Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The American Theory of Rights: Not in the Social Contract, but in the Natural Law

 James Otis might have become the foremost thinker of the Founding, except he was brained by a violent Tory in 1769 and was showing signs of mental problems before that.  But 'twas James Otis who got the intellectual arguments for the American vision of liberty off to a brilliant start in 1764:




"Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God."
This is the unique American theory of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--the foundation of man's rights is "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Here the erudite James Otis makes the essential distinction between various "Enlightenment" theories of government and rights [Hobbes and Harrington, yes, even contrary to John Locke!] and the uniquely American vision--our rights come prior to government, we don't negotiate our rights with the government, or with each other:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Rights are prior to government, then

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...



And some years later, in 1790, James Wilson---one of the few signers of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and a future Supreme Court justice, reminds his audiences [that included President Washington] in his lectures on law of just how the American view of rights differs from the British "contract" view of 1688, the supreme legal theorist William Blackstone and Edmund Burke, and even John Locke and the Magna Carta:


"But even if a part was to be given up, does it follow that all must be surrendered? Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible? Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone. 

...
And must we surrender to government the whole of those absolute rights? But we are to surrender them only -- in trust: -- another brat of dishonest parentage is now attempted to be imposed upon us: but for what purpose? Has government provided for us a superintending court of equity to compel a faithful performance of the trust? If it had; why should we part with the legal title to our rights?"

Here is the fatal flaw of "social contract" theory, the British understanding of rights and government according to Burke and Blackstone and Locke---We barter our natural rights with the government and receive "civil privileges" in return.

Wilson answers his own question, "Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?"---a "social contract" with government...?

 No!

At first, the stirrings of rebellion among the American colonists came from acts of Parliament abridging their "rights as Englishmen." But in the end, the Americans realized that even their "contractual" rights as Englishmen weren't enough---

 Rights reside in man, not in where a man resides.

This is the American way.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

When Historians Attack III—Princeton's Kevin M. Kruse Exposed

(One in what we hope is only a very occasional series: When Historians Attack--and misuse their scholarly authority: Part One [Joseph Ellis]; Part Two [Mark Noll]--TVD)


Phillip W. Magness in the libertarian Reason magazine on Princeton—and MSNBC—historian Kevin M. Kruse's own scholarly record.  




Kruse's academic fraud is pretty bad. Read for yourself.

Sugrue: Detroit is a logical site for such a close analysis.

Kruse: Atlanta struck me as a logical site for such an analysis.


It gets even worse:











Dr. Kruse is "Twitter-famous" for taking on ideological opponents like non-historian Dinesh D'Sousa on their questionable assertions but here Kruse himself is


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Hutson: Up Against the Wall ["of Separation"]

From James H. Hutson, former chief of the manuscript division at the Library of Congress and author of Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, in the Claremont Review of Books:


But even the most objective scholars can not provide jurists with the one, true answer about the 18th-century meaning of the Establishment Clause.


Opinions of the founding generation were scattered all across the spectrum on the question of the assistance government could give religion. Consider the Baptists, the most ardent separationists in the Founding Era. Some Baptists in Massachusetts and Maryland actually favored selective state financial subsidies for churches; others, while disapproving financial support, encouraged the state to print and distribute bibles; Virginia Baptists opposed both measures but were happy to accept public accommodations for church services. Presbyterians were divided over state financial assistance to churches as were political leaders in virtually every state. Statesmen like George Washington changed their mind on the issue. James Madison participated intermittently in public religious acts for 30 years, i.e., in issuing religious proclamations, which in the privacy of retirement he deplored. Jefferson permitted church services to be held in federal office buildings but was accused of hypocrisy for doing so.

Confronted by opinions so diverse and problematic, the best scholarship can be of only limited assistance in supplying the "correct" answer about the framers' precise intentions regarding government assistance to religion—a painful conclusion for a supporter of the "jurisprudence of original intent." Yet, according to a Massachusetts commentator in 1780, the meaning of the term, establishment of religion, was even then "prodigiously obscure." If so, do today's judges not deserve a degree of sympathy as they try to tease out the intentions of the drafters and ratifiers of the First Amendment?

