Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gary North Makes the New York Times

A notable event. Gary North is both brilliant and nuts. Whatever good and insightful ideas he may have get poisoned by the fact that he's a Christian Reconstructionist who, in his first best world, would stone to death adulterers, homosexuals, recalcitrant children and those who worship false gods (all things the Old Testament instructs).


Gary North was nearly impossible to track down. He did not return multiple e-mails, and when finally reached by phone, he refused to talk and hung up.

But if you know where to look, he is everywhere.

He is a trained historian with a PhD from University of California, Riverside and his book on the political theology of the American Founding I think well understands its implicit unitarianism and how such is incompatible with Christian Reconstructionist political theology.

Update: North explains why he hung up. I enjoy reading North's jab at the print industry. I do follow North's prognostications on the future of technology. For an old fogy he's arguably a cyberpunk. Though I take what he (and just about what everyone) says with a grain of salt. His predictions on Y2K were embarrassingly wrong. Though, the creative destruction of Moore's Law is something to be a acutely aware of, if you are concerned about how you (and/or your posterity) will live in the near future. We won't get "Mr. Fusion"-flying cars or that free energy source until the next breakthrough (who knows when that will be). But information technology is itself a breakthrough that is currently riding an exponential wave that will terminate in something fascinating and arguably, predictable in a way that "Mr. Fusion" is not.

Eh, Could Anyone Hear George Washington Say "So Help Me God"?

Back on March 30, 2011, American Creation fellow blogger, Jon Rowe, alerted blog readers to John Fea on CSPAN, which in turn leads the reader to a March 18, 2011 Virginia Festival of Book video, The Founding Fathers and Religion. I recommend it.

As part of the Q and A, John Ragosta, and Barbara Smith-Clark replied to a person in the audience who asked the question, "How did we get to taking the oath of office and in a court of law [by] putting your hand on the Bible?"

Barbara Clark-Smith turned the query into one that asked whether anyone could hear George Washington say "So help me God" at his first inauguration. Her response essentially joined those already offered by the threesome: Donald Ritchie Newsweek interview; the McCullough/HBO-John Adams TV episode; and the Ron Chernow's storyline by implying there were very few persons who "were close enough to hear it." (Chernow claims, "Whether or not Washington actually said it, very few people would have heard him anyway, since his voice was soft and breathy.")

In contrast, John Ragosta declared, "George Washington almost certainly did not say 'So help me God'." He went on to mention an unidentified minister in a awkward attempt to backup his statement. I thought Ragosta might have been referring to the French Foreign Minister Comte de Moustier, but I was wrong. After a few e-mail exchanges and some digging on Ragosta's part, he came up with a minister by the name of Ashbel Green.

As it so happens, Jon Rowe has featured this good minister in his May 27 2009 blog The George Washington/Ashbel Green Affair. This article was some help, because it provides additional insight into Reverend Green's assessment concerning George Washington's personal faith.

By probing further, a Google search led me to The life of Ashbel Green by Ashbel Green, & Joseph Huntington Jones. Pages 165 - 168 follow:
In the present letter [addressed to "My Son" and dated September 10, 1842] I propose to state my reminiscences of what took place on Washington's journey from Mount Vernon, till the time of his entering on his official duties in New York. My labour in doing this will be abridged, which, at my time of life, is a welcome relief, by quotations from the last chapter of [David] Ramsay's History of the American Revolution [Volume II, 1811]. What he states is in substance what I well remember. A few remarks of my own will be interspersed as we proceed, and be subjoined at the close. The quotation from Ramsay is as follows:

[When Washington arrived at the Schuykill bridge] "Upwards of twenty thousand citizens lined the fences, fields and avenues between the Schuykill and Philadelphia. Through these, he was conducted to the city by a numerous and respectable body of the citizens, where he partook of an elegant entertainment provided for him.*

*At this entertainment I was an invited guest, and was formally introduced to the

Later on, at a point describing Washington's first inaugural ceremony, Ramsay continues:
A day [April 30, 1789] was fixed soon after his [New York] arrival, for his taking the oath of office, which was in the following words, "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." On this occasion he was wholly clothed in American manufactures. On the morning of the day appointed for this purpose, the clergy of different denominations assembled in their respective places of worship, and offered up public prayers for the President and people of the United States. About noon, a procession followed by a multitude of citizens, moved from the President's house to Federal Hall. When they came within a short distance of the hall, the troops formed a line on both sides of the way, through which Mr. Washington, accompanied by the Vice President, Mr. John Adams, passed into the Senate chamber. Immediately after, accompanied by both Houses, he went into the gallery fronting Broad street, and before them and an immense concourse of citizens, took the oath prescribed by the constitution, which was administered by R. R. Livingston, the chancellor of the state of New York. An awful silence prevailed among the spectators during this part of the ceremony. It was a minute of the most sublime joy. The chancellor then proclaimed him President of the United States. This was answered by the discharge of thirteen guns, and by the effusion of shouts from near ten thousand grateful and affectionate hearts. The President bowed most respectfully to the people, and the air again resounded with their acclamations. . . .

