Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction. By John Fea. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Pp. 287).

Was America founded to be a "Christian Nation?" Did its founders endeavor to create a nation where Christ and Cross were joined hand-in-hand with the Constitution? And if so, how is America's current makeup in harmony/defiance with the "original intent" of our nation's Founding Fathers? These are just some of the questions addressed by John Fea, historian and author of the book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction. With the current climate of today's culture wars, which seem more interested in mud-slinging, name-calling and partisan hostility than honest scholarly inquiry, Dr. Fea's book is a breath of fresh air that cuts through the nonsense with its sharp historical foundation.

Fea's book jumps right out of the gate to address many of the problems facing the current culture wars v. the actual study of early American history. Appealing to the formula created by historians Thomas Andrews and Flannery Burke, Fea suggests that greater clarity on the issue of religion and America's founding can be achieved by adherence to the "Five C's": history CHANGES over time, must be put in proper CONTEXT, is interested in CAUSALITY, is CONTINGENT upon prior conditions and is often very COMPLEX. With this framework in mind, Fea effectively lays out the problems many of the culture warriors face when they simplify history to fit their respective agenda:

Such an approach to the past is more suitable for a lawyer than for a historian...The lawyer cares about the past only to the degree that he or she can use a legal decision in the past to win a case in the present...The historian, however, does not encounter the past in this way (xxvi).
In other words, the "tug-o-war" mentality of today's culture warriors means that they aren't concerned with what history has to say, but with what they can say about history, and in the process the truth has become lost (or less important).

To get the reader back on the Yellow Brick Road of historical accuracy and out of the "sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue", Fea divides his book into three parts. In part I, Fea examines the evolution of the "Christian Nation" thesis by exploring how its conceptualization meant different things at different times to different groups of people. For example, Fea notes how southerners, during the Civil War, endeavored to portray the United States as a godless, sinful society while their new Confederacy embraced the Christian God with open arms:

Southerners looking for evidence that the Confederacy was a Christian nation needed to look no further than their Constitution. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which does not mention God, the Preamble of the constitution of the Confederate States of America made a direct appeal to "Almighty God." (17).
In addition, Fea also mentions the ironic (but often ignored) fact that many liberals during the post-Civil War era supported the "Christian Nation" thesis while many conservatives rejected it. Liberal preachers like Henry Ward Beecher (who, like many preachers today, ended up in a messy sex scandal) campaigned vigorously in favor of America's Christian identity. They sought to ensure that America's destiny was in harmony with Christ's admonition to help the poor, sick, etc.:

These Protestants thought that the Christian identity of the United States should be defined by the way society and government behaved. The citizens of a Christian nation followed the social teachings of Jesus...Those who championed the social gospel sought to advance the cause of justice and love throughout the nation and the world. (37).
Liberal Evangelicals, advocating for the social changes needed in a "Christian Nation." Surely enough to make Glenn Beck's head explode in confusion and rage!

In Part II of his book, Fea addresses the question, "Was the American Revolution a Christian Event?" To address this question, Fea juxtaposes America's "planting" (i.e. the migration of the Puritans) to America's "founding" (the actual creation of the United States). Fea's analysis of America's planting reveals that although many of the first settlers to the "New World" came for religious reasons, their motives weren't always as "Christian" as we sometimes think. For example, the early Puritans, who crossed the Atlantic to ensure "religious freedom" made sure to establish the same rigid rules to protect their faith that had existed back home in England. In other words, America became a land of Christian liberty, so long as your Christianity fell in line with the accepted Christianity. In addition, Fea points out the fact that religion was far from the exclusive motivator for New World colonization. Economic factors (i.e. the "Get rich quick" mentality) became central to the motivations behind American colonization.

When speaking of America's founding Fea discusses the role that religion played in shaping the revolutionary rhetoric that led up to independence. In essence, Fea suggests that religion served as an effective rallying cry, as ministers wielded Christianity as a sword in favor of independence. And though this religious rhetoric proved extremely effective, the American Revolution was hardly a religious debate. Fea writes:

the most important documents connected to the coming of the American Revolution focused more on Enlightenment political theory about the constitutional and natural rights of British subjects than on any Christian or biblical reason why resistance to the Crown was necessary. (106).
Fea supports this assertion by pointing to founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the federal Constitution. He suggests that all three documents (especially the Constitution) remain intentionally neutral on the topic of religion. In consequence, the Founders essentially left the issue of religion up to the individual states. As a result, the founders were effectively able to endorse the United States as a religious nation without giving Christianity any preference points.

In part III Fea examines the individual religious views of many key founders. In so doing, Fea effectively illustrates the fact that America's founders included devout, orthodox Christians (John Witherspoon, John Jay and Samuel Adams), secular Deists who doubted the divinity of Jesus and Christianity (Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson), and unitarian-leaning devotees, who detested orthodoxy but valued public and private religious devotion (George Washington and John Adams). This part of Fea's book is perhaps the most valuable because it shows that America's founding was as diverse as its participants. There was room at the table for Christians of all flavors as well as for skeptics of all shapes and colors.

In summary, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation is a fantastic introduction into this complex but fascinating era of American history. John Fea effectively sweeps away most of the smoke and mirrors employed by various culture warriors on both sides, thus allowing the history to speak for itself. So was America founded as a Christian nation? It probably depends on how you define those terms. Much of this debate is simply an argument over semantics. The more important question is, "can we cut through the convoluted mess of the culture wars and get at an answer"?

John Fea's book is proof that we can.

Founding Fathers as Westerners

We argue over the heritage terms used to describe the American Founding -- "Christian," "Protestant Christian," "Judeo-Christian," "Theist," "Deist," "Unitarian," "Universalist," "Enlightenment," etc. America's Founders certainly well drew from the "Western" tradition. Is that synonymous with Christendom? Perhaps; but Western Civilization had a noble pagan Greco-Roman source as well which was certainly evident in the American Founding.

Terming the Founders as "Westerners" isn't to take a side in the culture wars that pits the defenders of Western Civilization against multiculturalism. Indeed, Multiculturalism itself is a Western concept. As is Marxism, classical liberalism and modern lefty liberalism and a whole bunch of other good and bad things.

Speaking of bad things, pagan Anglo-Saxonism, apart from fantasy literature and entertainment, really isn't respectable anymore, for obvious reasons (i.e., 20th Century German nationalism's poisoning its well). Yet, pagan Anglo-Saxonism represents another "heritage" source for Western Civ., though, the Anglo-Saxons weren't quite as accomplished as the Greco-Romans. Thursday is Thor's Day, after all.

What brings this to mind are the proposals for the Great Seal by Ben Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They proposed three different illustrative concepts: One, Moses and Pharaoh; two, Hercules "contemplating images of Virtue and Sloth"; and three, "Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed."

Those three concepts include the Judeo-Christian, but also the pagan Anglo-Saxon and Greco-Roman.

Finally see historian Wayne Dynes' deconstruction of Jefferson's Hengist and Horsa proposal. As alluded to above, modern 20th-21st Century folks can get away with affinities for pagan Greco-Romanism, but pagan Anglo-Saxonism seems racist.