Dreisbach's superb book, and Hamburger's as well, pierce the fog to this extent. They inform us that, if there is no "right" answer about how far the founding generation would have permitted government to go in assisting religion, there is indisputably a wrong one: the radical, unprecedented divorce of church from state that the Court has decreed since 1947.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cambridge Article on Ben Franklin and The Reasonableness of Christianity

This very dense article by one Kevin Slack is found here. There are many good things in this article, most of which I've already seen; but it did manage to deliver something I hadn't noticed before and which I haven't seen either from most contemporary scholars of Ben Franklin and religion.

Apparently Franklin was involved in a liturgy project with one David Williams. From the article:

As a member of the Thirteen Club, Franklin helped David Williams construct A Liturgy on the Universal Principles of Religion and Morality in 1773–1774.Footnote258 Franklin told Williams that he “never passed a Church, during Public Service, without regretting that he could not join it honestly and cordially,” and he wished to revive a “rational form of devotion,” like that of Shaftesbury's deism, for freethinkers.Footnote259 Church attendance had declined, and there was no alternative to the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer or Dissenter enthusiasm.Footnote260 He “thought it a reproach to Philosophy that it had not a Liturgy and that it skulked from the public Profession of its Principles,” and he lamented the loss of “that pleasure, which all virtuous minds have in a public acknowledgement of their duties.”Footnote261 A liturgy was needed to preach the general principles of a common creed: “All disputed opinions should be excluded public-worship; and that all honest, pious men, Calvinists, Arians, Socinians, Jews, Turks, and Infidels, might and ought to worship God together in spirit and in truth.”Footnote262 Thus the liturgy invited the many of all faiths to join in a common creed constructed for a select “Party of Virtue.”Footnote263

The bold face is mine and it's an exact quotation from their project.

One reason why this piece of evidence may have flown under the radar of many scholars is that the evidence of Franklin's involvement in the project comes mainly from David Williams and not Franklin. However, I have found one letter of Franklin's to Williams and two letters (one and two) from Williams to Franklin.

The letters discuss their project. But in any event what was quoted above in bold reflects as far as I can tell Ben Franklin's adult opinions on both public (political) and private (personal) theology. And it's fairly close to Jefferson's and J. Adams' and thus explains the generic, "non-disputed" God language of the Declaration of Independence. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Hamburger: "Separation of Church and State: A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle"

For some time I have featured the work of Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State" with critical commentary. I just hope my criticisms are fair. 

The chapter to that book entitled A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle is available online in its entirety so readers can decide for themselves if I'm being fair. I stand by my assessment; Hamburger is a brilliant scholar who meticulously documents the record, but at times weaves an utterly contentious narrative while doing so. 

For instance, the "Anti-Catholic" and "American" principle Hamburger documents is, as I see it, simply Protestant anti-Roman Catholic animus, that has been present since day one of the Reformation. Hamburger seems to argue in the chapter that the "liberals" are to blame for it and somehow got the theologically orthodox, conservative Protestants to go along for the ride in 19th Century America; but I don't think so. The creedally orthodox, Trinitarian Protestants have as much of a history of anti-Roman Catholic animus as the "liberals" in America and Europe since, again, day one of the Reformation.

The "liberals" as Hamburger describes them, and as I have noted before, were either theologically unitarian or doctrinally lax in the anti-creedal, anti-clerical sense. This theologically liberal Protestantism was also arguably key to the political theology of the American Founding. Arguably, it owns a great deal of the "spirit" of the 18th Century American Founding, not just the 19th century which is the focus of Hamburger's chapter. 

I've also featured the work of Dr. Gregg Frazer whose thesis describes the political theology of the American Founding as not "Christianity" or "Deism" but some kind of hybrid which he terms "theistic rationalism." One could argue that this "theistic rationalism" is actually a late 18th century version of "liberal Protestant Christianity" of the unitarian variant. Very similar to the "theologically liberal" American theologians of the 19th Century whom Hamburger tars with "animus." (Note, the 18th Century American Founders who adhered to this theology like John Adams and others also possessed such anti-RC animus.) 

