Friday, August 30, 2013

The Constitutionality of War

Via Ilya Somin @, law prof Michael Ramsey on what the Constitution used to mean:

Every major figure from the founding era who commented on the matter said that the Constitution gave Congress the exclusive power to commit the nation to hostilities. Notably, this included not only people with reservations about presidential power, such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, but also strong advocates of the President’s prerogatives, such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. As President, Washington on several occasions said that he could not undertake offensive military actions without Congress’ approval. Hamilton is especially significant, because his views on the need for a strong executive went far beyond those of his contemporaries. Yet Hamilton made it very clear that he read the Constitution not to allow the President to begin a war – as he put it at one point, “it belongs to Congress only, to go to war….”
The fact that our use of force is limited to air strikes should not matter. Limited wars were well-known in the 18th century (Britain and France fought a limited war at sea and in North America during the American Revolution). The U.S. fought two limited wars early in its history, against France beginning in 1798 and against Tripoli in 1801. So far as I know, every person commenting on these events at the time thought that Congress had to authorize any initiation of force, even limited naval attacks...

More From Tillman on Stone

Here is a link to the Corner that features Tillman's comment. A taste:
Professor Geoffrey R. Stone—University of Chicago School of Law—was recently appointed to the NSA Surveillance Review Committee. Professor Stone has written on some subjects which may interest your readers.

Geoffrey R. Stone, The Second Great Awakening: A Christian Nation?, 26 Georgia State University Law Review 1305, 1333 (2010):

“This is the fundamental issue posed by the Second Great Awakening, and it remains a fundamental issue today. As citizens, advocates of Sunday closing laws, temperance legislation, the abolition of slavery, anti-abortion laws, prohibitions of stem-cell research, and law forbidding same-sex marriage are free to support such policies because they honestly believe they serve constitutionally legitimate ends; and they are also free to urge others to embrace and abide by their religious beliefs. But what they are not free to do, what they must strive not to do if they want to be good citizens, is to use the law disingenuously to impose their own religious beliefs on others.”

I guess some opposition to slavery is “disingenuous” if somehow connected to religion. Why does Stone think it so obvious that a citizen circa 1860 who had supported public policies seeking to limit or to overthrow slavery on sectarian religious grounds failed to live up to the aspirational goals of our constitutional order? Is it a matter of any concern that slave owners were, to use Professor Stone’s terms, “imposed” upon? One wonders why Professor Stone sees the legal order so clearly through the eyes of slave owners, rather than the slave who might have had his shackles loosened? Why cannot Professor Stone see that in our world of second bests, First Amendment church-state absolutism ought, in some circumstances, to give way to other values, and that in making that difficult weighing of competing values responsible persons should be loathe to declare our fellows bad citizens merely because they weigh things differently than we do?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Geoff Stone's Christian Nation Sequel

We blogged about Prof. Stone's first Christian Nation article in extensive detail. I apparently missed the sequel entitled "The Second Great Awakening: A Christian Nation?" which you may access here. A taste:
Whereas the Framers believed that the principles of public morality could be discovered through the exercise of reason, the evangelicals insisted that it must be grounded in Christian revelation; and whereas the Framers maintained that public morality must be founded on the civic obligation to "do good to one's fellow man," the evangelicals declared that true public morality must be premised on obedience to God. 12 Indeed, the nineteenth-century evangelicals preached that only obedience to the Bible, not only in private life but in public law, could save America from sin and desolation.' 3 
The central premise of the evangelical political movement was that morality is necessary for republican government and that Christianity is necessary for morality.57 It therefore followed that Christianity is necessary for republican government. 58 The evangelicals believed that the "only sure foundation" for morality was the Bible, and that only the Bible could show Americans "how to live their lives." 59 As one historian has observed, the evangelicals of this era "edged perilously close" to declaring that only evangelical Christians could be "good citizens. 60 
In the early years of the nineteenth century, however, the evangelicals reignited this issue in what became a bitter dispute over Sunday mail delivery. In the first decades of our nation's history, the United States Post Office delivered mail on the Sabbath, and in 1810, Congress expressly ratified this practice by enacting legislation specifically requiring postmasters to deliver the mail "on every day of the week.",67 
In the end, Johnson's position carried the day, and the evangelicals' demand that the government cease Sunday mail service was defeated. This resolution held until 1912, when an alliance of ministers and postal clerks finally succeeded in getting Congress to end Sunday mail delivery.
There's a lot more, in particular discussions about the evangelicals and blasphemy, temperance, obscenity and slavery. Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman who notified me of the existence of this article, also said to pay careful attention to the following passage, with Tillman's emphasis on words that merit special scrutiny.
Indeed, some of the most ardent supporters of slavery, such as the Baptist clergyman Theodore Dwight Weld, enthusiastically cited biblical passages, such as Exodus 21,112 to prove that "God's Chosen People practiced chattel slavery and that God, far from issuing a blanket condemnation of the institution, prescribed legal rules for it." By the 1830s, Southern clergymen and politicians were frequently invoking the Bible in defense of slavery.113 At the time, each side thought it had the better of the argument."14

