Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Religion Dispatches: "What Do We Mean By 'Judeo-Christian'?"

I can't remember whether I caught this from 2011 here. The article is valuable because it traces the history of that term. A taste:
The first recorded uses of the term “Judeo-Christian” were in England in the 1820s, though it was used quite differently than it is in today’s political rhetoric. The term was first coined by protestant missionaries who used it to refer to those Jews who had “seen the Christian light” and chosen baptism, though it took more than a century for “Judeo-Christian” to enter the general lexicon.

The term was actually popularized by liberals in the 1930s at the newly-founded National Conference of Christians and Jews who, concerned about the rise of American nativism and xenophobia during the Depression, sought to foster a more open and inclusive sense of American religious identity. Prominent protestant clergy who were members of the NCCJ’s National Council eschewed efforts to convert Jews—a somewhat radical stance that, along with a determination to change entrenched attitudes towards non-Protestants, alienated many conservative Christian groups.

Liberal Jews, meanwhile, led by the leaders of the Reform movement, welcomed the effort while most Orthodox Jews rejected the term and all it implied. To more traditional Jews “Judeo-Christian” seemed to suggest a new hybrid, one that threatened to erase important distinctions between religions as the classical Jewish tradition had warned against.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

John Adams on his Experiences with British Unitarians

Here. A taste:
During the three years, that I resided in England, I was Somewhat acquainted, with Lindsay, Disnay, Farmer4 Price, Priestley, Kippis, Jebb, Vaughans, Bridgen, Brand Hollis &c &c &c. even Dr Towers was not personally unknown to me, A Belsham was once introduced to me, probably the Author of Lindsays Memoirs. I had much conversation with him. Whether he is a Brother of Belsham the Historian, I know not, Lindsay was a Singular Character, unless Jebb was his parrallel, Unitarianism and Biblical Criticism were the great Characteristicks of them all. All were learned, Scientific, and moral, Lindsay was an heroic Christian5 Philosopher. All, professed Friendship for America, and these were almost all, who pretended to any Such Thing.
Every single one of those names is worth researching.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Trinities: "podcast episode 63 – Thomas Belsham and other scholars on John 8:58"

Check it out here. A taste:
In this episode we hear some thoughts on John 8 from F.F. Bruce, Dr. James F. McGrath, and Thomas Belsham (pictured here). Only Belsham agrees with Dr. Smith, but all make helpful points, and Belsham quotes several early modern scholars on various sides of the issue, including the great Nathaniel Lardner, who, like Belsham, reads John 8 as Dr. Smith does.
I blogged about Belsham previously here

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Moon

We wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered---may we smile today, give thanks, inspire and be inspired in the coming year as were these three great men those 40-odd years ago...


It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:


Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."


It is good. God bless us, every one.

FEE: "Charles James Fox, Valiant Voice for Liberty"

Check it out here. A taste:
A Formidable Foe

George III viewed Fox as perhaps his most dangerous adversary, saying he had “cast off every principle of common honour and honesty . . . as contemptible as he is odious . . . aversion to all restraints.” Literary lion Samuel Johnson wondered “whether the nation should be ruled by the sceptre of George III or the tongue of Fox.”

Dressed in a blue frock-coat and a yellow waistcoat—colors later adopted by the Whig party as well as the Whig journal Edinburgh Review—Fox championed liberal reform during the 1780s. For example, he advocated complete religious toleration. This meant expanding the Toleration Act (1689), which required that to legally serve as a clergyman a religious Dissenter must acknowledge the divinity of Christ—a measure specifically aimed at Unitarians. Fox also favored abolishing religious tests to exclude Dissenters from political office.

Although Fox seemed to embrace the Church of England, he opposed using coercion to support it. As he declared in 1787: “It was an irreverent and impious opinion to maintain, that the church must depend for support as an engine or ally of the state, and not on the evidence of its doctrines, to be found by searching the scriptures, and the moral effects which it produced on the minds of those whom it was the duty to instruct.”

Fox supported the campaign of fellow Member William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade. Fox opposed proposals that it be continued under government regulation. According to one summary of the debate in Parliament, May 1789: “he knew of no such thing as a regulation of robbery or a restriction of murder. There was no medium; the legislature must either abolish the trade or avow their own criminality.” But for the moment, proposals to abolish the slave trade went nowhere.

Merry Unitarian Christmas

It's a tradition of mine to wish you such. For someone else making the same point, see here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Balkin: "New Developments in Originalist Theory"

From Jack Balkin here. A taste:
In fact, I was by no means the first to spot the likely consequences for original meaning originalism.  Mark Greenberg and Harry Litman made this argument in 1998; a year later Randy Barnett made a similar move, as did Kim Roosevelt in 2006; and of course, Ronald Dworkin's notion of semantic originalism made the point even earlier still.  The major problem for Steve is that going back to something like "original decisions originalism" is just going to dredge up the same problems as earlier versions of originalism that have since been abandoned.