The legendary 19th Century Unitarian figure William Channing features prominently in Hamburger's chapter as a notable expositor of this kind of "theological liberalism." But one need not even be identifiably self consciously theologically unitarian in order to qualify as an adherent to this kind of theological liberalism. Rather, one would need to be a self consciously anti-creedal and anti-clerical Protestant. Certainly, William Livingston and John Dickinson (basically 1/2 Quaker Whigs who didn't care for creeds or clergy) would also qualify in addition to the "key Founders" that Gregg Frazer identifies (the first four American Presidents, Ben Franklin, etc.). As would the Quakers and perhaps some Baptists who also eschewed creeds. Again, lots of important figures and forces of the 18th Century American Founding. 

Below is an interesting passage from page 13 of Hamburger's above linked article.
In addition, some Enlightenment Protestants attempted to reconcile religion and reason by accentuating what could be inferred from reason and by reducing religion to what was reasonable. Associating reason with the purity of their own faith, Protestants condemned Catholicism as not only unfree but also irrational and superstitious-thereby joining earlier Protestants who classed it with the mummery and horrors of paganism.

This completely resonates with the political-theological zeitgeist of the American Founding (or at least notable elements therein like the aforementioned "key Founders," Revs. Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Brits. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price). But in this chapter, Hamburger apparently tries to tar it as a "bad guy" position by connecting it to animus and eventually the KKK.  

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Cincinnatus Goes Home

March 10, 1797: George and Martha Washington leave the President's House in Philadelphia for a much-anticipated retirement at Mount Vernon.

To celebrate George Washington's retirement from the presidency, Philadelphia displayed a life-size painting showing Washington leaving a sword and helmet—symbols of power—at America's feet as he gestures towards Mount Vernon.

'General Washington's Resignation' (engraving) by Alexander Lawson, John James Barralet. Circa 1799.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Article by Philip Hamburger on Justice Barrett

Philip Hamburger's book "Separation of Church and State" turns 20 years old in 2022. Hamburger is a brilliant scholar and Ivy League Professor of Law (Columbia), and as such his work is always well worth engaging. 

But over the years that I've engaged with this work in particular, I've noted how, as meticulously researched as the book is, it makes very contentious, even if interesting arguments. In 2020, writing in Newsweek, Hamburger summarizes his book in the context of an op-ed about Justice Amy Barrett's then confirmation hearings. 

I strongly recommend people read the article for a summary of the book and if further interested in the history of legal church/state relations in America, read his book

His book gores certain oxen and vindicates others. If one is a fan of Justice Hugo Black's opinion in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), one's ox is going to be gored. On the other hand, if one is a Roman Catholic seeking a lower or non-existent "wall of separation" complete with a largely accurate history of how certain forces in America have subjected Catholics to animus, the ox vindicated.

What I find very ironic about Hamburger's "narrative," is that while he notes that America's national government forbids an official establishment of religion (or "law respecting an establishment of religion"), he also concedes America did have a kind of "de facto" Protestant Christian establishment.

But -- perhaps this is a message he didn't intend to impart to religiously conservative Protestants who might be sympathetic to his anti-Everson position -- he makes that de facto establishment look very bad in how they used their political power over church-state relations. He basically tars "Protestant Christian America" with animus or bigotry. 

Now, perhaps "Protestant Christian America" is guilty of such bigotry. World history is replete with examples of sectarian mistreatment among social groups taking place within national boundaries in a variety of different contexts. The problem, as I see it in Hamburger's particular claim, is that such simply isn't relevant to how the Establishment Clause ought to operate today or whether the Everson case was rightly decided. 

There were two poles to the theological-political wings of Protestantism in America: the Right wing, who were more traditionally orthodox (either Calvinistic or some other kind of non-Calvinistic, evangelical types) and the Left who were either Unitarian or doctrinally lax. Often it's hard to tell the difference between the two, because they were all "Protestant Christians" and in many cases they may have attended the same churches. Hamburger clearly goes after the "liberals" more so. One chapter to his book is entitled, "A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle." 

But both wings of Protestantism had one thing in common that arguably united them: anti-Roman Catholic animus. According to Hamburger's narrative, it is this Protestant Christian American anti-Roman Catholic animus that motivates calls for "Separation of Church and State." And all of this then becomes connected to the KKK. 

Indeed, Prof. Hamburger reminds us that "Americans United For Separation of Church and State" was previously "Protestants and Others United for the Separation of Church and State" and that the KKK supported all of this. 