Dreisbach Reviews Frazer

Daniel Dreisbach reviews Gregg Frazer's book in the Journal of American Studies. Read it here. A taste:
Frazer's thesis is not new. Other scholars have expressed a need for a more nuanced accounting for the religious beliefs of the founders than simply a bimodal taxonomy of Christianity and deism, especially one that recognizes a hybrid system that drew on both Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism. Frazer acknowledges that scholars before him have coined and defined a variety of terms intended to describe this middle ground between orthodox Christianity and deism, using terms like providential deism, Enlightened Christianity, theological rationalism, Christian rationalism, and rationalist Christianity. Frazer provides a sophisticated description of theistic rationalism and argues that other terms fail to capture adequately the belief system of the major founders. 
Frazer gives little allowance that the influential founders were anything other than theistic rationalists. He is dismissive of evidence or interpretations that challenge his thesis. Neglected in the study, for example, is the devout Congregationalist Roger Sherman, who by most measures deserves to be studied alongside the consequential founders that Frazer does profile. ...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Oldest Living American?

This tree.
In approximately 1630, as his children watched on, John Endicott planted one of the first fruit trees to be cultivated in America: a pear sapling imported from across the Atlantic. He is said to have declared at the time: "I hope the tree will love the soil of the old world and no doubt when we have gone the tree will still be alive."
By 1763, colonists noted that the tree, dubbed the Endicott pear tree, was already "very old" and showing signs of decay. But yet it persisted and continued to bear fruit. In 1809, the tree had such notoriety that even President John Adams is said to have received a special delivery of its pears.
Through the 20th century, Endicott's pear tree endured as the United States -- the nation it predates by 146 years -- continued to grow up around it. Through several more strong hurricanes, and even a vandal attack in the 1960s, the tree never stopped bearing fruit.
Read the whole thing @

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are We Looking for Gnats in the Soup?

A spirited discussion has broken out in more than one post between Chris Rodda and Tom Van Dyke below about her treatment of David Barton. I do not want to put words in Tom's mouth but I have surmised that while he agrees with much of what she has written, he feels that she focuses too much on the chaff of Barton's thesis and ignores the wheat.

Put another way, I asked her to think about whether she is straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel? This is because I have been on record for years now agreeing with the Secular Left that David Barton gets it wrong at times. I personally think that he overplays his hand and sees Christianity where it is not quite often. It is public knowledge that many of the facts he uses to prove his case have some serious errors. Nonetheless, despite all this, his overall thesis is more or less correct:

The American Founding was influenced by Christianity a whole lot more than is commonly taught

With that said, I understand where Rodda and others are coming from in their arguments about History with the Religious Right. I find myself in discussions with the Religious Right quite often and in some ways might even be part of it in regards to some of my stances on various issues. As someone that can relate with this group I find it aggravating that so many dismiss other influences besides Christianity in regards to our Founding. I get it believe me.

What I cannot fathom is why Barton gets the microscope and Secularists on the Left get a free pass from Ms. Rodda and others?  Yes, "Christian Nation" meant something different to most of our Founders than it would to some Evangelicals today. But why point that out and ignore that "Secular Nation" meant something different to most of our founders than it does to most strict Secularists today?

If you look closely I call out "some" Evangelicals and "most" strict Secularists above. That is because as someone that has these discussions with both groups quite frequently, I see more "Revisionists" in the latter group than the former by far.

I have always tried to be fair with Ms. Rodda over the years because I respect her love of History. She really does a great job at hunting down facts to prove her case. What troubles me is her narrow focus in regards to this topic and the fact that even David Barton gets a lot of things right.  It also troubles me that she seems to want to take on the low hanging fruit like Barton who is not even a Historian and totally ignore other more prominent voices on the Right that are Historians. This results in glaring holes in her overall thesis.

Long story short, if you are going to call your opponents a bunch of "liars" and focus on a lot of minute points you better make sure that your side has its story straight. I assure you that the Secular Left does not have its story straight in regards to its understanding of the history of religion and the Founding.

With that stated I would like to ask Ms. Rodda a question:

Do you really believe that even the most secularist of our founders like Jefferson looked at America as a "Secular Nation" the same way that you do?  That is the real question in regards to the religion in the public square debate and history.

Rodda on Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow is a figure from the American Founding I've much neglected. We have the "key Founders" -- the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin -- who I, after much meticulous research, see as something in between orthodox Christians and strict Deists, whatever we term them (Christian-Deists, theistic rationalists, small u unitarians, etc. etc.). There were some very important second tier Founders who were orthodox Christians -- Roger Sherman, Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon and others. And then there were some who were closer to strict Deism; Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer are the ones we've stressed so far. We should probably add Joel Barlow to the list with Paine, Allen and Palmer.

In doing research on Barlow, I came across this nifty post on him by Chris Rodda.  A taste:
Much of Barlow's other writing during this time was for The Anarchiad, a satirical political paper anonymously published from time to time by his literary club, the Hartford Wits. Among the original members of this club was David Humphreys, who, in 1797, as Commissioner Plenipotentiary in Lisbon, was the official who approved Barlow's translation of the Treaty of Tripoli and submitted it for ratification. Among those rejected for admission to the club were Oliver Wolcott and Noah Webster, two of the very religious founders that David Barton makes a point of associating Barlow with in his biographical sketch. Barlow may have started out together at Yale with Wolcott and Webster, but couldn't have ended up more different from these former classmates in both politics and religion. While Wolcott and Webster were die-hard New England Federalists and Congregationalists, Barlow became a Jeffersonian Republican and a deist.
Noah Webster, by the way, may well have ended up some sort of pious Christian; but I'm not so sure he was so while the Constitution was being ratified. He seemed, like many others, caught up in the Enlightenment rationalist zeitgeist.

