Monday, June 30, 2008
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Yet, despite this VERY SPECIFIC oath of office, why is it that the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, who are swearing in our newly elected presidents, are essentially obligating them to say "So help me God"? Don't believe me? Just check out a few recent presidential inaugurations and listen very carefully as the Chief Justice inserts "So help me God" as part of the oath, even though, as you can see above, it is not part of the Constitution. Is this a violation of Article VI, Section III of the Constitution, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States"?
Here are the videos:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
Dwight D. Eisenhower:
John F. Kennedy:
Anyway, I think the point is obvious. Every president since television and radio recording was possible has been REQUIRED to say "So help me God" as a part of their oath of office, even though the Constitution does not require it. Am I missing something? Was their a change made in the Constitution itself at some point? Again, I personally don't really care what these presidents say in their oath. As far as I am concerned it's all a bunch of pomp and circumstance. But for some, this is a big deal and I can see why. Ray is right to point out that a RELIGIOUS TEST is being required during the oath of office.
The President of the United States of America is certainly free to add "So help me God" to his oath of office, but as has been explained by Stephen Carter on the Paula Gordon Show broadcast on October 31, 2000, The Price of Power:
What about "one nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? Say it if you believe it, refrain if not, you pick, advises Mr. Carter. But it's very different and a serious problem when the Chief Justice of the United States adds '...so help me God' to the Presidential oath. That's not optional and turns the oath into a religious test, prohibited by the Constitution. George Washington said it [raySoller - of course, we don't know that], but the phrase should not be there.
Stephen Carter Professor of Law, Yale University, and an author. A former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Mr. Carter is among the nation's leading experts on constitutional law. Mr. Carter confronts what he views as challenges to America's democracy in his several books, including The Culture of Disbelief, Civility, Integrity and God's Name in Vain.
In recent tradition, the words "so help me God" have been added to the oath taken by the incoming President of the United States, with many assuming that this addition goes back to the inauguration of George Washington. Whether this is true has been challenged by secularists - fellow American Creation contributor Ray Soller being one of the leaders in this fight.
The presidential oath according to the United States Constitution reads as follows:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The Most Important Question
If a President were required to utter words outside of the constitutionally prescribed oath - words including "so help me God" - then I would agree with Mr. Soller and others that the Constitution has been transgressed.
However, if a President - by his own choice - adds "so help me God" to the oath, he (and, in the future, she) is well within his rights to do so. No secularist has the right to tell an incoming President that he can't ask for God's help in adhering to the oath of office.
To tell an incoming President that he can't add "so help me God" to the oath is a clear infringement of that President's freedom of speech. The same applies, by the way, if a President were to say "so help me, Allah" or "so help me, America" or "so help me, Harvey" (remember the Jimmy Stewart movie?).
A President has the right to add whatever words he wishes to the end of the oath. Why? Because the oath has already been administered.
Did George Washington say "So Help me God"?
There is no way to scentifically prove whether Washington added "so help me God" to his inaugural oath, because there's no way any of us can directly observe Washington's inauguration. Until time travel is invented, we're out of luck! Scientific proof is, after all, based on observation.
Can we historically prove it? Mr. Soller and others have done a great job in showing that no contemporaneous account exists to prove that Washington added "so help me God" to the oath, other than that of then six-year old Washington Irving. (I personally think they are wrong to so cavalierly dismiss Irving's credibility, but I'll set that aside for now).
However, one of the most disturbing trends in our postmodern, media-saturated society is that we have frankly become much too cynical. We call everything into question that doesn't fit with our postmodern worldview and for which we don't have multiple attestation -- attestation, that is, from sources that we're comfortable with.
Now, I'm all for prudence and healty skepticism. But we've gone to ridiculous extremes in recent years, as Australian scholar Keith Windschuttle so articulately points out in The Killing of History.
If we need contemporaneous, on-the-spot validation for everything, then we've just undermined virtually all that we know from ancient, medieval, and early modern history. For instance, remember that the earliest biography of Alexander the Great was written 400 years after the man's death!
The truth is that we have a claim that Washington added "so help me God" to the oath. Yes, the claim emerged 60 years later - but the claim comes from someone who was present at the event.
Is the claim consistent with what President Washington did at the inauguration? The answer is yes. Washington took the oath on the Bible. That is not disputed, and (I would add) not required under the Constitution. What's more, Washington very explicitly called on the nation to pray during his inaugural address.
Here's what Washington said of God, prayer, and the nation in his First Inaugural:
"...it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency..."
I find it interesting that secularists so often challenge things like whether Washington was an "orthodox" Christian or whether he actually added "so help me God" to the oath. These serve to distract from some rather clear FACTS about George Washington, namely that he:
- Devoutly believed in God
- Believed in prayer
- Called on the nation to pray and give homage to God
- Considered the United States "bound to acknowledge and adore" God
This just scratches the surface, but these can hardly be considered the sentiments of a secularist or a Deist.
So WHAT if you prove somehow (and, by the way, you can't) that Washington didn't say "so help me God" at the end of the presidential oath. You've only proven a technicality.
The record is clear. George Washington believed in God and was encouraging all Americans to likewise believe in and submit to God. Whether the secularists today are comfortable with this is immaterial.
What's more, the tradition of adding "so help me God" to the presidential oath will likely continue. Not so much because George Washington did it. Even if Mr. Soller and others are successful in "proving" that Washington didn't say it, the tradition will likely continue. Why? Because virtually all of our Presidents have believed in God. And it's not likely that the American people will elect an atheist to the highest office of the land anytime soon.
Addendum: Allow me to add (in light of some of the comments) that I agree enough doubt has been raised by those questioning the "so help me God" tradition that historians and the US government should acknowledge the dispute over when the "so help me God" tradition began.
I will further accept that the Chief Justice (or whichever court official administering the oath) should stick to the constitutionally prescribed oath. The only exception to this would be IF the incoming President expresses his or her plans to add "so help me God" (or "so help me Allah" or whatever) to the oath. In that event, I have no problem with the Chief Justice accommodating the incoming President. The only problem would be if the incoming President chose to remove portions from the oath.
All that having been said, at this point, "so help me God" has become a part of the tradition, and a majority of the American people expect and are comfortable with the President saying those words. It's unlikely that the American people will elect an atheist to the presidency anytime soon.
The two men even disagreed as to whether George Washington added the phrase "so help me God" to the oath of office when sworn in.After the Jay Sekulow and Michael Newdow debate, sideline spectators have been quoting the Library of Congress as if it were the final authority on this issue. Somehow, it seemed like if someone cited the Library of Congress it was just like quoting scripture from the Bible. However, anyone, who at that time would ask the Library of Congress as to what was their primary source for claiming that George Washington had added "So help me God" to his oath, would invariably meet up with either Dr. Marvin Kranz, or Gerry Gawalt. (Marvin Kranz was already on record as saying that Washington had added a religious codicil to his oath - see Jan 20, 2005, CBS article, The Evolution Of The Inauguration by Bill Plante).
"It turns out, that ... at least in my research, nobody has been able to verify that George Washington said, 'so help me God,'" Newdow said. "I'm already up to James Monroe, and nobody has ever been able to say that any of those presidents have ever said, 'so help me God.'"
Sekulow countered: "I've got some history books I'll show you that will help."
According to the Library of Congress Sekulow was right. The library's website says that Washington added the phrase "so help me God," and other presidents -- including Bush -- have done so, too.