As can be seen, there's no mention of "So help me God," but then there's no word of the imported 1767 London published KJV Bible with its frontispiece portrait of King George II, either. Now, that by itself is not all that probative, but Reverend Green has more to say. Here is the text taken from pages 263 - 271:
It was the usage under President Washington's administration, that the chaplains of congress should dine with him once in every month, while congress was in session. This brought me often in the presence of the illustrious man whose fame has filled the world. It was among the rare qualities that distinguished Washington, that in common conversation he never expressed his feelings on an event or a subject that affected a foreign nation, and never, while a subject was under debate in congress, let his opinion be publicly known on that subject.

I will give an example of each of these traits of character, to which I was an
eye and ear witness.

dot - dot - dot

After I was chaplain [starting in 1791], I believe I was present at all his speeches on the opening of a session of congress; for the custom of sending a message to congress, which was introduced by Mr. Jefferson, was then unknown. Twelve o'clock at noon, was the usual hour agreed on for his opening speech, and in no instance did he fail in a punctual attendance at that hour; indeed, he commonly crossed the threshold of the door where the congress sat, exactly when the clock was striking the hour of twelve. The two houses always assembled to receive him in the senate chamber. When he entered, all the members of both houses rose from their seats, and stood up until he had taken his seat, which he did immediately after bowing to his audience. When he was seated, he looked around on the audience for a minute or two, and then took out his spectacles from a common red morocco case; and laid them on his knee, and then took from his side-pocket his written speech. After putting on his spectacles, he rose and began his address, which he read closely. He read distinctly and audibly [my emphasis], but in no other respect was his reading excellent. Dr. Witherspoon had heard George the Third deliver one of his speeches to the British parliament, which he said was in the very best style of elocution. This could not be said of the speeches of Washington; his elocution had no glaring fault, and no high excellence. In private, as well as in public, his punctuality was observable. He had a well regulated clock in his entry, by which the movements of his whole family, as well as his own were regulated. At his dinner parties he allowed five minutes for the variation of time pieces, and after they were expired he would wait for no one. Some lagging members of congress came in when not only dinner was begun, but considerably advanced. His only apology was, "Sir, or Gentlemen, we are too punctual for you;" or in pleasantry, "Gentlemen, I have a cook, who never asks whether the company has come, but whether the hour has come." Washington sat as a guest at his dinner table, about half way from its head to its foot. The place of the chaplain was directly opposite to the President. The company stood while the blessing was asked, and on a certain occasion, the President's mind was probably occupied with some interesting concern, and on going to the table he began to ask a blessing himself. He uttered but a word or two, when bowing to me, he requested me to proceed, which I accordingly did. I mention this because it shows that President Washington always asked a blessing himself, when a chaplain was not present.

On the 4th of March, 1797, the presidentship of Washington terminated, and on this occasion the clergy of the city and vicinity presented to him a written address, drawn up by myself, to which he returned a very courteous answer. In my review of Jefferson's papers, in the 8th volume of the Christian Advocate, the whole circumstances of this transaction are explained; and the address, with the names of those who signed it, and the President's answer, may there be seen.

Nearly all the usages which Washington had established, were adopted by Mr. Adams on his accession to the presidentship [my emphasis]. There was one, however, that was new. Washington had several times called his fellow citizens to the duty of either fasting or of thanksgiving; and the proclamations which he issued for the purpose were probably written by himself. But Mr. Adams requested the chaplains of congress to furnish him with draughts of two proclamations which he issued for the fasts to which he called the public during his administration. . . . The commendation bestowed on this [the second] proclamation by the pious people of our country was ardent and general. It was of course supposed that the President [John Adams] had written it himself, and I said and did nothing to undeceive them. Indeed the sanction given it by the President made it virtually his own act.
Now, if Reverend Green is correct about Washington's enduring practices, then the practice of adding "so help me God" to the presidential oath was not known as one of the "usages which Washington had established." This conclusion can be drawn from the historical record since it shows no indication that either John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, or John Quincy Adams added "So help me God" at their inaugural ceremonies. In fact adding "So help me God" to the presidential oath did not become an established custom until the 1933 inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

By the way, to answer the original question, the primary responsibility for instituting the practice of "putting your hand on the Bible" traces back, most prominently, to colonial Royal Governor Sir Edmund Andros, 1637-1714. It was during his heavy-handed administration that Andros introduced and strictly enforced what "[t]o the scrupulous Puritans, the idolatrous custom of laying the hand on the Bible, in taking an oath, operated as a widely disenfranchising test. " (See History of the colonization of the United States (1817), pg.55, by George Bancroft.) Increase Mather, called it the "book-oath."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two observations about Thomas Jefferson's Bible

