Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hammer Reviews Spellberg

As Andrew Sullivan informs, "Juliane Hammer reviews Denise A. Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an, ..."

From the review:
It is this same sentiment that permeates Denise A. Spellberg’s new book, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders. In it, Spellberg offers a meticulously researched and incredibly detailed account not only of how Jefferson came to acquire a copy of the Qur’an in English but also of the broader historical circumstances of his political career and the role of religion in the period of the founding fathers. Spellberg develops a nuanced and insightful analysis of the seemingly contradicting attitudes towards Islam and Muslims displayed by Jefferson and his contemporaries as represented in historical records. The conundrums she sets out to explore are the following: Why did the founding fathers include the theoretical possibility of Muslims not only as citizens of the United States but as federal office holders (including the presidency) in their deliberations on the one hand, while demonstrating decidedly negative views of Islam (and Muslim political adversaries overseas) on the other? ...

Happy 271 to Thomas Jefferson

To celebrate, see from The Humanist here.

A taste:
Thomas Jefferson was editing the Bible, a book regarded by most of his fellow Americans as the word of God. The act was certainly presumptuous, perhaps blasphemous. But Jefferson found the task simple. The worthy parts of the Bible were easily distinguishable from the worthless—“as distinguishable,” he later wrote in a letter to John Adams, “as diamonds in a dunghill.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Diptych: Theological Graffiti | Article 39


A diptychical study into the seeming prohibition against swearing an oath stemming from Thomas Kidd's 4/8/2014 article,  The Quaker Contribution to Religious Liberty.
 
Over at T.C. Moore's website, Theological Graffiti, TC has posted an article, Abusing the Bible: Why Jesus Hates Oaths of Office. He opens up by saying:

Presidents since the birth of the United States republic have been sworn into office on a Bible. (Not all presidents but many.) George Washington is said to have kissed the Bible after reciting his oath. Also, many presidents have added to the end of the oath “So help me God.”

Is this the proper usage of the Bible, according to the Bible? What are the implications of this practice? And most importantly, What does Jesus have to say about oaths that his disciples should know so they can follow his Way?

 [Continue reading here

Others, starting with religious leaders among our earliest American colonial settlers, wrote about oaths and the Bible in a similar vein. See here (scroll down to: It was about this time that Penn wrote his Treatise of Oaths).for William Penn, see  here for Cotton Mather, or here for an 1826 remonstrance by a minister of the (New Netherlands) Dutch Reformed Church.

In juxtaposition, we have Article 39 which is taken from  the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  The full codex was first established in 1563 when the Church of England was coping with the controversies surrounding the English Reformation.

After the American Revolution, and some twelve years after the ratification of the United States Constitution, on September 12, 1801,  the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion underwent a much needed revision. The task occurred under the supervision of a General Convention of the  Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. (There was no change to Article 39.)

So now in view of what T.C. Moore’s had to say, let’s examine Sect.XXI - Article XXXIX, Of a ChristianMan's Oath, pages 447-449;  Established Church of England, the Anglican Church,  A manual of the rudiments of theology, Rev. J. B. Smith, London, 1830 .

Article 39 - “As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge that the Christian religion doth not prohibit but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgement, and truth.”

Here’s a snippet from the associated exegetical text

There are passages in Scripture sometimes brought forward in objection to this; e.g. Christ’s words “Swear not at all; but let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay.” St. James says the same. Now the word communication seems to be the key to the matter; and shows that the caution applied to cases of ordinary conversation, and not to judiciary forms. The Jews were much addicted, in our Saviour’s time, to oaths of various sorts, in common discourse, and these passages are directed against that practice. Hence, as profane swearing was forbidden by the third commandment, and yet Moses expressly says, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and swear by his name;” so all swearing is forbidden to Christian men on ordinary occasions, and is only allowable when necessary, and the magistrate requireth in a cause of faith and charity: and then it is to be performed with a seriousness and awful reverence for God’s majesty upon our minds.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kidd: "The Quaker Contribution to Religious Liberty"

By Thomas Kidd here. A taste:
Quaker convictions about religious liberty, like Baptists’, emerged from the experience of persecution. ...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Brayton: "AHA Files Contempt Motion in Prayer Case" & Observations on J. Adams' Heterodox Theology

Read about it here.