As a result of a communication I had with Michael Newdow, I started sending queries to the Library of Congress. In early November 2005 I received my first response from the LOC Digital Reference Team. It explained:
Librarian 1: We apologize for not updating you on the status of your question. We have heard back from the staff in charge of the "'I Do Solemnly Swear . . .': Presidential Inaugurations" collection. They contacted Gerry Gawalt, a specialist in the Library's Manuscript Division, about your question. After speaking with him, they forwarded us the following response:Later, as a result of contacting Gawalt, he told me that his information had been passed down from Dr. Marvin Kranz, who had recently retired.
"[Gerry Gawalt says] that Douglas S. Freeman, Washington's preeminent biographer, cites a Tobis [sp. Tobias] Lear letter of May 3, 1789, to George A. Washington as evidence that Washington added "So Help Me God." While we don't have that letter, Gerry is willing to accept Freeman's work."
If you would like to follow up on this this response, you can contact the Manuscript Division directly, addressing your message to Gerry Gawalt, using the web form at: Ask a Librarian.
I was soon able to meet up with Freeman's Oath - reference. When actually reading the document, as anyone can see, there's no reference to Washington adding a religious codicil to his oath. I then notified Gerry Gawalt that Freeman's cited reference to the Lear letter did not support LOC's claim that Washington had established a tradition by saying "So help me God."
As a result of this new information, some changes have taken place at the Library of Congress as illustrated by an e-mail exchange between Miss Elementary History Teacher and the Library of Congress. See History Is Elementary blog, May 18, 2006, Myth busting 'So help me God'
My email [from Elementary History Teacher] to the Library of Congress reads as follows:
In contrast, here's a more candid instance where LOC shows some recognition that the notion of having Washington add "so help me God" to his "oath is not supported by any eyewitness accounts." It shows up in a Sept/Oct 2006 e-mail exchange between Barbara Clark Smith (Curator, Politics and Reform, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution), and Jurretta Heckscher (Research Specialist, Digital Reference Team, The Library of Congress). The background story as to just how these parties came in possession of the material they cited is the subject of a future blog.
Our students have been researching various presidents over the last few days. We have found several different Internet sites regarding the inauguration of George Washington and the words "so help me God". Many people have quoted the Library of Congress as their source for stating that GW did add those words to the end of his oath of office. What is the definitive answer to this question? We have
found other Internet postings and sites that report there are no primary sources
that state GW stated "so help me God". Thanks for your help.
Librarian Number 3 of the American Memory Team responded:
I am afraid there is no definitive answer to that question. Some testify that he did, others are silent.
As one student said, “Well, that was a lot of help!”
No matter, even with this new information in hands of personnel at the Library of Congress, it hasn't made a noticeable difference. Whatever the facts, the Library of Congress continues to display the same information at their website, Inaugurals of Presidents of the United States: Some Precedents and Notable Events.
So help me, "G W" --- The Library of Congress, they just don't get it!
Sunday, June 29, 2008
After my last post on Peter Marshall, coauthor of "The Light and the Glory," John Fea informs me of his article on the 30th anniversary of the book. Check it out. It's a great article and offers a cautionary note to Christians historians. Here is a taste:
For example, Marshall and Manuel interpret the fog that rose in the East River on the morning of August 30, 1776, as God’s direct intervention to aid George Washington’s midnight retreat from the British assault on the Continental Army’s position on Brooklyn Heights. They describe the fog’s rising as “the most amazing episode of divine intervention in the Revolutionary War.” They believe this because Washington, members of his staff, and many Continental soldiers described this event in terms of God’s special protection of the army.
Was God’s providence evident in this event? American Christians certainly believed that it was, but I doubt whether an English Christian would have thought so. Who had the better insight into God’s purposes?
Any person with even an elementary understanding of history is more than capable of seeing through the sarcasm of this fairytale. To suggest that such a story provides a just and accurate account would invoke laughter and scorn from most. Despite this knowledge, there are still many who have succumbed to a fairytale of their own. They maintain that the New World was a land of freedom, opportunity, and wealth for European immigrants, who were blessed by the watchful hand of Providence. While their assertion is partially true, its bias is obvious. Such a perspective fails to recognize what the New World meant to the thousands of Africans, who instead of freedom, found themselves in chains in the New World. It also negates the opinions of millions of Natives, who had called this “New World” home for centuries. Such a simple perspective also denies us the opportunity of understanding the numerous nations, cultures, religions, social classes and motivations of Europe, which all contributed to American colonization. In essence, the colonization of America was not a simple affair, but a complex series of events that changed the world forever.
For years, the history of American colonization has been wrapped up in a counterfeit blanket of ignorance. This blanket has provided a warped sense of warmth and comfort, which has given many a blissful but misleading understanding of the past. Though the established myths of popular culture provide an uplifting account of American colonization, they neglect essential truths that help piece the puzzle together. For example, to suggest that American colonization was a loving endeavor, brought to pass by God himself, is hard to prove conclusively when we take into account the actual motivations for colonization. From the English perspective, the elder Richard Hakluyt made it clear that the main motivations for colonization were, "To trafficke" and "To conquer." Not exactly a well-balanced Christian agenda.
Despite the primary agenda of securing worldly wealth, there is no doubt that the establishment of Christianity was a strong motivation for American colonization. From the very beginning, many explorers were driven by religious convictions, which propelled them into the unknown. Alan Taylor, an early colonial historian and author of the book American Colonies: The Settlement of North America, claims that Columbus desired to convert those he encountered to Christianity and, "to recruit their bodies and their wealth to assist Europeans in a final crusade to crush Islam and reclaim Jerusalem. Such a victory would then invite Christ’s return to earth" (33). The Franciscan Friars of Spain were also motivated to migrate to America, in an effort to convert the Pueblo Indians. Upon their arrival, the Friars committed themselves to eradicating old Indian traditions. They raided homes, confiscated ceremonial emblems, destroyed idols, and defiled native gods (Taylor, 89). The Friars also sought to undermine the family traditions of the Pueblo Indians, by indoctrinating their youth, restricting their sexual activities, and emasculating the men (Taylor, 92-93). A strange agenda for a group of self-proclaimed pious Christians.
With the expansion of the Spanish into the New World, the Protestant nation of England felt additional pressure to secure their own colonies and preach their own brand of religion to the "savages" of America. To allow the Catholics of Spain total access to the New World was fundamentally unacceptable. As historian Karen Kupperman points out in her book, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony:
“We should not underestimate the emotional force of this confrontation between Christians, which has been compared to the Cold War of the twentieth century. Each side believed the other was absolved by its religion of all normal moral and ethical behavior in dealing with the enemy, and capable of the most heinous plots”To the English, there was nothing worse than confronting the possibility of a New World ruled under the banner of the Pope.
While there is no doubt that religion played a vital role in American colonization, it was not the exclusive motivation for settlement in the New World. The drive to establish trade with the Indians, and to conquer new lands, was just as significant as the drive to spread Christianity. Contrary to popular opinion, European colonization was not an explosive and daring operation. Instead of seeking to further humanity’s knowledge of the unknown world, many explorers hoped to find lands and cultures that could be exploited for profit. As Alan Taylor states, "the adventurers did not pursue exploration for pure love of geographic knowledge…They proceeded incrementally…seeking the sources of known commodities" (American Colonies, 29). Instead of being a benevolent voyage to chart the unknown, most European exploration was empowered to exploit opportunity for immediate profits.
