Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mark David Hall: The Influence of the Reformed Tradition on the American Founding, Part VII

By Mark David Hall

The Constitution

According to Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, the Constitution is “Godless.” This observation would have come as quite a shock to Roger Sherman, Nathaniel Gorham, Caleb Strong, John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Abraham Baldwin, James Wilson, Gunning Bedford, James McHenry, William Livingston, William Paterson, Hugh Williamson, Jared Ingersoll, Oliver Ellsworth, John Lansing Jr., Robert Yates, James McClurg, William Blount, William Houston, William Davie, and Alexander Martin—delegates to the Federal Convention who were raised in the Reformed tradition. Some of these men were not particularly significant and a few ended up opposing the Constitution. Yet some of them, notably Roger Sherman, James Wilson, William Paterson, and Oliver Ellsworth, played critical roles in the debates. Political scientist David Brian Robertson has recently demonstrated that in many respects Sherman was a more effective delegate than Madison, and he suggests that the “political synergy between Madison and Sherman . . . very well may have been necessary for the Constitution’s adoption.”

At first glance the Constitution may appear to be “Godless” as the deity is only referred to in Article VII—where the document is dated “in the Year of our Lord...” Article I does presume that Congress will not conduct business on Sunday, but this provision is more than balanced by Article VI’s prohibition on religious tests for national office. Yet the argument for the influence of Reformed political ideas on the Constitution does not depend on explicitly religious references. It is more profitable instead to consider the ways in which Calvinist political thought may have influenced the men and women who wrote, debated, and ratified the document.

John Witherspoon’s student James Madison wrote in Federalist 51 that “if men were angles, no government would be necessary.” Almost to a person America’s founders were convinced that humans are self-interested or, in theological language, sinful. Of course one can reach this conclusion for a variety of reasons, but is it not probable that the approximately 75% of Americans connected to Reformed traditions adhered to this idea because they had heard it from the pulpit since childhood? It is true that every major Christian tradition in America in this era agreed that humans are sinful, but few emphasized it as much as the Calvinists who taught the doctrine of total depravity. In contrast, many Enlightenment thinkers believed that humans are basically good, and that through proper education they could be perfected. As Louis Hartz recognized, “Americans refused to join in the great Enlightenment enterprise of shattering the Christian concept of sin, [and] replacing it with an unlimited humanism.”

America’s founders believed that because humans are sinful it is dangerous to concentrate political power. The Constitution thus carefully separates powers and creates a variety of mechanisms whereby each institution can check the others. Critically, the power of the national government itself was limited by Article I, section 8. Indeed, the very notion of federalism, some scholars have argued, was itself modeled after Reformed approaches to church governance (especially Presbyterianism) and New England civic arrangements which, as we have seen, were themselves heavily influenced by Calvinist political ideas. It is noteworthy that the authors of the Connecticut Compromise, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, were both solid, serious Reformed Christians who were leaders in their Congregationalist churches. Enlightenment thinkers, on the other hand, generally embraced unicameralism and the centralization of power in a national government.

Federalism helps explain as well why religion is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders recognized that it would be impossible to agree upon a single Christian denomination that could be established at a national level, and many feared giving the national government power in this area. Moreover, many founders were beginning to question the wisdom of establishments altogether (usually because they feared that they hurt rather than helped Christianity). There was almost complete agreement that if there was going to be an establishment that it should be at the state or local level.

Notes:

63. Kramnick and Moore, The Godless Constitution; M.E. Bradford, Founding Fathers: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution 2nd, rev. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994); David Brian Robertson, “Madison’s Opponents and Constitutional Design,” American Political Science Review 99 (May 2005), 225-243, 242; Robertson, The Constitution and America’s Destiny (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

64. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers ed. Clinton Rossiter (New York: New American Library, 1961), 322; Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America, 39.

65. Shain, “Afterword,” in Dreisbach, Hall, and Morrison, The Founders on God and Government, 274-77.

66. Mark David Hall, “Religion and the American Founding,” in A History of the U.S. Political System: Ideas, Interests, and Institutions, ed. Richard A. Harris and Daniel J. Tichenor, (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2010 ) 1: 99-112.

47 comments:

King of Ireland said...

" It is true that every major Christian tradition in America in this era agreed that humans are sinful, but few emphasized it as much as the Calvinists who taught the doctrine of total depravity. In contrast, many Enlightenment thinkers believed that humans are basically good, and that through proper education they could be perfected.'

If this is a true definition of Enlightenment thinking then I think we have hit on the key to this whole debate.

Locke and many other more rational Christians did not believe in total depravity but they most certainly believed in the sinful nature of man in need of redemption which is the core of the gospel.

secular square said...