I have just finished reading, for the first time, the edited harmony of the Gospels produced by Thomas Jefferson. The edition I purchased, published by Beacon Press in 1989 as The Jefferson Bible:  The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, has been delightful to read.  I was particularly struck by two things:
  • While Jefferson removed all the miraculous components from Jesus Christ's earthly ministry (no virgin birth, no resurrection, no miracles or signs), he did keep in the passages that deal with Christ's eventual return to judge the living and the dead.  So, Jefferson wasn't quite opposed to supernaturalism in principle.  Of course, if Jesus didn't resurrect and ascend to the Father, it might be somewhat questionable about how he might be characterized as "returning," but Jefferson nonetheless kept the passages about the Second Coming in his Gospel harmony.  
  • Jefferson also affirmed the power of prayer, and of God's care for those who petition Him in prayer.  This is particularly evident in Jefferson's version of Jesus' teaching on the Lord's Prayer.  Most surprisingly, in this section Jefferson did not remove or edit the explicit references to both the Father and the Holy Spirit in Jesus' teaching.  And as far as I can tell, this is the only passage in the Jefferson Bible that refers to the Holy Spirit, let alone to the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father.  As Jefferson renders that critical passage:
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children:  how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?        

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rationalism, Passions, and the Cloak of Intellectualism Farce

I was watching the video that Jon Rowe linked below about George Washington and reading his post about David Barton a few minutes ago. Both inspired a comment that I think, once again, I should share on the main page:

I think all on this site agree that Barton has outlived his usefulness in the "Christian Nation" discussion. With that said, I have to agree with Tom that most of what he, and others that work with him, have written is correct and at worst debatable. He has harmed his own cause by clinging on to irrelevant nonsense that has been soundly refuted. It seems that he is in a pissing contest with his critics and we all know that no one wins a pissing contest.


I will have to continue to point out that the pot is calling the kettle black in that a group of supposed rationalists seem to be just as blinded by their passions and have turned from truly intellectual discussion and resorted to spewing venom and activism as well. Ben states that Barton is an activist not a Historian. I agree. However, I would add that the rationalist crowd are activists not intellectuals. In other words, they need to stop cloaking themselves in the intellectual garb that they feel allows them to dismiss the "idiot" Christians.

For the most part they take on the chaff of Barton's argument and ignore the wheat. It is honestly pathetic. My hope is that they live up to what they claim to be and begin to tackle the wheat. That is to say at the very least. I will lose my sincere disappointment in otherwise brilliant people(not the rabble that worships them but really do not have a clue) when they tackle the best of the Christian World like Brian Tierney, not the low hanging fruit.

The anti-Barton movement needs to watch the video Jon posted on George Washington. He, and other founders, were very leery of men whose passions overruled their reason. It all starts with the man in the mirror and I know I have allowed my passions to override my reason at inappropriate times and have discredited myself in some ways as well. Here is to all of us committing to raise the level of discussion. That is if we really want to get to the bottom of this whole American Creation thing?

Bound for Glory?

The question of how to get to heaven has been hotly contested over the centuries. Back in the 1500’s, Martin Luther broke from the Catholic Church and launched a Reformation, partly from due to his conviction that we are saved through grace—not through the sacraments of communion or confession or other observances that he considered “works.” The wars of religion engulfed Europe in a bloodbath to settle the issue. But new research suggests such fighting may be a thing of the past.

A recent report from Barna, a religious polling non-profit, suggests that more and more Americans are embracing Universalism, the doctrine that all people will be saved, regardless of what church they happen to attend. According to the data released last week, “One-quarter of born again Christians said that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God (25%) and that it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons (26%)."

A report from the Pew Center in 2008, based on interviews with 35,000 respondents, was even more striking, suggesting that a strong majority, even among evangelicals, agreed that Christianity is not the only gateway to paradise, while 83% of those describing themselves as mainline Christians agreed that Jews, Hindus, Muslims and others might make it into heaven.

Universalism—the belief that all souls will eventually be restored to God—spans the ages. Among the Church Fathers, Origen (ca. 185-254 C.E.) held this position. Mega church pastor Rob Bell, who preaches to 10,000 worshipers weekly at his Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, made headlines more recently for describing “hell” in purely earthly terms—consisting in the cruelty, abuse and neglect we visit on ourselves and our neighbors—rather than an abode of eternal punishment awaiting evil-doers.

Universalism has been part of the American scene since the country’s beginning. Benjamin Rush, an intimate of Jefferson and Adams and along with them a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that, “A belief in God’s universal love to all his creatures, and that he will finally restore all those of them that are miserable to happiness, is a polar truth. It leads to truths upon all subjects, more especially upon the subject of government,” establishing a principle of equality among humankind. George and Martha Washington were subscribers to the Gleaner—a magazine with Universalist leanings edited by Judith Sargent Murray, the wife of America’s most prominent Universalist clergyman of that day

Seemingly more and more people are beginning to agree that religion should be concerned with “getting heaven into people” rather than getting people into heaven. If that means less sectarian bickering and more cooperation among people of different faiths, Universalism can’t come too soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Response to Jon Rowe and Dr. Hanley

Below is a comment I posted under Jon's post on the paper he and Dr. James Hanley co-authored. Below that is what started as a comment(with some editing since it is now going main page) but got so long I decided to just do a post in response. It is probably better I do so in that I got busy and did not respond to their comments in a timely manner.  As usual both ask great questions that deserve and answer so here is mine:

Jon stated:

"Islam is an Abrahamic religion. So I'd like to ask why if imago dei is key why Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, certain forms of Deism are not equally entitled to that claim which would make America more a theistic or Providential nation in a political sense. NOT a "Christian Nation." I think there is a good political-historical basis for SCOTUS' "ceremonial deism" doctrine. Though I agree it treats atheists and polytheists like outsiders which is something I am not in favor of."

