On Monday I noted that a publisher associated with The Founders’ Bible disclosed on his forum that James Hammond, pro-slavery leader prior to the Civil War, would be included in that Bible as a proponent of the view that America is a Christian nation. Read that post for a selection of Hammond’s ugly views.
In this post, I want to provide a little more information on Hammond’s views and begin with the day of thanksgiving proclamation made by Hammond which led to the quotes in the Founders’ Bible. In September 1844, Hammond proclaimed:
Whereas, it becomes all Christian nations to acknowledge at stated periods, their dependence on Almighty God, to express their gratitude for His past mercies, and humbly and devoutly to implore His blessing for the future:
Now, therefore, I, James H. Hammond, Governor of the State of South Carolina, do, in conformity with the established usage of this State, appoint the first Thursday in October next, to be observed as a day of Thanksgiving, Humiliation and Prayer, and invite and exhort our citizens of all denominations to assemble at their respective places of worship, to offer up their devotions to God their Creator, and his Son Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world.
Given under my hand, and the seal of the State, in Columbia, this ninth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-four, and in the sixty-ninth year of American Independence.
The Jewish community of Charleston was offended by the proclamation since they were obviously not included. They asked for an apology from Hammond but he refused to offer it. Hammond’s words included in the Founders’ Bible come from his reply to the Jewish community. Hammond told the Jewish minority that he would not apologize.
Here is his response in full:
Silver Bluff, Nov. 4, 1844.
“Gentlemen—I received to-day your memorial and protest against my Proclamation appointing the third day of October for Thanksgiving, which, in consequence of my allusion to ‘Jesus Christ the Redeemer’ you denounce ‘as unsanctioned by the letter or spirit of the Constitution—as offensive and unusual in language, as exclusive, arbitrary and sectarian in its character.’ I have received heretofore several private communications on the subject, and a public letter addressed me through the columns of the Southern Patriot; I made no reply to any of these, because I did not feel myself bound to notice them, and wished to avoid, if possible, a controversy of this nature. Your memorial and protest, however, signed as I perceive it is by over one hundred of the most respectable Israelites of Charleston, rebuking in no measured terms, and demanding, as I understand it, an apology, requires an answer. The simple truth is, that at the time of writing my Proclamation it did not occur to me, that there might be Israelites, Deists, Atheists, or any other class of persons in the State who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. I could not therefore have intended to wound the feelings of such individuals or associations of them. But I am aware that forgetfulness can never justify a breach of public duty, I do not therefore urge it in the least. And as you force me to speak, it is due to candour to say, that had I been fully on my guard, I do not think I should have changed the language of my Proclamation! and that I have no apology to make for it now. Unhappily for myself I am not a professor of religion; nor am I attached by education or habit to any particular denomination, nor do I feel myself to be a fit and proper defender of the Christian faith. But I must say that up to this time, I have always thought it a settled matter that I lived in a Christian land! And that I was the temporary chief magistrate of a Christian people. That in such a country and among such a people I should be, publicly, called to an account, reprimanded and required to make amends for acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world, I would not have believed possible, if it had not come to pass. I have not examined nor am I now able to refer to the Proclamations of my predecessors, to ascertain whether they have limited their fellow-citizens to address their devotions to the Father or the Son or to the Father only, nor could I verify the motives which might have influenced them to do the one or the other. But I am of the opinion that a Proclamation for Thanksgiving which omits to unite the name of the Redeemer with that of the Creator is not a Christian Proclamation, and might justly give offence to the Christian People, whom it invited to worship. If in complaisance to the Israelites and Deists, his name must be excluded, the Atheists might as justly require that of the Creator to be omitted also; and the Mahometan or Mormon that others should be inserted. I feel myself upon the broad ground that this is a Christian community; and that as their chief magistrate it was my duty and my right in conformity with usage, to invite them to return thanks for the blessings they enjoy, to that Power from whence, and that Being through whose intercession they believe that they derive them. And whatever may be the language of Proclamation and of Constitution, I know that the civilization of the age is derived from Christianity, that the institutions of this country are instinct with the same spirit, and that it pervades the laws of the State as it does the manners and I trust the hearts of our people. Why do we observe the Sabbath instituted on honour of Christ? Why do our laws forbid labour on that day or the execution of civil process? it is because we are, and acknowledge ourselves, and wish to be considered, a Christian people. You appeal to the Constitution as guaranteeing ‘the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference to all mankind.’ If the laws recognizing the Christian Sabbath do not violate the Constitution, how can my Proclamation, which was compulsory on no one, do it? If both are unconstitutional, why have not the Israelites commenced by attacking these long-standing laws, and purifying our legislation? Do they deem it easier to intimidate one man, and extract from him a confession and an apology under the apprehension of their fierce and unrelenting hostility, than to reform the State? In whatever situation I have been placed, it has always been my aim to adhere strictly to the Constitution and uphold the Laws. I did not think, and do not now think, that I violated the Constitution of this State by my Proclamation. That forbids the legislature to pass any law restricting the most perfect toleration. I addressed to the Christian community, at their request, a Proclamation inviting them to worship in accordance with their faith; I had neither the power nor desire to compel any one to offer his devotions contrary to his faith, or to offer them at all. Those who did not choose to accept my invitation, were at full liberty to decline it, and if the Israelites refused to open their Synagogues, I had no complaint to make—no penalty to exact. Had they stopped at that, such a manifestation of their disapproval of my Proclamation would have been the more severely felt by me, because of its dignity and its consonance with true religious feelings as I apprehend them. But if, inheriting the same scorn for Jesus Christ which instigated their ancestors to crucify him, they would have felt themselves degraded and disgraced in obeying my exhortation to worship their ‘Creator,’ because I had also recommended the adoration of his ‘Son the Redeemer,’ still I would not have hesitated to appoint for them, had it been requested, a special day of Thanksgiving according to their own creed. This, however, was not, I imagine, what the Israelites desired. They wished to be included in the same invitation to the public devotion with the Christians! And to make that invitation acceptable to them, I must strike out the corner-stone of the Christian creed, and reduce the whole to entire conformity with that of the Israelites; I must exhort a Christian People to worship after the manner of the Jews. The Constitution forbids me to ‘discriminate’ in favour of the Christians; and I am denounced because I have not ‘discriminated’ in favour of the Israelites. This is the sum and substance of your charge. The terms of my Proclamation were broad enough to include all believers. You wished me to narrow it down to the exclusion of ninety-nine hundredths of my fellow-citizens. Neither the Constitution, nor my public duty, would allow me to do this, and they also forbid me to offer any apology for not having done it.
“Many topics in your memorial and its vehement tone I pass over without comment, because I do not wish to go farther in this unpleasant discussion, than briefly to state the prominent grounds on which I justify my conduct. And I cannot but hope that when you come to look dispassionately at the matter, you will perceive that the warmth of your feelings has led you astray, that you have taken offence without sufficient cause, and that in fulminating your wrath at me, you have exhibited a temper which in the end may be more painful to yourselves than it can be to me. Not that I do not regret sincerely that I have so unexpectedly incurred your enmity, but because I suffer little when I am satisfied that I have done no wrong.
“I have the honour to be
“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. HAMMOND.”
Those who are about to publish the Founders’ Bible have reached into history to bring us face to face with a racist, pro-slavery advocate who used his office to privilege his view of Christianity. His vision was of a Christian nation that included slavery as a blessing and moral good. When the Jewish community understandably felt excluded by the proclamation, he disregarded their call for a pluralistic response.
Is this the kind of government the publishers of the Founders Bible wish for the nation?
James Hammond was a dubious figure for more reasons than his racism and support for slavery. In the next post on Hammond, I will note some elements of his checkered personal life that make his inclusion as a positive figure in the Founders’ Bible all the more astounding.