Sunday, April 23, 2017

‘Harvard Crimson: parchment MS of Declaration found in U.K.’

     
From The Harvard Crimson:

Two Harvard researchers have uncovered a second parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence—the only additional manuscript of its type ever to be found.

University Professor Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, research manager of the Declaration Resources Project found the document, which Allen says dates to the 1780s and was likely produced for the Constitutional Convention. “No one has ever been aware of its existence,” she said. “From the point of view of thinking about American history, it's significant.”

According to a press release, the parchment, designated as “The Sussex Declaration,” is housed at the West Sussex Record Office in the United Kingdom and likely once belonged to the Third Duke of Richmond, who supported the colonists who rebelled against Britain.

Allen and her team believe the “leading possibility” for the parchment’s origin is that it was commissioned by Continental Congress delegate—and later Supreme Court Justice—James Wilson or one of his allies in order to advocate for the Constitution.

Sneff said that she uncovered the parchment in August 2015, after seeing a catalogue entry in the United Kingdom's National Archives for a manuscript of the Declaration on parchment. She and Allen soon realized its unique character.

Allen said the parchment “sheds light” on Wilson, who was “more important than people have realized.”

Most significantly, the parchment’s signatures are not grouped by states, as they are in the original parchment manuscript.

“The team hypothesizes that this detail supported efforts, made by Wilson and his allies during the Constitutional Convention and ratification process, to argue that the authority of the Declaration rested on a unitary national people, and not on a federation of states,” the press release said.

Additionally, the phrase “pursuit of happiness” is followed by a dash only, without a period.

Allen, a scholar of political theory and classics, established the Declaration Resources Project after writing her 2014 book “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.”

According to its website, its mission is to “create innovative and informative resources about the Declaration of Independence.”

“There are still questions to be answered about the text itself, the signers, and even how news of the Declaration spread around the new United States and eventually the world,” the website says.

Allen and Sneff are presenting their paper on the parchment at a conference at Yale University today.


Links added to the Crimson story by the blogger.
     

Sunday, April 16, 2017

When Historians Attack: Mark Noll, Part Deux

Mark A. Noll, who started as a professor at conservative evangelical gold standard Wheaton College and achieved his largest notoriety for his acidic takedown of his co-religionists, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind”], has now become ensconced as the gold standard on early American religious history on his throne at putatively Catholic University of Notre Dame.

I registered my own objection to Noll's approach here, that he may conflate his historian hat with his theological one--with his left-liberal sentiments coloring both--but this broadside on similar grounds from one Glenn Moots of tiny Northwood University makes me look like a pussycat.



In the Beginning was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 by Mark A. Noll, Oxford University Press, 448 pages, $29.95
Notre Dame historian Mark Noll recently released the first of three promised volumes chronicling the use of the Bible in American public life. In the Beginning Was the WordThe Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 follows cultural and theological movement over three centuries: from the “Bible under Christendom,” to the “Bible over Christendom,” and finally to the “Bible against Christendom.” Unfortunately, Noll’s reliance on a reductive caricature of Protestant political theology causes him to give a false impression of how most colonial American Protestants deployed sacred and secular sources in their political thought. The result is a work of history whose questionable methods and underlying assumptions are every bit as telling—perhaps more so—than the historical chronicle itself.
...
But more pertinent to Noll’s charge against Allen, Biblical exegesis in favor of resistance and republicanism existed in America and Britain long before supposedly corrupting influences of “Whiggism” or “the Enlightenment” came on the scene. British Protestant arguments for resistance and revolution were advanced first by Marian exiles (who took some cues from the Lutheran Torgau and Magdeburg Declarations) and then by Noll’s ideal biblicists—the Puritans! (It must also be noted that all Protestant political arguments owed a debt to medieval precedent, too.)

When Massachusetts Bay colonists faced invasion from England in 1634, an invasion they feared was intent on taking their charter and imposing an Anglican establishment, their justification for armed resistance included both scriptural and legal arguments. There was not yet an “Enlightenment” to corrupt the supposedly “proper” reading of Romans 13 as unconditional obedience—just as there had been no Enlightenment to inspire the Roman Catholic conciliarists, the Marian exiles, or Cromwell’s New Model Army. Why, therefore, does Noll so readily charge these “Whigs” or “patriots” with using “Scripture to clothe what opposition politics created”? Noll’s insistence on the American Revolution as a departure from Protestant biblicism also implies a preference for pacifism. Noll writes, “Among the authors who did seek direct biblical guidance, Christian pacifists stood out by invoking the sacred page to defend positions that had been derived originally from Scripture.” However, wasn’t classical just war theory largely owed to Christendom?
We want Professor Noll to keep his historical studies coming, but one wonders how he can insist on dividing wheat from chaff in the Bible’s proper use. Will Noll cast abolitionists as biblicists, given that many of their polemics resemble the politicized ravings of the Revolution’s patriot ministers, whom Noll scorns? Will every war be condemned if its proponents used the Bible to justify it? What will Noll make of the civil rights era? Shouldn’t its wedding of political ideology (the Declaration of Independence or nonviolent direct-action) to the Bible—particularly in the work of Martin Luther King, for example—be due the same criticism he levels at the Whigs of the mid-eighteenth century who defended British rights and liberties?
Ideally, Noll will settle into simply telling this long and difficult story of America’s relationship with the Bible, and not seek to impose ahistorical categories on its use in public life.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

She's BAAACK!!!!

Chris Rodda that is. Doing what she does best. See here. A taste:
The problem with Barton’s so-called Jefferson quote? Well, Jefferson wasn’t talking about immigrants. He wasn’t even talking about ships coming to America from other countries. He was talking about the exact opposite — ships that were sailing from America to Europe!

The quote that Barton butchers so completely to make it say the exact opposite of what Jefferson was actually talking about comes from Jefferson’s 1805 message to Congress (what we today call the State of the Union address).
At the time there was an intense fear of yellow fever in Europe, with recent yellow fever epidemics, particularly devastating in Spain, having killed thousands of people. The obsessive fear of the disease among Europeans, which was causing ships sailing into European ports to be quarantined and their crews and passengers to be subjected to absurd medical tests, was described by Washington Irving in his Notes and journal of travel in Europe, 1804-1805, in which he recounted what he experienced upon his arrival at the Sicilian port of Messina in early 1805:

....

