"To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots."
|Protesters in Portland, OR burn an American flag on the toppled statue of George Washington|
Nations derive their sense of identity from their history. If you want to radically transform a nation you must deal with its history. Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in a Soviet labor camp and observed the Marxist/communist approach to transforming Russian society. He wrote, “To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 6).
This is the ideology behind the tearing down of monuments and statues. In Portland, Oregon, protesters toppled a statue of George Washington and then burned an American flag on it. In Berkeley, CA, the school board capitulated to pressure from the Left and voted to remove the names of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from two elementary schools.
This assault on America’s history is the prelude for imposing socialism, communism, and Marxism. Demonizing and destroying a people’s history makes those people vulnerable to being molded into something very different. Karl Marx was referring to this when he wrote, “People without a heritage are easily persuaded.”
Preserving America’s true history is critical, for as George Orwell said in his classic book, 1984, “Whoever controls the past, controls the future.” And commenting on the demise of nations in world history, Carl Sandburg, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, said,
When a nation goes down, or a society perishes, one condition may always be found; they forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what had brought them along (Hyatt, 1726: The Yearthat Defined America, 11).
America’s Founders at the Forefront of Ending Slavery
The most common reason given for tearing down statues of America's founders is that they were racists and slaveholders. This, however, is a specious argument, especially when it is set in the context of the day. The truth is that there was a powerful 18th century anti-slavery movement in America and by 1776 virtually every founder had taken a stand against slavery.
Yes, at a time when slavery was accepted and practiced in most of the world, America was experiencing a powerful movement against it. The brilliant black scholar, Dr. Thomas Sowell, has noted this, saying,
Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century–and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 90).
The late historians, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese observed, “Perception of slavery as morally unacceptable — as sinful — did not become widespread until the second half of the eighteenth century.”
Christian Awakening and Abolition
In my book, 1726, I have shown that this sudden movement against slavery was a result of the Great Awakening that ebbed and flowed between 1726-70. In this Christian Awakening entire communities repented and turned to God. In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin described the transformation that came over his hometown of Philadelphia in 1739. He wrote,
It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 79).
That blacks and whites were brought together by this Awakening is made clear by George Whitefield’s account of the same revival. After preaching his farewell sermon to a massive crowd gathered in front of the Philadelphia courthouse, Whitefield noted in his Journal, “Near 50 Negroes came to give me thanks for what God had done for their souls.” Whitefield considered this an answer to prayer, saying, “I have been much drawn in prayer for them, and have seen them wrought upon by the word preached” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 70).
From Evangelism to Social Transformation
At the beginning of the Awakening in 1726, outreach to the black populace was evangelistic in nature and not characterized by opposition to slavery. Those early preachers, such as Whitefield, Gilbert Tennant, and Jonathan Edwards, saw their primary purpose to be in getting people ready for the next world, not necessarily improving their lot in this one. In their thinking, a slave on his way to heaven was far better off than a king on his way to hell.
Nonetheless, their insistence on sharing the Gospel with all people and their willingness to share Christian fellowship with blacks, both slave and free, breached racial and cultural barriers in Colonial America. To cite another example, Samuel Davies (1723-1761) gave special attention to blacks, both slave and free, during his time of ministry in Virginia and found them especially responsive to the Gospel message. In 1757, he wrote,
What little success I have lately had, has been chiefly among the extremes of Gentlemen and Negroes. Indeed, God has been remarkably working among the latter. I have baptized 150 adults; and at the last sacramental solemnity, I had the pleasure of seeing the table graced with 60 black faces (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 70).
The inclusive Gospel message they preached, and their compassionate treatment of blacks, created a climate conducive to the anti-slavery sentiments that would burst forth through those who would come after them.
Second Generation Awakening Preachers Attack Slavery
Indeed, the revivalists who came after Edwards and Whitefield carried the message of their predecessors to its logical conclusion. If we are all creatures of the same Creator and if Christ died that all might be saved, then how can slavery ever be justified?
Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), who had been personally tutored by Jonathan Edwards, pastored for a time in Newport, Rhode Island, an important hub in the transatlantic slave trade. His response to what he saw in Newport was like Paul’s response to the idols in Athens. Paul’s spirit was “provoked” by the idols of the Athenians, and Hopkins was offended and outraged by the "violation of God’s will” he saw in Newport. He declared, “This whole country have their hands full of blood this day.”
