Thursday, April 30, 2009

‘So help me God’

On this day, the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s first presidential inauguration, The Magpie Mason crossposts with American Creation, one of the premier forums for discussion of the historical facts concerning the religious beliefs and practices of America’s Founding Fathers. Freemasonry has an often misunderstood relationship with the Founders and with religion in general, resulting in common confusions like the perception that most of the Founders were Freemasons, and that Masons of the 18th century were Deists or even anti-Christian. The truth is Freemasonry’s requirement that its members believe in deity, and its – pardon the expression – “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule concerning the members’ specific religious opinions, create a fraternal order wherein any man who believes in a Supreme Being may enjoy friendships with others. In 2009 it sounds simple, but when this idea was put into practice in the cosmopolitan London of the 1720s, it was revolutionary. In the wake of the English Civil War, Restoration and Glorious Revolution, and during the era of English-Scottish Union, Jacobite rebellion and wild change in royal families, Freemasonry unveiled itself to the public, publishing its Constitutions in 1723 which state the fraternity’s preference for religious (and political) ambiguity. The result was the invention of interfaith ecumenism, a triumph that helped create the modern world; as the British Empire spread across the globe, it brought Freemasonry with it, creating a previously impossible socialization for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Parsees and others to mingle as equals.

God and Man at Wall Street

It was Thursday, April 30, 1789 in New York City, the nation’s capital, when President-elect George Washington took the oath of office at Federal Hall. This was made possible by the recent ratification by the States of the U.S. Constitution. Article 2, Section 1 provides the presidential oath of office:

“Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ ”

No mention of a Bible on which to place one’s hand. No “So help me God” phrase.

Bearing in mind that the recording of history in the 18th century was not the hard science that we know today, with its fact-checked data, referenced citations, peer-reviewed research, academically credentialed experts, and media technologies, here is an account of the inaugural events that unfolded at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets in Manhattan:

Finally, the time set for the inaugural ceremony arrived and about half-past twelve o’clock, all things being in readiness, the procession moved from the President’s house, preceded by the troops and a numerous escort, to Federal Hall where the Senate and House of Representatives in joint session were in waiting to receive him. At the moment appointed to take the oath of office required by the Constitution, accompanied by the Vice-President, numerous functionaries and a large number of the Senate and House of Representatives, Washington appeared on the balcony fronting Broad Street. There in the presence of a vast concourse of citizens, surrounded by intimate friends, including several former comrades in arms – among whom were Alexander Hamilton, Roger Sherman, Generals Knox and St. Clair, Baron Steuben and others – he took the following oath, prescribed by law, which was administered by the Chancellor of the State of New York, Robert Livingston: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States; and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’

When Mr. Livingston (at left, with Bible) had finished reading the oath, Washington replied solemnly: ‘I swear, so help me God,’ and bowing low, he reverently kissed the Bible.
(“Washington: the Man and the Mason,” by Charles H. Callahan, National Capital Press, 1913, pp. 158-59.)

The standard accepted backstory of how a Bible was added to the proceedings is as follows and appears on the website and promotional literature (below, left) of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, the very lodge that furnished the holy text:

“Everything was ready for the administration of the oath of office to the president of the new government, when it was found that there had not been provided a Holy Bible on which the President-elect could swear allegiance to the Constitution. Jacob Morton, who was Marshal of the parade and, at that time, Master of St. John’s Lodge, was standing close by, and, seeing the dilemma they were in, remarked that he could get the altar Bible of St. John’s Lodge, which met at the ‘Old Coffee House,’ at the corner of Water and Wall streets. Chancellor Livingston begged him to do so. The Bible was brought, and the ceremony proceeded. When the stately Washington had finished repeating the oath, with his right hand resting on the open Book and his head bowed in reverential manner, he said, in a clear and distinct voice, ‘I swear, so help me God!’ Then bowing over this magnificent Bible, he reverently kissed it. Whereupon Chancellor Livingston in a ringing voice exclaimed, ‘Long live George Washington, President of the United States!’ ”

“The Bible was “Printed by Mark Baskett, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, London 1767.” The deep gold lettering, distinctly clear on both covers, displays this inscription: “God shall establish; St. John’s Lodge constituted 5757; Burnt down 8th March, 5770; Rebuilt and opened November 28, 5770. Officers then presiding: Jonathan Hampton, Master; William Butler, Senior Warden; Isaac Heron, Junior Warden.”

“The first page is an artistic steel engraved portrait of King George II, but, that which is so dear to the heart of every Mason is the inserted second page, beautifully engrossed and remarkably legible even at this date are the lines: ‘On this sacred volume, on the 30th day of April, A. L. 5789, in the City of New York, was administered to George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, the oath to support the Constitution of the United States.’ This important ceremony was performed by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, the Honorable Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State.”

Above: Genesis Chapters 49 and 50, where Washington placed his right hand during his presidential oath of office. Below: The original portrait of King George II, left, and the portrait of Washington added subsequently. Photos by The Magpie Mason, 2003.

What’s in an oath?

With the involvement in this historic event of the most senior Masonic authorities of New York, it is time to explain what I believe is the most likely reason for the first president's ad libbed addendum to the Constitutional oath of office and the inclusion of the Bible.

By 1789, George Washington had been a Freemason for 37 years. He was initiated into the fraternity on Nov. 4, 1752; passed to the second degree on March 3, 1753; and raised to the degree of Master Mason on Aug. 4, 1753 at Fredericksburg Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In each of these three ceremonies, Washington would have taken an oath and an obligation; more than finalize the process of becoming a Mason, this act is what Masons specifically credit for “making” the Mason. It is important to understand that while the oath and the obligation of each degree are presented ritually together, the two declarations distinctly serve two purposes. There is no enigmatic Masonic mystery here. Just grab a dictionary.

Oath – 1. a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says 2.a: solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

b: something (as a promise) corroborated by an oath; an irreverent or careless use of a sacred name; broadly: SWEARWORD.

Obligation – 1. Any act by which a person becomes bound to do something to or for another, or to forbear something; external duties imposed by law, promise, or contract, by the relations of society, or by courtesy, kindness, etc.
2. The act of obligating.
3. A bond with a condition annexed, and a penalty for not fulfilling. In a larger sense, it is an acknowledgment of a duty to pay a certain sum or do a certain things.
4. That which obligates or constrains; the binding power of a promise, contract, oath, or vow, or of law; that which constitutes legal or moral duty.
5. The state of being obligated or bound; the state of being indebted for an act of favor or kindness; as, to place others under obligations to one.

From the day he entered adulthood and its societies at age 17, George Washington no doubt had taken many oaths before April 30, 1789. Washington the public official: surveyor of Culpepper County in 1749, and adjutant of Virginia three years later. The Freemason: a Master Mason (or full member) in a prestigious lodge of local elites at a time when only one in six lodge members attained the rank of Master Mason. The officer in the Virginia militia: a major in 1752, a lieutenant colonel in 1754, and a brigadier general in 1758. The elected government official: a legislator in Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1758. A married gentleman in 1759. And of course commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and president of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. How were all of these oaths phrased? I will have to leave most of that to the aforementioned credentialed academics, but I can provide some insight into the language of the Masonic oaths and obligations.

So help me God.

