Learn more about America’s founding from these resources

July 3, 2020

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife to say that he thought July 2 would go down as the most “memorable epoch in the history of America.” This was the day that the Second Continental Congress had voted to accept a resolution declaring their independence from Great Britain. A committee was then selected, with Thomas Jefferson as the chief writer, to write what became the Declaration of Independence, which explained why the colonists made the decision that they did. This was approved on July 4, though many historians now agree that most of the signatories did not sign it until mid-August. 

Though John Adams was wrong about which day that Americans would celebrate, he was correct that the anniversary would be celebrated with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other . . .” Whether you choose to spend the day with bells, shows, or illuminations, below are some books and major works to read about the founding of America. 

Important documents from the Founding Era

Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and The Bill of Rights: As the founding documents of the United States, there is no better time to return to these documents than July 4. They serve as a charter for the American experiment in liberty, and also a reminder of just how imperfectly Americans have carried out the promise of equality, justice, and the securing of those inalienable rights. It is the work of each succeeding generation to reaffirm commitment to these ideals and pursue them for all men and women. 

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” by Patrick Henry: I had never read this speech in its entirety before reading the biography of Henry mentioned below. And there is debate about whether Henry actually uttered the famous words since the first publication of the speech was not until much later. However, whether constructed or authentic, it is a picture of how later generations chose to remember Henry as a proponent of liberty. 

First Inaugural Address and Farewell Address by George Washington: Though these speeches occur several years after the revolution, they are reminders of just what Washington felt they had been fighting to create. The speeches from the beginning and end of his presidency are an excellent example of the kind of statesmanship that characterized Washington’s administration. And they have proved excellent templates for how modern Americans understand what it means for a leader to take up and pass the torch, as evidenced by the fact that this was the theme of the Hamilton song performed for President Obama at the end of his time in office. 


Adams by David McCullough: This biography of Adams, though lengthy, is excellent for the way that McCullough is able to provide a narrative of Adams’ life. Though Adams is significant for several reasons,my personal favorite portion of this biography is in his correspondence with his wife, Abigail (which McCullough quotes regularly) where you come to see the way that he thought of her as an equal partner. Adams’ role in the war, and the events both before (such as the defense of British soldiers after the Boston massacre) and afterward (he served as the first ambassador to the United Kingdom from the United States), provide a window into the world surrounding the American Revolution. 

Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots by Thomas Kidd: Henry is remembered for his speech in which he declared “Give me liberty or give me death!” This excellent biography provides a window into the life of a figure beyond a single speech. Kidd focuses on the way that his defense of liberty often brought him into conflict with the other Founders, especially his opposition to the U.S. Constitution. Though seemingly contradictory, it was his commitment to liberty (sometimes quotes aren’t so misleading after all), that proves to be the through line of his life. 

May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes by Thabiti Anyabwile: A veteran of the American Revolution, Lemuel Haynes was the first African American man to ordained as a minister. Haynes would go on to be an anti-slavery activist and also argue that freed men and women should not be sent back to Africa, but rather should receive the same rights as others in the new country. Haynes is an early example that the declaration “all men are created equal” was not limited in its scope, even if the early country did not apply the truth equally.  

Religious histories

Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by James Byrd: Not every person who chose to fight in the Revolutionary War was a George Washington or Alexander Hamilton. There were many for whom the cause of liberty was first received through a sermon than through a pamphlet. And there were many who preached against the Revolution. But both relied on the same scripture in their justification. Byrd’s study of the sermons of the period is an excellent look at just how people relied on faith to guide how they responded to the war and the struggle for (or against) independence.

God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution by Thomas Kidd: How was it that Congregationalist and Anglicans could cooperate with Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even those who were formed more by Enlightenment philosophy than Christian orthodoxy in the founding of a new nation? That is the question that Thomas Kidd’s religious history of the American Revolution seeks to answer. At its core, the book is a picture of the way that Enlightenment philosophy and Christian faith (from across denominations) played a pivotal role in the founding of the country and the creation of its foundational documents.   

The Search for Christian America by Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden: Was America founded as a Christian nation? For many, this question causes considerable concern and reason for endless debates about the religious faith of the Founders. These three evangelical historians examine the evidence and ask what is meant by the term “Christian America.” The narrative that emerges is one in which Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, plays a crucial role. However, it is incorrect to say that America was founded as a Christian nation because of a number of reasons historically, theologically, and sociologically. 

Where the past meets the present

There is no shortage of ways that people in the present look back to the founding for an example of how to make sense of the present. Politicians across the spectrum appeal to the Founders, often the same founder for different purposes. Martin Luther King appealed to the founding documents when calling for justice and equality: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Even the world of Broadway musical looks back to the story of an immigrant who created institutions that were critical to the founding of the country to speak to the present importance of immigrants in the story of America. However you choose to spend the anniversary of America’s founding, consider how you can help to ensure the continuance of the promise that all are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24