Good analysis of federalism and the legal status of religion—must be an avid reader of tvd and koi at AC.

Not so good analysis of other issues. It misses the historical context. Yes, the power of the federal government is limited.(Or I guess we should say, with a small tear of nostalgia, it used to be.) Remember, though, that the objective of the Constitutional Convention was to STRENGTHEN its powers. Maybe our citizens' sinful nature was really creating havoc on the local level. The founders feared the breakup of the union into smaller confederacies and an increased vulnerability from foreign threats because of the inadequacy of the Articles of Confederation. (See Federalist 1-3, see also 15-17). They simply enlarged the appropriate powers of the new government while leaving to the states their appropriate portions of sovereign power. In Federalist 9 Hamilton quotes Montesquieu on confederacies in support of it rather than appealing to the example of the General Assembly and the various presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church.
--lee

King of Ireland said...

Lee,

I am not understanding your point. Federalist 51 is an argument for Federalism. Madison clearly states that if men were angels there would be no need for government. He clearly was a student of Witherspoon.

The larger point here is that true Enlightenment humanism denies the sinful nature of man. I do not think any of the founders believed this. This is perhaps the pivotal point in this whole discussion. Sin and redemption is the heart of the gospel. All the rest is bells and whistles that people squabble over.

King of Ireland said...

I also think Dr. Hall does a good job at not overstating his case like Barton and Providence Foundation do by trying to read the seperation of powers into Bible verses and bad arguments for a Hebrew Republic.

Though as I stated in another posts there are more modest and credible arguments for a Hebrew Republic. That is in the most general sense. Anyone that thinks the founders read the Old Testament and came of with a President, Congress, and Judiciary is foolish. But the concepts are there and the wisdom of the ages adds the rest.

This is also not an idea that is exclusively Judeo-Christian. Romans, Greeks, and others used natural law to come of up them too.

Tom Van Dyke said...

SS, an interesting thought, which spurs this---Madison is actually arguing in the Federalist that giving the central gov't more power results in a decentralization of power, that is the possibility of tyranny.

There was indeed a general disappointment with the state governments under the Articles of Confederation---each state gov't had a better chance of becoming a petty tyranny, and was.

Do you follow this, or should I expand?

And BTW, per Dr. Hall, I believe it was Roger Sherman who sweated over the 9th and 10th Amendments [with Madison? working from memory here], so that the pendulum didn't swing too far the other way, to the central gov't. [Well, it was worth a try, anyway.]

King of Ireland said...

"Enlightenment thinkers, on the other hand, generally embraced unicameralism and the centralization of power in a national government."

I would like to see some sources for this statement.

But I think it is an interesting angle to look at Madison's thoughts in Federalist 51 and whether it came from Witherspoon's influence or not? I this was discussed before at AC.

I have also seen Ed Brayton and other make what seems to be a valid point that the Constitution does not covenant with God like many of the state Constitutions do and as some wanted. I wonder what Dr. Hall's reply to that would be.

King of Ireland said...

"Madison is actually arguing in the Federalist that giving the central gov't more power results in a decentralization of power, that is the possibility of tyranny."

Which at the time was probably true. But as we see he was arguing almost the exact opposite just a few years later in the Virginia Resolution of 98.


Federalist 10 is also germane in this discussion in that some(possibly me too) would argue that Montesquieu was correct that smaller republics were better. I often wonder if Madison would came back and see today and wish he had listened to the voice of Montesquieu in this.

Not only is this a critical issue for us today it is a critical issue for many nations(ethne) around the world that want to cut ties with a despotic central bohemoth but have to consolidate enought tribal or regional power to do so.

Hunington's point in the Clash of Civilizations about tribalism and globalism tearing apart the nation-state is interesting. But I would tend to label it tribalism and despotism. In that I think that is what globalism often is.

King of Ireland said...

" [Well, it was worth a try, anyway.]'

There is some renewed interest in the 9th and 10th amendments for sure. Maybe the game in not over yet?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Some interesting stuff, king.

For one, at the most basic level, Christianity as "imagined community" offers itself as a rise above tribalism, the most basic of political associations. Recall that tribe and religion were synonymous; even the Romans cleverly plowed "civil" religion into the state. [Hobbes argues this is necessary, BTW.]

As for Virginia being against the Federalists' Sedition Act, most historians believe that figures into the real reason Adams lost, as a tyrant. Indeed, the "evangelicals" backed Jefferson. Adams' thxgiving procalamation, although overtly Trinitarian [making his personal unitarian heterodoxy moot], was linked to the Presbyterians, themselves the most power-grabbing Protestant sect.