I believe that there is no going back at this point. Originalism and living constitutionalism are now one nation, indivisible (with liberty and justice for all, we hope!)--and originalism, like humanity itself, is condemned to be free.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Greatest Christmas Present America Ever Received



The Gift of the Thing Not Done
"General George Washington Resigns his Commission" by John Trumbull. Courtesy US Capitol
“General George Washington Resigns his Commission” by John Trumbull. Courtesy US Capitol
On this day in 1783, George Washington resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army following the American victory in the Revolution. Speaking to Congress, assembled at Annapolis, Washington said:
“Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take any leave of all the employments of public life.”
This is quite possibly the most significant resignation in history. 
This was a path so well-trodden in history as to almost be expected: Following a great national uprising, the people, whether in the form of assemblies or otherwise, prove unable to manage affairs of state, and a great man, often the leader of the rebellion, feels compelled to step in. The classic example for Washington and his peers, who were raised as Brits, would have been Cromwell’s dissolution of the chronically incompetent Long Parliament. But Washington also knew that the pious soldier had been corrupted, like so many before him, by the power he had seized.
The Confederation Congress did not improve after Washington’s resignation; in fact, an entirely new system was called for to replace it. But by refusing to do the short-term, expedient thing and take supreme power, Washington gave the fledgeling nation space to develop institutions that went beyond one man. It was perhaps the greatest Christmas gift this nation has ever received.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Cheer with the Founders

My favorite Yuletide Founding factoid is George Washington's contract with his gardener:





"In consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of said Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him. . . four dollars at Christmas with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights, two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars also at Whitsuntide, to be drunk two days, a Dram in the morning and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon."




As pointed out elsewhere here at American Creation, Christmas wasn't that big a religious holiday back in the day. But it was twice as important as Easter or Whitsuntide [Pentecost] for getting good and loaded: Four days drunk and four whole dollars to do it with! Now, that's a verrrrrrry Merry Christmas, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. [Or four of them!]

And don't miss GWash's eggnog recipe, which'll clean out half your liquor cabinet, courtesy of our erstwhile blogbrother Mark DeForrest:

"Here is George Washington's very own recipe for eggnog.  Be warned, it is heavy on the spirits in keeping with the tastes and customs of the day, and he doesn't specify how many eggs to use.  [One reader suggests 12.] Of course, this means you can adjust the eggs to your own taste and still claim complete colonial authenticity to your recreation of Washington's recipe:
One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.
Love that last bit of advice from the Father of Our Country!"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Throckmorton on the David Barton Lawsuit Settlement

Here. A taste:
It is a shame that the Texas candidates focused on those obscure speeches when there were so many other issues on which to focus.

More curious is that Barton has used the judgment to go after others. I certainly understand why he went after Bob Barr and I defended Barton against Barr’s claims of antiSemitism.

Barton critics Rob Boston and Chris Rodda are mentioned. However, his evangelical critics (e.g., John Fea, John Wilsey, me) are not mentioned. The WND article falters by not clearly spelling out that the criticism of Barton’s historical writing has been found flawed by evangelicals as well as those outside the church. If Barton is going to sue all of his critics, then he will be in court more than out of court.

It might be telling who he sues and who he doesn’t.

At risk of a suit, I stand by my book, Getting Jefferson Right, and am glad to defend my work and assessment of Barton’s historical problems. If anything, I might consider an action in his direction, after years of misrepresentations of me and my motives by Barton.

David Barton Wins Apology, $$ From Political Attackers

The left wing's favorite whipping boy, "Christian historian" David Barton, finally turned the tables on his opponents.  According to the website World News Daily, "two left-leaning candidates for the Texas State Board of Education, Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Judy Jennings, charged in a 2010 campaign video that Barton, a consultant to the Board, was 'known for speaking at white-supremacist rallies.'"


After nearly three years of pre-trial wrangling, including a trip to the Texas Supreme Court, where Bell-Metereau and Jennings failed in their bid to have the suit dismissed, the two settled with Barton just before the case was to go to trial in July 2014.

They agreed to give Barton $1 million and issued a contrite apology repudiating their 2010 claim that Barton is “known for speaking at white-supremacist rallies”:

“We understand that this statement suggested that David Barton is a white supremacist, and that the two organizations he is affiliated with, WallBuilder Presentations, Inc. and WallBuilders L.L.C., were associated with or supportive of white supremacists. After learning more about Mr. Barton, we realize this statement was false. We separately and jointly apologize to Mr. Barton for damage to him individually and to his two organizations as a result of that statement.”

Barton told WND he was “very gratified” by the win and has given the monetary award away.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

WND: "David Barton wins million-dollar defamation suit"

Check it out here. A taste:
Chris Rodda, author of “Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History,” invited Barton to sue her, too, after he went after Bell-Metereau, Jennings, and Smith.
“I’m feeling a bit left out here,” Rodda told her FreeThoughtBlogs.com readers in September 2011. “I’ve worked very hard to spread the word that Barton is a liar. … What else do I have to do to get him to sue ME?”

Rodda responded to news about Barton’s legal success with a lively statement for WND, proclaiming she found it “unfathomably ironic and completely outrageous” that “David Barton, a man who has made a career of lying about others,” has won a defamation lawsuit.

Rodda, who is research director at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, suggested her employer, an opponent of what it says it religious intimidation by evangelicals in the military, may soon take Barton to court: “For some time now, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been considering filing a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Barton for all of the blatant and deliberate lies he has told on his radio show and elsewhere about MRFF and its founder and president, Mikey Weinstein. Now seems like a quite appropriate time for MRFF to proceed with that.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Barclay: Spirit Trumps Revelation

One thing that irked folks about Gregg Frazer's thesis on the political theology of the "key Founders" (which he termed "theistic rationalism" but for which others have competing terms) is it overstates the Enlightenment's reliance on "reason" as the be all and end all of "truth."

The phrase that most bothers is "reason trumps revelation" -- what Dr. Frazer's thesis claims America was founded on by virtue of its political theology. As it were, America's key Founders, unlike the strict deists, may have believed, in principle, in God revealing to man. But all such revelations were subject to the metaphorical if not literal razor (in Jefferson's case) of "reason"  to decide which revelations were true. Thus, the "Bible" as a canon, was "fit" to be "edited" according to this standard.

Well, a few, if not key but profoundly "notable" Founders held to a different sort of radical tendency, one given to us by the Quakers: a radicalism of the spirit.

