The Treaty of Tripoli

According to historian Susan Jacoby, when President Obama told a group of Muslims that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” he was alluding to the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, which brought an end to the conflict with the Barbary coast pirates. Passed by the Senate without controversy and signed by President John Adams, the treaty makes this statement:

“As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion–as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims)–and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religions opinions shall over produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    Adams could say this technically, as he and the Constitution opposed any religion's meddling with the federall government to establish religion. Yet, the Massachusetts Constitution that he wrote actually favored the Congregational Church. In a letter to his cousin he wrote:

    I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    Adams could say this technically, as he and the Constitution opposed any religion's meddling with the federall government to establish religion. Yet, the Massachusetts Constitution that he wrote actually favored the Congregational Church. In a letter to his cousin he wrote:

    I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/CharlesLehmann CharlesLehmann

    What did Adams mean by religion? It is my understanding that he did not mean Christianity.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/CharlesLehmann CharlesLehmann

    What did Adams mean by religion? It is my understanding that he did not mean Christianity.

  • Joe

    Peter – you hit the nail on the head. The federal gov't is not allowed to establish a religion but at the time of the founding many states had either a state church or favored one sect over another. That is actually why the establishment clause was written into the first amendment. It was designed to assure the states that they would remain free to establish whatever religion they wanted without interference from the feds. That is why it says: “Congress shall make no law …” Professor Akhil Amar does a very nice job of explaining the purpose and history of the establishment clause in his book “The Bill of Rights.” Thus, it the federal constitution as a document is religion neutral.

    Post civil war the establishment clause was ‘incorporated” against the states by the 14th amendment thus transforming the prohibition on congressional action into an individual right of sorts.

  • Joe

    Peter – you hit the nail on the head. The federal gov't is not allowed to establish a religion but at the time of the founding many states had either a state church or favored one sect over another. That is actually why the establishment clause was written into the first amendment. It was designed to assure the states that they would remain free to establish whatever religion they wanted without interference from the feds. That is why it says: “Congress shall make no law …” Professor Akhil Amar does a very nice job of explaining the purpose and history of the establishment clause in his book “The Bill of Rights.” Thus, it the federal constitution as a document is religion neutral.

    Post civil war the establishment clause was ‘incorporated” against the states by the 14th amendment thus transforming the prohibition on congressional action into an individual right of sorts.

  • Carl Vehse

    The 1797 treaty containing the reference to the Christian religion was the first of two ineffective peace treaties with the islamic Barbary pirates. In 1815 President Madison and the U.S. declared war on the pirates, ultimately defeated them, and forced the enemy to sign a treaty on American terms. This was previously discussed here. The later treaties contained no similar reference to the Christian religion.

  • Carl Vehse

    The 1797 treaty containing the reference to the Christian religion was the first of two ineffective peace treaties with the islamic Barbary pirates. In 1815 President Madison and the U.S. declared war on the pirates, ultimately defeated them, and forced the enemy to sign a treaty on American terms. This was previously discussed here. The later treaties contained no similar reference to the Christian religion.

  • Carl Vehse

    The link is http://www.geneveith.com//we-do-not-consider-ours

    The Cranach editor appears to add an extra "www.geneveith.com//" to any link to the Cranach site.

  • Carl Vehse

    The link is http://www.geneveith.com//we-do-not-consider-ours

    The Cranach editor appears to add an extra "www.geneveith.com//" to any link to the Cranach site.

  • http://www.Utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I live in a state that all but has established a religion, and that part of life in Utah is painful. Seriously anyone maintaining that a state has a right to establish religion, and thinks it would be a good thing for them to do so should move here. However one might be correct technically regarding this, it doesn't hold up on a practical level. It may be true that the Federal Constitution says nothing about the right of a state to establish religion. However, when the rubber hits the road, the first amendment undermines a state's right to do so.

  • http://www.Utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I live in a state that all but has established a religion, and that part of life in Utah is painful. Seriously anyone maintaining that a state has a right to establish religion, and thinks it would be a good thing for them to do so should move here. However one might be correct technically regarding this, it doesn't hold up on a practical level. It may be true that the Federal Constitution says nothing about the right of a state to establish religion. However, when the rubber hits the road, the first amendment undermines a state's right to do so.

  • Joe

    "“Seriously anyone maintaining that a state has a right to establish religion, and thinks it would be a good thing for them to do so should move here."