As for Montesquieu and "smaller" republics, it's in the classics somewhere, mebbe Plato, that the ideal size for a polis was 15,000.

There was little new under the sun. Except the God-given rights thing.

I have also seen Ed Brayton and other make what seems to be a valid point that the Constitution does not covenant with God like many of the state Constitutions do and as some wanted. I wonder what Dr. Hall's reply to that would be.

Well, my reply is that the Constitution was a covenant between the states, under federalism. Madison specifically argues this in the Federalist, the people, through their states.

Injecting religion into the discussion would have made agreement on a constitution impossible, since each state had a sectarian character [or in Virginia's case, a nonsectarian character since it was the Baptists who swung the day against the Episcopalians and Presbyterians], but not the same character as the others.

The argument that the Founding was "godless" rests on ignoring the component sectarianisms of the states under federalism. 11 of the 13 states still had religious tests for office [I think that's the figure], something even Kramnick and Moore note, but in passing, since it argues against their greater thesis.

As Joseph Story, Supreme Court justice and one of the first commentators on the Constitution noted, states like Virginia with specifically nonsectarian charters would have been unable to ratify if a religious test had been put in. So they were DOA. I'd put all religion talk in the same category. they barely got the damn thing finished and ratified as it was. can you imagine if they'd started talking about God?

They'd still be at it.

One more thing, though, about "covenant theory"---the D of I says, Washington reiterated in his inaugural: governments are instituted "among men." Ideas on the nature of government might have foundation in the Bible like Deuteronomy [I haven't studied the issue], but nowhere do I see in the Founding literature laying the Constitution on God, only the "near miracle" [Madison] that it got done at all.

Indeed, with the Three-Fifths Compromise buried in it, I'm sure many believers were not exactly proud to show it to God.

King of Ireland said...

"There was little new under the sun. Except the God-given rights thing."

Agreed. But that is the foundation of the nation. This has not been addressed at all by Jon or Ed Brayton even though they both state that this cannot be found in the Bible.

I would personally enjoy some more posts like the one you did and Mark did recently where philosophy comes up. I have never studied this other than at the surface level and miss a lot of the points in these discussions at times because of it.

I pissed away a great deal of my educational opportunities when I was young and have some serious holes I am trying to fill in.

King of Ireland said...

"Injecting religion into the discussion would have made agreement on a constitution impossible, since each state had a sectarian character [or in Virginia's case, a nonsectarian character since it was the Baptists who swung the day against the Episcopalians and Presbyterians], but not the same character as the others."

I agree and disagree in that they all seemed to believe in the God of the Bible and could have covenanted in that general way. But religion was most certainly a hot button and wedge issue that most probably wanted to avoid all together.

King of Ireland said...

"One more thing, though, about "covenant theory"---the D of I says, Washington reiterated in his inaugural: governments are instituted "among men." Ideas on the nature of government might have foundation in the Bible like Deuteronomy [I haven't studied the issue], but nowhere do I see in the Founding literature laying the Constitution on God, only the "near miracle" [Madison] that it got done at all."

I would tend to agree. I think that the Calvinst church government literature influencing secular government literature theory has some merit. Hooker kind of does the same thing much earlier. But I think, until proven wrong, that Madison did most of the study that went into the Constitution and it was the wisdom of the ages.

Adams did too in his defence and some claim he was influenced by Vindicae. These writings may have had some biblical and theological influences themselves but were heavy on natural law.

Even if the whole Hebrew Republic thing is true, and I think it is in the most general sense, other than concepts and general principles the Bible is silent on both church and civil government.

I think God gave us reason for a reason. Pun intended.

secular square said...

KOI--

Sorry on the lack of clarity.

On the moral character of man, just some small quibbles with Hall's post.

I agree with his conclusions on founders views of human nature. I have no source, but I imagine some founders based their views, as Hall writes, on the Christian view of man. And most average Americans surely felt that way. Other founders rested on the classical view. In the Federalist papers, for example, one sees much made of controlling mankind's passions, rather than their original sin. This sound more Aristotelian than Christian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I did want to add this, per "total depravity" in Calvinism.

There was also a counter-current that can be found in the very Calvinist [pre-revolution] Jonathan Edwards, that America was part of some sort of divine plan.

Even when there was distrust in the basic "goodness of man" [which is very Rousseau], there was a belief in human progress in the form of a [God-blessed] America.

Without this "American Exceptionalism," man's depravity would make "progress" impossible.

John Adams is interesting on this point: he writes of something exceptional happening in America, and writes of a distrust in man's reason as corrupt. Even as he's not a "Calvinist," his views are compatible.

