Monday, November 12, 2018

Q&A with Christopher Grasso, author of Skepticism and American Faith: ...

Check it out at The Junto here. A taste:
Christopher Grasso earned his PhD from Yale in 1992, taught at St. Olaf College, and came to William and Mary in 1999.  From 2000 to 2013 he served as the Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly. ... 
JUNTO: Skepticism and American Faith is organized into four thematic parts, arranged chronologically: “Revolutions, 1775-1815,” “Enlightenments, 1790-1840,” “Reforms, 1820-1850,” and “Sacred Causes, 1830-1865.” What does attention to religious skepticism and faith tell us about revolution, enlightenment(s), reform, and the Civil War? 
GRASSO: Debates over the meaning of the American and French Revolutions prominently featured arguments about the role that religious faith ought to have in public life and patriotic citizenship. Was America a Christian nation? Did religious liberty include the freedom to be irreligious? With the separation of church and state, how could a Christian majority legitimately exert its power over non-believers in a democracy? Believing and doubting were rarely just matters of private predilection. From the founding, these issues linked the personal to the political. 
Americans in this period did not talk about “The Enlightenment” (a later historiographical construct), but they did argue about what it meant for a person or a society to become “enlightened,” and the role of skeptical reasoning and religious faith in that process. The dialogue of skepticism and faith, therefore, echoed through the effort to produce and disseminate knowledge in the early republic. American Protestants in particular anointed themselves as the vanguard of Western civilization, claiming all the “enlightened” values and practices previously championed by the eighteenth-century philosophes: free inquiry, open debate, the broad dissemination of print, and the triumph over superstition. But they always supplemented and corrected worldly learning with divine revelation. More radical champions of enlightenment argued that the truth claims of the churches and the Bible needed to be investigated, debated, and rationally evaluated just like any others, and rejected if found wanting.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On Gregg Frazer's New Book

Check the story out here. As it reads:
New from the University Press of Kansas: God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy's Case against the American Revolution by Gregg L. Frazer
About the book, from the publisher: 
Because, it’s said, history is written by the victors, we know plenty about the Patriots’ cause in the American Revolution. But what about the perhaps one-third of the population who opposed independence? They too were Americans who loved the land they lived in, but their position is largely missing from our understanding of Revolution-era American political thought. With God against the Revolution, the first comprehensive account of the political thought of the American Loyalists, Gregg L. Frazer seeks to close this gap.

Because the Loyalists’ position was most clearly expressed by clergymen, God against the Revolution investigates the biblical, philosophical, and legal arguments articulated in Loyalist ministers’ writings, pamphlets, and sermons. The Loyalist ministers Frazer consults were not blind apologists for Great Britain; they criticized British excesses. But they challenged the Patriots claiming rights as Englishmen to be subject to English law. This is one of the many instances identified by Frazer in which the Loyalist arguments mirrored or inverted those of the Patriots, who demanded natural and English rights while denying freedom of religion, expression, and assembly, and due process of law to those with opposing views. Similarly the Loyalist ministers’ biblical arguments against revolution and in favor of subjection to authority resonate oddly with still familiar notions of Bible-invoking patriotism.

For a revolution built on demands for liberty, equality, and fairness of representation, God against the Revolution raises sobering questions—about whether the Patriots were rational, legitimate representatives of the people, working in the best interests of Americans. A critical amendment to the history of American political thought, the book also serves as a cautionary tale in the heated political atmosphere of our time.
Thanks to Marshal Zeringue for posting this.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Postscript

A subtitle to this post is "the power of missing quotation marks." You can view the last of my series on St. George Tucker here

When it came to sourcing material, America's founders often operated according to a different set of rules. In the material I reproduced from Tucker, at least he explicitly attributes to Richard Price and otherwise puts in quotations some of the things that he quotes exactly. America's founders didn't always do this.

The problem is that Tucker (or perhaps whoever reproduced his work) misses some quotation marks. And it makes a difference. Tucker apparently endorses all of the words he reproduces from Price. But he makes it really hard to tell where his words end and Price's words begin.

Here is a link to the original. What follows is the offending original part of the quotation where quotation marks are not used in Tucker's original writing:

"In liberty of conscience says the elegant Dr. Price, I include much more than toleration." 

This is then followed by a great deal of words. It gives the impression that Tucker is paraphrasing Richard Price's sentiments. The problem is, starting with "[i]n liberty of conscience" Tucker begins quoting Price exactly. It should have read, "In liberty of conscience," says the elegant Dr. Price, "I include much more than toleration." 

Tucker then goes on to quote Richard Price verbatim so much such that arguably Price's exact words make up the majority of words in this document from The Founders' Constitution

I'm going to quote below the entire passage of Price's, quoted by Tucker as it should have looked. I've put Tucker's words in bold:
"In liberty of conscience," says the elegant Dr. Price, "I include much more than toleration. Jesus Christ has established a perfect equality among his followers. His command is, that they shall assume no jurisdiction over one another, and acknowledge no master besides himself. It is, therefore, presumption in any of them to claim a right to any superiority or pre-eminence over their bretheren. Such a claim is implied, whenever any of them pretend to tolerate the rest. Not only all christians, but all men of all religions, ought to be considered by a state as equally entitled to it's protection, as far as they demean themselves honestly and peaceably. Toleration can take place only where there is a civil establishment of a particular mode of religion; that is, where a predominant sect enjoys exclusive advantages, and makes the encouragement of it's own mode of faith and worship a part of the constitution of the state; but at the same time thinks fit to suffer the exercise of other modes of faith and worship. Thanks be to God, the new American states are at present strangers to such establishments. In this respect, as well as many others, they have shewn in framing their constitutions, a degree of wisdom and liberality which is above all praise. 
"Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship, are inconsistent with the rights of private judgement. They engender strife . . . they turn religion into a trade . . . they shore up error . . . they produce hypocrisy and prevarication . . . they lay an undue bias on the human mind in its inquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth . . . genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls. It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting, in their own example, a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow citizens in doing the same. They cannot, as public men, give it any other assistance. All, besides, that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences. 
"The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character? What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil? 
"But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics. Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion. 
"It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in it's effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter . . . Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent. On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent . . . Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprissoning and burning one another, in order to do God service . . . Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment. But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. . . . Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that pious frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics. 
"It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion; a religion founded on just notions of the Deity, as a Being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy: a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an Almighty but Benevolent Governor of Nature, who directs for the best, all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority, and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy, and joyful, and which, in truth is nothing but the love of God to man, and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct). It is only this kind of religion that can bless the world, or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support. But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of, and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open."
Again, what Tucker didn't do was put in the quotation marks that I put in. Right after writing the words "free and open" Tucker then states:

"The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted:" ...

And it's correctly followed with quotation marks indicating the words are Price's. 

Below is how it looks, with Tucker's words in bold. But this time the quotation marks are NOT added by me but exist in the original. 
The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted: "Let no such monster be known there, [in the United States] as human authority in matters of religion. Let every honest and peaceable man, whatever is his faith, be protected there; and find an effectual defence against the attacks of bigotry and intolerance. In the United States may religion flourish! They cannot be very great and happy if it does not. But let it be a better religion than most of those which have been hitherto professed in the world. Let it be a religion which enforces moral obligations; not a religion which relaxes and evades them . . . A tolerant and catholic religion; not a rage for proselytism . . . A religion of peace and charity; not a religion that persecutes curses and damns. In a word, let it be the genuine gospel of peace, lifting above the world, warming the heart with the love of God and his creatures, and sustaining the fortitude of good men, by the assured hope of a future deliverance from death, and an infinite reward in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour."
If what I have written has confused any reader, you can compare the originals. Here is Price'shere is Tucker's.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part V

See parts I, II, IIIand IV. This is the fifth and final part of the series and I hope you read my analysis at the end, because I think the post ends with a bang. 

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion; a religion founded on just notions of the Deity, as a Being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy: a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an Almighty but Benevolent Governor of Nature, who directs for the best, all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority, and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. 
It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy, and joyful, and which, in truth is nothing but the love of God to man, and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct). It is only this kind of religion that can bless the world, or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support.  
But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of, and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open. The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted:  

"Let no such monster be known there, [in the United States] as human authority in matters of religion. Let every honest and peaceable man, whatever is his faith, be protected there; and find an effectual defence against the attacks of bigotry and intolerance. In the United States may religion flourish! They cannot be very great and happy if it does not. But let it be a better religion than most of those which have been hitherto professed in the world. Let it be a religion which enforces moral obligations; not a religion which relaxes and evades them . . . A tolerant and catholic religion; not a rage for proselytism . . . A religion of peace and charity; not a religion that persecutes curses and damns. In a word, let it be the genuine gospel of peace, lifting above the world, warming the heart with the love of God and his creatures, and sustaining the fortitude of good men, by the assured hope of a future deliverance from death, and an infinite reward in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour."

This inestimable and imprescriptible right is guaranteed to the citizens of the United States, as such, by the constitution of the United States, which declares, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States; and by that amendment to the constitution of the United States, which prohibits congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;  

[A]nd to the citizens of Virginia by the bill of rights, which declares, "that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience: and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other."  

And further, by the act for establishing religious freedom, by which it is also declared, "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry, whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
Now for the controversial part, my analysis:

First, Tucker does not argue for what might be termed "strict deism" -- as his deity is too personal and Christianish -- but he does argue for some kind of Enlightenment theology. The term "the Enlightenment" was something that was crafted later by historians and intellectuals; but when one sees terms like "a rational and liberal religion" and "[t]his is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support," we are dealing with Enlightenment speak.

Second, if not strict deism, then what? This theology presents itself under the auspices of Christianity, and it quotes a "passage from the same author." That same author is Richard Price and the passage was quoted from Price's "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, and the Means of Making it a Benefit to the World [1784]."

That address (which George Washington endorsed) is, at the very least, implicitly unitarian as Price was an Arian.

After arguing for his ideal political theology which also happens to be his personal faith, Tucker then notes that this theology is validated by the US Constitution and the various laws in Virginia. Political theology is more of an informal thing (a spirit if you will) than a formal thing, like an official religious establishment.

Perhaps Tucker inappropriately reads in his personal preferences to American law. He does seem a partisan advocate of the "Virginia view," which is more secular and "separation of church and state" oriented. This wouldn't be the first time an influential figure from the past has done this. Professor V. Phillip Munoz, a leading expert on originalism and the religion clauses, noted to me (and others in a private group) he thought Joseph Story's "Commentaries on the Constitution" inappropriately read the "Massachusetts view," which is more accommodating of religion and public life, into the US Constitution.

(Yes I know, Tucker's writings predate Story's. But this is how Whigs tended to operate.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part IV

See parts I, IIand III

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character?  
What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil? 
But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics.  
Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion. 
It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in it's effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter . . . Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent.  
On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent . . . Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprissoning and burning one another, in order to do God service . . . Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment.  
But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. . . . Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that pious frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics.
We see here that Tucker has some bitter words of criticism for certain kinds of established Christianity. Roman Catholicism is obviously a target -- probably the biggest offender -- of this "superstitious" Christianity that Tucker apparently sees as worse than atheism.

However, it's an all to common error of the "Christian nationalist" types to think it's only Roman Catholicism. No it's other forms of orthodox Protestant Christianity too. Here Tucker names Anglicanism. Tucker also notes it's not just congregants, but ministers as well in the Anglican church who didn't necessarily believe in official doctrine and dogma.

