Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fortenberry on the Bible's Political Theory

Frequent American Creation commenter Bill Fortenberry sent me a link to an article he just wrote on the Bible's political theory. The article argues "the notion of popular sovereignty can be traced to the government of ancient Israel as recorded in the pages of the Bible."

I, for one, don't "see" principles of republican self government or political liberty in the pages of the Bible. But I understand that many ideas didn't just pop up out of nowhere during the Enlightenment but brewed for a long time previously in Christendom.

Republicanism traces to the Ancient noble pagan Greco-Roman tradition. Yet, Christianity was birthed there. (Well Christianity emerged in Rome after they transmogrified from a noble republic to an ignoble empire.)

But Mr. Fortenberry is not the first person to "see" republicanism in the pages of the Old Testament. The Whig propagandists -- indeed even Thomas Paine -- made similar arguments. Now, Paine, that Deist he who rejected every word of the Bible as special revelation, knew he was propagandizing.

But, perhaps caught up in the Whig-republican-revolutionary zeitgeist, seemingly sincere ministers preached something similar in their political sermons.

As Dr. Gregg Frazer reacts to them:
The sermons seem to depict God's role as something similar to Rousseau's legislator; He disinterestedly established the foundational law for the benefit of society, but did not live under it. In their version and consistent with democratic theory, God established it all [quoting Langdon's sermon] "for their happiness" rather than to achieve the fulfillment of a sovereignly determined plan. By their account, God submitted the laws to the people for their approval and acceptance (as per Rousseau's legislator). 
-- Frazer, PhD thesis, pp. 393-94.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Heaven's gift to America

[B]y the beneficence of Providence, we shall behold our empire arising, founded on justice and the voluntary consent of the people, and giving full scope to the exercise of those faculties and rights which most ennoble our species. Besides the advantages of liberty and the most equal constitution, heaven has given us a country with every variety of climate and soil, pouring forth in abundance whatever is necessary for the support, comfort, and strength of a nation. Within our own borders we possess all the means of sustenance, defence, and commerce; at the same time, these advantages are so distributed among the different States of this continent, as if nature had in view to proclaim to us—Be united among yourselves, and you will want nothing from the rest of the world.
- Samuel Adams (1722-1803), Speech on American Independence, August 1, 1776.

Friday, June 28, 2013

William Gaston, Catholic judge and politician

The Imaginative Conservative blog has an essay posted on an early American political figure I had never heard of before, William Gaston of North Carolina.  Gaston was one of the premier Catholic politicians in the American South up until the 1840s, and during his career was a passionate advocate for religious liberty for non-Protestants and for the rights of African-Americans, both freedmen and slaves, as human persons. While Gaston did not go as far as becoming an abolitionist, as a judge he ruled that slaves had rights against abuse from those who claimed to own them, and argued that free blacks should be considered to be citizens of the State. An interesting read:  William Gaston, Race, and Religion in North Carolina.

Declaration and Bill of Rights to be displayed in NYC

The New York Public Library will put on exhibit its copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights next week in anticipation of Independence Day.

The Foundations of Freedom exhibition will be open from noon to six on Monday, July 1; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 3.

From the publicity:

JUNE 26 – The New York Public Library will display two rare pieces of American history on July 1, 2 and 3 in the free exhibition “Foundations of Freedom” – an original copy of the Bill of Rights, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand.

The two treasures – both from the Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division – are not often displayed for preservation reasons, but for three days, can be seen by the public on the second floor of the Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

It is the first time that the two documents have ever been displayed together.

"As a prime source of free information and education, libraries are the true foundation of our democracy of informed citizens," said NYPL President Tony Marx. "We celebrate that tradition with a display of both the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's hand, and one of the remaining original copies of the Bill of Rights, sent to the original states for ratification. This is the first time that these two historic documents will be displayed together, and we invite the public to come and be inspired for Independence Day."

The Library acquired both of the cherished documents in 1896, when John S. Kennedy – a trustee of The New York Public Library – donated them along with other items he purchased from Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a noted surgeon and collector of Americana.