It would surprise no regular Freemason in the United States (or Great Britain) that George Washington concluded his oath of office by kissing the holy text and beseeching “I swear, so help me God!” A similar act of testimony is performed by every Freemason. A “moment of truth,” if you will.

Thanks to a brief but amazing piece of research published in the current (Vol. 120) edition of “Ars Quatuor Coronatorum,” the annual book of transactions published by Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London, we behold a seminal use of the phrase “So help me God” for public administration purposes. The Magpie Mason is forever indebted to editor Peter Hamilton Currie for squeezing this one but fascinating page into the book. Rather than type the content of this entire page, please indulge me for instead reproducing the page below so you can see it as intended. Click to enlarge. (And RW Bro. Peter, please forgive this transgression against QCCC’s copyright. I have rendered the page blue so that any further reproduction on the web can be traced to, and rightly blamed, on me.)

Left: RW Peter Hamilton Currie, editor of AQC.

Right: King James oath as it appears in Vol. 120.

“So,” you’re thinking, still unimpressed, “who cares about King James?” The prayerful conclusion of public oaths in England is found even earlier, during the reign of Elizabeth I, in what is called the Oath of Supremacy:

“I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the queen’s highness is the only supreme governor of this realm and of all other her highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen’s highness, her heirs, and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities granted or belonging to the queen’s highness, her heirs, and successors, or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm: so help me God and by the contents of this Book.”

It is possible this oath originated even earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII. And our phrase of the day persists after the Elizabethan-Jacobean era. In the reign of Charles I was promulgated the Oath of Allegiance, a pledge of loyalty to the Crown:

(Pinky, this one’s for you.)

“I A. B. doe truely and sincercly acknowledge, professe, testifie and declare in my conscience before God and the world, That our Soveraigne Lord King CHARLES, is lawfull King of this Realme…. And all these things I doe plainely and sincerely acknowledge and sweare, according to these expresse words by me spoken, and according to the plaine and common sence and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mentall evasion or secret reservasion whatsoever. And I doe make this Recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truely, upon the true Faith of a Christian. So helpe me GOD.”

“Still,” you may be thinking, “what do English monarchs have to do with American republicanism?” Fair question. I offer the above quotations to demonstrate how our phrase “So help me God” was instrumental to stable civil government and peaceable citizenry. As further evidence, I cite early Masonic rituals. There is an enormous corpus of literature in Freemasonry known as the Old Charges, consisting of dozens of manuscripts describing Masonic proto-rituals starting with the Regius poem (c. 1390) and culminating with 18th century documents easily recognizable to today’s Freemason. There are too many to address here (and frankly this post has gone long enough!), but I give a few examples that display commonalities with the oaths to our 16th and 17th century monarchs (and I hereby modernize the spelling):

“These Charges that you have received you shall well and truly keep, not disclosing the secrecy of our lodge to man, woman, nor child… so god you help. Amen.” (Buchanan MS, c. 1670)

“I, AB, do in the presence of Almighty God and my fellows and brethren here present, promise and declare that I will not at any time hereafter… make known any of the secrets… of the fraternity… so help me god and the holy contents of this book.” (Harleian MS, c. 1675)

“…you shall not reveal any part of what you shall hear or see at this time… so help you god.” (Edinburgh Register House MS, 1696)

“The signs and tokens that I shall declare unto you, you shall not write… and you shall not tell… to man, woman, nor child… so help you God.” (Drinkwater No. 1 MS, c. 1700)

There is a lot of anxiety in certain circles caused by “So help me God.” Marxists, atheists, lonely busybodies, and revisionists of all stripes labor to diminish or erase the historical record of Washington’s rhetorical flourish, insisting there is no journalistic evidence he said it. I have no use for that argument, or for those who cling to it. Professional (sic) journalists and historians in 1789 were unscientific and brazenly biased, as judged against our modern expectations. (They didn’t have the objectivity and accuracy of blogs back then!) Furthermore, Washington the president was exploring new ground, truly going where no man had gone before. The Constitution didn’t prohibit the use of a Bible in the oath nor proscribed invoking deity. A good public servant – and a good Freemason – knows what his constitution says and what it does not say, and governs himself accordingly.

With this understanding of the history of “So help me God,” maybe we can agree that George Washington indeed did speak the phrase following his presidential oath of office, as reported, and perhaps also safely surmise that he added this language, not as an improvised coda, but as an established tradition in government oaths per longstanding custom. It is fact that the birth of the American republic was unprecedented in history, but it cannot be denied that the men who gave it law and politics were creatures of English habit, schooled in the mother country’s history, common law, politics, religions and traditions.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Article II, Section 1.8 of the U.S. Constitution

In view of the current 220th year anniversary for George Washington's First Inauguration and as a follow-up to the Comments made to my earlier post, David Barton and His Seven Signs, here are a pair of e-mails, arranged in chronological order, between myself and Dr. Fred Beuttler, Deputy Historian of the House, and myself (Ray Soller).

From: Raymond Soller
Sent: Monday, February 09, 2009 9:35 AM
To: Office of the Historian
Subject: Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution


In response to the January 22, 2009 question by Mr. A.P. from the Netherlands asking for the reason why the VP's oath is longer than the presidential oath I found the following statement:
When George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on 30 April 1789 in New York City, he added the phrase, “So help me God” at the end of the oath of office. It has been in place ever since.

The story that Washington added a religious codicil to his oath of office is not supported by any known contemporary or subsequent firsthand account. I don't know exactly what is meant by "It has been in place ever since," but if we skip over the Sept. 22, 1881 swearing-in ceremony for Chester A. Arthur [after the death of President Garfield], then we can safely say that no elected president is known to have departed from the constitutional oath until the early part of the twentieth century. Herbert Hoover was the last president whose oath was administered as prescribed by Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It has only been since FDR that all presidents have been prompted to conclude their oath with "So help me God."

My question is: Does the Office of the Historian have any documented facts to support the notion that George Washington added "So help me God" to the presidential oath?

Is it possible that your office missed out on Dr. Donald Kennon's January 14th briefing, Historical Perspectives on the Inaugural Swearing In Ceremony, at the U. S. Department of State Foreign Press Center?

Reply requested,
Ray Soller

----- Response -----
From: Beuttler, Fred
To: Raymond Soller
Sent: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 6:10 PM
Subject: RE: Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution

Dear Mr. Soller,

Thank you for your response to our web post. You are technically correct, and that phrase we used in that answer was overly definitive. It was an oversimplification of a historically complex incident. While it is possible, and indeed probable, that Washington used the phrase, “so help me God,” the record is silent as to whether or not he actually did say it.

Thank you as well for pointing out my friend and colleague Don Kennon’s remarks, although I think he went too far in implying that the absence of a direct source affirms the contrary position. While no direct reference to Washington’s use of the phrase “so help me God” has been found, it is quite possible for him to have added that at the end of the presidential oath. He had no scruples against seeking divine guidance for his administration, as indeed he does in his inaugural address. His “fervent supplications to that Almighty Being …” and his “homage to the Great Author of every public and private good” suggest that he would affirm the sentiment of “so help me God.” Further, the phrase was required of most oaths at the time, a commonplace in English and most American state oaths.

