Saturday, October 27, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part I

One of the things we, along with many scholars, have done is play up "the key American founders" (the ones on American currency, etc.) perhaps to the exclusion of the 2nd and 3rd tier ones who comprised a statistical majority of their numbers.

This post will feature the writings of St. George Tucker of Virginia, not a key American founder. But a notable statesmen from that era, nonetheless. Perhaps this post will not satisfy those who look for a difference of opinion between the key founders on the one hand, and the lesser founders on the other. And that's because Tucker's views seem to exist somewhere right between Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's (two key founders).

What I find interesting about this document labeled Blackstone's Commentaries, 1:App. 296--97, 2: App. 3--11 (named such, even though this particular text really has nothing to do with Blackstone's commentaries) is that it alludes to four major pieces of work from that era: 1. The Virginia state bill of rights, 2. the Memorial and Remonstrance; 3. the VA Statute on Religious Freedom, and 4. the US Constitution.

I'm going to publish this work in pieces. Below is the first excerpt, with some paragraph breaks added for clarity:
On the first of these subjects, our state bill of rights contains, what, if prejudice were not incapable of perceiving truth, might be deemed an axiom, concerning the human mind. That "religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." In vain, therefore, may the civil magistrate interpose the authority of human laws, to prescribe that belief, or produce that conviction, which human reason rejects: in vain may the secular arm be extended, the rack stretched, and the flames kindled, to realize the tortures denounced against unbelievers by all the various sects of the various denominations of fanatics and enthusiasts throughout the globe. 
The martyr at the stake, glories in his tortures, and proves that human laws may punish, but cannot convince. The pretext of religion, and the pretences of sanctity and humility, have been employed throughout the world, as the most direct means of gaining influence and power. Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together. 
To separate them by mounds which can never be overleaped, is the only means by which our duty to God, the peace of mankind, and the genuine fruits of charity and fraternal love, can be preserved or properly discharged. This prohibition, therefore, may be regarded as the most powerful cement of the federal government, or rather, the violation of it will prove the most powerful engine of separation. 
Those who prize the union of the states will never think of touching this article with unhallowed hands. The ministry of the unsanctified sons of Aaron scarcely produced a flame more sudden, more violent, or more destructive, than such an attempt would inevitably excite. . . . I forbear to say more, in this place, upon this subject, having treated of it somewhat at large in a succeeding note.
The language pretty strikingly speaks in terms of "separation" of church and state. I'm surprised that the secularists who like to cherry pick Jefferson and Madison haven't quoted from this more. The fact that the date of this document is from 1803 also fits Philip Hamburger's thesis that the Democratic-Republicans didn't speak in terms of "separation of church and state" until the early 19th Century.

That contention is one of the many analytical points where I think Hamburger gets it wrong. Whatever exact words they used, what Jefferson and Madison argued for in Virginia in the 1780s I think aptly could be termed "separation of church and state," even if they didn't use those exact words, but used others like "non-cognizance."

Rather, Tucker's view well represents what some scholars have termed the "Virginia view" (not the only one the American founders held on religious establishment issues). And the "Virginia" view, even in the 1780s, is one of "separation."

4 comments:

Our Founding Truth said...

"And the "Virginia" view, even in the 1780s, is one of "separation."

Virginia's view, as well as the view of the other states and federal government, is not modern separation doctrine, but is separation of the Reformers:

"I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect. [bold face mine]

--John Adams, Inaugural Address, In the City of Philadelphia, Saturday, March 4, 1797. 

Both houses of Congress offered an "injunction" to promote Christianity. Neither Adams, or the democrats in Congress, saw a problem promoting Christianity with government. Later, JA wrote Religion was the foundation of our republic.

Our Founding Truth said...

Tucker's argument and those of the democrats was founded on a false premise. Contrary to Tucker, Reason has nothing to do with salvation. Salvation is above man's reason and he has nothing to do with it. Faith is a gift and no one can access it by reason. Tucker was an arminian. It's just a rehash of a centuries old argument.

"That "religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." In vain, therefore, may the civil magistrate interpose the authority of human laws, to prescribe that belief, or produce that conviction, which human reason rejects"

This statement is wrong biblically, as well as practically. God can save someone with human laws, without human laws or even in the womb.

"But cannot convince"

Yes, God can use laws to convince.

"Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together."

This is another false statement. Constantine stopped persecuting Christians and that peace continued for many years thereafter.

Not all democrats, yet alone northern democrats, believed this flawed doctrine, but it slithered its way into the universities. Augustine and the reformers obliterated Tucker's ideas. Many of the High Federalists did the same.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes there is this Jeffersonian concept of "Apriarianism"; it's this enlightenment concept where the Founders picked and chose in a cafeteria sense that which made sense to them while discarding the rest.

So the Calvinist tradition, ala Rutherford, may have offered them honey in areas like resistance under law in the face of Romans 13. But it offered nothing good on liberty of conscience.

The Protestant traditions that predated the founders' enlightenment era that originally anticipated freedom of conscience was more from the Arminian baptist tradition (tracing to Roger Williams) and the Quakers.

Though the FFs got their ideas on liberty of conscience from figures like Locke and lesser knowns such Burgh.

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