Monday, February 24, 2014

Washington's step-granddaughter writes of his religious practice

Following up on my recent post on Washington's religious library, here's a link to a letter written by Nelly Parke Custis-Lewis, Washington's step-grandaughter, in 1833. The letter is notable because it contains several bits of information about Washington's public support for the Anglican church, as well as his own practices in regard to church attendance and sacrament reception. The letter is based in part on Custis-Lewis' own personal observations of Washington's religious habits.   

Here's the text of the letter:
I received your favor of the 20th instant last evening, and hasten to give you the information, which you desire. 
Truro Parish is the one in which Mount Vernon, Pohick Church, and Woodlawn are situated. Fairfax Parish is now Alexandria. Before the Federal District was ceded to Congress, Alexandria was in Fairfax County. General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria. He was very instrumental in establishing Pohick Church, and I believe subscribed largely. His pew was near the pulpit. I have a perfect recollection of being there, before his election to the presidency, with him and my grandmother. It was a beautiful church, and had a large, respectable, and wealthy congregation, who were regular attendants. 
He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles. In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect. My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service. On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother. 
It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o'clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, "that they may be seen of men." He communed with his God in secret. 
My mother resided two years at Mount Vernon after her marriage with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. When my aunt, Miss Custis [Martha "Patsy"] died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event, he knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectingly, for her recovery. Of this I was assured by Judge Washington's mother and other witnesses. 
He was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little generally; never of himself. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war. I have often seen him perfectly abstracted, his lips moving, but no sound was perceptible. I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits. I was, probably, one of the last persons on earth to whom he would have addressed serious conversation, particularly when he knew that I had the most perfect model of female excellence ever with me as my monitress, who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me as only a mother can love, and never extenuating or approving in me what she disapproved of others. She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian. She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity. Is it necessary that any one should certify, "General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?" As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, "Deeds, not Words"; and, "For God and my Country." 
With sentiments of esteem, 
I am, Nelly Custis-Lewis

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daily Beast: "What the Sex Lives of the Founding Fathers Reveal About Us"

Here. Sorry, I couldn't resist. A taste:
Neither has the lack of evidence stopped people from arguing that Alexander Hamilton was gay. [[H]istorian Thomas] Foster highlights the recent interest ... taken in homoerotic letters Hamilton wrote to John Laurens, a fellow soldier in the patriot army. One of them reads: “I wish, my dear Laurens, it were in my power, by actions, rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” 
Foster argues that it is certainly possible that Hamilton had a sexual relationship with Laurens. But ... [r]arely do ... [people asserting such] explore the nature of 18th century male friendship, which could be intensely romantic, even erotic, without including sex. “We’re not taking the complexities of 18th century love into account,” Foster said. “We’re forcing them into our model, and that’s basically what we’ve done throughout history.” 
Yet Foster does not let serious historians, either academic or popular, off the hook either. When it comes to the recent question of Hamilton’s sexual identity, he sympathizes with their reticence to say that Hamilton had sexual intercourse with Laurens. There is simply no evidence to prove it. And yet, he finds it hypocritical that many historians use the same kind of sexually charged letters Hamilton wrote to women as evidence that he was a very straight Lothario. “It just looks like such a double standard. What’s the level of evidence that you need to be certain that this was true love?” Foster said, in regard to his letters to Laurens.

Reason: "George Washington: Boozehound"

By Stanton Peele here. A taste:
Indeed, we still have available the list of beverages served at a 1787 farewell party in Philadelphia for George Washington just days before the framers signed off on the Constitution. According to the bill preserved from the evening, the 55 attendees drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 of beer, and seven bowls of alcoholic punch. 
That's more than two bottles of fruit of the vine, plus a number of shots and a lot of punch and beer, for every delegate. That seems humanly impossible to modern Americans. But, you see, across the country during the Colonial era, the average American consumed many times as much beverage alcohol as contemporary Americans do. Getting drunk—but not losing control—was simply socially accepted.


This article at First Things ties together so many of my obscure interests. This is my new favorite article of all time. As it relates to religion and the American Founding, a lot of the "leading lights" of that era, like Morse believed in Arianism. A taste:

"In a 2007 interview [Neal Morse] stated that he is not a Trinitarian, and that he doesn’t 'see in the Scriptures how Jesus and God can be co-equaI and the same person.'"