Ever since I read the paper on the History of Islam that was presented at your other blog this summer, I have wondered a great deal as to if Islamic Theology places any importance on imago dei. That would be a good study. With that stated, even if they did, their view of it would be very different to the Christian view in that Muslims see the characteristics of God differently then Christians do.

It was actually what led to the split according to my somewhat limited historical readings on the topic. Nonetheless, it seems that they believed that the Christians and Jews had perverted the original message as given to Abraham.

As far as Judaism I am no expert in Ancient Hebrew philosophy or the Jewish religion but I think the split with Christianity has nothing to do with different views on Imago Dei.

Mormons and other supposed offshoots along with your second comment outlining what a "Christian" is seems to stray off the tracks in my view. You appear to deem it more important to look at individual founders or influential preachers and analyze what they personally believed and if it was different than the "orthodox" at the time. The goal seems to be label them "non-Christian" and then use that as evidence that because "key founders" strayed from the path America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation".

This is poor evidence to support the bold claim you and James make in the paper. Or I should say in the intro that was posted here because I have not had time to read the paper. But as Tom says above, We have discussed this enough that I am fairly sure I know your thesis and how you go about supporting it.

I maintain that the more important questions:

1. What ideas influenced the founding of America?

2. Where did these ideas come from?

are the accurate frame in which this discuss should take place.

James/Dr. Hanley stated:

"I concur with Jon's response. I would also add that from my considered perspective, the Declaration of Independence is irrelevant to the understanding of the Constitution. The two are entirely separate documents, created for entirely separate purposes, and the DofI has only the barest of influences on the Constitution (in fact many anti-federalists saw it as an abandonment of the ideals of the DofI, which is a bit of an over-reaction, but as contemporaries their view is significant).

Consequently, whatever influence imago dei might have had on the DofI does not necessarily translate into any meaning whatsoever for the meaning of the Constitution.

I'm not saying no argument along your lines is possible, but I see it has having two tough objections to overcome, the one explicated by Jon and the one I've presented here."

First, I want to say that I have really enjoyed our interactions at your other blog and at Ed's blog over the years. I have found you to be fair and accurate though at times we disagree. I would say the same about Tom. I hope that both you can see that about each other at some point. 

Second, I want to apologize for some of my behavior at Dispatches. I discredited myself as a rational thinker and Christian. It was a rough time in my life that I am just coming out of now. 

In short, I value your opinion and most certainly invite you to sift through any thoughts I would have on this topic and others we both seem to enjoy discussing.

As far as your comment, I think it is fair but in my view I think you are wrong.

I go back to Jack Goldstone's paper a while back at Cato. He broadened the discussion to what launched the Modern World and maintained that it was a climate of liberty that allowed room for innovation. He took it in the economic sense but I think it can just as easily be applied to political innovation as well.

Kind of ironic we were speaking about it here at AC long before Obama and business leaders made it a hot topic a few months back when it was the main idea of his SOTU address.

Nonetheless, I would most certainly state that ideals expressed in the DOI were the back bone of the form of government we chose. 

If one looks at the words of Aquinas and the DOI on the same topic the similarity is un-mistakable. This tells me that at least 500 or so years(at the very least in that these ideas go back a lot further than Aquinas) of Western History was heavily impacted by the Bible and man's belief that we are made in the image of God. All Christian philosophy and theology flows from that tree.

In fact, as discussed here in the past, this root concept is at the foundation of the golden rule in that we honor God by loving his image in ourselves and as we begin to understand who he is it becomes clear who we are. It is this realization that should help deter us from marring that image in another.

One can most certainly choose not to believe it. But one cannot deny the central impact that this idea had on Western Thought for centuries. A system of thought that made it around the world beginning when Columbus set sail.

A system of thought responsible for both great evil and great good depending who promulgated it.

Gladstone seems to point out only the evil and in my view unduly dismisses the role that Christian thought had creating a climate of liberty that helped to launch the modern world.

Here is the excerpt of his paper that jumped out to me and profoundly changed my life:

What I believe is most critical to insist upon is the degree to which Europe itself had to repudiate central elements of its own history and culture — the absolute authority of hereditary rulers, the prohibition of diverse religious beliefs in any one society, the elevation of the rights and needs of political and social status elites above those of ordinary inhabitants — in order to develop and implement the idea of society as a community of free individuals sovereign over a limited state. Yet this was necessary if the marriage of engineering culture and entrepreneurship was to survive and flourish, and produce the economic and technological miracles of the last two centuries.