That's why the rules of evidence by which I operate refuse to concede that merely being formally affiliated (and in some cases the affiliation is informal!) with a particular church means we get to impute said church's doctrines into the particular individual.

This is, for instance, the only way to make George Washington into an "orthodox Christian," by imputing specific Anglican/Episcopalian teachings into his beliefs. Even though GW systematically avoided communion in said church. (Something forbidden by "official" Anglican/Episcopalian doctrine and dogma).

Monday, October 29, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part III

See parts I and II

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
In liberty of conscience says the elegant Dr. Price, I include much more than toleration. Jesus Christ has established a perfect equality among his followers. His command is, that they shall assume no jurisdiction over one another, and acknowledge no master besides himself. It is, therefore, presumption in any of them to claim a right to any superiority or pre-eminence over their bretheren. Such a claim is implied, whenever any of them pretend to tolerate the rest.  
Not only all christians, but all men of all religions, ought to be considered by a state as equally entitled to it's protection, as far as they demean themselves honestly and peaceably. Toleration can take place only where there is a civil establishment of a particular mode of religion; that is, where a predominant sect enjoys exclusive advantages, and makes the encouragement of it's own mode of faith and worship a part of the constitution of the state; but at the same time thinks fit to suffer the exercise of other modes of faith and worship.  
Thanks be to God, the new American states are at present strangers to such establishments. In this respect, as well as many others, they have shewn in framing their constitutions, a degree of wisdom and liberality which is above all praise. 
Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship, are inconsistent with the rights of private judgement. They engender strife . . . they turn religion into a trade . . . they shore up error . . . they produce hypocrisy and prevarication . . . they lay an undue bias on the human mind in its inquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth . . . genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls.  
It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting, in their own example, a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow citizens in doing the same. They cannot, as public men, give it any other assistance. All, besides, that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences.
The "elegant Dr. Price" is the legendary Arian philosopher Richard Price.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part II


Paragraph breaks added for clarity:
The right of personal opinion is one of those absolute rights which man hath received from the immediate gift of his Creator, but which the policy of all governments, from the first institution of society to the foundation of the American republics, hath endeavoured to restrain, in some mode or other.  
The mind being created free by the author of our nature, in vain have the arts of man endeavoured to shackle it: it may indeed be imprisoned a while by ignorance, or restrained from a due exertion of it's powers by tyranny and oppression; but let the rays of science, or the dawn of freedom, penetrate the dungeon, its faculties are instantly rarified and burst their prison. 
This right of personal opinion, comprehends first, liberty of conscience in all matters relative to religion; and, secondly, liberty of speech and of discussion in all speculative matters, whether religious, philosophical, or political. 
1. Liberty of conscience in matters of religion consists in the absolute and unrestrained exercise of our religious opinions, and duties, in that mode which our own reason and conviction dictate, without the control or intervention of any human power or authority whatsoever.  
This liberty though made a part of our constitution, and interwoven in the nature of man by his Creator; so far as the arts of fraud and terrors of violence have been capable of abridging it, hath been the subject of coercion by human laws in all ages and in all countries as far as the annals of mankind extend.  
The infallibility of the rulers of nations, in matters of religion, hath been a doctrine practically enforced from the earliest periods of history to the present moment among jews, pagans, mahometans, and christians, alike. The altars of Moloch and of Jehovah have been equally stained with the blood of victims, whose conscience did not receive conviction from the polluted doctrines of blood thirsty priests and tyrants. Even in countries where the crucifix, the rack, and the flames have ceased to be the engines of proselitism, civil incapacities have been invariably attached to a dissent from the national religion: the ceasing to persecute by more violent means, has in such nations obtained the name of toleration1
I find interesting the equivalence that Tucker draws among the different religious traditions, finding them all -- from Moloch to Jehovah -- culpable in the bloodstained game of religious persecution.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part I

One of the things we, along with many scholars, have done is play up "the key American founders" (the ones on American currency, etc.) perhaps to the exclusion of the 2nd and 3rd tier ones who comprised a statistical majority of their numbers.

This post will feature the writings of St. George Tucker of Virginia, not a key American founder. But a notable statesmen from that era, nonetheless. Perhaps this post will not satisfy those who look for a difference of opinion between the key founders on the one hand, and the lesser founders on the other. And that's because Tucker's views seem to exist somewhere right between Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's (two key founders).

What I find interesting about this document labeled Blackstone's Commentaries, 1:App. 296--97, 2: App. 3--11 (named such, even though this particular text really has nothing to do with Blackstone's commentaries) is that it alludes to four major pieces of work from that era: 1. The Virginia state bill of rights, 2. the Memorial and Remonstrance; 3. the VA Statute on Religious Freedom, and 4. the US Constitution.

I'm going to publish this work in pieces. Below is the first excerpt, with some paragraph breaks added for clarity:
On the first of these subjects, our state bill of rights contains, what, if prejudice were not incapable of perceiving truth, might be deemed an axiom, concerning the human mind. That "religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." In vain, therefore, may the civil magistrate interpose the authority of human laws, to prescribe that belief, or produce that conviction, which human reason rejects: in vain may the secular arm be extended, the rack stretched, and the flames kindled, to realize the tortures denounced against unbelievers by all the various sects of the various denominations of fanatics and enthusiasts throughout the globe. 
The martyr at the stake, glories in his tortures, and proves that human laws may punish, but cannot convince. The pretext of religion, and the pretences of sanctity and humility, have been employed throughout the world, as the most direct means of gaining influence and power. Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together. 
To separate them by mounds which can never be overleaped, is the only means by which our duty to God, the peace of mankind, and the genuine fruits of charity and fraternal love, can be preserved or properly discharged. This prohibition, therefore, may be regarded as the most powerful cement of the federal government, or rather, the violation of it will prove the most powerful engine of separation. 
Those who prize the union of the states will never think of touching this article with unhallowed hands. The ministry of the unsanctified sons of Aaron scarcely produced a flame more sudden, more violent, or more destructive, than such an attempt would inevitably excite. . . . I forbear to say more, in this place, upon this subject, having treated of it somewhat at large in a succeeding note.
The language pretty strikingly speaks in terms of "separation" of church and state. I'm surprised that the secularists who like to cherry pick Jefferson and Madison haven't quoted from this more. The fact that the date of this document is from 1803 also fits Philip Hamburger's thesis that the Democratic-Republicans didn't speak in terms of "separation of church and state" until the early 19th Century.