Examine, if you will, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay first published in 1678. This work does not, as per the Enlightenment spirit of the age, set up man's individual reason to "test" the Bible for truth and error (with reason, of course, being the final arbiter). Rather it sets up the individual believer's sense of "Spirit" within him or her as the final arbiter of truth.

From Barclay's THE THIRD PROPOSITION, Concerning the Scriptures:
Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.a Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Quakers Don't Take Communion

That's the title of the embedded video below.

One thing the Founding Fathers didn't like about Quakers was their reluctance to take up arms against the British.

Other than that the Quakers represented a sort of "reductio ad absurdum" of Protestantism -- a "Protestantism on steroids" as my friend Mark David Hall has termed it -- that America's Founders really dug.

The Quakers didn't take communion because they didn't believe in sacraments. Hell, they didn't believe in ministers. The notion of priesthood of the believer was taken to its ultimate logical conclusion by having no minister or "pastor" preaching or dictating to the flock.

Though one distinctive thing on the Quakers to keep in mind regarding their place in the Enlightenment: Their honoring of and placing the "Spirit" as central to their faith made them more mystical and less "rationalistic" in the ideal.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sandefur At The Constitution Center

After roughly 10 years of interacting online with my blogfather Timothy Sandefur I finally got to meet him in person yesterday when he spoke at The Constitution Center. The video is here. If you watch it carefully enough, you can see me in the front row.

Mr. Sandefur’s book, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty, was the subject of the discussion.

This was a wonderful debate about first principles, the notion of what has been termed "liberal democracy." Small d "democracy" means majority rules. Small l "liberal" means certain rights that are antecedent to majority rule.

Majority rules? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. How do we best protect liberty rights, when the majority might wish, via the democratic process, to put limits on such?

It's not always easy to draw the line. Sandefur's theory seeks to validate the primacy of liberty against the democrats of both the Left and the Right.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

PBS NEWSHOUR: "Dec. 14, 1799: The excruciating final hours of President George Washington"

By Dr. Howard Markel. Check it out here. A taste:
And even more intriguing is a long letter about Washington’s last illness, written by Col. Tobias [sic] as the events unfolded.
The president's chief aide Col. Tobias Lear wrote a 12-page account of Washington's demise. Photo from the Clements Library at the University of MichiganThe president’s chief aide Col. Tobias Lear wrote a 12-page account of Washington’s demise. Photo from the Clements Library at the University of Michigan
This 12-page letter is a treasured document at the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Another handwritten copy of these notes repose in the University of Virginia Library.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

David Parker Conducts a Case Study in American Myth-making

The Fall-2014 issue of Common Place, the online journal of the American Antiquarian Society, has posted an interesting piece with the title, In Griswold We Trust, by Kennesaw State University History Professor David Parker.  

Here is how the article starts off:
On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the nation's first president. According to the traditional story, he added "so help me God" to the words of the oath prescribed by the Constitution. However, that "traditional story" goes back only to 1854, when Rufus Griswold included it in a book titled The Republican Court. Griswold's story caught on, and by the 1860s, "so help me God" had appeared in dozens of other biographies of Washington and was well on its way to becoming the accepted account. Until the last decade or so, Washington's "so help me God" was as true as anything else in our history.
 This essay is not another tirade in what sometimes threatens to become a tedious debate over "Did he say it?" Rather, it simply describes how a story first told sixty-five years after the fact became entrenched in America's public memory; it uses "so help me God" as a case study of American myth-making.
Continue reading here.

A 2/15/2016 follow-up article can be seen here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

American Founders on Capital Punishment

By the time of the Founding, the cruelty of England's "bloody code" had been largely dispensed with [burning, beheading, and drawing and quartering remained legal in Britain until the 1800s], "cruel and unusual" punishments banned by the Eighth Amendment. For some Founders, a moral or religious opposition; others saw it as unnecessary as a question of utility, justice or prudence. The arguments back then are familiar to us today.

From a very interesting article over at The Daily Caller from death penalty skeptic Marc Hyden:

Portrait of Cesare Beccaria The 18th century Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria heavily influenced the views of many of America’s founders, according to John Bessler, author of The Birth of American Law. Beccaria’s philosophy helped mold our nation’s criminal justice system as it shifted away from Britain’s “bloody code.” 

Beccaria, like many early American leaders, opposed capital punishment because he believed that the death penalty was neither useful nor necessary. He concluded that it served no deterrent and wasn’t imperative considering that alternative punishments could be implemented to replace the death penalty.

Any punishment that isn’t absolutely necessary is a form of tyranny, according to Beccaria. George Washington was likely well-versed in Beccaria’s philosophies as well.[According to Bessler,"In 1769, George Washington bought a copy of Beccaria's book, "On Crimes and Punishments," first published in Italian 250 years ago and translated into English in 1767"---TVD.]

And, as a general, Washington even pleaded with congress to limit capital crimes on multiple occasions. 

Even though Washington begrudgingly signed death warrants in his day, he said, “We should not introduce Capital executions too frequently.”  He was known for pardoning the guilty and granting clemency as a general and even into his presidency. 