The evidence as to Washington’s use of the phrase is circumstantial, but for most things in the past, that is probably as close as it gets. Washington did bring a Bible to the oath ceremony; he also “repeated” the constitutional oath of office with “devout fervency.” And he also performed this remarkable act, according to at least one [anonymous - RS] eyewitness: “he bowed down and kissed the sacred volume.” (“Extract from a letter from New York, May 3,” in THE FEDERAL GAZETTE, May 8, 1789, p.3) Now, why would he do that? What Washington was most likely doing was following the custom of English monarchs, who in the eighteenth century, and even now, take their oath of office (including the phrase “so help me God”), and then bow down and kiss the Bible. [my italics - RS]

One could look as well to the precedent of the House of Representatives. A little over three weeks before Washington’s inauguration, the House was sworn in, on April 6, 1789 [the date was April 8th - RS], with an [ad hoc - RS] oath to uphold the Constitution, “so help me God.” While the records of the Senate are silent as to their oath of office, it was clear that when Washington said his oath, at least [no, only - RS] the Representatives themselves had recently taken an [ad hoc - RS] oath of office with the phrase, “so help me God.” [The Senate record is not silent. It wasn't until June 3, 1789 that Senate President John Adams administered the official legislated oath to all Senators, which had been signed into law by President Washington on June 1st. - RS]

Did Washington end his oath of office with the phrase “so help me God”? As far as recent historians have been able to discover, the record is silent as to whether he said it or did not say it. The direct evidence for or against is equal on both sides. Given the historical and congressional context, however, along with Washington’s seeming use of the monarchial precedents and his willingness to invoke divine aid at most opportunities, it seems plausible that Washington did say “so help me God,” after the oath of office and before kissing the Bible. Indeed, it seems more plausible to think that no one thought to record such a commonplace as worthy of note, than that Washington purposefully omitted the phrase, and that no one mentioned that omission. Otherwise, why would he kiss the Bible?

So, clearly, it is possible, that Washington said “so help me God,” and with the circumstantial evidence, it is probably likely, although not certain, that he said it.

But you are correct, in saying that the tradition of saying “so help me God,” in presidential oaths (unlike in congressionally mandated oaths), did not begin with Washington, but developed later, unlike the tradition of taking the oath on a Bible, which did originate with our first president.
[end of e-mail exchange]

Two things should be noted about Dr. Beuttler's answer to Mr. A. P. of the Netherlands: first off, Dr. Beuttler never actually answered the question as to why the the Vice-President's oath is much longer than the president's oath, and secondly, after my first e-mail to Dr. Beuttler, he, to his credit, modified his response shown on the internet so that it now reads:
When George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on 30 April 1789 in New York City, he probably [my italics] added the phrase, “So help me God” at the end of the oath of office. It has been added by most presidents in the past century.

As for Dr. Beuttler's response to me regarding the notion that Washington brought a Bible to his oath ceremony, that is not substantiated by anything in the historical record, and it is this fact that needs to be addressed before anyone can properly understand why Washington placed his hand on the Bible and after the oath was completed bowed down to kiss the Bible.

Even with Dr. Beuttler's bible gaff, he still tries to build his case for Washington having probably concluded his oath with "So help me God" by asking the question, "Now, why would he do that [bow down and kiss the bible]?," and then he continues by answering his own question with the following:
What Washington was most likely doing was following the custom of English monarchs, who in the eighteenth century, and even now, take their oath of office (including the phrase “so help me God”), and then bow down and kiss the Bible.

Dr. Beuttler is not the first one to suggest the possiblility that Washington followed the custom set by the coronation of English kings and queens. In August of 1980, Martin Jay Medhurst stressed this possiblility in his dissertation, ’God Bless the President’: The Rhetoric of Inaugural Prayer (See "A Ceremonial Pattern," pgs 61-62.)

Another possible model, much closer to Washington's personal experiences, is that of the oaths taken during Masonic initiatory rituals. Though rarely considered, this could be a possibility.

A central problem with either of these possibilities is that Washington was known as a festidious planner and was not known to leave any loose ends which would need resolution at the last minute, such as locating a Bible for his swearing-in ceremony. In addition, it's been noted by respectable historians that it would be very unlike Washington to take it upon himself to modify the text for the presidential oath as prescribed by Article II, Section 1.8 of the United States Constitution:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Frazer Responds to King of Ireland on Romans 13

At American Creation Dr. Gregg Frazer left a comment responding to a commenter named King of Ireland on Romans 13 and whether the story of Moses and Egypt is an example that justifies "rebellion to tyrants." Frazer's position, which he can justify throughout the biblical record, is "rebellion to tyrants is ALWAYS disobedience to God." The larger point I take from Frazer's fervent insistence on this point -- that rebellion against government is always wrong according to the Bible -- is that just because some folks called themselves "Christians" a few hundred years ago and attached "God" to their pet ideas doesn't necessarily mean the text of the Bible alone properly justifies such theological claims. I see this especially apt with the Declaration of Independence which, though it invokes God, attaches all sorts of ideas to God that have NOTHING whatsoever to do with what's written in the Bible.

Frazer's method at the very least cautions against using Sola Scriptura (i.e., the Bible alone) to vet our pet theological causes in which we would like to believe, like God grants men unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and to revolt against tyrants. The "Sola Scriptura" that led Luther to break away from the Roman Catholic Church or that is used to argue against Mormonism, also, arguably shoots down the theological claims of the Declaration of Independence.

King of Ireland:

God did NOT tell Moses to "break away from Pharaoh" -- where? What verse? He told Moses to go to Pharaoh (not organize a rebellion) and repeat to him God's demand that he let the Israelites go. When Pharaoh refused, Moses still did not organize rebellion -- he just kept repeating God's words to Pharaoh. Revolution is always wrong and God is not a liar.

[It's best to be accurate in what you say before casually throwing around an accusation against God]

As for rulers going down, God uses the sinful activity of men for His purposes and makes it work to fulfill His plan -- but that does not change the fact that the action was sinful/wrong [the end does not justify the means].

Where does the Bible say that God sent Moses to revolt -- what verse?

What is the connection between killing an individual Egyptian and revolution against the government of Egypt? FORTY YEARS elapsed between the killing of the Egyptian and Moses' return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh.

Where does the Bible say that Moses (or the Israelites) took up arms against the Egyptian government -- what verse?

On the contrary, Moses presented GOD'S demands (not his) and then merely obeyed Pharaoh's command to leave Egypt in Exodus 12:31-32 -- they didn't fight their way out or try to overthrow the government of Pharaoh. All of the attacks on Pharaoh's people and all of the deaths were done by God Himself -- not by Moses or the Israelites.

Jesus did NOT tell his disciples to "get their swords" when they came for Him -- what's the verse? BEFORE they came for Him, He told his disciples to CARRY swords in order to fulfill prophecy (Luke 22:37). When they said they had two swords (for 12 men), He said that was enough -- because they weren't to be USED. He rebuked Peter for USING a sword, which was never the intent (John 18:36).

There is a difference between "disobedience" and "resistance." Authorities should be "disobeyed" when they command disobedience to God, but "resistance" is never justified.

I am sorry that you will not worship a God Who says something you disagree with (in your infinite/infallible wisdom), but Who took on human flesh, came to earth, and died to provide a means of forgiving your disbelief and sins in order to make eternal life available to you.