Some other facts about the Library’s manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence include:
  • The document is a handwritten copy by Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration.
  • The draft of the Declaration was completed on July 1, but before it was ratified on July 4, several changes were made to the text, including the removal of Jefferson’s lengthy condemnation of slavery, an excision intended to appease delegates from Georgia and South Carolina. In the days after July 4, a distressed Jefferson wrote out several fair copies of his original text and sent them to five or six friends. The Library’s copy is one of the two copies that have survived intact.
  • In the Library’s copy, Jefferson has underlined the words and passages that were excised from the final text.
  • It has been suggested, although never proved, that the Library’s copy is the one Jefferson sent to his former law professor and mentor, George Wythe.
  • The Library’s copy of the Declaration is also sometimes referred to as the “Cassius Lee Copy,” since its ownership has been traced back to Cassius F. Lee of Alexandria, Virginia.
  • The document consists of handmade laid paper written on both sides; it measures 12 5/8 inches high by 7 7/8 inches wide.
  • The manuscript is written in iron gall ink.
  • It was last displayed as part of the Library’s Centennial exhibition, “Celebrating 100 Years” in 2011.
 Some other facts about the Library’s copy of the Bill of Rights include:
  • The document is one of the at least 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights sent to the states for ratification in 1789.
  • The document is made of parchment; it measures 31 inches high by 27 inches wide.
  • The manuscript is written in iron gall ink.
  • While the Bill of Rights comprises the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, the Library’s copy actually includes 12 amendments, two of which were not ratified. The first of these dealt with compensation for members of Congress; the other outlined a system of representation for the House of Representatives that potentially could have resulted in a House with 6,000 members today.
  • It has been several decades since the Library last displayed the document.
  • This year, the Library and the state of Pennsylvania agreed to share display of the document starting in 2014. A new, state-of-the-art case is being created, allowing the document to displayed for extended periods of time both in Pennsylvania and at The New York Public Library’s landmark building.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The role of Rhode Island in the story of religious liberty

Law professor Scott Dougls Gerber has a short reflection on that topic in the Providence Journal:  Law and the lively experiment in colonial Rhode Island. As Gerber points out, Rhode Island's commitment to religious liberty was far from universal (Catholics, Jews and Quakers were subject to government and social discrimination in the colony). Yet, the colony did provide for greater religious liberty protections than the other American colonies at the time, and even the official discrimination against disfavored believers was grounded in an effort to ensure social order at a minimum disruption in the lives of those considered to be subject to government sanction for their religious practices.  As Gerber writes,
[S]pecific laws affecting Catholics, Jews and Quakers, such as the Sunday laws and the laws relating to military service, were an attempt by the polity to address the conflict between religious freedom and civil order that Williams addressed so eloquently in his voluminous writings. Moreover, no law was ever enacted in Rhode Island prohibiting a particular religion or providing for the persecution of persons based on their faith.
An interesting take on the distinctive approach to religious liberty found in Rhode Island's history. Well worth a read.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Religious liberty in brick and stone, not just ink and paper

The story of the Catholic faith in America is one of increasingly acceptance and assimilation of the Catholic population by a traditionally Protestant majority.  From a despised and vilified group representing only a few percent of the American population in the colonies, to the largest single religious group in the United States today, the story of Catholicism in the U.S. is a big part of the broader story of American religious liberty.  And that story is demonstrated not only in documents and the law but in the physical structures of Catholicism in America -- its churches, cathedrals, hospitals, universities, schools and social welfare institutions.

And so it was from the beginning.  With the establishment of American independence, the Church turned to ensuring that it would have a suitable "mother cathedral" for the new American nation. Headquartered in Baltimore, the traditional center of the Catholic population in America, the Church began its work.  And what a work it was, as this short book review over at The Imaginative Conservative recounts: America's First Cathedral. Well worth a read!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tories, the Revolution and the Curse of Meroz

"Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty."--Judges 5:23 [KJV]

In his famous 1777 sermon "Antidote to Toryism," Presbyterian preacher Nathaniel Whitaker makes his Biblical case for the Revolution, citing the Song of Deborah from the Book of Judges. Like the Tories, the city of Meroz fails to help the Israelites, and by the time Whitaker's done with them, they're cursed by everybody including Jesus Christ himself!

