Institute on the Constitution: The American View or the Confederate View?

The website for the Institute on the Constitution is called The American View. As a result of taking his Constitution course, director Michael Peroutka claims that

students will become familiar with “The American View of Law and Government”:

  • There is a God, the God of the Bible

  • Our rights come from Him

  • The purpose of civil government is to secure our God-given rights

Ed Sebesta at Anti-Neo-Confederate reminds us that the National Religious Broadcasters are offering IOTC’s Constitution course via their website and network (Liberty University also).  He also asserts that the IOTC takes more of a Confederate view than an American one.

Some Christians may resonate with the IOTC declaration that the American view is that the founders deliberately sought to create a Biblical foundation for law and government. However, one must ignore many events and statements during the early days of the nation to hold that belief. For instance, theologically orthodox president of Yale, Timothy Dwight, certainly did not describe the Constitution in Peroutka’s terms when he spoke to Yale students in 1812.

Notwithstanding the prevalence of Religion, which I have described, the irreligion, and the wickedness, of our land are such, as to furnish a most painful and melancholy prospect to a serious mind. We formed our Constitution without any acknowledgment of God ; without any recognition of his mercies to us, as a people, of his government, or even of his existence. The Convention, by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessing upon their labours. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system, without God. I wish I could say, that a disposition to render him the reverence, due to his great Name, and the gratitude, demanded by his innumerable mercies, had been more public, visible, uniform, and fervent.

In his treatment of the founders’ religious beliefs during the IOTC course, Peroutka cherry picks quotes from founders to make them all sound orthodox. Like David Barton, Peroutka portrays the founders as orthodox in order to tie the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to “the God of the Bible.” Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government. What is remarkable is how infrequently religion is mentioned in the founding documents.

Historical problems aside, Peroutka espouses positions that are more acceptable at the League of the South than in a course on “the American view.” For instance, his position on nullification and interposition is much more in line with the Confederate view than the American view. Various defenders of slavery (e.g., John C. Calhoun) and segregation (e.g., Ross Barnett) tried the nullification argument and eventually failed.

Peroutka’s organization, the League of the South (he is a board member and has pledged the resources of the constitution course to the League), is the embodiment of the Confederate view. They can’t stand Abraham Lincoln and disparage Martin Luther King, Jr. They (from the LoS blog) disdain the United States, calling it the “USSA” and the “Evil Empire.” (see also “doomed evil empire” and an “organized criminal enterprise“), and don’t consider themselves American. They promote Southern secession in order to form an “Anglo-celtic” (i.e., white) Christian nation with a constitution that looks like the Constitution of 1788 (sans slavery amendments) and the Confederate Constitution of 1861. They don’t fly the American flag at their conferences, preferring instead the Confederate battle flag. At their upcoming anti-immigration reform rally in Uvalda, GA, the League plans to fly “The Georgia Secession Flag (left) and the Southern Nationalist Activism Flag (right) will be flown by participants at the upcoming demonstration.”

LoSprotestflags

In June of this year, Peroutka told those in attendance at the League of the South conference that the League taught him most of what he knows. At 4:00 minutes into the video, Peroutka told the crowd:

Thank you for your kindness. I always have the difficulty when it comes to the League of the South since I actually learned most of what I know from y’all. There’s always the difficulty of what I’m going to tell you that you don’t already know.

Does it seem likely that the League of the South would teach Peroutka an American view? Does it seem likely that the League would endorse something called the American View if the leaders did not think it was friendly to the Confederate view? At one League conference, Peroutka urged the League to use his course as compatible with League goals, and at least one state branch has done so:

Former Presidential candidate Michael Peroutka co-founded the Institute on the Constitution (IOTC), the program that will run at the Middle Georgia Chapter’s Hedge School in April (see right). According to Chapter Chairman Ben Davis, it is an excellent resource which lends itself very easily to the League message. Davis encourages fellow chapter leaders to host IOTC in their localities. For more information, go to www.iotconline.com.

In my opinion, when the League says a resource “lends itself very easily to the League message,” I suspect they mean it. Which view does it appear they endorse?

 

Print Friendly

  • Patrocles

    The “American view”, as understood here, seems to be the Lincolnist-Trotskyite view.

    In fact, Americans at the beginning of the 20th century saw the Civil War as an unhappy part of their history, and from Cecil DeMille (“The Birth of a Nation”) to Theodore Sorensen (“Proflies of Courage”) there were many who tried to find common ground and reintegrate Northeners and Southeners.