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On the Corruption of the Social Sciences

Writer James DC Walker limns the current crisis in his recent essay Conservatives Aren’t the Only Voices Silenced by Academia’s Intellectual Orthodoxy--it's not just that ideologically conservative voices are being suppressed by the scholarly academy [although that's certainly true]. No, it's the hermeneutics that are the problem. It's one thing that the prevailing conclusions may be ideologically biased, quite another that the method of pursuing them makes it impossible to come to any other conclusions.

The new way of "doing history" isn't just questionable in the validity of its new horizons, its biggest crime is that it closes off all the other ones.

This revolution has been political. Entire disciplines—Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, and the various interdisciplinary programs that end in the word “Studies” – have all become more strongly associated with a particular species of left-wing interpretation that now influences the broader discourse in journalism and on social media. In some departments, the social categories of analysis—race, class, and gender—have attained complete hegemony. The most recent convention of the Modern Language Association, the most prominent organization associated with the study of language and literature, hosted three times as many panels on post-colonialism as it did on Shakespeare. Like so many other areas of study, a consensus has been reached in English and Comparative Literature that the aims of one’s research should be about more than a body of knowledge or a disciplinary canon. Critique, as it is understood, is ultimately a criticism of the society (not the author) that produced a given text; all literary criticism reduces to social criticism. The contemporary literature professor need not even be an expert on any particular author or literary figure, but can be expected to be a master at applying a particular interpretive lens such as Queer Theory or Critical Race Theory.
The reality that the humanities and social sciences seem to be increasingly attracting one particular kind of person with one, very distinct, understanding of the world can be seen in other disciplines as well. Entire fields and subfields such as Diplomatic History and Military History are on the precipice of extinction, as more and more current and aspiring historians ignore or abandon these fields for the sexier (and more explicitly ideological) fields in Cultural and Social History.
What has happened in Literature and History departments as well as in other disciplines draws attention to something rarely considered in discussions concerning intellectual diversity in higher education. Conservatives will point to statistics such as the imbalance in the ratio between registered Democrats and Republicans as evidence of a political imbalance. Students it is argued are only getting one side of the story. While this sentiment is certainly understandable, it ignores an element of the current phenomena that might be even more deleterious to student learning and thus all the more intractable. The problem isn’t simply one of political imbalance, an absence of parity between Left and Right voices, but the extent to which humanities departments have become politicized.
The possibility that one might read a manuscript or approach a cultural or philosophical question from a perspective that isn’t explicitly political is now often dismissed as either naive or not worthwhile. In this way, the humanities have constructed a sort of ideological prison house for themselves. One of the most compelling features of humanistic study is the inexhaustibility of interpretations—the capacity to engage a text, a cultural practice, or an age-old philosophical question and derive new meanings and new possibilities from it. As the humanities have become subsumed into a larger political project, the possible interpretations that one may entertain have become narrowed to explicitly politicized readings. An education in the humanities risks becoming nothing more than a political education—that is to say, an education that isn’t worth pursuing for anyone other than the already-converted activist.

Louis Sirico: "Benjamin Franklin, Prayer, and the Constitutional Convention: History as Narrative"

Apparently an entire law review/legal writing article was written on the Ben Franklin, prayer myth. See here. A taste:
This is an article about history and false history and how both shape our laws and our cultural traditions. The article illustrates its point by focusing on a single event at the Constitutional Convention of 1787: a failed proposal by Benjamin Franklin that the Convention hire a chaplain and begin each day with a prayer.

The story of Franklin’s proposal lives on in popular and political history. ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.”

I put that quotation from Ben Franklin in the title. Franklin's words explaining what happened after he made a call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention.

See Warren Throckmorton for the latest Christian Nationalist misstep on it.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Religious Tests for State Office Did Not Violate the First Amendment

Another from the "Protestant Nation" chronicles per federalism—over at my other groupblog, the New Reform Club, the estimable constitutional scholar Seth Barrett Tillman tells an interesting legal story of Founding-era America:
________________________________

Like many of the post-revolutionary constitutions of the newly independent states, the 1776 Constitution of North Carolina limited eligibility in regard to (some) positions in the state government. Only Protestants were eligible. Specifically, Article XXXII provided:

That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.

In 1809, while the 1776 North Carolina Constitution was still in force, Jacob Henry was elected (actually reelected) to the House of Commons, i.e., the lower house of the North Carolina legislature. Henry was Jewish. His qualifications were contested, and the members of the Commons acted as judges of the election. A celebrated debate about religious freedom was to take place. “Mr. Henry boldly and successfully defended his rights, though a most curious construction of Article XXXII was adopted in order to enable him to retain his seat.”

Interestingly, there is no record (of which I am aware) indicating that wide ranging concerns about religious freedom or religious establishments swung the members. It appears that what interested the members was not abstract norms, fairness, or even the purposes of Article XXXII; rather, what swung the members’ decision was their understanding of the state constitution’s actual language. As Professor Orth has explained: “The house…refused to exclude him, apparently on the ground that a seat in the General Assembly was not an ‘Office…of Trust or Profit’ within the meaning of the North Carolina Constitution ….” To put it another way:

Despite all this, however, the victory [for freedom of religion in North Carolina] was one in form only, not in substance. As a matter of fact, the [Article XXXII Religious] [T]est was more firmly implanted than ever. The House of Commons in permitting Henry to retain his seat…emphasized rather than weakened its prohibition. The decision was based on the fact that the Constitution prohibited non-Protestants from holding office in any civil department of the State. This was interpreted not to exclude such persons from serving in the legislature. The legislative office, it was said, was above all civil offices.


For the rest, and to see how this is relevant to the current Foreign Emoluments Clause controversy being visited on President Trump, see Seth's full essay at NRC.

Friday, April 7, 2017

George Sarris on Universalism

I've done much study on both theological unitarianism and universalism as it relates to the era of the American Founding. Notable divines, both unitarian and trinitarian, influenced notable American Founders, again both unitarian and trinitarian. As the trinitarian Benjamin Rush put it:
At Dr. Finley’s school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher’s controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.
Rush listed most of the "big names" who influenced the universalism of the American Founding, but left one big one out: John Murray.

Today, George Sarris operates in that tradition. He has a book out on the matter entitled "Heaven's Doors: Wider Than You Ever Believed!" Theologians come to the universalist conclusion by using a combination of reason and revelation. What's distinguished about the more traditional universalism is the extent to which it takes the Bible seriously and seeks to justify its claims with biblical texts. We see this in Rush's above quotation.

Likewise, Sarris both believes in the inerrancy of scripture (in its original languages) and is a convinced universalist. And he can answer every single claim that is brought against him.