The DOI was based on the idea of "free individuals sovereign" and the Constitution was an attempt at a "limited state".   I think your argument, as outlined above, puts the cart before the ox. 

Understanding the Founding

From the perspective of who won the battles. Regarding America's fight for independence, not everyone at that time favored it. John Adams, to appeal to his expert authority, claimed originally 1/3 of America were "Whigs" (meaning those who favored independence), 1/3 were "Tory" (meaning loyalists to the crown) and 1/3 were on the fence. Eventually propagandistic forces won over enough of the 1/3 on the fence to the Whigs. And, in turn, we argue over what convinced the 1/3 on the fence. I think the pulpit played a big role, even in the face of Romans 13. So what kind of "theistic" principles gave victory to the Whigs? A Presbyterian dissenter line of thought, more in line with traditional orthodox Christianity? Or the Enlightenment theistic rationalism (that is the "liberal Christians" of their day who disbelieved in both the Trinity and eternal damnation) of men like Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy?

The Whigs won both the ideological and literal battle. Next was the battle over the Constitution. A Declaration of Independence affirming Whig could be either an Anti-Federalist (that is one who was AGAINST the ratification of the US Constitution on the grounds that it gave too much power to the Federal government) or a Federalist (that is one who favored the ratification of the US Constitution). Hamilton, Madison, Jay (authors of the Federalist Papers) and of course Washington (first President under the new US Constitution) were the quintessential Federalists with Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry losing that battle just as the Tories lost the earlier battle on whether to revolt or remain loyal.

So with the Whigs and later the Federalists winning the battles, eventually, to the chagrin of President Washington, political parties broke out with Hamilton, J. Adams leading the Federalist Party and Jefferson and Madison leading the Democratic-Republicans.

It's hard to say which of either party won "the battle" -- if either really did; we've had partisan politics ever since. And whether today's Left v. Right battles match up with Federalists v. Democratic-Republicans. It's tempting to say Jefferson and Madison were more on the Left, Hamilton-J. Adams, on the Right. However, the Federalists back then favored a stronger, centralized government, the Democratic-Republicans, more the party of states' rights, limited federal government. This in spite of the fact that James Madison originally wanted the Federal government to have more power to enforce individual rights against the states.

We should also, instead of writing them off as losers, keep in mind the way the Tory and Anti-Federalist dissenting American citizens influenced Whig and later Federalist politics. For instance, without Anti-Federalist critiques, we would never have gotten a Bill of Rights.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bernard Bailyn on Federalism

I don't think I've ever seen him speak live, only read his work. He is a giant in history.

Jeffry Morrison on George Washington's Consitutional Leadership

From University of Richmond.

Morrison does solid work.

Throckmorton Discovers David Barton's Distortions

And doesn't like what he sees. Warren Throckmorton is a psychology professor at the evangelical Grove City College and holds the standard view on sexuality issues that one would expect from a conservative evangelical. Yet, he's taken some out of the box positions against anti-gay demagoguery that often comes from religious right corners. That's as much as I know about him.

Check out Throckmorton's analysis here, here, here, here, and here.

I've got mixed feelings on continuing to bash Barton. Part of me wants wants to move on; he's been hammered enough. On the other hand, three big national figures keep pushing his work into the spotlight: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck. Barton has lost some followers, especially among conservative evangelicals who don't want to be sold a bill of goods. As John Fea points out, the anti-Barton criticism is causing some conservative evangelicals to "lose confidence" in some of Barton's claims. And Barton has, apparently, lost former big time promoter of his Brannon Howse, of Worldview Weekend, completely.

There is no question that the social and legal order of Founding era America was friendlier to orthodox Christians and evangelicals than it is today. And there are some notable Founders -- Witherspoon, Sherman, and others -- who would probably pass evangelicals' "Christian" test. But men like the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin were the liberal, ecumenical, universalistic "Christians" of their day, not "Christian" enough to be considered "real Christians" by evangelicals.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The conservative mind of Alexander Hamilton

I've got a post over at my own blog, Ordered Liberty, on the conservative nature of Alexander Hamilton's political philosophy: The conservative mind of Alexander Hamilton. If you are a fan of Hamilton, Clinton Rossiter, Russell Kirk, or all three, head on over and give it a read!

We Haven't Even Gotten Into Lincoln's Faith

But the term "theistic rationalist" may aptly describe it. From a new article:

(RNS) On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, a long-lost letter has surfaced that describes President Abraham Lincoln's belief in God.

The Raab Collection of Philadelphia plans to sell a recently discovered letter written in 1866 by William Herndon, a Springfield, Ill., lawyer and Lincoln confidant.

"Mr. Lincoln's religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary -- supernatural inspiration or revelation," wrote Herndon of the nation's 16th president.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brief on Founding Fathers and Islam I Co-Authored For the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding...

Is now online and accessible here. I co-authored this with Dr. James Hanley.