...2. Observe the curse pronounced : "Curse ye Meroz, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof." Their conduct on that occasion was such as deserved a severe punishment from the other States, who are commanded to separate them unto evil, as a just reward of their neglect.
3. We observe by whom this curse was to be pronounced and inflicted. Not by Deborah and Barak alone, in a fit of anger; as profane persons in a rage curse their neighbors, and undertake to punish them; such often pronounce curses without cause; but the curse causeless shall not come. This curse was to be pronounced and inflicted by all the people, who are here required to be of one Heart & engage seriously, religiously and determinately in cursing them, and as God's ministers to execute his wrath upon them.
4. Observe by whose command they were required to curse Meroz: It was not by the command of Deborah and Barak, but of God himself; yea by the command of Jesus Christ, the meek and compassionate Saviour of men. Curse ye Meroz, saith the angel of the Lord. This was the Angel of God's presence, who then fought for Israel, and who was so offended with the people of Meroz for their selfishness and indifference in this important cause; that he not only cursed them himself, but commands all the people to curse them, and inflict his wrath on them in this world.
5. Observe the circumstance which aggravated their crime,viz.: the enemy that enslaved them was mighty. Had the foe been weak and contemptible, there had been less need of their help. But when a powerful tyrant oppressed them, and they were called upon to unite with their suffering brethren in shaking off his yoke, and all their strength little enough to oppose him, then to excuse themselves, was highly criminal, and in effect to join with the tyrant to rivet slavery and misery on the whole nation.
This was highly provoking to God, whose great end is to diffuse happiness, and not misery, among his creatures, and never punishes, but when his subjects oppose this design.
How base was this conduct, while they knew the strength of the enemy?, This consideration was enough to have engaged every one, not lost to all the feelings of humanity, to the firmest union, and the most vigorous exertions. But these servile wretches would rather bear the yoke, and see the whole land involved in slavery, than enter the field,and share the glory of regaining their freedom from a powerful foe. They preferred their present ease, or some court favors, with chains and slavery, to the glorious freedom they were born to enjoy.

                                                                            Nathaniel Whitaker (1708-1795)

From this view of the text and context, we may deduce the following doctrinal observations.

I. That the cause of Liberty is the cause of God and truth.

II. That to take arms and repel force by force, when our Liberties are invaded, is well pleasing to God.
III. That it is lawful to levy war against those who oppress us, even when they are not in arms against us.
IV. That indolence and backwardness in taking arms, and exerting ourselves in the service of our Country, when called thereto by the public voice, in order to recover and Secure our freedom, is an heinous sin in the sight of God.
V. That God requires a people, struggling for their Liberties, to treat such of the community who will not join them, as open enemies, and to reject them as unworthy the privileges which others enjoy.
VI. The cause of freedom is the cause of God.

The cause of freedom is the cause of God.  To Christian critics of the revolution then [and now!], how the right to religious liberty became the fight for political liberty as well may be a specious chain of logic, but forge that chain they did.  And for those who didn't help the cause, to hell with you!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The value of Madison's Memorial & Remonstrance

Eva Brann posts a very insightful and beautifully written reflection on that topic over at The Imaginative Conservative: Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance": A Jewel of Republican Rhetoric. As she rightly notes, Madison's work deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest examples of American argument and reasoning, with a rhetorical punch that puts in the same league as the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. Worth studying not only for its argument and phrasing but for its constitutional importance (as she observes it has been used in part by the Supreme Court as a guide to what the principle of non-establishment of religion means), Brann demonstrates that the rhetorical structure of Madison's argument is linked to his substantive presentation of the argument for religious liberty. One point that Brann makes, and that bears repeating, is that Madison's argument is an essentially religious one, grounded not only in republican principle but also in Christian thought. A wonderful discussion of rhetoric, good writing and the principles of freedom and republican virtue.