I'm of two minds: On the one hand, I'm no fan of federal judges dictating prayers. On the other, I'm also not a fan of local government agencies dictating them either. A local government bureaucrat has no power to intentionally overrule a federal judge. Federal judges can enforce injunctions at the point of a gun. Were I the judge, this is how I would resolve it: I'd use my equitable powers to send in an official to pray a generic monotheistic, inclusive prayer that would cancel out the exclusivist Jesus language. And I'd have them come back a few times a year as long as the local bureaucrat insisted on Jesus only language.

Perhaps they could quote something from the "key Founders" that, unlike the George Washington spurious prayer, was actually uttered by them. Perhaps something from John Adams' letters written in 1813 like below.
Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
Bill Fortenberry, friend of American Creation, may chime in and argue Adams' thoughts are somehow consistent with evangelical, biblical Christianity as he did here.

Adams at times (here, certainly) can be difficult to understand and Mr. Fortenberry's analysis did help me better understand the context, somewhat. When the militant unitarian Adams uses the term "orthodox" as he refers to a religion, he may mean 1. trinitarianism and cognate doctrines, something in which he did not believe (hence here the term "orthodox" would be something at least somewhat pejorative); or 2. something religiously good, something in which a unitarian like himself could endorse (hence the term "orthodox" would be something positive).

It's apparent from the context that Adams sees Hindu dogma to be equivalent to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. He sees truth and error, positive and negative, in both. Adams, like the Hindus and Trinitarians believed that:
God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous.
This is the part of the Shastra Adams believed to contain "philosophy ... profound."

But then:
The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
The notion of the eternal God being One, somehow becoming Three but still being One is what Adams thought "theology ... orthodox," something Adams rejected.

Whatever disagreements Adams had with fellow militant unitarian Joseph Priestley (and such disagreements were more political than theological) Adams endorsed Priestley's notion that the corrupt "orthodox" doctrine of the Trinity traces to Plato. Though Adams thought he could "one up" Priestley for failing to note Plato cribbed the Trinity from Pythagoras (aka the triangle guy).

So which part of Adams' musings make it into the government dictated prayer?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Article on Official Using GW's Phony Prayers

From the Baltimore Sun. A taste:
She said that she would be using the words of George Washington as she prayed, quoting, “I beseech thee, for the sake of him in whom thou art well pleased, the Lord Jesus Christ, to admit me to render thee deserved thanks and praises for thy manifold mercies extended toward me.” 
The text of the prayer matches that of one ascribed to Washington in a 1919 book, but William M. Ferraro an associate editor of the first president’s papers at the University of Virginia, said there is no evidence the words are his.
Be sure to read on and check for what Thomas Kidd has to say in the article.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

You'd Think It's April Fools Day




Holy Moly, Wingman!  It's the Battle of the Billboards. 


On one side of this billboard skirmish, the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition has posted a billboard, near an entrance to the U.S. Air Force Academy, supporting the religious freedom of Academy cadets.  See 3/26/2014 announcement here.


Image source: Restore Military Religious Freedom

Literally, on the other side of this skirmish, the Military Religious Freedom has issued a 3/27/2013 press release announcing their billboard rebuttal. See here.

airforcebillboard1


Chad Groening, a Restore Regligious Freedom Coalition advocate, issued his 4/1/2014 over-the-top returning salvo here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Humanist: "George Washington Never Wrote That Jesus Prayer"

Here. A taste:
But even if the prayer delivered by Commissioner Frazier had been genuine, perhaps thereby having some patriotic or historical significance, it wouldn’t have changed the legal picture. A continuous habit of delivering specifically Christian prayers at government meetings creates a hostile environment for non-Christian citizens, be they believers in other religions or nonbelievers.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

How Christian Nationalist Historical Revisionism Harms

Or George Washington's phony prayers strike again. John Fea has the details here. It really harms in the sense that it motivated a public official into civil disobedience with its inherent consequences.

On a personal note, I have nothing against civil disobedience per se; but it's not something to take lightly. Certainly, one should base one's civil disobedience on accurate facts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jefferson Returns to Philadelphia

   
Next month, the American Philosophical Society will open the first of three exhibits on Thomas Jefferson and his significance to the City of Philadelphia that will run through December 2016. Jefferson served as APS president for seventeen years, inclusive of his two terms as president of the United States, and these exhibits are intended to celebrate aspects of Jefferson’s life and work that perhaps are less known among the public. (I’m sure I will visit at least one of these presentations, and will report back for those who can’t be there.)

