Thursday, June 30, 2011

Founders Against Slavery, Part Deux

By Abraham Lincoln
Guest Blogger

From a speech, Peoria, Illinois [1854]:

The argument of "Necessity" was the only argument they ever admitted in favor of slavery; and so far, and so far only as it carried them, did they ever go... Necessity drove them so far, and farther, they would not go. But this is not all. The earliest Congress, under the constitution, took the same view of slavery. They hedged and hemmed it in to the narrowest limits of necessity.

In 1794, they prohibited an out-going slave-trade---that is, the taking of slaves FROM the United States to sell.

In 1798, they prohibited the bringing of slaves from Africa, INTO the Mississippi Territory---this territory then comprising what are now the States of Mississippi and Alabama. This was TEN YEARS before they had the authority to do the same thing as to the States existing at the adoption of the constitution.

In 1800 they prohibited AMERICAN CITIZENS from trading in slaves between foreign countries---as, for instance, from Africa to Brazil.

In 1803 they passed a law in aid of one or two State laws, in restraint of the internal slave trade.

In 1807, in apparent hot haste, they passed the law, nearly a year in advance to take effect the first day of 1808---the very first day the constitution would permit---prohibiting the African slave trade by heavy pecuniary and corporal penalties.

In 1820, finding these provisions ineffectual, they declared the trade piracy, and annexed to it, the extreme penalty of death. While all this was passing in the general government, five or six of the original slave States had adopted systems of gradual emancipation; and by which the institution was rapidly becoming extinct within these limits.

Thus we see, the plain unmistakable spirit of that age, towards slavery, was hostility to the PRINCIPLE, and toleration, ONLY BY NECESSITY.

[HT: John McCormack @ The Weekly Standard.]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Eminent Domain: My Letter to Judge Andrew P. Napolitano

[I just emailed this letter here, cross-posted from my blog here.]

Judge Napolitano,

Hello. Listening to your talk today that you gave at Mises University, something occurred to me:

[Edit: let me embed the talk of his about which I speak; go to 12:47 for his discussion of eminent domain, on which I will be focusing:
Again, go to 12:47. End of edit; back to the letter.]

The Constitution nowhere empowers the federal government to practice eminent domain. That is, nowhere in the Constitution is that power granted in the first place. Nor does the Constitution anywhere say that people hold their property by fee simple and not allodial title.

[Edit: let me insert's definitions for "fee simple" and "allodial":
Allodial means free from the tenurial rights of a lord, as opposed to feudal land. It refers to absolute ownership of land by individuals, rather than feudal property ownership, which is dependent on relationship to a lord or the sovereign. Allodial land is not subject to any rent, service, or acknowledgement to a superior.

Most property ownership in the common law world is held in fee simple. Fee simple ownership represents absolute ownership of real property but it is limited by the four basic government powers of taxation, eminent domain, police power, and escheat and could also be limited by certain encumbrances or a condition in the deed. Allodial title is often reserved for governments.
End of edit; back to the letter.]

Given the doctrine of limited, enumerated powers, doesn't that mean that at least with respect to the federal government (each state constitution is its own issue), we all ought to be holding our property by allodial title? After all, the Federalists - including Hamilton himself! - argued that the Bill of Rights is superfluous, because the Bill of Rights prohibits things that are not even permitted in the first place. (Hamilton, Federalist #84: "For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?")

The Fifth Amendment states, "... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation", but even that does not empower the federal government to practice eminent domain; it merely limits that power insofar as it exists. It says that property shall not be taken without compensation, but nowhere is there a power to take any property in the first place.

Compare how the First Amendment prohibits the restriction of free speech, but that really, the government was never granted any power to restrict speech in the first place. So too, the Fifth Amendment prohibits taking property without compensation, but really, the government was never granted any power to take property in the first place.

In short: if we take the Federalist tack that the Bill of Rights is superfluous, and that really, we ought to entirely ignore it and do nothing without express sanction in the Constitution (and pretend the Bill of Rights does not even exist), then wouldn't that mean that eminent domain is legitimate only if we find a clause in the Constitution expressly permitting it? (I think the Antifederalists would agree, only they did not trust the government, so they wanted a superfluous and redundant Bill of Rights, just to be safe.) So doesn't that mean that eminent domain is unconstitutional even according to Hamilton?

The issue is, that this implies a contradiction within the Constitution. I mean, if the Fifth Amendment merely said, "... nor shall private property be taken for public use", period, omitting "without just compensation", then fine, we'd say that the clause is redundant and superfluous, just like the rest of the Bill of Rights. But that "without just compensation" throws a spanner in the works; it implies that someone thinks that WITH just compensation it WILL be legal, but that is apparently false. If, according to Hamilton's logic, eminent domain is prohibited absolutely (because there is no express permission), then why say "without just compensation"? Just say, "... nor shall private property be taken for public use", period. Heck, go one better and say, ""... nor shall private property be taken", omitting "for public use" as well! It's understandable when John Adams violates not only the First Amendment but also the doctrine of enumerated, limited powers (that renders the First Amendment redundant), because he is a selfish, power-hungry human, and the government applies the laws only when those laws are in its own favor. But one expects the Constitution to be at least internally consistent; it's reasonable when the practice of the government contradicts the theory, but it's not reasonable when the theory contradicts itself.

Obviously, states are not bound by the Constitution, so it is certainly possible that on the state level, property is held by fee simple, and not allodial title. (This would be despotic and evil, of course, but still constitutional. I am reminded of Rose Wilder Lane recounting a conversation with some primitive Himalayans, who said that if you must pay property taxes in America, then apparently, the government owns your property, and you merely rent it. From the mouths of babes.) So it is eminent domain on the federal level that I cannot wrap my brain around.

So I am confused. Could you please help me?

Thank you, and sincerely,
Michael Makovi
Jerusalem, Israel; formerly of Silver Spring, MD

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Alexander Hamilton on God and natural calamity

As I've been communicating with family members back in North Dakota this week, I have heard of the tremendous suffering faced by the people in the Minot area, suffering caused by massive floods there.  In the face of such natural disasters, one question that is often raised involves God's presence or absence during such events.  While not one to try to resolve the recurring problem of theodicy here on this blog, I thought it would be interesting to note that Alexander Hamilton, while still a young man living in Jamaica, addressed the topic of God and natural disasters in his 1772  Letter on an August Hurricane.  A reconstruction of Hamilton's letter is available at the link.

In his letter, Hamilton ponders the transitory nature of human life, of the power of natural disasters to demonstrate how powerless and weak human beings are.  In the face of the power of the storm, the foolishness of human declarations of self-sufficiency is revealed.  From from standing on his own, man is in need of God's aid to deal with the fragility of his situation.  "[L]earn to know thyself," Hamilton urges, "[l]earn to know thy best support."  Instead of elevating oneself, the proper path is to embrace humility and "adore thy God."  As a consequence, human beings would enjoy the "sweet...voice of an approving conscience," and would have no fear in the face of natural disasters.  "Let the Earth rend.  Let the planets forsake their course. Let the Sun be extinguished and the Heavens burst asunder.  Yet what have I to dread"  My staff can never be broken -- in Omnip[o]tence I trusted."

The fury of the storm, so great and terrible, brought to Hamilton's mind his mortality, and reminded him of the "baseness and folly" of living a life apart from God.  God uses the forces of nature, Hamilton states, to bring people back to understanding their dependence on Him:  "That which, in a calm unruffled temper, we call a natural cause, seemed then like the correction of the Deity."  Aware of his sinfulness and despairing of God's mercy, Hamilton writes that that calming of the hurricane was to him an act of God's deliverance, for which each person should rejoice and be humble "in the presence of thy deliverer."

Hamilton cautions against viewing a positive outcome from the storm as an opportunity for self-glorification or selfish happiness.  Instead, he urges compassion for those who suffered from the storm, to feel empathy for them and to realize the physical and spiritual damage caused by the disaster that had befallen.  In the face of injury, sickness, poverty and death caused by the storm, Hamilton urges the wealthy to step forward to ease the burdens suffered by their fellow human beings.  "O ye, who revel in affluence," Hamilton writes, "see the afflictions of humanity and bestow your superfluity to ease them.  Say not, we have suffered also, and thence withhold your compassion, What are you[r] sufferings compared to those?   Ye still have more than enough left."  The proper response of those spared is not selfishness but service, not selfishness but self-giving.  As Hamilton puts it, "Act wisely.  Succor the miserable and lay up treasure in Heaven."