    Trotskyism became popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Trotskyites strived for the establishment of a “good society” by a worldwide war of “the good” against “the bad”, So they found new interest in the Civil War as the first part of their own war, Southerners as the eternal enemy of “the good” and Lincoln as the great good war hero and precursor of Trotsky. (Former Trotskyites played an important part in the founding of modern liberalism as well as neoconservatism.)

    (I’m personally unaffected by this. I take my stand with Menno Simons who said that it is bad when “men’s blood is valued like swine’s blood”, whenever and whereever. And I doubt that the Lincolnist-Trotskyite interpretation of an “American view” can be “christianized”.)

    • Patrocles

      Correction.

      The exact title of the book is “Profiles in Courage”, By the way, it was authorized by John F. Kennedy (and it was the first political book I read as a child, albeit in a German translation).

      It begins with the profiles of men who tried to prevent the Civil War. Lincoln is not profiled at all.

  • Patrocles

    The “American view”, as understood here, seems to be the Lincolnist-Trotskyite view.

    In fact, Americans at the beginning of the 20th century saw the Civil War as an unhappy part of their history, and from Cecil DeMille (“The Birth of a Nation”) to Theodore Sorensen (“Proflies of Courage”) there were many who tried to find common ground and reintegrate Northeners and Southeners.

    Trotskyism became popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Trotskyites strived for the establishment of a “good society” by a worldwide war of “the good” against “the bad”, So they found new interest in the Civil War as the first part of their own war, Southerners as the eternal enemy of “the good” and Lincoln as the great good war hero and precursor of Trotsky. (Former Trotskyites played an important part in the founding of modern liberalism as well as neoconservatism.)

    (I’m personally unaffected by this. I take my stand with Menno Simons who said that it is bad when “men’s blood is valued like swine’s blood”, whenever and whereever. And I doubt that the Lincolnist-Trotskyite interpretation of an “American view” can be “christianized”.)

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government.

    Well, leaving out the God of evangelical Christians/the Trinity, the Founding era pretty much unanimously agreed their God of monotheism was the God of the Bible, Jehovah.

    This is why–even though it’s a “neologism,” a term not created until the early 20th century, “Judeo-Christian” is pretty accurate.

    “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, and planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”–GWash, Letter to the Savannah Jews, 1790

    You’ll also find the infidels Jefferson and Franklin quite comfortable with the image of the Pillar of Fire leading the Israelites in the desert*, and even [in]famous deist Ethan Allen reports in his autohagiography that he demanded the British surrender Ft. Ticonderoga “In the name of Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”

    [The doctrinal weeds get tall pretty quickly on the Christ angle. Best to leave it be. Even though "Christ" makes a cameo appearance in the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it's along with some Grapes of Wrath and a Terrible Swift Sword. Not Jesus the Barneysaur we're used to these days.]

    ___________________________

    *http://www.greatseal.com/committees/firstcomm/

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government.

    Well, leaving out the God of evangelical Christians/the Trinity, the Founding era pretty much unanimously agreed their God of monotheism was the God of the Bible, Jehovah.

    This is why–even though it’s a “neologism,” a term not created until the early 20th century, “Judeo-Christian” is pretty accurate.

    “May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, and planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven, and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”–GWash, Letter to the Savannah Jews, 1790

    You’ll also find the infidels Jefferson and Franklin quite comfortable with the image of the Pillar of Fire leading the Israelites in the desert*, and even [in]famous deist Ethan Allen reports in his autohagiography that he demanded the British surrender Ft. Ticonderoga “In the name of Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”

    [The doctrinal weeds get tall pretty quickly on the Christ angle. Best to leave it be. Even though "Christ" makes a cameo appearance in the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it's along with some Grapes of Wrath and a Terrible Swift Sword. Not Jesus the Barneysaur we're used to these days.]

    ___________________________

    *http://www.greatseal.com/committees/firstcomm/

  • bman

    David Barton’s article on Benjamin Franklin’s speech on prayer to the convention seems to provide additional context, albeit indirectly, to Timothy Dwight’s speech.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    bman – Thanks for pointing this out. The events surrounding Franklin’s motion do corroborate Dwight’s lament. I should add that Barton has several accounts of these events, some of which contradict this website page. He still wants the events to support his Christian nation view, but if you look at them without that presupposition, you see the founders invoking religion when it seemed to suit them but without any deliberate attempt to create a Biblical view of law and government.