Quote of the day: Thomas Jefferson on federalism and the free exercise of religion

In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.
-- Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The religious library of George Washington and what it can tell us about Washington's faith

That's the topic of this post by Mark Tooley over at Juicy Ecumenism: George Washington's Birthday & Religious Library. Washington's religious views are subject to almost endless speculation, but the contents of his library and the outlines of at least part of his regular religious practice are fairly clear.

A lifelong Anglican (although in accounts of his later life it appears he refrained from communion), Washington's religious library was diverse but chronologically narrow. Aside from two copies of the Bible (one with the Apocrypha), he had no books, sermons or pamphlets dealing with early Christianity. Of the classical Protestant reformers, only Theodore Beza is represented.

What Washington's religious library did contain, as Tooley describes, is a broad selection of theological works from the 1700's, including sermons and pamphlets representing unitarianism, Methodism, Catholicism, as well as polemical works dealing with various topics. Books attacking deism and atheism are part of Washington's library, as are works on Christian apologetics and the Book of Revelation. Masonic sermons, explanations of the 39 Articles and the Athanasian Creed, and a defense of Quaker pacifism are present in the library as well. Most of the books, unsurprisingly, deal with Anglican or Presbyterian thought.

Interesting from a modern perspective is the large number of sermons contained in Washington's library, particularly in light of a religious practice of Washington's of which I was completely unaware:  he regularly read sermons to his household on Sundays.

As Tooley puts it, "[t]he Washington religious library is eclectic." Given the broad reading and ambiguous sectarian views of the Father of Our Country, this should be no shock.  Washington had friends from a variety of religious traditions, and it makes sense that books from a variety of religious traditions would find their way into his library. And while the contents of Washington's religious library may not shed direct light on Washington's private religious views, they do show some of his influences -- and provide a window into one aspect of his regular religious practice.

Related item:  The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, the charitable organization that owns and maintains Washington's historic home, has a page on its website exploring Washington's religious views.  Well worth a read.

NPS - Washington to Obama: Inaugural Traditions - Part Two

In my previous post bearing the subtitle, A Presidents' Day Special, I outlined my reasons for why I disagreed with the National Park Service blanket response to my Contact Us  message of  Jan 3, 2014.

One of the other topics I referenced in a different email exchange with NPS spokesperson, Steve Laise, was whether the Masonic owned, 1767 London published King James Bible with its full page frontispiece portrait of King George II was something of an odd choice for what has become such a sacred relic that hi-lites a very important day in our national history. (After all, the Aitkin Bible would have fit much better with the topical idea of promoting goods of American manufacture.)

This is how Steve Laise responded:

From: Laise, Steve

To: Ray Soller

Sent: Thursday, January 23, 2014 11:56 AM

Subject: Re: Aitkin Bible 

Hello Ray,

I really don't find it odd that George Washington would have sworn his inaugural oath on the Bible "borrowed" from nearby St. John's Masonic Lodge.  After all, Washington had a long history with Freemasonry, beginning in 1752 when he joined the Fredericksburg Virginia Lodge.  Later on, in 1788, he became Worshipful Master of the newly-chartered Alexandria Virginia Lodge.  In 1793 he sat for a portrait in full Masonic regalia and after his death he was buried with full Masonic honors conducted by the Alexandria Lodge.

Of course Washington was extremely familiar with the forms of Masonic oaths.  For example, the Worshipful Master's oath ends with "So help me God and keep me steadfast" followed by kissing the Bible.  So use of the phrase and the following action would not necessarily have seemed out of place to him  -- or so it appears to me.

As you know, the inaugural Bible still belongs to St. John's Lodge and is exhibited at Federal Hall National Memorial except when removed by the Masons for other events, including some presidential inaugurals.  