I do find the argument---MDH, et al.---that Madison-as-Calvinist-via-Witherspoon per "total depravity" is pushing it a bit. One can simply say that the Founding wasn't Rousseauian, or totally "modern," that man is intrinsically good [or that his nature is malleable into some "New Man" per the French revolution or the Soviet Union].

"The Perfectibility of Man." It's a philosophical question that is still debated, between the moderns and the anti-modernists.

I haven't found such a belief in the Founding literature, unless it's in Jefferson somewheres. [That wouldn't surprise me. His support for the French Revolution shows him as thoroughly "modern."] But as for the rest of them, no.

There was an optimism about America as even a result of the Hand of God, but I can't recall a similar faith in man, Americans themselves.


After the disappointment of the early years of the Articles of Confederation state gov'ts and Congress as thoroughly cowardly and self-serving, GWash wrote to John Jay in 1786,

We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals.

Arguing via experience, not Calvinism

We have errors to correct. We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt & carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good without the intervention of a coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation, without having lodged somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the different state governments extend over the several States.

[Boldface mine.]

Great letter, 1786, summing up the reasons for convening of the Constitutional Convention in 1789.

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=370

King of Ireland said...

"I do find the argument---MDH, et al.---that Madison-as-Calvinist-via-Witherspoon per "total depravity" is pushing it a bit."

I am not sure if that is what he was saying or if it was "sinful nature". There is a difference. I think it is really the difference between the Augustinian view of human nature vs. The Locke/Aristotle view of human nature.

Yes I know there were some differences between Locke and Thomas but I do not think so on this in my readings of both. Though I am open to evidence I am wrong.

Tom Van Dyke said...

1787, not 1789. I usually don't bother to correct my typos, but gotta keep up my rep. Kieth Olbermann might be reading.

Oooops. Keith.

secular square said...

Whatever one can make of it, Hamilton wrote in Federalist 76:

The supposition of universal venality in human nature is little less an error in political reasoning than the supposition of universal rectitude.

And Madison at the Virginia Ratifying convention:

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to elect men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not,we are in a a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure.

King of Ireland said...

"There was an optimism about America as even a result of the Hand of God, but I can't recall a similar faith in man, Americans themselves."

Maybe the terms we are using are all wrong. Maybe this is a debate between Christian Humanists and Secular Humanists.(Leaving the anti-rationalist Christians out for a moment) If we put it that way then all but Franklin and Jefferson are the former and not the latter.

The dividing line would most certainly be the sinful nature of man. This would also take this back to the Renaissance not the Enlightenment.

I think, and presented the theory for discussion in my World History class, that Thomism paved the way for the Renaissance. In fact, if the plagues would not have increased superstition and a need for someone to blame and set back Rational Christianity or centuries I think we would have seen a Renaissance in the time right after Aquinas as Greek and Roman thought began to re-enter the West.

By the way Greek and Roman thought had the same effect on Islam as well. As it permeated society it tempered fanaticism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

King, I read recently that Timothy Dwight, the major orthodox [head of Yale] opponent of unitarianism, started to go off the Calvin plantation on the "T" of TULIP, from the 5 points of Calvinism, Total Depravity.

This would fit. And BTW, Aquinas is accused of being "semi-Pelagian," but that fits with natural law theory, that man knows the good when he sees it, and occasionally even stumbles upon it himself.

I do want to say this has been a rich discussion and my thx to all the participants. I also thought this is where Dr. Hall has begun to bring his argument home. if Calvinism and the Enlightenment are the two possible poles---and the body of 20th century [secular] scholarship has argued it's the latter, then

As Louis Hartz recognized, “Americans refused to join in the great Enlightenment enterprise of shattering the Christian concept of sin, [and] replacing it with an unlimited humanism.”

if not persuasive for "sin" and Calvinism, argues against "unlimited humanism," which has been a feature of modern thought often credited to the Enlightenment.

King of Ireland said...

"Whatever one can make of it, Hamilton wrote in Federalist 76:

The supposition of universal venality in human nature is little less an error in political reasoning than the supposition of universal rectitude.

And Madison at the Virginia Ratifying convention:

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to elect men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not,we are in a a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure."


I think this speaks againt total depravity for sure. But there is a difference between seeing that man can do good and balancing that out that man by nature seem bent on doing bad.

The best example I ever heard was that we are like the ruins of the Greek Coliseum in that we can see both the height to which the have fallen and their faded glory of what they once were. I think the founders understood that we need to keep both in mind.

If we were totally depraved why would God want to redeem us? Rhetorical question.

I hope my point is getting through this jumbled mess I am writing.

King of Ireland said...