That contention is one of the many analytical points where I think Hamburger gets it wrong. Whatever exact words they used, what Jefferson and Madison argued for in Virginia in the 1780s I think aptly could be termed "separation of church and state," even if they didn't use those exact words, but used others like "non-cognizance."

Rather, Tucker's view well represents what some scholars have termed the "Virginia view" (not the only one the American founders held on religious establishment issues). And the "Virginia" view, even in the 1780s, is one of "separation."

Friday, October 26, 2018

Old Article in First Things

The Internet is a strange place. In case you missed it, there has been a lot of growth in the online world over the past 20 years or so. There has also been a lot of opportunity with that growth. Much of it missed. If I only had bought Amazon when it first went public.

When I started blogging -- and I don't think I've ever done anything that big in the blogsphere (or really tried) -- it surprised me how some folks ended up taking note of me and throwing some work my way, that I never really sought out.

In the 13 plus years that I've been working full time at my job, I've always worked "overloads" which is the way my job describes overtime. I really don't have the time or interest to seek out publication in peer reviewed places. But I would argue, there is nothing about that process that makes the output superior to what I do other than perhaps having an editor who strengthens my writing.

I have a handful of very close readers who would call out any unprofessional errors within the week if not the day.

First Things was one of those places that asked me to write a "briefly noted" review, without my solicitation. You can now read it as it appears in the magazine.

The review was of James H. Hutson's "The Founders on Religion, A Book of Quotations."

Princeton University Press ended up putting my name on the back of the book.

No really.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Profit Motive Keeps Our Union Together -- So Say Alexander Hamilton and Jay Cost

If you think our society's nosedive in civility and the increase in political and identitarian tribalism will lead to civil war... Take heart. It won't happen. That's the message of Jay Cost, writing for National Review. His prognosis is based on none other than Alexander Hamilton, who of course graces our $10 bill and was the subject of a spectacularly popular play in recent years.

In Federalist No. 12, Hamilton wrote that "[t]he prosperity of commerce" is, and will increasingly become, "the primary object of our political cares." He explained that the "interests" of the working citizenry are "intimately blended and interwoven." And this reality, claims Hamilton via and according to Cost, will insure American society today endures the turbulent, polarized affairs in which we find ourselves. 

To read Cost's full article, I direct you to National Review's site below...


It should be noted that the Founders also had much to say about religion and morality being important to preserving the glue which binds us together. See Washington's Farewell Address (which incidentally Hamilton had a hand in writing). But even if Cost is correct in his emphasis on economics, the glue only works so long as Americans embrace the system given to us by our Founders, namely free market economics. If the nation turns away from capitalism and more toward socialism, we may find Cost's hopeful optimism misplaced. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fea: The Author’s Corner with Gregg Frazer

It looks like our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer has a new book out entitled God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution (University Press of Kansas, 2018). John Fea has the details here. A taste:
JF: What led you to write God Against the Revolution?  
GF: My primary research interest is religion and the American Founding. I became re-acquainted with the sermons of Loyalist minister Jonathan Boucher while doing research on American Revolution-era sermons for my first book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders. I have always been impressed with Boucher’s biblical argument and with his rational challenges to John Locke’s theories. Having analyzed the basic arguments and assumptions of the Patriot preachers in my first book, I became intrigued with the idea of examining the arguments of the Loyalist clergymen and, as they were the primary spokesmen of Loyalism, the political thought of the Loyalists in general. Irrespective of the title, the book covers all of the Loyalist arguments.
I can't wait to read it and hopefully we will have much more discussion about this book.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ben Franklin on Religious "Diffidence"

In his autobiography Ben Franklin noted that at one point in his younger life he became a "thorough deist." Franklin immediately noted that he backtracked on the thoroughness of such creed. ("I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful.")

Elsewhere in his biography, Franklin gives more detail on his change of approach. Paragraph breaks are added:
And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it. Therefore I took a delight in it, practising it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.  
I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. 
This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversion are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purpose for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.  
For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet, at the same time, express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.
Shaftesbury and Collins were two of the "Deists" who influenced Franklin. Early in his life Franklin was imbibed in the game which we see played to this day of skeptics debunking conventional religious dogmas. Franklin claims he was quite good at it. But then opted for a different approach. The approach of making diffident arguments on issues that many hold dear.

More of a soft challenge than a hard one.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Nothing New Under the Sun




“I have long been convinced that our Enemies have made it an Object, to eradicate from the Minds of the People in general a Sense of true Religion & Virtue, in hopes thereby the more easily to carry their Point of enslaving them.”—Samuel Adams to John Scollay, 30 April 1776






HT: Daniel Dreisbach

Friday, August 31, 2018

Thomas Jefferson Believed in the Resurrection

Just not of Jesus. At least not yet.

In his letter to to William Short, October 31, 1819, Jefferson listed the doctrines which he rejected:
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
Elsewhere Jefferson posited his materialism and rejected the concept of an immaterial soul. Such got Jefferson accused of secret atheism. Likewise, that John Locke was a materialist is a component in the equation that gets him accused of the same.

Yes, Jefferson following Locke and Joseph Priestley was a materialist. All three believed in or at least professed to believe in a creator God and in a future state of rewards and punishments. I'll skip Locke's particulars for the moment and note that Priestley the Socinian believed in the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Socinians like Priestley believed Jesus 100% man, 0% divine in His nature. But on a divine mission.