I think the French Revolution may have killed Webster's Enlightenment buzz.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anti-Trinitarianism and the Republican Tradition in Enlightenment Britain

That's the title of an article by Matthew Kadane, Assistant Professor of History at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, featured in, Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 2, no. 1 (December 15, 2010).

A taste:
WRITING IN THE OPENING MONTHS OF THE French Revolution and in response to the accusation of anti-monarchical republicanism, Joseph Priestley explained in self-defense that if he was a “unitarian in religion” he remained “a trinitarian in politics.”1 The republican-leaning Priestley was  making a subtle distinction, but if the image of a political Trinitarian who held faith in Commons, Lords, and monarch could concisely illustrate what was surprising, if not paradoxical,  about the political outlook of a religious Unitarian, it was because the link between republicanism and anti-Trinitarianism was so common.2  Milton had embodied it in the mid-seventeenth  century; so had the classicist John Biddle, the “father of English Unitarianism,” who crossed over with Harringtonian republicanism, as Nigel Smith has recently written, in his disdain of priestcraft, his “vision of an exemplary Son and a life of virtuous action.”3 Probably more active in late  eighteenth-century memories was the anti-Trinitarian moment of the late 1680s and 1690s. A  “Unitarian controversy,” triggered by a relaxation of censorship at the end of James II’s reign and by the publication of Stephen Nye’s Brief History of the Unitarians (1689), raged amid a revolutionary settlement with republican implications.4 These same implications could be drawn from  the revolution’s anti-Trinitarian ideologues, Locke and Newton.5 And as Restoration Tories seemed to foresee when they linked Whig-republicanism and Socinianism, what would the reduction of monarchical power suggest—a reduction like that the Glorious Revolution brought  about—if not a diminution of some degree of the monarch’s divinity?6 This may not have been Priestley’s idiosyncratic view in 1790, but it was implied by the mix of anti-Trinitarianism, republicanism, and appreciation for the Glorious Revolution that could be found in a group of his contemporaries: Richard Price, John Jebb, Theophilus Lindsey, Samuel Rogers, Charles James Fox, one-time subjects of the crown like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and so on.7

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Preview of the Next Volume of “Debunking David Barton’s Jefferson Lies”

By Chris Rodda here. A taste:
BARTON’S LIE: It was Jefferson who introduced the measure in the Virginia legislature calling for a day of fasting and prayer in 1774. 
THE TRUTH: Jefferson was just one of a number of the younger members of the Virginia legislature who formed an impromptu committee that, as he put it, “cooked up” a proclamation for a fast day. And, it wasn’t Jefferson who introduced the fast day in the legislature. Why? Because the committee members were concerned that the suggestion of a fast day might not pass if it came from them. They knew that nobody was going to buy that these young radicals, not even the quite religious Patrick Henry, were proposing this fast day out of genuine religious devotion. It would be obvious that they were merely using a fast day as a way of jolting the people of Virginia into an awareness of the seriousness of what was going on in Massachusetts. So, they got an older member of the legislature to introduce it, one who Jefferson described as having a “grave and religious character” that was “more in unison” with the tone of the proclamation that he and the younger members of the legislature had cooked up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thockmorton, The Bible, and Effective Government

In a recent post Warren Thockmorton was quoted as stating,

"Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government."  

I am going to punt on the first half of this statement for now and focus on the second half. 

The phrase "Biblical Government" is a loaded phrase but in the most general sense I believe History proves Thockmorton wrong. This is because the history behind the most foundational phrase of the most foundational document in American history proves him wrong. 

The phrase is LONANG(Laws of nature and nature's God) and it most certainly has a long history in Christian Thought in referring to "general revelation" and "special revelation". Or more simply put, Natural Law and God's Law as found in the Bible. 

I have touched on this, off and on, here at American Creation over the years and cited the work of Gary Amos in doing so. I am not going to reproduce all of it here because I have simplified my views on this topic and do not want to muddy the waters. With that stated, here is a post on this topic from my blog excluding the intro that is not relevant to this site(Italics are the words of Amos and bold italics sources he quotes): 

"In my last post on this topic I cited a quote from James Otis is 1964 that clearly shows that the phrase LONANG(Laws of Nature and Nature's God) was in use before Thomas Jefferson used it in the Declaration of Independence. Thus, easily refuting modern secularists claims that Jefferson invented the phrase in order to make a break with Christian Tradition. 

In this post I refer once again to Gary Amos and his book Defending the Declaration to show that this phrase had a long tradition in both canon law and common law well before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. This is easily proven by looking into the writings of Sir William Blackstone and Sir Edward Coke. Both of whom had a profound effect on our Founding Fathers.