For Hamilton, the Hurricane of August 1772 called people to humble themselves before God and to realize their need for His support and mercy.  For those who made it through the storm relatively unscathed, the proper response to their good fortune was not self-satisfaction, but self-giving, to reach out to help those who were suffering from the effects of the storm. Hamilton provides no great metaphysical answer to the problem of suffering in the world, but instead offers practical advice for dealing with such suffering -- to see in it the opportunity to turn back towards God and to each other.  In a world where we can only, to borrow a phrase from St. John, "see through a glass darkly," Hamilton's advice is worth listening to.

On a side note, Hamilton's letter was so well-received that it served as an impetus for a group of benefactors to send him to America to get a formal education.  From that point on, Hamilton was involved in the struggle for American Independence, then for adequate constitutional reform to allow the infant Republic to thrive, and then for Union and sound fiscal management.  Without his letter bringing him to the attention of his benefactors, Hamilton could have been left on the island of Jamaica and our nation deprived of his invaluable service. The hand of Providence, perhaps?

Founders Against Slavery

The contemporary partisan politics controversy can be found here. Jeffrey Lord writes:

In 1785, James Madison (as noted by his biographer, Ralph Ketcham in James Madison) took to the floor of the Virginia Assembly, where he was a delegate, and spoke

"…favoring a bill Jefferson had proposed for the gradual abolition of slavery (it was rejected), and helped defeat a bill designed to outlaw the manumission of individual slaves. Of this effort a French observer wrote that Madison, "a young man (who)….astonishes…by his eloquence, his wisdom, and his genius, has had the humanity and courage (for such a proposition requires no small share of courage) to propose a general emancipation of the slaves."

In Alexander Hamilton: A Life, biographer Willard Sterne Randall notes that this Founding Father helped "to found…the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves in New York." Randall on goes to say that:

"…never forgetting the slave markets of his St. Croix childhood, Hamilton became a prime mover in the early abolitionist group. He pressured the (New York) state legislature and helped to raise money to buy and free slaves. The society's founders…elected Hamilton chairman to draw up recommendations for "a line of conduct" for any "members who still possessed slaves." He also established a registry for manumitted slaves, listing their names and ages, "to detect attempts to deprive such manumitted persons of their liberty."

John Adams on the Puritan contribution to liberty

We've been on a bit of a John Adams jag here at American Creation, so I thought that I would continue our discussion of his religious views by discussing his understanding of the Puritan contribution to human liberty.  As has been noted previously, Adams's religious views do do not fit within the mould of orthodox Christianity.  That being the case, it is noteworthy that in his early work Adams had a very high regard for those most orthodox of Calvinists, the Puritan fathers of New England.

In A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, written in 1765 (circa the time of the French and Indian War), Adams wrote as a subject of the British crown and a patriot of the Empire.  He begins his discussion of the Puritans in that text by noting that the Puritans were seen as "enthusiastical, superstitious, and republican" by many of the proper people of Adams's day. Adams strongly attacks such views of the Puritans, stating that they were "grossly injurious and false."  The Puritans, Adams contends, were no more enthusiasts than the other sects within the Christian religion, and that their religious fervor, while a "noble infirmity," was also a source of strength for the group:   "far from being a reproach to them," Adams wrote, their devotion "was greatly to their honor."

Adams then goes on to describe how the Puritans sought to fuse reason and religion, a commitment to biblical faith with the prudential considerations of practical men.  "Human and benevolent principles," Adams wrote, were the basis of Puritan policy.  While modern readers and scholars might object to Adams's characterization of motivations of the Puritans, Adams saw in the Puritans a resolute commitment to fight "Tyranny in every form, and shape, and appearance."  The Puritans were willing to face punishment and even death rather than to compromise their beliefs.  Their convictions serve, Adams' contends, as an example of "steady, manly, pertinacious spirit."

As noted above, at the time he wrote A Dissertation, Adams was still a loyal monarchist and he went out of his way to note that the Puritans, despite their resistance to certaion policies of the British kings, were not foes of the monarchy.  They rather sought a balanced government, with proper checks on the authority of both the king and the church.  "[T]hey saw clearly, that popular powers must be placed as a guard a control, a balance, to the powers of the monarch and the priest, in every government, or else it would soon become the man of sin, the whore of Babylon, the mystery of iniquity, a great and detestable system of fraud, violence, and usurpation."  The Puritan commitment was to limited government, not to any one particular form of it.  And the reason for their commitment to limited government was grounded in their ultimately religious view that human nature is such to render a limitless government a mechanism of tyranny.

The Puritans had a strong commitment to secular reform and a stronger commitment to religious renewal, so much so that Adams characterizes ecclesiastical reform as "[t]heir greatest concern."  In the Puritan view, secular and religious reform were not separate and distinct, but built off each other.  Thus, the Puritans sought, according to Adams, to live in a state that upheld "the dignity of human nature."  This two-fold commitment lead the Puritans to seek thoroughgoing reform of both secular and ecclesiastical institutions, removing "feudal inequalities an dependencies as could be spared."  And undergirding all this, as Adams notes, was the Puritan hostility to the Catholic religion, with its rituals and its ecclesiastical doctrines.  The idea of a priest, Adams writes, was one which "no mortal could deserve, and as always must, from the constitution of human nature, be dangerous in society."

Thus, the Puritans sought to purge the Protestant church of the vestiges of Catholicism, to preserve the spiritual and secular liberty that they saw due to every man.  Instead of a priesthood, Adams contents that the Puritans "established sacerdotal ordination on the foundation of the Bible and common sense."  In doing so, the Puritans stressed, in Adams's account, the characteristics of "industry, virtue, piety, and learning."  This had the effect of creating a people who were far more "independent on the civil powers" than those who lived in "a scale of subordination, from a pope down to priests and friars and confessors -- necessarily and essentially a sordid, stupid, and wretched herd."  That the church of England continued, in modified form, to uphold the same system of subordination earned it the same disdain from the Puritans and from Adams.

With Adams's early presentation of the Puritans, one sees what might be called "the Puritan myth" in full flower.   While much of his analysis may be disputed in light of modern scholarship, Adams's overview encapsulates what was the dominant view of the Puritans at the time leading up to the American Revolution.  And there is little doubt that the Puritan refusal to compromise principle when faced with the demands of unlimited government did much to inspire most of the American patriots in the time prior to, during and immediately after our break with the British Empire.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Relevance of Early Unitarian Presidents

I don't think I'm the first person to note this relevance AND I don't think this is the first time I've noted this. Tom Van Dyke lays down the gauntlet. Well I answer his challenge with, from what I understand, an answer with which he entirely agrees and, from what I remember, that he's given before.

But let me try to explain it in a way different from what I have before:

America's Founding era political-theological landscape, good Protestants they were, was quite fractured and divided. Trinitarianism, though associated with the essentials of "Christianity" by some back then (and today, think of CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity"), became a part of the disputed definition of "Christianity," not an essential doctrine of the "general Christianity" that may have united them. The unitarians by that time had been keeping their mouths shut on those doctrines whenever they mentioned God; they got used to speaking in more generally theistic terms so as not to offend their unitarian private convictions or the convictions of the orthodox. In short they were the ones, out of personal necessity, who got really good at lowering the common denominator of God talk. They even realized lowering the denominator of God talk and combining it with a natural theology with which all "reasonable" men could agree enabled them to communicate metaphysical-theological truths with, among others unconverted Native Americans and even Muslims.

In short, the unitarians made for the best neutral referees among bitterly divided sectarian dogmatists and were most suited for uniting a country divided by theological dogma. We know that J. Adams and Jefferson turned out to be self conscious unitarians. And George Washington and James Madison were closeted about their Christological opinions and systematically spoke in more generally theistic uniting God terms. I wonder why.

And so we have John Adams' 1798 Thanksgiving Proclaiming that sounded Trinitarian on its surface, but may have also been consistent with pious unitarian consciences (most of whom believed God is Father, Jesus, though not fully God, was Redeemer, and also found some way to explain the existence of the Holy Spirit without believing in the Trinity).