"I do want to say this has been a rich discussion and my thx to all the participants. I also thought this is where Dr. Hall has begun to bring his argument home. if Calvinism and the Enlightenment are the two possible poles---and the body of 20th century [secular] scholarship has argued it's the latter, then

As Louis Hartz recognized, “Americans refused to join in the great Enlightenment enterprise of shattering the Christian concept of sin, [and] replacing it with an unlimited humanism.”

if not persuasive for "sin" and Calvinism, argues against "unlimited humanism," which has been a feature of modern thought often credited to the Enlightenment."


This has been a great discussion. I am still disappointed that Barton posts are generating more discussion than Dr. Hall's essay but I think he does start to hit the nail on the head here and is providing a good frame for discussion that will hopefully get us out of soteriological land.

I see some holes and omissions in his essay but my sense is he wrote this to frame the discussion so the interaction can fill in the holes.

I like these 3 simple but informative categories:

Christian, Christian Humanists, and Secular Humanists

No need for confusing concoctions like Theistic Rationalist.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If we were totally depraved why would God want to redeem us? Rhetorical question.

I hope so. That's theological. Soteriological! Shame on you, Joe.

Thomism paved the way for the Renaissance.

Well, of course. Thomas paved the way for Western Civilization as we know it.

;-)

The two best things about Western Civ were Greek philosophy and Christianity. Thomas offered a

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synderesis

not a bastardization of each, a "synthesis," but a clarification and correction of each.

Not to get into the tall theological weeds, but Luther and Calvin didn't quite understand Thomas, and parted from him because the said he de-emphasized---negated---the concept of "grace."

Grace was a bigass discussion in that day. Otherwise, man can find truth perfectly well without God or his gift of grace via reason and "general revelation."

And so, "total depravity"---we are nothing without God's grace. This is an apparent contradiction of any "natural law" that can be discerned by reason.

This seems like "ANGELS ON THE HEAD OF A PIN" time, but if you want to understand the whole theological landscape, this is in there. Way in there, the real theological split between Protestantism as today's fundamentalist/evangelicals understand it [including major figures like Karl Barth and Francis Schaeffer]. Any sort of "natural religion" is an enemy of faith.

This is why I bring in "Scholastic Calvinism" and the immediate return of Calvin's successors to scholasticism. Forget the doctrines of the Roman Church, Mary, the Eucharist, etc.; we're talking theo-philosophy here. Call it "theism" or even "theistic rationalism" if you must.

For now, anywayz.

;-)

God makes sense, whether you believe in Him or not. His Creation [the universe] makes sense, whether you believe in Him or not.

Man is capable of making sense. Just listen to Plato or Aristotle, unassisted by Christian grace or the Bible.

This is where Aquinas is an enemy of faith, of Christianity itself! Theistic rationalism!

Well, careful readers of Thomas show he doesn't discount grace. One might ask, is the use of a man's "right reason" the acceptance of grace?

To touch on your Tibetan Nomad who has never heard the Gospel, the answer is still yes, certainly yes.

That's enough for now. You can't tell the players without a scorecard, so I just wanted to get "grace" onto the scorecard. If the natural law and revelation [the Bible] flow from "the same adorable source," as James Wilson wrote, there is no conflict here, and grace is present in the acceptance---and action based on either.

[Mark is actually our Aquinas expert, and any intelligent questions should be sent his way. But I think this should pass muster with him.]

Tom Van Dyke said...


Christian, Christian Humanists, and Secular Humanists

No need for confusing concoctions like Theistic Rationalist.


I have a bit of a problem here. As outlined in my above, Aquinas would make for a "Christian Humanist," and Aquinas' thought was grown by his successors, the Scholastics [the Schoolmen], and we might even include Reformed theology after it gets rolling out of the 1500s.

"Secular Humanists" we have no problem with. They know who they are---man is the measure of all things.

"Theistic Rationalist" I think is a legitimate term. It applies not only to Jefferson, but many modern thinkers, Voltaire, Rousseau. Just scarce few of the other Founders; even Paine wasn't exactly a deist. Theistic rationalist fits.

At this point in the culture wars, even the Religious Right would vote for a Jefferson, who wanted the philosophical "proofs of God" taught at his University of Virginia. Not in a religion class, but as part of "ethics" class.

Could you imagine such a thing today?

Your use of "Christian" is interesting, then. Fundamentalist? "Revelation trumps reason?"

Heheh. As a matter of illustration, a University of Illinois instructor teaching a course on "Catholicism" just had his contract "not renewed" for teaching the fact that the Roman church opposes sexual conduct between members of the same sex. True story.