For Priestley the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus was God doing for the most perfect man what He promised to do one day for all good men.

John Adams too believed in the resurrection of Jesus. I can't tell whether Adams was an Arian or Socinian (I'm not sure if he knew what he was in that respect). What I am sure of is Adams bitterly and militantly rejected the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation and self identified as a unitarian.

But for a materialist like Jefferson, if one doesn't believe in the doctrine of an immaterial soul, but one does believe in a creator God and an afterlife, it stands to reason that the resurrection of humans into new material bodies will be the mechanism God uses to accomplish such.

So even if Jefferson rejected the resurrection of Jesus, he probably believed that Jesus would be resurrected in the end with himself and all other good men.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

St. Athanasius and the American Founding

I will admit that I have not done comprehensive research on the topic of St. Athanasius and the American founding. But I am aware of a few notable founders who broached the subject. And all the results are negative towards the name "Athanasius" or "Athanasian."

So, in this post, I attempt briefly to explain who St. Athanasius was, what he was famous for, and why certain founders (or their British influences) would speak negatively about him.

If you want to know more explicit detail about him, start off with his Wiki page and follow the sources in the footnotes there. As I see it, he was notable for three things I list below.

The first is that he played a leading role in the Council of Nicaea that was meant to clarify (small o) "orthodox" church doctrine and anathematize Arianism. The three most notable ecumenical creeds of the early church are as follows: 1. Apostles; 2. Nicene; and 3. Athanasian. People debate when the Apostles' creed was written; it could have been before or after the Nicene. The origins of the Nicene creed are clearer: it was done in 325 CE. Likewise the exact date of the Athanasian creed is debatable; but it appears to be somewhat after the Nicene.

All three of the creeds were meant to clarify the nature of God and anathematize heresy. All three are Trinitarian in their character. The Apostles' creed is the least specific, the Athanasian the most so, with the Nicene somewhere in the middle. The Athanasian creed gets so specific it became clumsy for some orthodox churches to use for liturgical recitation. But make no mistake, the purpose of these creeds was for the early church to clarify the "orthodoxy" of the collective, universal (i.e., small c catholic) church.

So one possible meaning of "Athanasius" or "Athanasian" to America's founders is Trinitarianism in the form of a creed. And the most notable Trinitarian creed is the Nicene (not the Athanasian, ironically) where the doctrine of the Trinity was firmly articulated and where St. Athanasius played a leading role in the process.

So to use the term "Athanasian" in a negative sense might mean a Founder is signifying his theological unitarianism. For instance, John Adams in 1815 comes out of his unitarian closet and attempts to straighten out Jedidiah Morse, a notable orthodox Trinitarian enemy of Unitarianism at the time. Adams states:
In the preface, Unitarianism, is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old Age. Sixty five years Ago, my own Minister the Reverend Lemuel Briant, Dr Jonathan Mayhew of the West Church in Boston, The Reverend Mr Shute of Hingham The Reverend John Brown of Cohasset, and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, The Reverend Mr Gay of Hingham; were Unitarians. Among the Laity, how many could I name Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesmen, Farmers? I could fill a Sheet, but at present will name only one. Richard Cranch a Man who had Studied Divinity, and Jewish and Christian Antiquities more than any Clergyman now existing in New England. 
More than fifty years ago I read Dr Samuel Clark, Emlyn, and Dr Waterland. Do you expect, my dear Doctor to teach me any new thing in favour of Athanasianism?
So when William Livingston slammed St. Athanasius in a letter to, again, Jedidiah Morse (but in 1787), he could have been signalling his unitarianism.

But St. Athanasius is also know for the creed which bears his name: the Athanasian creed. Ironically, scholars conclude he had nothing to do with the writing of that creed; it was as mentioned above, at Nicaea where Athanasius played the leading role. The Athanasian creed came later and is more wordy than the Nicene. The early church felt the need to add more words because it felt the need to further clarify what is orthodoxy, what is heresy.

The creed was adopted by not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Anglicans and many other (though certainly not all) orthodox Protestant churches.

One of the controversial "additions" that the Athanasian creed makes to the Nicene are the so called "damnatory clauses." It's the part at the end which says basically, not only do we believe in the Trinity and other aspects of orthodoxy against heresy, but if you don't believe in this, you are damned.

It's supposedly a "faith" of the universal church "which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved."

Now keep in mind that many orthodox Protestants affirm this creed. Just as many orthodox Protestants believe in a small c catholic or "universal" church. I have encountered a few orthodox Trinitarian Protestants who say they believe in everything the Athanasian creed says except for the damnatory clauses. Meaning that you can have a mistaken view that qualifies as heresy, but not necessarily soul damning heresy.

Most of the fulminations against the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian creed in the 18th Century come from unitarians (as far as I have seen). So for instance, as the Arian Richard Price noted in an address that George Washington endorsed:
Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.
The third thing that Athanasius is notable for is his work in establishing what constitutes the canon of the Bible. In other words, he helped write the Bible. When we say "write the Bible," this is what we mean: If one wants to believe that the Holy Spirit breathed all scripture, fine. However the Bible didn't just fall out of the sky or wasn't just discovered written in gold plates as a complete set of books.

The Bible isn't a novel; it's a canon that had to be complied. And from day one, there were disagreements on which books belonged. From day one (the first century) believers had "scripture." But what they didn't have was a book of 27 that comprised the New Testament or a book of 66 or 73 or some other number that comprised the Old and New Testaments.

Many orthodox Protestants seem under the misimpression that once the ink was dry on the last book in the New Testament in the first century, that all true believers simply knew that it was these 27 books that comprise the NT and those 39 that comprised the OT.