John Adams regretted that because...surprise surprise, it was too sectarian. Its Trinitarian sounding surface was too easily mistaken for Presbyterianism. And sectarian power at the top was a slippery slope towards persecution. At least, that's how John Adams saw it. John Adams' June 12. 1812 letter to Benjamin Rush explains this AND the letter is also the source of Adams' Trinity mocking quote ("The Trinity was carried in a general Council by one vote against a Quaternity...") that I have oft-quoted.

Adams comes off as a ninny, perhaps half drunk, paranoid about religious persecution. But it was that paranoia about NOT sounding sectarian that helped unite the American Founding era under a more general God. I'll let you read the entire letter for its context. Here's a BIG taste:

The next paragraph requires a graver answer. But a Volume would not suffice. Take a hint. I have lived among Infidel Philosophers more than half a Century, and been engaged in continued disputes with them. This has compelled me to spend more time in reading Universal History but especially Ecclesiastical History, than has been for my Interest or Comfort. While the Result has been an increasing Love for Christianity, as I understand it, a growing Jealousy of the Priesthood has accompanied it all the way. Levites, Magi, Faquirs, Mandarines, Mufti, Druids, Popes; Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Bernardines, Jacobins, Dominicans, Westleys, the Prophet of Wabash, or Tippecanoe, Nimrod Hughs, Christopher McPherson, and even Priestly and Price, even Dr. Ewing, Dr. Rogers and Dr. Dwight have conspired together to rivet to my soul the Duty and Necessity of Tolleration.

These general assemblies of Presbyterian Divines are general Councils in embrio. We shall have Creeds and Confessions, Church discipline and Excommunication. We shall have, the civil Government overawed and become a Tool. We shall have Armies and their Commanders under the orders of Monks. We shall have Hermits, commanding Napoleons, I agree with you, there is a Germ of Religion in human nature so strong that whenever; an order of Men can persuade the People by, flattery or Terror, that they can have salvation at their disposal, there can be no end to fraud Violence or Usurpation. Ecumenical Councils produce Ecumenical Bishops and both subservient Armies, Emperors and Kings.

The National Fast recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has alarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, &c,&c,&c, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicion prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment as a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whispers ran through them [all the sects] "Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President" This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgiving. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion. This wild Letter, I very much fear, contains seeds of an Ecclesiastical History of the U.S. for a Century to come.

Okay. Now get ready for the CONTEXT of John Adams' The Trinity prevailed by one vote against a Quaternity quote. The context is close tie breaking elections illustrating the nature of groups of men to divide themselves, intractably.

The similitude between 1773 and 1774, and 1811 and 1812 is obvious. It is now said by the Tories that we were unanimous in 1774. Nothing can be farther from the Truth. We were more divided in 74 than we are now. The Majorities in Congress in 74 on all the essential points and Principles of the Declaration of Rights, were only one, two or three. Indeed all the great critical questions about Men and Measures from 1774 to 1778 were decided by the vote of a single state, and that vote was often decided by a single Individual. Jumble and Chaos as this Nation appears at this moment, I never knew it better united. It is always so. The History of the World is nothing but a narrative of such divisions. The Stuarts abdicated or were turned out and William came in by one or two votes. I was turned out by the votes of S. Carolina not fairly obtained. Jefferson came in by one vote, after 37 Tryals between him and Burr. Our expedition against Cape Breton and consequent Conquest of Louisburg in 1745 which gave peace to the World was carried in our House of Representatives of Massachusetts by one single vote. The abolition of old Tenor in 1750 was decided by one vote. What is more awful than all. The Trinity was carried in a general Council by one vote against a Quaternity: the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son and Spirit only by a single suffrage. All the great affairs of the world temporal and spiritual, as far as Men are concerned in the discussion and decision of them are determined by small Majorities. The Repulsion in human nature is stronger than the Attraction. Division, Separation are inevitable.

Adams then starts in with a diva-like discussion of "Boudoirs." Adams seems self consciously aware of his "feminine side" in this letter. That's probably when the alcohol fully kicked in.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

John Adams and the Trinity

Much is made in some quarters that John Adams was a "unitarian" Christian, in other words, he didn't believe Jesus was God. This is true.

Why the "unitarian controversy" matters much to some people, I don't know. Samuel Adams, John's cousin and his virtual co-leader in the early days of the American Revolution, was a Trinitarian, and John and Sam's political theology differed not at all---so whether you believed Jesus is God or not didn't make any difference.

The other thing about John Adams' unitarianism is that it was expressed in private letters like these, after he left public life. As a public man, as president, what did America know of John Adams' "unitarianism"? The answer is, little or nothing.

President John Adams' 1798 thanksgiving proclamation explicitly recognizes God the Father, Jesus the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit:

"I have therefore thought fit to recommend, and I do hereby recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next, be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens of these States, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction..."

Bold face mine. As we see, the Father is in there, Jesus is still the "Redeemer," and the existence of the Holy Spirit is acknowledged, not denied.

Most people, whether in 1798 or in 2011, would see President Adams' proclamation as explicitly "Christian." What John Adams believed in private is of some interest, but of little importance. These days, we use the term "Judeo-Christian" to dispose of the question of whether Jesus is God or not anyway. And as we see here, in public, John Adams comes off more Christian than that, not less.

Barton Responds to Pinto

Chris Pinto is a conservative evangelical who disbelieves in David Barton's Christian Nation historical mythology. Conservative evangelicals (Barton, Pinto, et al.) tend to believe Sola Scriptura unquestionably teaches orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and they fairly strictly interpret the term "Christian" accordingly.

So it shouldn't surprise given the unitarianism in which many "key Founders" and their intellectual influences believed, orthodox Christians, especially of the evangelical bent, would doubt America's "Christian heritage" once they discovered the facts David Barton doesn't give them.

David Barton attempts to respond to Pinto in this article. Barton admits there that he usually ignores his critics; but, what Barton doesn't note, he may have a thing for Pinto given Worldview Weekend used to promote Barton's work, but now promotes Pinto's.

At issue is whether, in this letter, John Adams is mocking or praising the Christian concept of the "Holy Spirit." I am convinced by Chris Rodda's analysis that Adams didn't mean what Barton thinks he does. Granted John Adams' context can be difficult to understand.

I'm not going to dissect Barton's latest response, just offer some observations. Yes, John Adams 1. was a devoutly religious "Protestant"; 2. disbelieved in the doctrine of divine right of kings; and 3. was quite suspicious of, indeed downright bigoted towards Roman Catholicism. Barton more or less raises these points to try to put Adams' letter in context.

1-3 are areas that Barton and J. Adams have in common (though Barton is not bigoted towards Roman Catholics, rather just disagrees with them). (And I don't think "biblical Christianity" sees the doctrine of divine right of Kings as a "heresy" as Barton claims; at least it's no more heretical than the notion that the Bible teaches the concept of a "republic." No. A Kingdom might not be the government the Bible demands; but a "Kingdom" is clearly a more biblically discussed and endorsed form of government than a "republic." The Bible speaks of a "Kingdom" not a "republic" of Heaven.) This is done to mislead Barton's Christian reader into thinking J. Adams believed in the same kind of "Christianity" that they do. And of course such a "Christianity" would not mock the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person in the Trinity.

Barton as I read this article doesn't squarely address Chris Pinto's claims, but rather tries to overwhelm the reader with logically fallacious irrelevancies. First he tries to poison the well by grouping Pinto with "liberals and atheists." And then Barton engages in a long discussion of five strawmen that he accuses Pinto of making: "Modernism, Minimalism, and Deconstructionism (the other two of the five are Poststructuralism and Academic Collectivism...)."

Let me solidify my case for the notion that Barton's article confuses and deceives his evangelical Christian readers into thinking J. Adams was a "Christian" according to their standards:

Chris Pinto, in his analysis of Adams letter, has managed to ignore more than a millennia of church and world history in his unreasonable attempt to brand John Adams a heretic and blasphemer of the Holy Spirit. And adding insult to his malpractice injury, he also ignored more than thirty volumes of Adams’ published writings, containing hundreds of positive letters and repeated favorable references to religion and Christianity. Thus, Pinto’s claim about Adams’ irreligion is directly refuted not only by the context of the letter itself but also by the powerful evidence of the lifelong proven faith and character of John Adams.

