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In 1973, political scientists Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman decided they would do a comprehensive survey of “American rhetoric” during the founding era of our country. To this end they took on the enormous task of reading everything published in America between the years of 1760 and 1807. The effort took them ten years and covered 15,000 documents. The goal was to settle the long dispute over what ideas most influenced the American Revolution. Was it the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers such as Montesquieu, Locke, Hume, and Hobbes? Or was it the influence of the ancient classics written by Plutarch and Cicero that most inspired our Constitution and our culture?
Well, the first sentence of their conclusion may surprise you: “If we ask what book was more frequently cited by Americans during the founding era” they said, “the answer . . . is: the Book of Deuteronomy.”
Thirty-four percent of all references in their research were to the Bible as compared to 22% to Enlightenment writers and 9% to the classics. The Bible was cited four times as often as Montesquieu, ten times more often than Locke, and thirty times more often than Hobbes.
But, why the Book of Deuteronomy specifically?
Well, Bruce Feiler in America’s Prophet contends that it is because Deuteronomy is Moses’ legal proclamation to a nation over which he wept because he saw the childishness of his people demanding the blessings of freedom without accepting the obligation to live within the fences of such God-given bounty.
So if you are wondering what author has most influenced our present way of life, remember that without law there is no liberty and that as Benjamin Franklin warned: Our nation too shall soon pass if “discontented spirits” reject the law of God and mock the laws of Moses.
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