Update: Here is a link to John Adams' original letter.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Enlightenment Meme

This is one thing I've waited to get to and needs much further exploration. One reason why historians and political scientists say America was a product of the Enlightenment is because it was founded during the AGE or the ERA of Enlightenment.

For the most part, this categorization of the era was done after the fact by scholars. For instance, when I saw Gordon Wood speak at the James Madison Program at Princeton, he noted, the Founders didn't self consciously say to themselves, (I'm paraphrasing Wood) "We are living in the age of Enlightenment." (He noted this when explaining the context of why America's Founders were the product of "Enlightenment.")

Yet they did commonly use enlightenment terminology. Terms and qualifiers like "benign" "benevolent," "sober," "rational," "reasonable," "liberal," "enlightened," to name of few. [I blogged about that here; also see Tom Van Dyke's summary of Philip Hamburger's article on a related matter.]

Read for yourself the search engine results when one puts the term "enlightened" into George Washington's extant corpus.

Or this particular quotation of Washington's speaking to the Swedenborgians:

We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States. [Bold mine.]

The first thinker to self consciously understand theirs was an "age of Enlightenment" -- I have found was Immanuel Kant. That is, apparently, where the meme originated.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik's Thoughts on Christian Nationalism

I do a lot of bashing of WorldNetDaily; though this article has some useful reporting. The terrorist is 1. a European Christian Nationalist, but 2. not very religious himself, apparently. He is a Freemason. And he has thought about some of the issues like "what is a Christian nation?" and "what is a 'Christian'?" that we at American Creation have. God I hope he never visited our site.

"As this is a cultural war, our definition of being a Christian does not necessarily constitute that you are required to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus," he writes. "Being a Christian can mean many things; That you believe in and want to protect Europe's Christian cultural heritage. The European cultural heritage, our norms (moral codes and social structures included), our traditions and our modern political systems are based on Christianity – Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and the legacy of the European enlightenment (reason is the primary source and legitimacy for authority). It is not required that you have a personal relationship with God or Jesus in order to fight for our Christian cultural heritage and the European way. In many ways, our modern societies and European secularism is a result of European Christendom and the enlightenment. It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a 'Christian fundamentalist theocracy' (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want). So no, you don't need to have a personal relationship with God or Jesus to fight for our Christian cultural heritage. It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)). The PCCTS, Knights Templar is therefore not a religious organisation [sic] but rather a Christian 'culturalist' military order."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Come, Come Ye Saints

The 24th of July commemorates the day that the first wave of Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake valley. Upon exiting Emigration Canyon and cresting a small hill to the east, Mormon President Brigham Young (who was sick with fever at the time) looked out of his wagon and proclaimed, "It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on." The words, "This is the place" echoed throughout the wagontrain. The long trek across the American plains and Rocky Mountains was over (at least for the first of them). The Mormons had officially found their new home.

And though I may be accused of personal bias, I am still amazed at how little attention the Mormon migration west recieves in the history books. After all, the Mormon Trail helped, in many ways, to blaze further migrations westward. In addition, more Mormons died during their trek west than those who died in the Trail of Tears (no discredit to that terrible event). It is truly a fantastic American story that everyone (not just Mormons) should be proud of. It captures the essense of so much that makes America the special land we all love.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can think of no better way of introducing those unfamiliar with the Mormon migration story than by pointing to the Mormon hymn, Come, Come Ye Saints written in 1846 by William Clayton. The hymn helps to capture some of the powerful imagery and deep sentiment these early Mormons must have endured:

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell -
All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

We'll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West ,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We'll make the air, with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we'll tell -
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we'll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well!
And who better than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing this song. Enjoy:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

If You Will Excuse Me

I usually wouldn't post something like this to American Creation -- a "History" blog that I see as interdisciplinary with other secondary subjects: theology, politics, law, philosophy; and tertiary subjects like culture and technology.

It's very difficult for instance to avoid political and theological analysis of contemporary events and leave the American Founding off limits. But I discipline myself in not so doing at American Creation; so when I so do, well, I guess I'll be very open about it.

A commenter at a listserv I am on noted the following about the recent terror bombing by a self professed "Christian":

Christianity doesn't align with what he did.

Islam DOES align with what Islamic terrorists do.

There is a difference.

This is my reply:

To the skeptical outsider looking in, arguably this appears self serving sophistry. Something can present itself as "Islam" and "Christianity" and do X or be against doing X. How does one tell what is the authentic version of X apart from its self presentation? Verses and chapters of the Old Testament, New Testament, and Koran can be proof quoted in favor of or against X.

This isn't to say these holy texts can be used to support *any* position; but yes, they can be used to support many positions.

That's why I support the more enlightened, liberal, rationalistic understandings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

“It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.”

-– John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Romans 13 Re-post at 3rdWAVELANDS

Jon Rowe did a few posts recently that started up the discussion about Romans 13, interposition, resistance theory, 1 Peter 2, and what is part of Christianity is dissenters. This has coincided with my wanting to re-post all my American Creation stuff on my blog site. It used to be a Real Estate site but is now a site where all aspects of society are discussed. One of the main themes is how the modern world was launched, what ideas helped do it, and what ideas we need to examine as we move forward into another era of History. Some is germane to this blog some is not but please come join my partner and best friend Tracie and I as we sift through issues that affect our world and the History needed to put them in the right context.

With that little commerical done, here is a link to a re-post of my first response to Dr. Greg Frazer on Romans 13 for those who are new to this blog and would like to partake.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This is Embarrassing

I like attacking the low hanging "Christian Nation" fruit. Perhaps it's a vice of mine. Still the error this author makes is so bad, I wanted to give him a chance to correct it before I exposed it. I emailed Joe Farah and the author in the morning, but the article is still there.

So here goes. Check it out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gary North on the Fourth of July

Dr. North always has something interesting to say.


I will say it, loud and clear: the freest society on earth in 1775 was British North America, with the exception of the slave system. Anyone who was not a slave had incomparable freedom.

Jefferson wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

I can think of no more misleading political assessment uttered by any leader in the history of the United States. No words having such great impact historically in this nation were less true. No political bogeymen invoked by any political sect as "the liar of the century" ever said anything as verifiably false as these words.

I think North would have a point; except that hyperbole is an accepted rhetorical device, which is the way I read Jefferson's words. But I would agree, if not given a hyperbolic reading, it does seem quite ridiculous.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Anti-Slavery Awakening at Our Founding

A few days ago we were discussing the Founder Fathers’ attitude towards slavery in the comments section and it’s clear that there’s much that needs to be remembered. Today, in the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Fleming reminds us that the leaders among our Founders took significant steps to challenge that institution.

Fleming tells us that “George Washington ignored protests from some Southerners and accepted both free and enslaved blacks in his army. In the final years of the war, one in every seven soldiers in his ranks was black.” Jefferson attacked the institution in an early draft of the Declaration. John Adams, in the Massachusetts constitution of 1779, inserted the plank “All men are born free and equal” which enabled judicial challenges to slavery in that state. Hamilton and Jay advocated manumission.