The conquest of the Aztecs by Hernando Cortes is a prime example of these profit-hungry intentions, which many explorers exhibited. Like many other conquistadores, Cortes came from the Spanish gentry. To turn a profit, men like Cortes depended on their ability to plunder, conquer, and enforce their will on others. Alan Taylor sums up the life of a conquistador perfectly when he writes, “Greed was the prerequisite for pursuing the hard life of a conquistador” (American Colonies, 58). Upon discovering the riches of the Aztecs, Cortes held to the Spanish law of conquest, which demanded that all Indians were required to submit to Spanish rule, or receive the punishments of a “just war.” By gaining the allegiance of neighboring tribes, who detested the Aztecs, Cotes was able to conquer a literal treasure of wealth for himself and his nation.
The conquests of the Spanish in the New World provided an incredible amount of wealth for the homeland. Between 1500 and 1650, Spanish settlers shipped home 181 tons of gold, and 16,000 tons of silver (American Colonies, 63). With such a bountiful supply of riches, the Spanish government moved to monopolize on the market. They made it illegal for all foreigners to trade directly with the colonies, which forced them do deal directly with Spain. Such a policy protected Spain from losing this very lucrative market.
Spain was not the only European nation to seek economic gain in the New World. England quickly caught the fever of colonization, believing that the New World was an undiscovered Utopia, overflowing with untapped potential. In their planning, Europeans perceived the New World to be a bountiful paradise, which “bringeth forth all things in abundance, as in the first creation, without toil or labor” (Karen Kupperman. Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 17). This Eden-like New World must have appealed to the hopes and imaginations of many English, especially considering all the poverty, disease and warfare that had plagued Europe over the past two centuries. There is little doubt that such hopes and dreams grew into unrealistic fantasies for many who longed for a better world. Speaking from his perspective, nevertheless lacking a full understanding of global weather patterns, the elder Richard Hakluyt made the following assumption of what settlers could expect in the new world:
"This land that we purpose to direct our course to, lying in part in the 40 degree of latitude, being in like heat as Lisbone in Portugall doth, and in the more Southerly part as the most Southerly coast of Spaine doth, may by our diligence yeeld unto us besides Wines and Oiles and Sugars, Orenges, Limons, Figs, Resings, Almonds, Rice…"Returning from his recent explorations to the New World, Sir Richard Grenville stated that “we have discovered the main to be the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven” (Kupperman. Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 34-35). With such a Utopia awaiting them, Englishmen began gathering and making preparations for a journey that they believed would ultimately make England even mightier than it already was. All of these men, “had an image of England’s future greatness and the exhilarating feeling that they were the people who would make it come true” (Kupperman. Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 30). From the English perspective, there was a clear expectation of a bountiful, fertile, and relatively easy to maintain oasis that awaited them, and that England would become even greater because of it.
Needless to say, these religious and economic motivations for the colonization of the "New World" primarily resulted in utter failure. Converting the "savages" proved to be more difficult than previously thought, since, contrary to European beliefs, the Native Americans cared very little for Christian theology. On the economic front, colonization proved even more difficult. Instead of discovering and settling in a Garden of Eden-like frontier, European settlers were met with Indian attack, harsh weather, terrible crop yields, and disease. For the English, their first experiment at Roanoke met with complete failure, as was almost the case with Jamestown. Even Plymouth suffered terrible losses and afflictions.
What is interesting about these preconceived European beliefs as to what awaited them across the Atlantic is their complete faith and surety that God would grant them a safe and uneventful trek into an unknown land. Upon their arrival, these same Europeans quickly came to the realization that their faith was not only lacking, but their arrogant presumption that God would grant them immediate success was unlikely to happen. This tug-o-war between the religious presumptions of the Europeans and the reality they experienced helps to explain why the early years of American settlement were a violent, hostile, intolerant and unpredictable environment.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Here at American Creation we are looking for more balanced perspective. We do a lot of David Barton/"Christian America" bashing here and the religious conservative side sometime receives short shrift. Tom Van Dyke, of the Newswalk and who has written for the American Spectator, is one of my most perceptive commenters at Positive Liberty. Like me he disagrees with the Christian America thesis; but he often helps me put things into more balanced perspective. I'd describe his politics as being informed by neo-Thomism, operating in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas. As he notes in the following comment, sometimes the secular side makes goofs that are as bad as David Barton's, but they are not as often criticized for it, at least not by the "respectable" media and academy:
In defense of Barton, who after all was a high school teacher with no background in history when he started his inquiry, the false quotes attributed to various Founders were generated in the hagiographic 19th century. He did not personally fabricate them.
After Barton rediscovered them, they spread like wildfire, in no small part due to the internet. It’s to his credit that he’s gone back with a more exacting scalpel.
Moreover, as I poke through the internet, I find that many of the criticisms of Barton’s main thesis are as shoddy as his own original flawed work. To wit:
In fact, Steve Weissman in his Truthout article America’s Religious Right - Saints or Subversives? said that “Barton systematically fails to see that many, if not most, of the founders were men of the 17th and 18th Century Enlightenment, who consciously rejected any literal interpretation of the Bible. To the degree they had religious faith, and many did, they believed in a God who - like a cosmic watchmaker - created the world and its natural laws, and then played no further part.”
This is pure nonsense, and just the sort of thing that Barton was reacting to, the contemporary propaganda that the US was founded in a secular vacuum.
Thomas Jefferson himself—the least religiously orthodox of all the Founders—believed that America would be punished by a just, intervening God for slavery:
“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!” —Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785
You don’t have to go far to dig this out. Some of these words appear on the Jefferson Memorial itself.
The irony of all this is that some people swallow stuff like Weissman’s nonsense as easily as Barton’s supporters swallowed his, yet think of themselves as Enlightened and educated, unlike those Christian fools.
It is to laugh. Truth is always more complicated than that.
Ray Soller has shared with us much of his meticulous research casting doubt on the notion that George Washington added "So Help Me God" to his oath of office. Check out Michael Newdow's musical telling of the story. It reminds me of the "School House Rock" specials I saw, as a member of Generation X, when watching cartoons growing up.
I hope Rev. Forrest Church, author of the forthcoming So Help Me God: Presidential Faith and Religious Politics in the Early Republic ... , will find a new title to his book, because none of the Founding Fathers, who were elected President, are known to have used the words, "So help me God," when they were inaugurated.When Forrest Church's book was finally published, the title did change, but the So-help-me-God part stayed the same, and, for good measure, I found out that Church included an Appendix in his book with the subtitle Did George Washington say "So help me God"? Needless to say, given the title of his book, Church defends the tradition where Washington is thought of having added a "sacred codicil" to his presidential oath.
I ordered the book, read the book, listened to several promotional interviews, and engaged Forrest Church in a discussion regarding what actually took place during Washington's first inauguration, which the author considers to be something of a minor skirmish in The First Great Battle Over Church and State. (You can find an online, limited edition of Church's book here.) Several interesting promotional interviews are available. My selection for the best one was broadcast on The Tavis Smiley Show. Here's a snippet:
Tavis: . . . Tell me about this title, "So Help Me, God." We hear that phrase all the time. Why it as the title of the text?
Church: Well, in the oath of office, the inaugural oath of office that's set in the Constitution, it's a purely secular oath. And when George Washington was inaugurated the first time, when he got done with the oath as it was presented to him, he added the words "so help me, God."
Church: Impromptu, although I think he was scripted by his managers at that point. But that has become part of the presidential - it's a mantra.