I disagree with your assessment: I think most people have a problem with Christianity because "men love the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds are evil." [John 3:19] You complain about lack of choice, but when men have a choice, they reject God.

As for bad translations, I am basing what I say on the original manuscripts (original Greek & Hebrew).

John Fea on Washington's Religion

Just wanted to briefly mention a recent posting done by historian John Fea over at his personal blog. Dr. Fea briefly mentions a recent class he held on Washington's religion along with some of his own comments.

Obviously this has been a major topic here at American Creation. Of all the founders discussed, Washington seems to come up much more than the others. Personally, I see the religious creed of George Washington as a bit of an enigma, since he rarely if ever mentioned it in his personal writings. However, I am in agreement with Dr. Fea that when judging Washington's personal faith we must do so by the traditional 18th century standards of his time. As a result, Washington comes off looking like a nominal Anglican/Episcopalian at best.

I am reminded of the efforts of Christian Nation supporter Peter Lillback, author of the book Sacred Fire, which attempts to portray Washington as a ultra-evangelical Christian -- in the 21st century context of course. Anyway, Lillback claims that the "written prayers" of Washington clearly portray our nation's first Commander-in-Chief to be a staunch Christian. I find his conclusions a bit confusing, given the fact that Lillback provides NOT ONE reference to Washington praying to Jesus. Here are the actual words -- the "God Talk" if you will -- that Washington used in his "written prayers" to describe divinity, along with the number of times they were used. Again, this all comes from Lillback's book:

"Providence" - 26 times
"Heaven" -25 times
"God" - 16 times
"Almighty God" - 8 times
"Lord" - 5 times
"Almighty" - 5 times
"Author of all Blessings" - 3 times
"Author of the Universe" - 3 times
"God of Armies" - 3 times
"Giver of Victory" - 3 times
"Great Ruler of the Universe" - 2 times
"Divine Protector" - 2 times
"Ruler of Nations" - 2 times
"Particular Favor of Heaven" - 2 times
"Divine Author of Life and Felicity" - 2 times
"Author of Nations" - 1 time
"Divine Being" - 1 time
"Allwise Dispenser of Human Blessings" - 1 time
"Supreme giver of all good Gifts" - 1 time
"Sovereign Dispenser of Life and Health" - 1 time
"Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good" - 1 time
"Power which has Sustained American arms" - 1 time
"Allwise Providence" - 1 time
"Infinite Wisdom" - 1 time
"Eye of Omnipotence" - 1 time
"Divine Author of our Blessed Religion" - 1 time
"Omnipotent being" - 1 time
"Great Spirit" - 1 time
"Glorious being" - 1 time
"Supreme being" - 1 time
"Almighty being" - 1 time
"Creator" - 1 time
"Jesus Christ" - 0
"Salvation" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0

With such neutral language combined with his limited church attendance and his lack of regular communion, I find it difficult to defend Washington's orthodoxy. My guess is that Dr. Fea would agree.

Anyway, I encourage you all to read Dr. Fea's post on this subject!

Italics and the English Language

One of our commenters---and one I could live without ever hearing from again---once mentioned among her criticisms of meself that I regularly use italics for a word in a sentence, as if this makes me some sort of language snob, or a soapboxer.

Actually, it's an attempt to make myself understood, imagining how a sentence might be understood by the casual reader. The written word, and the internet itself, creates so many misimpressions, especially when people don't read your whole thought, don't care to understand your thought, but are only interested in finding some petard to hoist you upon.

I ran across this, which explains it all:

"I never said she stole my money" has 7 different meanings depending on the stressed word...

Hehe. There are only 7 words in that sentence, and you need to stress one of them. Word up---italics are good.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Historians, Christianity, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy

I've toyed with the historical-theological notion that if one isn't an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, one isn't a "Christian." As a non-Christian, I am not personally wedded to it; I saw myself, rather, as giving due deference to the historical authorities -- be they Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, or Protestant -- in charge who defined Christianity according to its historical orthodoxy. I also found it a useful device when debating the "Christian Nation" issue because almost all of the proponents of the "Christian America" thesis define Christianity strictly according to orthodox doctrine. In short, the same folks who thunder "America was founded to be Christian Nation" are likely to turn around and assert "Mormonism isn't Christianity."

But I realize there is more than one way to define and understand "Christianity."

My co-blogger at American Creation Kristo Miettinen didn't like my assertion that "Christianity" could be defined synonymously with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, at least from an historical perspective. He then challenged me to find respectable historians of Christianity who would, say, assert Arianism (or some kind of non-Trinitarian doctrine) was not "Christian." I think he understands there are plenty of theologians who will assert non-orthodoxy is "not Christianity," but rather than few respectable historians of religion will.

This is my first post attempting to name some names. Let me make some caveats. First, I'm not sure whether this will convince Mr. Miettinen for the sheer fact that there's going to be a semantical "out." I think almost everyone, whether they are historians, theologians or whatever, will concede things like Arianism, Socinianism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnessism, etc. to be "Christian heresies." In that case the term "Christian" is used as an adjective to modify "heresy," suggesting these heresies are part of the historical movement of "Christendom." I certainly don't disagree.

The second caveat I make is history doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's often used in political or cultural wars and this is CERTAINLY the case with the "Christian America" dispute. We literally are at the interdisciplinary crossroads of politics, history, and theology and you could throw in law and philosophy as well.

So when we see these historical scholars argue who and what is a Christian, you see them take cognizance of this political-historical-theological dispute and use lots of "if" qualifications. As in, "if we define Christianity this way, then...."

So here are some examples of notable historians who suggest, if it ain't orthodox, it ain't Christian. First is Paul F. Boller, PhD from Yale and Prof. Emeritus at Texas Southern University. His work has been published by among other places Oxford University Press. And he is considered the preeminent authority on George Washington's religion. Don't ask me why his book is out of print. All I know is that it is the most cited work by authoritative historians of GW. How he sums up Washington's creed in that book:

[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.
Boller then states "broadly speaking" Washington could be categorized as a "Deist" but notes GW nonetheless believed in an active Providential God. Boller also is open to categorizing GW as a liberal Protestant Christian of the unitarian bent or a nominal Christian.

Even Peter Lillback who holds Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary in the history of theology, and wrote a book seeking to prove GW was a "Christian" not a "Deist," (wherein Boller was the main enemy) seemed to accept Boller's orthodox test for "Christianity." That is Lillback is not content to show GW was not a strict Deist (which I think Lillback clearly demonstrated), but was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian."

Next, Gary Scott Smith, Chair and Professor of History at Grove City College, an evangelical school. He wrote a book on faith and the American Presidency published by Oxford University Press where he ENDORSED Dr. Gregg Frazer's categorization of "theistic rationalist" to describe the creed of America's key Founders. And again, perhaps Drs. Frazer and Smith find it impossible to separate their orthodox evangelical faith from their study of history and that shifts their perspective. Though, instead of trying to "claim" the FFs as "Christians," once they accept these FFs were not orthodox Trinitarians, they conclude the creed was not "Christianity" but some other theological system.

Again, I recognize this is a debatable contention; but OUP felt comfortable publishing this (what I consider an outstanding) book that made such an assertion. You can preview Dr. Smith's discussion of the theistic rationalism of the early Presidents in the link.