But, whatever we conclude of the letter in question, John Adams was a heretic and a blasphemer according to Barton's professed creed. Barton then cites "scores of other quotes by John Adams," to "contrast them with the anti-religious image that Pinto wrongly attempts to draw of Adams." (Bold mine.) Well yes, let's look at some of Adams' other "quotes" to see how wrong Pinto's assessment of John Adams' faith is:

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.


"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

There John Adams -- a unitarian his entire adult life -- bitterly mocks the Trinity and the Incarnation. This is the "proven faith" of John Adams. How does Barton deal with this for his readers? He doesn't. He's deceptive.

Jonathan Mayhew's Problem with the Orthodox

Small "o" orthodox that is.

Staring on page 89 of this collection published in 1767 Mayhew responds to an orthodox critic who writes him out of "Christianity" for denying certain "essentials" of the Christian faith, notably the Trinity. To such "orthodox" Mayhew's "unitarian Christianity" is no better than Deism and perhaps a mask for secret Deism. Mayhew writes that his critic

accuses me of "attempts to undermine the fundamental principles of their faith"—"those essential doctrines"—"the doctrines of grace"—"destroying the fundamental principles of their faith"—and "undermining the dignity and divinity of the Son of God."—All these railing accusations are in page 77. In the next, I am said to "deny and ridicule the doctrine of justification by faith;"—to "discard the notion of original sin"—and to "brand the notion of imputed righteousness with the reproach of nonsense."—And he insults the said reverend gentlemen, as not having "the courage to rise up in defence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth of his gospel" in opposition to me.

These were not easy charges to deal with at the time. Mayhew tries to put in context what he really said, that all he really did was deny the Trinity.

The book discusses how high a regard Mayhew really holds for the divine inspiration of the biblical canon. Something about whether the Song of Solomon belongs in the canon and Mayhew's willingness to mess with the orthodox position. As he writes:

But he goes still further; intimating his suspicions that I am a deist, p. 79.—"The Dr.'s reflection upon the Song of Solomon is sufficient to show how easy it is for him to discard the sacred canon of scripture itself: Or perhaps," &c. But he dared not to cite that refleclion, as he calls it. The most that can be fairly and logically inferred from it, is, that I supposed there was near as much reason for admitting the Wisdom as the Song of Solomon into the canon;—a very harmless supposition, even tho' it should be a mistake; and which does not imply the latter to be admitted without reason.

Something very helpful: The orthodox, especially of the evangelical Protestant bent, tend to see orthodox doctrines as clearly taught in scripture. Therefore someone who claims to disbelieve in the Trinity and eternal damnation is elevating his own reason over the Bible regardless of how he might represent his position. Though the Christian-unitarian-universalists did claim biblical support for these positions. As Mayhew writes:

He had before intimated, p. 76, that there was ground to "suspect that I deceive myself, when I profess a regard for—divine revelation"—Behold his candor! He also makes a great outcry, because I somewhere said, that certain passages of Scripture seemed "at first view" to countenance the doctrine of annihilation.

Even though Mayhew was an Arian, not a Socinian, he got flak for referring to Socinus in a positive manner:

There are some more particular insinuations and assertions here, and in other parts of this defamatory pamphlet, in order to shew how widely I differ from our good forefathers. It is intimated that I am a Socinian: "Whatever their notions of liberty—amounted to, they certainly had no great opinion of the 'learned Socinus.'" Here this censor alludes to a passage in one of my sermons on Christian Sobriety, p. 57. in which I speak of Socinus under that character, learned. Will this candid man then allow none to be even learned, unless they are Athanasians?

As has been mentioned before, the orthodox almost put the kibosh on Mayhew's ordination as minister by refusing to attend. Mayhew just it out waited until he could find enough ministers willing to ordain him.

Friday, June 24, 2011

John Jay, John Locke and their common objection to toleration for Catholics

I've been reading through The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011) (full review to follow after I've finished the book and thought on it for a bit). One of the interesting points raised thus far in the book is the troubled history of religious liberty for Roman Catholics in the colonial and revolutionary periods in our nation's history. It is well-established that notable Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had little respect for the Roman Catholic Church, seeing the Church as both as a staunch defender of orthodox trinitarianism and as a barrier to a rationalized and largely de-supernaturalized re-imaging of the Christian faith. And it bears noting that those two Founders were right on both counts.

Sehat discusses some of the deeper roots of anti-Catholicism in early America, and he pays particular attention to the prime secular justification for anti-Catholic prejudice at the time, namely that Catholics, due to their spiritual allegiance to the Pope, could not be trusted to be faithful citizens. This concern was so strong, Sehat notes, that it lead to specific language being included in New York's 1777 constitution limiting religious freedom so as not to "justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State." This wording reflected the concerns of John Jay, to limit the religious freedom enjoyed by Roman Catholics. As quoted at length by Sehat, Jay spoke out in defense of religious freedom, but did not believe that basic civil liberties should be extended to Roman Catholics. As Jay put it, liberty should be granted to everyone,
Except the professors of the religion of the church of Rome, who ought not to hold lands in, or be admitted to a participation of the civil rights enjoyed by the members of this State, until such a time as the said professors shall appear in the supreme court of this State, and there most solemnly swear, that they verily believe in their consciences, that no pope, priest or foreign authority on earth, hath power to absolve the subjects of this State from their allegiance to the same. And further, that they renounce and believe to be false and wicked, the dangerous and damnable doctrine, that the pope, or any other earthly authority, have power to absolve men from sins, described in, and prohibited by the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ; and particularly, that no pope, priest or foreign authority on earth, hath power to absolve them from the obligation of this oath.
Any Catholic who had so sworn such an oath, of course, would by its terms have to affirm doctrines contrary to those of the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, a Catholic who complied with Jay's proposal would have to deny one of the sacraments of the Church (confession), and would have to deny the power of the Pope to release people from vows and oaths. No Catholic, then or now, could in good conscience swear to such requirements.

As Sehat notes, "Jay's problem with Roman Catholicism was similar to the views held by many Protestants."   Jay viewed Catholicism as conflating spiritual and secular authority, providing too much institutional power to the Roman Catholic Church to intervene in civil affairs.  Fortunately for Catholics in New York and for liberty in that state, Jay's efforts to restrict the rights of Catholics  only garnered the assent of a little more than a third of the members of the New York constitutional convention.   Jay did, however manage to include language in the New York constitution that, to again quote Sehat, "suffused New York's guarantee of religious liberty with Protestant sectarianism, in spirt of its apparent separation of church and state."

There was much history within the English political and religious landscape that fueled Jay's attempt to restrict the religious and civic liberty of Catholics in New York.  Jay's concerns about papal authority to release people from oaths stretched  back to the "Bloody Question" that was posed to Catholic martyrs slaughtered for their faith under Queen Elizabeth I.  And even that ardent defender of religious liberty, John Locke, drew the line at toleration for Roman Catholics, as the original text of his Letter Concerning Toleration indicates.  And Locke's objection was in substance the same as Jay's -- a concern that Catholics would not be faithful to their nation in light of their obedience to the Pope.

This objection has largely disappeared from American civic life, thanks in large part to the patriotism and service that Roman Catholics have demonstrated for this country.  In addition, Catholics have run for high office throughout the country, and served with distinction in public life.  Yet while most anti-Catholicism has retreated into the shadows, it is important to note the widespread and deep anti-Catholicism that was present among much of the populace during the Founding period, and to recall how often religious liberty was sacrificed on the altar of prejudice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Porky Pig...Not Under God

From 1939. Just thought some would find it interesting (Hat tip: John Fea)

The Forgotten Virtue of Industry

The founding fathers often expressed their view that virtue is a prerequisite for a republican regime. In this blog we’ve quoted the founders in this regard many times. However, we should be careful not to assume that our concept of virtue is the same theirs. Today when a public speaker suggests our society needs virtue I brace myself for a discussion of chastity or charity depending on the speakers’ persuasion. Industry, while respected, doesn’t get billing as a moral issue. College textbooks on ethics don’t have a chapter on this virtue. Industry is a forgotten virtue.

