It grieves my heart to say it, because I so love America, but America is a spiritually and morally foolish, nearly benighted nation today, looking to the Far East and to Europe, even to Africa, for light; but there is no excuse for this. From its inception, America’s most popular book, by far, was the Bible. The English Bible was brought to America by its first settlers in the early 1600s, and that Bible had a profound influence on America’s unique founding political documents in the late 1700s. The first English Bible published in America, by Robert Aiken in 1782, was printed only eleven months after the British surrendered at Yorktown, thus ending the military conflict part of the Revolutionary War.
The Aiken Bible was officially recommended to the American people by the U.S. Congress on September 10, 1782. “Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aiken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of the arts in this country ... this recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.” The American Bible Society, founded in 1816, further flooded the land with inexpensive Bibles.
By 1829, the Bible Society’s printer, Daniel Fanshaw in New York, “was operating sixteen Treadwell steam-powered presses exclusively for ABS Bibles” (David Daniell, The Bible in English, p. 736). By the 1860s the Bible Society was printing a million Bibles a year. (By 2004 the American Bible Society had distributed more than 6 billion Bibles.) The relationship of early America to the Bible was illustrated by the frontispiece of the 1792 American “Self-Interpreting Bible.” The drawing depicted three women.
“The chief figure represents America. Her left elbow touches a column with thirteen names, headed ‘Washington’; her left hand holds a scroll labeled ‘Constitution’; her right hand is extended to receive from a kneeling woman an open copy of the ‘Holy Bible’” (Daniell, p. 602). The Bible permeated society at every level. There were Soldier’s Bibles for our military men, including those in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, and World II, and the government was still giving Bibles to soldiers when I was in Vietnam with the U.S. Army.
There was a Bible for every Pony Express rider. The KJV family Bible was the most respected book in households and was taken westward by countless thousands of pioneering families. The KJV was used as a textbook and reader in the nation’s schools well into the 20th century. We were still reading the Bible in school when I was a kid. It was not until the 1960s that Bible reading ceased in public schools because of an unconstitutional and very sorry Supreme Court ruling foisted on the nation by activist judges. The English Bible even saturated the national dictionary.
Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828 was filled with quotations from the King James Bible. Similar quotations formed a part of the hugely popular 19th-century McGuffey Readers, tens of millions of which were distributed, mightily influencing generations of Americans. They taught not only reading and writing and literature, but “honor, integrity, and fair play.” “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
(Friday Church News Notes, December 21, 2012, www.wayoflife.org firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-295-4143)