Monday, February 20, 2023

A President Who Broke with Tradition

On January 21, 2021, the day after President Biden took his oath of office a newly published author, Lindsay Chervinsky, posted an article with the title, Most Republican Lawmakers Have Failed John Quincy Adams – and The Constitution. Overall, it’s worth looking at. There is, however, a problem in the second paragraph where it states:

In March 1825, President-Elect John Quincy Adams broke with tradition and used a book of laws at his inauguration. He selected the book of laws, rather than a bible, so that he would be taking the oath of office on the Constitution of the United States. JQA’s model serves as a helpful reminder of how elected officials should act, and reminds us how far most Republican lawmakers have strayed from that high standard.

The problem with saying “John Quincy Adams broke with tradition” is that it’s not true. John Quincy Adams did not break with tradition when he “read the oath of office from of a Volume of Laws.” In doing so, he actually chose to follow the model set by George Washington’s second inauguration that took place in Philadelphia.

The precedent setting nature of Washington’s second inauguration is evident by thoroughly examining the March 1, 1793 - Cabinet Opinion on the Administration of the Presidential Oath, where there’s no mention of a Bible. In addition, the Philadelphia newspapers describing Washington’s second inauguration failed to mention a Bible, or offer any commentary on how federal Justice Cushing administered the presidential oath of office by selecting a text from which he read the presidential oath “rather than a bible.”

The fact is that all reliable firsthand accounts, describing presidential inaugurations from George Washington’s second inauguration through to the 1825 inauguration of John Quincy Adams, fail to mention a Bible.  The so-called “JQA’s model” was not established by John Quincy Adams. That distinction belongs to George Washington starting at his second inauguration.

It’s only after Washington’s second inauguration and the next eight presidential inaugural ceremonies, a span of 36 years, where we find a president who broke with Washington’s no-Bible tradition. This break occurred at Andrew Jackson’s inauguration of March 4, 1829, where a District of Columbia Marshal appeared on the scene, and presented Andrew Jackson with a Bible. Here’s a snippet from a letter, dated March 11, 1829, written by Margaret Bayard Smith that describes the scene:

An almost breathless silence, succeeded [as Jackson started his speech] and the multitude was still, — listening to catch the sound of his voice, tho’ it was so low, as to be heard only by those nearest to him. After reading his speech, the oath was administered to him by [John Marshall] the Chief Justice. The Marshal presented the Bible. The President took it from his hands, pressed his lips to it, laid it reverently down, then bowed again to the people —Yes, to the people in all their majesty. . .  .”                                                

So, when we examine contemporary reports covering the time of our early presidents, it’s Andrew Jackson, not John Quincy Adams, who broke with the tradition of not using a Bible when swearing the presidential oath.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Rubin on George Washington's Approach To the "Christian Nation" Question

Writing at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin has an article entitled, "Think America Is A ‘Christian Nation’? George Washington Didn’t." 

I saw this from Dean Paul Caron's site. Quoting Rubin from Caron's site: 

The Jewish community in the United States is as old as its democracy. In August 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I., thanking them for their well wishes.

He wrote: “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” He added, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

To a people long denied citizenship in the Old World, kept as a people apart from Christian neighbors, Washington was explaining something quite revolutionary: The United States does not simply forbear Jews; Jews are part of the United States. As the Touro Synagogue in Newport explains on its website: “The letter reassured those who had fled religious tyranny that life in the new nation would be different, that religious ‘toleration’ would give way to religious liberty, and that the government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and belief.” ...

Those who view the United States as a “White Christian nation” would do well to ponder Washington’s letter. Its closing passage, which speaks in terms familiar to the people of the Torah, stands as an eloquent rebuke to that notion: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The Founding Fathers are often criticized (or excused) on matters of race and gender as men trapped in the blinkered vision of the past. But in this case, the most esteemed American of his time plainly saw beyond the common prejudices of his era. For that reason, he earned a special place in the hearts of American Jews. ... We Jews will remain part of the American experience so long as Americans of whatever faith or no faith heed Washington’s admonition.

Let me add, that some may claim, okay let's use "Judeo-Christian" instead of "Christian." But I have evidence that Washington viewed Islam as a legitimate monotheistic, non-Christian religion along with Judaism.

One thing is for sure, George Washington was "pro-religion" in a general sense. And he meant some kind of generic monotheism that transcended Christianity or even Judaism and Christianity.
(Washington himself was nominally Anglican and believed in a warm Providence. Plenty of terms have been used attempting to capture his personal creed, which seems a bit mysterious. But "warm deist," "Christian-Deist," and even more modern terms like "morally therapeutic deist" and "theistic rationalist" all seem applicable.)
To Washington, when he lauded "religion," he did not necessarily mean someone's "pet" version of "Christianity," which is the error that many Christian Nationalists make when they quote him.
If I were to describe Washington's creed in a way that was unique to him and him only it would be as some kind of noble pagan, a revived modern for the late 18th Century Roman Stoic like Cincinnatus or Cato, like here.