Something else that distinguishes the classical universalists is their belief in the seriousness of future punishment. The idea is there is a future state of rewards and punishments. And for the unsaved, they may be punished for ages before they are restored.

See the clip of the interview below with Eric Metaxas, who seems to have a great deal of respect for Sarris and his position. Listen till the end, whereas Sarris is a convinced universalist, Metaxas is hopeful that it is true. He even says he thinks all Christians hope this is true. I suspect most of them do. The decent ones. The ones who don't -- Pastors Sam Anderson, Fred Phelps -- make the religion seem like something not worth believing in. (In my opinion.)


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gienapp Strikes Back

At Randy Barnett that is. From Jonathan Gienapp here. A taste:
For even if he thinks I get originalism right, Professor Barnett otherwise finds most of my essay’s claims mistaken, particularly those centered on the relationship between originalist method and historical interpretation. In my initial post, I primarily sought to acquaint historians with the current state of originalism and to explain why they ought to care about these debates. Accordingly, my discussion of historical method was relatively brief, in part, because I hoped historians would already grasp a good bit of what I was suggesting, but also since I had already plotted out much of the methodological relationship between historical practice and Originalism 2.0 in a prior published article in the Fordham Law Review, one to which I directed interested readers in the footnotes.[2] In order to answer Professor Barnett’s critiques, however, I will need to change course—from explaining to historians what originalists do, to explaining to originalists what historians do. For it is plain that this is the primary area of confusion: much of what Professor Barnett thinks I was getting at in describing what historians do was not in fact what I was getting at. (Accordingly, much of what follows draws upon my aforementioned Fordham article and readers interested in a more detailed sketch of some of the arguments presented here are encouraged to consult it.)

To move forward, then, it is helpful to return to the core claim of my initial essay: that historians’ methods are needed every bit as much to discover the original public meaning of the Constitution (the target of Originalism 2.0) as to discover any other kind of original constitutional meaning (the various targets of Originalism 1.0). I have no doubt that certain kinds of original meaning are unknowable. I grasp that many parts of the Constitution are open textured and thus not easily subject to historical analysis. And I appreciate that Originalism 2.0’s favored figure—the so-called average Founding-era reader—is a highly problematic construct, one that Jack Rakove has skillfully critiqued in “Joe the Ploughman Reads the Constitution.”[3] ...

Monday, April 3, 2017

Was America Founded as a Protestant Nation?

Perhaps the better question. From Jody Bottum's essential essay from a few years back, The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline:
IN
In truth, all the talk, from the eighteenth century on, of the United States as a religious nation was really just a make-nice way of saying it was a Christian nation—and even to call it a Christian nation was usually just a soft and ecumenical attempt to gloss over the obvious fact that the United States was, at its root, a Protestant nation. Catholics and Jews were tolerated, off and on, but “the destiny of America,” as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835, was “embodied in the first Puritan who landed on those shores, just as the whole human race was represented by the first man.”
Even America’s much vaunted religious liberty was essentially a Protestant idea. However deistical and enlightened some of the Founding Fathers may have been, Deism and the Enlightenment provided little of the religious liberty they put in the Bill of Rights. The real cause was the rivalry of the Protestant churches: No denomination achieved victory as the nation’s legally established church, mostly because the Baptists fought it where they feared it would be the Episcopalians, and the Episcopalians fought it where they feared it would be the Congregationalists. The oddity of American religion produced the oddity of American religious ­freedom.
The greatest oddity, however, may be the fact that the United States nonetheless ended up with something very similar to the establishment of religion in the public life of the nation. The effect often proved little more than an agreement about morals: The endlessly proliferating American churches, Tocqueville concluded, “all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man.” The agreement was sometimes merely an establishment of manners: “The clergy of all the different sects hold the same language,” he added. “Their opinions are in agreement with the laws, and the human mind flows onward, so to speak, in one undivided current.”
Morals and manners, however, count for a great deal in the public square, and, beyond all their differences, the diverse Protestant churches merged to give a general form and a general tone to the culture. Protestantism helped define the nation, operating as simultaneously the happy enabler and the unhappy conscience of the American republic—a single source for both national comfort and national unease.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Was Justice Scalia an Originalist?

I think Scalia would consider himself one. But as I understand his theory, "originalism" was more of a third rung in his list of priorities. The higher two rungs were "textualism" and "democratic theory."

And certain things about the way in which courts operated during the time of the American Founding were arguably inconsistent with such. There is huge debate among originalists on the doctrine of natural rights, unenumerated rights, the Declaration of Independence receiving status as "law" for the purpose of constitutional interpretation. Scalia was with the legal positivists in this respect.

One thing American courts did from the time of the American Founding -- even though the dicta in Erie v. Tompkins almost shattered the metaphysical justification for such -- is look to the "brooding omnipresence in the sky" as they decided cases and controversies. State courts deciding common law matters did this more explicitly according to the theory than the Supreme Court has done.

But arguably all courts did this.

Yes the Supreme Court has arguably always exercised a sort of "common law" power of establishing rules of law as they decide cases and controversies and then following those rules under the doctrine of stare decisis. See this article by a notable law professor for more detail. Whether they call it "living constitutionalism" or looking to the "brooding omnipresence in the sky" and then "discovering" the answer, the results are the same.

I think Scalia's response was, for the Supreme Court to do such is illegitimate in the age of "democratic theory." But again, it's not some new practice. Though post-Erie, the legal positivists who think it proper for judges to continue to do this needed new grounds to justify the practice. Hence "living constitution" as opposed to "brooding omnipresence."

But where would Justice Scalia's theory take us?

I think Scalia has gotten a bad rap by his left of center critics when they argue he was a results oriented justice who believed in imposing his personal preferences on the court. Certain biting and sarcastic statements taken out of context from his dicta support such charges. Also Scalia didn't always perfectly live up to his principles. In Boy Scouts v. Dale he supported the "penumbral" reasoning of the case to avoid a "bad" result.

But on abortion, an issue dear to the hearts of doctrinaire socially conservative Roman Catholics (what Scalia was personally) he made it clear if the states want to permit abortion on demand, they could do such. It's state legislatures who should be deciding this. On the issue of a woman's right to have an abortion as a "constitutional right," analogize it to freedom of speech.  Such is explicitly in the text of the Constitution. The right to abortion is not. If it were, presumably Scalia would hold there is a "constitutional right" to have an abortion, as there is with freedom of speech.

