American independence has been achieved. The colonies have taken their place as free and independent States among the nations of the earth. In bringing about this the most momentous political event of the last century the ministry and laity of the Presbyterian Church bore an essential and a conspicuous part. These men were the descendants of the Huguenots whose blood, shed in the cause of religious freedom, had baptized almost every acre of France; of the Dutch, who under William the Silent, had struggled and fought against civil and religious despotism amidst the dikes of Holland; of the Scotchmen who signed the Covenant with the warm blood of their veins, and who had fought to the death under the blue banner of that Covenant; of the heroes whose valor at Londonderry turned the scale in favor of the prince of Orange and secured the Protestant succession in England—sons of the women who, during that memorable seige, carried ammunition to the soldieres, and in the crisis of the assault, sprange to the breach, hurled back the assailants and turned the tide of battle in the critical, imminent moment of the conflict.
These were not the men to be dazzled by specious pretexts, or to stand nicely balancing arguments of expediency, when issues touching human freedom were at stake. These were not the men to barter away their birthright for pottage. They who had endured so much in the cause of freedom in the Old World, who, for its sake, had left all and braved the perils of an unbroken wildernes, were not the men tamely to submit their necks to the yoke, how smoothly soever it might be fitted for them by the deft hands of king, Church or Parliament. Consequently, the Presbyterians in the colonies were almost to a man, and to a woman, patriots “indeed, in whom there was no guile.”
In a Presbyterian community not far from the spot where the first blood of the Revolution was shed, in a Presbyterian convention which had for its presiding officer a ruling elder, was framed and promulgated the Mecklenburg Declaration, which embodied the spirit and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and which antedates that document by the space of a year and more; and even earlier than this, within the bounds of old Redstone Presbytery, the “Westmoreland Declaration” was made at Hanna’s Town, in Western Pennsylvania.
None in all the land better understood the nature of the struggle, or more thoroughly appreciated the importance of the issue, than those men. They saw in the impending conflict more than a tax on tea or a penny stamp on paper—more even than “taxation without represention.” In addition to political tyranny they perceived the ominous shadow of spiritual despotism, which threatened to darken the land to which they had fled as an asylum, and they esteemed their fortunes and their lives a cheap sacrifice at which to purchase for their posterity in succeeding generations the blessings of religous freedom.
Into the struggle, therefore, they threw themselves heart and soul. WIth enthusiastic devotion, they put at the service of their coutnry the last penny of their substance and the last drop of their blood. Wherever a Presbyterian church was planted, wherever the Westminster Confession of Faith found adherents, wherever the Presbyterian polity was loved and honored, there intelligent and profound convictions in regard to civil and religious liberty were developed as naturally as the oak grows from the acorn, and there, when the crisis came, strong arms and stout hearts formed an invulnerable bulwark for the cause of human freedom. As the Spartan defended his shield, as the Roman legions fought for their eagles, as the chivalrous knight leaped to the rescue of his sweetheart, so our Presbyterian ancestors, with a prodigal valor and an unquenchable ardor, sprang to the defence of their sacred rights.
“From the Adoption of the Presbyterian Form of Government to the Present Time,” by the Rev. Samuel J. Wilson, D.D., pages 151-215 in Centennial Historical Discourses, delivered in the City of Philadelphia, June, 1876, by appointment of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1876.