Here is Amos with some thoughts of my own below:  

From the canon law  of the Catholic Church, the term "law of nature" made its way into the common law of England. In the Christian common law tradition of England from Bracton(1268) to Blackstone(1760's) the term "law of nature mean the eternal moral law of God the Creator established over His created universe. It was a technical term for "creation law" - the original scheme of things purposed or willed by the Almighty. 
Sir William Blackstone was a contemporary of the framers. His Commentaries on the Laws of England  was one of the primary sources for the colonists' understanding of the English common law tradition. Blackstone was so popular in the colonies that as many of the copies were sold in the colonies in the ten year prior to the revolution as in England itself. Blackstone was required reading at almost all colonial universities. Here is how he defined the "law of nature."
When the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter....  When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion..... If we farther advance to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws,....  [The operations of inanimate and organic processes] are not left to change, or the will creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the Great Creator. Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is an entirely dependent being.... And consequently as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker's will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature. 
Amos goes on later:
Blackstone's view was not a new one. One hundred and fifty years before Blackstone, Sir Edward Coke gave a similar definition in Calvin's Case (circa 1610):
The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction; and this is lex aeterna the moral law, called also the law of nature. And by the law, written with the finger of God in the heart of man, were the people of God a long time governed, before the law was written by Moses, who was the first reporter or writer of the law in the world. The Apostle in the Second Chapter to the Romans saith, cum enim gentes quae legum non hadent naturaliter eaquae legis sunt faciunt [while the nations who do not have the law do naturally the things of the law]. And this is within the command of that moral law, honora patrem which doubtless doth extend to him that is pater patriae And that the Apostle saith, Om nis anim a potestatibus subdita sit [Let every person  be subject to authorities]. And these be the words of the Great Divine, Hoc Deus in Sacris Scripturis jubet, hoc lex naturae dictari, ut  quilibet subditus odediat superio....  [This God commands in Sacred Scripture, this the law of nature dictates, in order that anyone who is a subject might render obedience to the superior.] Therefore the law of God and nature is one to all....  This law of nature, which indeed is the eternal law of the Creator, infused into the heart of the creature at the time of his creation, was two thousand years before any laws written, and before any judicial or municipal laws. 

Both of these quotes show that Jefferson was using common law tradition and its understanding of the "law of nature" in the Declaration of Independence. Ideas that were in place long before Jefferson used them. As I stated in my last post, some of the more astute secularists will admit this and concede that Jefferson was not inventing anything new when he spoke of creation law. 

What they refuse to see is that the second half of LONANG is referring God's law as found in the Bible. Creation law is what many refer to as general revelation and God's Law is special revelation. In this line of thinking, the latter is needed because of the fall of man and corruption of creation. Coke's quote clearly shows that this concept was part of Christian law long before Jefferson used it when he states, "Therefore the law of God and nature is one to all." 

Amos goes on later:

Part of the Christian tradition was to speak of the "law of nature" and the "law of God" as two sides of the same coin. Here we find Coke speaking of the law of nature and of God as one and the same thing, simply two aspects of one law. The "law of nature" is God's eternal moral law inscribed in nature and on men's hearts. The "law of God" is the same eternal moral law revealed in scripture.
Like Coke, Blackstone equated the "law of nature" and the "law of God":
The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are found only in holy scriptures.... These precepts... are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature,.... As then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature. ... the revealed law... is the law of nature expressly declared to be so by God himself;.... Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws.... the law of nature and the law of God.... 

There is a lot here for sure that will need to be unpacked in the next several posts in this series. Nonetheless, I want to leave you with a few thoughts. One is that the quotes above clearly show that the phrase Laws of Nature and Nature's God is talking about "the law of nature" and the "law of God".  Second, is that this clearly shows that Jefferson was using a phrase that had a long history in Christian tradition and in no way could be considered "Deistic". 

Finally, if Jefferson, the committee that was selected to write the Declaration of Independence, and the Continental Congress that edited it and had final say were using Christian phrases this lends great evidence to those that claim America was a nation founded upon classically Conservative ideas that were heavily influenced by Christian Thought."

Were our Founders trying to set up a government based on ceremonial Jewish Law? Of course not. That is a red herring argument that is not even worth addressing. What is relevant to this discussion is whether or not they used the Bible as one of their guides in creating this great nation? I think Amos makes a very convincing case that they did it what is quoted above.

If I am correct then Thockmorton is in danger of over generalizing and dumbing down this discussion. I think almost all involved, including David Barton, will concede that many of our Founders were not Evangelical Christians and even those that were had little interest in having an established National Church like many nations in Europe.  But to imply that they did not consult the Bible, and thousands of years of Christian Thought largely based on it, when trying to create an effective government to guide this nation is bordering on absurd.

Jefferson was one of the more radical Founders in regards to religion and even he consulted Christian Thought that emphasized the Bible(among other sources of Classical Thought) when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Here are his words about the ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence:

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All it's [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney..."

This does not look like some great break with America's Christian past at all. In fact, it seems that even Jefferson embraced many of the ideals pertaining to good government that had been a part of Christian Thought going back many thousands of years.  What do you think?

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Forget about the answer---
there are problems with the question
by Tom Van Dyke

[From November 2010]

Was American Founded as a Christian Nation?