During the 18th century, industry was a core virtue, perhaps even the preeminent virtue after justice. Let’s examine the most admired and widely read ethical writer in colonial America leading up to the Revolution: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin published both newspapers and books over several decades expressing his ethical wisdom most often through his alter ego, Poor Richard. Here’s a classic:
“... Early to Bed, and early to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy and wise. So what signifies wishing and hoping for better Times. We may make these Times better if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, as Poor Richard says, and He that lives upon Hope will die fasting. ...” [“Poor Richard Improved”, 1758]
For Franklin hard work wasn’t a postlapsarian punishment nor a form of self-denial. In an early essay he challenges the notion that self-denial is even required for virtue and uses “justice” and “industry” as examples.
“It is commonly asserted, that without Self-Denial there is no Virtue, and that the greater the Self-Denial the greater the Virtue. ... If to a certain Man, idle Diversions have nothing in them that is tempting, and therefore he never relaxes his Application to Business for their Sake; is he not an Industrious Man? Or has he not the Virtue of Industry?” [“Self-Denial Not the Essence of Virtue”, 1734]
He notes that one may have to cultivate virtue by practice until it becomes second nature; but virtue and flourishing ultimately go hand-in-hand. Furthermore, when a virtue is widely accepted it contributes to the welfare of a nation. He speculates on such matters in “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind”, 1751:
“... I have heard it remarked that the Poor in Protestant Countries on the Continent of Europe, are generally more industrious than those of Popish Countries, may not the more numerous foundations in the latter for the relief of the poor have some effect towards rendering them less provident. To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures is concurring with the Deity, ’tis Godlike, but if we provide encouragements for Laziness, and supports for Folly, may it not be found fighting against the order of God and Nature, which perhaps has appointed Want and Misery as the proper Punishments for, and Cautions against as well as necessary consequences of Idleness and Extravagancy.”
In the same essay he turns a critical eye on the America’s “peculiar institution”:
“... Slaves also pejorate the Families that use them; the white Children become proud, disgusted with Labour, and being educated in Idleness, are rendered unfit to get a Living by Industry. ...”

Franklin was the apostle of the virtue of industry his whole life. In his last decade he wrote a celebrated essay on the character of the American people: “Information on Those Who Would Remove to America.” It has been widely republished and it is worth reading in its entirety. The essay is a warning to Europeans about what they can expect if they emigrate to America.

He describes Americans as independent hard-working people where ancestry and privilege are not the currency of the realm. Those expecting a cushy lucrative government appointment are warned:
“.. it is a Rule establish’d in some of the States, that no Offices should be so profitable as to make it desireable. The 36 Article of the Constitution of Pensilvania, runs expresly in these Words: As every Freeman, to preserve his Independence, (if he has not a sufficient Estate) ought to have some Profession, Calling, Trade or Farm, whereby he may honestly subsist, there can be no Necessity for, nor Use in, establishing Offices of Profit; the usual Effects of which are Dependance and Servility, unbecoming Freemen, in the Possessors and Expectants; Faction, Contention, Corruption, and Disorder among the People.”
Expecting a free lunch?
“... every one will enjoy securely the Profits of his Industry ... he must work and be industrious to live ... In short America is the Land of Labour, and by no means what the English call Lubberland, and the French Pays de Cocagne, where the Streets are said to be pav’d with half-peck Loaves, the Houses til’d with Pancakes, and where the Fowls fly about ready roasted, crying, Come eat me!”
He suggests that Europeans “... read the Constitutions of the several States, and the Articles of Confederation ...” to see that there is no welfare, start-up funds, subsidies for manufacturing, or protectionism. Protectionism leads to sloth and liquor! In sum:
“... those Vices that arise usually from Idleness are in a great Measure prevented. Industry and constant Employment are great Preservatives of the Morals and Virtue of a Nation. Hence bad Examples to Youth are more rare in America, which must be a comfortable Consideration to Parents.”
This is a small sample of an inspiring essay which, judging from the term papers offered for sale online, must still be assigned with some regularity.

As our nation was being founded, there were two revolutions in the field of ethics. Immanuel Kant introduced the “categorical imperative” in such a way as to categorize everything instrumental as being irrelevant to morality. Industry, for example, is desirable but has nothing to do with virtue. Jeremy Bentham developed utilitarianism; he retained instrumentality but put it in service of the collective. Thus when someone says they work hard and make a decent living, they have said nothing of moral worth until they explain how they serve the community with their wealth.

This is such a major paradigm shift from the founding era that I fear it obscures our reading of the founders. It’s not that the founders didn’t praise charity, engage in public endeavors, and appreciate good deeds. It’s how they construct their worldview to position some ethical concerns at the center while situating others on the periphery. It’s the way they held industry to be righteous and not just a practical detail in the service of other virtues.

The virtue of industry created the kind of person who demanded and fought for liberty. Sloth and dependency corrupt the soul and make the citizenry ripe for tyranny. This was the moral vision of our founding fathers and I've given only a sliver of the picture.

[All passages can be found online here.]

Jonathan Mayhew on the Common Law

I've been doing some careful reading of Rev. Jonathan Mayhew -- an enormously influential ("key" if you will) Patriotic Preacher. See for instance, this book of his original writings. JM was a Congregational minister, a "liberal" Christian of his era, but to the orthodox he was no "Christian" at all. He was a Christian-unitarian-universalist or what Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed a "theistic rationalist."

On page 35 of the aforementioned book Mayhew discusses the common law in the context of its religious component. Mayhew does NOT want (obviously speaking) Anglicanism incorporated in the common law, even though Anglicanism was part and parcel of "the law of England."

Claims about Christianity and the common law abound. One claim is that the common law is derived from Christianity and that claim is clearly false. As Mayhew accurately notes (as Jefferson would later -- this was published in 1764) the common law had its origin in heathen nations and was a "complete" system long before the reformation. JM's opponent attempted to argue that the Anglican establishment was smuggled into the American colonies via the common law-law of England or whatever de jure/de facto system of British rule that controlled in the colonies at that time.

It will not, I conclude, be asserted, that all the laws of England, without exception, or of Great Britain, are, as such, binding on the colonies. In order to their being so, it must, I humbly conceive, plainly appear from the language of them, or from their very nature, that they were formally designed for all the King's subjects, as well those in the colonies as those in England. Many of the laws of England are in their own nature local, so that they cannot possibly be obeyed out of England. And I am informed by those that are learned in the laws, and in the customs and usages of the colonies, that it is a clear, indisputable point, that there are many English statutes, in other cases, which are not binding on the colonies. So that jt seems to be only the common law at most, and those statutes that are made in affirmation or explanation of it, that English subjects carry with them when they emigrate, emigrate into colonies, so as to be bound by them. And I conclude, it will not be said that the church of England is established by common law, which had its origin among heathen nations; and was compleat as a system long before the reformation.

Whether common law that is pagan in its origin later incorporated Christianity is a more difficult question.

On the duty of preachers to address political issues

It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted.  For example, -- if exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hears against those vices?  If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue?  If the rights and duties of christian magistrates and subjects are disputed,should they not explain them, show their nature, ends, limitations, and restrictions, how much soever it may move the gall of Massachusettensis?
- John Adams, Novanglus, 1774, reprinted in In God We Trust:  The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, ed. by Norman Cousins (Harper & Brothers:  1958), pg. 90.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On the "divine origin" of nature

Books, whether bibles or Korans, carry no evidence of being the work of any other power than man.  It is only that which man cannot do that carries the evidence of being the work of a superior power.  Man could not invent and make a universe -- he could not invent nature, for nature is of divine origin.  It is the law by which the universe is governed.
- Thomas Paine, Prospect Papers:  Of the Word "Religion," and Other Words of Uncertain Signification, reprinted in In God We Trust:  The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, ed. by Norman Cousins (Harper & Brothers:   1958), pg. 430.

Thomas Paine, advocate of an intelligent design!

The background behind the Jefferson Bible

One of the most famous of Thomas Jefferson's religious works is his harmony of the New Testament Gospels.  Jefferson edited the Gospels, after consulting versions in Greek, Latin, English and French, with the purpose of distilling what Jefferson thought to be the authentic teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jefferson edited out the miracles and most of the supernatural events in the Gospels, while emphasizing the moral & ethical teachings found in the texts.

