the Christian roots that once underpinned U.S. government

Discussion in 'The Commons' started by Rexlion, Dec 23, 2022.

  1. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    One of our non-US brethren recently mentioned that he knew relatively little about the government of the United States and he asked a question about the US Constitution. So I thought I'd start a thread to discuss the early roots of this nation and the thought processes of our founding fathers, from whence came our basic governing documents. This post will lay out a bit of background.

    Many people today, even within the USA, think that our nation was founded as a secular state. This misunderstanding has arisen due to the poor quality of history education in our public schools during the past 50 or 60 years (and it's getting worse as time passes).

    The founders first established (in the first Continental Congress) a loose confederation of states with a virtually impotent central governing body; the states greatly feared the power-seizing capabilities of a strong federal government, and the first states wanted to prevent anything even vaguely akin to the power which the English monarchy held over the colonies. Unfortunately, this confederation was flawed. There was insufficient ability to create a national defense, to regulate commerce, or to raise taxes to pay for any of it.

    As a result, a second Continental Congress was called to come up with something better, to create a new pact. Nearly all of the members of the Congress were governmental leaders (governors, representatives) in their own states. It is worth noting that many of the original states had a religious test as a qualifier for holding office in that state. For example, here is an excerpt from the constitution of Delaware at that time:
    Article 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust...shall...make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: "I, _____, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scripture of the Old and New Testament to be given by diving inspiration."​
    Although the delegates ultimately declined to place such a test in the new federal documents, the point here is that (1) most of the delegates themselves were Christians, and (2) the prevailing sentiment at that time was that only Christians were truly suitable as leaders in government. In fact, they tended to think it inconceivable that a non-Christian would or should ever be elected to government offices. (When Thomas Jefferson later ran for President, the opposition tried unsuccessfully to paint him as a deist, a claim which Jefferson and those who knew him best labeled as slander. We know that Jefferson won, of course, so the bulk of voters obviously believed him. Take note, also, that no one questioned the propriety of questioning a Presidential candidate's religious beliefs!)

    This second Continental Congress, unlike the first, was marred by rancor and dissension. No one could agree on anything and emotions ran high, until Benjamin Franklin spoke to remind everyone how they had always opened each morning of the first Congress with prayer, but they had until that point neglected to so do in the current Congress. In response, the delegates immediately voted to begin each day with prayer and a local minister volunteered to lead them. Thenceforth the Congress proceeded in a spirit of cooperation and humility, and the resultant Constitution has subsequently endured for well over 200 years.
     
  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I will now endeavor to share some of the relevant statements made by these Continental Congress delegates.

    Patrick Henry is famous for saying, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Henry was beloved by his fellow Virginians: he holds the unique distinction of having been elected Governor of Virginia for five terms. Actually, when he refused to run for a sixth term, his constituents elected him again anyway! But Henry declined to take office. He also declined George Washington's request to serve as Secretary of State and as the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, as well as appointments to US Senate, as Minister to France, and as Minister to Spain. Patrick Henry was instrumental in the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Here's how he felt about mixing Christianity with public affairs: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists [i.e., pluralists], but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here."

    Since Patrick Henry declined to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Washington then chose John Jay. Jay was also one of three authors of The Federalist Papers, and he (along with Franklin and John Adams) negotiated the final peace treaty with England. Here is what John Jay said: "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

    James Madison, who became a two-term President, was called "the Father of the Constitution." Madison wrote, "Religion...[is] the basis and foundation of government...before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe."

    John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, served as ambassador to Britain and to France. He also served for 18 years in the House of Representatives, was Secretary of State under James Monroe, and became our 6th President. Here is what Adams stated: "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

    Noah Webster served nine terms in the Connecticut General Assembly and three terms in the Massachusetts legislature, as well as 4 years as a judge. He was influential in getting the Constitution ratified. Noah Webster has been called, "America's Schoolmaster," and we all are familiar with the dictionary that bears his name. Webster recognized the connection between government and Christianity as a vital one: "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed...No truth is more evident to my mind that that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."

    One more quote from our first President, George Washington: "It is impossible to rightly govern...without God and the Bible."