I recently happened across an online article, Defining the moving line between church and state, March 9, 2008, by Howard Barnes (a professor of history at Winston-Salem State University) in the Winston-Salem Journal that summarized Forrest Church's book. I sent Professor Barnes an e-mail because his article had repeated Church's position regarding Washington having said "So help me God." Howard Barnes told me that he appreciated the information I had sent, and wished he had this information when he had written his article. He went on to indicate that he "wouldn't mind" if I added my "correction" as a Comment. I jumped at the opportunity, only to find out that the comment window was limited to 3,000 characters. (For best results, the reader should, at least, skim through Church's Appendix before continuing.) After much cutting back here's the final result:
Posted by (raySoller) on June 6, 2008I just can't understand why Forrest Church chose to start the title of his book with an uncertainty. I couldn't understand why he did this when I first read the Christian Science Monitor article by Jeffrey MacDonald, and I can't do any better today.
In reviewing Forrest Church's book Professor Barnes writes:
According to several eyewitnesses (which the author affirms to be reliable), Washington not only ended his first inauguration ceremony with an oath on a borrowed Bible, but also added "so help me God" and bent down and reverently kissed the Bible.
Please note, two different issues are at stake. The first is whether Washington kissed the Bible, and the second is whether Washington added "So help me God."
There are four known firsthand accounts for Washington having kissed the Bible, but there are no known firsthand accounts saying that Washington added "So help me God" to his oath. Consequently, the first issue is not in doubt.
However, when it comes to the Appendix, where Forrest Church defends the notion that Washington added a sacred codicil to his oath, this is a very different matter. First off, Washington Irving was not the first person who claimed that Washington said "So help me God." This notion made its debut in 1854 when Rufus W. Griswold wrote his book, Republican Court. Many feel that Griswold used Washington Irving as his source, but that hardly matters, since Irving is not a reliable source.
According to Griswold, Washington Irving (age six) was not in a position to have reliably seen or heard what took place on the balcony some 200 feet away. Regardless, this didn't stop Griswold from saying that Washington had his "eyes closed" when he swore his oath, and it didn't stop Irving from having to refresh his "memory" by plagiarizing from the Memoirs of Eliza S. Morton Quincy.
Another problem relates to Church's misleading description of the oath that was approved for federal employees. There is no record that the God acknowledgements in the ad hoc House oath of April 6, 1789 were ever treated as part of the formal oath that was signed into law. In fact, from April 23rd, the day Washington arrived in New York, through to May 22nd, the date Congress submitted the bill to the President, there was no mention of any congressional disagreement when it came to the wording of the oath.
Of all the problems in Church's Appendix the most serious one stems from a bad case of mistaken identity. The "David Humphreys" of the Pennsylvania Mercury article has absolutely no connection to Washington's principal aide. He is actually Daniel Humphreys the newspaper editor, and the article is only a snippet selected from a very lengthy letter to the editor, Mr. Humphreys, that was serialized for nearly a month. Finally, on May 9th it is signed by Apocalypsophilos.
Forrest Church has acknowledged his error by saying, "I needn't have included that piece to begin with, and it doesn't change my sense that Washington is more likely than not to have said "So help me God" when he was inaugurated, though you will note that I nowhere claim that we can be certain about this." My response is, "Why does one prefix a title with an uncertainty?"
Friday, June 27, 2008
Previously I discussed the Reverend Peter Marshall's work here. Rev. Marshall is a fairly big figure in "Christian America" circles. From what I know of his work, it's pretty shoddy. He wrote a classic in that idiom entitled "The Light and the Glory." Here is how Dr. Gregg Frazer describes that work in his PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University:
It became the classic text of that camp. Its historiography is abominable; it is a collection of speculations, suppositions, personal musings, and “insights” with little or no proof or documentation for extraordinary claims. p. 38.
In my earlier post, I noted Marshall, and his coauthor David Manuel are working on a revised version of this book, to be published sometime in 2009. Somewhat to their credit, they are attempting to improve their level of scholarship. Relying on Peter Lillback's work on George Washington, Marshall notes they will no longer endorse George Washington's spurious "Daily Sacrifice" Prayerbook (of which by the way Pat Robertson's CBN apparently endorses the validity).
Good for them, but apparently you can't teach an old dog new tricks. The year is 2008, 8 years after David Barton wrote his article, "Unconfirmed Quotations," cautioning his followers to no longer spread these bogus utterance of America's Founders, and Marshall still features the following on his website:
For example, Patrick Henry, a great Founding Father, and one of the strongest evangelical Christians of his time, said that "It can not be too often repeated, or too strongly emphasized that America was not founded by religionists nor on any religion, but by Christians on the Gospel of Jesus Christ." This is a statement that never shows up in the history books that are read by the vast majority of American schoolchildren.
You don't see it in the schoolbooks because Patrick Henry never uttered it. And it's not as though Marshall is unfamiliar with Barton or Wallbuilders. Indeed, they recently did a series together still showing on TBN entitled "Under God," which from the episodes I have seen repeated all of the Christian Nationalist revisionist talking points.
But, for all I know, given that I've never read "The Light and the Glory," which was originally published in 1977, before Barton made his mark, it could be the source of some of Barton's "unconfirmed quotations."
One reason why these "unconfirmed quotations" don't seem to die is that they sound so on point. When Christian Nationalists look for quotations to support their claim, those are the ones that first stand out. But they represent neither what the Founders said, nor what they stood for. Most of the accurate quotations that Christian Nationalists then offer distort their context or meaning. For instance, Marshall offers what follows from John Adams in misleading or misunderstood context:
John Adams, our second President and a true son of the Puritans, spoke for all the Founding Fathers when he spoke these words to the Massachusetts Militia in 1798: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Marshall fails to note that Adams was a fervent theological unitarian who in his private letters uttered blasphemous sentiments on the Trinity for which his Puritan ancestors would have executed him (literally, they had laws on the books demanding the death penalty for such "high handed blasphemie").
Further, when Adams stated "religion" and "morality" he meant exactly what he said: "religion" in general, not "Christianity" -- certainly not orthodox Trinitarian Christianity in which Adams didn't believe and whose doctrines he often bitterly mocked -- in particular. Marshall and the "Christian Nation" crowd make the error of reading not just "Christianity" but "orthodox" or what they would regard as "true biblical Christianity" into Adams' generic endorsement of "religion" as a source for public "morality." What follows is one of many of Adams' quotations that show when he said "religion" in a generic sense, he meant "religion" not necessarily "Christianity":
It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.
– John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.
Even when John Adams praised "Christianity" in particular, it was done through the lens of his heterodox unitarian creed, and resulted in sentiments that evangelicals like Marshall would consider "heresy" and not "real Christianity" at all, if they truly understood or honestly dealt with what Adams and the other key Founders really posited. The following is one of John Adams' quotations the Christian America crowd often spreads, which, again, on the surface sounds like it supports their claim, but whose context belies it:
The general Principles, on which the Fathers Atchieved Independence, were...the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were united: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.
-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28th, 1813
Now, if one didn't understand the context one might think Adams were referring to those principles in the creeds that united the orthodox Churches, what evangelicals and Roman Catholics consider "real Christianity." Things like original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the Bible. But you would be wrong. Adams explains just who is included in that "lowest-common-denominator" of "general principles of Christianity," in the rest of his letter that the Christian America crowd doesn't reveal:
Who composed that Army of fine young Fellows that was then before my Eyes? There were among them, Roman Catholicks, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anababtists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists; and "Protestans qui ne croyent rien ["Protestants who believe nothing"]." Very few however of several of these Species. Nevertheless all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.