The problem with this is that it's not true; or at least there is no historical evidence for it. Again, they all believed in *some* scripture, but the process for determining "it's these books and not those" took hundreds of years to settle. And in reality, it's still not settled in that Protestants, Catholics and the capital O Orthodox each have canons with slightly different sets of books.

Long story short: the heretic Marcion came forth with the first written canon that struck many in the community as whack. So the community of believers got together and started a long process that attempted to answer him and settle matters of orthodoxy and canonicity.

Some mistakenly believe that Nicaea settled the matter of the canon. In fact, that was John Adams' impression. But Nicaea didn't deal with the canon, rather the Trinity. The reason why someone might make this error is because Athanasius not only played a leading role at Nicaea, but also in establishing the canon of the Bible.

In fact, the earliest historians can trace a complete list of 27 books of the New Testament is to Athanasius in the year 367. Now, let me be clear on what is meant here. Yes, all the books in the canon may well have been written in the first century. But what we are looking for is evidence of "it's these 27, not those other books." Terms like "mostly the NT" or "basically" won't cut it. Yes, much earlier, we can demonstrate figures believing in groups of books that are part of the NT. But you don't get those 27 until Athanasius and 367.

And even then it wasn't settled; that's just the earliest we can find those 27 as defined as "the list" of books that comprise the NT. Though it became formalized in the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.

So if one takes issue with what constitutes the canon of scripture, especially the 27 books which make up the NT, one might take issue with St. Athanasius.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Who Was Henry Marten?

Another question related to this post is "what is reformed Protestantism?"

I was involved in the comments section at the Law and Liberty site on BRUCE P. FROHNEN's latest. One learned commenter stressed the "reformed Protestant" element in the development of the concept of "liberty" in America and Great Britain.

Though, the commenter seemed to have a very broadly defined understanding of reformed Protestant Christianity. They asserted it encompassed the Arian and Socinian doctrines. As they put it:
... I don’t know that [Roger] Williams ever expressed an opinion about Servetus but non-trinitarinism has been a feature of Christianity since about 300 AD and Arianism was the Christianity of the Goths and Theodoric the Great who conquered Italy in 493. Further, Socinianism had been in the air in England and since 1610, it was part of the Polish Brethren’s belief system in the 1560s. It is a common place observation that rationalist and biblical literalist Reformed christians like Newton, Henry Marten, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson exhibited a marked tendency [toward] non-trinitarianism.
I replied that I didn't know anything about Henry Marten and that very few people associate theological unitarianism with the label “biblical literalist Reformed christian[ity].” Though, yes, arguably it was part of the theologically liberal (for the time) wing of “Protestant Christianity.”

So the commenter noted:
Henry Marten was perhaps the most radically republican member of the Long Parliament. He was John Lilburne’s best connection in Parliament after Cromwell put Lilburne on trial for treason in 1649. Lilburne appeared pro se and told the jury they were final deciders of both the law and the facts. The jury acquitted Lilburne and the cheering spectators carried “Freeborn John” out of the courtroom on their shoulders.  
Like Col. Thomas Rainborowe’s brother, William, Marten was often called a Ranter. Here it is interesting to note that John Winthrop became Thomas and William Rainborowe’s brother-in-law in December 1647 when Winthrop married their widowed sister, Martha Coytmore, in Boston. Winthrop’s son, Stephen, had already been commissioned in the New Model Army. He rose quickly and died in Scotland a Lt. Colonel in what had formerly been Sheffield’s regiment of horse. Things might have been very different in both England and New England had Winthrop and Col. Rainborowe not died so young and so close together in 1648-49.
I briefly looked online for evidence of Marten's creed. This is what Wiki noted:
Although a leading Puritan, Marten enjoyed good living. He had a contemporary reputation as a heavy drinker and was widely said to be a man of loose morals.[2] According to John Aubrey he was "a great lover of pretty girls to whom he was so liberal that he spent the greatest part of his estate" upon them.[10] In the opinion of King Charles I he was "an ugly rascal and whore-master".[11] He married twice (to Elizabeth Lovelace and Margaret Staunton (née West) but had an open and lengthy relationship with Mary Ward, a woman not his wife, by whom he had three daughters.[12] Ward ultimately was to remain with him throughout his later imprisonment.[4] His enemies branded him an atheist but his religious views were more complex, and influenced his position regarding the need to allow freedom of worship and conscience.[13] His political views throughout his life were constant: he opposed one-man rule[14] and was in favour of representative government. In 1643, even while the king was losing the First Civil War and Parliament's cause was beginning to triumph, Marten's republican sentiments led to his arrest and brief imprisonment.[15] Thus for his time Marten was unusual in his political stance, being unashamedly in favour not of reforming the monarchy but of replacing it with a republic.[16]


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fideists Ought Not Try to Claim the Political Theology of the American Founding

From Thomas Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, May 8, 1825:
All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & . …
The Declaration of Independence's, that is.

You can read a philosophical muckety muck definition of fideism here. For the sake of this post, see below Francis Schaeffer as he slams Aristotle and Aquinas.

  

Years ago I think we noted Barry Hankins' book that featured the battle between Schaeffer on the one hand v. Mark Noll and George Marsden on the other. This article by Hankins summarizes the controversy.

As I see it, Noll and Marsden chewed Schaeffer up and spat him out. They ended up adding Nathan Hatch, currently the highest paid college President in America (Wake Forrest), to their cohort and together they wrote the book "The Search For Christian America" which demolished Schaeffer's "Christian America" claim on his own grounds. 

Schaeffer and the three authors apparently share the same theological premise, which is a kind of fideistic form of reformed orthodox Protestant Christianity. Schaeffer's fideism was the weakest part of his "Christian America" argument. The three academic authors nailed him on it.