    • bman

      WT: “The events surrounding Franklin’s motion do corroborate Dwight’s lament.”

      —–

      While those events corroborate Dwight’s lament in the excerpt, I think they also mitigate the lament.

      Take, for example, Dwight’s statement, “The Convention, by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessing upon their labours.”

      While it seems a point of fact that formal opening prayers did not occur while the convention was officially in session, the events surrounding Dr. Franklin’s speech would seem to mitigate the meaning of that fact.

      A facial reading of the record suggests they “would have” enacted Dr. Franklin’s request for opening prayers had it been made earlier rather than near the end of the convention, for example.

      And, it seems they “would have” had formal opening prayers from the beginning if they had the funds to hire a chaplain. The record of that day says, “Mr. WILLIAMSON, observed that the true cause of the omission [of opening prayer] could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.”

      While researching, I also noticed that the text of Dr. Franklin’s speech and the record of that day, was not published until around 1840, years after Dwight’s speech in 1812.

      Would Dwight know the convention did not have funds to hire a chaplain, and would he have known the text of Dr. Franklin’s speech contained clear references to the Bible and the God of the Bible, and that the convention “would have” enacted Dr. Franklin’s request had it been made earlier?

      Perhaps we should read Dwight’s speech as one made in 1812 before those details were known.

  • Warren

    bman – we must be reading different history. If Franklin was the only one to suggest prayers then that group didn’t have much regard for prayer or Bible reading as a foundation for their political work. I think Dwight would probably say the revealed facts validated his concerns.

  • bman

    WT: “If Franklin was the only one to suggest prayers then that group didn’t have much regard for prayer or Bible reading as a foundation for their political work. ”

    —-

    There is still the matter of the funding. ““Mr. WILLIAMSON, observed that the true cause of the omission [of opening prayer] could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    While I can’t say for sure without looking into it in depth, my prior work on this made me think that this was Williamson’s opinion but that it was a kind of dodge. Surely there were ministers who would have prayed for such an occasion without being paid. If that is not true, then that says something about the Christianity of the day. My point is not that the men were irreligious but that they were not preoccupied with creating a distinctly Christian/Biblical government. If they were, the documents and the process would have looked a lot different.

    • Tom Van Dyke

      Religion was left to the states. As David Sehat notes here

      http://s-usih.org/2013/08/on-pauline-maier-guest-post-by-david-sehat.html

      On her recommendation, I began reading state constitutions and state law in order to understand the legal history of religious freedom.

      Looking at the Constitution alone cannot tell us what we need to know. If “God” is missing from the Constitution [it is], He is in virtually every one of the 50 state constitutions.

      http://www.usconstitution.net/states_god.html

      • Joe Winpisinger

        Something modern hard line secularists ignore in their arguments to rid society of God.

    • oft

      The framers created a Christian/Biblical government because they mention Jehovah (Nature’s God) in the DOI. The Church has always believed Christ was God. Only a handful of framers did not, therefore the State Constitutions are Trinitarian and reflect the DOI and Constitution. Madison goes so far as to say the principles under the Confederation are the same as under the Constitution.

      “”If Franklin was the only one to suggest prayers””

      He was not the only one.

      “”Surely there were ministers who would have prayed for such an occasion without being paid.””

      You are assuming the framers approved your basis for having ministers praying for nothing. Do you know what happens when you assume?

      • Zoe Brain

        “Nature’s God is Jehovah”?

        http://history.hanover.edu/hhr/hhr93_1.html says otherwise, and makes a good case for it.

        • oft

          Jefferson did not invent the term “Nature’s God.”

        • bman

          If you look at the photocopied Congressional documents at this link you’ll find a very strong affirmation of Christianity dated March 1776, a few months before the Declaration of Independence was signed .

          Excerpt:

          “…to confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his [God's] righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness….”

          Notice the declaration specifically mentions Jesus Christ.

          Your article suggests the Declaration of Independence was “deist.”

          It seems odd, however, that Congress would have changed their religion from Christianity in March 1776 to deism in July 1776!

          Additionally, there is another photocopied document dated December 1777 where Congress again mentions God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost when they issued a Thanksgiving proclamation,

          “….that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance…to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost..”

          Are we to suppose the Congress was at first Christian in March 1776, switched to deism by July when the Declaration of Independence was written, and switched back to Christianity again by December 1777?