    Incidentally, one of the earliest pieces of legislation passed by the very first U.S. Congress, and signed by the President, was a law authorizing public funds to be spent for the printing of Bibles.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2022
  3. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Anyone who has spent any time studying American history knows that this is a one-sided interpretation. Washington, for example, did indeed think that religion and the Bible were important, but as sources of moral teaching, not as divine revelation for the purpose of eternal salvation. Washington never made any effort to be confirmed (there were no American bishops then), and never took Communion a day in his life. He would only attend Morning Prayer on Sundays with his wife, and then leave once the Sermon was concluded, including Sundays on which Communion was offered. Adams was a Unitarian, denying the divinity of Jesus. Jefferson was in France when the Constitution was being framed and thus can’t be counted among the Framers. Franklin, like Jefferson, was a deist (if not an atheist). There’s not much evidence that Madison was terribly religious in his private life, though he adopted a judicious and moderate stance in his public utterances.

    The first generation of leaders in the new Republic were not secularists in the same way that the Kemalists in Turkey were, but neither were they proto-evangelicals anticipating the Second Great Awakening. It’s hard for us to relate to the way they thought in their own day, because the 18th century mixture of private piety with anti-dogmatism and enthusiasm for the Enlightenment is simply not a feature of contemporary society. Attempting to read modern attitudes back into the Founders yields little insight into what they actually thought, and tends instead to produce one-sided interpretations that emphasize some of their statements at the expense of others, as though the former were more authentic presentations of their thought. Honest historians must rise above such prejudices and recognize that their legacy was in many ways quite ambiguous and doesn’t lend itself well to simplistic summary statements.

    There is nothing uniquely Christian about our form of government. Republicanism, federalism, representation, elections, freedom of conscience, and the separation of powers owe much more to Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers like Machiavelli and Locke, as well as to classical Athens and Rome, than anything associated with the established Churches in those days. There is also nothing uniquely Christian about references to God, prayer, or the Ten Commandments. Some of the Founders were true believers, but the evidence for that does not reside in their public utterances in favor of the things mentioned above. Those were merely common sentiments of the time, irrespective of how personally pious the person espousing them was.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2022
  4. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I read a book on the US Constitution recently. The glaring distinction between the Australian Constitution and the US Constitution was clear.

    The aim of the US Constitution was to protect the individual from the Government, whereas the Australian Constitution was drawn up to protect the rights of the States. There is much in the US Constitution to be admired.

    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 the Government for a redress of grievances.​

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.​

    Both documents were born at times when the public general accord with commonly understood Christian norms was essentially understood as a given. Clergy in our case were very often also officers of the state in the early days of Europen settlement here, and any reference to God was assumed to be Christian. A number of your states were founded by people escaping from religious repression in England, whereas many of ours came, either as the punishment of the law, or to enforce the punishment of the law.

    I think in both cases, those who drew up our constitution understood that you cannot legislate faith.
     
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  5. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I fully agree. And that is not the thrust of my posts.
     
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  6. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    By all means, feel free to introduce statements from our founding fathers to the effect that Christianity, religion, and Biblical morality have no role, no place, and no relevance in the context of good governance, if that is what you're getting at.

    My fingers grew weary from typing. I'll post more information tomorrow.
     
  7. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Goodness, I never said any such thing, or anything even close to that. My point was to highlight the importance of not placing a one-sided emphasis on isolated utterances, without taking into account the full complexity of their thought, or the broader social and intellectual context in which their statements were made. As I said above:
    Incidentally, we don’t have to hunt through volumes upon volumes of primary source material to learn what some of the Founders’ and Framers’ attitudes toward religion were. Contemporary scholarship has already done that for us. One such book is a compilation of the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson correspondence on religious matters, Ye Will Say I Am No Christian. Both men held views that would certainly raise eyebrows if they were well known among evangelicals, to put it mildly.

    The oft-assumed link between piety and civic order was something the Founding generation inherited from Renaissance-era republicanism. The conception owes far more to classical Athens and Rome than to anything Christianity inherited from the Middle Ages. A society that feared transgressing divine commands was, to them, a necessary condition for the realization of a republican polity. Subsequent history strongly suggests this notion is actually false, however attractive it may be to enthusiasts for the classics (whose ranks include myself).
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2022
  8. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I know of no country that has produced a stable republic without "a society that feared transgressing divine commands." Since you say that "subsequent history strongly suggests this notion is actually false," can you give specifics as to which countries achieved this?
     
