You’ve probably seen it. Anyone who has spent time perusing the comment sections of online articles has seen the sparring matches between secularists and theocrats. Recent SCOTUS decisions have likely inspired such discussions, no doubt. Typically, the theocrat is left battered and bruised by the weight of history and facts, and yet, the theocrat still somehow leaves unconvinced…
…and claiming victory. (smh)
If one engages with a theocrat and takes the time to debunk enough of their claims, eventually, they will get into ambiguous territory like what was the “Real” intent of the founders. It was after one such discussion that I decided to do some research of my own into the official record.
WARNING: The following is low on opinion and high on the official record …with links galore.
Most Americans (I hope) know that there are three religious clauses in the Constitution, the ‘no religious test’ clause, and the ‘establishment’ and ‘free exercise’ clauses that comprise the First Amendment. So let’s dive right in and investigate the, ‘no religious test’ clause.
James Madison’s notes are the most comprehensive record that we have of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
August 6, after two months of debates, the report from the Committee of Detail delivered 23 articles to the convention, one of which is Article XX and it reads:
“The members of the Legislatures, and the Executive and Judicial officers of the United States, and of the several States, shall be bound by oath to support this Constitution.”
August 20, Mr. Charles Pinckney submits 12 proposals to the convention, included is the ‘no religious test’ clause, the proposals are referred to the Committee of Detail and doesn’t come back around until the 30th.
August 30, Article XX was taken up and “or affirmation” was added after “oath.” The following is directly from the text:
Mr. Pinkney moved to add to the art: -”but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the U. States”
Mr. Sherman thought it unnecessary, the prevailing liberality being a sufficient security agst. such tests.
Mr. Govr Morris & Genl. Pinkney approved the motion. The motion was agreed to nem: con: and then then whole Article; N. C. only no-& Md. divided
(nem: con: = Nemine contradicente, with no one dissenting; unanimously)
That’s it! Seriously! That was the extent of the discussion regarding the ‘no religious test’ clause, and not even a single delegate voted against it.
(“…the prevailing liberality…” I love it;)
Moving on to the Bill of Rights debates of the 1st Congress 1st Session as archived at the Library of Congress.
June 8, 1789, James Madison introduced his proposed amendments to the Constitution; however, they would not begin to debate them until July 21.
August 15, they begin to debate the fourth proposition, “no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.”
Mr. Sylvester had some doubts of the propriety of the mode of expression used in this paragraph. He apprehended that it was liable to a construction different from what had been made by committee. He feared it might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether.
Mr. Vining suggested the propriety of transposing the two members of the sentence.
Mr. Gerry said it would read better if it was, that no religious doctrine shall be established by law.
Mr. Sherman thought the amendment altogether unnecessary, inasmuch as Congress had no authority whatever delegated by them by the Constitution to make religious establishments; he would, therefore, move to have it struck out.
Mr. Carroll.- as the rights of conscience are, in their nature, of peculiar delicacy, and will little bear the gentlest touch of governmental hand; and as many sects have concurred in opinion that they are not well secured under the present constitution, he said he was much in favor of adopting the words. He thought it would tend more towards conciliating the minds of the people to the Government than almost any other amendment he had heard proposed. He would not contend with the gentlemen about the phraseology, his object was to secure the substance in such a manner as to satisfy the wishes of the honest part of the community.
Mr. Madison said, he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience. Whether the words are necessary or not, he did not mean to say, but they had been required by some State Conventions, who seemed to entertain an opinion that under the clause of the constitution, which gave power to Congress to make all laws necessary and proper to carry into execution the constitution, and the laws made under it, enabled them to make laws of such a nature as might infringe in the rights of conscience, and establish a national religion; to prevent these effects he presumed the amendment was intended, and he thought it as well expressed as the nature of the language would admit.
Mr. Huntington said that he feared, with the gentlemen first up on this subject, that the words might be taken in such latitude as to be extremely hurtful to the cause of religion. He understood the amendment to mean what had been expressed by the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Madison); but others might find it convenient to put another construction upon it. The ministers of their congregations to the Eastward were maintained by the contributions of those who belonged to their society; the expense of building meeting-houses was contributed in the same manner. These things were regulated by by-laws. If an action was brought before a Federal Court on any of these cases, the person who had neglected to perform his engagements could not be compelled to do it; for a support of ministers, or a building of places of worship might be construed into religious establishment. By the charter of Rhode Island, no religion could be established by law; he could give a history of the effects of such a regulation; indeed the people were now enjoying the blessed fruits of it. He hoped, therefore, the amendment would be made in such a way as to secure the rights of conscience, and a free exercise of the rights of religion, but not to patronize those who professed no religion at all.