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/university-illinois/2010-07-09/instructor-catholicism-ui-claims-loss-job-violates-academic-free

Now, he might have crossed some academic line by saying

"I tell my students I am a practicing Catholic, so I believe the things I'm teaching," he said. "It's not a violation of academic freedom to advocate a position, if one does it as an appeal on rational grounds and it's pertinent to the subject."

Perhaps he should have left the editorial, or confession of faith, out of the presentation.

On the other hand, he presented the issue as a matter of natural law teaching---reason---not Bible-thumping.

Interesting times in which we live, man.

King of Ireland said...

A lot to think about here. One question I would have about the differences between Locke and Aquinas is whether Locke believed that reason(natural law) was accessed through grace? Aquinas calls it general revelation and I think he most certainly did because he thought it was inate.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The ability of man to accept grace and to use "right reason" is what's innate. This fits even with John Locke's opposition to the idea of innate "knowledge," per his tabula rasa [man is a "blank slate" at birth], per his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

That's my original contribution to this whole discussion, having read Aristotle, Aquinas and Locke on the issue. Locke argues that man, observed in the New World, still behaves like an animal, even a cannibal.

I think his argument was based on faulty information. Paul, in Romans 2, argues even the gentiles have been observed to act decently. This is an argument I've held in reserve, until we get there. Perhaps we will someday.

King of Ireland said...

""Locke argues that man, observed in the New World, still behaves like an animal, even a cannibal."

I am sure that many of them thought that the 'civilized' Westerners did too when they came and pillaged them for money. Not that it was everyone by any means. As we saw in our study of Columbus here, different men came for different reasons.


It goes back to the whole Salamanca and Las Casas discussion that is for another day.

Pinky said...

.
Which Founder claimed that religious enthusiasm leads to insanity?
.
He was correct.
.

jimmiraybob said...

I've just started reading through your series, starting at this post, and noticed something that you may want to clarify.

You write:At first glance the Constitution may appear to be “Godless” as the deity is only referred to in Article VII—where the document is dated “in the Year of our Lord...”

Article VII reads: The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

Article VII deals with the ratification of the constitution not the date or the signers' names - usually referred to as the signers section.

jimmiraybob said...

“if men were angles, no government would be necessary.”

But the good man doing good deeds is still depraved in that Calvin's depravity is referring to the fallen state of man resulting from original sin (or at least this is my understanding). Is Federalist 51 really making a theological argument about man's state following the fall or is it that there is some theologically questionable similarity?

Every pagan, heathen, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu* knows that not all men are angels, if by no other means than having lived amongst them. Every pagan, heathen, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu dominated culture since the dawn of history has constituted government in hopes of ordering life and providing justice against the evil that wicked men do. And they have rebelled when their leaders have failed to be just.

I'm pretty sure that the founders, especially the leadership...the lawyers, had a pretty good grounding in and could call upon a wide range of Greco-Roman classical studies as well as Reformed principles when advocating the legal framework of the new nation. Not to mention their life experience in dealing with others....and each other.

That those most steeped in the Reformed tradition find the Constitution's roots in their theology, so too the Catholic and so too the pagan and free-thinking non-believer.

*apologies to all that I've left out

King of Ireland said...

"But the good man doing good deeds is still depraved in that Calvin's depravity is referring to the fallen state of man resulting from original sin (or at least this is my understanding)."

Total depravity and sinful nature are similar but different concepts. I go back to the difference that Jon brought up between the writings of Ponnet and Locke in their confidence in man.

But we know that Locke believed man was fallen and in need of redemption.

jimmiraybob said...

"Federalism helps explain as well why religion is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders recognized that it would be impossible to agree upon a single Christian denomination that could be established at a national level..."

Or, just maybe, they were relying on 1,500 years of western precedent that mixing Christianity with civil government does not produce security or tranquility or provide for the general welfare. Or, for that matter, provide for the security of property.

Or, maybe they just looked closer to home - religious division and bigotries abounded in their own day that certainly threatened the pending union.

To close:

I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men's souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.
The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.

Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.


-Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - But we know that Locke believed man was fallen and in need of redemption.

Maybe so - I don't argue against it. But Locke didn't sign the Constitution. And, Locke didn't believe that it was the civil government's affair to tend to the souls of its citizens.

King of Ireland said...

I agree with Locke but that does not diminish the importance of Judeo-Christian principles in setting up a government that is amenable to the ends he lists.

King of Ireland said...

"Maybe so - I don't argue against it. But Locke didn't sign the Constitution. And, Locke didn't believe that it was the civil government's affair to tend to the souls of its citizens'

I did a post on it he did I can reference it if you want. I think you miss my point in bring this up. The reason for taking account the nature of man is not to get into evangelism through the government. It is to have a accurate picture of the nature of man in order to set up a proper government.