Steve Laise
At this point, it appears to me that Steve Laise is responding more as a Masonic public relations representative than a responsible historical commentator. So, this is how I responded:

The extent of GW's participation at Masonic Lodge meetings are most likely overrated. Here's a snippet from Paul M. Bessel's website, GW and Masonry, at
Rev. G.W. Snyder, who said he was with the Reformed Church of Fredericktown, Maryland, sent Washington a letter on August 22, 1798, saying, "a Society of Free Masons, that distinguished itself by the name of 'Illuminati,' whose Plan is to over throw all Government and all might be within your power to prevent the Horrid plan from corrupting the brethren of the English Lodges over which you preside."  
September 25, 1798, Washington wrote a letter to Snyder, including the following language, referring to Masonic lodges: "... to correct an error ..., of my presiding over English Lodges in this country. The fact is I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice within the last thirty years...."
There's also this summarizing snippet: 
Washington attended at most 3 meetings, possibly fewer or none (he may have attended dinners but not the preceding meetings), of the lodge that today is called Alexandria-Washington Lodge #22, and of which he was the first Master [April 28, 1788] under its Virginia Charter. While he was Master of that lodge, he did not do anything to assist the work of the lodge, and he attended, at most, one meeting (if he attended that one), when officers were reelected. There is no indication that he actually presided as Master on that occasion and it is unlikely that he did so. Paintings and sculpture showing Washington presiding as a Master of that or any other Masonic lodge are probably based only on wishful thinking. [No reports, either, of GW's attendance while federal gov't located in NYC Federal Hall.]
Some Masons may have gotten carried away with their delight that the most eminent citizen of the United States, George Washington, joined the Freemasons when we was very young and continued to be a member throughout his life and wrote letters supporting Freemasonry, and they may have attempted to portray him as an active and enthusiastic member of the Craft even though the evidence indicates that he was not. 
George Washington was apparently a Mason who was not very interested in attending lodge meetings, although there is considerable evidence that he was happy to be a member and publicly supported Freemasonry.

There's similar information provided by Frank Grizzard in his book George Washington: A Biographical Companion, page 123; namely:

Washington himself received a Masonic funeral, although he had wished for a private burial [my italics]. According to Washington's Private secretary, Tobias Lear, the family acquiesced to a request from the Alexandria "Militia Freemasons [who] were determined to show their respect to the General's memory by attending his body to the grave."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Evangelical Universalist on Charles Chauncy

This is from 2009, but still important given how Rev. Charles Chauncy influenced the American Founding. A taste:
Charles Chauncy was minister of First Church in Boston for decades. He was very influential and is best known as an opponent of the Great Awakening (standing against men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, et al). So that does not make him an obvious person for an evangelical to turn to for inspiration. 
However, Chauncy was a firm Bible-believing Christian and whilst he sadly came to doubt and then reject the classical doctrine of the Trinity we must stress that he did so because he believed it to be unbiblical (it was not uncommon in this period for Bible-based Christians to reject the Trinity as unbiblical). 
Anyway, of interest here is that Chauncy became a universalist because he believed it to be the only view consistent with Scripture. ...
It's true Chauncy did think Scripture taught both theological unitarianism and universalism; but he also thought the natural law discovered by reason taught such as well. And it was in combining reason and revelation that we arrive at such conclusions. (To some who believe Scripture teaches clearly both the doctrines of the Trinity AND eternal damnation, Chauncy's theology represents reason trumping revelation, and therefore is not "Christian," even though Protestant Christianity is an element of such creed.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The faith of Washington and Lincoln

President's Day traditionally commemorates the two greatest presidents of our nation, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  The religious beliefs of both men have been the subject of a great deal of commentary and speculation. Thomas Kidd, one of the best evangelical scholars when it comes to the religious history of early America, provides a solid overview of the religious views of both of those presidents, noting the controversy around both Washington's religious practice and Lincoln's early religious beliefs: The Enigmatic Faith of Washington and Lincoln. Well worth a read this holiday.

New Mental Gymnastics Camp Opens at NPS Federal Hall

A Presidents' Day Special

On Jan 3, 2014 Ray Soller [that's me] sent a Contact Us message  to NPS [National Park Service] - [New York City] Federal Hall National Memorial. It said:

I can't believe it. The NPS website, Washington to Obama: Inaugural Traditions, says: Upon speaking those words [prescribed by the Constitution], the newly sworn-in President Washington added 'So help me, God,' a tradition that continues today.
The notion that George Washington added SHMG [So help me God] to the presidential oath is a myth, and, consequently, George Washington can not be said to have initiated any such "tradition that continues today."
 I hope the necessary corrections will take place.

