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Observations on "The Two Sons of Oil"

Containing a Vindication of the American Constitutions, and Defending the Blessings of Religious Liberty and Toleration, against the Illiberal Strictures of the Rev. Samuel B. Wylie

William Findley

Publication Year: 2012

William Findley was an important, if lesser-known, politician during the early national period of American history. He was a captain in the Revolutionary army, an Anti-Federalist, and a forty-year veteran politician of both state and national office. In the Pennsylvania ratifying convention he had vigorously opposed the approval of the proposed Constitution because he felt that it did not guarantee the protection of some basic liberties such as jury trial; religious freedom; and freedom of speech, assembly, press, etc. After the Bill of Rights was adopted, Findley became a strong supporter of the Constitution.

Observations on “The Two Sons of Oil” was written in 1811 in response to the Reverend Samuel B. Wylie’s work, The Two Sons of Oil, which was published in 1803. In this work of radical Presbyterian theology, Wylie pointed out what he considered to be deficiencies in the constitutions of both Pennsylvania and the United States and declared them to be immoral.

Findley’s response to Wylie’s criticisms in Observations showed that it was neither the purpose nor the design of the United States government to have a federal religion and a federal creed. In a broader sense the book is also a passionate defense of a civil government guided by moral principles that allow for essential freedoms. Findley’s defense of religious liberty and the American constitutions affords a grand window through which to view early American understanding about the relationship between politics and faith and why it is essential for both liberty and piety to resist any attempt to unite government and Church.

This new Liberty Fund edition will make this work available once again; Observations on “The Two Sons of Oil” has not been republished since its original publication in 1812. Scholars of American history, government, and religion will appreciate the new availability of this book, which provides critical insight into Americans’ conception of liberty in the nation’s formative years. In addition, readers concerned with renewed debates around the world on the separation of church and state will appreciate the timelessness of Findley’s arguments for secular government and its compatibility with religious beliefs.

William Findley was born in Ireland and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1763. He served in the Second through the Fifth Congresses, and again in the Eighth through the Fourteenth Congresses, earning the designation “Father of the House” before he retired from Congress in 1817. He died in 1821.

John Caldwell is retired from Augustana College, where he was Director of the Library and Professor of History. Himself a native of western Pennsylvania, Professor Caldwell is the author of George R. Stewart (1981) and William Findley from West of the Mountains: A Politician in Pennsylvania, 1783–1791 (2000).

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-xvii

Presbyterians had begun to arrive in America before the end of the seventeenth century. By 1705 the Presbytery of Philadelphia had been organized and was providing general supervision of congregations in a wide area centering on that city. As immigration increased, especially...

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pp. xix-xxvii

It appears proper to inform the reader of the occasion that called my attention to the book called “Sons of Oil,” and why I considered it as a duty incumbent on me to offer the following Observations on that work; and also why it has been so long delayed, after it had been expected. With...

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Chapter I

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pp. 1-50

Of his analysis of this text, and his premises drawn from it, I will only observe here, that he makes it the foundation of his system, viz. That the gospel ministry, and civil magistracy, are not distinct governments, but component branches of one government. To this purpose, page 8, he...

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Chapter II

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pp. 51-88

It is presumed that no christian believes that eternal salvation was promised in the Sinai covenant; or, in other words, that it was the covenant of grace. The Abrahamic covenant was, indeed, a most gracious manifestation of the covenant of grace, such as the apostle testifies...

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Chapter III

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pp. 89-126

The author of the manuscript, after with propriety having strongly asserted the unchangeable perfection and perpetuity of the moral law, admits that the typical institutions, which were shadows of good things to come, as soon as the substance appeared, all fled away; but that the...

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Chapter IV

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pp. 127-166

This objection I undertake to support. His dilemmas, indeed, might pass unanswered; but as he has nothing better to give in support of his cause, I will give them a place. They are as follows: “If the saints accepted offices, &c. we may conclude, either, first, that the power was...

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Chapter V

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pp. 167-202

The reverend author’s thirteenth supposed objection (p. 74) is, that we say, “Your principles lead to persecution, and are cruel and unmerciful.” This objection I admit in all its force. I admit also his reply to it, which is—“The church of Christ never persecuted. If our principles lead to it we are...

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Chapter VI

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pp. 203-252

Though the author of the Sons of Oil advocates in his book, what has been called the covenanted work of reformation, yet he does not make much mention of those covenants in the body of the work; until, in his concluding exhortation, page 81. He there charges us “By our covenanting...

Index of Biblical Citations

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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-273

Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9781614877950
E-ISBN-10: 1614877955
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865976689

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None

OCLC Number: 190878986
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Observations on "The Two Sons of Oil"

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Subject Headings

  • Wylie, Samuel B. (Samuel Brown), 1773-1852. Two sons of oil.
  • Freedom of religion.
  • Religious tolerance.
  • Church and state -- United States.
  • Christianity and politics -- United States.
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