The genesis and purpose of Jefferson's composition of his Gospel harmony is set out pretty clearly in an 1804 letter that Jefferson wrote to noted unitarian thinker Joseph Priestly.  In the letter, Jefferson provides some advice to Priestly regarding Priestly's own plan to write out a study of the moral teachings of Jesus.  In giving his advice, Jefferson reveals the early stages of his own investigation in that topic:
I think you cannot avoid giving, as preliminary to the comparison, a digest of his moral doctrines, extracted in his own words fro the Evangelists, and leaving out everything relative to his personal history and character.  It would be shore and precious.  With a view to do this for my own satisfaction, I had sent to Philadelphia to get tow testaments (Greek) of the same edition, and two English, with a design to cut out the morsels of morality and paste them on the leaves of a book, in the manner you describe as having been pursued in forming your Harmony.  But I shall now get the thing done by better hands. 
Letter to Joseph Priestly, January 29, 1804, reprinted in In God We Trust:  The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, ed. by Norman Cousins (Harper & Brothers:  1958), pg. 171.

The letter from Jefferson to Priestly provides key insight about the context surrounding the Jefferson Bible.  First, Jefferson was not engaging in a unique activity.  He wasn't the only one engaging in the production of the Gospel harmony designed to spread a vision of Christianity that was grounded on the moral teachings of Jesus, rather than in the New Testament's teachings about Jesus.   Jefferson notes at the end of the passage quoted above some relief at the idea that Priestly is working on a harmony because of Priestly's greater skills at producing such a study.

Second, Jefferson's advice indicates the key to this method:  focusing on the words of Jesus rather than the explanation of those words provided by the Evangelists and the other writings in the New Testament.  Jefferson's approach fused an antiquarian approach to the Gospels -- trying to get back to the earliest strata of the teachings of Jesus -- with a belief that the Gospel accounts as we have them were an accurate source of those words.  Hence, Jefferson sought not only to take the words of Jesus from the New Testament as translated into English, but he sought to take the words from the Greek New Testament as well.  It turns out that Jefferson was incorrect about the words of Jesus in the Gospels being the earliest strata of information we have about Jesus -- the epistles of St. Paul were actually written earlier than any of the Gospels as we currently have them -- but that's an error of application, not of method.

Third, at the time of the letter to Priestly, Jefferson sought to undertake his harmony for his "own satisfaction."  Jefferson didn't seek to publish his study at this point, but was thinking of compiling his study for his own use.  The nature of how he sought to carry out the composition of the harmony -- cutting out the relevant texts from his copies of the New Testament and pasting them into the "leaves of a book," indicates that he wasn't thinking of sending the text to a publisher.  It was to be a private book indicating his own private thoughts, something quite understandable given the fact that Jefferson was a sitting president, an active politician, and one who was constantly dogged by allegations of infidelity regarding religion.  For good reason he might seek not to widely publicize his views regarding the nature of Jesus of Nazareth.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Holy texts in early America

It's a nice coincidence that Brad posted on the Koran at the same time tonight that I was working on a post for my blog, The Magpie Mason (that I hope to finish Monday night), which will feature photos of an exhibit hosted at the New York Public Library earlier this year. Titled Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it displayed several hundred holy texts of all kinds: scriptures, commentaries, legal codes, prayer books, et al.

There were several items dating to the Colonial and Federal periods that I share here:

Jewish Prayer Book, New York City, 1766.

This is a prayer book for the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, published in New York by John Holt in 1766, based on a translation by Isaac Pinto. While London in 1766 was home to the largest English-speaking Jewish community, this first English translation of the Hebrew prayer book was printed in British Colonial New York City.

Translator Isaac Pinto writes:

"It has been necessary to translate our Prayers, in the Language of the Country wherein it hath pleased the divine Providence to appoint our Lot. In Europe, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a Translation in Spanish, which as they generally understand, may be sufficient, but that not being the Case in the British Dominions in America, has induced me to attempt a Translation in English."

Christian Bible for Algonquin Indians, Massachusetts, 1661.

Published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1661, this Bible was intended for the conversion to Puritan Christianity of the native people near the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Algonquin Indians. It also served the purpose of showing the authorities back home in England how their funds were being used.

Holy Koran, Massachusetts, 1806.

This Koran, spelled Alcoran at the time, is the first American vernacular edition of the Koran. It derives from the London 1649 edition; its text follows Alexander Ross' English version of the French translation by Andre du Ryer. This book was published in Massachusetts in 1806. Shown here is Sura 22, concerning the pilgrimage to Mecca.

I will have additional photos of other relevant religious texts from other museums to share shortly.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Did the Qur'an Influence the Founding of America?

For those who have followed my blog posts with any regularity, you are surely aware of the fact that I am 100% against the notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. In my opinion there are simply too many gaping holes in the "Christian Nation" argument that it will never be able to hold water and effectively float.

But an even sillier notion than the one often regurgitated by the Christian nationalist zealots is one being taught by Professor Azizah Y. al-Hibri, who was recently appointed by President Obama to the Commission on International Religious Freedom. In the following video, Professor al-Hibri seems to suggest that the Founding Fathers (with particular emphasis on Thomas Jefferson) may have been influenced by the teachings of the Qur'an when founding the United States:

Let me first state that I am in no way a "Muslim hater" like so many ignorant Americans today. Having read the Qur'an and done some detailed personal study of the religion, I am of the opinion that Islam is a beautiful, inspiring and relevant faith. I am in envy of the devotion that so many Muslims have towards their faith, particularly when it comes to their deep love of prayer. In my opinion nobody, not even the best Christians, can pray like the Muslims.

With that said, the notion that Islam and the Qur'an played a role in the founding of the United States is so historically stupid that I'm not sure where to begin. Aside from the obvious fact that none of our founding documents make even a remote reference to Islam, Professor al-Hibri seems to forget that Islam and the Qur'an are not the exclusive sources on earth which teach about a separation of Church and state. The fact that Thomas Jefferson owned a Qur'an does not mean he gleaned his ideas about religion and government from it. In fact, Jefferson is very clear on who his sources of inspiration were. Men like Cicero, Montesquieu, Locke, etc. were his chief sources, not the Qur'an. Jefferson was a book junkie. Owning a Qur'an was a staple in his library, but at no time was it a Jefferson favorite. Heck, Jefferson spent far more time with the Holy Bible than he ever did with the Qur'an.

Besides, do you honestly think that Jefferson, a man who largely detested organized Christianity and rejected most of its chief doctrines, would somehow look to Islam for his inspiration? Especially when it came to the founding of the American republic?


Friday, June 17, 2011

Jonathan Mayhew, Universalist

The good Rev. and "key" Patriot Preacher was not only a "unitarian" but also, it seems a "universalist."

From his 1762 Thanksgiving Sermon:

"The consideration of God's goodness and mercy, particularly as manifested in the Scriptures, in the redemption of the world by Christ, naturally suggests very pleasing hopes, and a glorious prospect, with reference to the conclusion, or final result of that most wonderful interposition of grace. It cannot be denied, that ever since the apostacy of our first parents, there have been, and still are, some things of a dark and gloomy appearance, when considered by themselves. So much folly, superstition and wickedness there is, 'in this present evil world.' But when we consider the declared end of Christ's manifestation in the flesh, to give his life a ransom for all, and to destroy the works of the devil; when we consider the numerous prophecies respecting the destruction of sin and death, and the future glory of Christ's kingdom on earth; when we consider, that he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet, the last of which is death; and until he hath subdued all things to himself; when we reflect, that according to the apostle Paul, where sin has abounded, grace does much more abound; and that the same creature (or creation,) which was originally made subject to vanity, is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God; when we consider the parallel which is instituted and carried on by the same apostle, betwixt the first and second Adam, in his epistle to the Romans; and his express assertion in another, that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; but every man in his own order;" in a word, when we duly consider that there is a certain restitution of all things, spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began; when we duly consider these things, I say, light and comfort rise out of darkness and sorrow.

And we may, without the least presumption, conclude in general, that, in the revolution of ages, something far more grand, important and glorious, than any thing which is vulgarly imagined, shall actually be the result of Christ's coming down from heaven to die on a cross, of his resurrection from the dead, and of his being crowned with glory and honor, as Lord both of the dead and the living. The word of God, and his mercy, endure forever ; nor will he leave any thing which is truly his work, unfinished. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth,' saith the Lord, 'so are my ways higher than your ways; and my thoughts than your thoughts— My word, that goeth forth out of my mouth, shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please; and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I send it.'"