Then, the historical villainy that Hamburger so meticulously documents becomes epitomized in a single figure: Justice Hugo Black, author of the Everson opinion. Justice Black was born in Alabama in 1886 and was raised and educated as a Baptist. Somewhere along the way he joins the KKK, has a distinguished political career, ends up on the Supreme Court of the United States and according to his biographer, older, sometimes attended services, with his wife, at the local Unitarian Universalist Church.

On the Court he votes both FOR Brown v. Board of Education (1954) AND Everson. Justice Black's "liberalism" in life and on the Court -- however "Protestant" it was -- was hardly "Klanish." Even though the facts Prof. Hamburger reports are largely accurate; I see this as the weakest part of his book.

As my friend the late Ed Brayton noted, it's poisoning the well or the genetic fallacy.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Hamilton Cited Blackstone For The Opposite Position

"Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

"This is what is called the law of nature, 'which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original.' Blackstone."

-- Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted.

Very few people who read this appreciate the irony that Hamilton was citing Blackstone for the opposite conclusions to which Blackstone endorsed: Absolute Parliamentary Supremacy.
When inquiring on the "Christian nation" debate, I've seen some Christian nationalists try to dig further into that quotation from Blackstone and note how Blackstone, writing further, elevated revealed law (revelation) over natural law (reason). The problem for the Christian nation proposition is that Hamilton doesn't invoke revealed law in The Farmer Refuted, but only natural law. And he does so in a way to reach the opposite position that Blackstone did or would have reached on the American Revolution.
Blackstone died in 1780 after the American Revolution began. I know he was a Tory who taught absolute Parliamentary supremacy. Though I haven't yet come across any quotations of his where he directly addressed the American Revolution. I know when in Parliament, he voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act that was directed against the Americans.
Blackstone may have been an orthodox Anglican -- though I don't see him as a very zealous one. Though I have concluded that when Hamilton wrote The Farmer Refuted, he was a theist, though not an orthodox Christian. He became orthodox later on in life shortly before he died. But in any event, Hamilton is citing theistic natural law, not the Bible or revealed law against "The Farmer," who was a Bishop of impeccable (Anglican) orthodoxy: Samuel Seabury.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Liberalism v. Republicanism and the American Founding

On page 161 of "The Closing of the American Mind," Allan Bloom wrote: 

More serious for us are the arguments of the revolutionaries who accepted our principles of freedom and equality. Many believed that we had not thought through these cherished ideals. Can equality really only mean equal opportunity for unequal talents to acquire property. Should shrewdness at acquisition be better rewarded than moral goodness? Can private property and equality sit so easily together when even Plato required communism among equals? 

As interesting and important as Allan Bloom and the other Straussians are, they do tend to have their blinders. They write like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau -- their shared ground, and their disagreements -- are the only important philosophers who impacted modern liberal democracy. But there were others. 

So when Bloom asks -- "Can equality really only mean equal opportunity for unequal talents to acquire private property?" -- he was referring to the Lockean-Madisonian "liberal" vision that prevailed during the American founding. And Bloom ascribes the sentiment -- "Can private property and equality sit so easily together when even Plato required communism among equals?" -- to Rousseau who indeed adhered to such a critique of Locke's notion of property.

But Rousseau was not the first. In fact, this dialog had been taking place prior to Rousseau where various notable European "civic republicans" (many of them British) made the case for economic leveling often using biblical arguments.

Eric Nelson wrote an entire book about those "civic republicans" and their Hebraic arguments. Of the many things of interest that Nelson notes is that James Harrington -- one of the key Hebraic republican figures -- made not only biblical arguments but also more secular Platonic ones. It could be that the later more philosophical type figures ran with the secular arguments, not the biblical ones. 

As Nelson ended the relevant chapter in his book on page 87:

But for most, the Biblical warrant for agrarian laws disappeared from view, leaving only the Platonizing edifice Harrington had built on top of it. Redistribution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would find a home in republican political theory, not because it had been authorized by the divine landlord of the earth, but because it was thought to secure the rule of a naturally superior elite. For contemporary republicans, this must seem a deeply unsettling provenance.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Rousseau and the Hebrew Republic

This passage from Gregg Frazer's thesis made an impression on me when I first read it. He discusses some of the sermons from America's founding era that argued on behalf of the patriots' cause. These particular sermons preached the Bible taught "republicanism." (When "republicanism" arguably is entirely a creation of ancient Greco-Romanism.)

