American History: Pastors in Politics


American Minute with Bill Federer
Pastors in Politics during American Revolution: Hugh Williamson & other preachers
“The most important thing is to bring people to Christ;
-the second most important thing is to preserve the freedom to do the most important thing!”
This was the attitude of many pastors and seminary-trained founders who served in America’s early government.
Rev. John Witherspoon (1723-1794) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and President of Princeton who was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Rev. John Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1807) was a Lutheran pastor in Virginia who became a major general during the Revolutionary War, a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator.
Rev. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg (1750-1801) was a Lutheran pastor in New York who was elected a U.S. Congressman and was the First Speaker of the House, signing the Bill of Rights.
Rev. Abiel Foster (1735-1806) served as pastor in Canterbury, New Hampshire, a delegate to the Continental Congress, the New Hampshire Legislature and a U.S. Congressman.
Rev. Benjamin Contee (1755-1815) was an Episcopal pastor in Maryland who served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, a delegate to the Confederation Congress, and a U.S. Congressman.
Rev. Abraham Baldwin (1754-1807) served as a minister at Yale, a chaplain in the Revolutionary War, a delegate from Georgia to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator. He is the founding president of the University of Georgia.
Rev. Paine Wingate (1739-1838) was a pastor in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator.
Rev. Joseph Montgomery (1733-1794) was a Presbyterian pastor in New Castle, Delaware. Married to a sister of Dr. Benjamin Rush, he served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War with Colonel Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment.
He was elected a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress, a judge, and a representative in the State Assembly.
Rev. James Manning (1738-1791) was a Baptist pastor in Rhode Island who was the first President of Brown University where, during the Revolutionary War, he allowed General Rochambeau’s French troops to camp on the campus grounds. He was elected a delegate to Congress.
John Joachim Zubly (1724-1781) was a Presbyterian pastor in Georgia who was a delegate to the Continental Congress.
Signer of the Constitution Hugh Williamson, born December 5, 1735, was a licensed Presbyterian preacher.
When Evangelist George Whitefield began preaching the Great Awakening Revival in Philadelphia in 1739, he inspired the idea that the city should have a school for blacks and poor orphan children.
A short-lived Charity School was formed, teaching writing, arithmetic, and the general principles of Christianity, but the school struggled for lack of funds.
In 1749, Ben Franklin convinced the board of trustees of the newly founded Academy of Philadelphia to purchase the school.
The trustees maintained the school’s vision, and expanded it to include a secondary school for boys in 1751.
In 1754, the school expanded again to become the College of Philadelphia, with Rev. William Smith as its president. It was renamed again in 1779 as the University of Pennsylvania.
21 members of the Continental Congress graduated from there.
9 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were either trustees or alumni from there.
A statue of Evangelist George Whitefield is located in University of Pennsylvania’s Dormitory Quadrangle.
Hugh Williamson was in the first class to graduate, May 17, 1757.
Five days later, his father died.
While a student, Williamson instructed younger students at the Academy of Philadelphia in English and Latin.
Another person who taught at the Academy of Philadelphia was Charles Thomson, who became the Secretary of Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Thomson designed the Great Seal of the United States, and signed Congress’ authorization for Robert Aitken to print the first English Language Bible in America.
Upon retiring from Congress, Charles Thomson spent 19 years compiling the “Thomson Bible” (printed in 1808), which contained the first American translation of the Greek Septuagint.
Hugh Williamson, at age 24, decided to go into the ministry as a Presbyterian preacher.
John Neal recorded of Hugh Williamson in the Trinity College Historical Society Papers (NY: AMS Press, 1915):
“In 1759, (Williamson) went to Connecticut, where he pursued his theological studies and was licensed to preach.
After returning from Connecticut, he was admitted to membership in the Presbytery of Philadelphia (the oldest in America) … (and there) preached nearly two years.”
Hugh Williamson visited and prayed for the sick, and gave sermons, until a chronic chest weakness convinced him he had to pursue a career that did not involve public speaking.
He was also disaffected by the theological debates that grew out of the Great Awakening Revival — between the “Old Lights” and the “New Lights.”
“Old Lights” were older church leaders who were rigid in orthodox teachings, emphasizing the letter of the law; while “New Lights” were zealous younger church leaders who emphasized evangelism and the Holy Spirit.