As Fleming reminds us, the “survival” of the new nation was the first priority of the Founding generation. To this end, the Founders compromised during the Constitutional Convention by allowing the slave trade to continue until 1808 and limited the voting power of the southern states by inserting the 3/5 clause. Fleming notes:
“In an emotional speech, 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin persuaded all but three of the delegates to ‘doubt a little of their infallibility’ and accept these and other compromises that made the Constitution a reality. That same year, Franklin accepted the presidency of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.”

Over all, Fleming gives a good review of the key points. I’d include the Northwest Ordinance’s elimination of slavery in federal territories recently relinquished by individual states including the largest slave owning state, Virginia. Indeed, statesmen from Virginia (Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Henry, etc.) made significant attempts to limit slavery in contradiction to their narrow interests.

I’d also remind the reader that the Constitution left many matters to the states in what was still viewed as primarily a federation. It prohibited the federal government from trampling the liberties of the people but as a federal structure it did not impose those prohibitions on state governance. We've particularly discuss this fact with regard to religion and established churches. Given the federal government's emphasis on matters of foreign relations (defense, trade, etc.), could one not say that, with the slated-elimination of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, that the federal government largely succeeded in the elimination of slavery in federal matters?

Overall, the efforts by leading statesmen to address the slavery issue is far greater than one might expect. Most often matters of principle are not high on the agenda without the powerful role of an aggrieved group whose narrow interest motivates the issue. For example, disestablishment of churches and respect for religious conscience may demand appeals to principle but those aggrieved (Baptists, etc.) needed to put pressure on those in power. In 1776 (or 1789) there was yet a Frederick Douglas to represent oppressed slaves. Opposition to slavery depended on the conscience of our lead statesmen. The world was just beginning to feel the pangs of discomfort over the institution of slavery. The awakening began here among our Founding Fathers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anti-Creedalism of the American Founding

How America's Founders viewed creeds/confessions is important for a few reasons. First, some Christian Americanists have used the content of the creeds as a shortcut to determine the Founders' religious belief. I most recently blogged about Bryan Fischer doing this.

Now, I know Fischer is a dimwit who makes for easy pickins. But he relies on the work of M.E. Bradford, no lightweight he.* As I mentioned before, Dr. Bradford, at least in my second revised edition of "Founding Fathers" doesn't make the total leap of saying the FFs were "members" in the sense of swearing oaths to doctrinally orthodox creeds, but he does use the term "members" of orthodox churches. (p. xvi.) Regardless, he doesn't demonstrate, because the record doesn't show 50+ of the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention swearing oaths to their churches' orthodox doctrines/creeds. Rather the record shows some kind of bare affiliation with churches that professed orthodoxy; and it shows it for all 55 delegates including the supposed "Deists." Some/many did take oaths; we just don't know the exact number. Though Fischer didn't fabricate the "swear oaths to orthodox doctrines" meme; other, more notable figures did before him.

Peter Lillback for instance, in George Washington's Sacred Fire accurately notes George Washington took oaths to the Anglican Church when he became a vestrymen and a godfather. Thomas Jefferson likewise did when he became a vestryman for the Anglican Church.

As I've noted many times before, Lillback's "smoking gun" to prove GW's "orthodoxy" are those oaths to official Anglican doctrine; and that's because Washington's own words don't prove this. The logic of Lillback, Fischer and others on this matter has been something along the lines of: 1. they were members of orthodox churches in the "they took oaths to creeds" sense; 2. therefore they either were orthodox Trinitarian Christians OR they were dishonorable hypocrites. In fact, I debated a Christian Americanist PhD, author, scholar whom I won't name because I don't think he wants me to (you can ask Ray Soller or Jim Allison about him to confirm this) who repeated like a mantra: Because they took those oaths, Washington AND the other Founders were either orthodox or political whores.

Note: I don't make this argument; they do. That's their judgment not mine. I understand life is complicated. But one senses Lillback's "George Washington's Sacred Fire" writes off Jefferson as a dishonorable man because he took oaths to orthodox Anglican doctrines to become a vestryman while personally rejecting every single doctrine of orthodoxy.

Enter John Jay. He is, in my opinion, rightly conceded as an orthodox Christian. And as I wrote here, he was a church warden in the Anglican-Episcopalian Church, which presumably demonstrates "official oath swearing member" status as opposed to mere nominal affiliation. Yet, as I noted in that link, he didn't seem to care one whit about those creeds, but rather, viewed sectarian oaths as man made creeds.

And doing so led him to flirt with either theological unitarianism, or as this commenter noted, perhaps the Incarnation Sonship heresy, where Jesus is viewed as eternally the second Person in the Trinity, but not the "eternally begotten" Son; rather, the Father-Son relationship didn't occur until Jesus was Incarnated. That's not what his church taught; that's NOT what the Athanasian Creed teaches.

Enter William Livingston, who, as I noted here and here, rejected creeds and ecclesiastical authority. He is also one of Bradford's Presbyterians. I don't know whether he took Presbyterian oaths (see this chart for late 18th Cen. American Churches and their oaths). But my links show he 1. believed in the Bible; but 2. rejected creeds as man made, and 3. mocked the Athanasian Creed.

Enter Benjamin Rush. Though an orthodox Trinitarian, he embraced the Universalist heresy. He was nominally Presbyterian (see this useful chart for formal/nominal affiliation of the Founders). I do not know whether Rush took Presbyterian oaths; but his Arminianism and Universalism contradicted Presbyterianism's creed.

And Rush knew it. He expressed his rejection of creeds to John Adams, April 5, 1808, and noted his religion a compound of "orthodoxy" and "heterodoxy." He also told Adams he kept his exact religious beliefs secret.

Indeed, one of the reasons why I DISLIKE the claim -- "they were orthodox because they were all members of Churches with orthodox creeds" -- so much is, from what I have seen it is precisely the opposite of the truth. Some Founders connected to those churches were biblical unitarians; some were orthodox in spite of what those creeds taught, but rather because they found Trinitarianism in the Bible; and some were more rationalistic unitarian and deistic "Christians." But I haven't seen ANY evidence that the Founders were "orthodox" because they respected the creeds to which their churches adhered. James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion, on pages 79-81, reproduces quotations from Abigail and John Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Jay and Rush on the subject of creeds and EACH is anti-creedal in sentiment.

The "orthodox because of their churches' creeds" meme misses the radically anti-creedal, anti-ecclesiastical dynamic of the American Founding.

*Bradford was almost the appointed to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities by President Reagan until his paleoconservative belief that the South was right poisoned his well

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The KJV at 400

Yesterday, the American Bible Society in New York City hosted "On Eagles' Wings," a symposium commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. Four academic lecturers spoke at length on different aspects of the subject, from the political machinations that helped inspire the King James Version of the Holy Bible to contemporary efforts in the Caribbean to standardize Christian worship. After the lectures, producer-director Norman Stone screened his new film KJB: The Book That Changed the World. The daylong celebration complements the exhibition that opened Friday at the Museum of Biblical Art titled "On Eagles' Wings: The King James Bible Turns Four Hundred," which runs through September 18. The two institutions are located at 1865 Broadway (at 61st Street).