  9. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Goodness, how many examples do you want? Given that constitutional monarchies with parliamentary systems fit the common Enlightenment definition of ‘republic’, all of Western Europe, Japan, Israel, Singapore, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all fit the bill in terms of their demographics today. The most religious countries today are on average the ones with the worst track records of meeting ‘republican’ criteria overall. Those who want religion to play an active role in their country’s politics ought to bear that in mind.

    I think the Founding generation’s common views on the subject were far more nuanced and qualified than the anachronistic “Christian America” evangelical types tend to portray it. Even if that were not the case, there is nothing that says we’re beholden to any of the Founding generation’s views today, if those views turned out to be false. They were wrong about slavery. They were wrong about mercantilism. They were wrong about political parties. They were arguably wrong about having a separated executive. They weren’t wrong about everything; they got a lot of things right. But they were, at the end of the day, just politicians, not prophets. It does them a disservice to treat them as infallible, and overlooks the fact that their own views changed considerably over time. Adams, Jefferson, and Madison in particular came to have very different opinions as experienced statesmen than the ones they’d held as young revolutionaries. That fact routinely gets ignored in discussions about them, as though their intellectual development came to a halt in 1776 or 1789.
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2022
  10. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Which book was it, just out of curiosity?

    The Australian constitution is interesting in that it is a mixture of elements from both the Westminster system and the US Constitution. Some political scientists refer to the Australian arrangement as “Washminster”.
     
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  11. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Previously I posted: I know of no country that has produced a stable republic without "a society that feared transgressing divine commands." Since you say that "subsequent history strongly suggests this notion is actually false," can you give specifics as to which countries achieved this?

    So you're suggesting that these countries developed republics in (or out of) societies that did not fear the consequences of transgressing diving commands? That strains credulity to the utmost.
     
  12. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    It doesn’t strain credulity at all. The US is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to religiosity. Israel’s founding, for example, was explicitly secular, and the country has never been terribly religious on the whole (though that may be beginning to change, with ominous implications for the future). The dharmic religions of Asia are non-theistic (in the Western sense), and what ‘gods’ they do have do not play the role that ‘God’ does in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The postwar era in the UK and Western Europe has been very socially secular, and that wasn’t a new trend. Those countries began to meet republican and democratic criteria during the precise periods that religiosity was waning. You can take census or polling data on religiosity in a country and plot it against scores from Freedom House or the Democracy Index, and see clearly the that the negative correlation between the two is quite strong across the world. The more religious a country is (as such), the less likely it is to meet minimal standards of freedom, stability, lack of corruption, etc. As I’ve said, that’s a problem for those who want religion to take an active role in their country’s politics. The existing data is not on their side. Interpreted correctly, the Founders and Framers should be recognized as visionaries and ahead of their time by excluding religious establishments and religious tests from the machinery of the State (while not condemning religion itself).
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2022
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  13. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    The view that Christianity underpinned the US' formation and form of governance did not end with the founders. It persisted for more than 150 years after the Revolutionary War had ended.

    Early court decisions reflect this fact. In the first few decades of our nation's existence (unlike today), very few cases ever rose to the US Supreme Court level; states were regarded as having more autonomy and authority then compared to now, and nearly all legal matters stayed within the state where it arose. As a consequence, there were not many federal cases which addressed this topic; when one arose, the justices looked to state court decisions for their legal precendents.

    One of the early cases pertinent to our topic was Vidal v. Girard's Executors (1844). Girard, an adherent to the enlightenment philosophy, died and left his wealth to the city of Philadelphia for the establishment of an orphanage and a college, with the stipulation that "no ecclesiastic, missionary, or minister of any sect whatsoever, shall ever hold or exercise any station or duty whatever in the said college, nor shall any such person be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor, within the premises...my desire is, that all the instructors and teachers in the college shall take pains to instill in the minds of the scholars the purest principles of morality..."

    The plaintiffs brought suit on the basis that "the plan of education proposed is anti-Christian, and therefore repugnant to the law."
    The city's attorney responded that the plaintiffs should not have sued on the issue of the trust, but should have "...joined with us in asking the state to cut off the obnoxious clause..." which prohibited the Christian religion from being taught.