Lord knows our American Creation blog has spent so much cyberink about "Christian."  Do you have to buy into the whole deal, like Jesus is God, died for our sins?  Many did, but not all, by any means.

Do you have to go to Holy Communion, like George Washington mostly didn't?  Many didn't, not even most.

Or could you be a "Unitarian Christian," like John and Abigail Adams [if not perhaps John Locke himself], and you still believed that the Bible was Divine Writ and Jesus was the Messiah, just not the Second Person of the Holy Trinity?

And as they ask today of a sect that followed after the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s, Are Mormons Christian?

God only knows.

Or to be more precise, only God knows, to paraphrase John Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration," because as he elegantly divined, "every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical."  No humans can say for sure, not governments, not clergymen, not even [!] historians.
“We have already proved that the care of souls does not belong to the magistrate...No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no. Nay, God Himself will not save men against their wills.”
The Founders agreed that there is a God.  One God, as a matter of fact.  But on the business of the next world, they decided not to make it an issue in this world---a wise choice, per the wise Mr. Locke.  By the time we define and redefine and accept or reject Joe, Jim or Brigham, the concept of "Christianity" becomes almost meaningless.
So let's move on, then---what is a "nation"?

Its borders?  Its government?  The sum of its laws?

Or is it something greater [or less]?  Its people, its culture, its ethos?  After all, France was still France whether under Louis XVI, the Directory, or Napoleon.  [Or under Hitler or Sarkozy, for that matter.  It was still France.]

Well, let's park this one at the curb.  But with the engine running, as it touches on both "nation" and "America."  America was America before it issued any documents.  Or money.  ;-)


Which brings us to "Founded."  What the hell does that mean?

Jamestown? Plymouth Rock?  The ratification of our Godless Constitution?  The Bill of Rights that came some months later as the promised payoff to the anti-Federalists?

As my pal Alexandrian asked about America's Birthday:

Choose one (or more if you can’t choose):

17 September 1774 when the Continental Congress promotes the forming of local militias,
9 February 1775 when Massachusetts was declared in rebellion by George III,
19 April 1775 when organized fighting began,
10 May 1775 when Congress declares a “state of defense,”
15 May 1775 when Washington was named Commander in Chief of the Army,
6 July 1775 when Congress approved the Declaration of Taking up Arms,
23 August 1775 when the King issued the Proclamation of Rebellion and Sedition,
12 April 1776-July when 90 state and local Declarations of Independence were issued starting with NC,
15 May 1776 when the Continental Congress declared that the “Crown should be totally suppressed.”
11 June 1776 when Congress formed a committee of 11 and instructed them to draft a declaration,
2 July 1776 when Congress formally votes independence,
4 July 1776 when the document stating the reasons for that vote was approved,
2 August 1776 when many say the document was actually signed though others disagree,
3 Sept 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed,
14 January 1784 when Congress ratified the treaty,
21 June 1788 when NH is the 9th state to ratify the Constitution, or
4 March 1789 when the new government under the Constitution begins.

There was a gap of more than 20 years between the Declaration and the Constitution.  You could licitly stamp the American Revolution as Founding 1.0 and the ratification of the Constitution as America 2.0.

"America."  "Founded."  "Christian."  "Nation."

So little time, so many words.  Terms.

Words and terms are supposed to make communication easier, but sometimes they just get in the way.

America, are you now or have you ever been founded as a Christian nation?

AMERICA:  Yes.  No.  Sort of.  Can you rephrase the question?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Robert Bellah, RIP

See John Fea for the obit. Bellah was, in our time, the most noted scholar of the concept of "civil religion" in America. Here is an actual, rather lengthy piece from Bellah on the topic. A taste: 
The Idea of a Civil Religion 
The phrase "civil religion" is, of course, Rousseau's. In chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract, he outlines the simple dogmas of the civil religion: the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance. All other religious opinions are outside the cognizance of the state and may be freely held by citizens. While the phrase "civil religion" was not used, to the best of my knowledge, by the founding fathers, and I am certainly not arguing for the particular influence of Rousseau, it is clear that similar ideas, as part of the cultural climate of the late eighteenth century, were to be found among the Americans. For example, Benjamin Franklin writes in his autobiography,  
"I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing of good to men; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter. These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm morality, serv'd principally do divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another."

Institute on the Constitution: The American View or the Confederate View?

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
In his treatment of the founders’ religious beliefs during the IOTC course, Peroutka cherry picks quotes from founders to make them all sound orthodox. Like David Barton, Peroutka portrays the founders as orthodox in order to tie the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to “the God of the Bible.” Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government. What is remarkable is how infrequently religion is mentioned in the founding documents.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

God of the Bible, God of the Founding

We hear the Founders were "deists," whatever that means.  However, “Judeo-Christian” although it's a 20th century neologism, is a more accurate description.  The civic deity of America's "civil religion" has always been the God of the Bible, albeit Jehovah, not Jesus Christ [about whom they fought endlessly].

“May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, and planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”---GWash, Letter to the Savannah Jews, 1790

You’ll even find the reputed infidels Jefferson and Franklin quite comfortable with the image of Jehovah as the Pillar of Fire leading the Israelites in the desert in their proposed design for the obverse of The Great Seal.