It actually requires at least one day of lectures, Q&A, film, and display of Bibles to broach the topic of the KJV and its global significance. What began as one item on a lengthy list of grievances submitted to King James I of England by a council of Puritan elders seeking religious liberty culminated in the production of a sacred text on which diverse religious and political factions could agree. Fifty scholars -- linguists, theologians, classicists, and more -- collectively dubbed God's Secretaries, labored for seven years to produce a Bible for not only England, but for the Americas also.

Dr. David Norton
David Norton is Professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His first book, A History of the Bible as Literature, won the Conference on Christian Literature Book of the Year Award in 1994. He edited the text of the King James Bible for Cambridge University Press. Dr. Norton is a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities. His latest book is The King James Bible: a Short History from Tyndale to Today published by Cambridge University Press.

Being first to speak, he had the biggest job of explaining history, theology, publishing, and related contexts, beginning with the evolution of Christian holy texts in the centuries previous to the coronation of Scotland's King James VI as England's King James I. Parts of the story are deceptively simple. For instance, 83 percent of the KJV text is the language of William Tyndale's Bibles of the 1520s and '30s. Tyndale (1494?-1536) was an early translator of Bibles for English readers, which made him a man wanted by authorities of both church and state. To avoid arrest, he fled to Europe where the publishing took place, however a reprinting of his revised New Testament was run in 1535 under the patronage of Anne Boleyn, and is the first volume of Holy Scripture printed in England. A skilled translator of Greek with a gift for language, Tyndale produced reliable texts that established a standard for Reformation thinking. He was arrested by Catholic authorities in Antwerp in 1535, and was tried, executed, and burned.

The major Bibles used in England that followed in Tynedale's path include the Coverdale and Matthew versions of the 1530s and, more significantly to this story, the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishops' Bible (1568) -- both Reformation favorites -- and the Rheims New Testament (1582), a standard text in Roman Catholic churches. It was the Bishops' Bible's 1602 edition that was the Church of England's standard text at the time James commissioned a new version; Norton used Powerpoint to illustrate some telling differences between the two.

Frontispiece of the 1602 edition of the Bishops' Bible.

The frontispiece of the 1602 edition of the Bishops' Bible is a busy piece of printing. To decode some of it: At top, the Tetragrammaton. Left side, representations of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Right, the Twelve Apostles. Beneath the text, a lamb, slaughtered and seemingly ready for the spit. The Four Evangelists are at the corners outside the text area.

Frontispiece of the first edition of the King James Bible, 1611.

The frontispiece of the first edition of the King James Bible retains some of the same imagery. The Tetragrammaton (cut off in this photo) is at top. The Apostles underneath, with the Agnus Dei. The Evangelists remain at the cardinal corners of the text box. What's new is Moses and Aaron flanking the text, and in the text itself is the conspicuous credit: "by His Majesty's special commandment," a controversial hint at giving James almost godly authority, a phraseology that would be abandoned in 1629.

The title pages of the 1602 Bishops' Bible and the first King James Bible.

A comparison of the two title pages reveals a few differences, like the promise of a new text based on translations of the original tongues, which isn't exactly the case. Hebrew and Aramaic of course would be the original languages for the books of the Hebrew Bible on which the Old Testament is based; and Greek would have been the mother tongue from which to translate original New Testament books. As stated above, based on what several of the lecturers said yesterday, 83 percent of the KJV comes from Tynedale's Bible. So what are the differences?

Let me start with language. Four hundred years on, we reflect on the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras as the birth of modern English and the golden age of English prose and poetry. Shakespeare, Milton, and their remembered contemporaries are, to most, the fathers of our language. At their time however, things were different. The people of the English-speaking world c. 1600 would have laughed at the notion that their mother tongue could in any way comprise an art form. The term "English literature" would have been considered an oxymoron, Norton said, and the KJV revolutionized nothing on its advent in 1611; it would be decades later, years even after the death of its patron king, when the KJV began to be accepted widely (the Geneva, for one, was an enduring favorite), and it wouldn't be until the 18th century that it became the Bible of the English-speaking Christian world. This Bible, Norton added, holds a unique status. There were other Bibles, but the KJV from 1660 on was the Scriptural text that served as a book of both truth and language, and over the next century and a half, when people eventually caught up to it in the mid 18th century, it became the English-speaking Protestants' word of God. This must be appreciated for the feat that it is, considering that dialects were many and varied in England itself, never mind the diversity found in the Americas and elsewhere.

There were folio-size editions for the clergy's use in church, and there were quartos for sale to individuals and families for use at home, but that's largely just commerce. To be clear, the King James Bible was crafted specifically for being read aloud in church.

The Gospel of John, Chapter 1, 1-5:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

It is one of the most famous verses in English letters, theology notwithstanding.

Words, phrases, and understanding are the crux of translation, and when revising a text already in the same language, the decision to not change something is equally potent as the act of changing a word, phrase, or understanding.

William Tyndale's New Testament c. 1530, Gospel of John, Chapter 1, 1-5:

"That which was from the beginning declare we unto you, which we have heard which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life. For the life appeared, and we have seen, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the father, and appeared unto us. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you that ye may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the father, and his son Jesus Christ. And this write we unto you, that our joy may be full. And this is the tidings which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

The Bishops' Bible of 1568, Gospel of John, Chapter 1, 1-5:

"In the begynnyng was the worde, & the worde was with God: and that worde was God. The same was in the begynnyng with God. All thynges were made by it: and without it, was made nothyng that was made. In it was lyfe, and the lyfe was the lyght of men, And the lyght shyneth in darkenesse: and the darknesse comprehended it not."

What also distinguishes the KJV from previous Bibles is the absence of marginal notes. These brief doctrinal notes next to the Scriptural verses existed to offer context and clarity, but to King James, some of them were intolerable. The Geneva Bible is the Bible of the Reformation, of the Puritans, and the Pilgrims; it was the first Bible brought to America and was the standard text for Christian worship in America until the KJV came to dominate. In the Geneva Bible's John 1 there were notes opining opposition to monarchial rule. To James, as editor-in-chief (he was highly knowledgeable in matters of theology and church) the doctrinal notes generally were undesirable, but those introducing ideas of disobedience to kings especially had to go.

But philosophically, the justification of a new Bible for the Church of England -- James never did succeed at introducing a revised Scripture for his native Church of Scotland -- was stated in the colorful prose of the preface. (The American Bible Society published in 1997 a book containing this introductory message in three formats: 1) a facsimile of the original 1611 pages, 2) the original wording, but in an orthography to accommodate modern American readers, and 3) an entirely modern format, with all Greek and Latin quotations, and all archaic English words and idioms rendered in modern standard English. This book, titled The Translators to the Reader: The Original Preface of the King James Version of 1611 Revisited is available through Amazon and other vendors.) Excerpted: "Truly, good Christian reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good ... but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against, that hath been our endeavour, that our mark. To that purpose there were many chosen that were greater in other men's eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise."