The sermons seem to depict God's role as something similar to Rousseau's legislator; He disinterestedly established the foundational law for the benefit of society, but did not live under it. In their version and consistent with democratic theory, God established it all [quoting Langdon's sermon] "for their happiness" rather than to achieve the fulfillment of a sovereignty determined plan. By their account, God submitted the laws to the people for their approval and acceptance (as per Rousseau's legislator).
This was on page 393-94 of his thesis and then was adapted in his fine book and featured on pages 100-01. The conclusion that Dr. Frazer draws is that this notion that the Hebrew's had a "republic" is a more modern Enlightenment notion than a traditionally orthodox biblical understanding. Certainly, attaching Rousseau's name in a comparison illustrates this point.

Though Samuel Langdon, whose sermon was entitled "The Republic of The Israelites An Example To The American States," and was an American minister during the Founding era, actually drew from a prior European tradition. One you can read about in Eric Nelson's also fine book on the matter. 

What does this have to do with Rousseau? Arguably something meaningful. The Hebraic republicans about whom Nelson writes -- beginning with Petrus Cunaeus and also finding expression in figures America's founders more explicitly cited like James Harrington -- argued that the Hebrew Republic had an agrarian law that limited wealth and demanded redistribution. 

Whether the early exponents of the "Hebrew Republic" were traditional Christians or more philosophically minded thinkers using Christian theology as a fig leaf is debatable; but they ended up influencing later figures who tend to be understood as more modern philosophical types. Including Montesquieu, Rousseau and Thomas Paine.  

As Dr. Nelson writes on page 86 of his aforementioned book:

It is a measure of Harrington’s remarkable influence that, from 1660 onwards, agrarian laws would remain permanently at the center of republican political thought.  Writers from Montesquieu to Rousseau, and from Jefferson to Tocqueville, would regard it as axiomatic that republics ought to legislate limits on private ownership in order to realize a particular vision of civic life.  Before Cunaeus and Harrington, European political theory had been dominated by the unequal contest between two views of property: one which saw the protection of private property as the central obligation of the state, and another which saw the abolition of private property as the ultimate salvation of mankind.  Cunaeus’s innocuous semantic move in 1617 had opened up a “third way”—one which remains central to modern political thought and practice.  

I can't do justice to Nelson's entire book here. He mentions that Harrington put forth both a biblical and a more secular Platonic justification for Agrarian limits on wealth and consequent redistribution. It could be that the later more secular thinkers who argued for economic leveling picked up the more Platonic and left behind the biblical. 

But even someone like Thomas Paine, who by the way, I think is more clearly in the "agrarian-redistribution" camp than Jefferson, would use these biblical arguments and was clearly influenced by them. 

I could be wrong about Jefferson; if I understand Madison's Federalists 10 correctly, it rejects this "republican agrarian" vision of property in favor of something more "liberal" (for the era). Jefferson may very well have signed onto Madison's vision here. (But how to properly understand Federalist 10 will be a topic for another post.)

But I hope I demonstrated in this post how someone like Rousseau didn't just invent his egalitarian speak for the modern era. The conversation had been taking place for some time. And the thinkers who preceded Rousseau attempted to make serious biblical, "republican" arguments for the economic leveling by ascribing to the Hebraic republic an agrarian law.

(Personally, I don't find the argument convincing; I don't think the Ancient Israelites had either a "republic" or that the "Jubilee" constituted an "agrarian law" that should be models for later subsequent republics. But that's neither here nor there.)

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Did Ben Franklin Believe in ... "Purgatory"?

This article from 2014 by John Fea (note I am quoted here) features one of the more interesting quotations from Ben Franklin, who was neither an orthodox Trinitarian Christian or a strict deist, but something in between. 

Let me say first, "purgatory" as used here is a shorthand for the notion that there is some kind of temporary purging or post death preparation of the soul before it enters the eternal bliss of heaven. However, others associate it with the Roman Catholic Church's exact dogma where that Church holds a "super treasury of merit," etc. 

I was reminded of this when discussing the issue with an Eastern Orthodox believer who is very anti-Roman Catholic and he rejected "purgatory," bitterly mocking it. But then he admitted his church/he believes in such a place of post death preparation of the soul before it enters heaven; but he would never call it "purgatory" which he associates with the Roman dogma (like them holding the keys to a "super treasury of merit") that he hates. 