This is how NPS Chief of Cultural Resources Steve Laise responded:

----- Original Message -----
From: Laise, Steve
To: Ray Soller 
Sent: Friday, January 17, 2014
Subject: Statement on Federal Hall Web Site

Dear Mr. Soller,

Thank you for your comments about the statement on the Federal Hall web site regarding the phrase "So Help Me God" in connection with George Washington's inaugural oath.  After consulting the references you provided, as well as several others on this topic, the statement will be deleted.  Instead, the following three sentences will be inserted:

"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 (or affirming) oaths required in the courts, the military, and other public offices and was an accepted part of such solemn commitments at the time."

Given that President Washington also is known to have taken the oath with his had upon a Bible and kissed it afterward, I believe that the statement above fairly represents our present knowledge of the event.

I appreciate your interest in the National Park Service and Federal Hall National Memorial.

Steve Laise
Chief of Cultural Resources
The NPS website, From Washington to Obama: Inaugural Traditions, has been updated as just shown.

Needles to say, I take issue with the blanket response that says "So Help me God" was included when swearing (or affirming) oaths required in the courts, the military, and other public offices and was an accepted part of such solemn commitments at the time." 
Here's why:

1) Except for the some twenty years following the outbreak of the Civil War, adding SHMG was never a required (legislated) part of taking a federal oath for public office, or military service  The special oath required for federal judges does include the SHMG codicil, but the judicial appointee can either chose to swear or affirm their oath.

2) Saying that "SHMG was included when ...affirming" is absolutely false.

3) Saying that "The few eyewitness accounts do not mention it" is a gross distortion of what is actually known. The fact is that among many firsthand reports, there are no contemporaneous accounts in which GW is described as having added SHMG. Significantly, we do have three close-up accounts of the swearing-in ceremony. They were recorded by Samuel A. Otis, Senate Secretary (see Otis endnote); Tobias Lear, George Washington's personal secretary; and Comte de Moustier, the French Minister to the U.S. who, at the time, gave a detailed account of the inaugural ceremony in a report he sent back to France. His account repeated the constitutional oath word for word. None of these reports made any mention of SHMG. 
4) Saying that Oaths ending with the non-biblical SHMG "was an accepted part of such solemn commitments at the time," was not true for members of dissident churches, who held conscientious scruples against such oaths based mainly on Matthew 5:34-37--e.g., "Swear not at all".
After I explained myself to NPS Steve Laise he responded again with an email of 1/24/2013 which included the following:
Thank you for your most recent message on the topic of the addition of the phrase "So Help Me God" to Washington's inaugural oath.  I think at this point that we are in agreement that the question cannot be definitively answered given our present knowledge of the event.  We are therefore evaluating probabilities, based on other usages that may (or may not) be relevant.  I would therefore respectfully ask that I be allowed to step aside, and allow those with greater knowledge to carry on.
I don't agree that making either false, exaggerated, or unsubstantiated historical claims, as Masonic literature and the NPS Federal Hall website has done, boils down to a simple matter of "evaluating probabilities." It's a matter of performing a comprehensive examination of the available historical material instead of relying on confabulated historical claims. If one checks with a notable scholar like Ed Lengel, editor-in-chief of The Papers of George Washington, who wrote the book, Inventing George Washington, page 105, you'll find his conclusion:
In sum, any attempt to prove Washington added 'So help me God' requires mental gymnastics of the sort that would do credit to the finest artist of the flying trapeze.

Otis endnote: Journal of the Secretary of the Senate, Samuel A. Otis, April 30, 1789

The original Otis journal is in the official records of the U.S. Senate in the National Archives.  

Senate Secretary Samuel A. Otis recorded:
"The Secretary of the Senate whose seat was inclined to the right of the Vice-President carrying a bible on a cushion. The President laying his hand on the bible and repeating the oath--after which the President of the United States kissed the book, and the Chancellor proclaimed him President of the United States." 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Atlantic: "The Origin of 'Liberalism'"

Check it out here. A taste:
My research with Will Fleming finds that the Scottish historian William Robertson appears to be the most significant innovator, repeatedly using “liberal” in a political way, notably in a book published in 1769. (I presented more details in a lecture at the Ratio Institute, viewable here.) Of the Hanseatic League, for example, Robertson spoke of “the spirit and zeal with which they contended for those liberties and rights,” and how a society of merchants, “attentive only to commercial objects, could not fail of diffusing over Europe new and more liberal ideas concerning justice and order.” 
Robertson’s friend and fellow Scot Adam Smith used “liberal” in a similar sense in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. If all nations, Smith says, were to follow “the liberal system of free exportation and free importation,” then they would be like one great cosmopolitan empire, and famines would be prevented. Then he repeats the phrase: “But very few countries have entirely adopted this liberal system.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