    - I don't think it is a good thing for a state to establish a religion.

    - Until the 14th amendment was passed there was no prohibition on the authority of a State to establish a religion. It is not an opinion that is just fact. There are all kinds of cases from the US Supreme Court and State Supreme Courts that recognize this.
    "the first amendment undermines a state's right to do so."

    - only if it is incorporated against the states by the 14th. The first amendment only speaks about Congress; thus the amendment itself says nothing about what a state or local government can do. It is completely dependant on the 14th. (as an aside there is an academic debate about whether the fourteenth amendment actually incorporates the religion clauses but the US Supreme Court says it does.)

  • Joe

    "“Seriously anyone maintaining that a state has a right to establish religion, and thinks it would be a good thing for them to do so should move here."

    - I don't think it is a good thing for a state to establish a religion.

    - Until the 14th amendment was passed there was no prohibition on the authority of a State to establish a religion. It is not an opinion that is just fact. There are all kinds of cases from the US Supreme Court and State Supreme Courts that recognize this.
    "the first amendment undermines a state's right to do so."

    - only if it is incorporated against the states by the 14th. The first amendment only speaks about Congress; thus the amendment itself says nothing about what a state or local government can do. It is completely dependant on the 14th. (as an aside there is an academic debate about whether the fourteenth amendment actually incorporates the religion clauses but the US Supreme Court says it does.)

  • Trey

    This is the worlds raison d'être when it comes to history, mainly to find obscure quotes or documents and pass them off as that was the common view or the correct view to support their false position. However, all one needs to do is look at the initial states' constitutions or the colonies' charters. There we will see that the states not only endorsed Christianity, but that it was a requirement for some to be Christians to serve in government. There concern was not of establishing Christianity, but establishing a sect of Christianity (denomination).

    I agree that religion and government should not be brewed and mixed together. For a Christian's weapon is no coercion or the sword, but a spiritual sword which is the Word of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5; Ephesians 6). However, government should have a moral compass thus fulfilling its role of punishing evil. Without morality government will not punish evil instead it will construct its own evils, which probably and will include the Christian religion.

  • Trey

    This is the worlds raison d'être when it comes to history, mainly to find obscure quotes or documents and pass them off as that was the common view or the correct view to support their false position. However, all one needs to do is look at the initial states' constitutions or the colonies' charters. There we will see that the states not only endorsed Christianity, but that it was a requirement for some to be Christians to serve in government. There concern was not of establishing Christianity, but establishing a sect of Christianity (denomination).

    I agree that religion and government should not be brewed and mixed together. For a Christian's weapon is no coercion or the sword, but a spiritual sword which is the Word of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5; Ephesians 6). However, government should have a moral compass thus fulfilling its role of punishing evil. Without morality government will not punish evil instead it will construct its own evils, which probably and will include the Christian religion.

  • kerner

    It is true that the Bill of Rights was not originally intended to to limit the states, each of which had its own constitution. It is also an hostorical fact that it was the 14th Amendment that required the states to be limited by the Bill of Rights. This is equally true of other important rights, incidently, such as free speech and the right to bear arms; the Bill of Rights couldn't have stopped the state governments from infringing on those rights either prior the the 14th Amendment.

    But what I think Bror is saying is that the establishment of a religion by a state government is a really horribly bad idea, even if it may be true that certain state constitutions did just that in the late 18th century. So the writers of early state constitutions had a really bad idea about establishing religion at the state level. It is an error which has since been corrected. Other than an historical curiosity, why bring it up?

  • kerner

    It is true that the Bill of Rights was not originally intended to to limit the states, each of which had its own constitution. It is also an hostorical fact that it was the 14th Amendment that required the states to be limited by the Bill of Rights. This is equally true of other important rights, incidently, such as free speech and the right to bear arms; the Bill of Rights couldn't have stopped the state governments from infringing on those rights either prior the the 14th Amendment.

    But what I think Bror is saying is that the establishment of a religion by a state government is a really horribly bad idea, even if it may be true that certain state constitutions did just that in the late 18th century. So the writers of early state constitutions had a really bad idea about establishing religion at the state level. It is an error which has since been corrected. Other than an historical curiosity, why bring it up?

  • Phil Larson

    Establishing Mormonism religion isn't equivalent to establishing Christianity (etc.). So Bror's experience could be terrible without the principle being a bad idea at all.