Some probative quotes, drawn also from John Bessler's oft-quoted National Law Journal essay:
“I should not regret a fair and full trial of the entire abolition of capital punishments by any State willing to make it.”—James Madison

Portrait of William Bradford, 1872"The name of Beccaria has become ­familiar in Pennsylvania, his authority has become great, and his principles have spread among all classes of persons and impressed themselves deeply in the hearts of our citizens."—William Bradford, Madison friend and attorney general of Philladelphia, author of An Inquiry How Far the Punishment of Death is Necessary in Pennsylvania [1793]

“It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.”—Benjamin Franklin

“The Supreme Being alone possesses a power to take away human life, and that we rebel against his laws whenever we undertake to execute death in any way whatever upon any of his creatures.”—Dr. Benjamin Rush

"Beccaria and other writers on crimes and punishments had satisfied the reasonable world of the unrightfulness and inefficacy of the punishment of crimes by death."—Thomas Jefferson

“I shall ask for the abolition of the Penalty of Death until I have the infallibility of human judgment demonstrated to me.”—Lafayette

Unfortunately, even as one of the original authors of the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette's sentiments didn't hold when it came to another "bloody code," what they came to call The National Razor--the guillotine--but that's another story.  In between lies our American Founding and our Eighth Amendment, which enjoyed neither the cruelty of cousin England nor the ritualized murder of the First Republic.

See also American Creation founder Brad Hart on this subject here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Throckmorton: "The David Barton Cover Up: More on Gregg Frazer’s Critique of David Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage"

Check it out here. A taste:
This is a case where Barton cites the study improperly, and then fails to cite all of the relevant sections of the study. Barton’s main argument is that the founders used the Bible as a foundation for our form of government. However, Lutz and Hyneman demonstrate that the Federalist defenders of the Constitution did not refer to the Bible once in their writings.  On page 194 of the study, Lutz charts the analysis of the citations in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brayton: "Gregg Frazer Eviscerates David Barton"

Check it out here. A taste:
And while I [Ed Brayton] have my disagreements with [Gregg Frazer] on the scope and nature of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, I agree with him in his assessment of the utter dishonesty of David Barton. Warren Throckmorton has, with Frazer’s permission, published a long review of Barton’s America’s Deadly [sic?] Heritage.

Let us begin with monumental unsupported assumptions presented as fact. The video begins with the claim that 52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.” Barton does not supply any source or basis for this astounding claim, but I strongly suspect that the source is M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company. It is, to my knowledge, the only “study” that attempts such a determination and that produces 52 as a result. The extent of Bradford’s evidence is simply a list of the denominational affiliations of the 55 delegates. Mere affiliation with a denomination is, of course, no evidence whatever of “orthodox, evangelical” Christianity. This is particularly true since, in order to get to 52, one must include the two Roman Catholics. If mere denominational affiliation is proof of orthodox Christianity, one must also wonder why Barton is concerned today, since 86% of today’s Congress is affiliated with Protestant or Catholic denominations (compared with just 75% of the national population). Today’s Congress is apparently more “Christian” than the American public.

A second monumental assumption is the claim that George Washington’s “miraculous” delivery in battle demonstrates God’s special hand on him. The original source for this story is Mason Locke (Parson) Weems’s embarrassing hagiography of Washington. To present one of Weems’s stories as fact reflects very poorly on Barton’s historiography. But even if one were to take this story as fact, one cannot assume without revelation that an event such as this indicates a special relationship with God. Hitler “miraculously” survived an attempt on his life, too – and claimed that God had spared him to finish his “ordained” work…
....
 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Throckmorton: "The Great Confrontation of 2012: David Barton and the Evangelical Historians"

Check it out here. A taste:
After Jay Richards read my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third Presidenthe asked ten Christian historians to read both The Jefferson Lies, and then our book. Richards wanted to get expert opinions on the facts in each book. He also asked Gregg Frazer to review Barton’s DVD, America’s Godly Heritage (which is still for sale on Barton’s website).

With Frazer’s permission, the complete review of America’s Godly Heritage is now available here.
More to come on this topic later. Note: If Mr. Barton feels he is being treated unfairly or otherwise not given a voice, I will post his stuff to the front page of American Creation without my commentary or editing. Though others will be free to chime in.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Joseph Story on Religion and the First Amendment

Quite helpful to our exploration of religion and the Founding---some excerpts from Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States by Supreme Court justice Joseph Story, published in 1833.

Now, Story's work is admittedly from the post-Founding period, but it was James Madison himself who wanted the deliberations on the Bill of Rights kept secret, so that these laws would find their own feet: Just as we acknowledge that how the Ratifiers understood the language of the amendments is more important than the understanding of the Framers themselves, so too Madison contends that until laws are put into custom and practice and a common understanding is achieved, they aren't quite finalized. Custom and practice are the final establishment of the understanding of a law.

This is the principle behind the Supreme Court's reverence for stare decisis, a jurisprudence constante, if you will. A good principle, I think---what was legal yesterday should be legal today if we are not to sink into capriciousness, madness, and tyranny.

Therefore, although the post-Founding era is technically beyond the scope and focus of this blog, it's not until 1833 or so do we see the work of Madison, et al., on the Bill of Rights "settle in," by standards that Madison himself endorsed.

I've pulled together some relevant sections from Justice Story's work so that you, dear reader, don't have to; as a reward for my efforts, I boldfaced the final paragraph, which is particularly probative on federalism, religion and the Founding. Otherwise, Story's words are unedited except for omitting his copious footnotes. He is long but lucid, and makes for fairly effortless reading even after almost 200 years. There are guest appearances by William Blackstone and John Locke, as well as a few amusing de rigueur whacks at papism:


§621. In like manner there is a total absence of any qualification founded on religious opinions. However desirable it may be, that every government should be administered by those, who have a fixed religious belief, and feel a deep responsibility to an infinitely wise and eternal Being; and however strong may be our persuasion of the everlasting value of a belief in Christianity for our present, as well as our immortal welfare; the history of the world has shown the extreme dangers, as well as difficulties, of connecting the civil power with religious opinions.

In the actual situation of the United States a union of the states would have been impractible from the known diversity of religious sects, if any thing more, than a simple belief in Christianity in the most general form of expression, had been required. And even to this some of the states would have objected, as inconsistent with the fundamental policy of their own charters, constitutions, and laws.