The book-ended faith of Alexander Hamilton

Historian and Catholic layman Donald D'Elia wrote an worthwhile essay on the faith of Alexander Hamilton, republished over at the Catholic Education Resource Center: Alexander Hamilton: From Caesar to Christ. Originally published as part of his book Spirits of '76: Catholic Inquiry, D'Elia does a very good job of tracking the trajectory of Hamilton's religious views. While I think D'Elia is a little too harsh regarding Hamilton's political maneuvering during the Adams' administration, his overview of the factors that lead to Hamilton's eventual embrace of Protestant Christianity is well worth a read.

The Enlightenment And Why It Still Matters

As John Fea informs:  "Kenneth Minogue reviews Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

American Founders online with the U.S. govt. archive

The site is still in beta, but the U.S. government archive has posted an extensive, annotated and searchable archive of the writings of the "top-tier" Founding Fathers:  George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, the Adams family, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.  The site claims to have nearly 120,000 documents in its database.  An amazing research source to be sure!  Check it out here:  Founders Online.

Now how am I going to get any work done!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mark David Hall Responds to D.G.Hart

Dr. Hall sent me the following note:
Jon Rowe sent me the following post [here] by D.G. Hart and asked me if I wanted to respond on AC.  I read it several times, but am not sure what to say.  Based on earlier conversations with Hart, I suspect he objects to Gutzman’s suggestion that I think Locke and Calvin had a  “consistent” approach to resisting tyrants.  This is a contested question, which I try to finesse as follows:
“Calvin, one of the most politically conservative of the Reformers, contended that in some cases inferior magistrates might resist an ungodly ruler. However, Reformers such as John Knox (1505–72), George Buchanan (1506–82), and Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) of Scotland, Theodore Beza (1519–1605) of France and Switzerland, David Pareus (1548–1622) of Germany, and Christopher Goodman (1520–1603) and John Ponet (1516–1556) of England argued that inferior magistrates must resist unjust rulers and even permitted or required citizens to do so” (15). 
I address Calvin’s views in a bit more detail in the notes, but I am more interested in political ideas that developed within the Calvinist tradition.   My contention is that Sherman and other Reformed founders were significantly influenced by the Calvinist political tradition, not Calvin per se.  Similarly, I contend that Reformed thinkers played a major role in developing the idea that an important (but not the only) role of government is to protect natural rights.
To summarize a chief complaint of the book, I argue that “[a]lthough the days of Locke et praeterea nihil should be long gone, students of politics, law, and history are still too wont to attribute references to natural rights, religious liberty, consent, and the right to resist tyrannical governments to John Locke.  In doing so, they neglect the reality that for many founders, these and other political principles were derived from Calvinist thought—and that in each case that they were present in Reformed communities long before Locke wrote the Second Treatise” (5). 


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Was Locke the First Liberation Theologian?

That question brings to mind the legendary Princeton scholar Paul E. Sigmund, who is one of the foremost scholars on both liberation theology AND John Locke (I may be wrong; but I think he sees a connection.)

As I noted earlier, I don't see this part of the Declaration of Independence as coming from Calvinist resistance theology:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This is Lockean and it is revolutionary. Lino Graglia, who last I checked wasn't particularly religious (at least he wasn't when he wrote what follows), draws the necessary connection between God and revolutions:
"What [the Declaration of Independence] is, of course, is a document meant to justify revolution -- that is, illegal action. Having no human law to rely on -- being in defiance of authority -- revolutionaries necessarily come to rely on the law of God, who, happily, rarely issues a protest."

Kopel on Mayhew

That was the title of an old blogpost of mine from 2006. Here is Kopel's original article. Also see the comment at my blog where the commenter tries to make what America did "fit" with extant legal technicalities. That's Calvinist resistance speak.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Calvinism and Rights

Apropos of the discussion, I have concluded after much investigation that Calvin himself was not good on "rights." No right to rebel against tyrants; no right to religious liberty (liberty of conscience).