    To kings and all in the authority: "Kiss the Son to avoid his anger, and you perish in the way."

  • Phil Larson

    Establishing Mormonism religion isn't equivalent to establishing Christianity (etc.). So Bror's experience could be terrible without the principle being a bad idea at all.

    To kings and all in the authority: "Kiss the Son to avoid his anger, and you perish in the way."

  • Ryan

    The context of the quote is helpful even if it makes a bit of a wax nose of history as noted above. Why though is this the place I find out about this quote? Not Obama's administration, not the news media… this blog is great, but I wish the media in general would be more informative.

  • Ryan

    The context of the quote is helpful even if it makes a bit of a wax nose of history as noted above. Why though is this the place I find out about this quote? Not Obama's administration, not the news media… this blog is great, but I wish the media in general would be more informative.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    He grew up in a trinitarian Christian church, though at Harvard he became to a certain extent by a nascent unitarianism. Basically, I would argue that he retained to a considerable the New England tradition of orthodox Christianity.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    He grew up in a trinitarian Christian church, though at Harvard he became to a certain extent by a nascent unitarianism. Basically, I would argue that he retained to a considerable the New England tradition of orthodox Christianity.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    The conversations about the original intent of the Constitution is important. I agree with Joe that the Constitution as originally drafted did not prohibit states from establishing churches. It is another thing altogether to say that they had a moral right to do so. The Constitution binds the Federal Government. You have to see this being like a United Nations treaty. The states were like nations. There are all sorts of rights the UN might hold to that it has no jurisdiction to uphold. Likewise here. Under the original plan, most individual rights would have been held by the framers of the Constitution, but they would not have seen the Federal Government as having jurisdiction allowing it to uphold those rights against the states.

    Post Civil War, we do have these rights incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment. The key difference is that rights that were long recognized could now be upheld by the Federal Government against the states. This was an increase in Federal jurisdiction. It can use this force for evil as well as good.

    Joe's statement "It was designed to assure the states that they would remain free to establish whatever religion they wanted without interference from the feds," needs to be taken in this light. The states were free to do this not because it was a good thing, but because that is the kind of thing a state does. Think of it as a country. A treaty won't affect how it handles religion, whatever the member states may think on the matter. A treaty isn't written so that member states might treat religion however they want. The treaty leaves states free because member states don't intend to give up their authority in the matter. The authority is in the parties creating the treaty, not in the body created by the treaty.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    The conversations about the original intent of the Constitution is important. I agree with Joe that the Constitution as originally drafted did not prohibit states from establishing churches. It is another thing altogether to say that they had a moral right to do so. The Constitution binds the Federal Government. You have to see this being like a United Nations treaty. The states were like nations. There are all sorts of rights the UN might hold to that it has no jurisdiction to uphold. Likewise here. Under the original plan, most individual rights would have been held by the framers of the Constitution, but they would not have seen the Federal Government as having jurisdiction allowing it to uphold those rights against the states.

    Post Civil War, we do have these rights incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment. The key difference is that rights that were long recognized could now be upheld by the Federal Government against the states. This was an increase in Federal jurisdiction. It can use this force for evil as well as good.

    Joe's statement "It was designed to assure the states that they would remain free to establish whatever religion they wanted without interference from the feds," needs to be taken in this light. The states were free to do this not because it was a good thing, but because that is the kind of thing a state does. Think of it as a country. A treaty won't affect how it handles religion, whatever the member states may think on the matter. A treaty isn't written so that member states might treat religion however they want. The treaty leaves states free because member states don't intend to give up their authority in the matter. The authority is in the parties creating the treaty, not in the body created by the treaty.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    great point. people here seem to refer to american historical documents like they are some sort of holy text.

    I am really glad we do not try to interpret those documents "as the original authors understood them to mean". I would really hate to see race-based slavery introduced or see women no longer have the vote or the right to be in a bar association and become an attorney…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    great point. people here seem to refer to american historical documents like they are some sort of holy text.

    I am really glad we do not try to interpret those documents "as the original authors understood them to mean". I would really hate to see race-based slavery introduced or see women no longer have the vote or the right to be in a bar association and become an attorney…

  • Joe

    Brought it up because we were discussing a treaty entered into at the time prior to the establishment of the 14th Amendment that discussed whether we are or are not a Christian nation. Seem at least tangentally realted and perhaps interesting to note that we started out as a nation that assured the States the right to establish religons including Christianity as the official religion.