      • Joe Winpisinger

        Why complicate this matter by introducing Christ at all? Natural Law does not have to apply to the God of the Bible. The Greeks and Romans cited it without using Yahweh.(Though Cicero cites the law of Moses in his seminal work) The point here is that the view of Natural Law that Our Founders subscribed to did point to the God of the Bible.

        • bman

          JW: “Why complicate this matter by introducing Christ at all? Natural Law does not have to apply to the God of the Bible.”

          —–

          The mention of Christ in March 1776 and Dec 1777 is important because it answers those today who claim the DOI was deist rather than Christian.

          Such a claim would mean Congress changed from Christianity in March 1776 to deism in July 1776 and back to Christianity in Dec 1777, which means their argument reduces to an unrealistic conclusion.

  • bman

    Yes, its more probable they would have recruited local ministers in that case, well before Dr. Franklin’s speech, which occurred 4 or 5 weeks after the convention started.

    While the argument for your specific point is strong (“they were not preoccupied with creating a distinctly Christian/Biblical government”),I think your point only shows they did not intend a certain kind of Christian government.

    They did not intend to create a national church or a theocratic federal government, for example, but who is arguing that kind of government was intended, anyway?

    In my view, what they created was not “a distinctly Christian federal government” but a “para-Christian federal government” that could operate alongside “distinctly Christian” state governments that promote Christianity as a matter of state law.

  • Joshua Horn

    For instance, his position on nullification and interposition is much more in line with the Confederate view than the American view. Various defenders of slavery (e.g., John C. Calhoun) and segregation (e.g., Ross Barnett) tried the nullification argument and eventually failed.

    But they were Americans before they became Confederates. John C. Calhoun lived and died an American.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Joshua – Not sure what your point is. Calhoun’s view was not sustained as an American view. It became the Confederate view and still is apparently.

  • secularsquare

    The American view was that of James Madison, who called Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification “a preposterous and anarchical pretension.”

  • Jon Rowe

    OFT is full of inapt non-sequiturs as usual.

    I often strongly disagree with Bill Fortenberry who posts here and at my blog, but he has uncovered some interesting things in his research. For instance, Bolingbroke. I always thought he was a strict Deist. But, as it turns out, he, like the other English (as opposed to continental) Deists who influenced America’s Founders were “Christian-Deists” (as David Holmes or Joseph Waligore terms them) or perhaps, Dr. Frazer’s term “theistic rationalists.” Bolingbroke rejected most if not all of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament as valid revelation. Yet, he believed parts of the New Testament as valid. He also, according to Fortenberry coined laws of Nature and Nature’s God. Bolingbroke certainly influenced Jefferson in this regard. So OFT is correct in noting “Jefferson did not invent the term ‘Nature’s God.’” Perhaps Bolingbroke’s theology unlocks the key to understanding.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Christian Deists or theistic rationalists; they were not setting out to deliberately create a Biblical form on government in the evangelical sense. When the Bartons and Peroutkas of the world tell us that the founders based the Constitution on the Bible, we must reject that claim. Did the founders incorporate religious imagery from their education into their writings and ideas? Sure they did. However, many of those who crafted the documents could not be members of evangelicals churches today because they were not orthodox.

      • oft

        “However, many of those who crafted the documents could not be members of evangelicals churches today because they were not orthodox.”

        Besides Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, who else?

      • bman

        WT: “Christian Deists or theistic rationalists; they were not setting out to deliberately create a Biblical form on government in the evangelical sense”

        —–

        The key phrase there is, “in the evangelical sense.”

        It only excludes one specific form of Christian federal government, and not all forms thereof.

        Indeed, the question is not whether the founders framed a Christian federal government , but the extent they did so is the question, and how to describe that extent accurately.

        The federal government they formed, for example, was not designed to remove prayer out of every school in every state, or to remove Ten commandment displays, as it has done in our time.

        Also, the founders were not creating a single national government to replace the 13 state governments, but one that would come alongside the 13 state governments.

        That means the founders had virtually no authority to create a Biblical government, “in the evangelical sense.” That was a state government matter, not a federal government matter.

        In effect, the federal government would be a para-Christian government since it was deigned to operate “alongside of” (para) the distinctly Christian governments of the states.