And even the [in]famous deist Ethan Allen reports in his autohagiography that he demanded the British surrender Ft. Ticonderoga “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”*

[The doctrinal weeds get tall pretty quickly on the Christ angle. Best to leave it be, as they did back then. Even though "Christ" makes an appearance in the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it's along with some Grapes of Wrath and a Terrible Swift Sword--not the cuddly Barney the Christosaur of our current era, but more like Jehovah, who after all, according to Trinitarianism is part of the same One God anyway.]

*Although earwitnesses attested Allen actually said, "Come out of there, you sons of British whores, or I'll smoke you out!"  Still, it tells us a lot about his intended audience and the religious landscape of the time. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Howard Zinn: Academic Fraud and Scholarly Malpractice

Right-winger David Barton got his rightful share of flak for his shoddy work.  But meanwhile, leftist hack Howard Zinn of Harvard has been assigned in many American classrooms. Overdue, but at last what goes around comes around.  Sort of.  Jonathan Adler @

Prompted by the outcry over criticism of pop-left historian Howard Zinn by then-governor Mitch Daniels, Benno Schmidt (the President of Yale University when I was an undergraduate), wrote a good op-ed on the issue of academic freedom.  Here’s a taste:
Academic freedom is faculty’s freedom to teach. But, more important, it is also students’ freedom to learn. It is, as University of Wisconsin Prof. Donald Downs writes in the American Council of Trustees and Alumni guidebook, “Free to Teach, Free to Learn”: “the right to pursue the truth in scholarship and teaching, and to enjoy authority regarding such academic matters as the nature of the curriculum, [and] faculty governance.” At the same time, it is “maintaining respect for the truth (which means avoiding bias in its various forms), exercising professional and fair judgment, and maintaining professional competence.”
In other words: Academic freedom is a right and a responsibility. In recent times, the academy has too often been focused on rights and privileges rather than responsibility and accountability. . . .
Politicians can’t dictate course syllabi or reading lists in higher education. But nor should faculty be allowed to engage in indoctrination and professional irresponsibility without being held to account. And yet, over the past 50 years, that is essentially what has happened. The greatest threat to academic freedom today is not from outside the academy, but from within. Political correctness and “speech codes” that stifle debate are common on America’s campuses. The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind.
If academics want to continue to enjoy the great privilege of academic freedom, they cannot forget the obligations that underline the grant of that privilege. The American Association of University Professors itself recognized those obligations in its seminal statement, the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom, which is today nearly forgotten: “If this profession should prove itself unwilling to purge its ranks of the incompetent and unworthy, or to prevent the freedom which it claims . . . from being used as a shelter for inefficiency, for superficiality, or for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”
As for Daniels, he apparently sought to prevent teachers from assigning Zinn’s work in grades K-12.  Said Daniels “the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all. I merely wanted to make certain that Howard Zinn’s textbook, which represents a falsified version of history, was not being foisted upon our young people in Indiana’s public K-12 classrooms.”  Prominent historians have criticized the ideological slant (and inaccuracy) of Zinn’s work.  Others have come to Zinn’s defense.

Income Redistribution & the Agrarian Law

And to conclude my riff on how the civil republican ideological sources influences the vision of today's politics, here is this post by Daniel Clinkman, "a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh writing a dissertation on the issue of feudal law and constitutionalism during the American Revolution." A taste:
... Throughout the history of western republicanism, from the Gracchi brothers of Rome, through Machiavelli, James Harrington, and Thomas Jefferson, theorists have agreed that unlimited wealth is distorting to politics and proposed an “agrarian law” to reduce the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the pre-industrial age, land was a far more important component of wealth than was liquid capital, and proponents of agrarian laws sought to break up large estates while distributing lands to commoners. The most radical agrarian law, proposed by Harrington in his Commonwealth of Oceana, would have broken up large estates by capping all inheritances at the value of £2,000. Harrington estimated the aggregate value of English estates at £10 million, meaning that wealth could theoretically never be concentrated in the hands of fewer than five thousand equal land holders, and in practice would be even more widely distributed through the functioning of the actual economy. 
Agrarian laws were intended for an agricultural society; capital redistribution through progressive income taxation and estate “death” taxes are their modern equivalent. Therefore, it makes sense that a republic practicing both democracy and capitalism would redistribute wealth. There is nothing un-American or threatening to the established order in a tactically redistributionist regime that does not dissent from the underlying logic of private property. Indeed, redistribution has typically been proposed as a means of ensuring the stability of the existing political and economic regime, not undermining or overthrowing it.
I choose this post because as per Eric Nelson's thesis, the significance of the "Agrarian" laws (now a relic of the past) to today's day in age is the principle that it is valid for government, in democratic capitalist regimes, to use its coercive power to redistribute wealth for "balance." This is what governments in Western liberal democracies, including the United States currently do. It's a modern thing. Dr. Nelson argues the Hebrew Republic is responsible for this particular facet of modernity.

James Harrington On Equality

This is what The Founders' Constitution produces from Harrington's Commonwealth of Oceana 70--75, 1656.