(I would like to interject some additional information for context and a dash of personal opinion. When Mr. Huntington says, “By the charter of Rhode Island, no religion could be established by law; he could give a history of the effects of such a regulation; indeed the people were now enjoying the blessed fruits of it.” This statement is actually a sarcastic dig at no religious establishment. At the time, Rhode Island was often referred to as ‘Rogues Island’ because the state was used as a haven by smugglers and other nefarious characters; also, the merchants of Rhode Island were major players in the slave trade. I did find it humorous that Mr. Huntington goes on to say that he wished to secure those rights, ”but not to patronize those who professed no religion at all” after having just patronized the hell out of them; for some reason that seemed familiar.)
(This is pure speculation on my part, but I envision a very subtle eye roll before Mr. Madison begins.)
Mr. Madison thought if the word national was inserted before religion, it would satisfy the minds of the honorable gentlemen. He believed that the people feared one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform. He thought if the word national was introduced, it would point the amendment directly to the object it was intended to prevent.
Mr. Livermore was not satisfied with that amendment; but he did not wish them to dwell long on the subject. He thought it would be better if it was altered, and made to read in this manner, that Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience.
Mr. Gerry did not like the term national, proposed by the gentleman from Virginia, and he hoped it would not be adopted by the House. It brought to his mind some observations that had taken place in the conventions at the time they were considering the present Constitution. It had been insisted upon by those who were called antifederalists, that this form of Government consolidated the Union; the honorable gentleman’s motion shows that he considers it in the same light. Those who were called antifederalists at that time complained that they had injustice done them by the title, because they were in favor of a Federal Government, and the others were in favor of a national one; the federalists were for ratifying the constitution as it stood, and the others not until amendments were made. Their names then ought not to have been distinguished by federalists and antifederalists, but rats and antirats.
Mr. Madison withdrew his motion, but observed that the words, “no national religion shall be established by law,” did not imply that the government was a national one.
The question was then taken on Mr. Livermore’s motion, and passed in the affirmative 31-20.
August 17, the committee then proceeded to the fifth proposition: “no State shall infringe the equal rights of conscience, nor the freedom of speech or of the press, nor of the right of trial by jury in criminal cases.”
Mr. Tucker. – This is offered, I presume, as an amendment to the constitution of the United States, but it goes only to the alteration of the constitutions of particular States. It will be much better, I apprehend, to leave the State Governments to themselves, and not to interfere with them more than we already do; and that is thought by many to be rather too much. I therefore move, sir, to strike out these words.
Mr. Madison conceived this to be the most valuable amendment in the whole list. If there was any reason to restrain the Government of the United States from infringing upon these essential rights, it was equally necessary that they should be secured against the State Governments. He thought that if they provided against the one, it was as necessary to provide against the other, and was satisfied that it would be equally grateful to the people.
Mr. Livermore had no great objection to the sentiment, but he thought it not well expressed. He wished to make it an affirmative proposition; “the equal rights of conscience, the freedom of speech or of the press and the right of trial by jury in criminal cases, shall not be infringed by any State.”
This transposition being agreed to, and Mr. Tucker’s motion being rejected, the clause was adopted.
August 20, on motion of Mr. Ames, the fourth amendment was altered to read, “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience,” this being adopted.
August 24, the proposed amendments are referred to the Senate. It’s interesting to note that on the 23rd, Mr. Tucker proposed an amendment to the ‘no religious test’ clause by inserting the word ‘other’ between the words ‘no’ and ‘religious’ It passed in the negative (i.e. it failed)
Now, on to the Senate; unfortunately, there is no record of the Senate debate because the Senate met in secret at the time and did not open its doors to the public until 1795, however, it did keep a journal of all the motions.
August 25, the Senate receives the proposed amendments from the House of Representatives and on motion to postpone the consideration of the articles to the next session of Congress. It passed in the negative.
Ordered, That Monday next be assigned to take them under consideration.
Art. III. “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed.”
Art. IV. “The freedom of speech, and of the press, and the right of the people to peaceably assemble and consult for their common good, and to apply to the government for redress of grievances, shall not be infringed.”
These two articles will eventually be merged and become the First Amendment.
September 3, the Senate begins debating Art. III.
