Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Who was Aedanus Burke?

Or more reasons why we can't categorize a Founder's religious belief on sect affiliation. 

Check out Mark D.'s post at The New Reform Club on how many of the "non-key" (as in not 1st tier) Founding Fathers get short shrift by scholarly authorities. His post on Deism is good too.

It brings to mind a criticism that the more heterodox Founders get undue attention. And it's true the 2nd tier folks seem more identifiably orthodox than the "key" Founders.

Still, given virtually all of the Founders, both orthodox and heterodox, were associated with churches that had orthodox creeds (which they may or may not have believed in) it's a mistake to fall into the trap of thinking "except for this, they were all that." As in "except for Jefferson and Franklin, they were all Christians." Or "except for a few deists and unitarians, they were all orthodox."

If we want to know more beyond the above noted formal and/or nominal affiliation with churches with orthodox creeds, then an investigation must be done according to a method that looks for every available piece of evidence, finding hopefully smoking guns that are often hard to find. Both sides are subject to this exacting method of scrutiny. Both sides equally share the burden.

There were also hundreds (or more) of Founding Fathers, depending on how we measure. All of the signers of the Declaration and members of the Constitutional Conventional who voted for the Constitution (or perhaps members present but didn't vote for the Constitution, but like some Anti-Federalists, who were against the Constitution, but supported the Bill of Rights). The original federal politicians too.

The name that comes to mind is Aedanus Burke. In James H. Hutson's The Founders and Religion a Book of Quotations it dates his life (1743-1802) and says he was a "South Carolina solider and judge; member of the First Federal Congress, 1789-91."

So this Burke was perhaps not a first or second tier Founder, but one of the many third tier ones. This is what Benjamin Rush said of him:
I have long observed that men may be Deists, and yet be warmly attached to the forms of the Sects in which they have been educated. . . . Mr. Hurt informed me that Judge Burke had assured him that he was made a Roman Catholic and a Deist nearly at the same time by two different priests in one of the colleges in France.
-- Benjamin Rush, ʺCommonplace Book,ʺ July 1792. Corner,Autobiography of Rush, 223–24.
This one quote doesn't "settle" the matter on Judge Burke. Rather it's probative. He had a Roman Catholic background but second hand testimonials of professions of "Deism." And we don't even know what kind of "Deism" this might refer to.

Sandefur on "The Greeks and America's Founding Fathers, part 2"

Check it out here. A taste:
In Part 2 of my series of talks on the influence of the Greeks on America's Founding Fathers, I explain how the Founders learned from the Greeks what not to do, when they wrote the Constitution of the United States.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Quakers Are the most "Enlightened" of the "Christian" Sects

Riffing off my last post, where I argued anti-creedalism is an American Founding ideal, the sect most associated with such are the Quakers. Creeds are creatures that enforce "orthodoxy." It not necessarily that the political theology of the American Founding was anti-orthodox. But it was one that didn't care too much for "orthodoxy" enforcement.

That, and other attributes, made the Quakers a good faith candidate for "pet religion" of that era. The Quakers were Protestants who just preceded the Enlightenment. But during the period of that era, the leading thinkers sympathized with the Quaker thought and theology they discovered.

The Quakers stressed "the light." The age about which we speak was "the Enlightenment." Perhaps the words took on a slightly different meaning, but the terms "fit." (Sources for Quakers and "the light" abound online if one wants to learn more on their understanding.)

One might wonder why more men who appreciated Quaker theology didn't convert. An interesting social dynamic of that era was America's Founders tended to remain formally and nominally affiliated with the sects in which they were raised for social purposes. But often didn't believe in the official doctrines or creeds of those churches.

The Quakers' stance on pacifism meant they couldn't support the Whigs' war against the Tories. This was an obvious roadblock to American Whigs' full endorsement of Quakerism. Hence, John Dickinson and William Livingston would arguably qualify as "half-Quakers" a term Livingston used to describe himself.

Here is an article published by a George Fox University's Quaker Studies which documents the history of Voltaire's thoughts on the Quakers which terminated in "outright admiration."