Not only Universalists who denied eternal damnation but Arians, Socinians and Priestleyans [the later term referring to Adams', Jefferson's, and Franklin's religious mentor, British Unitarian Whig Joseph Priestley] all of whom were unitarians, denying the Trinity and other fundamental doctrines of orthodoxy. But it gets worse! Deists, Atheists, and Protestants who believe nothing are likewise included in Adams' lowest common denominator of "Christian principles."
And to make matters even worse, Adams appeals to the authority of some radically anti-Christian Enlightenment philosophers:
In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.
Whatever theological system Adams was referring to, it's certainly not what Peter Marshall, David Barton and the rest of the "Christian America" crowd would consider "real Christianity."
As attractive as the quest for monetary wealth was for the common American, a rising number of citizens rose in opposition to the Market Revolution’s dramatic upheaval of traditional practices, claiming that its influence was a detriment to society. One young man in particular, who was destined to become the founder of one of America’s fastest growing religions, stood defiant against the Market Revolution’s doctrine of economic individualism. While in his youth, Joseph Smith became a fateful witness not only to his family’s financial woes, but also to the economic plight of the average citizen. While living in New York, Smith also observed first-hand the dramatic surge in religious revivalism that sought to oppose the presumed evils of the Market Revolution. As the founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, like so many other religious leaders of his time, took an antagonistic stance against the encroaching forces of capitalism. In an effort to safeguard his followers from the fires of capitalist corruption, Joseph Smith endeavored to create a religious Utopia, or as he called it, Zion. Though originally conceived in the economic quandary of his childhood family and his alleged communion with the supernatural, Joseph Smith’s concept of Zion was to be further molded from its original role as a physical safe haven from the evil influences of the Market Revolution, into an eternal object of heavenly aspiration for his followers.
One of the best ways to understand the roots of Mormon Zionism is to understand the place in which they were born. While still in his youth, Joseph Smith and his family decided to move to Palmyra, New York, which was a small community that fell victim to the sweeping fires of religious enthusiasm. It comes as no surprise that the great 19th century evangelist preacher, Charles Finney, would nickname the region as "The Burned-over District." Though still in his youth, Joseph Smith was keenly aware of the religious fanaticism that was sweeping the countryside. As he would later write in his personal history:
There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of the country, indeed the whole district of the Country seemed affected by it and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division among the people…Priest contended against priest, and convert against convert so that all their good feelings one for another were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions (Joseph Smith, Jr., “1839 History,” The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. I, 269-270).Western New York was not only a witness to a spiritual revival, but also a capitalist one as well. As mentioned before, the sweeping changes of the Market Revolution were quickly spreading across the American landscape. In New York, thousands of immigrants hoped to find an economic solace that had been lacking in other regions of the republic. With the construction of the Erie Canal completed in 1825, the interior lands of New York -- including Smith's hometown of Palmyra -- were quickly catapulted to the forefront of economic affairs. New York quickly passed other port towns like New Orleans and Charlestown to become America's premiere economic juggernaut.
As is often the case with any major change, a large percentage of the American populace began to see the Market Revolution as a destructive force. The communal subsistence culture, which had tied family members and neighbors together in a tight web of economic and social interdependence, was quickly being replaced by the profit-driven mentality of the Market Revolution. As a result, hundreds of American families sought to reclaim the "lost" communal dependence and purity of the pre-Market Revolution era.
For a young and ambitious man like Joseph Smith, the religious atmosphere in and around western New York must have been intoxicating. With scores of "fire-breathing" ministers flooding the "Burned-over district" with their doctrine of hell, fire and damnation, it comes as no surprise that Smith would be confused about the eternal future of his soul. As Smith stated, "In the midst of this war of words, and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties is right…and how shall I know?" (Joseph Smith, Jr., “1839 History,” The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. I, 271).
After experiencing a number of alleged visions and communications with the divine, Joseph Smith later proclaimed himself to be a prophet. By so doing, he set himself up as the quintessential 19th century leader of his time. After all, experiencing heavenly visions and claiming to have communed with God was anything but atypical of Smith's time. As mentioned before, western New York was a literal hotbed of religious radicalism in the early years of the nineteenth century. Religious enthusiasts like Ann Lee, who became the founder of the Shaker movement, inspired her followers to embrace a communal lifestyle of celibacy and nonresistance, claiming that she had received a divine manifestation of Christ’s impending return. Jemima Wilkinson, who founded the Community of the Publick Universal Friend, also claimed divine revelation, and insisted that Christ had chosen her as his personal messenger, sent to prepare the world for millennial glory. Like Ann Lee, Wilkinson also established a communal order of celibacy and economic equality. The New Israelites, led by a man named Winchell and Oliver Cowdery, also preached divine revelation that pointed to an impending millennial apocalypse. When put in the light of his contemporaries, Joseph Smith’s paranormal claims seem less atypical and more mainstream.
Having endured the struggles of economic poverty and religious uncertainty, Joseph Smith's prophetic appeal resonated with literally thousands of others that had endured the same hardships, or as Smith biographer, Richard Bushman put it, "He had endured the agonies of thousands in his generation and could speak to their sorrows" (Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 55). His alleged visitations had solidified Smith's resolve to follow God's admonition to "Seek to bring forth and establish my Zion" (Doctrine & Covenants 14:6).
In addition to his personal revelations regarding the establishment of Zion, Joseph Smith's Utopian ideology was further molded by his alleged translation of the "Golden Plates," which later became the infamous Book of Mormon. As one of its central theses, The Book of Mormon relates the tale of two rival societies, whose peace and prosperity are solely determined by the communal faith and devotion of their respective populace. On numerous occasions, The Book of Mormon makes specific mention of how God intends to grant specific blessings, which are exclusively reserved for those that seek to establish Zion:
"And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb" (1 Nephi 13:37).In addition to everlasting life, the God of The Book of Mormon promises worldly protection against the foes of his elect people:
"And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it." (1 Nephi 22:14)Despite these promises, the God of The Book of Mormon does not neglect to mention the punishments that await the unfaithful disciple of this utopian community:
"But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish…Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!" (2 Nephi 28:24).For a young man who had endured economic turmoil and religious fanaticism while in his youth, the doctrine of The Book of Mormon provided both clarity and purpose. The Market Revolution’s emphasis on personal gain and worldly wealth was now shrouded in the evil vanities mentioned in The Book of Mormon. For Joseph Smith and his followers, God’s biblical admonition to, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world" took on a new meaning in the emerging capitalist climate of the early nineteenth century (1 John 2:15). By placing their faith in the idea that, “the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it,” scores of downtrodden citizens found a glimmer of hope in the newly emerging doctrine of Mormon Zionism (2 Nephi 24:32).
For these early Mormons, establishing a communal society proved a much more daunting task than initially thought. The emerging market society of western New York, combined with its hostile reception of the doctrine contained in The Book of Mormon forced Joseph Smith and his followers to look elsewhere for their blessed Zion. In response to these problems, Joseph Smith again laid claim to divine intervention that commanded the Mormon prophet to move his flock west into Ohio (Doctrine & Covenants 38:32) In response to Smith’s alleged revelation, hundreds of early Mormon converts sold their homes and made their way to the town of Kirtland, Ohio, where Smith promised his followers the communal peace they had longed for. A short time later, Smith claimed to have received another revelation, which proclaimed Jackson County, Missouri to be the place for God's holy Zion (Doctrine & Covenants 57: 2-3).