Next Dr. Peter Henriques, "Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 1971, and he is professor of history, emeritus, from George Mason University." Dr. Henriques wrote a popular book published by UVA Press that also quotes Dr. Frazer and endorses the "theistic rationalist" categorization.

But Dr. Henriques doesn't say GW was NOT a Christian and even admits he could qualify as a "Christian" from a broad historical perspective. He cites Dr. Frazer's thesis AFTER noting that it's conservative evangelicals who most fervently try to claim GW as one of their own. And basically says, by your own standards GW wasn't a Christian, so perhaps you should look for a different term like "theistic rationalist." You can read his discussion of theistic rationalism in the google books preview here.

Also note Alan Wolfe's NYT review of Henriques' book:

Because today's religious right is determined to read the present back into the past, historians who write about faith and the founding find themselves on disputed ground. Nonetheless, both Henriques and Holmes are trustworthy guides. Henriques deals with Washington's life as a whole and spends only one chapter on religion. But he is fair-minded and thoughtful, and because he possesses no other agenda than a desire to uncover the real man, he is convincing when he concludes that "if one defines 'Christian' as the evangelicals do . . . George Washington cannot be properly referred to as a Christian."
Wolfe in that article also reviews David L. Holmes' book "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers," published by OUP. Holmes is the Mason Professor of Religious Studies at William & Mary. Note Holmes terms GW and the other key Founders as "Christian-Deists" or "unitarians" as opposed to the non-Christian Deism of Paine, Palmer, and Allen. However, he also writes in his book:

But if census takers trained in Christian theology had set up broad categories in 1790 labeled, "Atheism," "Deism and Unitarianism," "Orthodox Protestantism," "Orthodox Roman Catholicism," and "Other," and if they had interviewed Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, they would undoubtedly have placed every one of these six founding fathers in some way under the category of "Deism and Unitarianism." pp. 50-51.
Finally, here is Stephen Waldman on the Faith of the key Founding Fathers. Waldman is not a professional historian, but a journalist. However, historians Joseph J. Ellis, Walter Isaacson, and Mark Noll endorsed his book as did political figures William Bennett and George Stephanopoulos.

Here is how Waldman described the faith of the key FFs on a blog:

As for their religious beliefs, someone in the comment thread said I was being incoherent or contradictory by saying the Big Five (Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Washington & Madison) were neither Deists nor orthodox Christians. Again, we’re viewing this through a somewhat warped lens. “Deist” and “Orthodox Christian” were not the only two spiritual choices. For one thing, each Founder was slightly different from each other, and changed throughout their lives. But if I had to pick a religion, I’d say they were sort of militant Unitarians. In other words, they had rejected or become uncomfortable with key parts of Christian doctrine and institutional behavior but they did believe in an active God, who intervened in their lives and the lives of the nation.
Note, he says something similar on p. 193 of his book. Though he clarifies with "it depends on how we define the term, but if we use the definition...offered by those who make this claim [that the FFs were Christians] -- conservative Christians -- then the Founders studied in this book were not Christians....If they must wear labels, the closest would be Unitarian."

Monday, April 27, 2009

David Barton and His Seven Signs

In the month of January 2009, David Barton posted his reply to critics of government imposed religious observances during Obama's upcoming Presidential Inaugural Ceremony. He named his article: America's Religious Heritage As Demonstrated in Presidential Inaugurations

The end of the article concludes:
The very first inauguration – conducted under the watchful eye of those who had framed our government and written its Constitution – incorporated numerous religious activities and expressions. That first inauguration set the constitutional precedent for all other inaugurations; and the activities from that original inauguration that have been repeated in whole or part in every subsequent inauguration include: (1) the use of the Bible to administer the oath; (2) the religious nature of the oath and including “So help me God”; (3) inaugural prayers by the president; (4) religious content in the inaugural addresses; (5) the president calling the people to pray or acknowledge God; (6) inaugural worship services; and (7) clergy-led inaugural prayers.

Here Barton boldly proclaims his seven signs "set the constitutional precedent for all other inaugurations [my italics]." Even so, Barton allows for some wiggle room, because he carefully says that these activities "have been repeated in whole or part." If you're not one of those skeptical critics like myself, then this statement might pass muster. But if you're a skeptic, then David Barton needs to own up to the fact that when we examine the historical record for George Washington's second inauguration there's not a single piece of historical evidence for any of Barton's "Seven Signs" in either "whole or part."

In David Barton's world, who needs hard evidence? After all didn't Jesus say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"?

No matter, in all fairness to Barton, let's turn our attention back to George Washington's first inauguration as Barton does. Now, at this point, he delivers a sermon with his version of what occurred on April 30, 1789, and here, then, is his narrative describing Washington first inaugural ceremony:
The preparations for the inauguration had been extensive; everything had been well planned; the event seemed to be proceeding smoothly. The parade carrying Washington by horse-drawn carriage to the swearing-in was nearing Federal Hall when it was realized that no Bible had been obtained for administering the oath. Parade Marshal Jacob Morton hurried to the nearby Masonic Lodge and grabbed its large 1767 King James Bible.

The Bible was laid upon a crimson velvet cushion (held by Samuel Otis, Secretary of the Senate) and, with a huge crowd gathered below watching the ceremony on the balcony, New York Chancellor Robert Livingston was to administer the oath of office. (Robert Livingston had been one of the five Founders who had drafted the Declaration of Independence; however, he was called back to New York to help his State through the Revolution before he could affix his signature to the very document he had helped write. As Chancellor, Livingston was the highest ranking judicial official in New York.) Beside Livingston and Washington stood several distinguished officials, including Vice President John Adams, original Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, Generals Henry Knox and Philip Schuyler, and a number of others. The Bible was opened at random to the latter part of Genesis; Washington placed his left hand upon the open Bible, raised his right, and then took the oath of office prescribed by the Constitution. Washington then bent over and kissed the Bible, reverently closed his eyes, and said, “So help me God!” Chancellor Livingston then proclaimed, “It is done!” Turning to the crowd assembled below, he shouted, “Long live George Washington – the first President of the United States!” That shout was echoed and re-echoed by the crowd below.

It's a good story, as stories go. However, there are a few other details that are worth mentioning: 1) for all of the elaborate coordinated planning between the members of the joint congressional committee and George Washington there's no record of a Bible having been planned as a requirement for the administration of the oath (even afterwards, the congressional record doesn't even report that a Bible was used); 2) the Masonic owned 1767 King James Bible, with its picture of King George II just inside the front cover, was surprisingly inconsistent with all the other featured items of American manufacture; 3) the most authentically valued depictions of the inaugural scene has Washington placing his right hand on the Bible (even the picture displayed by Barton's article has Washington with his right hand on the Bible - likewise, the lithograph by the esteemed artist Alonzo Chappel (1828 -1887), the bronze statue on the steps of New York City Federal Hall, and the Mount Vernon life-size inaugural exhibit all show Washington's right hand on the Bible); 4) the image of Washington having "reverently closed his eyes" is pure literary fantasy first invented sixty-five years after the event by Rufus Wilmot Griswold when he published his book, The Republican Court: Or, American Society in the Days of Washington; and, 5) similarly, the debut for the religious codicil, "So help me God," comes from the same literary source.

