July 8, 1835: The Day a Judge, the Liberty Bell and the Founding Era Ended

John Marshall

One night a stranger sought refuge in a rural tavern.

Exhausted from his travels, the hungry, unkempt visitor longed for solitude. However, the man quickly realized he had interrupted a debate regarding the “merits of the Christian religion.”

In a long, contentious argument, several young men discussed biblical truth related to Christ’s divinity and God’s nature. The weary outsider remained silent.

“Well, my old gentleman,” someone at the bar yelled to him, “what do you think?”

The tired old man could no longer ignore the topic. As he rose to speak, every eye turned. For the next hour, the elderly gentleman lectured the bawdy tavern crowd into a stunned silence as he systematically and rationally destroyed every irreligious and agnostic argument presented by the young men.

Across the tavern, there were whispers.

Who was this slovenly man who spoke so eloquently in defense of Jesus? Finally someone dared to ask the old man, to which he replied:

“My name is John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”1

John Marshall was born in Germantown, VA in 1755. During the Revolutionary War, he fought under George Washington’s command and near the war’s end, left the military to practice law. Eventually Marshall served in the Virginia House of Delegates, then the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1800, John Adams appointed him Secretary of State and a year later to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As chief justice, Marshall worked under six different presidents for 34 years—the longest tenure in U.S. history. He authored over a thousand legal decisions to carve America’s constitutional identity.

Most notably was Marbury vs. Madison (1803) that forged the principle of judicial review, allowing courts to “review” and rule against unconstitutional federal and state laws.

It was Marshall’s Court that ruled against Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act (1830) to relocate 46,000 Indians to the West so Southern slavery could expand on the vast acreage left behind.

In matters of religion, John Marshall proved enigmatic.

For most of his life he preferred Unitarian Christianity yet attended Episcopal services. He refused church membership yet considered himself “a sincere friend of religion.”2 Marshall was a by-product of the First Great Awakening that created a cultural “Christian” America.

It’s why Marshall endorsed Rev. Jasper Adams’ sermon pamphlet titled The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States (1833).3

Marshall penned his own surprising observation: The American population is entirely Christian. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity.“4

In early 1835, another clergyman named Alexander Keith further influenced Marshall. His work Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion persuaded the aging judge to finally abandon his Unitarian position.5 Shortly thereafter, Marshall traveled to Philadelphia for medical care.

Unfortunately, his health worsened, and John Marshall died July 6, 1835.

Two days later, his funeral was held, where he was eulogized for his integrity, intelligence, charity and faith.

Across the city of Philadelphia, bells rang to honor the storied judge, including the famed Liberty Bell. She was first rung on the same day 59 years earlier (July 8, 1776) to call a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

His death signaled the end of the Founding Father era.

After 1835, a new generation of American leaders emerged that couldn’t recall the American Revolution. Their generation faced new American problems like slavery, Reconstruction, immigration, Indian relations, and westward expansion.

For nearly a century, two “great” Christian revivals or “awakenings”—the First Great Awakening (1730-1770) and the Second Great Awakening (1795-1835)—had tattooed the psyche of a young nation.

In 1831, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noted their influence: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect … was the first thing that struck my attention...In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country…”6

Early America was a distinctly Christian culture.

But cultural change was coming (thanks to a secular French Revolution). The first fissures in the Liberty Bell surfaced in 1835. The same year John Marshall died, and the Second Great Awakening ended. Similarly, by the 1830s, secular ideas were finding root in a Christian nation. Coincidence? Two decades later, a secular minority population was evident.

That’s when Congress commissioned a committee to investigate America’s founding to squelch any question about “who we once were.” Their final judgment: “Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle… In this age, there can be no substitute for Christianity… That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.”7

According to legend, it was John Marshall’s funeral that cracked the bell named “Liberty.”

In 1835, the “crack” of secularism appeared and the Second Great Awakening ended. The Founding Father era was over. America was destined to grow into its constitutional frame.

A century later various Supreme Courts systematically removed Christianity from America’s institutions, creating a spiritual void Americans filled with agnosticism, atheism, and secular humanism. The result has proven devastating.

In 1962, America’s schools removed prayer (followed the next year with the removal of Bible readings). From that point, America the Secular introduced a more profane, suicidal, violent, sexually-deviant, confused, psychotic, agnostic, atheist and addicted culture.

And the “Christian America” of John Marshall, George Washington and our Founding Fathers faded into history, along with the freedom, equality and justice rooted to biblical principle.

Founding Father Jedidiah Morse predicted this would happen:

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. All efforts made to destroy the foundations of our Holy Religion ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation… in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom… Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government – and all the blessings which flow from them – must fall with them.8

And to think it all started with a judge’s death and liberty bell’s crack.

 

 

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SOURCES:

  1. Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall, Volume 4, The Building of the Nation, 1815-1835 (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916): 70-71. Available for download at Google books.
  2. Ibid., 69.
  3. The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States: A Sermon Preached in St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, February 19, 1833, by Rev. J. Adams (Charleston: A.E. Miller Publisher), 1833. Available for download at Google books.
  4. Charles Hobson, ed., The Papers of John Marshall, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006): 278.
  5. Alexander Keith, Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion: Derived from the Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy (Edinburgh: Waugh & Innes, 1826, 2nd ed.). Available for download at Google books.
  6. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1 (New York: George Adlard Publishing, 1839): 307.
  7. Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives Made During the First Session of the Thirty-Third Congress (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1854), pp. 6-9.
  8. Jedidiah Morse, A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America, Delivered at Charlestown, April 25, 1799, The Day of the National Fast (MA: Printed by Samuel Etheridge, 1799), p. 9.

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