On motion to amend article third, and to strike out these words: ‘religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ and insert ‘one religious sect or society in preference to others:’
It passed in the negative.
On motion for reconsideration:
It passed in the affirmative.
On motion that article the third be stricken out:
It passed in the negative.
On motion to adopt the following, in lieu of the third article: ‘Congress shall not make any law infringing the rights of conscience, or establishing any religious sect or society:’
It passed in the negative.
On motion to amend the third article, to read thus: ‘Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed:’
It passed in the negative.
On the question upon the third article as it came from the House of Representatives:
It passed in the negative.
On motion to adopt the third article proposed in the resolve of the House of Representatives, amended by striking out these words, ‘nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed:’
It passed in the affirmative.
September 4, the fourth article is amended to read as follows, “That Congress shall make no law, abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and consult for their common good, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances:” It passed in the affirmative.
September 7, on motion to add the following to the proposed amendments to wit, “That the third section of the sixth article of the constitution of the United States, ought to be amended, by inserting the word ‘other’ between the words ‘no’ and ‘religious’. It passed in the negative.
September 9, on motion to amend article the third, to read as follows: “Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and petition to the government for the redress of grievances:”
It passed in the affirmative. (Articles III and IV, have now merged)
The Senate finished with the amendments and sent it back to the House of Representatives.
September 21, the House then resumed the consideration of the amendments proposed by the Senate to the several articles of the amendments to the Constitution of the United States; some of which they agreed to, and disagreed to others, two-thirds of the members present concurring in each vote; whereupon, a Committee of Conference was desired with the Senate, on the subject matter of the amendments disagreed to; and Madison, Sherman, and Vining were appointed managers on the part of the House. The Senate receives the message from the House of Representatives and due concur in a conference on the subject matter of disagreement on the said articles of amendment, and that Ellsworth, Carroll, and Paterson, be managers of the conference on the part of the Senate.
September 23, the House of Representatives proceeded to consider the report of a Committee of Conference, on the subject matter of the amendments depending between the two Houses to the several articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as proposed by this House: whereupon, it was resolved, that they recede from their disagreement to all the amendments: provided that the two articles, which, by the amendments of the Senate, are now proposed to be inserted as the third and eighth articles, shall be amended as follows:
Art. 3. Congress shall make no law, respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
On the question that the House agree to the alteration, in the manner aforesaid, the yeas and nays were called, and are as follow: 37-14.
On motion, it was resolved, that the President of the United States be requested to transmit to the Executives of the several States which have ratified the Constitution, ‘copies of the amendments proposed by Congress, to be added thereto, and like copies to the Executives of the States of Rhode Island and North Carolina.
The Senate received a message from the House informing the Senate, that the House of Representatives had receded from their disagreement to the amendments, insisted on by the Senate: provided that the “two articles, which, by the amendments of the Senate, are now proposed to be inserted as the third and eighth articles,” shall be amended as followeth: …
September 25, Resolved. That the Senate do concur in the amendments proposed by the House of Representatives to the amendments of the Senate.
Well, there you have it, the transcript of the official record while the religious clauses had the floor. I hope everyone enjoyed this little stroll through history and I will end this piece with one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Jefferson. This is an excerpt from the final letter Mr. Jefferson wrote before his death, declining invitation to the Washington D.C. 4th of July celebration of the 50th anniversary of American Independence, dated June 24, 1826:
“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
It’s a shame that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were not at the convention. IMHO, they would have contributed greatly and it’s likely that a Bill of Rights would have been included from the get go. If I had to choose one over the other then I would rather Jefferson attend (provided that James Madison wouldn’t get bumped); and Adams would likely agree. For justification, click link to John Adams letter to Timothy Pickering of August 6, 1822. That second paragraph is great.
Here are just a few quotes (there are scads more) I’ve compiled from Jefferson’s letters that very clearly spells out his opinion regarding religion (If you have an interest read the letters for greater detail.)
“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and in-grafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”
~~ Letter to Jeremiah Moore, August 14, 1800
“…a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State; that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man, has been adulterated and sophisticated by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves; that rational men not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue and cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do in fact constitute the real Anti-Christ.”
~~Letter to Samuel Kercheval, January 19, 1810
“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”
~~Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813
“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them, and to effect this, they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purposes.”
~~Letter to Horatio G Spafford, March 17, 1814
“Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man.”
~~Letter to William Short, April 13, 1820
“No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel.”