        • Jon Rowe

          There was nothing in the founding scheme that guaranteed the states would promote “Christianity” to the exclusion of other religions in the “religious is left to the states” model. VA’s founding was arguably secular. And the most religion promoting state — MASS. — had a problem with unitarians getting into power and using the state to promote unitarianism under the auspices of “Christianity.” That’s what resulted in the end of Mass.’s religious establishment in 1833.

          • bman

            Jon: “There was nothing in the founding scheme that guaranteed the states would promote “Christianity” to the exclusion of other religions in the “religio[n] is left to the states” model.”

            ——

            That seems correct since religion was left to the states.

          • bman

            Jon: “There was nothing in the founding scheme that guaranteed the states would promote “Christianity” to the exclusion of other religions in the “religio[n] is left to the states” model.”

            bman: “That seems correct since religion was left to the states.”

            ——

            Some additional clarification.

            I understood your post to mean, “There was nothing in the founding scheme that guaranteed the states would [continue to promote] Christianity to the exclusion of other religions.”

            The founders certainly knew the state governments to be distinctively Christian at the time of the 1787 convention, and had every reason to think they would remain so for the foreseeable future.

            Virtually every state had a distinctively Christian government at the time, which can be largely verified by the Conservapedia article on Original State Constitutions.

            As to the more distant future, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin thought the government they formed would last until the people became morally corrupt. As follows,

            Benjamin Franklin: “….[I] believe farther that this [Constitutional government] is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

            John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

            From that perspective, whoever defends Christian values in society effectively defends the American view of government in the same process.

          • bman

            Jon: “VA’s founding was arguably secular.”

            —-

            The VA constitution of 1776 states, “…it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”

            That sound arguably Christian to me. :-)

          • Joe Winpisinger

            The rub here Jon is what does “secular” mean? Even Jefferson allowed public fasts as governor even when he rejected them as President. That is a far, far cry from modern hard line secularists of today. Hell that is a far cry from the freaking Supreme Court that last 50 years.

  • Jon Rowe

    “It seems odd, however, that Congress would have changed their religion from Christianity in March 1776 to deism in July 1776!”

    However odd it may seem the DOI doesn’t invoke Jesus Christ. It invokes Nature’s God, Divine Providence, Creator,and Supreme Judge of the World. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, the three principle authors, were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians. Perhaps that’s why the God words there are more generic or non-sectarian.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Jon – Exactly. Those who support the Christian nationalist position rarely deal with what isn’t in the founding documents that one would expect if the aim had been to create what Peroutka calls “a biblical view of law and government.”

      • oft

        The founders did create a biblical form of govt. by putting Christ in the State govts. where religion is to reside. Bolingbroke did not invent the term “Nature’s God”, a contraction, rather Francis Bacon used it years before he did. Nature’s God is the classical name of Yahweh, which includes (used by Jefferson’s idol) and according to the Scriptures, and the Church, Jesus Christ is the Judge, and Creator. Besides the usual suspects, the founders believed this to be.

      • Joe Winpisinger

        Warren,

        What are you considering a “Biblical view of Government”?

        • bman

          JW: “Warren, What are you considering a “Biblical view of Government”?”

          ——

          WT seems to object to MIchael Peroutka’s claim that the founders view of government was based on following three principles,

          There is a God, the God of the Bible

          Our rights come from Him,

          The purpose of civil government is to secure our God-given rights.

          However, those three points seem to correctly identify the founders, when viewed as a collective.

    • Jon Rowe

      Warren:

      I agree.

      And OFT hallucinates and sees things that aren’t there.

      • oft

        Jon,

        I see your Ad hominem attacks are still strong in you..whatever. The framers believed in biblical inerrancy, therefore Christ is the judge of the DOI:

        “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son”

        –John 5:22

        Jesus Christ is the Creator:

        “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him”

        –Colossians 1:16.

        Jesus Christ IS Nature’s God.

      • oft

        It certainly follows without any discrepancy to the Christian framers that the DOI names the title the Scriptures specifically give to Jesus Christ ( the Supreme Judge of the world). It has to follow. It is impossible to not follow because Jesus specifically said He is the Judge (John 5:22).

        This proves the terms: Judge of the world, supreme ruler of the universe, Nature’s God, Creator, etc. Jesus Christ specifically says I AM THE CREATOR!, the self-existent one in John 8:58:

        Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

        This proves the terms listed are not generic terms for a generic god, but they are specific Christian terms used throughout the centuries. Additionally, the framers understood the Old Testament says Jesus Christ is the Creator!

        But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

        –Micah 5:2.

