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The Founders Club

Tracing the Philosophical Roots of the U.S. Constitution

The Pastors who turned into Patriots

Pietism which was the belief that people should stay out of worldly affairs and live a virtuous Christian life and it was very popular in German communities. It was challenged when more Calvinist belief systems started spreading throughout the colonies. The more Calvinist belief system was that God has a plan and people must enact that plan. Peter Muhlenberg was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and was the pastor of two Churches, one of them being German speaking.

John Peter Muhlenberg heard Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775 and was inspired to enlist. He approached George Washington and asked Washington if he could get involved. Washington gave him the position of Colonel and told him to raise some men.

On January 21, 1776, John Peter gave a very different Sermon than what his congregation was used too. He preached out of Ecclesiastes.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

He then connected the message with their current situation.

"In the language of the Holy Writ, there is a time for all things. There is a time to preach and a time to fight. And now is the time to fight."

John Peter Muhlenberg heroically threw off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of an officer in the Continental Army.

"Who among you is with me?” He yelled. Drums began to roll, men kissed their wives, and they walked down the aisle to enlist. On that day 300 men from his church and surrounding churches joined 8th Virginia Brigade fighting for liberty.

John Peter's brother, Fredrick Augustus Muhlenberg, was the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in New York City, nicknamed "Old Swamp Church," which had branched out of one of the oldest Lutheran Churches in America. Frederick opposed John Peter getting involved in politics, writing:

"You have become too involved in matters which, as a preacher, you have nothing whatsoever to do. ..."

John Peter responded with

“I am a Clergyman it is true, but I am a member of the Society as well as the poorest Layman, and my Liberty is as dear to me as any man, shall I then sit still and enjoy myself at Home when the best Blood of the Continent is spilling? far am I from thinking that I act wrong, I am convinced it is my duty to do so and duty I owe to God and my country.”

Following the Battle of Brooklyn Heights August 27, 1776, the British bombarded and invaded New York City. Fredrick Muhlenberg's church was burned. Fredrick and his family had to flee the city. Frederick changed his mind and decided he should also get involved. He joined the patriotic cause.

John Peter Muhlenberg and his men endured the freezing winter of Valley Forge and saw action at Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth and Stony Point. He helped force British General Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown. By the end of the war John Peter Muhlenberg was promoted to the rank of Major-General.

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1779, elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1780 to 1783, presided over Pennsylvania's Convention to Ratify the U.S. Constitution, elected to the U.S. Congress where he was chosen as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, and signed the bill of rights. John Peter Muhlenberg also was elected to congress. He served as a Representative from 1789 to 1801 and a Senator in 1801 from Pennsylvania.

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