    The court ruled: "The purest principles of morality are to be taught. Where are they found? Whoever searches for them must go to the source from which a Christian man derives his faith--the Bible." Since the purest principles of morality can only be found in and taught from the Bible, the court struck the stipulation from the bequest; the stipulation was regarded as impossible to fulfill.

    Incidentally (or perhaps not?), one of the sitting justices in this Court was Joseph Story, who was historically regarded as "the Chief Architect of the Constitution." Surely Justice Story knew both the letter and the intent of that august document.

    More to follow in a day or so (the holidays are upon us, and company's coming). Merry Christmas to all!
     
  14. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for proving my point. Why did the Court in Vidal v. Girard’s Executors remark that the Bible was important: because it contained “the purest principles of morality.” That is an Enlightenment-era, nonsectarian view that was quite common at the time, and there’s nothing inherently or uniquely Christian about that conviction. More importantly, this was merely an occasioning factor in what the case was really about: whether a bequest can obligate a corporation to act contrary to, or inconsistent with, its charter. You’re cherry-picking here.

    Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli (1796) - treaties are part of the supreme law of the land per Art. 6 of the Constitution - on the other hand, is explicit, unambiguous, and categorical:
    I’m pretty sure the Senate in 1796 knew how the country was founded and what the First Amendment meant when they ratified this treaty. Article 14 of the superseding Treaty of Peace and Amity (1805) substantially repeated this assertion:
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2022
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  15. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Well-Known Member

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    George Washington is the only American I have read a book about apart from our friend Joseph Smith. I read about George Washington when I was at school about 100 years ago. Those in the know may be able to enlighten me- I'm sure I read that Washington along with his mates (one of whom is also a well known person, Jefferson, Adams?) before the rebellion use to go around beating up people who were of a pro British disposition. I wish I'd taken more notice of this at the time I read it. I remember the author was British.
     
  16. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    You have ample company in this belief that the Treaty of Tripoli proves the US government did not have Christianity as a foundational principle. This company of people is largely populated with revisionists of history, atheists, and skeptics. In fact, the famous atheist Richard Dawkins is solidly in your camp: ;)

    The religious views of the Founding Fathers are of great interest to propagandists of today’s American right,
    anxious to push their version of history. Contrary to their view, the fact that the United States was not
    founded as a Christian nation was early stated in the terms of a treaty with Tripoli. (The God Delusion, Dawkins (2006))​

    At some time in the past I would have been shocked and dismayed :o that a professing Christian would advance an argument used by atheists to denigrate American Christians, but :rolleyes: it no longer surprises me.

    In the 1795-1805 time frame, the USA was a fledgling nation. The federal government was terribly weak, a gnat's whisker from going broke, and barely able to slap together some semblance of a navy to protect the country's merchants on the high seas. America needed desperately to be able to conduct trade with other nations and to ply the waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But those merchant ships were being severely hampered by the depradations of the "Musselman" (Muslim) Barbary pirates.

    As a backdrop to the formulation of these treaties, in 1786 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had sought out the Ambassador from Tripoli in London to attempt a resolution, but were rebuffed on religious grounds:

    We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the grounds of their pretentions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our Friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.​

    In addition, the Muslim losses due to the Crusades lived large in the Muslims' collective memories, and any Christian nation (including England with its state religion) was regarded with suspicion and antipathy as an enemy waiting to spring another crusade-style attack.

    With all this in mind, discretion most certainly was "the better part of valor" in the wording of a desperately-needed peace treaty. All of this provided the motivation in 1796 for the US envoy's assistant, Joel Barlow, to take extreme pains to use words of reassurance that the USA had no religious motivations or reasons to harm or attack Tripoli. And it was entirely true that the US had no state religion (unlike England) and was not a theocracy, even though probably 90% of the nation's inhabitants were Christians (and most of the remainder were deists who at least respected the Bible and its principles) and the nation's laws were largely based upon Christian principles of morality.