One reason why Scalia may not have been perfectly consistent in the way in which he applied his theory is that in the absence of nine Justice Scalia clones on the Court, you have to get other justices to join your opinion (and vice versa). Always demanding ideological purity from one's peers would mean always writing dissenting, concurring or plurality opinions (at least on those hot button politicized cases that grab our attention).

But the ironic results of Scalia's judicial utopia would have American courts look more European. It's ironic because Scalia has taken a position against the citing of non-American law, except of course the British common law. But such would render American courts to look more like the non-British common law European nations. In these "code law," that is non-common law nations (France, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc.) it's clear courts play a subservient role to the legislatures. There is no stare decisis in such systems. They have a democratically enacted text and if the texts aren't clear enough such that courts have to "fill in a gap," such has no precedential value as a "rule of law."

There is a position further seemingly more extreme than Scalia's held by law professor Lino Graglia that argues Marbury v. Madison was the first "activist" court decision. Therefore, the power of judicial review should be taken away from American courts. I'm not sure where Scalia exactly stood on this. A law professor of mine told me (hearsay) that at some regalia, Scalia told the group he would likewise overrule Marbury. On the other hand, he may have been convinced by the scholarship of Philip Hamburger that demonstrates Marbury's originalist bona fides.

But just how "conservative" is Graglia's position? It's the identical position of left of center law professor Jeremy Waldron, who supports hate speech laws. (Canada, Australia and most of Europe have them.) And as noted, it would render America's judicial system into something that looks closer to the current European "civil law" nations.

Jonathan Gienapp on History and Originalism

Check it out here. A taste:
1. Originalism 1.0: Doing History

Originalists’ retreat from history was not pre-ordained. Indeed, initially, to do originalism was to know history—at least in theory. Originalism first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as a conservative response to the perceived activism and abuses of the progressive Warren and Burger Supreme Courts. Those on the political right complained that, under the auspices of a “living Constitution,” judges were substituting their own progressive preferences in place of what the Constitution actually licensed. In so doing, judges, rather than dutifully following the Constitution, were authoring it anew, an activity that subverted the foundational relationship of constitutionalism—that those in power are subject to the Constitution and not the other way around. If justices were to be constrained from legislating from the bench, then they had to be stripped of their interpretive license. And the only way to do that, the thinking went, was to undermine the living Constitution. The document’s meaning could not evolve with the times; barring formal amendments emanating from the sovereign people, its meaning had to remain fixed and constant over time. Combined, these theoretical presuppositions thus mandated that the Constitution’s operative meaning had to be its original meaning. And those who endorsed this constitutional vision began calling themselves originalists.[3]

Privileging original meaning was, thus, at its inception, driven by presentist aims. The theory’s main agenda was to recalibrate how judges, lawyers, and citizens related to the Constitution in the present. But no matter the primary goals, the theory necessarily required a methodological corollary; it was one thing to defend the notion that original meaning ought to constrain contemporary judicial behavior, it was quite another to explain how a committed interpreter might locate such meaning in the first place. Only in identifying original meaning credibly could originalists advance the second and altogether more important aspect of their agenda, one that directly implicated historical practice. For, on its face, recovering something like original constitutional meaning would seemingly require doing history.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Blog Commentary From a Regular Reader of American Creation

Indeed, a long time reader. It's a bit off the wall. Check it out here. A taste:
In light of the systematized Christian system described by Calvin, the founding fathers had an excellent blueprint to establish a nation. The founders clearly made some mistakes in forming this country; one being the way they setup freedom of conscience. ... Unchecked belief in idolatry like the founders allowed in this country was suicide and today is the proof of their error. 
One of the main founders was James Madison. His understanding of religion and the state was different and he rejected Reformation principles on the subject. Madison's Notes preparing his Memorial and Remonstrance is filled with incoherency. 

[...]

An unbeliever could make the case Madison was no Christian at all with perfidious statements like these. Another founding father, John Adams was a definite Unitarian, who denied parts of the bible, and was ignorant about the canon of scripture. Today, Adams would be a liberal bigot, which is most of the [D]emocratic party. However, for Madison to even bring these ideas up is troubling. At least Bishop Meade believed he was a real Christian. I'm not entirely convinced to take his word for it.
Note: Links to Madison's Notes on the Memorial and Remonstrance added by me. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Original Originalist on Originalism

Randy Barnett: "Challenging the Priesthood of Professional Historians"

The always incisive and provocative law prof Randy Barnett echoes my criticism of academic historians asserting an authority outside the bounds of their actual expertise [my case in point: one Andrew Shankman, an Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden, who absurdly claims Alexander Hamilton was a "living constitutionalist"].

Randy Barnett


But the converse problem with this claim is that some historians seem to think they can investigate the meaning of legal terms and concepts in the past without any legal training. For this it helps to be a lawyer. True, some of the best legal historians do have legal training, but not all who opine on the “meaning” of the Constitution do.

If this does not seem immediately plausible, consider this: do historians think they can understand the philosophical arguments of thinkers in the past with no training in philosophy? Or, to be more specific, how well can a modern reader who thinks natural rights are “nonsense on stilts” truly understand the Founders references to and disquisitions on natural rights? For this, it helps to have philosophical training. Indeed, it also helps to believe in natural rights in the way the Founders did–to actually be a natural rights theorist–to appreciate the substance of their natural rights arguments. But, though I suspect most historians realize that they cannot fully appreciate philosophical arguments “by taking up residence with the natives,” some apparently believe that they, and they alone, can recover the meaning of a law enacted in the Eighteenth Century when they would not be able to understand the meaning of a law enacted in the Twenty-First. That’s either hubris or chutzpah.

Perhaps, in part for this reason, historians who opine on constitutional “meaning” or political argumentation (without legal or philosophical training) tend to avoid the substance or merits of legal or philosophical arguments made by their historical subjects and choose instead to focus on the hopes, fears, ends, objectives, agenda, and expected applications of historical figures, groups and movements. If all you have is an hammer, then everything is a nail. If all you have is the historical method–as defined by Professor Gienapp–then the meaning of “meaning” must be reduced to the import or purpose of a constitutional provision, not the communicative content of what it said.

As always, read the whole thing.

Why I Remain Unimpressed by Getting Published by Reputable Academic Presses

A Rutgers assistant prof gets published by the Oxford University Press with a claim that Hamilton was a "living constitutionalist," a judicial philosophy not developed for another 150 years.


On a related note, hot off the Duke University Press:


They Look Back

The Animalization and Self-Articulation of Trans Genitalia




Duke University Press is "peer-reviewed," whatever that means in this day and age. One academic fraud gives another the thumbs up.