Then some of his followers (Calvinists) through experience with tyrannical rulers began looking for ways to get around Calvin's prohibition against revolt. Or more carefully, to make the most of Calvin's "interposition" idea that said lower magistrates could overthrow higher magistrates as long as they did so pursuant to recognized legal mechanisms (the analogy here is the legal way in which Congress can impeach a President; they do it pursuant to the civil law, not by revolting against a tyrant).

Hence Mark Hall's book on the way in which the tradition of these Calvinist resisters influenced the American Revolution.

So while there is some language in the Declaration that does seem to foment rebellion, there is other language which speaks of their rights under extant legal technicalities, to do what they did. It's the latter language, not the former which is Calvinistic.

The former language --
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
-- is Lockean.

Dr. Gregg Frazer’s thesis is the “Calvinist” churches and figures who supported the revolution actually turned to Locke, not Calvin and had their Calvinism so polluted.

The counter response is that the Calvinist resisters (Rutherford, et al.) predate Locke; so, a la Dr. Hall, this kind of resistance was well within the "Calvinist" tradition. They didn't need to turn to Locke. They had Rutherford et al.

Some go so far as to assert Rutherford taught Locke his principles. But, alas, there is no provable connection between Locke and Rutherford.

The American Clergy who supported Whig revolt mentioned some of the resisters (Daniel Dreisbach told me to look carefully at the Sandoz collection for these mentions). So did John Adams. But they cited Locke more.

I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of everything Rutherford, de Mornay, et al., wrote and stood for; but it seems to me that when you see preachers like Witherspoon, preaching for revolt using “state of nature” “contract and rights” buzzwords, this is Locke-speak not Calvinist resister-speak. The Calvinist resisters were also totally illiberal on religious liberty issues.

For religious liberty, the Quakers and Baptist Roger Williams broke new ground. The Calvinist resisters were busy defending what Calvin did to Servetus.

With Locke, a more complete liberalism -- religious liberty, the right to revolt against tyrants, and other issues -- was tied together. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mark David Hall on Religion and the Founding

An excerpt from Kevin R.C. Guzman's review of Mark David Hall's "Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic." Hall's research on the influence of religion on the American Founding, specifically that of "Reformed theology" more commonly called by outsiders "Calvinism":

"Hall sets out to correct a serious flaw in the historiography. While prominent accounts of the American Revolution's intellectual underpinnings devote considerable attention to the influence of Lockean, classical republican, Scottish Enlightenment traditions, the influence of Reformed Protestantism--that is, Calvinism--tends to be overlooked. Although the focus is on Sherman's political thinking, Hall tell us, his book shows that the Reformed tradition was central to the thought of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Oliver Ellsworth, Jonathan Trumbull, William Paterson, John Witherspoon, and several other prominent Calvinist politicians as well. 

As Hall puts it, "I am not arguing that Calvinism was the only influence on Sherman and his colleagues, simply that it was a very important influence that needs to be taken more seriously if we are to appreciate the political theory and actions of many of America's founders." Hall here continues the project on which he, Daniel L. Dreisbach, and Jeffry H. Morrison have long been jointly and severally embarked: that of fleshing out the story of religion's influence on the politics of the Revolution and Early Republic. 

Hall decries the tendency to write as if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams (a group disproportionately composed of deists and marginally committed Christians) were the entirety of the Revolutionary generation, and then to deduce the meaning of America's original commitment to religious freedom from the ideas of those men. One illustration of this tendency is that, by Hall's calculation, Supreme Court justices writing opinions about the First Amendment's religion clauses have referred to Thomas Jefferson 112 times and to Sherman only three, even though Sherman helped write the First Amendment and Jefferson was away on diplomatic business in France at the time..."  Read the whole review here. Then check out the GoogleBooks preview here. Then buy the damn book.