To further the special nature of this holy land located on the fringe of American society, Joseph Smith claimed that God intended Zion to become a “New Jerusalem,” where he would prepare the world for the anticipated return of Christ and the commencement of his millennial reign. As Joseph Smith stated in his Thirteen Articles of Mormon Faith, "We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes. That Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent." (Joseph Smith, Jr., “1839 History,” The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. I, 437).
The idea of a “New Jerusalem” brought additional meaning to the Mormon concept of Zion. In a manner similar to John Winthrop’s proclamation of Massachusetts as a “city on a hill,” Joseph Smith’s “New Jerusalem” was to not only be a communal society of pious disciples, but an “ensign unto the people” of every nation (Doctrine & Covenants 64: 42).
With such a bold proclamation as to its heavenly purpose, it comes as no surprise that the quest to establish God’s “New Jerusalem” became the premiere doctrine of Mormon Theology. The drive to establish a Utopian world free from the discord of worldly affairs was an appealing alternative when juxtaposed with the cutthroat nature of the emerging market society. It is therefore no surprise that the Mormon community found scores of new converts that were willing to embrace a communal lifestyle, which shunned the malevolence of the world around them. In conjunction with their anticipation of millennial ecstasy, the Mormon message became a powerful beacon of hope in a world of cruelty. The Mormon hymn O Saints of Zion provides an in-depth look into how these feelings of millennial anticipation and communal devotion helped shape Mormon identity:
O saints of Zion, hear the voice Of Him from courts on high.One can only imagine the feelings of excitement and apprehension that gripped the earliest Mormon settlers of Zion. Their arrival to Independence, Missouri, which was nothing more than a remote outpost on America’s frontier, must have reminded many of them of their Pilgrim ancestors who had migrated across the Atlantic to establish a religious Utopia of their own. With only a handful of fur trappers and Native American traders, Independence was a far cry from what the Mormons had experienced in Kirtland. Though most of the state was still considered frontier land, the early advances of the Market Revolution had begun to take hold in Missouri as well. Thanks to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri into the Union as a slave state, thousands of slave-owners migrated west in an effort to stake their claim. In addition, scores of zealous fur traders, who anxiously hoped to expand their business westward, used Missouri as an access point of sorts. As a result, Missouri’s population swelled to roughly 140,000 in 1830. By 1840, the population had more than doubled to over 300,000. Missouri’s reputation as the “Gateway State” obviously had an appeal that included much more than the Mormon population. Joseph Smith’s utopian hopes had yet again landed the Mormons in the center of an emerging market-centered community (For a detailed look at the census records of Missouri in the early 1800s click here).
Prepare the pathway of the Lord; His reign on earth is nigh.
Prepare the supper of the Lamb; Invite the world to dine.
Behold the mighty Bridegroom comes In majesty divine.
Behold the glory of the Lord Sets Zion’s mount aglow.
For Zion is an ensign pure; All nations to her flow.
O Saints of Zion tread the paths Your faithful fathers trod.
Lift up your hears in gratitude And serve the living God
To help “persuade” these religious “radicals” of their errors, the Mormon opposition in Missouri resorted to violence. Mormon churches, homes and businesses were regularly destroyed and then blamed on the Mormon leadership. Joseph Smith and other leaders were routinely imprisoned, tarred and feathered, and given poison while incarcerated. Mormon women, some of whom were still in their youth, were the unfortunate victims of mob rape. One woman in particular was left bound and naked in a Mormon church, where sixteen men repeatedly raped her (Hyrum Smith "The Testimony of Hyrum Smith," from History of the Church, vol.3, 422). The persecution eventually became so intense that the Missouri government prohibited Mormons from voting or owning property. This anti-Mormon sentiment even permeated the executive office of the state, where Governor Lilburn Boggs declared that, “the Mormons must be subdued…and if it should become necessary for the public peace…should be exterminated or expelled from the state” (Governor Lilburn Boggs to General Lucas, Oct. 27, 1838, from History of the Church, vol.3, 422).
With mounting persecution and no means to seek redress, Joseph Smith and his followers were forced to abdicate their landholdings in Jackson County. Those who had willingly given up all of their property and assets for the construction of Zion were left completely destitute with little to no prospects of reclaiming their wealth. Understandably, a large number of these early Mormon converts forsook their faith and returned to their roots. After all, Zion had been the principle component of early Mormon theology. In many respects it was the equivalent of what the Kaaba is for the Muslim or the Vatican is for the Catholic. For many Mormons, Zion’s defeat essentially signified a defeat of Mormonism. Virtually all of one’s faith, hope and salvation were dependant upon Zion’s success, or as one revelation put it, “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (Doctrine & Covenants 78: 6). Simply put for the faithful Mormon, without Zion there could be no salvation.
Faced with such a daunting challenge, it comes as no surprise that Joseph Smith, yet again, received a divine manifestation that would forever change the scope of Zion’s appeal. After the loss of their lands in Missouri, Joseph Smith claimed to have received a holy revelation, which proclaimed Zion to be an indestructible institution, where the faithful would forever bask in the glory of God himself. As the revelation stated, “Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there” (Doctrine & Covenants 97: 19) But how could this be? Zion’s demise in Missouri had been a certain outcome of mob violence and political negligence. How could Zion possibly return in the wake of such hostility? It was here that Smith’s alleged revelation made a startling proclamation that forever changed the concept of Mormon Zionism: “Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—The Pure in Heart.” (Doctrine & Covenants 97: 21). On the surface, Smith’s revelation seems to be nothing more than a play on semantics. A deeper inquiry, however, reveals that this simple proclamation, “The Pure in Heart,” was actually a complete overhaul of the Mormon conception of Zionism. Instead of being conceived as a palpable reality of the physical world, Zion became a metaphysical object of personal and heavenly worth. In essence, “The Pure in Heart” signified an individualistic approach to becoming one with both God and community.
Uncovering the true motivations behind Mormon Zionism is a difficult undertaking to say the least. In posing such an inquiry, one naturally desires to question the validity of Joseph Smith’s alleged revelations, along with his self-proclaimed prophetic mission. Naturally, there are those who will proclaim Smith to be nothing more than, “a mythmaker of prodigious talent,” who sought nothing more than to redeem his family from financial distress (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, ix). Others, however, will insist that Smith’s life was spent in the labor of his fellow men, as a true prophet of God. Determining the validity of either argument is unquestionably a futile effort, and therefore becomes an irrelevant argument to the historical inquiry. Instead, Joseph Smith and the movement he created should be understood from the perspective of their era. The explosion of capitalist economics at the beginning of the nineteenth-century set the foundation upon which Joseph Smith would construct his Utopian philosophy. The economic plight of his childhood became the initial string of rebellion, which Joseph Smith would eventually weave into a tapestry of capitalist defiance. With the addition of his alleged heavenly revelations and prophetic destiny, Joseph Smith effectively established a utopian doctrine of communal dependence and market defiance. The widespread appeal of his message helped Smith effectively establish a Mormon safe haven in Zion, where the faithful were nurtured in a spirit of communalism. Once confronted by market enthusiasm and anti-Mormon hostility, Smith’s quest to establish Zion was transformed from a physical place of refuge into a heavenly object of eternal desire. By successfully adopting a new concept of utopian existence, Mormon Zionism was equipped to survive into far into the 21st century and beyond.