Dr. Scot McKnight
Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, in Chicago. Dr. McKnight has given radio interviews across the country, has appeared on television and regularly speaks at local churches, conferences, colleges and seminaries in the United States and abroad. Dr. McKnight earned his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham.

McKnight complemented Norton's talk by sharing additional information on the KJV's place in England, explaining there were two main rival texts, the Catholic version of the Holy Bible and the Protestants' Geneva Bible. The latter was very popular, thanks to its quarto size, Roman font, and accessible notes. The Catholic Church's Bible, called the Rheims New Testament, was the first English language Catholic Bible. First published in 1582 in France, it is interesting how the Church did not complete and authorize its own version of the Old Testament until 1610. Both Testaments are based on Jerome's Vulgate, the Latin translation from the fourth century, making them inaccurate and scorned by non-Catholics. At stake was more than who had the best translations of the Hebrew and Greek source materials; the King James Bible was to satisfy both Anglican and Puritan alike, and carry on the Protestant tradition at a time when Roman Catholicism vied for both ecclesiastical supremacy and control of the state.

There were times where choice of specific words had significant implications: church versus congregation; priest versus minister; and baptize versus wash, to cite three examples. The accord of Greek original text with desired context made for the winning formula, and so in devising a New Testament in the best obtainable language based on the original Greek, James I was said to have freed five from prison: the Four Evangelists and Paul the Apostle. In the latter's case, Romans Chapter 5 was cited as an illustrative instance of bearing toward the Greek by replacing "sin" with "offense."

Dr. Euan Cameron
Euan Cameron attended Eton and Oxford Universities, where he graduated with a BA in History and received a D.Phil. He taught History at the University of Newcastle upon Tynein, became the first Henry Luce III Professor of Reformation Church History, at Union Theological Seminary in New York; and held a concurrent appointment in the Department of Religion in Columbia University. From 2004 to 2010, he also served as Academic Vice-President in the seminary.

Dr. Cameron added more context to the story, explaining, among other things, that the King James Version was the right Bible for the right time. Reformation's "heroic confrontational phase" was embodied by William Tynedale early in the previous century, but by the time James had commissioned his Bible, it was time for "a more measured quality" to the voice of the Church of England. It was time for Anglican ascendancy.

However the success of the KJV is not due to its establishment within the Church of England alone. It is because it is the embodiment of the Reform-minded Christian message that all the faithful can embrace.

Mr. Norman Stone, director and producer of KJB: The Book That Changed the World.

After the lectures, it was time for the film premiere and discussion with the director of KJB: The Book that Changed the World. Produced and directed by Norman Stone, this 90-minute film documents the creation and significance of the King James Bible. Created for the translation's 400th anniversary, it features acclaimed British actor John Rhys-Davies as chief storyteller and guide.

Stone was youngest television producer/director at the BBC. He wrote and produced the highly acclaimed A Different Drummer about the blind and deaf Cornish poet Jack Clemo in 1980. Four years later, his career was established with the international success of Shadowlands, a drama on the love and grief of C.S. Lewis.

The movie tells of the turbulent politics (e.g. the Fawkes plot) of the Jacobean era and the intrigues in both state and church that were behind the creation of this holy text that changed the world. Click here to view the trailer of KJB: The Book that Changed the World.

As always, any errors or omissions in the reporting here are mine, and not the speakers'.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

John Knox's Sexist Screed

I've been investigating -- and I'm far from done -- the evolution of the notion that Christian believers have a right to resist and disobey rulers in the face of, among other proof texts, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. It didn't all just happen at once. Its seeds had been germinating for quite a time as a dissident growth within Christendom. Common-sensically, the arguments emerged as a result of experience with crappy Kings...and Queens.

A little while back someone with whom I interacted in a comment thread suggested John Knox on when rulers lose their legitimate authority. The commenter objected to my idea that Sola Scriptura doesn't get you the right to resist tyrants. John Knox was a Calvinist, reformed guy; they are Sola Scripturaist, right?

Well no. As among others, Jordan J. Ballor has noted, there is a tradition of natural law in Protestantism. And this is, I think, because Protestantism inherited a great deal of its traditions from Roman Catholicism.

And indeed John Knox, the former Roman Catholic Priest he, cites Aristotle in The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

But, honestly, I have a hard time with both the title and the contents of this work. I'm a product of modern egalitarian gender equality thought. And this is anything but.

Here is a taste:

[The Empire of Women is
Repugnant to Nature]

And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled [deprived] woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be. Man, I say, in many other cases, does in this behalf see very clearly. [14]For the causes are so manifest, that they cannot be hid. For who can deny but it is repugnant to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong? And finally, that the foolish, mad, and frenetic shall govern the discreet, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority. For their sight in civil regiment is but blindness; their strength, weakness; their counsel, foolishness; and judgment, frenzy, if it be rightly considered.

[15]I except such as God, by singular privilege, and for certain causes known only to himself, has exempted from the common rank of women, and do speak of women as nature and experience do this day declare them. Nature, I say, does paint them forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel, lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faults have men in all ages espied in that kind, for the which not only they have removed women from rule and authority, but also some have thought that men subject to the counsel or empire of their wives were unworthy of public office. [16]For thus writes Aristotle, in the second of his Politics. What difference shall we put, says he, whether that women bear authority, or the husbands that obey the empire of their wives, be appointed to be magistrates? For what ensues the one, must needs follow the other: to wit, injustice, confusion, and disorder. The same author further reasons, that the policy or regiment of the Lacedemonians (who other ways amongst the Greeks were most excellent) was not worthy to be reputed nor accounted amongst the number of commonwealths that were well governed, because the magistrates and rulers of the same were too much given to please and obey their wives. What would this writer (I pray you) have said to that realm or nation, where a woman sits crowned in Parliament amongst the midst of men?

"Oh fearful and terrible are thy judgments, O Lord, which thus hast abased man for his iniquity!"