    Note, however, that this statement, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," is conspicuously absent from every other treaty of that era. It's not in the 1805 treaty with the same folks. It's not in the 1777 or 1779 treaties with Tunis, the 1787 or 1836 treaties with Morocco, or the 1795 or 1815-'16 treaties with Algiers. But many of these other treaties do contain allusions to Christianity. For example, the 1787 treaty with Morocco contains the following references:

    “In the Name of Almighty God” and “trusting in God” (p. 100). It also refers to “the Christian powers” (in Article X, p. 102), “any Christian power” (in Article XI, p. 102), “the other Christian nations” (in Article XVII, p. 103), and “any of the Christian powers” (in Article XXIV, p. 104)—the last two references clearly implying that America is among them. Article XXV states: “This treaty shall continue in full force, with the help of God, for fifty years” (p. 104, emp. added). Several times the treaty alludes to “Moors”—the term used to refer to “a Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent” in northwest Africa (American Heritage…, 2000, p. 1142)—in Article VI (p. 101), Article XI (p. 102), and Article XXI (p. 103). Article XI places “Moors” in juxtaposition to “Christians” (Article XI, p. 104), and the “Additional Article” contrasts “Moorish” with “Christian Powers” (p. 104). The September 16, 1836 treaty with Morocco contains essentially the same contrasts. (pdf document source)​

    Further evidence that the "not a Christian nation" wording did not reflect the true beliefs and attitudes of US citizens and government leaders, consider that the Treaty of Tripoli was finalized during the presidency of John Adams. During his tenure, Pres. Adams issued the following nationwide proclamation:

    I do hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the 25th day of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain as far as may be from their secular occupations, devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come…and that he would extend the blessings of knowledge, of true liberty, and of pure and undefiled religion throughout the world. (1799)​

    A few years later, Adams wrote the following in a letter to Jefferson:

    The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite…. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.
    These statements by John Adams -- one private (to a single individual) and one public (to the entire nation) show that Christianity, the religion of the Redeemer, was intimately interwoven in both the private and public sectors of the United States.

    Please note: when I write about the Christian roots which once underpinned the US government, I am in no way suggesting that the founders intended to create a theocracy. What I am saying is that the founders were God-fearing men (mostly, but not all, Christians) who were deeply influenced by a biblical view of man and government. They shared a worldview that recognized the fallen nature of man, so they devised a system of limited federal authority with a number of checks and balances. The founders understood that fear of God, moral leadership, and a righteous citizenry were necessary for the new nation to survive, so they structured a political climate that would purposefully encourage Christianity and would be highly accommodating (rather than hostile) to religion, without allowing any possibility for the establishment of a state denominational sect.
     
  17. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    You make a good, but not compelling case for your position.

    The reason why the federal government was kept in a state of near penury, was that none of the founding fathers wanted to create an overbearing central authority, an overreaching bureaucracy, or replicate the things that they had escaped from, and that dominated life in England. They wanted a fettered Presidency that would not see itself as King.

    Tenth Amendment
    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    The key issue in Tenth Amendment doctrine, as such, is whether the Amendment imposes affirmative limitations on federal power beyond the limits inherent in the various enumerated powers themselves.​

    The purpose of the Constitution was to keep the Government in check.

    The phrase "The general principles of Christianity" is not a ringing endorsement of the faith as you and I know it, but more probably underlines a general belief in God and a general commitment to goodness. As such it is almost certain that the founding fathers saw America as part of what they may have conceived as Christendom. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, were things that the French saw in the new nation and aspired to themselves some 50 years later.

    One dear priest I knew said that there were the three B's of being Christian. They were to Believe, Belong and Behave. I think that Christianity was more seen as belonging and behaving. There was no way the Federal Government could have embraced a single stand as the various states had been founded by various groups of different religious colours.

    Of course in Australia we know our forebears were no saints, and perhaps we prefer Ned Kelly to Captain Phillip, or Samuel Marsden the flogging Parson. The liberty of the gospel was first declared here accompanied by men in chains.
     
  18. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    One final thought about the “not a Christian nation” phrase in the treaty with Tripoli: modern revisionists forget how difficult it was to communicate over long distances in the 18th Century. In the case of that treaty, a junior assistant was tasked to write a document which the Muslims of Tripoli would find palatable enough to sign and agree to. He bent over backward to get the job done, and his efforts succeeded. Thereafter, the treaty document was transported on a sailing ship in a months-long voyage to the United States.

    Are we to suppose that Congress would toss the entire endeavor? Would they waste all that effort over one little phrase? Would they balk and say, “Wait, this one bit isn’t quite as honest as it could be, so we must send it back for re-negotiation”? Of course not. And they couldn’t exactly call Tripoli on the telephone or send a telegram to say, “Hey, would you mind if we delete this one bit?” So they ratified the treaty, “took the win,” and breathed a huge sigh of relief that our merchant ships might now be safe from piracy!