In my view total depravity and the opposite Enligtenment ideal of the perfectibility of man are both wrong. Sinful man still capable of good because he is made in the image of God that image is tarnished but not destroyed would seem to be the view of most founders and Locke as well.

Most certainly not the Enligtenment view.

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jimmiraybob said...

KOI - The reason for taking account the nature of man is not to get into evangelism through the government. It is to have a accurate picture of the nature of man in order to set up a proper government.

I agree. I'm saying that the civil nature of man can, is and has been known since the earliest historical records were set down in writing. That man can be bad and do bad things is not special revelation to any given religion although all claim some version.

It's not up to civil society to discern sin in a theological sense - well, maybe in a small, homogeneous mixed civil-religious society where all voluntarily adhere to the same theology with no sectarian divisions and where gods/God are/is agreed as the basis of civil as well as ecclesiastical law. One in which no thoughts stray.

But what if there is dissent? Locke makes a distinction between a religious society (church/ecclesiastical) and civil society. In the religious society he recognizes a right to separate dissenters from the union of that society (but not civil society). This is not the civil magistrates concern.

Is it the civil authority's responsibility to sort out and decide theological positions? How do they do that? Coercion?

In my opinion it's the corruption of both. The further apart they are the better.

Locke - In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgement that they have framed of things.

Should the civil society decide on a given religion, say Christianity, and even decide to tolerate some variation in sect but disenfranchise others of other religious pursuation? Locke didn't think so:

Secondly, no private person has any right in any manner to prejudice another person in his civil enjoyments because he is of another church or religion. All the rights and franchises that belong to him as a man, or as a denizen, are inviolably to be preserved to him. These are not the business of religion. No violence nor injury is to be offered him, whether he be Christian or Pagan. Nay, we must not content ourselves with the narrow measures of bare justice; charity, bounty, and liberality must be added to it. This the Gospel enjoins, this reason directs, and this that natural fellowship we are born into requires of us. If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee; nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposest he will be miserable in that which is to come.

Buried in Locke is the recognition that the Pagan as well as the Christian can make right civil judgments and buried within that is the assumption that the Pagan can recognize the nature of man. How else could someone accrue and protect real property and/or wealth?

Locke from A Letter Concerning Toleration

King of Ireland said...

"But what if there is dissent?"

Love your neighbor as yourself. In the sense of allowing him the freedom that you would want.

I am not Religious Right.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Should the civil society decide on a given religion, say Christianity, and even decide to tolerate some variation in sect but disenfranchise others of other religious pursuation?

This isn't really at issue here, although we may note that 11 of the 13 states had religious tests for office.

v

This is Jefferson's view of the innate moral sense, I remember reading, that it pretty much includes only a natural sense of what a man needs to live in society.

The question of Locke and natural law is still debated. The reason I brought up the cannibals in Peru is that Locke argued this was proof that "the pagans" weren't necessarily tuned into natural law, hence the Gospel was needed.

However, most sociologists agree that Locke had bad info, and indeed Darwin made a similar mistake about the inhabitants of the SE coast of South America. [Turned out the native was just having some fun with him in describing their "customs."]

Regardless, I believe the Scottish ["Common Sense"] Enlightenment that Witherspoon taught at Princeton asserted there is an innate moral sense, and this is also consistent with the Thomistic view of natural law via Romans 2, that the gentiles do indeed keep it, or at least are able to derive it.

Is it the civil authority's responsibility to sort out and decide theological positions? How do they do that? Coercion?

True, since Locke writes

In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God.

However, there is the matter of civil peace, and indeed social cohesion:

But to come to particulars. I say, first, no opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate.

This line, appearing near the end, often gets overlooked. Locke is not quite a libertarian, nor does he embrace the "radical individualism" of the modern age, referring a paragraph later to "the civil right of the community." [See Barry Alan Shain on this, The Myth of American Individualism.]

Mark David Hall said...

Thanks for the many comments. I have been traveling and have only limited access to the internet.

The source for the claim about Enlightenment types in this era favoring centralized government is the Shain essay mentioned in note 65. If anyone would like a copy of the paper with the citations clearly connected to the text, please email me at mhall@georgefox.edu.

MH

Tom Van Dyke said...

Exc that you're reading the discussion, MDH. Those here gathered are clearly enjoying your paper. But no historian, not even Shain, whom I like BTW, is an "authority." One [you] must make his own case; arguing from "authority," especially Shain and like scholars, who are not exactly in the accepted mainstream of scholarship, is insufficient.

Otherwise, the credibility of your thesis rests on Shain's.

The one thing about this American Creation blog, is in being like sola scriptura Protestants, we argue only from source texts.