From the above linked article:
Like Noll, Marsden again tried to educate Schaeffer as to what Christian scholars do. The first goal is to be accurate, not to fashion a story that is useful for an agenda, however just that agenda might be, Marsden chided Schaeffer. In a more critical vein, Marsden charged Schaeffer with his own inconsistency, in that throughout his career as a Christian author he had argued that Aquinas and theological liberals were similarly guilty of creating a nature/grace dualism, yet America's founding fathers seemed to get a free pass when they engaged in the same type of thinking. Elaborating on Noll's arguments, Marsden charged that at no time in the history of Christianity had the nature/grace dichotomy that Schaeffer had criticized for two decades been more prevalent than in Britain and her colonies in the eighteenth century. Portraying such thinking as broadly Christian, as long as it was not militantly anti-Christian like the French Revolution, was in Marsden's view precisely what had opened the door for the twentieth century secular revolution that he, Noll, and Schaeffer all lamented.
Gotcha! Right between the eyes.

However, one wonders whether the fideistic premise these interlocutors all apparently share is a necessary tenet, central to the orthodox reformed Protestantism on which grounds they argue. J. Daryl Charles argues below, to the contrary.

 

Still, even conceding the kind of Protestant theology for which Dr. Charles argues has a proper place in authentic orthodox Protestant Christianity, it's still debatable how well the kind of "nature" appealed to in America's Declaration of Independence mixes with traditional orthodox Christianity.

Thomist Robert Kraynak, for instance, argues said appeal to nature is too "modern" for such. But if one refuses to recognize those appeals to nature for what they are (appeals to reason, not scripture) one ought not be taken seriously.

I think that's a reason why Noll and Marsden spent a great deal of ink remonstrating with Schaeffer. Unlike David Barton, I think they respected Schaeffer in a sense, as a theologian who was very good at his particular craft with which they personally sympathized.

As a historian, not so much.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part VII, Final.

Last month I ran a series of posts which reproduced the first half of this article by Robert P. Kraynak about Roman Catholicism and the Declaration of Independence, with minor edits (omission of footnotes and a few ellipses [...]) and my sparse commentary.

I stopped somewhere in the middle of page 17 out of 30. This will be my final post on the matter. Those interested in a careful reading can read the entire article. These pages are where the article goes deep into the philosophical weeds to explain why the natural law the Roman Catholic Church endorses is not the same thing as the natural rights encapsulated in the Declaration and the tension between the two. I'm just going to post one short excerpt from the rest of the article.
Applied to the American situation, Thomistic natural law requires one to judge the work of the American founding fathers by the objective hierarchy of ends which God has ordained for man. Here, the decisive question would seem to be whether the natural law doctrine of the Declaration of Independence which guided the Americans contains some of the elements of a true natural law found in original Thomism~ The answer, we now must admit, is that the Declaration contains only a partial or incomplete version of true natural law, because it does not provide sufficiently for the perfection of the rational soul. The Declaration of Independence asserts a right to pursue happiness, but does not provide sufficiently for the higher goods of temporal and eternal happiness, ·leaving them more to personal choice than to corporate responsibility or leaving them to the larger culture which surrounded the Declaration and the Constitution that still contained vital remnants of classical and Christian culture and of the English common law tradition. Yet, if the American founders had been more attentive to preserving these traditional elements, they might have been Tories rather than revolutionaries. Or, since they themselves were gentlemen politicians of quasi-aristocratic character, they might have waged a war of independence on less sweeping principles than natural rights and established a more hierarchical regime than a constitutional republic.

However, a Thomistic approach to politics requires prudence, which counsels statesmen to seek the best approximation of the true hierarchy of goods in the given circumstances. After the American Revolution occurred and the regime was settled in favor of republicanism, Catholic Thomists could be American republicans-they could have acted like Alexander Hamilton, who favored constitutional monarchy while accepting constitutional democracy or republicanism as the only practical option in the circumstances. Within that basic acceptance and loyalty to of the American natural rights republic, Catholic Thomists could hold reservations about the natural rights basis of the regime and hope to move it in a ·more hierarchically ordered and less individualistic and less materialistic direction. ... 
 As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kraynak would later write an entire book on this topic entitled "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy." Those who enjoyed books such as "The Search For Christian America," "Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction," and "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution" will surely enjoy this book.

And I especially recommend Kraynak's book for those who enjoyed Patrick Deneen's current best seller "Why Liberalism Failed" as the two make similar arguments.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Who Were the Founders?

We get a lot about certain "key" Founders, especially John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and their copious--and often post-presidential--writings, although much of their stature rests on becoming president after the US government was established by the Constitution, of which neither of them were "Framers." Nor did either actually fight in the Revolution. [Hamilton was a Revolutionary general and was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers; Madison of course is the "Father of the Constitution; and Washington won the war and chaired the Constitutional Convention!]   

With a HT to Mark David Hall, from Daniel Dreisbach of American University, Founders Famous and Forgotten:

Consider the political career of Roger Sherman of Connecticut (1721-1793), a largely self-taught man, devout Calvinist, and lifelong public servant. He was one of only two men who signed all three of the great documents of American organic law: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. He was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses. He was a member of the five-man committee formed to draft the Declaration of Independence and a member of the committee of thirteen formed to frame the Articles of Confederation. At the federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 he delivered more speeches than all but three delegates and was a driving force behind the Great (Connecticut) Compromise. He was a member of the first U.S. House of Representatives (1789-1791) and later of the U.S. Senate (1791-1793), where he played key roles in deliberations on the Bill of Rights and the creation of a national bank. If any man merits the mantle of “founding father,” surely it is Roger Sherman.

Yet few Americans recall, let alone mention, Sherman’s name when enumerating the founding fathers; even among those familiar with his name, most would be hard pressed to describe his role in the founding.


...

