Thursday, June 2, 2016

Benjamin Rush Delivers a Discourse "On Oaths"

In an essay, “An Enquiry into the Consistency of Oaths with Reason and Christianity,” Jan. 20 1789, Benjamin Rush  delivered a discourse “On Oaths.” He concludes his discourse with these two paragraphs:
 If oaths [as already explained] are contrary to reason, and have a pernicious influence upon morals and the order of society; and above all, if they are contrary to the precepts and spirit of the gospel; it becomes legislators and ministers of the gospel to consider how far they are responsible for all the falsehood, profane swearing and perjury that exist in society. It is in the power of legislators to abolish oaths, by expunging them from our laws; and it is in the power of ministers of the gospel, by their influence and example, to render truth so simple and obligatory, that human governments shall be ashamed to ask any other mode of declaring it, from Christians, than by a bare affirmation.
 The friends of virtue and freedom have beheld, with great pleasure, a new constitution established in the United States, whose objects are peace, union and justice. It will be in the power of the first congress that shall act under this constitution, to set the world an example of enlightened policy, by framing laws that shall command obedience without the absurd and improper obligation of oaths. By this means they will add the restoration and establishment of TRUTH, to the great and valuable objects of the constitution that have been mentioned.
 The full text can be seen here.


Tom Van Dyke said...

GWash disagreed.

Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Farewell Address, 1796

Ray Soller said...

I don't know how much GW disagreed. He only asked the question as to what might happen "if the "sense of religious obligation desert the courts of justice." An affirmation, as Rush preferred, certainly entails a "sense of religious obligation."

Tom Van Dyke said...

If there's a religious obligation, seems like a distinction without a difference.

Jonathan Rowe said...

In Art. VI the Founders put in "affirmation" to accommodate the Quakers. It seems Rush agrees with the Quakers here?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Soller needs to explain his point [if any] a bit more fully methinks, since nobody seems to know what it is.

Daniel said...

To the Quakers, there is a clear difference between an oath and an affirmation. An oath indicates that the person taking the oath us under a special obligation to tell the truth, implying that there is a lesser obligation to tell the truth at other times. An affirmation is simply a statement that "I will tell the truth" which could be given at any time. Based on the bit Jon cites, it seems that Rush agrees with the Quakers on this point.