeyed. There are numerous accounts were people disobeyed direct governmental authority.
To me there is a clear understanding that the American revolution was a defense of our God given rights. Governments are to be obeyed as long as they are not in contradiction to the the Law of God. When a government steps beyond its jurisdiction we must follow the Law of God over the law of man.