But from a letter from Benjamin Franklin to “Mrs. Partridge” on the death of one Ben Kent. The letter is dated November 25, 1788: 
You tell me our poor friend Ben Kent is gone, I hope to the regions of the blessed; or at least to some place where souls are prepared for those regions! I found my hope on this, that though not so orthodox as you and I, he was an honest man, and had his virtues. If he had any hypocrisy, it was of that inverted kind, with which a man is not so bad as he seems to be. And with regard to future bliss, I cannot help imagining that multitudes of the zealously orthodox of different sects, who at the last day may flock together, in hopes of seeing each other damned, will be disappointed, and obliged to rest content with their own salvation. Yours, &c. B. Franklin.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

FH Buckley: The Patriot King's American Friends

This was from the Winter 2016 edition of National Affairs by F.H. Buckley. It's on Bolingbroke's influence on the American founding. A taste:

While they abhorred the corruption of British politics, the framers turned to British writers, notably Bolingbroke, for diatribes on just how vicious such corruption could be. Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751), was virtually the prime minister for a time, and his skill in state affairs was celebrated by his friend Jonathan Swift. Bolingbroke was a Tory and a sometime-friend of the Stuart Old Pretender. Some in late-18th-century British politics thought history had passed him by — or at least wished it would. "Who now reads Bolingbroke," Edmund Burke asked. "Who ever read him through?" But then Burke was a Whig who took his political principles from the Revolutionary Settlement of 1689, and a romantic Christian, while Bolingbroke was a deist from the arid Augustan age. 

For the founders, however, Bolingbroke's jeremiads were essential reading. Adams, Madison, and Jefferson, among others, were all serious students of his works. For them, Bolingbroke was first and foremost an enemy of political corruption and an advocate for republican virtue. But if the Americans thought that British corruption might justify the creation of a republic, Bolingbroke had something else in mind. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Jefferson, Priestley, and Bolingbroke

Thomas Jefferson, after around 1800 was under the influence of the unitarian Joseph Priestley. And Priestley did, if I understand him right, think "the plenary inspiration of the Bible" was a "corruption of Christianity." (Meaning he didn't think the Bible was inerrant.)

However, I don't think Priestley ever, like Jefferson did, cut out entire books of the canon and bitterly ridicule various apostles and the books of the canon they wrote. (Like everything St. Paul wrote and the Book of Revelation.)
The English Deist Bolingbroke did, however.
Jefferson was likely influenced by Bolingbroke prior to Priestley. Yet, as an old man, Jefferson was still slamming St. Paul and the Book of Revelation like Bolingbroke did prior thereto.
So I conclude the old Jefferson's creed was like a cross between Bolingbroke's and Priestley's. (Jefferson also named Conyers Middleton as a key influence.) That's my preface to linking to a post I did in 2013 where I researched Bolingbroke's religion. Check it out! (Good comment section too.)

Monday, July 19, 2021

George Washington to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792

 Quote:

Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes, that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far, that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of Society.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

James Burgh's Quaternity

 Over a decade ago I found a passage written by James Burgh (in "Crito") wherein he gives an account of his Arianism. Burgh was an English Whig writer who influenced America's founders. Among other things, he arguably served as the intellectual intermediary between Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson regarding the term "separation of church and state." Jefferson got it from Burgh; Burgh got it from Williams.

I found of interest Burgh's use of the term "quaternity." As he wrote:
... The papists have thought proper to put the Virgin Mary into the Tr---ty, and call her the complement, or completing of it. That is, the F----r, the S-n, the H--y Gh--t, and the Virgin Mary, the undivided mystical four, or three, which is the same (for in a mystery, three is the same as four, and four the same as one; finite the same as infinite; human the same as divine) the mystical four, I say, are the tr---ty, or rather quaternity, that is, four different beings, some infinite, some finite, some mortal, some immortal, are only three beings, and these three-four beings, are the One, indivisible, simple, unoriginated Spirit, the first cause and fountain of being. 

