Sunday, November 30, 2014

Joseph Story on Religion and the First Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Impractible," as Justice Story would put it.

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


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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Brayton Hits Barton Again

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mark Tabbert on ‘George Washington, Freemason’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Brayton Debates The Christian Nation Thesis

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

More Great Stuff From Ed Brayton

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thomas Hobbes, "Primitive Christian" and "Liberal"

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote For Thomas Jefferson Because John Adams Is A Blind, Bald, Crippled, Toothless Man

In honor of Election Day, via Joe Carter at the esteemed Acton Institute Power Blog [why just have a blog when you can have a power blog?]:

Friend of the blog JMS adds:

Good reminder that presidential and partisan party politics was hardly civil back in the "good ol' days."

"Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Weller Reviews Frazer

Dylan Weller writing for the Law and Politics Book Review, Sponsored by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association here. A taste:
The first five chapters are the most enlightening, and well argued of the book. In chapters six and seven Frazer offers an examination of five other framers whose writings on religion were far less prolific than Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, but who Frazer argues should rightly be categorized as theistic rationalists as well. Because of the dearth of evidence available, there are greater leaps on the part of Frazer as he strains to group these figures under his heading. In one particularly surprising instance, Frazer writes of Gouverneur Morris' frequent sexual escapades, that the “…extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must at least call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian” (p.191). This is a perilous line to follow in that it unleashes a swarm of questions concerning which immoral actions preclude one from being a Christian. And strange that this argument should be made in relationship to Morris’ sexual liaisons, rather than say, Jefferson’s ownership of, and sexual relationships with his slaves.

Damon Linker: "What if Leo Strauss was right?"

Check it out here. A taste:
In the 12 years since this conversation (or one very much like it) sparked a million ill-informed, fantastical hit pieces on Strauss for his insidious influence on the administration of George W. Bush, a series of Strauss' students and admirers have stepped forward to defend his work: Steven Smith, Thomas Pangle, Catherine and Michael Zuckert, Peter Minowitz.

There's much to recommend in each of these books. But for my money, the best by far is Arthur Melzer's just published study, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing. And yes, I would have come to that judgment even if I hadn't studied with the author in graduate school. Melzer has written the most compelling, surprising, and persuasive defense of Strauss's thought that I have ever read. It deserves a wide and appreciative audience. And if it gets one, the consequences could be enormous.

Because if Strauss was right in the way he interpreted the Western philosophical tradition, then much of modern scholarship — and, by extension, our civilization's understanding of its intellectual and political inheritance — will need to be radically revised.

Thockmorton: "Reactions to the New Book by George Barna and David Barton, Part One"

Read it here. A taste:
My first reaction was disappointment that George Barna would team up with document collector Barton. It is hard to imagine a more unified reaction from scholars, Christian and not, against Barton’s approach to history than occurred in 2012-2013. In August 2012, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson due to lost confidence in the books facts. The book was voted least credible history book in print by readers of the History News Network. Academic reviewers were uniform in their criticism of the book. In 2013, the Family Research Council removed from view a video of Barton’s Capitol tour, and Focus on the Family had to admit that they edited radio presentations to remove errors. The actions taken by FRC and Focus on the Family followed complaints to the organizations by over three dozen Christian historians.