I am assuredly persuaded that if any of those men, which, illuminated only by the light of nature, did see and pronounce the causes sufficient why women ought not to bear rule nor authority, should this day live and see a woman sitting in judgment, or riding from Parliament in the midst of men, having the royal crown upon her head, the sword and the scepter borne before her, in sign that the administration of justice was in her power: I am assuredly persuaded, I say, that such a sight should so astonish them, that they should judge the whole world to be transformed into the Amazons,[17] and that such a metamorphosis and change was made of all the men of that country, as poets do feign was made of the companions of Ulysses; or at least, that albeit the outward form of men remained, yet should they judge their hearts were changed from the wisdom, understanding, and courage of men, to the foolish fondness and cowardice of women. Yea, they further should pronounce, that where women reign or be in authority, that there must needs vanity be preferred to virtue, ambition and pride to temperance and modesty; and finally, that avarice, the mother of all mischief, must needs devour equity and justice.[18] [19]

But lest that we shall seem to be of this opinion alone, let us hear what others have seen and decreed in this matter. [20]In the Rules of the Law thus is it written: [21]"Women are removed from all civil and public office, so that they neither may be judges, neither may they occupy the place of the magistrate, neither yet may they be speakers for others." The same is repeated in the third and the sixteenth books of the Digests,[22] where certain persons are forbidden, Ne pro aliis postulent, that is, that they be no speakers nor advocates for others.[23]And among the rest, women are forbidden, and this cause is added, that they do not against shamefacedness [modesty] intermeddle themselves with the causes of others; neither yet that women presume to use the offices due to men. The Law in the same place does further declare that a natural shamefacedness [modesty] ought to be in womankind,[24] which most certainly she loses whensoever she takes upon her the office and estate of man. [25]As in Calphurnia was evidently declared, who having license to speak before the senate, at length she became so impudent and importunate, that by her babbling she troubled the whole assembly; and so gave occasion that this law was established.[26]

[27]In the first book of the Digests, it is pronounced that the condition of the woman, in many cases, is worse than of the man: as in jurisdiction (says the Law), in receiving of cure and tuition, in adoption, in public accusation, in delation, in all popular action, and in motherly power which she has not upon her own sons. The Law further will not permit that the woman give anything to her husband, because it is against the nature of her kind, being the inferior member, to presume to give anything to her head.[28] The Law does moreover pronounce womankind to be most avaricious (which is a vice intolerable in those that should rule or minister justice).[29] And Aristotle, as before is touched, does plainly affirm, that wheresoever women bear dominion, there the people must needs be disordered, living and abounding in all intemperance, given to pride, excess, and vanity; and finally, in the end, they must needs come to confusion and ruin.[30]

[31]Would to God the examples were not so manifest to the further declaration of the imperfections of women, of their natural weakness and inordinate appetites! I might adduce histories, proving some women to have died for sudden joy; some for impatience to have murdered themselves; some to have burned with such inordinate lust, that for the quenching of the same, they have betrayed to strangers their country and city;[32] and some to have been so desirous of dominion, that for the obtaining of the same, they have murdered the children of their own sons, yea, and some have killed with cruelty their own husbands and children.[33] [34] [35] But to me it is sufficient (because this part of nature is not my most sure foundation) to have proved, that men illuminated only by the light of nature have seen and have determined that it is a thing most repugnant to nature, that women rule and govern over men. [36]For those that will not permit a woman to have power over her own sons, will not permit her (I am assured) to have rule over a realm; and those that will not suffer her to speak in defence of those that be accused (neither that will admit her accusation intended against man) will not approve her that she shall sit in judgment, crowned with the royal crown, usurping authority in the midst of men.

[The Empire of Women is Contrary
to the Revealed Will of God]

But now to the second part of nature, in the which I include the revealed will and perfect ordinance of God; and against this part of nature, I say, that it does manifestly repugn that any woman shall reign and bear dominion over man. For God, first by the order of his creation, and after by the curse and malediction pronounced against the woman (by reason of her rebellion) has pronounced the contrary.

[37]First, I say, that woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As St. Paul does reason in these words: "Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was not created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therefore ought the woman to have a power upon her head" [1 Cor. 11:8-10] (that is, a cover in sign of subjection). Of which words it is plain that the apostle means, that woman in her greatest perfection should have known that man was lord above her; and therefore that she should never have pretended any kind of superiority above him, no more than do the angels above God the Creator, or above Christ their head.[38] So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man.

[39]But after her fall and rebellion committed against God, there was put upon her a new necessity, and she was made subject to man by the irrevocable sentence of God, pronounced in these words: "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. With sorrow shalt thou bear thy children, and thy will shall be subject to thy man; and he shall bear dominion over thee" (Gen. 3:16).[40] Hereby may such as altogether be not blinded plainly see, that God by his sentence has dejected all women from empire and dominion above man. For two punishments are laid upon her: to wit, a dolour, anguish, and pain, as oft as ever she shall be mother; and a subjection of her self, her appetites, and will, to her husband, and to his will. From the former part of this malediction can neither art, nobility, policy, nor law made by man deliver womankind; but whosoever attains to that honour to be mother, proves in experience the effect and strength of God's word. But (alas!) ignorance of God, ambition, and tyranny have studied to abolish and destroy the second part of God's punishment. For women are lifted up to be heads over realms, and to rule above men at their pleasure and appetites. [41]But horrible is the vengeance which is prepared for the one and for the other, for the promoters and for the persons promoted, except they speedily repent. For they shall be dejected from the glory of the sons of God to the slavery of the devil, and to the torment that is prepared for all such as do exalt themselves against God.

Against God can nothing be more manifest than that a woman shall be exalted to reign above man; for the contrary sentence he has pronounced in these words: "Thy will shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall bear dominion over thee" (Gen. 3:16). As [though] God should say, "Forasmuch as you have abused your former condition, and because your free will has brought yourself and mankind into the bondage of Satan, I therefore will bring you in bondage to man. For where before your obedience should have been voluntary, now it shall be by constraint and by necessity; and that because you have deceived your man, you shall therefore be no longer mistress over your own appetites, over your own will or desires. For in you there is neither reason nor discretion which are able to moderate your affections, and therefore they shall be subject to the desire of your man. He shall be lord and governor, not only over your body, but even over your appetites and will." This sentence, I say, did God pronounce against Eve and her daughters, as the rest of the scriptures do evidently witness. So that no woman can ever presume to reign above man, but the same she must needs do in despite of God, and in contempt of his punishment and malediction.[42]

[43]I am not ignorant, that the most part of men do understand this malediction of the subjection of the wife to her husband, and of the dominion which he bears above her. But the Holy Ghost gives to us another interpretation of this place, taking from all women all kinds of superiority, authority, and power over man, speaking as follows, by the mouth of St. Paul: "I suffer not a woman to teach, neither yet to usurp authority above man" (1 Tim. 2:12). Here he names women in general, excepting none; affirming that she may usurp authority above no man. And that he speaks more plainly in another place in these words: "Let women keep silence in the congregation, for it is not permitted to them to speak, but to be subject, as the law sayeth" (1 Cor. 14:34). These two testimonies of the Holy Ghost are sufficient to prove whatsoever we have affirmed before, and to repress the inordinate pride of women, as also to correct the foolishness of those that have studied to exalt women in authority above men, against God and against his sentence pronounced.

1 Peter 2

At American Creation we've done a great deal of discussion on St. Paul's Romans 13. But that's not the only proof text in the Bible that instructs believers to submit to and obey rulers. There is also 1 Peter 2:

13Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

14Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

15For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

16As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

17Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

When it comes to proof texting the Bible, I don't see how anyone could dispute that the British had the more biblical argument; America's Founders did not "honour the king." What's a more interesting question is how Christendom, even orthodox Christendom, added a natural law that originates in Aristotle to the Bible as, at the very least, a supplement. Without that supplement, you don't get a right to rebel against tyrants.