§1863. Let us now enter upon the consideration of the amendments, which, it will be found, principally regard subjects properly belonging to a bill of rights.

§1864. The first is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition government for a redress of grievances.”

§1865. And first, the prohibition of any establishment of religion, and the freedom of religious opinion and worship.

How far any government has a right to interfere in matters touching religion, has been a subject much discussed by writers upon public and political law. The right and the duty of the interference of government, in matters of religion, have been maintained by many distinguished authors, as well those, who were the warmest advocates of free governments, as those, who were attached to governments of a more arbitrary character.1 Indeed, the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice. The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience.

§1866. The real difficulty lies in ascertaining the limits, to which government may rightfully go in fostering and encouraging religion. Three cases may easily be supposed. One, where a government affords aid to a particular religion, leaving all persons free to adopt any other; another, where it creates an ecclesiastical establishment for the propagation of the doctrines of a particular sect of that religion, leaving a like freedom to all others; and a third, where it creates such an establishment, and excludes all persons, not belonging to it, either wholly, or in part, from any participation in the public honours, trusts, emoluments, privileges, and immunities of the state. For instance, a govern-ment may simply declare, that the Christian religion shall be the religion of the state, and shall be aided, and encouraged in all the varieties of sects belonging to it; or it may declare, that the Catholic or Protestant religion shall be the religion of the state, leaving every man to the free enjoyment of his own religious opinions; or it may establish the doctrines of a particular sect, as of Episcopalians, as the religion of the state, with a like freedom; or it may establish the doctrines of a particular sect, as exclusively the religion of the state, tolerating others to a limited extent, or excluding all, not belonging to it, from all public honours, trusts, emoluments, privileges, and immunities.

§1867. Now, there will probably be found few persons in this, or any other Christian country, who would deliberately contend, that it was unreasonable, or unjust to foster and encourage the Christian religion generally, as a matter of sound policy, as well as of revealed truth. In fact, every American colony, from its foundation down to the revolution, with the exception of Rhode Island, (if, indeed, that state be an exception,) did openly, by the whole course of its laws and institutions, support and sustain, in some form, the Christian religion; and almost invariably gave a peculiar sanction to some of its fundamental doctrines. And this has continued to be the case in some of the states down to the present period, without the slightest suspicion, that it was against the principles of public law, or republican liberty. Indeed, in a republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion, as the great basis, on which it must rest for its support and permanence, if it be, what it has ever been deemed by its truest friends to be, the religion of liberty. Montesquieu has remarked, that the Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended in the gospel is incompatible with the despotic rage, with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty. He has gone even further, and affirmed, that the Protestant religion is far more congenial with the spirit of political freedom, than the Catholic. “When,” says he, “the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north embraced the Protestant, and those of the south still adhered to the Catholic. The reason is plain. The people of the north have, and will ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not. And, therefore, a religion, which has no visible head, is more agreeable to the independency of climate, than that, which has one.” Without stopping to inquire, whether this remark be well founded, it is certainly true, that the parent country has acted upon it with a severe and vigilant zeal; and in most of the colonies the same rigid jealousy has been maintained almost down to our own times. Massachusetts, while she has promulgated in her bill of rights the importance and necessity of the public support of religion, and the worship of God, has authorized the legislature to require it only for Protestantism. The language of that bill of rights is remarkable for its pointed affirmation of the duty of government to support Christianity, and the reasons for it. “As,” says the third article, “the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through the community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality; therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Common wealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize, and require, and the legislature shall from time to time authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, &c. &c. to make suitable provision at their own expense for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.” Afterwards there follow provisions, prohibiting any superiority of one sect over another, and securing to all citizens the free exercise of religion.

§1868. Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.

§1869. It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. The future experience of Christendom, and chiefly of the American states, must settle this problem, as yet new in the history of the world, abundant, as it has been, in experiments in the theory of government.

§1870. But the duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner, which, they believe, their accountability to him requires. It has been truly said, that “religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence,” Mr. Locke himself, who did not doubt the right of government to interfere in matters of religion, and especially to encourage Christianity, at the same time has expressed his opinion of the right of private judgment, and liberty of conscience, in a manner becoming his character, as a sincere friend of civil and religious liberty. “No man, or society of men,” says he, “have any authority to impose their opinions or interpretations on any other, the meanest Christian; since, in matters of religion, every man must know, and believe, and give an account for himself.” The rights of conscience are, indeed, beyond the just reach of any human power. They are given by God, and cannot be encroached upon by human authority, without a criminal disobedience of the precepts of natural, as well as of revealed religion.

§1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New-England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which could be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.

§1872. Mr. Justice Blackstone, after having spoken with a manly freedom of the abuses in the Romish church respecting heresy; and, that Christianity had been deformed by the demon of persecution upon the continent, and that the island of Great Britain had not been entirely free from the scourge, defends the final enactments against nonconformity in England, in the following set phrases, to which, without any material change, might be justly applied his own sarcastic remarks upon the conduct of the Roman ecclesiastics in punishing heresy. “For nonconformity to the worship of the church,” (says he,) “there is much more to be pleaded than for the former, (that is, reviling the ordinances of the church,) being a matter of private conscience, to the scruples of which our present laws have shown a very just, and Christian indulgence. For undoubtedly all persecution and oppression of weak consciences, on the score of religious persuasions, are highly unjustifiable upon every principle of natural reason, civil liberty, or sound religion. But care must be taken not to carry this indulgence into such extremes, as may endanger the national church. There is always a difference to be made between toleration and establishment.” Let it be remembered, that at the very moment, when the learned commentator was penning these cold remarks, the laws of England merely tolerated protestant dissenters in their public worship upon certain conditions, at once irritating and degrading; that the test and corporation acts excluded them from public and corporate offices, both of trust and profit; that the learned commentator avows, that the object of the test and corporation acts was to exclude them from office, in common with Turks, Jews, heretics, papists, and other sectaries; that to deny the Trinity, however conscientiously disbelieved, was a public offence, punishable by fine and imprisonment; and that, in the rear of all these disabilities and grievances, came the long list of acts against papists, by which they were reduced to a state of political and religious slavery, and cut off from some of the dearest privileges of mankind.