From the publicity:






Jefferson, Philadelphia,
and the Founding of a Nation

When thinking of Thomas Jefferson, Americans recall his role in drafting the Declaration of Independence, his presidency, and Monticello, his great Virginia home. What is less well known is the significance of the city of Philadelphia to Jefferson, especially in the late 18th century when it was not only the seat of American independence but also the center of politics, science, and culture in the New World.

This is the first of three exhibitions on Thomas Jefferson, 2014 - 2016.

Thomas Jefferson was president of the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to 1814—before, during, and after he was President of the United States—and the Society was one of Jefferson’s primary ties to Philadelphia even after he left for Washington. As the site of Charles Wilson Peale’s famed natural history museum, for which Jefferson served as chairman of the first Board of Visitors, the American Philosophical Society Museum provides an ideal venue for a series of exhibitions about Jefferson.

This tripartite exhibition series—exploring Jefferson as a statesman, as a promoter of science and exploration, and as a student of Native America and indigenous languages—will not only add to our historical understanding of Jefferson’s accomplishments but will also demonstrate how his multifaceted legacy continues to be relevant today.



Jefferson, Philadelphia, and the Founding of a Nation
(April 17 - December 28, 2014)

The first exhibition commemorates Jefferson’s long association with Philadelphia, focusing first on his visits to the city in 1775 and 1776, when, as a delegate to the Continental Congress, he was selected to draft the Declaration. A handwritten copy of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration, which includes annotations showing passages that were later deleted by Congress, will be the first object visitors see as they enter the exhibition. Also on display will be a letter from Richard Henry Lee, the delegate from Virginia who originally proposed independence, writing to console Jefferson about these changes: “the Thing in its nature is so good, that no Cookery can spoil the Dish for the palates of Freemen.” This exhibition places Jefferson in the context of an intellectual circle in Philadelphia that was steeped in Enlightenment thought and revolutionary fervor.

The second half reveals Philadelphia as it was in the last decade of the 18th century, when Jefferson returned to serve as Secretary of State for George Washington and Vice President for John Adams. In 1797, he became president of the American Philosophical Society (APS) and continued in that role until 1814—before, during, and after he was President of the United States. In a letter accepting the APS position, he stated that he deemed it “the most flattering incident of my life, & that to which I am the most sensible.”




Jefferson, Science, and Exploration
(April 10, 2015 – December 27, 2015)

Thomas Jefferson had a passion for knowledge that encompassed theoretical and applied sciences as well as statesmanship. His broad-ranging endeavors in fields ranging from paleontology to botany to climate change—all of which will be featured in the show—were often linked to Philadelphia’s intellectual resources. It was at Philosophical Hall that Jefferson gave a talk inaugurating American paleontology. When he obtained mastodon fossils while in the White House, he sent many of them for safekeeping to the APS.

As President, Jefferson advocated for westward exploration, commissioning Lewis and Clark’s successful 1804 expedition. The APS was a key ally of the Corps of Discovery and their investigation of the territory gained through the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Prior to the trip, Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis to study with five Philadelphians, all APS members. This government-sponsored journey aptly demonstrates the inextricable links between natural philosophy (science) and political ambition in Jefferson’s time.

Jefferson, Native America, and the West
(April 15, 2016 – December 18, 2016)

Jefferson had an abiding interest in Native American culture and language, while, at the same time, supporting national policies that ultimately threatened the survival of indigenous peoples. Jefferson believed that study of indigenous languages would reveal historical connections among Native American tribes, and he commissioned the collection of Native American vocabularies, many of which are housed in the APS library. In addition to these vocabularies, the exhibition will include Native American artifacts sent to Jefferson by Lewis and Clark.

Today, the APS Library continues to expand upon Jefferson’s legacy of research into Native American linguistics and history by digitizing wire, wax cylinder, and fragile reel-to-reel audio recordings. The exhibition will juxtapose Jefferson’s 18th-century written vocabularies with these 21st-century, newly digitized recordings of songs, stories, and conversations with tribal elders. The APS actively supports research in Native American linguistics and history in an effort to preserve and sustain this vital heritage.
     

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Book From Hall, Dreisbach, et al.

It's entitled "Faith and the Founders of the American Republic." You can view the book's official website here.