Here is the except from the website:

In 2010, almost nine full years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a surge of outrage over plans to build a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan swept the United States. Critics were eager to interpret the project as an insult, an offense, and a sacrilege. Moreover, deliberate efforts were made to delegitimize American Muslims and deny them the protections of the Constitution. Such efforts to demonize specific subgroups and deny their legitimacy as citizens of the country in which they reside have often been a prelude to harsher political treatment that goes beyond the merely verbal. As one small effort to counteract this dangerous tendency, we argue here that the United States is not a “Christian” nation in the political sense and that its history and laws provide a space for people of all religions to live freely and practice their faith openly. Using two related lines of argument, we will show (1) that many of the country’s key founders were not “orthodox” Christians and rejected the idea that the country they were creating was politically based on a Christian identity and (2) that important foundational documents of the American republic, including but not limited to the Constitution, clearly eliminate the possibility that the U.S. was meant to be a Christian nation in a political sense.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John Adams to Francis Adrian Van Der Kemp

One note of criticism that's been directed to our examination of the "key Founders" is that it overly focuses on the Jefferson-Adams post-Presidential correspondence, which, by the way, is contained in a fascinating and illuminating volume.

But Jefferson and Adams did correspond with other people and, for future plans I'd like to focus more on the lesser well known folks with whom Jefferson, J. Adams and the other notable Founders corresponded.

Rev. Francis Adrian Van Der Kemp -- a unitarian minister -- was one of those lesser well known correspondents.

But today, instead of focusing on FAVDK's writings (look for more on that in the future) I highlight a letter of Adams to FAVDK who seemed to be, like Jefferson, someone with whom Adams felt very comfortable sharing the explicit details of his theology.

I reproduce a great deal of Adams' letter to FAVDK dated 13 July, 1815.

My friend, again! the question before mankind is,—how shall I state it? It is, whether authority is from nature and reason, or from miraculous revelation; from the revelation from God, by the human understanding, or from the revelation to Moses and to Constantine, and the Council of Nice. Whether it resides in men or in offices. Whether offices, spiritual and temporal, are instituted by men, or whether they are self-created and instituted themselves. Whether they were or were not brought down from Heaven in a phial of holy oil, sent by the Holy Ghost, by an angel incarnated in a dove, to anoint the head of Clovis, a more cruel tyrant than Frederic or Napoleon. Are the original principles of authority in human nature, or in stars, garters, crosses, golden fleeces, crowns, sceptres, and thrones? These profound and important questions have been agitated and discussed, before that vast democratical congregation, mankind, for more than five hundred years. How many crusades, how many Hussite wars, how many powder plots, St. Bartholomew’s days, Irish massacres, Albigensian massacres, and battles of Marengo have intervened! Sub judice lis est. Will Zinzendorf, Swedenborg, Whitefield, or Wesley prevail? Or will St. Ignatius Loyola inquisitionize and jesuitize them all? Alas, poor human nature! Thou art responsible to thy Maker and to thyself for an impartial verdict and judgment.

“Monroe’s treaty!” I care no more about it than about the mote that floats in the sunbeams before my eyes. The British minister acted the part of a horse-jockey. He annexed a rider that annihilated the whole treaty.

You are “a dissenter from me in politics and religion.” So you say. I cannot say that I am a dissenter from you in either, because I know not your sentiments in either. Tell me plainly your opinions in both, and I will tell you, as plainly, mine. I hate polemical politics and polemical divinity as cordially as you do, yet my mind has been involved in them sixty-five years at least. For this whole period I have searched after truth by every means and by every opportunity in my power, and with a sincerity and impartiality, for which I can appeal to God, my adored Maker. My religion is founded on the love of God and my neighbor; on the hope of pardon for my offences; upon contrition; upon the duty as well as necessity of supporting with patience the inevitable evils of life; in the duty of doing no wrong, but all the good I can, to the creation, of which I am but an infinitesimal part. Are you a dissenter from this religion? I believe, too, in a future state of rewards and punishments, but not eternal.

You have again read Tacitus. What do you think of his religion, his philosophy, his morality? When Nero wished he could cut off the heads of the whole Roman empire with one stroke of his falchion, was this sentiment dictated by tyranny or philosophy, or humanity? And if any man should wish he could cut off the head of every Frenchman, Englishman, or Russian, at one blow, would he not be as wise, as benevolent, and philosophical? And those who wish they could decapitate Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, are they wiser or better?

John Adams thought himself a "Christian" and believed the biblical canon was, in some sense, revealed. He also associated Trinitarianism with creeds that were part and parcel of the "corrupt," superstitious, human religious authorities he radically rejected. The "the revelation from God, by the human understanding," was the reason that God gave man, the first revelation that no subsequent revelation (i.e., what was revealed in sacred text or interpretation thereof) could contradict. Adams thought the Trinity contradicted this first revelation and consequently was false.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Historians Are At It Again

There's an interesting and imaginative article by Thomas Fleming that recently appeared over at the History News Network website. It's titled, Channelling George Washington: "So Help Me God."  If  I am counting right, it's his ninth such HNN article. Thomas Fleming is a prolific author, who has now written fifty books. His 1997 book, Liberty! The American Revolution, was written as companion volume to the PBS television series of the same name, Liberty! His latest book is The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers.