    For the record, I don't think States should establish state churches.

  • Joe

    Brought it up because we were discussing a treaty entered into at the time prior to the establishment of the 14th Amendment that discussed whether we are or are not a Christian nation. Seem at least tangentally realted and perhaps interesting to note that we started out as a nation that assured the States the right to establish religons including Christianity as the official religion.

    For the record, I don't think States should establish state churches.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    Bror, I agree that it is wise not to have federal or state established churches. The issue is proper religious influence on the state. In Luther's time Frederick the Wise ruled, though he was respectful and much influenced by the Christian religion.

    In our time it is important that governments at all levels pay serious attention to religious views, especially on such issues as abortion and homosexual marriage and behavior. Religious people need to have backbone end a strong voice in the public square.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    Bror, I agree that it is wise not to have federal or state established churches. The issue is proper religious influence on the state. In Luther's time Frederick the Wise ruled, though he was respectful and much influenced by the Christian religion.

    In our time it is important that governments at all levels pay serious attention to religious views, especially on such issues as abortion and homosexual marriage and behavior. Religious people need to have backbone end a strong voice in the public square.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I tend to think that when we address these issues in the public square we can and ought to do so in a manner that argues from a secular point of view as much as possible. It is possible to be against these things without being Christian or religious.
    We also do well not to confuse Christianity with law.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I tend to think that when we address these issues in the public square we can and ought to do so in a manner that argues from a secular point of view as much as possible. It is possible to be against these things without being Christian or religious.
    We also do well not to confuse Christianity with law.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The principle is a bad idea, regardless of the religion and Christians should be the ones to realize this above all! Ours is not a religion of law.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The principle is a bad idea, regardless of the religion and Christians should be the ones to realize this above all! Ours is not a religion of law.

  • kerner

    For what little this may be worth, it was the Mormons, a non-Christian group, that was instrumental in passing the Amendment against gay marriage in California. And I'll bet you that every voting Muslim voted in favor of the same resolution. I guess that part of God's law really WAS written on their hearts. But it shows that a certain level of morality filtering into the civil law does not necessarily come from the Church alone.

  • kerner

    For what little this may be worth, it was the Mormons, a non-Christian group, that was instrumental in passing the Amendment against gay marriage in California. And I'll bet you that every voting Muslim voted in favor of the same resolution. I guess that part of God's law really WAS written on their hearts. But it shows that a certain level of morality filtering into the civil law does not necessarily come from the Church alone.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    I agree. Christians don;t have a corner on the moral law including its influence on black-letter law, though all too many Christians out of frustration and sometime timidity are reluctant to take on the culturally dominant pagans and secularists. I welcome the help of Mormons, Jews, Muslims and any religious group willing to do battle with the radical liberals.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    I agree. Christians don;t have a corner on the moral law including its influence on black-letter law, though all too many Christians out of frustration and sometime timidity are reluctant to take on the culturally dominant pagans and secularists. I welcome the help of Mormons, Jews, Muslims and any religious group willing to do battle with the radical liberals.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    True, though a fundamental belief of Christianity is moral law that with care and sophistication can properly influence black-letter law. Martin Luther and his followers had a profound influence for the good on the laws of Saxony and Germany, including those on the subjects of abortion, homosexuality, and marriage. Religious views on social issues have an important place in the public square.

    While the Mormons have undoubtedly overreached in Utah, Christians in most states have every right to advance their views on important social issues, especially given that secular fundamentalists are attempting to dominate the public square.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    True, though a fundamental belief of Christianity is moral law that with care and sophistication can properly influence black-letter law. Martin Luther and his followers had a profound influence for the good on the laws of Saxony and Germany, including those on the subjects of abortion, homosexuality, and marriage. Religious views on social issues have an important place in the public square.

    While the Mormons have undoubtedly overreached in Utah, Christians in most states have every right to advance their views on important social issues, especially given that secular fundamentalists are attempting to dominate the public square.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    I agree. Christians don't have a corner on the moral law, including its influence on black-letter law, though all too many Christians out of frustration and sometime timidity are reluctant to take on the culturally dominant pagans and secularists. I welcome the help of Mormons, Jews, Muslims and any religious group willing to do battle with the radical liberals.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    I agree. Christians don't have a corner on the moral law, including its influence on black-letter law, though all too many Christians out of frustration and sometime timidity are reluctant to take on the culturally dominant pagans and secularists. I welcome the help of Mormons, Jews, Muslims and any religious group willing to do battle with the radical liberals.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PrBobWaters PrBobWaters

    I am fascinated that so many Lutherans are Calvinists when it comes to the Two Kingdoms.