All in all, the claim that George Washington added a religious tagline to his oath is the most problematic. No matter, Barton is unconcerned about the facts as reported by late-arrival "critics." He even disregards a reputable historian like Peter R. Henriques who disputes Griswold's tardy inaugural narrative of 1854 with his article, “So Help Me God”: A George Washington Myth that Should Be Discarded. Furthermore, according to Barton's scheme of things, one can still have a "constitutional precedent" even if no elected president can conscientiously be recognized as having followed this "constitutional precedent" until the beginning of the twentieth century.
Barton's reasoning boils down to this:
Critics today [who rely on firsthand historical accounts (my inclusion)] claim that George Washington never added “So help me God!” to his oath. [dot - dot - dot] But overlooked by many today is the fact that the Framers of our government considered an oath to be inherently religious – something George Washington affirmed when he appended the phrase “So help me God” to the end of the oath.
In other words, since a sizable number of the Framers considered an oath in its "customary" context as religious, Washington, according to Barton's understanding, inevitably added "So help me God" to his presidential oath. Never mind the fact that the Articles of Confederation didn't even require an oath from members of the Continental Congress; that the certificates for the Oath of Allegiance that were sent out to the officers in the Continental Army did not mention God; that "So help me God" was not added to Washington's certificate when he signed his Oath of Allegiance; that even before the revolutionary war had ended the subject of loyalty oaths had left a bitter aftertaste in the minds of a sizable number of Americans who had been forced to proclaim their respective loyalty; that for eleven of the thirteen states, state mandated religious test oaths had been implemented to prevent designated minorities from equal access to basic civil rights; that delegates attending the Constitutional Convention formed a consensus that oaths had become unfashionable; that any religious test was proscribed by the Constitution; that George Washington signed his name at the head of the list of signatories who subscribed to the principles spelled out in the Constitution; that no one ever reported that they heard Washington add "So help me God" to his presidential oath; that Washington signed into law a godless oath for all federal employees; and, as already indicated, that Washington's second inauguration apparently dispensed with any recognizable religious observance.

So, in spite of these many considerations Barton chooses to overlook, he clamors on with his contention that an oath for a federal employee is fundamentally a religious act, which, in accordance with some well-chosen words from his special list of Founding Framers, should, without question, be concluded with "So help me God." Here Barton produces four illustrious candidates to buttress his contention. They are John Witherspoon (1723 – 1794), Rufus King (1755 – 1827), James Iredell (1751 – 1799), and Daniel Webster (1782 – 1852).

There's no reason to count Daniel Webster as a Founding Framer, but the other three candidates established themselves as outspoken supporters for ratification of the Constitution, and none of them is known to have rejected its apparent non-religious character. In fact, Rufus King actually attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and, as a member of the Committee of Style and Arrangement, he helped draft the final version.

What Barton does not want to recognize is that federal oaths administered outside of the courtroom were not saturated with Jon Witherspoon's definition which stated that "An oath is an appeal to God, the Searcher of Hearts, for the truth of what we say and always expresses or supposes an imprecation [a calling down] of His judgment upon us if we prevaricate [lie]."

In contrast to Witherspoon's definition of an oath, George Washington, during the planning stage for his second inaugural ceremony on March 4, 1793, simply called his presidential oath an"oath of qualification," and during his ever so short inaugural address that preceded the swearing-in ceremony he explicitly explained his perspective regarding the oath:
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
It's very simple to see, as far as George Washington was concerned, his oath was a pledge to the people he served, and he meant for the people to hold him responsible for the conduct of his administration. Barton, on the other hand, misconstrues Washington's farewell address to say quite the opposite "that an oath was religious when he pointedly queried:
[W]here is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths . . . ?"
The deception is clear. The "dot - dot - dot" part Barton removed, clarifies what Washington wanted to ask regarding, "the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths," "which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?"

It is true that the next line in Washington's Farewell Address goes on to say, "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." But for those, like Barton with "His Seven Signs," who want to arbitrarily empower the government with the authority to regulate our national morality, Washington, I believe, would have had this to say, "But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Allan Bloom on YouTube, the Straussians & the Founding & Stuff

I've read a lot of Allan Bloom. Until recently I had never heard his voice. Then some audio files were uploaded to the Internet. Now this.

Bloom was not particularly handsome by conventional standards. But his odd looks, combined with his odd way of speaking and his brilliance have captivated many brilliant minds, American or otherwise.

The thing I dislike the most about the "Straussians," is the "cult" that surrounds them. In Ravelstein, Saul Bellow's Roman à clef about Bloom, Leo Strauss is named "Davarr" which is Hebrew for "Word." That speaks for itself. There is likewise a cult that surrounds such thinkers as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and many others. The irony is Rand, Strauss, Rothbard all presented themselves as philosophers of some sort. And forming a "cult" around figures as such inevitably leads to the philosophic error of "appeal to authority." Unless of course, we conclude that one or more of those figures were flawless in their thinking. I'm not even a Christian and I understand that can't be right. So don't be afraid to call any thinker, no matter HOW much you may appreciate their overall work, full of shit, at times. That's the way of the true philosopher. But make sure you have good reason for doing so or else prepare to have your head handed to you on a plate.

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of hubbub written about "the Straussians." I didn't support the Kristol-Wolfowitz American foreign policy project and many Straussians argue that Strauss (perhaps Bloom) would not have either. I'll simply assert that, like a lot of academic theoreticians, they make for better professors of political philosophy than policy wonks.

But without question, the Straussians have done ground breaking scholarly work on the American Founding, especially as it relates to religion.

One profound insight they uncover is how Locke's central teachings of "state of nature," "social contract and rights" are a "modern teaching." Indeed Hobbes formulated this teaching. And Locke sold it to Christendom, precisely by dressing up such ideas in Christian and classical natural law like language. But in dressing up the language of "state of nature/social contract and rights" with Christian and classical natural law speak, Locke in a sense, (perhaps) synthesized a more modern, subversive notion of "rights" with Christian and classical sources, thereby moderating the concept of "rights." But make no mistake, state of nature, social contract and rights, even the notion of God given "natural rights," are nowhere to be found in the Bible, and not part of the classical understanding of "natural law" either.

Here are some choice quotations from Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind":

When Bishops, a generation after Hobbes’s death, almost naturally spoke the language of the state of nature, contract and rights, it was clear that he had defeated the ecclesiastical authorities, who were no longer able to understand themselves as they once had. (pp. 141-2).


[Enlightenment] provides the structure for the key term of liberal democracy, the most successful and useful political notion of our world: rights. Government exists to protect the product of men’s labor, their property, and therewith life and liberty. The notion that man possesses inalienable natural rights, that they belong to him as an individual prior, both in time and in sanctity, to any civil society, and that civil societies exist for and acquire their legitimacy from ensuring those rights, is an invention of modern philosophy. Rights…are new in modernity, not a part of the common-sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy. Hobbes initiated the notion of rights, and it was given its greatest respectability by Locke. (p. 165).

Now, Bloom is more known for his observance of how the language of German nihilism/relativism infiltrated American parlance. Terms like "values," "worldview," "charisma" are by their nature relativistic. Once conservative Christians start talking about how they have a different "worldview," they've lost the battle. The postmodern language of "value relativism" superseded the modern language of natural rights as much as the modern language of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau superseded the language of classical and biblical politics.