Here's the opening part of Fleming's HNN interview-styled article:
[GW] “I see the historians are at it again.”
[Host] “At what, Mr. President?”
[GW] “Arguing about whether I added ‘So help me God’ at the close of my recitation of the presidential oath of office. This is the third or fourth time.
[Host] I’ve read those words in at least a dozen accounts of the ceremony.”
[GW] “Even you, an historian of some note, don’t know it’s not part of the oath as it appears in the Constitution?”
[Host] “When you put me to the test, I realize it isn’t. Did you add the phrase?”
[GW] “No. For a very good reason. We were determined to create a government in which there were no links to religion. We had seen how divisive religion had become in Europe in the previous two hundred years. Especially troubling to Americans was the way it tore England apart in the civil war of the seventeenth century, which ended with beheading of King Charles I and making Oliver Cromwell a dictator for twenty years.
I can up to this point follow along with Fleming, but I have a different conclusion than his, where he has Washington saying:
[GW] “When I took the oath office as president and did not add ‘So help me God’— I spoke those words in my mind and heart.”.
My version is:
[GW] "When I completed the obligatory book-oath by kissing the imported 1767 London published KJV Bible with its opening page portrait of King George II, I muttered to myself, 'Damn that Livingston and his New York State legislated religious test. He'll never get a federal appointment while I'm President.'"

It's true that Washington's first inaugural ceremony was loaded with religious overtones, but his second inaugural address was quite different. As part of his second address Washington said, "This [constitutional, non-religious test] 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 plain to see GW did not say, as was common among the state constitutions, that his oath was sworn, "In the presence of Almighty God." He also avoided mentioning any prospect of wrathful judgment in the afterlife if he would violate the terms of his oath. The religious codicil, "So help me God," was not meant to be a plea for God's help as modern commentators suggest. It was, instead, meant as a threat of future condemnation for oath breakers. As for Washington, he only acknowledged the possible "upbraidings" of his contemporaries.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pauline Maier on the Ratification

How shall we interpret the Constitution?

Lordy, so many theories! If we look to the Founding, we make a big deal out of the Framers and the constitutional debates, mostly from the the famous notes James Madison took.

But wait---what's not so well-known is that Madison kept his notes unpublished until a competing version was to come out in 1821. Because to Madison, the Framers weren't the authorities on the meaning of the Constitution---it was the states and the people who ratified it:

"As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character.

However desirable it be that they should be preserved as a gratification to the laudable curiosity felt by every people to trace the origin and progress of their political Institutions, & as a source perhaps of some lights on the Science of Govt. the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses."
---Letter to Thomas Ritchie, September 15, 1821

The Framing debates, so well-studied and picked over (and argued in the Supreme Court!) are just a "curiosity"---it's the Ratifaction that gives the Constitution "all the authority which it possesses."

And so, Pauline Maier's new Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 is well overdue, as she is "the first American scholar to write comprehensively on these ratification debates," per John R. Coyne Jr.'s review over at AmSpec :

Maier is scrupulously fair to the Anti-Federalists, and refuses to call them that. Because of objections from men like William Findley, who called it "a name of reproach," she "preferred to type out 'critics of the Constitution' and its synonyms over and over."

And in fact, Maier believes, casting the fight for ratification in terms of a struggle between proponents and opponents of strong central government, as conventional history would have it, is misleading. Nearly everyone, she maintains, was for a federal government stronger than the one provided for by the Articles of Confederation. But the reluctance of the Federalists to allow amendments before ratification aroused opposition among those who saw in it a threat to the rights won during the Revolution.

In the end, the Federalists won. But Maier believes their opponents also won a good deal more than historians acknowledge or perhaps realize. Congress met many of their concerns by expanding the House of Representatives, approving the Judiciary Act of 1789, modifying the plan to levy direct taxes except in times of war, and proposing a series of amendments.

"Without their determined opposition, the first ten amendments would not have become a part of the Constitution for later generations to transform into a powerful instrument for the defense of American freedom. "We the People" of 1787 and 1788 inaugurated a dialogue between power and liberty that has continued, reminding us regularly of the principles of 1776 upon which the United States was founded and that has given us direction and national identity. Their example might well be their greatest gift to posterity."

So, as we see, according to Madison, the Ratifiers and the ratification debates are of highest importance next to the text of the Constitution itself, and "Anti-Federalist" turns out to be a pejorative plastered on them by the Federalists. The name stuck because the Federalists won and they got to write the history, as Maier shows.

I mean, just think of today's rhetoric. If you want to make somebody look bad---and unreasonable---just give them a name with "Anti-" in front of it. Enemies of Progress!

But as Coyne writes, "Meier believes casting the fight for ratification in terms of a struggle between proponents and opponents of strong central government, as conventional history would have it, is misleading. Nearly everyone, she maintains, was for a federal government stronger than the one provided for by the Articles of Confederation. But the reluctance of the Federalists to allow amendments before ratification aroused opposition among those who saw in it a threat to the rights won during the Revolution."