No Protestant holds the Virgin Mary, who has these many ages been dead and rotten, to be any part of the immortal God. This is out of the question. But I would imagine, that to a person who denies the Athanasian doctrine, it should not appear a whit more absurd to put the Virgin Mary into the Tr---ty, or Godhead, than any other being whatever. All beings are equally different from and inferior to the Supreme; the S-n as much as the virgin; the virgin as much as a worm. ...
This old school, Enlightenment era, unitarian logic argues Roman Catholic doctrine is responsible for the error of Trinitarianism and sees a connection between Marianism and Trinitarianism. It argues the Trinity is as logically sound as the Quaternity. With Mary of course as the 4th Person in the Godhead. A short time later John Adams would write: 
The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. 
I would bet Adams got this sentiment from Burgh. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Fea: "Jack Hibbs dabbles in American history and it is a disaster. We need another Dudley Rutherford moment!"

From Professor John Fea. It's about celebrity pastor Jack Hibbs "dabbling" in American history. Check it out here. A taste:

13:11 to 13:26: Hibbs suggests three things about George Washington. First, Hibbs says that the First Great Awakening influenced George Washington’s religious life. Hibbs should actually tell his congregation that Washington’s theological beliefs, if he had any such beliefs beyond his vague references to “Providence,” would disqualify him for the Calvary Chapel-Chino Hills elder board. There is no evidence that the Great Awakening influenced Washington in any way. Second, Hibbs said that when Washington attended church he listened to abolitionist sermons. Not really. Anglican ministers in Virginia did not preach abolitionist sermons. Third, Hibbs says, abolitionist preachers somehow convinced Washington to free his slaves. Wrong again. More on this below. 

13:26 to 13:57: Based on this inaccurate view of Washington’s religious faith and how he supposedly applied it to the problem of slavery, Hibbs says that Washington did not free his slaves during his lifetime because he wanted to protect them. If he freed them, Hibbs says, they would have faced ‘certain death” by a slaveowner on a neighboring plantation. (Apparently this other slaveowner was not attending the same “abolitionist Anglican” congregation as the Washington family.) Hibbs also assumes (wrongly) that things got a lot safer for freed slaves after Washington died. In other words, Hibbs is claiming that Washington wanted to protect his slaves from certain death while he was alive, but after he died he didn’t care anymore. This is a mess. 1

3:57 to 14:32: Hibbs is on a roll. The more passionate he gets, the more he plays fast and lose with American history. ...

Friday, June 18, 2021

What Oath (if any) did Jacob Henry take in 1809?

Check out this new article by Seth Tillman entitled, "What Oath (if any) did Jacob Henry take in 1809?: The Problem of Conceptual Confusion between State Religious Tests and Religious Test Oaths."

This is from the abstract:

The story of Jacob Henry is one which has been told and retold. It has been long celebrated, as a triumph of light over darkness, and of the progress of then-emerging American religious tolerance over older traditions of parochialism and intolerance. Our story starts with Article 32 of the 1776 North Carolina Constitution. That provision imposed a religious test:

That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.

Article 32’s religious test extended to four categories of persons. It extended to atheists—those “who . . . deny the being of God.” It extended to non-Protestants—those “who . . . deny . . . the truth of the Protestant religion.” It extended to non-Christians—those “who . . . deny . . . the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments.” Lastly, it extended to an amorphous category of persons—those “who . . . hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State.” A person falling into any of these four categories was not “capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.” The meaning and scope of Article 32’s language has been a matter of continuing debate.

In 1809, Jacob Henry was elected to a second, consecutive annual term in the House of Commons, ie, North Carolina’s lower legislative house, as one of two members for Carteret County. According to the standard narrative, Henry was Jewish. Legislative elections were held during August 1809. The returning officers reported those persons who had been duly elected, that is, the members-elect. On November 20, 1809, the House of Commons convened in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the members-elect qualified by taking their oaths. On December 5, 1809, Hugh C. Mills, one of two members for Rockingham County, put forward a motion to declare Henry’s seat vacant based (at least in part) on Article 32 of the 1776 North Carolina Constitution. The next day, on December 6, 1809, Henry gave an impassioned speech in his own defense before the full House. Many ascribe the authorship of Henry’s speech, in whole or in part, to Judge Taylor, a Republican. Henry’s speech made no express reference to his being Jewish, and his speech did not use the words “Jewish,” “Judaism,” or “Jews.” Afterwards, Mills attempted to introduce evidence to support his allegations. But his efforts to do so were immediately thwarted by William Gaston, the single member for the town of New Bern.