~~Letter to Timothy Pickering, February 27, 1821
“The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man… But compare with these the demoralizing doctrines of Calvin:
1. That there are three Gods.
2. That good works, or the love of our neighbor, is nothing.
3. That faith is everything, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit the faith.
4. That reason in religion is of unlawful use.
5. That God from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.”
~~Letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, June 26, 1822
***This letter alone is fairly conclusive***
“The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.”
~~Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
My apologies for the delay, monica, and thank you for your patience. The evils visited upon the Indians and slaves should never be forgotten so that such vile bigotry and persecution will never be repeated. So, I agree with most of what you wrote, but I do have a small issue with the accidental secularism part.
It seems that you don’t want the founders to have any credit at all for creating the first ever secular constitution because it was an accident. There have been many great accidental discoveries that have been a boon to thought, science, etc. that have benefited humanity. Should Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson return their Nobel Prizes for their accidental discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which helped establish the Big Bang Theory? Should Alexander Fleming be stripped of his Nobel Prize for his discovery of penicillin because it was accidental?
“When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer, but I suppose that was exactly what I did.” (Everyone’s a comic:)
And I could be wrong because I often am, but you also seem to give no credence to the idea that the delegates may have had their opinions swayed over the course of months of discussions both in and out of convention and at the various inns and taverns of Philly. They may not have shown up expecting to create a secular government, but there were a number of great speeches during the convention pointing to history and calling out religion for its abuses; and Charles Pinckney certainly possessed enough foresight to propose the ‘no religious test’ clause that was unanimously approved. The Committee of Detail, comprised of the first Attorney General, three Supreme Court Justices and… Gorham… drafted no religious language into the preamble as had been the previous custom. I don’t think that happened by accident. Here’s one speech by Madison from the convention that I like that references the potential dangers of religion and also because it touches many other bases as well. This is an excerpt of his “tyranny of the majority” speech from June 6, 1787.
“All civilized Societies would be divided into different Sects, Factions, & interests, as they happened to consist of rich & poor, debtors & creditors, the landed, the manufacturing, the commercial interests, the inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious Sect or that religious Sect. In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger. What motives are to restrain them? A prudent regard to the maxim that honesty is the best policy is found by experience to be as little regarded by bodies of men as by individuals. Respect for character is always diminished in proportion to the number among whom the blame or praise is to be divided. Conscience, the only remaining tie, is known to be inadequate in individuals: In large numbers, little is to be expected from it. Besides, Religion itself may become a motive to persecution & oppression. -These observations are verified by the Histories of every Country antient & modern. In Greece & Rome the rich & poor, the creditors & debtors, as well as the patricians & plebians alternately oppressed each other with equal unmercifulness. What a source of oppression was the relation between the parent cities of Rome, Athens & Carthage, & their respective provinces: the former possessing the power, & the latter being sufficiently distinguished to be separate objects of it? Why was America so justly apprehensive of Parliamentary injustice? Because G. Britain had a separate interest real or supposed, & if her authority had been admitted, could have pursued that interest at our expence. We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man. What has been the source of those unjust laws complained of among ourselves? Has it not been the real or supposed interest of the major number? Debtors have defrauded their creditors. The landed interest has borne hard on the mercantile interest. The Holders of one species of property have thrown a disproportion of taxes on the holders of another species. The lesson we are to draw from the whole is that where a majority are united by a common sentiment, and have an opportunity, the rights of the minor party become insecure.”
(“We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time” I bet Kilgore would get a kick out of that bit.)
I also have a problem accepting that secularism was an accident because just two years earlier in Virginia, James Madison penned “A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” in opposition to Patrick Henry’s “Bill establishing a provision for the teachers of the Christian religion.” Madison’s written objection was only one of about eighty different petitions that garnered almost 11,000 signatures that opposed the “teachers of the Christian religion” bill. After Henry’s bill was defeated Madison struck while the iron was still hot and pushed thru Jefferson’s “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” that had been sitting before the Virginia General Assembly since 1779 and finally enacted January 16, 1786. Here’s my favorite part of Jefferson’s VSRF.
“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 endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time”
So, except for the accidental part, I think we are of like mind.
Freedom OF is freedom FOR and freedom FROM.
You see, the Founders and Framers understood that Freedom OF Religion applies to both the practice of religion and the decision not to practice. It is as much freedom FROM religion as it is freedom FOR religion. Why “from”…because like other institutions in the British Empire churches were instruments of regulation and oppression. The Established CHurch, Anglican, and associated colony specific churches, had many priveleges and for that reason tended to endorse the status quo.