The Straussians have their problems with the modernism of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, but will take their politics -- liberal democracy -- warts and all, over postmodern politics. This is what Leo Strauss' famous quotation -- "the moderns 'built on low but solid ground'" -- refers to. But as secret atheists and nihilists themselves, they believe the postmoderns truly understand the ultimate nature of reality (that there is no God, the natural law is a fiction, and that rights are not grounded in nature) but misunderstand the horrifying implications thereof (the abyss). Postmodernism, precisely because it is built not on rational principles, but the arbitrary irrational positing of relative values (i.e., "might makes right") could just as easily lead to Nazi Germany as it could democratic socialism or the American Founding. In other words, the truth, far from setting us free, horrifies.

And to horrify the Straussians who at times display contempt for popular culture, I've found the this Straussian understanding of Nietzsche almost perfectly captured in a comic book -- a graphic novel -- "Watchmen," recently turned into a movie.

As the mad vigilante superhero Rorschach put it after executing by burning alive, instead of turning over to lawful authorities, a child murderer who fed the dead child to pet German Shepards that Rorschach just killed:

Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night. Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world. Was Rorschach.

Bloom also tackled modern psychiatry as something that was based on relativistic German philosophy, but strangely enough was used to make Americans "feel good," when properly understood, such philosophy should do the very opposite. And here is how Rorschach made his do-good, feel-good, prison psychiatrist feel. Here is the doctor’s reaction to his interaction with the relativistic, nihilistic, value-positing patient who managed to construct a harsh world of black and white, good and evil out of the abyss:

I sat on the bed. I looked at the Rorschach blot. I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn’t. It looked more like a dead cat I once found, the fat, glistening grubs writhing blinding, squirming over each other, frantically tunneling away from the light. But even that is avoiding the real horror. The horror is this: in the end it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness. We are alone. There is nothing else.

Perhaps, I've said too much. I'll stop here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

2009 Pulitzer Prize Winners

The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced on Monday, and though nothing on religion and the founding won, I still think it's worth mentioning here on this blog.

The winner for the 2009 Pulitzer in History went to Annette Gordon-Reed for her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School. She earned a place in history with her first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, which she then followed up with this book. Here is a brief review of The Hemingses of Monticello from WW Norton Publishing:

This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.
The winner for the 2009 Pulitzer for Biography went to Jon Meacham of Newsweek for his newest book, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Most of our readers are probably familiar with Meacham. His book, American Gospel has been quoted on occasion here at American Creation. Here is a brief intro to American Lion from Random House Publishing:

Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson’s election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson’s presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama–the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers–that shaped Jackson’s private world through years of storm and victory.

One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it. His story is one of violence, sex, courage, and tragedy. With his powerful persona, his evident bravery, and his mystical connection to the people, Jackson moved the White House from the periphery of government to the center of national action, articulating a vision of change that challenged entrenched interests to heed the popular will–or face his formidable wrath. The greatest of the presidents who have followed Jackson in the White House–from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to FDR to Truman–have found inspiration in his example, and virtue in his vision.

Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.

Jon Meacham in American Lion has delivered the definitive human portrait of a pivotal president who forever changed the American presidency–and America itself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tillman Keeps Stone on His Toes

A while ago I blogged about University of Chicago Law Prof. Geoff Stone's Law Review article on the "Christian Nation" controversy. You can read Stone's article here.

Seth Barrett Tillman kindly alerted me to his working paper responding to Stone found here.

A few words on Tillman's critique of Stone. First, Tillman specializes in meticulous fact checking detail; he's an expert footnoter. But parts of his paper come off as a little too pedantic. Still I found much of value in those footnotes.

I think the overall criticism Tillman directs at Stone is valid and that is Stone -- like his "Christian Nation" opponents -- overstates his case, and otherwise does not specifically enough define concepts or fully develop his thesis.

Here is the first passage of Stone's at which Tillman takes aim:

Indeed, it is quite striking, and certainly no accident, that unlike the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the U.S. Constitution made no reference whatsoever to God and cited as its primary source of authority not "the word of God," but "We the People." The stated purpose of the Constitution was not to create a "Government established to God," not to establish a "Christian nation," but rather to create a secular state. The only reference to religion in the original Constitution prohibited the use of any religious test for holding office, and the First Amendment made clear that there "would be no Church of the United States."4

Here is how Tillman responds to this argument, first in footnote 4:

4 Id. at 5. How is it "striking" that the Constitution of 1787 stylistically veered from the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut -- an instrument 150 years older than the Constitution at the time of ratification? Is not the relevant benchmark how the Constitution veered from contemporaneous instruments of a similar character? See infra note 5.

Maybe "striking" is too strong a word; but Stone's original comparison is apt. The FOC and some other original colonial charters demonstrate what a "Christian" government looks like. It explicitly cites the Bible and the Christian religion as authority and makes a covenant to the Triune God. All these are missing from the US Constitution. That may not make the US Constitution a document of ideal secularism; but it does make the US Constitution not a "Christian" document. The US Constitution differs in principle from the earlier explicitly Christian colonial charters in this very meaningful sense.

Next Tillman responds to Stone's claim that the US Constitution makes no reference whatsoever to God:

....Is it true that the text makes "no reference whatsoever to God"? Is it true that the "only reference to religion" in the original unamended text was the Religious Test Clause? To me at least, these seem to be an unusually strong set of (textual) claims for a law review article: claims lacking recognition of ambiguity and contrary points of view.

Tillman then talks about how the Attestation Clause mentions God and here is his footnote 5 which summarizes his research on such other contemporenous clauses:

5 U.S. CONST. art. VII, cl. 2 (Attestation Clause). See generally Seth Barrett Tillman, Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online, Constitution's References to God (Nov. 3, 2003), (noting potential significance of dual dating in Article VII) (last visited Jan. 26, 2009); EDWIN MEESE ET AL., THE HERITAGE GUIDE TO THE CONSTITUTION 301-02 (2005) (same). But see Steven D. Smith, Our Agnostic Constitution, 83 N.Y.U. L. REV. 120, 125 n.19 (2008) (stating that "[t]he reference to 'the Year of our Lord' simply employed the conventional dating method of the era....") (emphasis added). What is important to note here is that Professor Smith's view is neither an interpretation of a legal instrument nor a (pure) legal intuition; rather, it is his understanding of an eighteenth century cultural convention or folkway. Because his opinion here is one unrelated to legal expertise, it is entitled to no special deference. In other words, although Professor Smith's position is common wisdom, early American legal materials, in fact, used a variety of dating conventions. Simply put, there was no single "conventional dating method." See, e.g., Articles of Association of 1774 (dated "In Congress, Philadelphia, October 20, 1774"); Declaration of Independence (dated "July 4, 1776"); Delaware Constitution of 1776 (dated "Friday, September 10, 1776"); New Hampshire Constitution of 1776 (dated "January 5, 1776"); New Jersey Constitution of 1776 (dated "July 2, 1776"); North Carolina Constitution of 1776 (dated "December the eighteenth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six"); Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 (dated "Passed in Convention the 28th day of September, 1776"); South Carolina Constitution of 1776 (dated "March 26, 1776"); Virginia Constitution of 1776 (not internally dated); New York Constitution of 1777 (dated "20th April, 1777"); Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 (not internally dated). This is not to say that the dating convention used in the Constitution of 1787 was new. It was not. See Articles of Confederation of 1777 (using the same dating convention later used in the Constitution of 1787); Georgia Constitution of1777 (dated "in convention, the fifth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven, and in the first year of the Independence of the United States of America"); cf. Maryland Constitution of 1776 (dated "14th day of August, anno domini 1776"). Of course, neither Connecticut nor Rhode Island and Providence Plantations had revolutionary era state constitutions. (The quoted material is available on The Avalon Project-Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy: 18th Century Documents: 1700-1799, (last visited Jan. 30, 2009), on The Constitution Society, (last visited Jan. 30, 2009), and on Constitutions of the World Online/The Rise of Modern Constitutionalism 1776-1849, (last visited Feb. 12, 2009).)