In 1760, Williamson joined the faculty at his alma mater, the College of Philadelphia, where he was professor of mathematics.
After four years, Williamson traveled to Europe to study medicine.
He received his medical degree from the prestigious University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
After graduation, Dr. Hugh Williamson practiced medicine in Philadelphia.
Williamson took it upon himself to raise money to start the Newark Academy, the seventh-oldest private school in the nation, founded by Rev. Alexander MacWhorter, an advisor to George Washington.
To raise funds for the academy, Williamson sailed to England, but not before stopping off in Boston, where he witnessed the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773.
When he reached London, the Privy Council — the formal advisors to the King — summoned him to testify on the rebellious actions in America.
When the Privy Council began to discuss how to punish Boston for the Tea Party, Dr. Hugh Williamson warned them that continuing their high taxes would provoke the colonies into rebellion.
He argued further that Americans should be entitled to full rights as Englishmen.
At that time, there was an American statesman in London who heard Williamson’s patriotic answers to the Privy Council — Ben Franklin, a founder of the school that Williamson had graduated from and taught at.
Returning to America in 1777, Dr. Hugh Williamson distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War as a Surgeon General caring for wounded North Carolina troops.
In 1780, Dr. Williamson was attached to the command of Brigadier General Isaac Gregory.
General Isaac Gregory adopted the tactics of South Carolina’s Francis Marion, nicknamed “Swamp Fox” — who would launch surprise attacks on British forces then quickly retreat into inhospitable terrain.
General Gregory stationed his troops in the Great Dismal Swamp — over 100,000 acres of dangerous wetlands between southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina
Dr. Williamson’s insistence on sanitation, diet and preventive medicine kept the troops virtually disease free during their six months there.
After the War, in 1782, North Carolina elected Dr. Williamson as a representative to Congress.
North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution that was in effect at the time stated in ARTICLE 32:
“That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of t he Protestant religion, or the Divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”
(“Protestant” was changed to “Christian” in 1835, then changed in 1868 to belief in “Almighty God.”)
While in Congress, Dr. Williamson helped write the Northwest Territory laws.
He was part of the committee that proposed a clause, (though it was later omitted), for:
“… reserving the central section of every township for the maintenance of public schools and the section immediately to the northward for the support of religion.”
The final version of the Northwest Ordinance, July 13, 1787, included:
“Sec. 13. And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected …”
“Art. 1. No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments, in the said territory …”
“Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent …”
“Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.”
From May 25 to September 17, 1787, Dr. Hugh Williamson was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia where he helped write the U.S. Constitution, lodging at the same residence as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
Williamson signed the Constitution, then helped convinced North Carolina to ratify it.
Thomas Jefferson related of Dr. Williamson’s reputation at the Constitutional Convention:
“He was a useful member, of an acute mind, attentive to business, and of an high degree of erudition.”
Dr. Hugh Williamson later became wealthy through investments and land speculations, and wrote extensively for medical and literary societies, winning international acclaim.
He participated with Ben Franklin in conducting electrical experiments.
In 1811, Dr. Hugh Williamson wrote a respected book, Observations of the Climate in Different Parts of America, in which he refuted “higher criticism” of Scripture and gave scientific explanation for the credibility of stories in the Bible, such as Noah’s flood and the events of Moses’ exodus.
Dr. Hugh Williamson served as one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina.
Dying May 22, 1819, Dr. Hugh Williamson is buried at Trinity Church, in New York City.
“The most important thing is to bring people to Christ;
-the second most important thing is to preserve the freedom to do the most important thing!”
Church leaders not involved in preserving the freedom to preach the Gospel are effectively admitting they really do not believe preaching the Gospel is that important.
Speaking on early pastors involved in politics, President Calvin Coolidge stated at the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 5, 1926:
“The principles … which went into the Declaration of Independence … are found in … the sermons … of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live.
They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image …
Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government …”
Coolidge concluded:
“In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations WITH THEIR PASTORS migrated to the Colonies.”
Schedule Bill Federer for informative interviews & captivating PowerPoint presentations: 314-502-8924
American Minute is a registered trademark of William J. Federer. Permission is granted to forward, reprint, or duplicate, with acknowledgment.
Amerisearch, Inc | PO BOX 60442Fort Myers, FL 33906

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.