"To conclude then ; let us all, young men and maidens, old men and children, love and honor, extol and obey the God and Father of all, whose tender mercies are over all his works; and who has been so gracious and bountiful to ourselves in particular. If we sincerely do thus, as becometh the children of the Highest, we shall, in due time, partake of his goodness, in a far more glorious manner and measure than we can in the earthly house of this tabernacle. We shall doubtless also have a far more clear, distinct and perfect knowledge, than we can possibly have at present, of what is intended in some apparently grand and sublime, yet difficult passages in the sacred oracles; particularly that of John the Divine, with which I close: 'And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Rev. v. 13."

Now this sounds "Christian." But Rev. Mayhew 1. denied the Trinity; 2. as we just saw, denied eternal damnation; and 3. believed men were saved by their works, following Christ's perfect moral example. (The bad -- those that didn't earn immediate salvation at death -- would be punished temporarily but eventually reconciled to Christ). Whether it's "Christian" or not is above my "pay-grade" as a co-blogger would put it. But it DOES help to know what the Founding era unitarian-universalists believed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cultural Unity at Our Founding

Washington gives a view of the nation's shared values in his Farewell Address (see Mark’s entry below). Publius expresses similar sentiments as the Constitution was being debated:
“With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.”
-Federalist #2

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gad Hitchcock High Arian

This will be the last in this week's series of notable unitarian patriotic preachers from America's Founding era. They were disproportionately Arian as opposed to Socinian (Socinians were sometimes termed "humanitarians").

From this source:

Dr. Hitchcock proved himself a man of talent, sociable, friendly, hospitable, though somewhat eccentric, and very witty. "Be merry and wise" was his advice to the young on occasions of joy. In belief he was a high Arian and liberal. His funeral services consisted of only a prayer, by his request. His pastorate extended over a period of fifty-five years. He died Aug. 8, 18o3, after an indisposition of four years, when the parish honored his memory by the following vote: "That the parish procure a pair of Tombstones for the Rev. Gad Hitchcock."

And from this source:

During the Revolutionary War, he was a warm friend to the American cause, and, in several instances, officiated as Chaplain. On these occasions, he not only attended diligently to the appropriate duties of his office, but proved to the soldiers that he was not disposed to screen himself from the dangers that he encouraged them to encounter. At a subsequent period, he was a member of the Convention that framed the Constitution of Massachusetts.

In 1787 he was honoured with the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Harvard College....


As to his religious opinions, I suppose there is no doubt that, through his whole ministry, he was a High Arian, and a constant preacher of the doctrines in that age termed liberal; but, if now living, probably he would be standing midway between what is called Orthodoxy and Modern Liberality.

And finally one of his notable patriotic sermons.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Simeon Howard Got Jonathan Mayhew's Church...And His Wife

I just noticed this. I knew Rev. Howard got Rev. Mayhew's church, but not his widow too. See here:

Dr. Howard was first married in December, 1771, to the widow of Dr. Mayhew, his predecessor. She died in April, 1777, at the age of fortyfour. His second wife was the daughter of his early friend, Dr. Gay, of Hingham. He left one son, Dr. John Clarke Howard, sometimes called "the beloved physician," who was graduated at Harvard College in 1790, and died in 1810, aged thirty-eight years.

Dr. Howard, in his religious opinions, was probably always an Arian. ...

Here is one of Rev. Howard's political sermons where he substitutes political liberty for spiritual liberty and arguably inserts non-biblical rationalist principles that supersede the Bible's text into the pulpit.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


One of the many unitarian patriotic preachers of whom you've probably never heard.

See this book, pp. 55-64.

Here is DANIEL EMERSON on the good Reverend:

During the Revolution, Mr. Cummings showed himself an earnest friend of his country's Independence. Fully convinced that the cause of the Colonies was a righteous cause, and that it was the duty of every man, whatever might be his profession or relations, to aid it to the extent of his ability, he laboured, both in the pulpit and out of it, to diffuse the patriotic spirit, and strengthen the hands of those on whom the direction cf the public concerns more immediately devolved. In 1783, the memorable year that witnessed the close of the War, he preached the Annual Sermon before the Legislature,—a sermon characterized by the most enlightened, patriotic views. The town of Billerica testified their high appreciation of his knowledge and good judgment in civil matters, by appointing him a delegate to the Convention which framed the Constitution of Massachusetts.

Here is THE REV. JOSEPH RICHARDSON on the man:

In his theological views he was an Arminian, and I suppose an Arian also; though he seldom dwelt much on points of controversy in the pulpit. I think he had no sympathy with any system that does not recognize the mediation ot Christ as the grand feature of the Christian economy. He exercised great kindliness of feeling towards those commonly called orthodox, and was on terms of exchange with a number of them till near the close of his active ministry.

And here is THE REV. ARIEL ABBOT, D. D. on him:

I cannot say much of him as a Preacher from actual knowledge, my opportunities for hearing him having bean very limited, but I am safe in saying that his pulpit performances were much above the average standard of his day. His manner was simple, earnest and effective. His sermons were generally practical but argumentative, nor did he hesitate at all, on what he deemed suitable occasions, to state clearly his views of Christian doctrine. Some of his published sermons bear marks of a mind, trained not only to vigorous but profound thought. In his religious opinions he was decidedly an Arminian, and, as I have always understood, an Arian. He regarded Calvinism, in all its forms, with no inconsiderable aversion. I remember to have heard him speak of Edwards' Treatise on the Will, as being, in his opinion, nothing better than fatalism; and he added, with his characteristic earnestness, that, if he were an Atheist, he should want no better arguments than that work supplied, to sustain his atheistical theory.


The theological controversy of Dr. Cummings' day related, I suppose, more especially to the subject of Moral Agency. In this controversy, he was prominent among those divines who maintained the Arminian view of the subject. He examined Edwards on the Will with great care, and wrote a Review of it, which he highly valued, containing condemnatory strictures. A few years after he was ordained, he became dissatisfied with the Trinitarian views in which he had been educated; and, having procured Waterland, and whatever other standard authors were within his reach, he spent a good part of a year in a critical examination of the subject. Not being satisfied with the result, he betook himself to the diligent study of the sacred records; and he finally rested in the conclusion that the revealed doctrine is that there is one God, the Father, and one Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. He bad no fondness for any human theory whatever on the subject of the union of the Father and Son; though he certainly was not a Humanitarian.

Samuel West's Universalism

See here:

He was educated not only a Trinitarian but a Calvinist. He abjured his Calvinism at an early period, but what his particular views of the Trinity were, I cannot say with confidence; though he always ranked with the liberal party. He was also a decided Restorationist. Witness the following extract from his autobiography — " The final cause or ultimate design of all the laws by which God governs the system of nature, is the happiness of his creatures; and if individual evil is produced by the uniform operation of those laws, it is and must be conducive to the good of the whole. Nay, I am persuaded that the sufferings of every individual will eventually conduce to the advancement of its happiness, and that the greatest sufferings, and those which endure the longest, are designed, and will in the end terminate in proportionate happiness."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The bonds of unity in the early American Republic

"For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes."

- President George Washington (1732-1799), Farewell Address (1796).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dissenting religion and the push for American independence

From the great English statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) comes this famous analysis of the role that dissenting religion played in the American commitment to liberty at the time leading up to our Revolution:
Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it. I do not think, Sir, that the reason of this averseness in the dissenting churches, from all that looks like absolute government, is so much to be sought in their religious tenets, as in their history. Every one knows that the Roman Catholic religion is at least coeval with most of the governments where it prevails; that it has generally gone hand in hand with them, and received great favour and every kind of support from authority. The Church of England too was formed from her cradle under the nursing care of regular government. But the dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world; and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces; where the Church of England, notwithstanding its legal rights, is in reality no more than a sort of private sect, not composing most probably the tenth of the people. The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed.
- Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies, March 22, 1775.

[Cross-posted at my own blog, Ordered Liberty.]

Friday, June 3, 2011

Peter Marshall RIP

I didn't know he passed. His death wasn't well publicized. (John Fea, hat tip.) He was, like the late D. James Kennedy, a key figure in Christian Nationalist history revisionism.

Dr. Gregg Frazer, in his PhD thesis, was quite harsh on Peter Marshall's historical revisionism contained in "The Light and the Glory." Dr. Frazer wrote of that book:

It became the classic text of [the "Christian America"] 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. PhD thesis, p. 38.