A taste:
The third division (unseen hitherto) is into equal and unequal, and this is the main point especially as to domestic peace and tranquility. For to make a commonwealth unequal is to divide it into parties, which sets them at perpetual variance, the one party endeavoring to preserve their eminence and inequality, and the other to attain to equality. Whence the people of Rome derived their perpetual strife with the nobility or Senate. But in an equal commonwealth there can be no more strife than there can be overbalance in equal weights. Wherefore the commonwealth of Venice, being that which of all others is the most equal in the constitution, is that wherein there never happened any strife between the Senate and the people.

An equal commonwealth is such a one as is equal, both in the balance and foundation and in the superstructures; that is to say, in her Agrarian Law and in her rotation.

An equal Agrarian is a perpetual law establishing and preserving the balance of dominion by such a distribution that no one man or number of men within the compass of the few or aristocracy can come to overpower the whole people by their possessions in lands.

As the Agrarian answers to the foundation, so does rotation to the superstructures.
Equal rotation is equal vicissitude in government, or succession unto magistracy conferred for such convenient terms, enjoying equal vacations, as take in the whole body by parts succeeding others through the free election or suffrage of the people.
What's very cool is at the end of the passage, we see Harrington asserting "And as a commonwealth is a government of laws and not of men, ..."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Property-Owning Democracy: A Short History

An interesting article by Ben Jackson of Oxford University here. A quote:
The earliest versions of this form of argument, articulated for example by such pre-commercial renovators of classical republicanism as James Harrington and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, were agrarian and austerely critical of commerce and luxury. ...
This is important because whereas I don't see, after much research, Rousseau as being influential on America's Founders (perhaps he influenced them by osmosis), Harrington was.

Eric Nelson, Hebrew Republic Video

Watch it here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eric Nelson & Hebrew Sources That Influenced Modernity

I've been discussing, of late, the notion that the concept of "republicanism" is contained in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. I'm sorry, but perhaps I'm too much of a literalist in the way I read texts; but I don't "see" the concept there. For one, the Bible never uses the term "republicanism" or "republic" to describe the form of government of Ancient Israel.

Ancient Israel had a theocracy, not a "republic" and the form of government the Bible seems to speak of as most normative is monarchy.  Not just normative in an "is" sense, but in an "ought" sense as well; the Bible speaks of a "Kingdom," not a "Republic" of Heaven where Jesus' Kingdom is not of this Earth.

The concept of republicanism actually derives from the Greco-Roman tradition.

But that didn't stop many "key figures" from the "key era" that ushered in modernity (the 16th - 18th centuries) from arguing the Bible -- specifically the Old Testament -- to claim republicanism against monarchy.

Of actual, respectable and respected modern scholars, Eric Nelson of Harvard does cutting edge work demonstrating the influence of Hebrew thought on the concept of modern republicanism.

I use the terms respectable and respected because there is a cohort of Christian nationalists non-scholars who misunderstand and misuse many of these same sources in the record that demonstrate the influence of Hebraic thought on modern republicanism. They cite these sources to argue as though there was some golden age of Christianism in need of recapture. (Real scholars understand there wasn't.)

What Eric Nelson argues is modernism -- not in the radical sense, but in the ordinary, present bourgeois sense -- owes more to the understanding of Hebraic thought by the those who established modern republicanism (those British thinkers who influenced America's Founders like Sidney, Milton, Harrington and others) than a secular Enlightenment.

That is, it's not a mythic golden age we need to return to, but today's era of 1. regulated, managed capitalism that redistributes wealth when there are excesses, 2. popular sovereignty, and 3. religious toleration in which we currently live that is the result of the Hebrew Republic.

And yes, government bureaucrats who are elected democratically, get to decide how much wealth is too much. This is not Marxist egalitarianism that demands perfect equality according to need. But rather an egalitarianism more Rawlsian that accepts a need for some inequality for the system to function efficiently; but understands law and policy should step in and redistribute wealth for a more "just distribution."

Except these sources predate Rawls. You don't need continental Europeans Rousseau and then Marx to understand Egalitarianism's call for a kinder gentler distribution of wealth. You have James Harrington, a man who, unlike Rousseau, was greatly respected by America's Founders.

Now, I don't think Harrington's notion of "civic republicanism" prevailed among America's Founders. Though it did seriously influence them. As Bernard Bailyn noted there were five chief sources of thought that drove America's Founding: 1. Biblical; 2. Common Law; 3. Whig; 4. Enlightenment; and 5. Greco-Roman. To complicated matters further, a. these sources were not mutually exclusive; that is, they bled into one another; and b. they competed and conflicted with one another; that is, they often disagreed.

And, of course, this is just one paradigm where others might be valid.

I see America's Founding as more individualistically liberal than collectivistically republican. In short, Locke and Smith's more individualistic economic vision -- mainly because of James Madison --  prevailed over Harrington's more egalitarian economic vision.

But egalitarian's critique of the excesses of individualism exists in the ideological thought of the American Founding. And the egalitarianism thinker who most influenced America's Founders -- James Harrington -- used Hebraic sources to argue for his notion of a more "just distribution" as Rawls would later put it.