Buyer beware. Bigly.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Geoff Stone, Sexing the Constitution at Volokh

Geoff Stone has in a five part series blogged about his new book at the Volokh Conspiracy. This is the introduction by Eugene Volokh followed by parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five. Below is an excerpt from Eugene's introduction that reproduces the publisher's summary:
University of Chicago Professor Geoffrey Stone — one of the nation’s leading liberal constitutional scholars — is guest-blogging this week about his new book, “Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century.” Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s summary:
Beginning his volume in the ancient and medieval worlds, Geoffrey R. Stone demonstrates how the Founding Fathers, deeply influenced by their philosophical forebears, saw traditional Christianity as an impediment to the pursuit of happiness and to the quest for human progress. Acutely aware of the need to separate politics from the divisive forces of religion, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution that expressed the fundamental values of the Enlightenment.

Although the Second Great Awakening later came to define America through the lens of evangelical Christianity, nineteenth-century Americans continued to view sex as a matter of private concern, so much so that sexual expression and information about contraception circulated freely, abortions before “quickening” remained legal, and prosecutions for sodomy were almost nonexistent.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reversed such tolerance, however, as charismatic spiritual leaders and barnstorming politicians rejected the values of our nation’s founders. Spurred on by Anthony Comstock, America’s most feared enforcer of morality, new laws were enacted banning pornography, contraception, and abortion, with Comstock proposing that the word “unclean” be branded on the foreheads of homosexuals. Women increasingly lost control of their bodies, and birth control advocates, like Margaret Sanger, were imprisoned for advocating their beliefs. In this new world, abortions were for the first time relegated to dank and dangerous back rooms.
There are a lot of interesting things to learn from Professor Stone. Though, he does engage in a great deal of "law office" history. He's a lawyer after all. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Andrew Shankman: "What Would the Founding Fathers Make of Originalism? Not much."

Check it out here. A taste:
Andrew Shankman is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden. His book Original Intents: Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the American Founding is being published by Oxford University Press in March 2017. [...]
Hamilton had a top-down and elitist conception of an open-ended and living Constitution. Statesmen and lawmakers would draw connections between desired policies and enumerated powers. Once a connection was plausibly established, they could take an action not expressly permitted by the Constitution if the Constitution did not expressly forbid it. Initially, Madison seemed to be arguing for a fixed and rarely changing Constitution. But in 1791 and 1792, as he continued to challenge Hamilton’s policies, his constitutional thinking evolved. He developed a bottom-up and democratic conception of an open-ended and living Constitution.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kidd's Book on Ben Franklin's Religion

Professor Thomas Kidd has a new book out on Ben Franklin's religion. Read about it here. A taste:
Kidd (History and Religious Studies/Baylor Univ.; American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths, 2016, etc.) admirably plies the writings of Franklin to discover the Founding Father’s evolving views on the divine throughout the course of his long life. Such a book matters because of Franklin’s ties to the Enlightenment, his effect on nearly all literate Americans of the mid- to late-18th century, and his life’s undeniable imprint on American politics and society. As the author argues, “Franklin…was a pioneer of…doctrineless, moralized Christianity,” This form of the faith was divorced from orthodoxy, steeped in reason, and geared toward the good conduct of moral citizens.
Yes, I think this gets it about right and is more accurate than saying "Franklin was a Deist."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

John Adams: What is Pure?

One of the notions that I've repeatedly come across, studying the political theology of the American Founding as it relates to special revelation or divine inspiration of sacred texts, is the question whether the entire "canon" (whatever biblical canon it might be) is inspired or whether certain "essential parts" are so inspired.

James Madison was keenly aware of this when in his notes preparing for his famous Memorial & Remonstrance he wrote:


I probably reproduced more here than necessary for the thesis of this post. However, the different points of what's shown above encapsulate what is key to the controversy over how to understand the political theology of the American Founding. On point V6, John Adams endorses the "essential parts" only of the biblical canon position. Or perhaps that the canon in general is inspired, with particular words contained therein subject to dispute.

Adams was "up" on the state of late 18th Century biblical criticism in America and Europe. We know he rejected atheistic and deistic notions that attempted to debunk the concept of special revelation entirely just as he rejected "Athanasian" orthodox Trinitarian understandings of the canon.

Adams' third way was a path traveled by those who understood themselves to be Christian-Deists, unitarians, those in the "latitudinarian" wing of the Anglican Church. And they didn't necessarily speak in a univocal voice.

Still, this third way needed a solid ground on which to rest its case. That came in the form of belief in the existence of an overriding Providence, a future state of rewards and punishments, and something uniquely special about Jesus' place in history as embodying religious perfection.

As it relates to the canon of sacred scripture, certain parts were thus "essential" and not up for grabs. Other parts were either "suspected" or outright rejected. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, Bolingbroke and others, Adams preferred more to "suspect" or question rather than outright reject, for instance, the teachings of St. Paul and other parts of the Bible that didn't constitute the "essential parts."

On the other hand, Jesus' words were essential.

In his Marginalia, Notes on Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D., Adams uses the term "pure" for what he views as those "essential," non-negotiable truths of the faith.
Against whom is this woe pronounced? How shall we know what is pure and uncorrupted but by by the first revelation? Is Sykes pure? Is Priestley pure? Is Lindsey pure? Is Paul pure? Is Jude pure? Is Locke pure? Is the great knight pure? Love God and Man! That is pure. Do as you would be done by! That is pure. Three units, are three times one! That is pure. All this can be understood by man, woman, and [] children, rich and poor, without the study of three score years in a million volumes of philosophers, divines, and historians in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.
Did you see that? A.A. Sykes, Joseph Priestley, Theophilus Lindsey, St. Paul, the book of Jude, John Locke get lumped in the same box of questionable "purity." There may have been wisdom and truth in general in all of these sources, but still fallibility.

The essential, non-negotiable truths of Adams' creed are "Love God and Man! That is pure. Do as you would be done by!" In other words, the Sermon on the Mount.

Interestingly, Adams places rejection of the Trinity in the same box as he does the other "pure" teachings like the Sermon on the Mount. It's not just some hard to understand mystery over which good Christian might disagree. Those who affirm the Trinity indulge in a "supposition [that] is destructive of the foundation of all human knowledge and of all distinction between Truth and Falsehood."