And, having a Ph.D in the internet, and in the ways of the sophists, let me say that if you peg your credibility to anyone else than yourself and the source texts, they will destroy you through the back door. That's how they work. They are not interested in or concerned with truth, only winning, and beating you back, Wack-a-Mole. They are about power, not truth.

I've never read Heimert, but I think the same thing happened to him. Screw up once, or just align yourself with the wrong guy, and you'll wake up in a dumpster.

Anywayz, I think you should just drop Shain, even if his research is entirely correct. Keep it mean, lean and clean. That's why this blog is so good. We're not an art gallery, we're a distillery.

Mark David Hall said...

Tom,

I appreciate the desire to rely solely on primary sources. I suppose one virtue of a blog is that there is unlimited space for citing them to support every point, but as I noted early on this is supposed to be a 35 page paper which is already at 50 pages (I cheat in the printed version by putting the notes in 10 point font and single spacing them). There is not room to fully document every claim with a boatload of primary source texts. Let me ask this, does anyone doubt that mainstream Enlightenment thinkers in this era favored a strong, centralized government run by experts? I am certainly open to correction on the point, and I agree that one should not rely on any scholar uncritically (indeed, when I reviewed Shain's first book I offered three significant criticisms of it even thought I think it is one of the best books on the era).

I hope this doesn't sound defensive. I offer it simply by way of explanation.

King of Ireland said...

"Enlightenment thinkers in this era favored a strong, centralized government run by experts? "

Well if you follow the discussion here it depends. You see Madison as politically influenced by the Reformed tradition and someone like Frazer would see him politically informed by Enlightenment thinking or at best thesitic rationalist Enlightenment tainted thinking.


I am about to do a post on this line of reasoning and maybe both of you can comment and clarify where the Reformed Tradition stands on this issue.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re Enlightenment and centralized authority. Didn't Hamilton support this "Enlightenment" vision of a centralized, unitary power run by elites. One paper termed him the "Rousseau" of the right. Would that make him an "Enlightenment" figure?

Jefferson's position, as far as I understand that would be the opposite of "Enlightenment" in this regard.

Likewise with Madison. And though he studied with Witherspoon (and studied a great deal of Scottish Enlightenment thought with him), he also cited Samuel Clarke (not Witherspoon or other reformed figures) as his theological authority and was purported by George Ticknor to have believed in unitarian doctrines.

King of Ireland said...

"Likewise with Madison. And though he studied with Witherspoon (and studied a great deal of Scottish Enlightenment thought with him), he also cited Samuel Clarke (not Witherspoon or other reformed figures) as his theological authority"

Politically or sotierologically? The question that Dr. Hall brings up here really interesting in that he seems to be saying that Madison and company were more influenced by Witherspoon than Enligtenment figures?

This make Locke even more pivotal. If he is the "Enlightenment Figure" they are looking to then that is suspect considering that it seems his political theology was right in line with both the Calvinists, Anglicans like Hooker, and Schoolmen before him.

I think it was two straws that lead to the same drink.

Tom Van Dyke said...

he also cited Samuel Clarke (not Witherspoon or other reformed figures) as his theological authority"


I looked that one up. He cited Samuel Clarke on metaphysics, which although not exactly Thomistic, were in the same vein.

Regardless, it had nothing to do with theology per se.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - However, there is the matter of civil peace, and indeed social cohesion:

"But to come to particulars. I say, first, no opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate." - Locke

I'd agree that he wouldn't be considered an anarchist :) but even a libertarian might agree with what he proposed as the basic tenets of civil order:

"But those whose doctrine is peaceable and whose manners are pure and blameless ought to be upon equal terms with their fellow-subjects. Thus if solemn assemblies, observations of festivals, public worship be permitted to any one sort of professors, all these things ought to be permitted to the Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, Arminians, Quakers, and others, with the same liberty. Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing. The Church which "judgeth not those that are without"[9] wants it not. And the commonwealth, which embraces indifferently all men that are honest, peaceable, and industrious, requires it not. "

It doesn't appear that Locke would consider expressions of religious conscience alone constituting a threat to the preservation of civil society*. However, if religious fervor caused rioting and violence then the rioting and violence would be the civil magistrates concern. At least that's how I read it.

*excepting maybe atheists and Catholics but this didn't appear to be a violation of free exercise of conscience as much as a question of the integrity of oaths (atheists), and allegiance to foreign princes (in the case of Catholics). It's hard to know if this is a personal bias or a bias of the the intended audience that was included to mitigate the ruffling of feathers. Either way, weird consistency.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, I skipped the Catholic and atheist stuff as not quite on point. I'm not referring to religion atall, but Locke's use of "moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society."