Some argue that supplementing is a slippery slope to superseding; that might be true. But it is what America's Founders did. You don't get to rebel against a tyrannical King without looking outside the four corners of the Bible to "Nature."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Washington's 1775 instructions regarding respect and toleration for religion

In 1775, the Continental Army invaded Canada in an effort to guarantee that colony's cooperation in American efforts to sustain relief from the British government short of overt independence.  George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and he issued formal instructions to one of his field commanders, Colonel Benedict Arnold, regarding the proper deportment of the Continental troops on the subject of religion.  This was an issue in the Canadian campaign due to the strong anti-Catholic opinions that were then common among the vast majority of the American colonial population.  The Canadians, at that time overwhelming French in language and culture, and Catholic in religion, therefore were possible targets of colonial bigotry in the field.

In his Instructions to Arnold, dated September 14, 1775, Washington was clear and direct in ordering the American troops to follow two basic approaches in regard to religion.  First, in order to prevent resentment towards the Continentals, American soldiers were to be prevented, under punitive discipline if necessary, from attacking the Catholic religion then established in Canada.  Without mentioning Catholicism by name, Washington prohibited any action that would result in the "ridiculing" of any Catholic clergy or "Ceremonies."   There was to be no overt acts of mockery or contempt shown to Catholicism by the Continentals.  The American army would be respectful, even towards religious views and ministers to which the vast majority of American colonials at the time vehemently objected.

Second, in addition to demonstrating respect, the Continentals were to "protect and support the free Exercise of the Religion of the Country and the undisturbed Enjoyment of the rights of Conscience in religious matters."  Washington's orders left no ambiguity -- the American intervention in Canada was to have no deleterious consequences for the Catholics there.  Yet, at the same time, Washington couched his language to apply not simply to the Catholic population there, but to all people who sought to enjoy their "rights of Conscience in religious matters."  As the army would not mock or attack Catholics for their faith, so too it would not enforce Catholicism or attack religious believers who were not Catholic. 

While Washington issued his orders to Arnold as an act of military strategy -- to avoid alienating the Catholic population of a fellow colony with which the Continentals desperately wanted to be allied -- his orders show a commitment to deeper religious liberty than what military expedience required.  Respect for a despised religion, not simply tolerance.  Liberty not only for the majority religion but for all.  While the American intervention in Canada proved to be a failure in winning Canadian support for the American cause, Washington's orders regarding the army's conduct in regard to religion set a pattern of prudential and principled judgment.   In this regard, as in so many others, Washington proved himself to be the Father of Our Country.

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

The Moonlight Patriots

For the fifteenth year, and the ninth under the auspices of Fraunces Tavern Museum and its patrons, the Sons of the Revolution, Mr. James Kaplan led an audience of history buffs through the narrow streets and famous avenues of lower Manhattan early Monday morning to visit significant sites of New York's Colonial and Revolutionary past. If you know the area, you're aware that little actually remains, and even the neighborhood's most knowledgeable cannot find the exact location of one its most notable plots of land. This is the Financial District, where the hour is always now for the world's exchanges of all manner of wealth, day and night, instantaneously from inside modern steel and glass buildings. The two most famous of these towered over millions of people around here until a decade ago. Relatively little here enjoys longevity.

But thank heaven there is Fraunces Tavern and its appendant museum. This structure was the hub of much revolutionary activity in New York City, and even was fired upon by the Royal Navy, which sent a cannonball through the roof. Read more history here. Today it is alive, catering to the wants of mind and body (and, frankly, the soul, for those so receptive). Yes, it is a museum with exhibits and lectures, but it also still satiates the appetites and quenches the thirsts of its visitors. Perhaps it could be lamented that lodging accommodations are no longer for hire as in Samuel Fraunces' day, but on the whole, New York City is lucky to still have this portal to what predates by centuries that which is most commonly dubbed Old New York.

Fraunces Tavern Museum is located at 54 Pearl Street. Click here for a historical timeline.

Mr. Kaplan is an attorney by day, specializing, appropriately for us, in death and taxes, but during the wee hours of the morning every July 4 he serves as docent, conducting a four-hour tour of the places where walked many of the giants of American history. Why at two o'clock in the morning? That is self-evident upon finding the quietude afforded only in the middle of the night. This tour would not be possible at 2 p.m., even on a major holiday. The traffic would kill at least one of us, and the noise of New York would render Mr. Kaplan and his bullhorn inaudible. This is not to say the place is a ghost town; there is plenty of activity at that hour. New York is "The City That Never Sleeps," as Citibank used to say. There are probing passersby and curious cops and cabbies, all pausing at the sight of us, asking what's going on. "A walking tour," I offered at least four times. "Historic sites." It's a shorthand habit of mine, honed during years of deflecting idle questions about Freemasonry without wanting to be rude. "Long story" is the coda that lets me continue on my way.

President Washington
at Federal Hall
on Wall Street.
The tour always sells out in advance. With approximately three dozen explorers on hand -- or, more accurately, on foot -- we gathered just outside City Hall Park. There is one drawback to this scheduling: denied access to important sites. Both Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel open their doors early in the morning, but not early enough for us Moonlight Patriots. The final resting places of Alexander Hamilton and so many others are kept just out of reach behind impressive iron fences. Even the grounds of City Hall itself are off limits now in this security-conscious time, making Frederick MacMonnies' grand 13-foot bronze of martyr Nathan Hale visible only from behind and at some distance. A second issue, concerning not the hour of the event but its timing, is Mr. Kaplan's use of lengthy stops in several places to speak at length on historical contexts. Perhaps anticipating physical limitations of some participants (we appeared to vary in age from 20 to 60), Mr. Kaplan pauses where park benches or other ample seating are available to deliver his bookend monologues on the early years of the Dutch colony and the post-Revolution periods of Tammany, Erie Canal, and more. It is all important information, but it could be e-mailed in advance to participants, freeing time to visit more locations. We missed Federal Hall, where, so help me God, George Washington still stands at the site where he took his first presidential oath of office, and where the John Peter Zenger trial took place in 1735. The New York Stock Exchange is just across Wall Street, so close to where we passed near the close of our tour. But I leave this consideration to our host, who is both highly capable and visibly passionate; his excitement for this avocation is revealed in the gestures of his hands and the occasional tremolo in his voice.

This 13-foot standing bronze of Nathan Hale was sculpted by Frederick MacMonnies. It was dedicated by the Sons of the Revolution of New York State on November 25, 1893, the 110th anniversary of Evacuation Day, the departure of the British from the colonies. The Sons of the Revolution gather here every September 22 to commemorate the anniversary of Hale's death.

Hale of course was the 21-year-old spy captured and hanged by the British. The hanging didn't occur at City Hall, but was nearby in the area of today's Chinatown. One unlucky man who was hanged in City Hall Park was Jacob Leisler. In the wake of the Glorious Revolution, which ended Roman Catholic rule of England and began the Protestant rule that continues today, there was political confusion regarding the governance of the dominions in the Americas. Leisler, a German-born Calvinist, assumed the role of governor of New York on behalf of the new king William III. The political role he played was multifacted and goes neglected by scholars, but it could be argued he was a model revolutionaries of the next century would follow.