I learned that, and many other things, from Eric Nelson. Check out his book.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Where's that Simon and Schuster Edition of "The Jefferson Lies" David Barton's Been Promising?

By Chris Rodda here. A taste:
Exactly one year ago today, on August 9, 2012, Christian publisher Thomas Nelson took the virtually unprecedented action of pulling one of its books from publication due to the book's many inaccuracies. That book, of course, was David Barton's The Jefferson Lies. 
There were several factors that presumably contributed to Thomas Nelson's decision to take the drastic action of pulling Barton's book from the shelves. ...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Darwin, Locke, and Classical Liberalism

This post by Larry Arnhart raises some fascinating questions and points.  A taste:
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism" (19, 23,158-59). They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding" (159). I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the first nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal (9-10, 13-14, 158). 
The nine critics don't explain clearly what they mean by Christianity or how exactly specific doctrines of Christianity lead to classical liberalism. They sometimes refer to the "God of the Bible," the "biblical worldview," or "Judeo-Christian orthodoxy," which suggests they are embracing both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both Judaism and Christianity (19-20, 26, 154, 158-60, 171, 189, 193, 198). Does this exclude Islam? Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity" (196). 
The only doctrinal teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition that they mention is the idea of imago Dei: "In very broad strokes, this interpretation emphasizes both the dignity of human beings--as creatures fashioned in the imago Dei--and their depravity, having been subject to Adam's Fall" (11). It is the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image that they see as the foundation of classical liberalism, and so if Darwinism denies this imago Dei doctrine by teaching that human beings were "created from animals," Darwinism thereby denies classical liberalism (198) and promotes all the evils listed by Gordon that are bringing about the complete collapse of Western civilization. 
Although the nine critics generally agree that Christianity dictates the classical liberalism of Locke, they sometimes contradict themselves on this point. For example, Benjamin Wiker refers to Locke as a Deist and implies that Locke appealed to Christianity only for the sake of persuading "the less enlightened" (44). Wiker also identifies Hobbes as the true "father of modern liberalism" and explains: "In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature." Moreover, he indicates, "this seems a great anticipation of, and hence entirely compatible with, Darwin's account of the evolution of morality" (45-46). 
In his book Moral Darwinism, Wiker argues that Locke was a Epicurean materialist who promoted a science of hedonism that would later be fulfilled by Darwin. He also argues that insofar as Locke's ideas crept into the American founding, they became the seeds of moral corruption in American political life. Oddly, Wiker doesn't mention this in his contribution to Dilley's book.

Reviewing Schlereth's An Age of Infidels

By Jonathan Den Hartog here.

Step Aside Beza and Locke, Say Hello to Almain and Mair

The title to one of D.G. Hart's posts here.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

7 of John Adams' greatest insults

Check them out here.

John Adams on Revolutionary Principles

Here is one source for the quotation.
These are what are called revolution principles. They are the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and Cicero, and Sidney, Harrington, and Locke; the principles of nature and eternal reason; the principles on which the whole government over us now stands. It is therefore astonishing, if any thing can be so, that writers, who call themselves friends of government, should in this age and country be so inconsistent with themselves, so indiscreet, so immodest, as to insinuate a doubt concerning them.
— John Adams, Novanglus, No. 1.
Hat tip: TVD.

Weird History: Thomas Jefferson Got Mail Just Like Mikey Gets!

By Chris Rodda here.

John Locke's Biological Naturalism

By Larry Arnhart here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Deism, as defined c. 1770

The good people at 18th Century Bibles, through their Facebook page, today posted several definitions of "deist" and "deism" as published in The Encyclopedia Britannica in 1770 and An Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1761.

From The Encyclopedia Britannica:

"Deists, in the modern sense of the word, are those persons in Christian countries, who, acknowledging all the obligations and duties of natural religion, disbelieve the Christian scheme, or revealed religion. They are so called from their belief in God alone, in opposition to Christians. The learned Dr Clarke taking the denomination in the most extensive signification, distinguishes deists into four sorts.

1. Such as pretend to believe the existence of an eternal, infinite, independent, intelligent Being: and who teach, that this supreme Being made the world, though they fancy he does not at all concern himself in the management of it.

2. Those who believe not only the being, but also the providence of God with suspect to the natural world; but who, not allowing any difference between moral good and evil, deny actions of men; these things depending, as they imagine, on the arbitrary constitutions of human laws.

3. Those who having right apprehensions of God, and his all governing providence, and some notion of his moral perfections also; being prejudiced against the notion of the immortality of the human soul, believe that men perish entirely at death, and that one generation shall perpetually succeed another, without any future restoration or renovation of things.

4. Such as believe the existence of a supreme Being, together with his providence in the government of the world, as also the obligations of natural religion; but so far only as these things are discoverable by the light of nature alone, without believing any divine revelation. These last are the only true deists; but as the principles of these men would naturally lead them to embrace the Christian revelation, the learned author concludes there is now no consistent scheme of deism in the world."

From An Universal Etymological English Dictionary:

"Deism... is the Belief of those, who, denying all Revealed Religion, acknowledged only the Natural, viz. the Existence of one God, his Providence, Virtue, and Vice, the Immortality of the Soul, and Rewards and Punishments after Death."