Friday, March 10, 2017

John Adams: "Why has the original Hebrew been annihilated?" With His Answer

In my last post, I noted John Adams repeatedly asks a question on why the original Hebrew of biblical texts had been destroyed. The context was discussing the (supposed) original Hebrew of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In his letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated November 14, 1813, Adams discusses the destruction of Hebrew texts in other larger contexts and answers his "Why" question. First, let's look at Adams' answer to his question:
Why have those Verses been annihilated? I Suspect platonick Christianity, pharisaical Judaism, or machiavilian Politicks, in this case; as in all other cases of the destruction of records and litterary monuments. The Auri Sacra fames, et dominandi Sæva cupido.
Auri sacra fames, et dominandi sæva cupido is translated as “accursed hunger for gold, and cruel lust for power.”

Here is the passage that immediately preceded the quotation:
Blacklocks translation of Horace’s “Justum” is admirable; Superiour to Addisons. Could David be translated as well; his Superiority would be universally acknowledged. We cannot compare the Sybbiline Poetry. By Virgils Pollio we may conjecture, there was Prophecy as well as Sublimity. Why have those Verses been annihilated? 
I previously wrote about this quotation from Adams' letter to Jefferson when I observed it demonstrates Adams' openness to the notion that Virgil wrote special revelation and that if recognized as such, belongs in the biblical canon. I stand by that assertion. Indeed, Adams' son John Quincy, whom the elder Adams mentored on theological issues, and at a time in his life when he was more orthodox (Trinitarian) than his father, likewise seemed open to the proposition when he wrote:
But whether Homer and Virgil were not favoured with the same sort of Inspiration I cannot pronounce—John Milton, undoubtedly believed himself to be inspired—He too often recurs to his Heavenly Muse, his Urania; to her who “dictated to him slumbering”—who “nightly brought his verses to his ear”—and he expressly invokes her as the same

[...]

I am not one who will deny the claim of John Milton, or that of Homer and Virgil to Inspiration. But if their claims are good, those of the Apocalypse and of Solomon’s Song, are unquestionable[.]
In my previous post, I noted I thought Adams' question "[w]hy have those [v]erses been annihilated?" related to Virgil. And it's certainly possible it did: 1. The question immediately follows the clause where Adams speaks on Virgil; and 2. Adams apparently thought this conspiracy to destroy and suppress was vast. That is, all sorts of texts could have been subject to it.

But I now add that Adams' question also relates to the Psalms of David.  Adams notes he is dissatisfied with every single translation of them he has seen. He said he'd rather see them translated in "our prose translation." Whatever that means, Adams believes they haven't been.

In fact, all current translations of the Psalms of David were not as well done as "Blacklocks translation of Horace’s 'Justum'."  But the problem is the originals were destroyed by means of conspiracy.

In this letter Adams then goes on to promote the thesis of a book that doubts we have the right version of the Ten Commandments. That's when he gives the quotation that I have often repeated:
When and where originated our Ten commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during or after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or amendment might come in there.
Of course Adams would be sympathetic to the book's thesis and desire to read it; given his position on how in their lust for gold and power, the churchy cabal tampered with the originals.

(Now, in other places Adams intimates he believed in the Decalogue. But that's because his method wasn't to simply look something up in the Bible and believe it as true special revelation. But rather, he believed he held a book that contained special revelation but had been corrupted by authorities. And it's by using his reason and conscience, he could do his best to figure out what that special revelation was.

With this we could understand why Adams could at once doubt we had the right version of the the Ten Commandments because of the presence of errors in general contained in the Bible's text. But then later or in other places affirm the Decalogue as right because he decided it agrees with his own philosophy and reason.)

Then in the letter, Adams told Jefferson he supported his "Jefferson Bible" project and if he were up to it (which he was not) he'd do the same:
I admire your Employment, in Selecting the Philosophy and Divinity of Jesus and Seperating it from all intermixtures. If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand.
Previously, I've noted the above numerous times. But what I never noted is what follows, which sheds more light on Adams' conspiracy theory. Many conspiracy theories have a kernel of truth (it's what goes beyond that kernel that gets problematic).

In this case, Pope Gregory really did have Hebrew books ordered burnt. This is more or less accurate history:
In 1238 a French Jew, made a discovery to the Pope (Gregory 9th) of the heresies of the Talmud. The Pope Sent 35 Articles of Error, to the Archbishops of France, requiring them to Seize the books of the Jews, and burn all that contained any Errors. He wrote in the same terms to the Kings of France, England Arragon, Castile Leon, Navarre and Portugal. In consequence of this Order 20 Cartloads of Hebrew Books were burnt in France: and how many times 20 cartloads were destroyed in the other Kingdoms? The Talmud of Babylon and that of Jerusalem were composed from 120 to 500 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.
In researching this further, I learned that what was objectionable to Pope Gregory were things written in the Talmud that Christians would find blasphemous. Not just Catholics, but some of the claims Protestants, even unitarian Protestants, would strongly object to.

The Talmud, as far as I understand, is not the Hebrew Old Testament. But Adams apparently believed that in this conspiracy to destroy -- which by the way, probably includes more than this one systematic act by Pope Gregory -- originals from the Hebrew Old Testament (and perhaps some of the New that were originally written in Hebrew) were included.

Adams goes on:
If Lightfoot derived Light from what escaped from Gregorys fury3 in explaining many passages in the New Testament, by comparing the Expressions of the Mishna, with those of the Apostles and Evangelists, how many proofs of the Corruptions of Christianity might We find in the Passages burnt?
John Lightfoot was a Hebraist, a biblical scholar whose work, according to Adams, shed a limited amount of light because Gregory's actions couldn't suppress everything. But, as Adams reasons, if we had the Hebrew that was destroyed by way of Athanasian conspiracy we would have more proof of Christianity's corruptions, the chief of which were orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

In other writings Adams makes clear that the notion of the Incarnation is not just the chief corruption of Christianity but is responsible for all of Christianity's other corruptions. He also seems to intimate that orthodox Trinitarians, whatever good they can do in their understanding of the faith, will never be able to understand the faith without errors until they stop believing in the Trinity and Incarnation. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

John Adams: "Why has the original Hebrew been annihilated?"

One question that John Adams repeatedly raised in trying to understand scripture was, why was the original Hebrew destroyed? He seemed to think it part of a conspiracy of a churchy cabal ("Athanasianism") to corrupt Christianity.

I think Adams thought more highly of the Old Testament narrative than Thomas Jefferson who arguably appreciated little more than the "Deism" of the Jews (their belief in one God). (Though in one of his inaugural addresses Jefferson spoke as though he believed the Old Testament story of God liberating the Jews from Egypt were true.)