Here is the description:
The role of religion in the founding of America has long been a hotly debated question. Some historians have regarded the views of a few famous founders, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, as evidence that the founders were deists who advocated the strict separation of church and state. Popular Christian polemicists, on the other hand, have attempted to show that virtually all of the founders were pious Christians in favor of public support for religion. 
As the essays in this volume demonstrate, a diverse array of religious traditions informed the political culture of the American founding. Faith and the Founders of the American Republic includes studies both of minority faiths, such as Islam and Judaism, and of major traditions like Calvinism. It also includes nuanced analysis of specific founders-Quaker John Dickinson, prominent Baptists Isaac Backus and John Leland, and Theistic Rationalist Gouverneur Morris, among others-with attention to their personal histories, faiths, constitutional philosophies, and views on the relationship between religion and the state. 
This volume will be a crucial resource for anyone interested in the place of faith in the founding of the American constitutional republic, from political, religious, historical, and legal perspectives.
Also be sure to check out the outstanding lineup of authors in the Table of Contents.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Newton Against the Trinity

This is an oldie but goody from Brandon at Siris. Newton was the quintessential Enlightenment thinker that America's Founders admired.

But as you can see from the link, Newton's Enlightenment, while heterodox and out of the box in its thinking, was also quite religious, "biblical" even.

A taste:
... Newton identifies a difference in how God and the Lamb are treated by the vision as objects of worship. (1) The Lamb does not sit on the Throne but stands by it; whereas the one on the throne (and who is therefore King over all who are not on the throne, including the Lamb) represents God. (2) In Newton's view, the doxologies that follow the investiture of the Lamb show a gradation, with God being given a "higher degree of worship" than the Lamb, a pattern that he thinks is repeated in Revelation 7.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hal Lindsey Needs to Thank the Old School Unitarians and Universalists

They were apocalyptic. They were also the first who believed history would terminate in universal liberal democracy (i.e., "millennial republicanism").

From the above link:
The late eighteenth century was another age of widespread apocalyptic expectation, when the promise of the American Revolution, followed by the greater and more radical expectations raised by the early years of the French Revolution, revived among a number of English Nonconforming sects the millenarian excitement of Milton and other seventeenth-century predecessors. "Hey for the New Jerusalem! The millennium!" Thomas Holcroft exulted in 1791. [] Preachers such as Richard Price, Joseph Fawcett, and Elhanan Winchester, as well as Joseph Priestley, who was not only a great chemist but a founder of the Unitarian Society, all interpreted the convulsions in France in terms of the prophecies in both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures. They thus invested the political events of the day with the explosive power of the great Western myth of apocalypse and expanded a local phenomenon into the expectation that humanity, everywhere, was at the threshold of an earthly paradise.
Price, Fawcett, Winchester and Priestley were all theological unitarians and/or universalists.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Elhanan Winchester's Belief In Future Temporary Punishment

Winchester was Benjamin Rush's theological guru. The old school Universalists like Winchester were nonetheless hardcore in their belief in future prospective punishment for the "unsaved." As this source notes:
Among the early Universalists in America the doctrine of a limited term of punishment for the wicked in the future was not questioned. John Murray inherited the doctrine from his spiritual father, James Relly. Elhanan Winchester was of the same mind, and was even ready to suggest a matter of fifty thousand years as a possible limit.
The same source goes on to describe the "official doctrine" of one of the earliest "official" Universalist Churches in America:
As early as 1791, when the Philadelphia Convention was asked to define the position of the Universalist Church upon the question of future punishment, it made answer in this wise: 
"Unbelievers do die in their sins; such will not be purged of their sins or unbelief by death, but necessarily must appear in the next state under all the darkness, fear, and torment and conscious guilt, which is the natural consequence of unbelief in the truth. What may be the duration or degree of this state of unbelief and misery, we know not. But this we know, that it hath one uniform and invariable end; namely, the good of the creature."
That last part -- "the good of the creature" -- is telling. As per the Enlightenment custom, the God of the universalists was not unlike the God of the unitarians in the sense that benevolence was His defining attribute. Eternal punishment doesn't "fit" the "good of the creature" understanding.