Here is from the legendary Alan Charles Kors writing in The American Interest on "Voltaire's England."A taste:
Voltaire opened his Lettres with a survey of English religion, beginning with the Quakers, which, for his French audience, would have been the rough equivalent today of beginning a survey of the United States with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church or the Hare Krishna movement. He lavished praise upon the Quakers’ commitment to religious tolerance, both in England and, more dramatically, in Pennsylvania, where they had political power. Foremost among the “wise laws” promulgated by William Penn had been “to harm no one for his religion.” Voltaire concluded his discussion of English religion with an account of the tolerant Unitarians, equally mysterious and heretical for his French readers.

Between the letters on the Quakers and Unitarians, Voltaire described the Anglican and Presbyterian establishments. For Voltaire, the Church of England itself, though an established church beset by corruptions that looked large in England (but very small indeed in France), had abandoned its efforts to coerce religious belief. In Voltaire’s view, “An Englishman, as a free man, goes to heaven by whatever path he chooses.” True, the Presbyterian Church, heir to the Calvinism that, Voltaire believed, had prevailed in the darkest times of the 17th century, possessed a clergy that detested all dissent. It was true, also, that the Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergies loathed each other, but in England the people themselves were weary of religious hatreds and persecutions, which mattered more.
Finally, here is from a presentation given by  Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, Professor of American Civilization, Dean for Education and Programs, University Paris 7 on "The Atlantic Enlightenment, in France and the United States, at the time of the War of Independence and the Peace of Paris."

A taste:
Yet American society came gradually to be seen as some kind of enlightened utopia before, during, and immediately after the War of Independence. As I suggested earlier, Quaker Pennsylvania had long appeared as a heaven of simplicity and democratic manners, as opposed to aristocratic France. Voltaire spread this idea, which gained more currency at the time of the War of Independence: in the 1780s a large body of literature was devoted to the New World, and the new nation in particular. Many French travelers to the United States contributed to this literature. In France but also in the rest of Europe, Britain gave way to the United States as a modern political model. Now the French no longer wanted to flee to London to avoid censorship: they dreamt of moving to the United States. A case in point is Jacques-Pierre Brissot, a future revolutionary leader in 1792-1793. He had been fascinated by Britain in the 1780s and repaired to London to avoid political problems in France: there he met with radicals but also with enlightened mainstream political figures such as Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice. He also met with Quakers, then at the forefront of the antislavery fight, and under the influence of famous American Quakers such as Anthony Bénézet.
By 1786, Brissot had been converted to the cause of America, like many French philosophers and journalists. To be enlightened was to be free ( the words light, enlightened and enlightened are to be found obsessively under his pen, as well as free and freedom) and to be free was to be in the United States. Beyond enjoying the kind of liberal institutions enlightened thinkers were hoping for, the United States also made it possible to consider economic prosperity for such lower-middle class publicists as Brissot through its cheap access to land. ...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Christianity Wthout Orthodoxy: William Livingston Might Hold the Key

To unlocking a certain strain of the "Christian" political theology of the American Founding.

While William Livingston was associated with a number of different denominations, he described himself as "more than half a Quaker." He did a satire on the 39 articles of faith of the Anglican church which amounts to an attack on orthodoxy, creeds and clericalism. He also slammed the Athanasian creed which led me to conclude Livingston was a unitarian. But that might have been a bridge too far on my part.

Rather it's more of a reductio ad absurdum of the individualism of biblical Protestantism that leaves it up to him to decide on what the faith means. The concept of Priesthood of all believers. But unlike many evangelical Protestants of today who pick an understanding and then claim all true believers will understand "this" is what the Bible means, and then they endlessly squabble, Livingston understood his approach would naturally lead to dispute and he embraced that reality.

He didn't care what other people believed on the "finer" points of Christianity. That is, he didn't care about "orthodoxy." No need to squabble.

It also "fits" with the individualistic nature of Enlightenment liberalism. Garry Wills' book that dealt with the matter had many inadequacies. But one strength was it noted Quakerism and unitarianism as the kinds of faiths that "fit" the age of Enlightenment which birthed the American Founding.

At least "fit" from the from the perspective of prevailing intellectual thought, ideals, and so on. There were plenty of unthinking masses who belonged to churches with not just orthodox creeds, but orthodox ministers who may have defended them.