    "The Christian Religion" is the Gospel in the narrow sense. We share the Law- which is written on the human heart- with Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, Rastaferians
    (well, maybe not Rastaferians) , and ethical unbelievers of all sorts, including atheists and agnostics. It describes the way the universe is built. It is the currency of the Kingdom of the Left Hand.

    Which really ought not, as Dr. Luther pointed out a time or two, be brewed into the Kingdom of the Right.

    BTW, where in the world do so many of the readers of this blog get the idea that Muslims- followers of a religion whose political expression, Sharia, mandates the death penalty for homosexuality and is far more hostile toward homosexuals personally than Christianity ever dreamed of being- would be in favor of gay marriage? In Iran, they hang gays from cranes in the tpwn square!
    than Christianity

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PrBobWaters PrBobWaters

    I am fascinated that so many Lutherans are Calvinists when it comes to the Two Kingdoms.

    "The Christian Religion" is the Gospel in the narrow sense. We share the Law- which is written on the human heart- with Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, Rastaferians
    (well, maybe not Rastaferians) , and ethical unbelievers of all sorts, including atheists and agnostics. It describes the way the universe is built. It is the currency of the Kingdom of the Left Hand.

    Which really ought not, as Dr. Luther pointed out a time or two, be brewed into the Kingdom of the Right.

    BTW, where in the world do so many of the readers of this blog get the idea that Muslims- followers of a religion whose political expression, Sharia, mandates the death penalty for homosexuality and is far more hostile toward homosexuals personally than Christianity ever dreamed of being- would be in favor of gay marriage? In Iran, they hang gays from cranes in the tpwn square!
    than Christianity

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PrBobWaters PrBobWaters

    I am fascinated that so many Lutherans are Calvinists when it comes to the Two Kingdoms.

    "The Christian Religion" is the Gospel in the narrow sense. We share the Law- which is written on the human heart- with Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, Rastaferians (well, maybe not Rastaferians) , and ethical unbelievers of all sorts, including atheists and agnostics. It describes the way the universe is built. It is the currency of the Kingdom of the Left Hand.

    Which really ought not, as Dr. Luther pointed out a time or two, be brewed into the Kingdom of the Right.

    BTW, where in the world do so many of the readers of this blog get the idea that Muslims- followers of a religion whose political expression, Sharia, mandates the death penalty for homosexuality and is far more hostile toward homosexuals personally than Christianity ever dreamed of being- would be in favor of gay marriage? In Iran, they hang gays from cranes in the town square!
    than Christianity

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PrBobWaters PrBobWaters

    I am fascinated that so many Lutherans are Calvinists when it comes to the Two Kingdoms.

    "The Christian Religion" is the Gospel in the narrow sense. We share the Law- which is written on the human heart- with Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, Rastaferians (well, maybe not Rastaferians) , and ethical unbelievers of all sorts, including atheists and agnostics. It describes the way the universe is built. It is the currency of the Kingdom of the Left Hand.

    Which really ought not, as Dr. Luther pointed out a time or two, be brewed into the Kingdom of the Right.

    BTW, where in the world do so many of the readers of this blog get the idea that Muslims- followers of a religion whose political expression, Sharia, mandates the death penalty for homosexuality and is far more hostile toward homosexuals personally than Christianity ever dreamed of being- would be in favor of gay marriage? In Iran, they hang gays from cranes in the town square!
    than Christianity

  • Bill

    I have posted an article online that draws into question using the Treaty of Tripoli as historical evidence for the Secular America Thesis (SAT) at:

    http://hubpages.com/hub/Tempest-in-a-Treaty-Does-the-Treaty-of-Tripoli-Support-a-Secular-America.

    Bill

  • Bill

    I have posted an article online that draws into question using the Treaty of Tripoli as historical evidence for the Secular America Thesis (SAT) at:

    http://hubpages.com/hub/Tempest-in-a-Treaty-Does-the-Treaty-of-Tripoli-Support-a-Secular-America.

    Bill


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