Kabala on Miller

James S. Kabala reviews Nicholas P. Miller's, "The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 272 pp., $35. A taste:
Miller then uses chapters two through five to trace the development of Protestant-influenced ideas of private judgment and religious freedom in the thought and writings of seven key figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: John Locke, William Penn, Elisha Williams, Isaac Backus, William Livingston, John Witherspoon, and James Madison. (Williams, today probably the least-known figure of the seven, was a Connecticut legislator and former president of Yale who defended the rights of itinerant preachers during the Great Awakening and later published a broader work entitled Seasonable Plea for Liberty of Conscience.) Miller carefully assembles evidence that each of these figures was genuinely important (decrying the Supreme Court's fondness for citing Roger Williams rather than Penn and Thomas Jefferson rather than Madison) and that each came out of the tradition of dissenting Protestantism rather than of the Enlightenment. For example, he painstakingly documents that William Livingston, author of the essays in the Independent Reflector, was sometimes anti-clerical but never anti-religious.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Faith and History: "WHAT’S REALLY AT STAKE IN THE “CHRISTIAN AMERICA” DEBATE"

Here. A taste:
If Americans remembered George Washington as the sword of the Revolution, in other words, they venerated Jefferson as the pen. The general may have secured independence on the battlefield, but it was the sage of Monticello who (along with Thomas Paine) had justified the Revolution and explained its meaning to posterity. Ever since, Americans across the political spectrum–liberals and conservatives, Christians and secularists, patriots and cynics–have looked to Jefferson to define what the United States stood for at its birth.

Robert Morrison Scratches his Head

In Pastor Robert Morrison's 10/31/2013 Family Research Council article, George Washington’s “So Help Me God”: Did He or Didn’t He?, he writes:
Of late, they [the liberals] really got me scratching my head. George Washington didn’t say “So help me God” when he took the oath as our first President, they claim. Really? 
I took my wife and little children to Lower Manhattan on April 30, 1989 for the re-enactment of Washington’s First Inaugural. I distinctly recall those words were repeated for that official bicentennial ceremony. (And no, my young friends, I wasn’t there for the events of 1789.)
Atheizers are claiming Washington never said it. Atheizers are folks who, whether they believe in God or not, are determined to eradicate every reference to the Almighty in our public life. 
If I am wrong about Washington’s invoking God as he took the oath, as the atheizers maintain, then I have a lot of company in my error. Here are just some of the many sources I’ve consulted over the years. 
Chief Justice John Marshall [Sep. 24, 1755 - July 6, 1835] was a contemporary of George Washington. His multi-volume biography, Life of Washington, Vol. IV, contains a plate showing Washington’s oath-taking. His hand is on the open Bible. And this inscription accompanies it.
[Soller notes there's a missing introductory segment here.] On one side stood Chancellor Livingston, who administered the oath. On the other side was Vice-President John Adams Washington solemnly repeated the words of the oath, clearly enunciating, “I swear”: adding in a whisper, with closed eyes, “So help me God.”
Reverently, with closed eyes, in a whisper. Maybe that’s why the atheizers missed it.
The article continues by producing a list of  "scholarly sources" with publication dates "that span a period of 124 years" going back to 1889. The book list could have been expanded by going back to 1854, and, still, Mr. Morrison, as a matter of historical interest, is no better off, since none of these sources produce a firsthand account from anyone who described George Washington as having added a religious codicil to his oath of office.

Now, understandably, a careful reader needs to ask, "What about Chief Justice John Marshall?" His book dates back to 1807.

Yes, John Marshall was a contemporary of Washington. Though not present at Washington's first inauguration Marshall proved himself a capable historian. With that said, the real questions are 1) why did Morrison skip over the introductory segment associated with the plate portraying Washington’s oath-taking ceremony, and 2) why did Morrison omit the publication date for his copy of John Marshall's book.

Here's why: 

1) what follows is the missing introductory segment from the inscription that accompanies the plate:
On the balcony of the old City Hall, Broad and Wall Streets, New York, Washington was sworn in as first President of the United States, April 30, 1789. The artist here accurately depicts him wearing a suit of dark brown, at his side a dress sword, and his hair powdered in the fashion of the period. White silk stockings and shoes with simple silver buckles completed his attire.
"The artist here" is Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887). His fine illustration "showing Washington’s oath-taking" is from an engraving produced by him, which was published by Johnson, Frye & Company in 1859, and then copyrighted in 1866. Sadly for Robert Morrison, and those preoccupied with his same head-scratching mentality the page in question is twenty-four years too late for John Marshall to have seen it.