Still, because according to Adams, the original Hebrew was destroyed, man could never be sure when reading texts whose original was Hebrew, whether he was reading God speaking to man in the form of direct special revelation or some kind of corruption in the form of interpolation, intermixture, error, amendment, (terms he used).

Likewise, Adams concludes all of St. Paul's writings were originally in Hebrew (because Paul was illiterate in Greek), and thus destroyed, and consequently suspect. Below is an excerpt from Adams' Marginalia, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D.
Why has the Hebrew been destroyed and lost?

How can they object? When the Hebrew is destroyed? [...]
Page: 317
A resolute Faith! Dr. Disney! If St. Paul ever wrote anything in Greek except his name and a concluding sentence or two, the most eminent Fathers are not competent witnesses.
Does the burden of proof rest upon the infidel to prove a negative? The believer, the assenter, should prove his affirmation.
This is the most candid and the most plausible opinion.* But the question recurs, why was the original destroyed? What suspicions of interpolation and indeed of fabrication might be confuted if we had the originals? In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators and theologians, what may not be suspected?
Page: 318
What was not received? Anything, everything, and nothing.
Why has the original Hebrew been annihilated?
And who were these "Οι αρχαιοι?
Page: 319
[...]
And he might as well add Chateaubriand in 1814. And the whole Acta Sanctorum. When Homsousianity was established and Christianity totally corrupted, no doubt, authorities enough might be accumulated.
Page: 320
Upon what authority? Paul's own epistles. But is not this begging the question?
Pray! Which are St. Paul's undoubted epistles?
Page: 321
Is it not strange that these most learned and candid of men, as I believe them to have been, should not agree when they both take the epistles themselves for undoubted authorities?
* The context of this entire passage is that Adams is talking to a book --  "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D." -- and it involves a dialog between Arthur Sykes and John Disney. The "candid" and "plausible" opinion was Disney citing an earlier authority asserting that Paul originally wrote the Hebrew Epistle in Hebrew, but that it was later translated into Greek by another author. That's when Adams notes that in the absence of the originals in Hebrew, which have been lost, it's all suspect. Likewise, Paul if he was the original author, must have written it in Hebrew because he was illiterate in Greek.

See Zoltan Haraszti, "John Adams and the Prophets of Progress," pp. 296-97.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

John Adams on Who First Compiled the Canon and When

In his marginalia on Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D., John Adams answers the question of who and when the Christian "canon" was first compiled. As he wrote:
What is meant by "received in Churches?"
The Gospel of St. Thomas and the Acts of Paul and Thekla were received, and so was the Prophecy of Enoch. The truth is that nothing was canonical till the Council of Nicaea. Then and not till then was settled the Norma of Canonicality. And by whom?
By whom? Yes, a classic rhetorical question. The Church who decided the Council of Nicaea. And such was, according to Adams, the Athanasian/Roman Catholic Church that Adams thought had already been corrupted.

Again, as he wrote in this same note:
When Homsousianity [sic] was established and Christianity totally corrupted, no doubt, authorities enough might be accumulated. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

John Adams' Marginalia

A largely untapped resource full of quotations.



John Adams was arguably the original blogger; he talked to his books. The Boston Public Library has some 3700 books on display owned by John Adams. As Richard Brookhiser noted in the linked to New York Times article:
Zoltan Haraszti, a former keeper of rare books and editor of publications at the library, published many of Adams’s marginalia in his 1952 book, “John Adams and the Prophets of Progress.” But now this quadrant of Adams’s mind will be completely mapped.
Little of John Adams' marginalia comes up in search engines. Though, to access a sample, you may follow this link. The book "Prophets of Progress" contains more. The book, available here, is also part of my school library's collection and it's now in my hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More On John Adams' Late in Life Support For The Third Way Defense of "Christianity"

I've noted before Dupuis was a figure whose meticulous project John Adams was both familiar with and interested in. Dupuis was either an atheist or a strict deist of the kind that wanted to debunk Christianity in general and the possibility of special revelation in particular. He was like the Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris of his day. 

Adams thought Dupuis was a fiercely learned man whose criticisms needed answers. Of course, orthodox Christianity of either the Roman Catholic or Protestant bent would defend their faith with answers.

But with rare exception, Adams didn't want their answers. Rather he saw their corruptions as part of the problem that gave the Dupuises of the world reasons to attack Christianity. So instead he looked to fellow unitarians, namely Joseph Priestley, Thomas Jefferson and Francis Van Der Kemp. 

Adams also positively mentions two other sources he found useful for his preferred project. One was the Bollandists who wrote the Acta Sanctorum, which Adams didn't read until around 1815.  The Acta Sanctorum was as Adams termed it, a compilation of "Legends, of the Lives and Writings of the Saints and even of the Fathers, and of Ecclesiastical History in general."

The other was English clergyman Conyers Middleton, whose work Adams had been familiar with much earlier. His original work attacked chiefly the Roman Catholic Church but left the impression in the minds of some of implicitly attacking the orthodox Protestant dogma institutionally ingrained in England. Originally, provided such institutional Protestantism could believe Middleton's work a mere attack on the Roman Catholicism they rejected, they could endorse it.

But then later as he became more explicit, Middleton got in trouble with such Protestants in England. As this source informs:
He had meanwhile got into a controversy with Waterland. Waterland had attacked Matthew Tindal's ‘Christianity as old as the Creation’ (1730), which marked the culmination of the deist controversy. Middleton published an anonymous ‘Letter to Waterland,’ urging that apologists placed themselves in a false position by endeavouring to maintain the historical accuracy of every statement in the Bible. He ridiculed some parts of the book of Genesis, and said that Tindal should be answered by proving the utility of a traditional religion, and confuting his à priori theories of the ‘religion of nature.’ This sceptical tendency, really latent in the ‘Letter from Rome,’ now became obvious. Zachary Pearce [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Rochester, accused him in a ‘Reply’ of covert infidelity. Middleton's authorship had become known, and he was threatened with a loss of his Cambridge degrees. Middleton replied in two pamphlets, making such explanations as he could. Some time later (1733), however, an anonymous pamphlet by Dr. Williams, the public orator, declared that his books ought to be burnt and himself banished from the university, unless he made a recantation.  
One of the offending quotations of Middleton's is as follows: "[T]hat every single passage of the Scriptures, we call Canonical, must needs be received, as the very word and as the voice of God himself."

This post at American Creation written by a guest blogger contains research showing Adams became interested in this fight and ended up siding in favor of Middleton and against Waterland. In the meantime, it features the following quotation showing Adams doubted the veracity of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
But the question recurs, why was the original destroyed? What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed of fabrication, might be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?
This was a marginal note in John Disney’s Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. See Zoltán Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. See also James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.