Livingston, for instance, became associated with the Presbyterians. But it would be a mistake to conclude he was a TULIP Calvinist who defended the creeds and confessions of that church. In fact, he rejected all of it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Another Christian Nation Wacko

"There is, moreover, another enemy at home. That enemy is the mean and petty spirit that mocks at ideals, sneers at sacrifice and pretends the American people can live by bread alone. If the spirit of God is not in us, and if we will not prepare to give all that we are to preserve Christian civilization in our own land, we shall go to destruction."

Pat Robertson?

Franklin Graham? 

Ted Cruz?




smoky mountains

Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the Dedication Ceremony of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
September 2, 1940

In the 21st century, his party would call him some sort of nativist bigot.

[Crossposted at newreformclub.com]

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sandefur: "The Greeks and America's Founding Fathers"

From Timothy Sandefur here. I know the Founders tended to speak highly of Aristotle. And also that the Stoic Roman influence was much stronger than the Greek. But still, it is interesting to understand the qualified extent of the Greek influence.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Founded as a Christian Nation?! Part the Millionth

Thomas Paine published Age of Reason in 1794, advancing a decidedly unProvidential and therefore unChristian God---remote to the point of disconnectedness---and attacking the Bible as fable and fantasy. He received almost universal condemnation from the new American nation, including from Samuel Adams, erstwhile brewer, semi-"key Founder," and of course, cousin of the 2nd president.

Sam wrote to Paine in 1802:

"[W]hen I heard that you had turned your mind to a defense of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States.
The people of New England, if you will allow me to use a Scripture phrase, are fast returning to their first love. Will you excite among them the spirit of angry controversy, at a time when they are hastening to unity and peace?"

Now, this might indicate that even if there was a re-swell of religious affection happening, the immediate post-Founding landscape was not one of church-going holy rollers.

Still, Adams adds:

"Our friend, the President of the United States [Thomas Jefferson], has been calumniated for his liberal sentiments, by men who have attributed that liberality to a latent design to promote the cause of infidelity. This and all other slanders have been made without a shadow of proof."

Interesting in that clearly, Jefferson's differences with orthodox Christianity were still denied by many of his supporters.

We may read this as indicating that the Founding landscape obliged public figures to keep their religious unorthodoxies to themselves if they wanted to remain public figures. Indeed, nearly all of Jefferson's repudiations of Christian orthodoxy appear in his private letters, and only after he'd left office.

Was the United States founded as a Christian Nation? The answer is definitely yes. And definitely no. It already was Christian, more or less, at least enough that Jefferson had to hide his differences with normative Christian doctrines.

As for Paine himself, the full correspondence with Samuel Adams may be found here. Paine even claims to have tried to save the revolutionary French from atheism*! Who'd a-thunk it?

A few excerpts:
"There is however one point of union wherein all religions meet, and that is in the first article of every man's creed, and of every nation's creed, that has any creed at all: I believe in God. Those who rest here, and there are millions who do, cannot be wrong as far as their creed goes. Those who choose to go further may be wrong, for it is impossible that all can be right, since there is so much contradiction among them. The first therefore are, in my opinion, on the safest side.
...I have but one God....
Since I began this letter, for I write it by piece-meal as I have leisure, I have seen the four letters that passed between you and John Adams. In your first letter you say, 'Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age by inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy.'
"Why, my dear friend, this is exactly my religion, and is the whole of it. That you may have an idea that the "Age of Reason" (for I believe you have not read it) inculcates this reverential fear and love of the Deity I will give you a paragraph from it.
'Do we want to contemplate His power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate His wisdom: We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate His munificence? We see it in the abundance with which He fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate His mercy? We see it in His not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful.'
"As I am fully with you in your first part, that respecting the Deity, so am I in your second, that of universal philanthropy; by which I do not mean merely the sentimental benevolence of wishing well, but the practical benevolence of doing good. We cannot serve the Deity in the manner we serve those who cannot do without that service. He needs no service from us. We can add nothing to eternity. But it is in our power to render a service acceptable to Him, and that is not by praying, but by endeavoring to make his creatures happy."

