The American Covenanters and Political Dissent

By Tyler Ray - Posted at Thistle in Dixie:

It is a fairly well-known fact that the Reformed Presbyterians in this country once had a strict principle of political dissent. In keeping with their principles, they would neither hold political office nor vote for candidates for political office. What is often ignored when these things are considered, however, is their rationale for their position.

The Covenanters were not against participating in civil government. What they were against was participating in civil government which required sinful vows on the part of its officers. In the case of the United States government, the vow in question was the oath of office. The President’s oath of office, for example, reads thus: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

What is so wrong with the President’s oath? It is the commitment to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” As most students of Reformed history will know, the Covenanters were establishmentarians. They believed, as the Westminster Confession states, that the civil magistrate “has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed” (XXIII. iii.).