John Dickinson as fusionist thinker

Over at The Imaginative Conservative Wilfred McClay posts this review of William Murchison's book The Cost of Liberty: the Life of John Dickinson:  The Anti-Jefferson.  In his review, McClay notes that Dickinson often incorporated and fused differing strands of thought into his approach to practical politics. Of particularly interest to those interested in constitutional theory is McClay's observation that Dickinson incorporated critical aspects of anti-federalist theory into his defense of the Constitution, notably the need for a virtuous citizenry in order for the American republic to survive and thrive:
Dickinson carried forward into the constitutional era a great deal of the moral concern expressed by many of the anti-Federalists, a concern grounded in classical republicanism, and he thereby provides a good example of a major debate that remained—and, one hopes, remains—contested. He did not celebrate the Constitution as a well-oiled Rube Goldberg mechanism, cleverly designed to make ambition counteract ambition and render virtue optional, but as a “plain-dealing work,” designed to give “the will of the people a decisive influence over the whole, and over all the parts.” He clearly linked the flourishing of political liberty with a high regard for “that perfect liberty better described in the Holy Scriptures.” His sense of history, prudence, and religion all came together in these words, placed in the mouth of Fabius: “History sacred and profane tells us, that, corruption of manners sinks nations into slavery.” The sole antidote to such corruption was “soundness of sense and honesty of heart.”
Read it all, and get a glimpse at the work of one of the most overlooked of the American Founding Fathers, and one of the great conservative minds of the late colonial and early republican periods. It may be too much to hope for, but perhaps some enterprising young historian might be interested in resurrecting John Dickinson from obscurity to the rightful place of prominence he deserves among the Founding Generation?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Our America: the diversity of the American founding

Commenting on the work of historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Agnes Howard over at The Anxious Bench provides a great reminder that the founding and settlement of what is now the United States was the work of a lot more folks than refugee Puritans and Southern aristocratic hopefuls: Hispanic America is Our America. As Howard explains, to know American history requires a knowledge of Spanish settlement and exploration:
Present-minded reasons might press us to learn more about Hispanic America. Even without them, Spanish colonization should be more familiar simply because a large swath of what is now the United States was first part of Spanish settlement. Learning about the history of our country requires learning about Spanish settlement. We overlook this even as the most obvious features of these states, names of their rivers, towns, mountains, monuments, make it plain: Los Angelos, San Antonio, Santa Fe, Brazos, San Augustin, and so on.
As a personal aside, when I was a teenager and began looking beyond the standard story about the settlement of the United States, I was delighted to find that the Spanish -- and hence Catholic -- settlement in St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest European settlement in the United States. Howard notes that looking more broadly at the American founding puts the focus not only on Protestant settlers but on Catholic ones as well:
Yes, Protestants and their institutions figure in Our America. But Roman Catholicism is much more prominent when the American southwest or Gulf coast is [a] focus of attention. Missions dotted the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida, as well as in more familiar locations in Texas, California, and New Mexico, before and after English settlers made first efforts to introduce the Gospel.
Howard also points out the pivotal role played by Mormon settlers in the colonization of the American West. One weakness of Howard's post is that she omits one other settlement group, critical to history of the far northwest of the American continent: Russian Orthodox monks who brought their distinctive form of Christianity to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. While the story of Alaska isn't central to the story of the American founding, the Russian Orthodox efforts there are an interesting and vital part of the larger story of European contact, for good and ill, with the native peoples already here.

Thanks to Howard's review, I now have another history book to add to the pile by my reading chair!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Calvinist Enlightenment?

"Calvinist Enlightenment" is an oxymoron, yes?  Calvinism is all Puritan and all.  The Enlightenment is, well, all the cool people.

