Samuel Rutherford’s theologico-political federalism in early American Society


  • Andries Raath University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Shaun de Freitas University of the Free State, South Africa


Die impak van Samuel Rutherford se verbondsmatige denke op die kerklike en politieke lewe in die vestigingsfases van die Amerikaanse samelewing – ? dubbele ironie.
Die puriteinse skrywer Samuel Rutherford het ? beduidende impak op die teologiese en politieke denke van die Amerikaanse pionierskolonies gehad. Rutherford se klem op die verbond is deur skrywers gebruik in hul weerstand teen die Britse monargie (Thomas Paine). Sommige skrywers het aansluiting gevind by die popularisering van Rutherford se verbondsdenke in Lex, Rex (John Adams), terwyl andere by Rutherford se politieke denke aanklank gevind het (Thomas Jefferson). Rutherford se invloed het direk en indirek ? sterk invloed op die vroeë Amerikaanse kerklike en politieke lewe uitgeoefen.

The seventeenth-century Scottish theologian and author of Lex, Rex, namely Samuel Rutherford, is either overestimated or understated regarding the influence of his political theory on the early colonies of America. This essay aims at bridging the gap between these extreme poles by providing a more nuanced analysis of the status of Rutherford’s works (especially his political thought) during the early part of American history. In this regard, two ironies come to the fore: firstly, it was ironic that whilst both Rutherford (and his Puritan supporters) in Scotland and Richard Mather (and the Puritan Congregationalists) in America, found their nourishment from the same covenantal sources, in practice there remained an unsurpassable ecclesiastical abyss between the two opposing views. Secondly, it is deduced that because of Rutherford’s strong Puritan (and Presbyterian) background, the Deists, although considerably influenced by Rutherford’s political thought, were reluctant to commit themselves openly to Rutherford’s political position because of his views on religious liberty. Beyond the wishful streams of political and theological thought stating Rutherford’s influence as of fundamental importance or of no importance whatsoever to early American society, lies a more informative and realistic presentation of the reception of Rutherford’s thought during the time. Lex, Rex, to a certain degree, popularised preceding Calvinist works on political covenantalism and arguments in favour of lawful resistance to tyranny, Lex, Rex also contributing substantially towards cultivating a political sensitivity to the idea of social contractarianism as the driving force for social and political life in American society. It is fairly safe to conclude that Rutherford did not enjoy explicit popular referencing and acclaim in early American society; however, it will also be wise not to negate absolutely Rutherford’s presence and influence in the political (and theological) questions during the early American settlement.



How to Cite

Raath, A., & de Freitas, S. (2012). Samuel Rutherford’s theologico-political federalism in early American Society. Tydskrif Vir Christelike Wetenskap | Journal for Christian Scholarship, 48(3-4), 1-42. Retrieved from



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