So, the Anti-Federalists weren't anti-Constitution after all. They just didn't think it was constitutional enough, and now we have the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments passed immediately thereafter. The Ratification wasn't the Feds beating the Anti-Feds, not the brute exercise of the power of one faction over the other by majority vote. Ratification was achieved by reaching consensus, the true secret of good government and "consent of the governed."

It was a hard thing, but it was a beautiful thing. [Is not the Constitution a beautiful thing?] The United States of America's government is now the longest-running show on earth---often imitated, never equaled.

Pauline Maier is a highly respected, uncontroversial and mainstream scholar, so there's nothing really radical or revisionist here. That it's 230-odd years since the Ratification, and she's the arguably the first American scholar to take the ratification as seriously as James Madison did...

Well, it reminds us all that the ink on our history isn't yet dry even after all this time. This little blog keeps on ticking by looking back at the original documents. If a Pauline Maier could find new and important stuff in documents a couple centuries old---and she did!---shows that if you wanna do history, the best place to start is always the beginning.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Joseph Priestley & the Millennium

This is an excellent article by Clarke Garrett, but you probably won't be able to read it without being part of an institution (like a college) that pays for a license. (You can always choose to buy it if you'd like.)

I think it helps to illustrate the Enlightenment theism that wasn't strict deism or orthodox Christianity that captured the mind of certain notable Founders. Though they may not have agreed with every jot and tittle of Priestley's theology, Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, among others, were greatly influenced by it. Interestingly, Priestley's "rational Christianity" -- where brilliant minds like his could use their reason and brilliance to discover novel "rational" understandings of the Bible -- failed to accurately prophesize the events of their age.

Priestley believed the Book of Revelation foretold the triumphant success of the French Revolution. As John Adams explained the story:

Not long after the dénouement of the tragedy of Louis XVI., when I was Vice-President, my friend, the Doctor, came to breakfast with me alone. He was very sociable, very learned and eloquent on the subject of the French Revolution. It was opening a new era in the world, and presenting a near view of the millennium. I listened, I heard with great attention, and perfect sang froid; at last I asked the Doctor, “Do you really believe the French will establish a free, democratic government in France?” He answered, “I do firmly believe it.” “Will you give me leave to ask you upon what grounds you entertain this opinion? Is it from any thing you ever read in history? Is there any instance of a Roman Catholic monarchy of five-and-twenty millions of people, at once converted into intelligent, free, and rational people?” “No. I know of no instance like it.” “Is there any thing in your knowledge of human nature, derived from books or experience, that any empire, ancient or modern, consisting of such multitudes of ignorant people, ever were, or ever can be, suddenly converted into materials capable of conducting a free government, especially a democratic republic?” “No. I know of nothing of the kind.” “Well, then, Sir, what is the ground of your opinion?” The answer was, “My opinion is founded altogether upon revelation and the prophecies. I take it that the ten horns of the great beast in Revelations mean the ten crowned heads of Europe, and that the execution of the king of France is the falling off of the first of those horns; and the nine monarchies of Europe will fall, one after another, in the same way.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Evidence that GW Believed Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship The Same God

Mary V. Thompson passed this along to me. I hadn't caught it before (neither did she). But apparently, it's not a "new" find, but existed in the record for us to discover all along.

This doesn't, of course, prove Washington was NOT an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, as other orthodox Christians, like George W. Bush, have held the same thing. Though it does reinforce what we've noted about Washington and the other "key Founders" -- that they believed most if not all religions were valid ways to God, that all good men of all religions, even if they are not Jews and Christians, worship the same "Providence." We've seen evidence that Washington, Jefferson and Madison believed the "Great Spirit" that unconverted Natives worship was the same God Jews and Christians worship. Now this is evidence that GW believed Muslims worshipped the same God.

The letter was written on March 31, 1791. The letter was addressed to Yazid ibn-Muhammed, the new Emperor of Morocco, whose father had just passed and Washington sent his condolences as he introduced Thomas Barclay as the new American consul. (Again, thanks to Mary V. Thompson of Mount Vernon for explaining to me the context.)

Here is how Washington closed the letter:

“May that God, whom we both adore, bless your Imperial Majesty with long life, Health and Success, and have you always, great and magnanimous Friend, under his holy keeping.”

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson wrote these words for GW, but GW signed off on them. Critics may wish to dismiss these as Jefferson's words. But the two times GW ever spoke of Jesus in his extant corpus (one by name, one by example, both in public addresses as opposed to private letters) were written by aides. And in one of the addresses to the unconverted Natives, also written by an aide, GW himself crossed out the word "God" and wrote in "the Great Spirit."

Update: One reason why this quotation may not be more well known is because it is not contained in the official "Fitzpatrick edition." I asked MVT about this and she replied:

I just checked and it doesn’t appear in the Fitzpatrick edition. According to the note in the Papers, Presidential Series, 8:34n, an anonymous individual owns the original signed letter; there is a letterpress copy in the Thomas Jefferson papers at the Library of Congress; and an additional copy in the National Archives.