Gaston argued that introducing evidence was premature at this stage. In other words, Gaston argued that Mills’s charges were insufficient as a matter of law, and so the introduction of evidence was not necessary. Gaston further argued that if the House determined that an investigation of the facts were necessary, then proceedings should be directed to a select committee or the committee of the whole. Additionally, Gaston made the argument that Article 32 reached only “offices,” not members of the legislature—and so it had no application to Jacob Henry. Gaston’s lengthy speech was followed by extensive debate among more than a few members of the Commons. Subsequently, the matter was redirected to the House’s Committee of the Whole, which heard testimony from witnesses. The committee recommended that the House reject the motion, and the House voted in favor of the committee’s recommendation. Henry kept his seat. Some reports indicate that the Commons voted unanimously to reject Mills’s motion.

The Jacob Henry literature has been primarily concerned with two questions. First, why did the members of the North Carolina House of Commons on December 6, 1809 vote against Mills’s motion to vacate Henry’s seat? That is, what motivated the members—in the sense of politics, partisanship, and personalities—to vote as they did? Likewise, what constitutional or other legal or policy rationales (if any) did the members put forward to explain their votes? A surprising number of very different views have been put forward. Second, what did Henry’s victory against purported religious intolerance mean to his contemporaries and later generations?

This Article addresses a different set of (albeit related) questions. The focus of this Article is not on what happened on December 5 and 6, 1809 and why the members of the North Carolina House of Commons voted as they did. Instead, the focus of this Article is on what happened on November 20, 1809—in other words, what legislative oath (if any) did Jacob Henry actually take? Second, how have later historians and legal commentators described and distorted our understanding of the events of November 20, 1809? And, third, why did the December 6, 1809 debate on the motion veer so far from any substantial discussion of the actual underlying events of November 20, 1809? Admittedly, this third question cannot be answered with clarity.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance

This isn't entirely related to the American Founding and religion; though readers will relate to the language and terminology used here. From the article:

Mustafa Akyol, in his excellent new book Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance (St. Martin’s Press, 2021), speaks into this context. Having the privilege of meeting Akyol two years ago at a lecture he gave here in New England, I immediately felt a kinship with him by way of his work toward greater integration of faith and reason among Muslims, paralleling my own among Christians. We also connected over our mutual desire for better Muslim-Christian relations. In his newest book, Akyol states his intention to work toward an Islamic enlightenment that draws on Muslim tradition rather than Western values. For instance, while the initial centuries of Islam were intellectually diverse and vibrant, this was eventually replaced with a focus on jurisprudence or a legal culture, on dos and don’ts. (p. 12) Meanwhile, theistic rationalism, seeking harmony between faith and reason was surpassed by fideism, where faith does not need rational justification. (p. 25) Akyol summarizes, “The puzzle is this: When God tells us to ‘do this,’ or ‘don’t do this,’ does He educate us about objective values in the world that we could also understand on our own? Or, does He merely give us bare commandments whose very value comes from nothing but God’s own authority?” (p. 30) While the Mutazilites took the view that faith was largely compatible with free will and believed all humans have a natural ethical compass, the Asharites argued in favor of a more pre-deterministic view of the world, with which they eventually won the debate. Akyol offers helpful suggestions for Muslims to recover the integrated view of faith and reason.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Tench Coxe on Article VI, Clause 3 of the US Constitution

  Check it out here.

No religious test is ever to be required of any officer or servant of the United States. The people may employ any wise or good citizen in the execution of the various duties of the government. In Italy, Spain, and Portugal, no protestant can hold a public trust. In England every Presbyterian, and other person not of their established church, is incapable of holding an office. No such impious deprivation of the rights of men can take place under the new foederal constitution. The convention has the honour of proposing the first public act, by which any nation has ever divested itself of a power, every exercise of which is a trespass on the Majesty of Heaven. 
No qualification in monied or landed property is required by the proposed plan; nor does it admit any preference from the preposterous distinctions of birth and rank. The office of the President, a Senator, and a Representative, and every other place of power or profit, are therefore open to the whole body of the people. Any wise, informed and upright man, be his property what it may, can exercise the trusts and powers of the state, provided he possesses the moral, religious and political virtues which are necessary to secure the confidence of his fellow citizens.