This is the God of Deism---unremarkable in today's world of mushy theistic secularism, but Paine stood virtually alone with Him in the Founding era. Even Jefferson himself, who was supportive of Paine's freedom of conscience [and who shared Paine's disdain for things like the concept of the Trinity and the miracles of the Bible], believed in a Providential God who was quite interested in man's affairs, a God Who smiled on the virtuous and withheld His favor from the wicked. Jefferson was no Deist, and people should stop saying it, because it's not true.

More on that later perhaps, but one need only look at the Jefferson Memorial for starters. Jefferson says "I tremble for my country" at the thought that his just and providential God might not abide the obscenity of slavery for very long.

Was Jefferson's God---the God of the Founding---the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham? Not exactly. But He was no other God than the God of the Bible, either. Not Aristotle's, not Tom Paine's, not even Albert Einstein's.

*"In the second place, the people of France were running headlong into atheism, and I had the work translated and published in their own language to stop them in that career, and fix them to the first article (as I have before said) of every man's creed who has any creed at all, I believe in God."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

James Lindley Wilson: "The Declaration of Independence isn’t egalitarian enough"

From Crooked Timber's symposium on Danielle Allen's book here. A taste:
... How confident should we be that the signers’ treatment of one another as equal co-creators of their common life implies any commitment to more universal equality?

One reason I have little confidence in that regard is that, as we all know and as Allen repeatedly acknowledges, many people within the territory of the nascent United States were excluded from the practice of declaring independence, and—to judge from that practice and subsequent political and social practices—from the ideals registered in the Declaration. Black Americans (free and slave), women, Native Americans, and the poorest white men were not included in the process of establishing the Continental Congress, the collective writing of the Declaration, or the implementation of liberal rights and political “equality.” My point in reminding us of this fact is not to condemn the drafters of the Declaration for acting wrongly in engaging in such exclusion (though wrong it was), nor to deny them credit for the political good they did do, through the Declaration and otherwise. The point is that their endorsement, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, of the exclusion must shape our interpretation of the ideals expressed and embodied in the Declaration itself.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Glenn Reynolds: How to Make the U.S. Collapse-proof

"You also might want to limit the damage when things go bad by splitting things up. A huge empire ruled from a single city would seem much more likely to collapse than a collection of smaller states. (As Tainter notes, after Rome fell, Western Europe did not fall again). In the United States, that might mean maintaining the viability of state governments as independent entities. That way, if some go bankrupt (like, say, Illinois might or like Puerto Rico essentially has) the damage will be contained. And if the federal government were to collapse, the states could pick up some of the slack, limiting the damage.
Of course, in describing a limited federal government, ruling over a nation made up of semi-sovereign states, subject to the rule of law and judicial review I’m not describing anything shocking or new: That’s precisely the kind of government we in the United States are supposed to have under our Constitution.
So maybe we should keep it that way. Just in case."

Like the man says, read the whole thing.

Bonnie Kristian on Trump and American Civil Religion

At the American Conservative here. A taste:
... How is this happening? How is the heir of the Moral Majority endorsing a twice-divorced former strip club owner? How is Trump so appealing to what is supposed to be a Christian nation?
And it is in precisely that last phrase—“Christian nation”—the answer may be found: America’s entrenched, pseudo-Christian civil religion is the primary culprit here. President Trump is the due result of our theologically vacant imperial cult, which in the guise of orthodoxy worships only the power of the state.


...  This sort of ultimatum is right at home in a civil religion that facilitates unthinking Christian loyalty to the state by means of a clever syncretism: If America is “under God”—if the United States becomes the “city on a hill”—we needn’t worry about obeying God rather than men. It’s all one and the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph is idolatrously mutated into an American tribal deity.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Legal Insurrection Quotes Allan Bloom on America