(Jefferson would claim to Adams in 1813 that Middleton and Priestley were the basis of his own faith.)

And here in this 1813 letter to Jefferson, Adams puts together his understanding of Dupuis, Priestley and Middleton:
Dr Priestley pronounced [Dupuis] an Atheist, and his Work “The Ni Plus ultra of Infidelity.” Priestly agrees with him that the History of the Fall of Adam and Eve, is “an Alegory,” a Fable, [and] an Arabian Tale, and so does Dr Middleton, to account for the origin of Evil; which however it does not[.]
And in his 1814 letter to Francis Van Der Kemp, Adams puts together Priestley, Middleton and the Acta Sanctorum:
I know nothing of Th. Browns popular Errors. Enfield contains enough. The Acta Sanctorum in 47 Volumes in Folio contains a pretty Specimen of them. Dr Middletons Works, the Model of Priestleys, without his excentricities, are a fine Sample. 
And invoking his old friend and mentor the unitarian Richard Cranch, Adams' letter to Van Der Kemp ends in a bang:
When I was a Boy, I wrote a Letter to my Friend Cranch more than 60 years ago in which this Globe was asserted to be the Bedlam of the Universe, into which all the insane, in Mercury Venus and Mars &c &c &c, were Sent to be cured or confined.
Neither The Acta Sanctorum nor Priestley nor Middleton nor Bruker nor the 18th nor the 19th Century have confuted my juvenile Hypothesis.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Return Visit to NPS Federal Hall

Three years ago on President's Day, February 17, 1014, I posted a President's Say Special - New Mental Gymnastics Camp Opens at NPS Federal Hall. This President's Day provides a good time for a return visit.

The reason for my return visit is an online copy of a 7/17/2014 letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Staff Attorney, Andrew L. Seidel to  Superintendent, Federal Hall Memorial, Shirley McKinney (see here).

In the letter Andrew Seidel describes a trip to lower Manhattan during which time he visited Federal Hall along with several other historic sites. At this point in his letter, he comments, "I was surprised to see painted on one wall a transcript of Washington's presidential oath featuring the words "So help me God" below the date, April 30, 1789. (In the letter, Page 5, shows a picture of the Washington Inaugural Exhibit.)

Here's another view - sourceArt Institute of Chicago.)


Seidel's letter continues by stating his objections regarding the Washington's alleged use of a non-constitutional religious phrase. 

On 1/30/2015 NPS Shirley McKinney responded with a letter. Here's a major portion:
It is clear that there is some question whether Washington added "So Help Me God" to the inaugural oath prescribed in the Constitution.  The few written eyewitness accounts do not mention it. However the phrase "So Help Me God" was included when swearing oaths required in the courts, the military, and other public offices and was an accepted part of such solemn commitments at the time. Indeed, since it was in widespread use it may have passed without comment by eyewitnesses.
dot - dot - dot 
President Washington is known to have taken the inaugural oath with his hand upon a Bible, and kissed it afterward. It seems likely as not that he added the phrase "So Help Me God." However, it also appears that there is no conclusive evidence available at this time to settle the question of his use of the phrase at this inauguration.
Now, while McKinney prefers to say, "there is no conclusive evidence ... to settle the question," the fundamental problem for those who visit Federal Hall is they are not made aware that the Washington Inaugural Exhibit is just another display of mental gymnastics.

Update:
On Feb 21, 2017, at 8:46 AM, [NPS Superintendent] McKinney, Shirley  wrote: 
Dear Mr. Soller, 
Please accept my sincere apology for not responding to your February 16, 2017 inquiry sooner.  The National Park Service takes pride in offering factual and historic interpretive information to our constituents and I thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.   
I've attached the National Park Service's January 17, 2014 response to your similiar inquiry related to information on our Federal Hall website.  In our response to you we agreed to delete the erroneous statement.  Unfortunately, back in 2014, after Mr. Laise retired, park staff failed to make the connection to the exhibit and and did not correct it as well.  However, we are in the process of replacing the exhibit panel and a temporary disclaimer sign has been installed to inform our visitors of this error until the updated exhibit panel is refabricated and installed.  
Thank you again for your interest in the National Park Service, specifically Federal Hall National Memorial.  



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fake News? Fake Scholarship.


Barack Obama is the 12th best president in American history.  So say 91 experts in the latest C-SPAN survey of academic historians.

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It's only the 3rd such poll; none was held after 2004 and 2012.  Still, in 2001, what made them think they could put Clinton's presidency into a historical context so soon? Why at that moment in history, when Clinton left office high in the polls but leaving his Democratic Party an electoral wreck, did someone decide to conduct this survey before the smoke had even cleared?

That is politics, not history.  If one judged Harry Truman or LBJ positively at the close of their presidencies--each so wretchedly unpopular and besieged by events they declined to run for re-election--he would be laughed at.  But now LBJ's Top 10. Harry Truman's 6th!

For those two examples alone, this survey is exposed as worthless as serious history. It's simply too soon, especially if the lion's share of these experts most likely voted for those they're presumably judging impartially--and would vote for them again!

Further, this is not a rating of presidents or presidencies as advertised or at least understood by the general public:  It's a subjective set of criteria with even more subjective 1-10 ratings of "ten qualities of presidential leadership." Thus 2 1/2 years of Jack Kennedy's inspirational bumbling can somehow be rated above Ronald Reagan's greatly significant two terms.  We expect such silly outcomes from Gallup, but not social "scientists."

I find the historiography far more interesting.  Who watches the watchers?  See PARTISANSHIP AS A SOURCE OF PRESIDENTIAL RANKINGS, Joseph E. Uscinski and Arthur Simon.

This study looks for evidence of a partisan bias in the ranking polls. 
Concentrating on the modern presidency, we find that
presidential partisanship is a potent predictor of rank; academic raters consistently rank Democratic presidents ten places higher on average than Republican presidents. We also compare the rankings from academics to rankings from non-academics and show that academic raters favor Democratic presidents more than non-academic raters. Our findings suggest, in accordance with previous literature, that partisan attachment affects the subjective judgments that presidential ranking polls inherently require.


This is what folks like me mean by fake news, and also why we Great Unwashed are so hostile to the academic powers that are, their opinion and bias passed off as fact and "science." This survey makes our nation more ignorant, not less. It should not exist, especially under C-SPAN's putatively neutral imprimatur.

[Crossposted at newreformclub.com.]