Hugh Trevor-Roper, "The Religious Origins of the Enlightenment":

Moreover, if we look at the stages of the Enlightenment, the successive geographical centres in which its tradition was engendered or preserved, the same conclusion forces itself upon us. The French Huguenots, we are told—Hotman, Languet, Duplessis-Mornay and their friends—created the new political science of the sixteenth century.

Calvinist Holland brought forth the seventeenth-century concept of natural law and provided a safe place of study for Descartes. Cromwellian England accepted the scientific programme of Bacon and hatched the work of Hobbes and Harrington. The Huguenots in Calvinist Holland—Pierre Bayle, Jean Leclerc—created the Republic of Letters in the last years of Louis XIV.

Switzerland—Calvinist Geneva and Calvinist Lausanne—was the cradle of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in Europe: it was in Geneva that Giannone and Voltaire would seek refuge; it was a Calvinist pastor of Geneva, Jacob Vernet, who would be the universal agent of the movement: the correspondent of Leclerc, the friend and translator of Giannone, the friend and publisher of Montesquieu, the agent of Voltaire; and it was to Calvinist Lausanne that Gibbon would owe, as he would afterwards admit, his whole intellectual formation.

Finally, after Switzerland, another Calvinist society carried forward the tradition. The Scotland of Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, of Adam Smith and William Robertson carried on the work of Montesquieu and created a new philosophy, a new history, a new sociology. Thither, as Gibbon wrote, “taste and philosophy seemed to have retired from the smoke and hurry of this immense capital,” London; and Thomas Jefferson would describe the University of Edinburgh and the Academy of Geneva as the two eyes of Europe.

Calvinist Holland, Puritan England, Calvinist Switzerland, Calvinist Scotland . . .

         Click on map to expand>>>>
If we take a long view—if we look at the continuous intellectual tradition which led from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment—these Calvinist societies appear as the successive fountains from which that tradition was supplied, the successive citadels into which it sometimes retreated to be preserved. Without those fountains, without those citadels what, we may ask, would have happened to that tradition? And yet how easily the fountains might have been stopped, the citadels overrun!
Suppose that the Duke of Savoy had succeeded in subjugating Geneva—as so nearly happened in 1600—and that the Bourbons, in consequence, had imposed their protectorate on the remaining French cantons of Switzerland.   
Suppose that Charles I had not provoked an unnecessary rebellion in Scotland, or even that James II had continued the policy of his brother and perpetuated a high-flying Tory Anglican government in England. 
If all this had happened, Grotius, Descartes, Richard Simon, John Locke, Pierre Bayle would still have been born, but would they have written as they did, could they have published what they wrote? And without predecessors, without publishers, what would have happened to the Enlightenment, a movement which owed so much of its character to the thought of the preceding century and to its own success in propaganda and publicity?

Whose Enlightenment was it, anyway? Whose Calvinism?  Heh heh. Exactly.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Thomas Percival: Ben Franklin's Kind of "Christian"

Thomas Percival was one of the "dissenters" in Great Britain with whom Ben Franklin palled around. He wasn't quite as well known as Joseph Priestley or Richard Price. But he was a like minded unitarian. And like them, he was quite accomplished!

Anyway, below is a portion of the letter (27 October, 1786) Percival sent to Franklin that illustrates the subcultural zeitgeist in which Franklin was imbibed.
Dr. and Mrs. Priestley have been here this summer, together with Dr. Kippis. Dr. Priestley is not in a very good state of health, having had a return of the complaint with which he was visited several years ago; but his spirits and ardor do not desert him. He is at this time zealously engaged in attempts to convert the Jews to Christianity. For this undertaking he believes himself peculiarly well fitted, as it is a part of his creed, that Jesus Christ was the actual son of Joseph, and a lineal descendant of the house of David. But the Jewish rabbis have declared their resolution to enter into no discussion on these topics, being forbidden, as they allege, by their most sacred laws. 
Dr. Kippis is busied with the Life of Captain Cook, which is to be published separately, as well as in the Biographia Britannica. Our excellent friend, Dr. Price, is, I hear, deeply affected with the death of his wife. A fresh paralytic stroke carried her off about a month since. The Doctor is preparing for the press a volume of Sermons in support of the Arian doctrine, and an enlarged edition of his valuable "Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals." The College of Physicians in London have just printed a specimen of a new Pharmacopctia. The President has favored me with a copy; and I think the Dispensatory, on the whole, is likely to be much improved.