When asked to identify the “founding fathers,” Americans typically respond with a short list of a half dozen or so notables who have achieved iconic status in the American imagination and collective memory. This is true of even serious students of American history. The small fraternity of “famous founders” typically includes (in no particular order) Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. To this short list, individual historians occasionally add a favorite figure or two.
There is, however, a much larger company of statesmen who made salient contributions in thought, word, and deed to the construction of America’s republican institutions. Unfortunately, many among the founding generation, whose contributions and sacrifices were consequential in the creation of a new nation, have slipped into unmerited obscurity, exiles from the elite fraternity of the famous. Why are some individuals, whose well-documented contributions were valued by their peers and celebrated in their time, largely forgotten in our time? Why are a few founders “famous” and others now “forgotten”?

...


According to a well-worn axiom, history is written by the victors. The reputations of several important founders have been damaged, one suspects, because they were on the losing side of great debates or controversies, especially the bitter debates over the declaration of American independence and ratification of the proposed national constitution. Consider, for example, the Quaker John Dickinson of Delaware and Pennsylvania (serving both states as the elected chief executive), who championed the cause of American liberties in aseries of brilliant “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” (1767-1768), and who was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress where he drafted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” (October 1765), a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses where he was the principal draftsman of the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” (6 July 1775), and one of Delaware’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In 1776, however, he spoke eloquently against and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence because he thought it premature and intemperate, and his reputation and public career suffered for it, despite commendable subsequent service to the nation. It has been said of George Mason that “His opposition to ratification of the federal Constitution— a document whose shape he helped mightily to craft—started his fall from the national memory.” The public standing of other vocal critics of the proposed Constitution was arguably diminished by their controversial stances in this most important national debate, despite the fact that some later became ardent admirers of the charter. Among the critics were Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Adams, George Clinton, Luther Martin, and John Francis Mercer. Other founders may have similarly fallen from public favor because of their advocacy of positions and causes that later proved unpopular.
The stature of some founders has risen and fallen with the vagaries of subsequent politics. As political parties emerged in the late eighteenth century and carved out well defined identities in the nineteenth century, partisans often appropriated selected founders as precursor spokesmen for, or ideological models of, their party perspectives, or as avowed opponents of some partisan position. The Jacksonian Democrats of the 1820s and succeeding decades, forexample, described themselves as inheritors of the Jeffersonian tradition and demonized Federalist party stalwarts, such as Alexander Hamilton, John Adams (an especially inviting target because his son, John Quincy Adams, was Andrew Jackson’s immediate foe), and John Marshall, for their opposition to Jeffersonian politics. (The reputations of other prominent Federalists— such as Fisher Ames, John Jay, Rufus King, Gouverneur Morris, and C.C. Pinckney—may have similarly suffered in the wake of their party’s demise and Republican ascendancy at the turn of the century.) Thus, Jefferson’s reputation as a founder flourished and Federalist founders’ reputations floundered as Jacksonianism ascended. The War Between the States and its aftermath prompted a reappraisal of Hamilton’s staunch advocacy of a strong national government, and, in the North at least, Hamilton eclipsed the states-rights Jefferson as a “revered figure in the minds of most Americans.” According to Merrill D. Peterson, “Jefferson’s reputation merely survived the War; Hamilton’s was remade by it.” In summary, political partisans of succeeding generations have promoted or demoted selected founders in the public mind depending on whether a founder’s views and associations advanced or impeded the goals of these latter-day partisans.
Another explanation focuses on certain founders’ unappealing personal traits, quirks or eccentricities, or alleged moral failings. George Mason’s truculent temperament and general aversion to public life almost certainly diminished his profile in the history of the founding era. He was a most reluctant public figure, eschewing the limelight and declining to pursue high office (although reluctantly accepting public office when called). An abrasive, egotistical personality did little to enhance Thomas Paine’s reputation, and pious Americans from his day to the present have reviled him for his heretical views on Christianity. John Adams described the radical pamphleteer as “the lying rascal,” and Teddy Roosevelt denounced him as that “filthy little atheist.”

And so the most influential polemicist of the age, renowned on both sides of the Atlantic, died in relative obscurity in 1809 without a eulogy from his former compatriots in the struggle for American independence. Gouverneur Morris’s well earned reputation as a profligate rake and lecher may have diminished his standing among prudish nineteenth-century Americans. In a very different vein, Aaron Burr’s widely publicized roguish, even “murderous,” and allegedly treasonous conduct has kept him alive in the public memory, but it has also demoted him from the pedestal of a venerated founder.

There is the tragic case of James Wilson, who died in ignominy in 1798 at age 56, fleeing from creditors for failed land speculation. He was buried in an obscure country graveyard in Edenton, North Carolina. Today, Wilson is virtually unknown to the American public, but he was among the most trenchant and influential minds at the Constitutional Convention (making more speeches than any other delegate, save Gouverneur Morris), and he stamped an indelible mark on American legal theory through his influential law lectures and tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court. Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Constitution, a member of the first federal Congress, and the indispensable “financier of the Revolution”—a man who by any measure should be remembered as a founding father—similarly borrowed heavily and failed miserably in western land speculation. He languished for three and a half miserable years in a debtors’ prison and his reputation has never recovered.


Finally, there seems to be an inclination among modern scholars to dismiss, discount,or ignore the views of pious founders whose ideas and actions were shaped by deeply held religious convictions. Trained in the rationalist traditions of the academy, some scholars are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with or closed to religiously informed arguments and rhetoric; thus, they dismiss as serious thinkers or otherwise decline to engage founders whose worldview was profoundly religious. Founders steeped in the rationalist traditions of the Enlightenment are more familiar and accessible, and their exploits are advanced in modern scholarship. John Witherspoon’s faith based perspectives may have scared off more than one secular scholar; moreover, his clerical collar may have symbolically entangled church and state too excessively for modern sensibilities. The profiles of Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, and Isaac Backus, among others, may have been similarly diminished by modern scholars on account of their profoundly religious identities and perspectives.


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