I wanted to comment on Jason Kuznicki's post on the Acton Institute's The Birth of Freedom whose screening we both saw. His post brings to mind George Willis Cooke's observations:
The doctrine of degrees, as taught by the Calvinists, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man's moral capacity.
As Kuznicki correctly points out, Calvin was not a social contractarian, and his teachings on government were nothing like the democratic-republican ideas that America's Founders established:
According to Calvin, magistrates get their authority from God, and not — as the Levellers would have had it — by an agreement of the people. Hobbes sided with the agreement of the people, although he did attach, shall we say, some rather stringent terms to it. This — agreement versus divine institution — is the whole of the difference between social contract theory and what came before it.
Insofar as Calvin ever considered a state of nature, he viewed it not as full of danger (like Hobbes), nor as imperfect and needing improvement (like Locke), nor even as subject to natural transformation into a governed state (like Nozick). He viewed it as profane, because it was not sufficiently subject to God’s authority. He compared it to rats in straw. (And yet don’t rats enjoy living in straw? Why should we presume that this is such a bad thing for them? Doesn’t the metaphor deconstruct itself?)
Indeed, it’s hard to find something less like a Lockean social contract than the following passage from Calvin:...
Kuznicki then quotes from Calvin, an excerpt of which follows:
For though the Lord declares that a ruler to maintain our safety is the highest gift of his beneficence, and prescribes to rulers themselves their proper sphere, he at the same time declares, that of whatever description they may be, they derive their power from none but him. Those, indeed, who rule for the public good, are true examples and specimens of his beneficence, while those who domineer unjustly and tyrannically are raised up by him to punish the people for their iniquity. Still all alike possess that sacred majesty with which he has invested lawful power.
History gets interesting, though, when we recognize that some later "Calvinists" made arguments for "resisting the King," that somewhat paralleled what the American Founders would even later do in the American Revolution, and that a strong Calvinist component in the American population supported revolt against Great Britain. Still, Calvin was not a liberal democrat or social contractarian, but if anything represented "the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings," the exact opposite of the position America's Founders took.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
This post features commentary by Dr. Gregg Frazer on the Bible as an intellectual source of republicanism. I'd count the Bible/Christian principles as one source of many from which America's Founders believed man's reason could select the "rational" parts. But it was by no means the chief source. Pagan Greco-Roman principles, the interest in which had been recently rekindled during the Renaissance, received far more attention in the Federalist Papers. Given Christianity is compatible with a variety of different political systems, Christianity is arguably perfectly compatible with republicanism. But the principles of republicanism are for the most part a-biblical.
The fact that some parts of the Declaration and/or Constitution are not in conflict with verses in the Bible does not mean that the Bible was the source. This is especially important when — as in the case of the Declaration and the Constitution — the authors claim other sources, but do not claim the Bible as a source!
In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration’s principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney — he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian — or even biblical, with the exception of “Creator.” The term “providence” is never used of God in the Bible, nor are “nature’s God” or “Supreme Judge of the world” ever used in the Bible.
In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources — but no Scripture verses.
In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution’s principles, either — one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word “God” is used twice — and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. “Almighty” is used twice and “providence” three times — but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.
As for freedom and liberty in the Bible, it is always SPIRITUAL freedom/liberty — as a look at the verses you’ve listed IN CONTEXT shows. That is NOT to say that political liberty is an anti-biblical concept — it’s just not a biblical one. Arguing that it is a “Calvinist” concept does not make it a biblical one, either. The “disciples” of Calvin did not write inspired revelation.
The key Founders (J. Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, & G. Morris) — those most responsible for the founding documents — were religious, but not Christians. They believed that religion was essential to produce the morality that a free society required, but that any religion would suffice. Their religious belief was a mixture of Protestantism, natural religion, and rationalism — with rationalism as the trump card and decisive factor. They retained elements of Christianity, but rejected the elements of Christianity (and of natural religion) that they considered irrational. However: of the ten CORE beliefs of Christianity (those shared by all of the major Protestant denominations of the day (and by the Catholics), they held to only one (or two, in some cases). Their belief system was, as I have termed it, theistic rationalism.
If the view of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin that any/all religions were valid paths to God and that any/all religions would suffice to produce the morality needed was a “minority opinion” among the Founders, why were they chosen to write the philosophical (you say religious) document (Declaration)?
In his response, Lillback relied heavily on his observation that Washington was a Virginian, and as such he had likely repeated "ten or twelve oaths in his life," which concluded with the words, "So help me God." This is absolutely true, but only in the sense that all of these oaths took place during the colonial era when there was a congenital union between the English monarchy and the Anglican Church. What Lillback overlooks is that from the time starting with the American Revolution there does not appear to be a single documented instance where George Washington swore to an official oath in the service of our country that included a religious codicil.
We, also, need to consider that the Virginia Constitution of 1776 did not require a religious oath; and when it came to the to the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation did not even mention an oath as being necessay for its delegates. The United States Constitution does prescribe an oath for the president, but it omits any acknowledgement of a supreme being. This is also true for the legislated oath designated for all federal employees. When on June 1, 1789, President Washington signed An Act to regulate the Time and Manner of administrating certain oaths into law, it simply stated, "I, A. B. do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States." Most importantly, the Constitution also states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (Article VI. Section, III).
The first reported instance of Washington swearing to an oath in the post-colonial era occurred as a result of the Continental Congress passing a bill that required all Continental Army officers to sign a certificate to "acknowledge the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, to be Free and Independent and Sovereign States, ... ." Washington signed this certificate without appending "so help me God," even though the legislation passed by the Continental Congress had included an optional use of the words "So help me God" by placing those words outside of the delimiting quotation marks. As can be seen, Washington did not append "So help me God" to his military oath of May 12, 1778.
George Washington signed this oath of allegiance on May 12, 1778 while at Valley Forge. The same document was executed by such others as Von Steuben and Alexander Hamilton. They are on display in the National Archives, Washington, DC. (Courtesy National Archives.)
Pastor Lillback continued with a second point by saying, "In fact, it [saying 'So Help me God' as was done in Virginia] was the American tradition, universally understood, because the word oath implied that you were saying this before God. And the words 'So help me God,' were not adding God to it. God was there when you took an oath. It was saying, I need help to keep what I just promised."
The problem here is that Lillback can only see George Washington as agreeing with his "universal understanding" as to what oaths meant during the colonial era. What this means, of course, is that Lillback has to turn a blind eye to what happened at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In The Godless Constitution, Kramnick and Moore explain what happened this way:
While passionately debated in the new nation, the "no religious test" clause elicited surprisingly little discussion at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention itself. It was introduced by Charles Pinckney, the governor of South Carolina, on August 20, whereupon it was immediately referred to the Committee on Detail without any debate among the delegates. The committee presented its general report on August 30 and made no reference to Pinckney's proposal. Not to be ignored, Pinckney moved it again to the floor. Roger Sherman of Connecticut, the committee chairman, held that the prohibition was unnecessary," the prevailing "liberality" being a sufficient security against such tests. Gouverneur Morris and General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney seconded Governor Pinckney's motion, however. It was then voted on and, according to the Maryland delegate Luther Martin, "adopted by a very great majority of the convention without much debate." No record of the exact vote, but Madison's personal notes of the convention report that North Carolina voted no and that Maryland was divided. According to Luther Martin, "there were some members so unfashionable [his italics] as to think that a belief in the existence of a Deity and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that in a Christian county it would be at least decent to hold some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.
