We rightly revere the Declaration and the Constitution, and study their influence on America, but we shouldn’t slight the absolutely indispensable influence of another document on our history — the King James Bible.
Without it, America as we know it wouldn’t exist.
I discuss this at some length in my new book, The Case for Nationalism.
We take reading the Bible in English for granted, but it was something that, once upon a time, had to be fought for. …
… The English became a Bible-soaked people. The availability of the Bible and the emphasis on it for direct access to the word of God put a premium on literacy, and England became a highly literate society by the standards of the day. The act of reading the Bible impressed on people their own dignity, a revolutionary spark that wouldn’t be extinguished. They were also exposed to the Old Testament notions of nationality and a chosen people, which came to have such a central role in English and American history. …
… The first copy of the King James Bible may have been brought over by the ship’s carpenter on the Mayflower. This translation won out and came to occupy an unparalleled place in the culture. Families often didn’t own any other book. It would be passed down in wills.
As the historian David D. Hall writes, “no book was read more often or in so many different ways: privately in silence, aloud in households where reading may sometimes have proceeded ‘in course’ through the Old and New Testaments, and in church services as the text for Sunday sermons.”
It wasn’t until the Revolution that the Bible could be legally published in America, and the floodgates opened to an insatiable market.