§1873. It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states, episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in others, quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests.

Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.


Again, boldface mine there at the end. If you've made it this far, congratulations. If we're to "feel" the spirit of the times---and that's our objective---although we wish to avoid baptism, we still must wade in up to our eyebrows at least, and spending a little time with the elegant and erudite Joseph Story seems not a bad way to do it.

A common sense reason for banning religious tests for national office would be this, hinted at in §1839:

But it may not appear to all persons quite so clear, why the officers of the state governments should be equally bound to take a like oath, or affirmation; and it has been even suggested, that there is no more reason to require that, than to require, that all of the United States officers should take an oath or affirmation to support the state constitutions. A moment's reflection will show sufficient reasons for the requisition of it in the one case, and the omission of it in the other. The members and officers of the national government have no agency in carrying into effect the state constitutions. The members and officers of the state governments have an essential agency in giving effect to the national constitution.


Since the states were constitutionally free to endorse one sect over another [§1866], but all the sects disagreed as to which was the true religion of Jesus Christ [§621], to take a religious oath for national office would make you a friend to some states, but the enemy of all the others!

"Impractible," as Justice Story would put it.

The full text, with footnotes, can be found here.

______________________________________

Throckmorton: "Thanksgiving 2014: Gary Scott Smith On America As a Blessed But Not a Chosen Nation"

Warren Throckmorton had a series of intellectuals post thoughts on the political theological dimensions of Thanksgiving. The entire series is worth checking out. But, since it's after the holiday, I'll highlight only one, Gary Scott Smith's. A taste:
Although the conviction that God has selected the United States for a special mission in the world has contributed to some good results, it is biblically suspect. The Bible provides no basis for believing that any nation enjoys a unique relationship with God, as Israel did in Old Testament times. This Thanksgiving (and continuously) we should thank God for the many blessings our nation has enjoyed. Our geographical location, rich resources, fertile soil, unique blend of peoples, numerous liberties, and outstanding leaders have indeed been great blessings.
At the same time, we must reject the idea that we are God’s chosen people, a conviction that has helped motivate and vindicate America’s actions at home and abroad. Belief that God has assigned the United States a mission has helped inspire Americans to engage in countless acts of self-sacrifice, generosity, and charity. However, it has also contributed to imperialism, concepts of racial superiority, cultural insensitivity, and unwarranted interference in the affairs of other nations. It has stimulated Americans to fight injustice at home and abroad, but it has also contributed to simplistic moralizing, overlooking of our national flaws, ignoring moral complexities, and a hatred abroad of American hubris.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Volokh: "Thomas Jefferson on seeking God’s favor"

Check it out here. A taste:
... [T]his passage from Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address:
I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
I think Jefferson’s position in making this statement could certainly be reconciled with his position regarding Thanksgiving proclamations. ...

Moorfield Storey Blog: "Evangelicalism and Slavery: Historic Allies Not Enemies"

Check it out here. A taste:
Now, for some inconvenient facts. Wilberforce was not the first to call for abolition of slavery. Deists like Jefferson and the Quakers, who are not orthodox Christians by any means, were there first. Nor was England the first country to abolish slavery. Revolutionary France, considered godless by the orthodox Christians, had abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon, an orthodox Christian and opponent of deism, restored it when he took power.
The city state of Venice outlawed slavery in 960, Iceland abolished it in 1117, Spain did so in 1542, Poland in 1588, etc. Wilberforce gets attention for two reasons. First, English-speaking people tend to only pay attention to the history of English-speaking countries. Second, Wilberforce is promoted by fundamentalists because he was an evangelical Christian. Evangelicals are working hard to take credit for abolitionism.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Brayton Hits Barton Again

Check it out here. A taste:
[Vidal v. Girard’s Executors] involved a wealthy man who left a large sum of money to the city of Philadelphia to established a school for orphans, on the condition that no religious leader could ever hold a position at the school. When that condition was challenged, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this restriction was in no way a violation of either Pennsylvania law or the Constitution, precisely the opposite of what Barton claimed[.]

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mark Tabbert on ‘George Washington, Freemason’

     
Mark A. Tabbert
This is premature—the ink on the contract may not be dry yet—but also scratches an old itch. I want to report to American Creation readers the inevitability of a serious biography-history on the subject of George Washington the Freemason by Masonic scholar Mark A. Tabbert. The author figures the book will be published in about three years, a deadline I assume might be intended to coincide with the tercentenary celebration of the emergence into the public of Freemasonry, which occurred in London in 1717.


It is a necessary book. Practically all existing literature on the subject of Washington the Mason was published in adoration of both the man and the fraternity. Much of that offers a childlike mythologizing (think Grant Wood’s spoof of Washington the youth, with a 60-year-old face, taking the rap for felling the cherry tree) of the subject, and none of the material is recent enough to have profited from modern research abilities and standards. I wouldn’t say Tabbert aims to eviscerate anyone, but there is a need to cut to the truth. Too many within and without the fraternity think Washington lived and breathed Freemasonry. Too many believe the man had almost nothing to do with Masonry. The truth, I imagine, is somewhere between, and encompasses information that will birth a new understanding of American Freemasonry’s most famous brother.