2) the missing publication date for John Marshall's book tells the reader that he needs to consult the actual text  to find out how Marshall had narrated the inaugural scene. And for those who are interested, this is what the historian, John Marshall, wrote:
The ceremonies of the inauguration having been adjusted by congress; on the 30th of April, the president attended in the senate chamber, in order to take, in the presence of both houses, the oath prescribed by the constitution. 
      To gratify the public curiosity, an open gallery adjoining the senate chamber had been selected by congress, as the place in which the oath should be administered. Having taken it in the view of an immense concourse of people, whose loud and repeated acclamations attested the joy with which his being proclaimed president of the United States inspired them, he returned to the senate chamber where he delivered the following address. - - - ;

Saturday, March 1, 2014

America's God: Republicanism v. Traditional Scripture

If Paine’s Age of Reason (with its dismissive attitude toward the Old Testament) had been published before Common Sense (with its full deployment of Scripture in support of republican freedom), the quarrel with Britain may have taken a different course. It is also likely that the allegiance of traditional Christian believers to republican liberty might not have been so thoroughly cemented. And it is possible that the intimate relation between republican reasoning and trust in a traditional Scripture, which became so important after the turn of the new century, would not have occurred as it did.
-- Mark Noll, America's God

Monday, February 24, 2014

Washington's step-granddaughter writes of his religious practice

Following up on my recent post on Washington's religious library, here's a link to a letter written by Nelly Parke Custis-Lewis, Washington's step-grandaughter, in 1833. The letter is notable because it contains several bits of information about Washington's public support for the Anglican church, as well as his own practices in regard to church attendance and sacrament reception. The letter is based in part on Custis-Lewis' own personal observations of Washington's religious habits.   

Here's the text of the letter:
Sir, 
I received your favor of the 20th instant last evening, and hasten to give you the information, which you desire. 
Truro Parish is the one in which Mount Vernon, Pohick Church, and Woodlawn are situated. Fairfax Parish is now Alexandria. Before the Federal District was ceded to Congress, Alexandria was in Fairfax County. General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria. He was very instrumental in establishing Pohick Church, and I believe subscribed largely. His pew was near the pulpit. I have a perfect recollection of being there, before his election to the presidency, with him and my grandmother. It was a beautiful church, and had a large, respectable, and wealthy congregation, who were regular attendants. 
He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles. In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect. My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service. On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother. 
It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o'clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, "that they may be seen of men." He communed with his God in secret. 
My mother resided two years at Mount Vernon after her marriage with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. When my aunt, Miss Custis [Martha "Patsy"] died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event, he knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectingly, for her recovery. Of this I was assured by Judge Washington's mother and other witnesses. 
He was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little generally; never of himself. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war. I have often seen him perfectly abstracted, his lips moving, but no sound was perceptible. I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits. I was, probably, one of the last persons on earth to whom he would have addressed serious conversation, particularly when he knew that I had the most perfect model of female excellence ever with me as my monitress, who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me as only a mother can love, and never extenuating or approving in me what she disapproved of others. She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian. She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity. Is it necessary that any one should certify, "General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?" As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, "Deeds, not Words"; and, "For God and my Country." 
With sentiments of esteem, 
I am, Nelly Custis-Lewis

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daily Beast: "What the Sex Lives of the Founding Fathers Reveal About Us"

Here. Sorry, I couldn't resist. A taste:
Neither has the lack of evidence stopped people from arguing that Alexander Hamilton was gay. [[H]istorian Thomas] Foster highlights the recent interest ... taken in homoerotic letters Hamilton wrote to John Laurens, a fellow soldier in the patriot army. One of them reads: “I wish, my dear Laurens, it were in my power, by actions, rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” 
Foster argues that it is certainly possible that Hamilton had a sexual relationship with Laurens. But ... [r]arely do ... [people asserting such] explore the nature of 18th century male friendship, which could be intensely romantic, even erotic, without including sex. “We’re not taking the complexities of 18th century love into account,” Foster said. “We’re forcing them into our model, and that’s basically what we’ve done throughout history.” 
Yet Foster does not let serious historians, either academic or popular, off the hook either. When it comes to the recent question of Hamilton’s sexual identity, he sympathizes with their reticence to say that Hamilton had sexual intercourse with Laurens. There is simply no evidence to prove it. And yet, he finds it hypocritical that many historians use the same kind of sexually charged letters Hamilton wrote to women as evidence that he was a very straight Lothario. “It just looks like such a double standard. What’s the level of evidence that you need to be certain that this was true love?” Foster said, in regard to his letters to Laurens.