As I do interviews and talk with audiences about my new book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, I am often asked about the references to God in the Declaration of Independence. Many Christian nationalists have claimed that the Declaration was a Christian document written to establish a uniquely Christian nation. They appeal to the idea that the right to declare independence from England comes directly from the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God”; the notion that the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are endowed by the “Creator”; the appeal to the “Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions”; and the closing references to the “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
Focusing too heavily on these passages, however, neglects the 18th-century motivation behind the writing of the Declaration. In other words, it misses the “original intent” of the document. For all the effort that Christian conservatives place on discerning and interpreting the “original intent” of the U.S. Constitution, there has been little effort to understand the meaning and purpose of the Declaration of Independence as the founders intended it.
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Has anyone written a social history of the Declaration? It's important to get at what the signers intended in that document, but even more interesting how it carried symbolic significance for everyone from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Leo Strauss.
John Fea says
Russ: Pauline Maier's *American Scripture* comes close to what you are looking for.