    The atheists claim that this one phrase in a treaty, penned by a junior assistant thousands of miles (and many months) from home, represented the whole belief and intent of both the US Congress and the American people at that time. How absurd is that? O_o
     
  19. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    One important thing the Court in the Vidal case pointed out was, “It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law...” This very statement in Vidal subsequently became one of the precedents cited by the US Supreme Court in a later case, Holy Trinity Church v. United States (1892). This church engaged a clergyman from England to be its pastor. Unfortunately, it was at that time against the law (by act of Congress) for any person or organization “to assist or in any way encourage the importation” of any alien or foreigner into the US to perform labor or services of any kind. The Court cited several precedents in reaching its decision. Vidal was one. Another was Updegraph v. The Commonwealth, a Pennsylvania case which held that “Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law...not Christianity with an established church...but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.” Yet another cited case was The People v. Ruggles, decided in New York, in which the court stated: The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice...we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity...” Several other, similar, state court precedents were cited as well.

    After examining all these precedential rulings, the Supreme Court found that the letter of the law had been violated by the church, but applying the law to restrict Christianity would be “absurd.” Accordingly the Court held: “No purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people...this is a Christian nation.”

    One might ask: why was it important to the Court to take note of the statement in both Vidal and Updegraph that “the Christian religion is part of the common law”? This was a reference to English common law. When the United States was formed, it as yet had no body of statutory law or case law on the books. Thus, the English common law formed the beginning point upon which many court decisions were rendered. The principal source consulted for this common law was Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-‘69). These commentaries served as a primary legal information source for American lawyers and judges for several generations, they were found in the offices of virtually every lawyer, and candidates for the bar were routinely examined on their knowledge of Blackstone. Most Americans acquired their knowledge of natural law from Blackstone. Quotations from his Commentaries decided many legal arguments.

    Thus it is of great relevance to note Blackstone’s statement in his Commentaries that “Christianity is part of the laws of the land” (which was totally and obviously true in England in that era!), and it should not surprise us that this legal truism carried over to and was fully adopted by the United States. It became incorporated into our nation’s legal system. It was upon this basis that our nation’s laws reflected an understanding that, yes, one could indeed legislate morality. This is why laws could be enacted, and upheld, which penalized such acts as adultery, bigamy, sodomy, and blasphemy.

    I think I have now shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Christianity underpinned the entire legal system of the United States in that era. This was the legal system which our government was tasked with operating within and enforcing.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
  20. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Have you read Blackstone? (I don’t think you have.) Your summary is as simplistic as it is inaccurate. “Christian nation” does not equal “Christian government.” You keep coming to the wrong conclusions, because you’re insisting on reading 18th-19th century statements with a 21st century vocabulary. The U.S. government was and is secular: it does not endorse a specific religion, maintain an established church, take sides in denominational disputes, or interfere with private religious practices, provided they are lawful to begin with. The U.S. citizenry was at least nominally Christian (in a very broad sense), assuming we can make such generalizations, though regular church attendance was undoubtedly much lower in the early days of the Republic than many today realize. Various individual States did attempt to enforce certain religious norms at certain points in the Republic’s history, and these efforts were eventually reined in as the national government grew in power and prestige. Your argument consistently blurs the distinctions between these different manifestations of American society. As a matter of law, we are a secular nation-state, composed of 50 individual secular states. As a matter of demographics, the influence of Christianity socially surged in the latter half of the 20th century and has waned dramatically since the start of the new millennium, in part as a reaction against an increasingly extremist Right wing agenda. As a matter of politics, there is a minority who think the national government ought to endorse not just ‘Christianity’, but the shallow popular-level version of it that’s barely deserving of the name and bears almost no resemblance to historic Christianity. And then there is a majority (which includes myself), that thinks this is a terrible idea, for basically the same reasons the Framers ratified the First Amendment. If you want America to be a religious State, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but the simple fact is those who feel that way don’t have the votes to enact it. So a secular State we will remain, and that’s a good thing, if the bloody religious history of Europe is any guide. We’ve been going around and around on this. The Constitution and the historical record are clear and speak for themselves. At the same time, neither of them dictate current attitudes. I don’t know that there’s anything else to say on the subject.
     
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2022
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