        The writings of the framers contradict the assumption they rejected biblical inerrancy. That there is only one Judge eliminates all other gods for inclusion into Nature’s God. Religion is left to the States and the context for the 1A is clearly that of the States, and the States formed Christianity.

        • oft

          Should read :This proves the terms: Judge of the world, supreme ruler of the universe, Nature’s God, Creator, etc. is Jesus Christ. He specifically says I AM THE CREATOR!, the self-existent one in John 8:58.

          • Jon Rowe

            It’s too bad they forgot to put that in the DOI.

          • oft

            You are arguing semantics because you don’t like the words, which does not erase the identity of the judge of the world. For instance, the word “redeemer” is a title of a person, and all the framers knew who that person was. Living in a Christian nation as the colonists did, they did not have to name Jesus Christ in every instance, even though sometimes they did.

            The framers said the context of religion is to the states and the states formed Christianity, especially Virginia, where TJ established Christianity over other false religions:

            “Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” [bold face mine]

            –VA Act for Religious Freedom

          • Jon Rowe

            “The framers said the context of religion is to the states and the states formed Christianity, especially Virginia, where TJ established Christianity over other false religions:…”

            And Jefferson apparently understood the VA Statute that he authored differently than OFT does:

            – The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination. –

        • Tom Van Dyke

          FTR, this is nonsense, OFT. It’s true that early Continental Congress declarations included Jesus Christ but eventually went to more generic language for God.

          This is why General Washington permitted unitarian [non-Trinitarian] chaplains in the army–for the same reason he stopped the heavily Protestant troops from bagging on the Catholics by celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. Any division over Christian doctrine served no purpose except to hurt The Cause.

          • Tom Van Dyke

            have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world

            Read the entire passage with

            “false religion” = Roman Catholicism

            in mind.

          • oft

            TVD,

            They always used classical language, not generic language. Where is the quote GW specifically mentioned Unitarian chaplains?

          • oft

            “Read the entire passage with

            “false religion” = Roman Catholicism

            in mind.”

            Even if the context is Catholicism, the Christian nation thesis is still intact via the States. Virginia established a Christian state no matter what TJ’s opinion is.

          • oft

            “”And Jefferson apparently understood the VA Statute that he authored differently than OFT does:

            – The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination. –””

            All this says is free exercise is for all.

          • oft

            Proof TJ’s opinion is free exercise for all is in his quote:

            “it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal.”

            Nowhere is establishment referred to, which is why he didn’t mention it. Christianity is clearly established with free exercise for all.

          • oft

            “FTR, this is nonsense, OFT. It’s true that early Continental Congress declarations included Jesus Christ but eventually went to more generic language for God.”

            Are you saying their God changed? Are you saying the framers all became universalists? What words can you present for that? If the God didn’t change, nor the principles behind it change, which James Madison affirmed, what are you trying to say?

          • Tom Van Dyke

            >>>>It’s true that early Continental Congress declarations included Jesus Christ but eventually went to more generic language for God.”<<<<<

            Are you saying their God changed? Are you saying the framers all became universalists? What words can you present for that? If the God didn’t change, nor the principles behind it change, which James Madison affirmed, what are you trying to say?

            Excellent question, and the answer has to be a qualified ‘yes’. In fighting the revolution, a Jefferson could overlook religious zealotry when in service of battle–in fact it was notorious infidels Jefferson and Franklin pumping “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

            http://www.greatseal.com/committees/firstcomm/reverse.html

            Religious fervor was an asset to the Revolution, but when trying to get the Constitution ratified 21 years later, religious zealotry was an obstacle to ratification, so religion was minimized on the national level to get the deal done. [Especially to get Jefferson and Madison's Virginia to sign on. Without Virginia's looming "veto," the Constitution could well have been more explicitly religious.]

            [BTW, "universalist" means universal salvation, not that all religions are equally true.]

          • oft

            Dude,

            You couldn’t provide evidence for that if you paid for it. The Constitution couldn’t get ratified because the anti-federalists demanded a Bill of Rights.

        • Jon Rowe

          “The writings of the framers contradict the assumption they rejected biblical inerrancy.”

          LOL.

          “To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.”

          – Ben Franklin.

          • oft

            “The writings of the framers contradict the assumption they rejected biblical inerrancy.”

            Jon : LOL.

            ““To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.”

            – Ben Franklin.”

            Notice at the top, Jon wrote “framers” then posted an opinion by one man. Thank God framers includes more than one man.