Just two days ago here. A taste, quoting Bloom:
Contrary to much contemporary wisdom, the United States has one of the longest uninterrupted political traditions of any nation in the world. What is more, that tradition is unambiguous; its meaning is articulated in simple, rational speech that is immediately comprehensible and powerfully persuasive to all normal human beings. America tells one story: the unbroken, ineluctable progress of freedom and equality. From its first settlers and its political foundings on, there has been no dispute that freedom and equality are the essence of justice for us. No one serious or notable has stood outside this consensus…All significant political disputes have been about the meaning of freedom and equality, not about their rightness…
But the unity, grandeur and attendant folklore of the founding heritage was attacked from so many directions in the last half-century that it gradually disappeared from daily life and from textbooks. It all began to seem like Washington and the cherry tree—not the sort of thing to teach children seriously…The leading ideas of the Declaration began to be understood as eighteenth-century myths or ideologies. Historicism, in Carl Becker’s version (The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas, 1922) both cast doubt on the truth of the natural rights teaching and optimistically promised that it would provide a substitute. Similarly Dewey’s pragmatism—the method of science as the method of democracy, individual growth without limits, especially natural limits—saw the past as radically imperfect and regarded our history as irrelevant or as a hindrance to rational analysis of our present. Then there was Marxist debunking of the Charles Beard variety, trying to demonstrate that there was no public spirit, only private concern for property, in the Founding Fathers, thus weakening our convictions of the truth or superiority of American principles and our heroes (An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, 1913). Then the Southern historians and writers avenged the victory of the antislavery Union by providing low motives for the North (incorporating European critiques of commerce and technology) and idealizing the South’s way of life. Finally, in curious harmony with the Southerners, the radicals in the civil rights movement succeeded in promoting a popular conviction that the Founding was, and the American principles are, racist…
Students now arrive at the university ignorant and cynical about our political heritage, lacking the wherewithal to be either inspired by it or seriously critical of it.
The ellipses [...] are from Legal Insurrection, not mine.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Sully is Back

Check it out here. I'm not posting this because of the political points he's trying to score (that's why you won't see them excerpted); rather for Dr. Sullivan's understanding of Plato. A taste:
As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

Jefferson: Most Overrated of the Patriarchs?

In a WaPo review of Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf's game defense of Thomas Jefferson, David O. Stewart reminds us that although Jefferson's ideals and rhetoric were impressive, in the real world he neither lived them personally

“Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” cannot entirely avoid compiling the sort of despairing catalogue of the great man’s hypocrisies that the authors set out to transcend. They note that Jefferson championed those who till the soil as the most virtuous of people, yet he found farming deadly dull, and his fitful agricultural efforts were largely unsuccessful. He denounced political parties as instruments of the small-minded and self-interested, yet he was the most skilled political partisan of his era. He co-founded America’s first political party, which annihilated its opponents and swept to a rarely replicated dominance of the government. Jefferson’s party, considerably evolved, survives today as the Democratic Party.
Most fundamentally, the author of the ringing commitment to equality in the Declaration of Independence built his economic and social life on human slavery. Jefferson bought and sold people. Rebellious slaves at Monticello faced whipping or being sold off. The hypocrisy meter nearly melts at the spectacle of America’s apostle of liberty co-habiting for decades with a woman he owned, Sally Hemings, while owning their children. That the Hemingses received special treatment from the master makes the relationships no less disappointing, even incomprehensible, to modern sensibilities.

nor, more tellingly [and far less known], did Jefferson ever do much to make those grand words and hallowed ideals a reality in his new nation either.

After writing the opening manifesto of independence, Jefferson was not a major force in winning it; he played no role in writing the Constitution or gaining its ratification; he did not secure enactment of cherished proposals to protect religious liberty (James Madison did) or create a legal structure for frontier lands (the Northwest Ordinance did) or for the new constitutional government (George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Madison did); he neither drafted nor assisted in the adoption of the Bill of Rights; he did not chart America’s foreign policy while secretary of state (Washington did); as president, he failed to defend U.S. ships and sailors when Britain and France savaged them during the Napoleonic Wars (Madison did through the War of 1812); and he never performed a public act that limited or challenged slavery.

“Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.”--abolitionist Moncure Conway

[crossposted at newreformclub.com

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Crooked Timber Symposium on Danielle Allen's Book

I am remiss to say that I missed this last year when it was done. But we can all enjoy it now. At American Creation look for more excerpts from the individual contributors' posts.
The seminar on Danielle Allen’s recent book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, which is available from Powells, Amazon and Barnes and Noble is now concluded. The entire seminar can be found at this link. ...