I once debated a Christian Americanist who, without me knowing, maintained correspondence with Marshall. When he cited Marshall's book for authority, I cited Frazer. And he unilaterally sent to Marshall Dr. Frazer's criticisms of him (I want to note I didn't egg him on or encourage this). Understandably upset, Marshall emailed back an angry response which I didn't reproduce for civility's sake. Since he's dead, I'll reproduce it now.

I believe in, though I don't always live up to this ideal, respecting the privacy of the living and treating them civilly, that is not subjecting them to harsh criticism that may hurt their feelings. I try to avoid the personal ad hominem. Once folks are dead, they belong to history. And yeah, I understand they may have family and loved ones with feelings too. And that conflicts me somewhat. If they are long dead -- like the Founding Fathers -- they are totally fair game. But I feel now the time is right to report Marshall's response to Frazer's criticism.

This links to Peter Marshall's response after being emailed with the short quotation from Gregg Frazer criticizing him.

"Well, it’s nothing but an attack of flying garbage – no specific references, nothing but personal slams – typical of people who disagree with the ideas and conclusions, but have nothing with which to refute them. We stand by the historical accuracy of the book. You’ll be interested to know that there is a major revision of the book coming out early next year, published by Baker, who published the original edition. We added material (Roanoke, Jamestown is completely rewritten, added Samuel Adams, more on Patrick Henry, more on Washington’s Christian faith – and corrected a few minor historical errors: removed supposed Washington prayers (they were not in his handwriting), changed a few dates we had gotten wrong, added an appendix on Washington’s Christianity, and another on the Christianity of a number of Founding Fathers). Most importantly, we edited the entire book and focused our points more clearly, making it clear that we were not in any way promoting a “my country, right or wrong” philosophy. I’m not surprised this guy is a John MacArthur disciple. I’m not a fan of his – I have serious problems with some of his theology – he’s not nearly as Biblically orthodox as he thinks he is. And he’s always been wrong about the Founding Fathers – still maintains in the face of plenteous evidence to the contrary that they were all Deists, which is simply spouting the secularist baloney that he must have swallowed in college. But that’s neither here nor there. A major point for you to remember is that we are interested in what the truth is – if we had found that the Pilgrims were hypocrites, or the Founding Fathers were Deists, we would either have said so, or would not have written the book we did. As a historian, I reject totally any attempts to shoe-horn historical evidence to fit one’s thesis – that has no moral integrity whatsoever, and I refuse to ever indulge in it, despite Frazer’s ignorant accusations".

Update: Dr. Frazer responds:

Interesting. He clearly knew nothing about my work (e.g. claiming that I maintain that they were all deists), but felt free to criticize it – at least my criticisms were based on having read his book. He also, apparently, did not have much confidence in his ability to communicate, since he declared me to be in ignorance, despite having read his book. Amazingly, he was, in his view, in a position to attack my work without having read it – perhaps the ignorance label was misplaced? It is also interesting that, having blasted me for criticizing the historiography of the book, he proceeded to explain all of the changes that he found to be necessary in the new edition – including factual errors and the removal of supposed prayers of Washington which he was forced to admit were not genuine. Finally, his recourse to an ad hominem attack which was, as he admitted, “neither here nor there” is also telling. For the record, I am not a “John MacArthur disciple” – I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. While I am a member of his church and agree with him on all of the fundamental issues, I disagree with John on more than one issue and base my views on the Bible, not John.

I must agree that my little blurb in the dissertation gave “no specific references” – but my purpose was not to review his book, but merely to comment on its place in the literature of the Christian America movement. I do not agree that I made “personal slams” as I criticized the book and its historiography, but I can see how he would take it that way.

Quote of the day: American independence and religious liberty

"When I signed the Declaration of Independence I had in view not only our independence from England but the toleration of all sects."

- Charles Carroll of Carrollton, letter to G.W. Parke Custis, February 20, 1829, quoted in The Essential Wisdom of the Founding Fathers, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi (Fall River Press:  2009), pg. 31. 

Carroll (1737-1832), a member of the Maryland planter aristocracy, was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Remonstrance Against the Book-Oath

The Dutch Reformed Church operated as the established church of New Amsterdam from 1628 until the English conquest in 1664. A short period of instability followed, but in 1674 King James II appointed Sir Edmund Andros as New York's third royal governor. Governor Andros, upon his arrival, formally imposed the English form of colonial government, declared the Church of England to be the established church, and prescribed English as the official language. From that time on, New Amsterdam became known as New York City. In addition, Governor Andros extended his authority over parts of New Jersey, and most of New England. One of his more objectionable reforms was called the book-oath, namely swearing an oath with the right hand on the King James Bible (first published four centuries ago in 1611) and kissing it when having completed the oath.

Now, even with the rigorous enforcement of the book-oath during the ongoing period of English rule and its apparent incorporation by New York State Chancellor Robert R. Livingston during George Washington's inaugural ceremony on April 30, 1789, the administration of the book-oath did not gain favor among the New York based Dutch Reformed Church. What follows is some selected segments from Part III of a three-part article, Dissertations On the Nature, Obligation, and Form of a Civil Oath, that were published in The Magazine of the Reformed Dutch church, Volume 1 No.10, March 1827, Pages 376 - 383, by William Craig Brownlee (1784 - 1860). In 1826 Brownlee was installed as a minister at the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church in New York City. He served on a rotating basis among several Dutch Reformed Churches in Manhattan until 1860.

Do you profess to make an appeal to God by the action of touching and kissing the book? I profess that I cannot discover, in the book oath, any thing like an appeal to God! Yes! honoured magistrates and fellow citizens! I have searched, but I cannot find any thing even approaching to an appeal to God in this oath. There is no appeal to God in the act of touching the book. There can be no ground to suppose that the act of kissing the boards of the book is any appeal to God. . . . Yes! honoured magistrates, and fellow citizens, I deny it before you all — I deny that there is even an approximation to an appeal to God in the book oath in common use.

Hence, then, this form of swearing is a swearing by the Bible, and the contents of the Bible; or assuredly it is no oath at all. Let the advocates of the book oath take their choice in this dilemma. It is either no oath at all, or it is an oath made by the Bible! In other words, it is either no oath at all, or it is an oath made not by God, but by a creature — being something which he has made. And to swear by a creature — be it the Bible, or contents of the Bible — is rebellion against the precept which enjoins us "to swear only by God."— It is swearing by a creature, and so is condemned by our Saviour — "Swear not, by any means, neither by Heaven nor by the earth, or by any similar oath." It is swearing by a creature, or giving homage to a creature; it is false worship. It is deliberate idolatry!

It cannot surely be objected to us, on behalf of the book oath, that there is any compulsion to use it by any existing law of our happy republic; or, that if we should refuse to kiss the book, we might impede the course of justice.

This objection can have no force in our happy land, and under the protection of our glorious [1787 federal] constitution and laws. Under the bigotry of English laws, wielded by a tyranny over the minds of the English and Irish, this objection might be of great force; for cruel is the exaction by the English government, of the ceremony of kissing the book. And they fine, and imprison, and confiscate the goods of the conscientious Christian who refuses it. But our enlightened legislators have left us free to use our sweet liberty, and to swear by God, and with the raised-up hand, if we choose. [It was the 1821 Revised New York State Constitution, Article VI, Section 1 that proscribed any possibility of imposing a religious test oath for "Members of the legislature and all officers, executive and judicial."]

. . .

And if nothing else will move you. I carry my appeal to your hearts as republicans and the sons of republicans! Of the reformed nations — none but England and Ireland—(But Ireland is not her own mistress — I ought, in justice, to except Ireland.) None but England, and English laws; and you — you republicans! support this idolatrous ceremony in an oath.— Why is it — I call on you as republicans and sons of those noble republicans who hurled from them the bondage of England, and reformed carefully her different abuses — why, ah! why is it that you have retained this English fragment of idolatry? Why is it that you copy England so slavishly, as to retain this English abuse of an oath?

Epilogue: On September 14, 1901, soon after the death of President William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States by Federal Judge John R. Hazel, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of New York. The ceremony took place in a private home located in Buffalo, New York. It is commonly known that a Bible was not used during the ceremony. In contrast, what is hardly known is that TR was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and he apparently followed its principles when he simply raised his right hand toward heaven and repeated the presidential oath of office exactly as prescribed by the U. S. Constitution.