  • bman

    bman: “It seems odd, however, that Congress would have changed their religion from Christianity in March 1776 to deism in July 1776!”

    Jon: “However odd it may seem the DOI doesn’t invoke Jesus Christ. It invokes Nature’s God, Divine Providence, Creator,and Supreme Judge of the World. …

    The generic language is compatible for a document that appeals to all mankind by means of self evident reasoning derived from nature.

    It was broad enough to include clerical and non-clerical Christian views, such as your idea of Christian deism, but the attempt by some to see only deism in those references cannot stand when compared to the March 1776 and December 1977 declarations by Congress that specifically affirm faith in God the Father, Jesus, Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

    • Tom Van Dyke

      Any national declaration could only be as religious as the least religious state, Virginia, or else be a deal-breaker. But it would be an error to judge the entire Founding by what amounted to Virginia’s veto power. I believe something like 10 of the original 13 states kept religious tests for state office–some are even still on the books.

      • bman

        Interesting point TVD. It makes sense, analytically, also.

        I have not as yet, however, encountered a historical quotation from that era along that line.

    • Zoe Brain

      I am persuaded that Deism isn’t the only explanation for the non-Christian nature of the DOI and Constitution. It may not even be the main one. At least as strong is the religious doctrinal differences between the various sects all claiming to be the Real Christians(tm) and that all the others weren’t Christians at all, but False Religions.

      The March 1776 and December 1777 documents are strong evidence for that. I feel though that by the time of the treaty of Tripoli, the situation had changed, with specific and unanimous disavowal that the US was in any sense founded as a “Christian Nation”.

      I conjecture that many who signed on to that thought that it really should have been. Some that it should have been Catholic (ie Really Christian), others Presbyterian (ie unlike the False Religion of Rome), etc

      • Tom Van Dyke

        That’s about correct. However, the Treaty of Tripoli story is not a good account of the truth. There’s no record they considered the clause

        As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion</i.

        very seriously one way or the other.

        http://www.tektonics.org/qt/tripoli.html

        The clause is strictly accurate [some European governments with whom Islamic Tripoli was at war saw themselves as "Christian"], but binds the US no more than the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War, which begins

        “In the Name of the most holy and undivided Trinity”

        Anyone who uses either one as “proof” of anything real is looking for a cheap sophistic victory. See also

        http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/08/was-america-founded-as-christian-nation.html

      • Jon Rowe

        Zoe,

        That’s true. I think that William Livingston was probably a theological unitarian and I doubt he thought the Bible was inerrant. But he’s down to pin down from what I’ve read. He did think the Bible was inspired and considered himself a “Christian.” Yet, his politics were arguably secular (or pluralistic, non-sectarian, etc.) precisely because he didn’t think any individual or class of “Christians” had a right to define the faith. It’s how radical protestantism transforms into secularism. If each individual gets to determine how to understand the faith, the collective, and the government representing “the people” has to bug off in terms of what the faith means.

        “… true piety again has never been agreed upon by mankind, and I should not be willing that any human tribunal should settle its definition for me. ”

        – William Livingston TO THE REV. MR. JOHN MASON., 29th May, 1778.

      • bman

        ZB: “The March 1776 and December 1777 documents are strong evidence for that. I feel though that by the time of the treaty of Tripoli, the situation had changed, with specific and unanimous disavowal that the US was in any sense founded as a “Christian Nation”.

        —–

        Bill Fortenberry’s debate on the The Treaty of Tripoli explains why the clause you reference is not authentic.

  • Patrocles

    I’m quite prepared to admit that a lot of “founders” were some kind of deists and that it shows in their declarations. Also, we mustn’t expect all declarations to reflect one and the same worldview.

    My point is: You are absolutely wrong to think that this deism of the founders (or some founders) is a workable solution for any problem.

    First, deism is NOT all-inclusive. It’s simply an error of the 18th century to think that we can expect everyone to believe in God, but that we can’t expect everyone to believe in Christ. (In fact, for me it’s the other way round. I believe in Christ, and only therefore I am prepared to admit that there may perhaps exist something like a “father of Christ”.)

    Secondly, the founders’ peculiar brand of deism implied that their “god” governed the world, decided which side won a war etc. – worldly success and worldly victories showed that you were justified by “god” and showed you which way “god” wanted you to take in future (your “manifest destiny”). This “deification of history” (as Karl Popper has called it) was in fact a return to the pre-Christian tribal religions.