A cropped image of Parson Weems' Fable by Grant Wood.
Oil on canvas, 1939.

For the past nine of his twenty years of museum experience, Tabbert has served as Director of Collections of the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to that, he devoted almost seven years a Curator of Masonic and Fraternal Collections at the National Heritage Museum (now the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library) in Lexington, Massachusetts. He also is a leader in the fraternity itself, having served as President of the Masonic Library and Museum Association, as Treasurer (previously Secretary) of the Masonic Restoration Foundation, as Trustee and Founding Fellow of The Masonic Society, as a published scholar in the most prestigious research lodges and research societies in Freemasonry in the United States and England, and in numerous other capacities in the fraternity that share responsible scholarship. Among his books are American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities.

My point: He knows his business, and he is capable of rendering an honest portrait of Freemason George Washington based on what one of my former teachers at university calls “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Tabbert’s book will be published by an academic press. The most credible books attempting to define this subject were published under Masonic auspices, the most recent dates to 1952, to commemorate the bicentenary of Washington’s initiation into Freemasonry. For fun (my word, not his) Tabbert maintains a blog where interested readers can follow his research. American Creation readers who want the truth about Freemason George Washington and related subjects should check it out, as the most recent post addresses Masonic membership among the Founding Fathers.

Disclaimer: Mark Tabbert not only is my brother Mason, but also is a friend.
     

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Brayton Debates The Christian Nation Thesis

And to finish this weekend's paean to Ed Brayton, check out this video of him debating the Christian Nation thesis as it relates to America's Founding. For those who are not Ed Brayton fans, the other side gets equal time. I have embedded the video below.


More Great Stuff From Ed Brayton

Check out him on a politician spreading a false quotation from George Washington and another take down of Bryan Fischer. From the latter.
And for all Fischer’s talk of Story thinking Christianity was the only thing protected by the First Amendment, Fischer would certainly not consider Story a Christian himself. Story’s brother William wrote his biography, which included this from a letter he wrote to Story’s son:
“After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one…
This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association…He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God.”
So Story believed that Jesus was only a man and he was both a unitarian and a universalist (though not a Unitarian Universalist, which did not exist at the time). Fischer would condemn him as a heretic and an infidel and claim that he himself was not protected by the First Amendment.

Throckmorton & Brayton on Ted Cruz's Father Spreading Barton Talking Points

See Warren Throckmorton's post here and Ed Brayton's post here. From Throckmorton:
Cruz’s big applause line was a complete fiction. As long time readers know, Robert Aitken printed the first English Bible in America. Congress gave an endorsement after the fact and recommended the work for its religious and artistic merits but did not order it to be printed for use in schools at any level. Cruz plagiarized Barton and told a huge whopper on top of it.

After being hammered on the matter for years (and having that story removed from a Focus on the Family broadcast), Barton changed his rendition of the Aitken story a bit to make it a little more accurate. However, did Rafael Cruz get the memo? Not at all; in fact, he embellished Barton’s fable by saying Congress ordered the Bible to be “the principle textbook in primary schools, high schools and universities.” None of that is true. ...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Trinities: " podcast episode 55 – John Locke’s Second Vindication of his Reasonableness of Christianity"

Check it out here. A taste:
Locke fired back twice against Edwards’s criticisms of Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity. In this episode, we hear a bit of Locke’s Second Vindication.

Locke presses Edwards on whether or not Edwards can give a set a beliefs such that one must believe (or confess) all of them to be a Christian. Locke also discusses the interesting case of clashing Christian theories about the Eucharist / Lord’s Supper. Locke holds that a Christian is obligated what he (after some reasonable effort) believes Jesus and the apostles to be teaching on that matter.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nelson: "The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding"

Eric Nelson has a new book out entitled The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding.  Hat tip: Andrew SullivanHere is Jack Rakove's review.  This is from J.G.A. Pocock's blurb:
The unseen author of American independence, it turns out, was King George III, who chose to remain a parliamentary monarch, and declined (if he ever understood) the American invitation to become an emperor ruling through several independent parliaments. He obliged Americans to pursue a democratic empire and rethink the role of monarchy in their republic. Eric Nelson's brilliant revision displays both American and British history in their exceptionalisms. (J.G.A. Pocock)

Trinities: "podcast episode 54 – John Edwards vs. John Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity"

Here. A taste:
John Edwards (1637-1726) was an Anglican Calvinist and would-be defender of Christian orthodoxy. Seemingly at the last minute, he tacked on to his Some Thoughts Concerning the Several Causes and Occasions of Atheism (1695) a critique of Locke’s Reasonableness. Guns blazing, he charged Locke (among other things) with promoting “Socinianism” (aka “Racovian” theology, i.e. the type of unitarian theology famously expounded by the Polish Brethren, aka the Minor Reformed Church of Poland in the 17th c.), with despising the epistles of the New Testament, and so promoting biblical ignorance, perhaps, speculated Edwards, in service to Roman Catholicism! After a somewhat unsatisfying reply by Locke, Edwards followed with Socinianism Unmask’d (1696), in which he objects that if Locke is right, every Muslim is automatically a Christian – which, of course, is absurd.

Trinities: " podcast episode 53 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 2"

It's here. A taste:
Finally, we hear more from Locke, including the last portion of his book, a well-crafted plea that we should believe that God must have revealed as required for salvation only beliefs which ordinary folk are capable of understanding, and so, believing.

Trinities: "podcast episode 52 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 1"

There are a number of these up now. Since my posting has been light of late, I'm going to link to them one by one.

