An underlying reason the United States became so economically prosperous is tied directly to the conflict between colonial churches and merchants. Well before 1776 the change began as merchants in Boston would depart from the puritan First Church to start another church which would be a friendly congregation for the commerce orientated puritans.
Theologian Mark Valeri reports about this Third Church created in 1669 that “In such a religious community, merchants could practice their trade and piety at once, surrounded by fellow church members who knew firsthand the demands and customs of commercial life (Mark Valeri, 2010, Heavenly Merchandize, p. 87).” Thus setting the trajectory which would fully develop in the 18th century and give the eventual United States economic prowess never seen before in the history of mankind. (For a detailed discussion on this transition see Jim Huntzinger, October 20, 2017, “How Christian Entrepreneurs Debating with Pastors Created American Economics.")
The Colonial merchants essentially followed eternal truths of economic natural law articulated by Jesuit Priest Leonardus Lessius in his 1605 treatise, De iustitia et iure (On Justice and Law). In his most famous treatise Lessius scripturally explained and upheld industrious merchants making a profit as just and moral; meshing together religious beliefs with real world commerce.
While Adam Smith is credited for his brilliant treatise on the free market, The Wealth of Nations, free market principles and practices had already been well articulated by theologians for many centuries; the Scholars of Salamanca and the likes of Jesuit Leonardus Lessius. Lessius details the just price theory in his On Justice and Law treatise writing that “a good is worth what it can be sold for,” and defining a just price as “the common estimation of knowledgeable people,” also described by Lessius as a “natural price (Leonardus Lessius, 1605, “On Buying and Selling”).” Lessius is describing the free market of free exchange.
But well above all civilizations, the ancient Hebrews were the structure and law followed by our Founding generation. While they gave significant study of others, like the Greeks and Romans and others evaluated by Charles de Montesquieu, the most perfect was the Hebrew Republic as it was directed by God through Moses. The Founding generation viewed this superior to even the other great civilizations such as the Roman republic and Greek democracy, as Reverend Langdon explained at the time of the Constitution. “[The Greek laws] were far from being worthy,” preached Langdon, “to be compared with the laws of Israel in regard to the security of life, liberty, property, and public morals (Samuel Langdon, 1788, “The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States”). Pastor Langdon was also directly linking the fundamental law reiterated in the moral compact of the Declaration with the structural compact of the Constitution in his sermon and equated it to the superior Mosaic laws of ancient Israel. Langdon also directly compares the 12 tribes of Israel to the 13 colonies which form the Union; as well as, linking virtue and morals directly to liberty – and Jesus’s sacrifice as a final victory for liberty. These were attributes of the Hebrew nation and must also be the same attributes of the new Union. Langdon explains:
…history is the best instructor both in polity and morals. I have presented you the portrait of a nation highly favored by heaven with civil and religious institutions…instead of the twelve tribes of Israel, we may substitute the thirteen states of the American union, and see this application plainly offering itself; God, in the course of his kind providence, has given you an excellent constitution of government, founded on the most rational, equitable, and liberal principles, by which all that liberty is secured which a people can reasonably claim, and you are empowered to make righteous laws for promoting public order and good morals. He has moreover, given you by his son Jesus Christ – who is far superior to Moses – a complete revelation of His will and perfect system of true religion plainly delivered in the sacred writings. It will, therefore, be your wisdom in the eyes of the nations, and your true interest and happiness, to conform your practice in the strictest manner to the doctrines and commands of your government adhere faithfully to the doctrines and commands of the gospel, and practice every public and private virtue (Samuel Langdon, 1788, “The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States”).
Fundamental law is developed directly from God’s word in scripture. Langdon, as does many of the colonial clergy, defines happiness (which is articulated in the Declaration of Independence) to a moral and behavioral alignment with God; that is a direct relationship with God, not the contemporary definition of happiness erroneously portrayed today. The happiness of the moral compact is the property of an individual bestowed to them by God as a result of Him creating each individual and gifting them the property of conscience, labor, and ownership. An individual must build a personal relationship with God to fully comprehend and achieve this transfer of property – happiness.
This was the American happiness, which colonial merchants, as a result of embattlement and learning with the colonial clergy, would forge to create a historically unique economic pattern of behavior and prosperity founded in God’s Law.
Jim Huntzinger is the President and Founder of Lean Frontiers, Inc., which develops knowledge and learning communities on the Lean Enterprise for business and industry. With a background and experience in manufacturing and operations, he has also extensively researched the history and development of American manufacturing and also published several books on the lean business model, manufacturing history, and economics.