Patrick Henry is usually lumped in with other founders like James Madison, but Henry never was reconciled to the U. S. Constitution. “Discipling the Nations — The Government Upon His Shoulder” tells the story.
The book relates how there was no Christian agreement on the U. S. Constitution at the time of the ratification debates and Patrick Henry became the Constitution’s strongest critic. Earlier Henry had rejected his invitation to the Constitutional Convention with the acerbic, “I smelt a rat.”
Showdown in Virginia
The Virginia Ratifying convention was key to the ratification debates. Had the Constitution failed in Virginia — the home of Madison, Washington, and Jefferson — it would have been dealt a mortal blow. It was a classic showdown between Federalists led by James Madison and Anti-Federalists headed by Patrick Henry. Going in to the convention Anti-Federalists trailed Federalists by more than 2 to 1. But Henry was so effective in debate that 23 days later the Constitution barely squeeked through with a mere eight vote margin.
Henry was magnificent in debate, one speech lasting a full 7 hours. He delivered as many as 3 speeches on each of several days in a powerful display of rhetoric. James Madison confessed that he could speak for an hour and Henry would raise an eyebrow and undo everything he said in a split second.
Henry characterized the Constitution as “a revolution more radical than that which separated us from Great Britain.” In particular, he objected to making “We the People” the sovereign source of governing authority.
Constitution has ‘Wall of Separation’
Despite Evangelical Protests
Most Evangelical historians go to great lengths to show that Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase does not appear in the United States Constitution. That is quite true.
However, the concept is there nonetheless, tucked away in a little known provision of Article VI. “Discipling the Nations” points to the culprit in Article VI, Section 3: “No religious test shall ever be required for any office or public trust under these United States.”
As the story unfolds, we learn that a bon-a-fide Christian nation will be marked by three traits:
1) It will commit itself to the Bible as the highest law of the land,
2) It will pass laws against murder, theft, adultery and other crimes based specifically on the Bible, and
3) It will require government officers to swear on oath to uphold those laws.
The U. S. Constitution fails all three tests, in particular at point 3) where it forbids any oath requiring the officeholder to govern by the Bible. In addition, it draws its authority exclusively from the majority vote of “we the people” (not God) and declares itself (not the Bible) to be the supreme law of the land. Taken together these constitute a formidable wall of separation between God and State.
For these and other reasons Patrick Henry declared “I smelt a rat,” when asked why he turned down his summons to the Constitutional Convention. In spite of this, contemporary Christian historians still declare the U. S. Constitution to be a Christian document. They marshal such weighty evidence as the date including the phrase “year of our Lord.” But the 3 failed tests are decisive.