City Hall, built between 1803 and 1816, has a French Renaissance exterior. The Tammany Society organized the city's earliest Independence Day celebrations on this land in the 1790s.

The neighborhood where the tour begins is dense with historical and architectural treasure. City Hall, the Surrogate's Court, the Manhattan Municipal Building, and other civic infrastructure occupy land that figures hugely in American creation. It was here on July 6, 1774, where college student Alexander Hamilton stunned a crowd gathered for a Sons of Liberty rally with his speech denouncing British taxation, praising rebellion in Massachusetts, and calling for a boycott of British goods. These actions would "prove the salvation of North America and her liberties" against "fraud, power, and the most odious oppression." It was here on July 9, 1776 where George Washington read the Declaration of Independence to his troops and gathered citizens alike. Around the corner at Bowling Green, the massive equestrian statue of King George III was torn down that day. The tail of the horse is displayed today in Fraunces Tavern Museum.

Obscured by the late night darkness are eight sculptures at the top of the Surrogate's Court building in Manhattan. Depicted in bronze are: Pieter DeVries, Caleb Heathcote, DeWitt Clinton, Phillip Hone, Abram Hewitt, Peter Stuyvesant, Cadwallader Colden, and James Duane. 

Some of the men rendered in bronze atop the Surrogate's Court need no introduction to the readers of American Creation, but perhaps others do.

James Duane (1733-1797), was New York’s first mayor after the Revolutionary War. A native of the city, he was admitted to the bar in 1754, and went on to serve as New York attorney general in 1767 and in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1784. While having initial reservations about American independence, he would eventually support the Declaration of Independence, and Duane helped to draft both the Articles of Confederation and the first New York State Constitution. He was a member of the New York State Senate, 1784-89, and he served as a federal district judge in New York.

Abram Hewitt (1822-1903) was elected mayor of the city in 1866 (Theodore Roosevelt placed third), and is credited with being the father of the subway system, and played an important role in constructing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776) was a Royalist who held the New York governor's office several times during the 1760s.

Phillip Hone (1780-1851) was mayor in 1826-27, and is remembered chiefly as a host of great parties for the elites of politics, business, and foreign diplomats as well. His diary is considered a precious resource in understanding New York City political life in the early 19th century.

Also in the neighborhood is Foley Square, the city park named for "Big Tom" Foley, the Democrat Party leader who shepherded Al Smith to prominence in state and national politics. We were concerned with that portion of the park dubbed Thomas Paine Park near the county courthouse. Tour guide Jim Kaplan's affinity for the wordsmith of the Revolution is shown in his passionate and lengthy discussion of Paine and his life -- the good and the bad -- and while there is no consensus among historians on whether to include Paine in the pantheon of Founding Fathers, Kaplan makes it clear that he includes the pamphleteer, both for his own writings and for what Kaplan suggests is an influence on other crucial writers, including Thomas Jefferson.

From "The Crisis," December 23, 1776:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."

There had been a bronze plaque marking Thomas Paine Park, but it is gone now.

Our group regroups at Thomas Paine Park.

And speaking of writers and publishers, this part of the city also once was the nexus of newspaper and other publishing houses; the park is called Printing House Square. What better way to honor that tradition than by erecting a monument to America's patron of printers? And so, there stands bronze Ben Franklin, holding a copy of his newspaper, looking over the neighborhood. The chiseled lettering reads:


1706 - 1790

Printer     Patriot

Presented by Albert de Groot
to the
Press and Printers
of the
City of New York
January 12, 1872

The unveiling ceremony was a major city event. According to the Parks Department:

"This colossal bronze effigy depicts Franklin in 18th-century dress, holding a copy of the Philadelphia Gazette. A second casting may be viewed in the lobby of the High School of Graphic Communication Arts at 439 West 49th Street. On January 17, 1872, the 166th anniversary of Franklin's birth, the statue was formally unveiled in a lavish ceremony in which artist and inventor Samuel F. Morse removed the shroud and newspaper publisher Horace Greeley delivered the keynote address. Charles C. Savage, speaking on behalf of the New York Typographical Society, commented: 'It is appropriate that this statue should be erected in this centre of our trade, in the very midst of our craft-work, instead of in Central Park; for Franklin's life was devoted to practical hard work, rather than to the ornamental and the recreative.' "

Both Morse and Greeley would die that year. Franklin also published the first book in the New World on Freemasonry.

Making a loop through the Financial District, we came to historic John Street Methodist Church, located at 44 John Street.

In 1739, the first sermon by a Methodist preacher in New York City was delivered by the Rev. George Whitefield. In 1760, another preacher, Philip Embury of County Limerick, Ireland, arrived in New York. The first Methodist congregation, consisting of five people, begins meeting in his home in 1766. Two years later, Wesley Chapel on John Street is dedicated with more than 400 people attending the service.

With daybreak at hand, we reached St. Paul's Chapel, where President Washington prayed after being sworn in, and where he worshipped while the seat of federal government remained in New York City. His pew remains inside. And a few doors down is Trinity Church.

Trinity Church is the most historic house of worship in New York City. Unfortunately we arrived too early to gain admission to the church and its grounds.

Major General Richard Montgomery, killed at the Battle of Quebec, was among the first American officers to die in the Revolutionary War. His tomb is located at Trinity, and is now undergoing renovations. It is a national monument, per an act of the Continental Congress in 1776.

Also interred at Trinity, although no one knows exactly where, is General Horatio Gates, the commanding officer at Saratoga, the battle won by the Americans that proved so pivotal to the success of the entire war. It is incredible that a man so important could have been buried in an anonymous grave.

Not inconspicuous at all is the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton.

In addition to his service in war, politics, and government, Alexander Hamilton founded the Bank of New York and the New York Post.

Hamilton's wife is interred several feet away.

Commodore Silas Talbot, the first commander of the USS Constitution.

The final leg of the tour took us to Bowling Green. The Customs House was closed, but the outdoor attractions included the site of the Evacuation Day ceremonies. On November 25, 1783, the last British troops departed the American colonies by exiting New York City. The parade of smart-looking Redcoats was juxtaposed with the ragtag attire of the colonists, including the militiamen who helped defeat His Majesty's troops. George Washington officiated as the Union Jack was lowered, and the Stars and Stripes raised.

At 1 p.m. on November 25, 1783, the formal transition of New York from a British colony to a sovereign state was commemorated with a ceremony at Bowling Green that replaced the British flag with the American flag.

Fraunces Tavern opened for business at 6 a.m. just to accommodate us weary walkers in its Bissell Room. The food is outstanding, with a menu that aims for period authenticity. I opted for the Irish Breakfast: fried eggs, lean sausage, crispy bacon, black pudding, and toast.

The Irish Breakfast at Fraunces Tavern. (That shadow is my hands holding the camera.) A great meal.

My thanks to Fraunces Tavern Museum and to Jim Kaplan for this memorable experience. Obviously it's not for everyone, but those who dare will enjoy and gain from it.