Here is a taste from Part 1:
But what are the essentials? Specifically, what are the essential teachings which one must accept to be a Christian? Many have a rather expansive view of those. But Locke suspected they had inflated something simpler. In the winter of 1694-5, he decided to be a good Protestant and to go back to the sources. What does the New Testament, he wondered, demand of us, as far as beliefs are concerned? Does it require, for instance, believing “grace” as taught by Calvinists? Or the contents of the “Athanasian” creed about the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus? The simplified but vague “deity of Christ” so insisted upon by present-day evangelical Protestants?
Locke examined this question, and found an explicit answer in scripture. All that Christians must believed, he argues, can be summarized like this: Jesus is the Messiah.
This relates to the study of the American Founding in the sense of whether the key Founders were "Christians." Under a more generous standard -- one that could, for instance rope Mormons who believe Jesus is the Messiah in -- the key Founders including arguably Jefferson were "Christians." Under stricter standards, like those conservative evangelicals tend to hold, the key Founders weren't "Christians" but something else.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"So Help Me God" Has a Complicated History in Military Oaths

Earlier this month, over at the Americans United website, Simon Brown wrote an article, Oath Offense? The Long Complicated History of SHMG In The Military. It’s basically a good article except for one missing detail, where the author simply writes:

That same month [of 1778, on 3 February] , the Continental Congress  [repealed the previous oath of 21 Oct. 1776, and] once again made minor changes to the oath for officers – but kept “so help me God.”

To see more about these “minor changes,”  here is the Oath of Allegiance, as presented by the U.S. Army Center of Military History website, Oaths of Enlistment and Oaths of Office,  to which the author, and many others, most commonly refer:
The revised version, voted 3 February 1778, read "I, _____ do acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience, to George the third, king of Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him: and I do swear (or affirm) that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States, against the said king George the third and his heirs and successors, and his and their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office of _____ which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding. So help me God."
The missing detail, I’m talking about, is the fact that the religious codicil, so help me God, which appeared in the original version, does not  fall within the delimiting pair of quote marks. It actually followed the last quote mark. The U.S. Army Center of Military History website got it wrong.

 A copy of the original legislation can be seen  here, and here. Another instance, written in longhand, can be seen at  the Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777-1795, 1801 ..., pgs, 703-707.

If this pair of quixotic quote marks was all there was to notice, this rarely noticed detail could easily be overlooked, There is, however, much more to the story that needs to be told, because three months later the Continental Army under the Command of General Washington, without any explanation, left out the so-help-me-God tagline from the Officers' Oath. This can be seen by referring to the General Orders of General Washington of May 7, 1778, and the oath certificates that were distributed to the field. Another reference can be seen at the National Archives - Founder Online webpage - Lieutenant Colonel and his Aide De Camp to His Excellency The Commander in Chief (see handwritten version by clicking on IMAGES).

And here, to add a note of emphasis, is the image of the May 12th, 1778, oath certificate as signed by George Washington where the So-help-me-God tagline is absent:





Sidebar: The Feb. 3rd, 1778 Loyalty Oath and Veteran benefits:

Harold M. Hyman - To Try Men's Souls, Loyalty Tests in American History 
Ch. III - Insurrection Becomes Independence, pgs 82 - 83

Early in February, 1778, [the Continental] Congress agreed to a new loyalty test for all federal civil and military officers to swear:
"I --------- do acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states, [dot – dot – dot].”

Since Congress particularly feared treason in high military office (eleven of the twelve generals had formerly held royal commissions, and three were English-born Royal Army veterans) it required that nonjurors be cashiered, forfeit two months' pay, and face perpetual exclusion from government service. Optimistically, Congress required all officers to subscribe the new test within twenty days of its proclamation. Washington had more pressing martial duties. Only after repeated importunities from Congress, and the threat of restricting post-war pensions  to those who signed immediately, did Washington finally sign the new oath himself and arranged for his subordinate officers to affirm their loyalty. Washington assembled his generals and all signed except the unpredictable Charles Lee, who hesitated at renouncing the Prince of Wales. Lee finally signed. Benedict Arnold was absent, but signed later.

The spring months of 1778 witnessed successive swearing ceremonies at Washington's belated but urgent orders impelled subordinate officers to repeat the new formula of loyalty. In fact, the process went too quickly, and supplies of the oath forms ran out. Special messengers hurried new stocks to Washington's headquarters a half-dozen times and still could not keep up with the demand. Other administrative complications ensued because of deficient camp communications to men on leave, in scattered outposts, or in hospitals. Washington appointed special officers in his provost corps to travel from Canada to Georgia administering the oaths, so none of his officers should incur the financial penalties of innocent nonjuring. The momentous events then occurring made loyalty-testing a requirement a vexatious, time-consuming detail.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thomas Hobbes, "Primitive Christian" and "Liberal"

Hat tip Jason Kuznicki.
"And so we are reduced to the Independency of the Primitive Christians to follow Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, every man as he liketh best: Which, if it be without contention, and without measuring the Doctrine of Christ, by our affection to the Person of his Minister... is perhaps the best: First, because there ought to be no Power over the Consciences of men, but of the Word it selfe, working Faith in every one, not alwayes according to the purpose of them that Plant and Water, but of God himself, that giveth the Increase: and secondly, because it is unreasonable in them, who teach there is such danger in every little Errour, to require of a man endued with Reason of his own, to follow the Reason of any other man, or of the most voices of many other men; Which is little better, then to venture his Salvation at crosse and pile [i.e., coin flipping]. Nor ought those Teachers to be displeased with this losse of their antient Authority: For there is none should know better then they, that power is preserved by the same Vertues by which it is acquired; that is to say, by Wisdome, Humility, Clearnesse of Doctrine, and sincerity of Conversation[.]"