  • Teresa

    I am currently reading: Upon the Altar of the Nation – A Moral History of the Civil War by Harry S. Stout concerning Just War Theory

    150 years ago, the United States of America was embroiled ideologically with exactly the same theological issues that are apparently roiling some people today. The old tune: Is you is, or is you ain’t my baby comes to mind. What God, whose God, no mention of a specific God … well the South was aiming to fix that with their new Constitution.

    First, to build on what Tom Van Dyke has offered:

    In both sides’ refusal to paint the other with the apocalyptic degradation of Antichrist, we gain important clues into the unique nature of the Civil War. Two reasons stand out for the curious silence. First, and more obviously, every American Protestant knew the Antichrist was the pope. Yet with Catholics fighting on both sides for their separate causes, the pope could hardly be blamed thus providing no Antichrist. With Catholics no less loyal to their sides than Protestants and Jews, satanic plots were harder to discern. (Page 94)

    “Fast days” abounded on both sides in the first 1-1/2 of the War, each side trying to prove God was on their side: their God, their victory because it was their God. “Thanksgiving days” celebrated by each side when it surely proved God was on their side. Jeremiads spurred on the righteousness of each side’s belief.

    The South would correct The Constitution of the United State’s error:

    “Once again the Confederacy used the occasion of Davis’ inauguration and the formal establishment of government to underscore their superiority as the only truly Christian nation. In a letter to his father, Lieutenant Charles C. Jones Jr. described how the fast was observed in his company and then went on to drum the familiar refrain”:

    No God was ever acknowledged in the Constitution of the old United States. We have acknowledged the “the Almighty God” in our Constitution–the God of the Bible, the only living and true God–as our God; and we take Him as the God of our nation and worship Him, and put our nation under His care as such … And, moreover, under the old Constitution of the United States we never had a Christian President–never a man who in the Presidential chair openly professed the orthodox faith of the gospel and connected with that profession an open communion with the Lord at His table. (Page 97 with footnote 4).

    We tread the same ground, over and over, and act as if our path is new. Perhaps, a President who never really identified himself with a particular religion or faith belief, who seldom went to church, was onto something, after all:

    Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    • Tom Van Dyke

      Although Lincoln is quite obviously snarking on the slaveholding South.

      It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

      ;-P

  • Joe Winpisinger

    “For instance, his position on nullification and interposition is much more in line with the Confederate view than the American view.”

    This is horrible use of History. The abolitionists used nullification and interposition too when fighting the Fugitive Slave Laws. The DOI itself was on Interposition. The Confederacy used states rights to promoted bigoted ideas for sure. But it does not mean that the ideas themselves are wrong? What is wrong with Federalism?

  • Joe Winpisinger
  • Teresa

    Tom said:

    Although Lincoln is quite obviously snarking on the slaveholding South.

    It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

    Tom, I believe it an injustice to attribute to former President Lincoln, snarkiness, in his Second Inaugural Address. To observe what he held as a wrong, and yet to acknowledge that things are not so easily understood: seldom either/or, often both/and.

    What we attribute to others is often our own besetting weakness.

    • Tom Van Dyke

      “Wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces,” Teresa? I think that’s pretty damning. In fact when I see people citing the beauty of the end of the speech, the famous “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” I think they miss that part. Plus where Lincoln says, “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in,” where he means winning the war. Not until then can we

      “…bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

  • bman

    WT: “Institute on the Constitution: The American View or the Confederate View? …There is a God, the God of the Bible, Our rights come from Him, The purpose of civil government is to secure our God-given rights.”

    ——-

    Its the American View.

  • Patrocles

    Lincoln seems to have been cautious about some cruder kinds of war propaganda, like openly claiming god for one’s own party. From his point of view, it was sufficient to believe (and make believe) that one had to accept a prolongation of the war was god’s will – as a prolongation would probably lead to a Yankee victory.

    In spite of Lincoln’s perorations about god’s alleged will, most true Christians (Anabaptists, Quakers, Disciples of Christ and a lot of the newcoming “sects”) remained conscientous objectors, The most uncritical followers were the para-Christian Unitarians (cf.Louisa Alcotts “Little Women”).

  • Patrocles

    And that’s of course because an “imitatio Christi” will never allow warfaring. Whereas English “deism”, French belief in a “supreme being” and similar fashionable religions – in fact returns to the pre-Christian era – were open for all kinds of war theology.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X