Well might these 'unfashionable' members be surprised at the position taken so easily by the majority at the Constitutional Convention, for eleven of the thirteen states had religious tests for public offices in 1787. Even in Rhode Island, once the most religiously pluralistic and liberal state, where small numbers of Catholics an Jews freely worshipped, only Protestants could vote or hold office. New Hampshire, New Jersey, both Carolinas, Vermont, and Georgia also required officials to be Protestants. Massachusetts and Maryland insisted on belief in the Christian religion as a qualification for office. Pennsylvania required its officials to be Protestants who believed in God and the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments; in Delaware all elected and appointed public officials were required to profess 'faith in God the father, and in Jesus Christ His Holy son, and in the Holy Ghost, One God blessed forevermore.' Several state constitutions also required office holders to acknowledge that God was a 'rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked.'"
What Lillback can't recognize, and what Professor Peter Henriques clearly
explained is this:
If you look at the evidence [as to whether Washington appended anything to his oath], and I don't want to take [more than] a short time, but the evidence for that is surprisingly weak. It's a case where people accept something, pass it on, but the actual evidence for it is not [there], and Washington is strict constructionist. He is not going to change the constitutional oath, at least, not without anyone mentioning it. Indeed the French Ambassador, who was there, and wrote down what he said, and wrote the oath, did not put it in.
The Senate, four days after Washington's Inauguration, passed an oath for Congressmen that specifically took out the words "So help me God" [from the ad hoc oath originally taken by the House members]. I can't imagine they would have taken that out of the oath if George Washington had done it, at least without any comment.
[Note: This is a post I did back in 2004 on Roman Catholics and the natural law of America's Founding which I thought readers here would enjoy.]
The conference that I attended at Princeton brought an irony to mind—an irony that often impresses itself when I reflect on the work of the Claremont Institute: the way that orthodox Catholics, more effectively than Protestant fundamentalists, can make seemingly dogmatic religious arguments while still appealing to, and appearing to be consistent with, founding principles.
The conference was very much a “natural law” conference—literally the most distinguished (Thomistic) natural lawyers in the world were present there. And it was also heavily Catholic attended.
This nation was founded by, for the most part, Protestants. There were very few Catholics and our founders—wary of the horrible record possessed by the Roman Church on issues of religious persecution and deprivation of liberty—and if you’ve read some of the things they said about the Church—were practically anti-Catholic bigots.
For instance, this passage by John Adams:
I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits….Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gypsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and school masters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola’s. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.
John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 5, 1816.
This nation was founded on “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” And these laws are ascertainable by man’s reason, wholly unassisted by faith or by Biblical Revelation, and these rules certainly didn’t need to be confirmed by any ecclesiastical authority. In other words, this nation was founded on reason, nature, or philosophy.
As Adams put it:
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature.... [In] the formation of the American governments ... it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven.... These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788
Those who would derive political authority or political “truths” from Biblical Revelation alone—which seems to be the way in which many Protestant fundamentalists operate—are anathematized according to this nation’s founding principles, properly understood. Likewise, those who appeal to ecclesiastical authority alone (the Pope says it, therefore we have to make it into law), are equally anathematized. So, if Catholics want to write the Church’s official opinions into law, simply because they are the Church’s opinions—this no more comports with our founding principles than Protestants believing, “if it’s in the Bible, then it ought to be public law.”
Yet, Catholics, unlike most orthodox Protestants, have embraced philosophy—seeking Truth by observing nature using unassisted reason—which has its antecedents in Aristotle and, for Catholics, sees its fullest expression in Aquinas. And many official Catholic doctrines are derived not from the Bible alone, or ecclesiastical authority alone (or some combination thereof), but from (their understanding) of the natural law. In other words, the Papal authorities, when they issue their official doctrines, often make arguments, based on universal principles of nature and reason, to justify their case. And basing laws on universal rational principles is what our nation is founded on.
So for instance, when Catholic natural lawyers Robert P. George and Gerard V. Bradley, drafted a brief on behalf of the Family Research Council in defense of sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, they did not appeal to literal passages in the Bible, or the Pope’s ecclesiastical authority in attempting to make a legal argument as to why such laws should remain on the books—to do so would be un-American. Rather they appealed to an Aristolean-Aquinas understanding of “nature” that is ascertainable by man’s reason alone.
In other words, they can reasonably argue that they appealed to “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” This morning, watching a show on America’s Founding Principles, put on by Rev. D. James Kennedy, Roy Moore was called upon to “inform” us what the “laws of nature and nature’s God” really mean. And he answered, predictably, “everything that’s written in the pages of the Bible.” In other words, Biblical Revelation, unaided by Man’s Reason. And in fact, he got it exactly wrong, exactly backwards, and in doing so demonstrates the abysmal ignorance of Protestant fundamentalists who argue that America is a “Christian Nation,” in a public, governmental sense.
Now that’s not to say that what is written in the Bible NEVER reflects the natural law—that the two are mutually exclusive phenomena. Indeed, what the Thomistic natural lawyers will tell you—what any natural lawyer will tell you—what’s written in the Bible often dovetails with natural law (Harry Jaffa and Claremont commonly stress that Reason & Revelation largely agree on most matters). But in order to be a valid basis for a public act, a particular move must have a “public reason” or must be vetted by natural reason, in addition to whatever support there is in the Bible for it.
William Galston, at the conference, gave a great anecdote illustrating this: In Genesis we see Abraham remonstrating with God about God’s plan to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah. Abraham is concerned that God would destroy the unjust along with the just. This implies that even God can be unjust—that there are certain objective standards of justice that men can know for themselves that are independent of the arbitrary actions of the Creator. And indeed God does obey the natural law by agreeing not to destroy those cities if indeed there are a certain number of righteous to be found there. And when the cities were destroyed, it was only the guilty who got it (Lot and his family were spared). That is a passage of the Bible that confirms natural law—that there are independent rational standards of justice that are known cross-culturally and exist outside of Biblical Revelation and that God Himself will not violate.
And even many socially liberal natural lawyers such as myself can find many parts of Biblical Revelation that serve as good grounds for public policy. For instance, “thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal….”
We can base public policy on the principles illustrated in those certain passages of the Bible. However, certain passages of the Bible give no public reasons needed to serve as legitimate bases for public policy.
For instance—again part of Galston’s analogy—when God asks Abraham to kill his son Isaac, there is no reason or rhyme to be found. The righteousness of that passage must be accepted by faith alone; it has no explanation or verification in nature or reason. As such, it would be wholly inappropriate for that passage of the Bible to have anything to do with public policy or our public laws. It would be perfectly fine for that Biblical passage to be part of the laws of the conscience of an individual, but no more.
But I digress.
On another note—I also find it a little odd that some prominent non-Catholics, for instance, Hadley Arkes (who was at the conference) and Harry Jaffa (who wasn’t), posit a very Thomistic, Catholic, understanding of nature…but without being Catholics themselves. And correspondingly, Jaffa and Arkes have a big following among doctrinaire Catholics. For instance, the Claremont Institute has a heck of a lot more conservative devout Catholic members and followers than they do of Protestant fundamentalists who care very little for “man’s reason unassisted by faith.” And Arkes commonly writes for Richard John Neuhaus Catholic Theocon Magazine, First Things.
And of course, there is the whole issue of whether when men like Jefferson, Madison, and Adams spoke of “the laws of nature and nature’s God” that they were referring to a Thomistic understanding of nature. Personally, I don’t think they were. But that’s a topic for another discussion.