Hopkins began preaching passionately against slavery and in 1774, after the First Continental Congress had convened in Philadelphia, he sent a pamphlet to every member of the Congress asking how they could complain about “enslavement” to England and overlook the “enslavement” of so many blacks in the Colonies. Many joined his abolitionist crusade and they spread their anti-slavery Gospel message up and down the eastern seaboard.
Yes, at a time when slavery was accepted and practiced throughout the world, it suddenly became anathema in America. When compared with world history, the unique characteristics of slavery in America were the brevity of its existence and the moral outrage against it. This can only be explained by 1726 and the Great Awakening that began that year.
1726 Impacts America’s Founders
The spiritual power of the Awakening and the moral arguments it produced against slavery were overwhelming. In fact, by the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787, virtually every Founder had taken a public stand against slavery. Virtually all agreed with John Adams, who declared,
Every measure of prudence ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States. I have throughout my whole life held the practice of slavery in abhorrence (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 101).
Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, helped found the first Abolition Society in America in his hometown of Philadelphia. He called on the pastors and ministers of America to take a public stand against slavery, saying, “Slavery is a Hydra sin and includes in it every violation of the precepts of the Laws and the Gospels” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 100-01)).
Two years before the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin freed his two slaves and began to advocate for abolition. He joined the Abolition of Society of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Rush, and later served as its president.
Confronted with the inconsistency of a Christian testimony and owning slaves, George Washington set in motion a compassionate program to completely rid Mt. Vernon of slavery. Those slaves who wanted to leave were free to do so and those who chose to stay were paid wages. He also set in motion an educational program to prepare the children of slaves for freedom. Concerning the abolition of slavery, Washington wrote,
Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union by consolidating it in a common bond of principle (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 103).
In the words of Dr. Sowell, “You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there.” This moral rejection of slavery was the fruit of 1726 and the Great Awakening that began that year.
Deciding that slavery was wrong, however, was easier than deciding what to do with two million people from another continent and culture who were unprepared for freedom. Dr. Sowell has said,
It is clear from the private correspondence of Washington, Jefferson, and many others that their moral rejection of slavery was unambiguous, but the practical question of what to do now had them baffled. That would remain so for more than half a century,
1726 Was America’s Key for Ending Slavery
The cancerous tentacles of slavery had become so entangled with southern economics and culture, it was obvious that it would take drastic and painful measures to excise it from the nation. America would require a rare moral resolve to endure the painful surgery that would be required.
America found that moral resolve in the spiritual awakenings that had come to define her, beginning in 1726. As a result of 1726, spiritual awakening became embedded in America's national DNA and succeeding generations would turn to God in times of distress.
As a result, a Second Great Awakening (1800-30) erupted, and out of it, a new movement of abolition burst forth. Then, the Great Prayer Awakening of 1857-58 gripped the nation and provided the final spiritual and moral resolve necessary to carry the nation through a bloody Civil War and the final abolition of slavery.
Yes, it took great moral resolve to sacrifice almost one million of her citizens to end slavery. This number includes 700,000 soldiers who died plus civilian casualties and the thousands who were maimed and injured. On top of this was the incredible loss of property and wealth.
America’s population at the time was only 31 million. If the numbers are adjusted to correspond with today’s population it would be like sacrificing 10 million citizens for a contemporary moral cause. We see the magnitude of the sacrifice when we remember that less than 3,000 Americans died at 9/11.
A nation that would make such a sacrifice to end slavery is not racist. Yes, there are racists in America, but the nation has proven itself to be racially inclusive. For this we can thank God and the history of spiritual awakening that began in1726 and came to define her.
We Must Preserve Our Heritage
Yes, America has a heritage of which every American, regardless of race or skin color, can be proud. America’s founders were not perfect. They were, however, people of integrity who through much sacrifice, toil, and prayer brought into existence the most free and prosperous nation in human history.
As testimony to this, is the fact that in the past 50 years over two-million sub-Saharan Africans have immigrated to America because they believed they would find here freedom and opportunity not available in their country of birth.
This could only happen because America’s founders were at the forefront of the battle to end slavery at a time it was practiced throughout the world. This could only happen because Abraham Lincoln and a succeeding generation were willing to make an almost unimaginable sacrifice to abolish slavery and defend individual liberty for all.
Yes, America’s future is bound up in her past. Her past is not perfect, but it is noble. That is why we must take a proactive stand against the Marxist attempt to demonize and destroy her history. We do this by educating ourselves and others, and praying for another Great Awakening to sweep across our land.
This article is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's latest book, 1726, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. He is also the founder of the "1726 Project" whose goal is to spread the message of America's unique birth out of the First Great Awakening and call on believers everywhere to pray for another Great Awakening across the land.