Extract from “ A History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America” Rev W.M.Glasgow, M.D. (1888)
” The country was now thrown into the excitement and turmoil of the Revolutionary war, and every colonist who loved civil and religious liberty was called upon to defend his country and his rights. To a man the Covenanters were Whigs. An unsound Whig made a poor Covenanter, and a good Covenanter made a loyal Whig. The colonists declared themselves independent of Great Britain, July 4, 1776, at Philadelphia, and a five years’ war ensued. North and South the Covenanters went hand and heart into the struggle for independence. When the Rev. Alexander Craighead removed to North Carolina he was thoroughly imbued with the principles of the Covenanter Church, and disseminated them among the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of that community. The consequence was the First Declaration of Independence was emitted by his followers in May, 1775, a year or more previous to the National Declaration. From reliable histories a few interesting facts are gleaned. Mr. Bancroft says: “The first public voice in America for dissolving all connection with Great Britain came not from the Puritans of New England, the Dutch of New York, nor the Planters of Virginia, but from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the Carolinas.” He evidently refers to the influence of Rev. Alexander Craighead and the Mecklenberg Declaration; and this influence was due to the meeting of the Covenanters of Octorara, where in 1743, they denounced in a public manner the policy of George the Second, renewed the Covenants, and swore with uplifted swords that they would defend their lives and their property against all attack and confiscation, and their consciences should be kept free from the tyrannical burden of Episcopacy. Here was the fountain of Southern patriotism, and the Octorara meeting was the original germ of American independence which was transplanted in Charlotte and then in Philadelphia. More than this, Thomas Jefferson says in his autobiography, that when he was engaged in preparing the National Declaration that he and his colleagues searched everywhere for formulas, and that the printed proceedings of Octorara were before him, and he used freely the ideas in the Mecklenberg Declaration.* No doubt this accounts for the similarity of expressions in the two documents. Sometimes it does happen that the discoverer or the inventor does not enjoy the right which should be bestowed upon him A writer in the New York Review, reviewing the “Life of Thomas Jefferson,” by Tucker, clearly shows that the Preamble to the Bill of Rights, the Mecklenberg Declaration, and the Virginia Bill of Rights contain nearly everything of importance in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, upon which rests so much of Mr. Jefferson’s fame.† Of this latter instrument, and the Mecklenberg Declaration, Judge Tucker, says: (Vol. II., p. 627.) “Every one must be persuaded, at least all who have been minute observers of style, that one of these papers had borrowed from the other.” (See also the observations in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, by H. Lee, Philadelphia, 1839).
The spirit which moved Rev. Alexander Craighead to the use of expressions frequent in documents prepared and used on similar occasions in Scottish history, evidently influenced the mind of Thomas Jefferson, when he indited the National Declaration of Independence. The printed proceedings of Octorara and Mecklenberg were both in circulation in Philadelphia at that time, and account for kindred expressions. It is now difficult to tell whether Donald Cargill, Hezekiah Balch or Thomas Jefferson wrote the National Declaration of American Independence, for in sentiment it is the same as the “Queensferry Paper” and the Mecklenberg Declaration. The “rash” declaration of Rev. Donald Cargill, the Covenanter, was, “We do declare that we shall set up over ourselves and over what God shall give us power over, government and governors according to the Word of God; that we shall no more commit the government of ourselves and the making of laws for us to any one single person, this kind of government being most liable to inconveniences and aptest to degenerate into tyranny.” This sentiment of thorough Republican independence was in circulation long before Balch or Jefferson was born, and the proceedings of Octorara preceded those of Charlotte or Philadelphia fully a third of a century. “Honor to whom honor is due.” To stigmatize Covenanters as “anti-government people” is unjust and untrue, and they are only objects of derision because their accusers are totally ignorant of their principles. They are heartily in favor of government, and the republican form of government, and only object to the Constitution for its omission to acknowledge the source from which all government comes, and a practical application of that doctrine. These humble and sincere followers of Jesus, who would conscientiously desire to erect a church and government after God’s pattern, have been the truest and best friends the American government has ever possessed, and to a man they have been faithful to their country and to their God in every national struggle. To them, more than to any other people, the American government is indebted for liberty, and they demonstrated to the world that “there can be a church without a bishop and a government without a king.”
———————————————————————————————*Wheeler’s Reminiscences, p. 278, in Congressional Library.
†Wheeler’s Reminiscences, p. 278.