So after that big footnote, the entirety of which I didn't even reproduce (there was a second, smaller paragraph), we are left with "in the year of our Lord" was not *the* convention, but *a* common convention. But make no mistake, that's all it was. A more balanced way to make Stone's claim would note the Constitution does not mention God other than in the most nominal perfunctory way. And the fact that the original US Constitution accomodates those nominal conventional references to the people's common religion is instructive of the softer secularism of the American Founding. It was not the harsh take no prisoners secularism of the French Revolution, but more moderate. That nuance is missing from Stone's paper. Likewise the failure to see how the US Constitution comes from a different philosophical mindset than that of the FOC is the nuance missing from the "Christian America" crowd's understanding of history.

On to Tillman's second major critique:

Nowhere in Professor Stone's article is there any discussion of the arguments or any acknowledgment, by name, of the persons he is opposing. He asserts that someone somewhere has made the argument that America is a "Christian nation." He cites, but does not quote, a single article in The New York Times20 (ostensibly, not by one of his intellectual opponents, but merely by a reporter reporting on events) and two books,21 the more recent of which dates from 1987 -- over twenty years ago. ...

Okay, maybe Stone could have done a better job naming names; but the figures to whom he responds do exist and continue to be quite influential in certain corners, especially among homeschoolers and megachurches. You could look at the work of Chris Rodda for the exact names, dates, and footnotes. The crowd is led by David Barton, the late D. James Kennedy, Peter Marshall, William Federer and others. I think I can safely list the late Kennedy as currently relevant because his Coral Ridge Program continues to run Christian Nation programs featuring DJK in almost a morose "Weekend at Bernie's" way.

In footnote 19, Tillman criticizes Stone for writing:

Indeed, as we shall see, many of the leaders of the Revolutionary generation were not Christians in any traditional sense. They were [by contrast?] broad-minded intellectuals....

To which Tillman responds in that very footnote:

Such claims as this are not capable of falsification or validation in any meaningful sense. It strikes me that this is an unnecessarily contentious pseudo-religious-type claim.

I agree that the second phrase (broad-minded intellectuals?) was kind of a silly phrase. However the first point has something to it. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin wrote the Declaration of Independence and they rejected virtually every single tenet of orthodox Christianity (while strangely enough thinking of themselves as "Christians"). Likewise there is good reason to believe Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Hamilton and others were not orthodox Christians but pick your term ("Christian-Deists," "unitarians," "theistic rationalists"). The same can be said of many notable patriotic preachers (Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuels West and Cooper, and others).

Broadly understood this is a kind of "Protestant Christianity." However, the problem is, the aforementioned expositors of the "Christian Nation" idea don't define "Christianity" broadly. To the contrary, if you aren't an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, indeed a "born again" Christian, then you aren't a "Christian."

Folks like David Barton will give lectures to megachurches (for instance Robert Jeffress' of Texas and MANY others) arguing America was founded to be a "Christian Nation" and almost all of the Founders were "serious Christians." The next day pastors like Jeffress will give sermons on how "Mormons aren't Christians." Well sorry, if Mormons aren't Christians then neither are most of the "key Founding Fathers," the men whose faces grace US Currency and played leading roles during the American Founding. I agree it's currently impossible to determine what a majority of the 200 or so Founding Fathers were. We only know what the key Founders believed by meticulously examining their public and private writings. And even there GW, JM and others were good at covering their tracts, while TJ, JA and BF were not. On the surface TJ was, like GW a vestryman in the Anglican Church. If TJ didn't play such a big role, folks like Barton would look at his church membership and their respective creed and conclude TJ was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian," when, as we know, TJ hated the Trinity. My friends and I have meticulously examined James Wilson's "Works" for his evidence of his creed. We've found evidence of Locke, Aquinas (thru Hooker), and Scottish Enlightenment in there. But still haven't found ONE of his private letters where he talks about his personal religious creed.

Towards the end of the paper Tillman criticizes Stone for not sufficiently establishing "Deism's" influence on the Founding (and I agree that Stone overstates the influence of "strict Deism"). In particular even if Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Paine were "Deists" (I'd argue only Paine was) Stone still didn't established how their Deism impacted the US Constitution. As Tillman writes:

It has happened from time to time that religious men have worked towards pluralistic (and, even, secular) political orders. It has also happened from time to time that irreligious men have served inquisitors (of religious and secular varieties). The fact that the five Americans discussed by Stone may have been Deists, only, at best, opens as a possibility for our enquiry what they intended to build, what they hoped to achieve. So although it is a possibility that their religious or philosophical sensibilities influenced their political views, as to how the Constitution should be drafted, as to how the new Republic should be ordered, it is not self-evident that it did influence them.

I'll not defend Stone on this one but note that scholars as diverse as Gregg Frazer, Gary North, Thomas Pangle and Cushing Strout have detailed the connection between the key FFs' personal religious creed and Founding political theology. Note, all of the above understand that creed to be not quite Deism, but not orthodox Christianity. For more see these two past posts of mine.

This creed, warmer than strict Deism, thought quite highly of "religion" but was so ecumenical that it transcended not just "orthodox Christianity," but "Christianity" itself and embraced "true religion" in a general sense. True religion was that which was voluntarily undertaken and that which produced virtue. It was something on which "all good men" could agree. As such all good men were "Christians" regardless of whether they knew it or consciously accepted Christ. The FFs could be quite secretive about this heterodox sentiment but left their footprint of this heterodoxy in the original Constitution by not establishing Christianity, by forbidding religious tests and consequently by protecting "religion" not "Christianity." As Dr. Gregg Frazer put it in his PhD thesis:

It is difficult for those who believe in the importance of fundamental doctrines and a specific road to Heaven (for example, the Puritans in seventeenth-century New England) to allow “false” and “blasphemous” religions to be practiced within their sphere of authority. For the theistic rationalists [his term for the creed of America's key Founders coined to distiguish it from Deism and Christianity--JR], however, what was really important was not the flourishing of religious truth, but the flourishing of morality and society. Since they held to no particular creed but “essentials” to which “all good men” could agree, they had a profound indifference toward specific sects and doctrines. (PhD thesis, at 417-18).

Anyway be sure to check out the rest of Tillman's paper; it has many other important insights in there.

The Really Real Christian Nation National Anthem

By Carman.

It includes David Barton's "unconfirmed" quotations to boot.