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Causes of the American Discontents

by Benjamin Franklin

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The American Revolution is problematic for Christians—at least, for thinking Christians. Some Christians view the Revolution from a “my country, right or wrong” perspective, and for them Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington could do no wrong. But such a perspective is a far cry from biblical teaching; the injunction against idolatry extends even to founding fathers and to our country.

The Bible makes it clear that Christians are to submit to earthly rulers. Romans 13:1-2 says plainly, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

That doesn’t sound good for revolutionaries. King George is established by God, and it is the Christian’s duty to submit to him—end of story. Or is it? Elsewhere, the Bible does acknowledge occasions where disobedience to the state is warranted: Daniel continues to pray and Shadrach refuses to bow to the idol despite clear commands from the governing authorities. Disobedience is warranted when the governing authorities are clearly undermining God’s authority.

So there’s a loophole! But is this loophole big enough to justify the American Revolution? To find the answer, you need to hear a full and articulate list of the colonists’ grievances—and this is exactly what Benjamin Franklin provides in his letter known as “Causes of the American Discontents.” Written in 1768 to a London newspaper, this letter makes the strongest case for the American Revolution. Does it justify revolution? That should be the central question with which your students wrestle as they read Franklin’s argument.

by Jeff Baldwin