And while Christianity was THE Dominant religion in the United States in 1776, and 1789, it came in such variety with differences so profound that protection from excesses by one over others was deemed a necessity. Framers also addressed concerns related to Jews, Deists and Rationalists (i.e. Atheists).
Of the 55 delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 49 were Protestant, two were Roman Catholics. That is 51.
Among the Protestant delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Anglican/Episcopalian, 8 were Presbyterians, 7 were Congregationalists, 2 were Lutherans, 2 were Dutch Reformed, two were Methodists. Two of their number were “unaffiliated” which might mean they were deists. There were two Jews.
The leading Founders (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington) have been shown to be supporters of a hybrid “theistic rationalism”. However church attendance and support of a church were the norm to which the Founders held as proper form within society.
Throughout the writings of many of the Founding and Framing generation one finds references to the “god of nature, of reason, of providence”…this was the language of the Enlightenment, from which the Founders’ intellectual tradition sprang. It provided common ground, apart from any particular tradition, which was often divisive, to consider the nature and role of the deity. For Jefferson, for example, the deity was best understood as Hagia Sophia…Holy Wisdom.
For Franklin, the idea of the Divine Clockmaker was attractive- building the mechanism, winding it up, setting it down, and then walking aware. Both men were formally Anglican/Episcopalian….but their writings show that they were not bound by the Church of England’s creed (as was Geroge Wythe of Va. for example).
The Declaration of Independence speaks of “the Creator” of “Providence” and “nature’s God.” NOTE: No God the Father, Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus, or Holy Spirit. In the Constitution: The reference to the deity is found in one place, the date. Anno Domini.
I agree that non-belief was rare and largely hidden in their society but the principle of belief or non belief is certainly clear in the Bill of Rights and in their writing. Recall that adherence to the creed of one denomination over another had divided the colonies, and divided the colonists from the British government.
The Enlightenment provided the philosophical foundation for the Revolution, and for the Founders and Framers. And the root of that philosophy was free inquiry and open mindedness. Further the government was deeply rooted in a secular authority not a religious one…the social contract.
Thank you for your comment, Murph. You can always be counted on to interject relevant and interesting information.
Who are the four non-Protestant, non-Catholic delegates? Is Madison one of the four or is he listed among the Protestants?
Did you give the article a 9 and ruin my Bo Derek? C’mon don’t be the East German judge. Just kidding, Murph, I couldn’t resist. 🙂
The info is from Frank Lambert. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. (Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 2003).
The 4 include Thomas Paine who was an espoused deist with no church affiliation. Madison was loosely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church but was also a devotee of deism. I don’t know the other names.
Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Wilson, Morris, Madison, Hamilton, and Washington have been called theistic rationalists.
As to your perfect 10- all judges votes are secret and kept in a number 10 jar of Helman’s Mao on Funk and Wagnall’s porch.
How can Thomas Paine be one of the 4 when he was never a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention?
No animosity intended, just comedy.
So I see. Right you are. Good catch.
I went back to the source (Lambert) and see that he was quoting Paine in relationship to both Founders and Framers. The paragraph remains confusing to me. This is difficult to track down. I suspect that this is in no small part the result of the separation of public association with established churches and private belief.
Sidenotes: I ran through the list and recalled that two surprising folks were not there.
Jefferson was not a delegate…since he was serving as Minister to France.
John Adams was also not there….minister to England and to the Netherlands.
Jefferson was a member of the Episcopal Church and a leader of his local congregation, yet his private beliefs are hardly traditional- as that church doctrine represents.
Jefferson’s belief system is laid out in “The Jefferson Bible”, or “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” as it is formally titled. It was constructed by Jefferson in the latter years by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus “cleansed” (he said) of myth. Jefferson’s condensed composition excludes all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels which contain the Resurrection.
I suspect he was typical of many of his generation of leaders.
Posted a reply for you at the top of the thread. I included some Jefferson quotes from his letters with links. I recommend that if you only use one of the Jefferson links provided, make it the second last one.
Saw the quotes from Jefferson….
Know most of them. They reflect the complexity of his thinking. I keep imagining him at vestry meetings for his High Episcopal Church – clearly not believing most of the doctrine, and discounting a good bit of the creed…and yet a part of, indeed a leader of a traditionalist Christian church.
Ever seen the Jefferson Bible, Murph?
I have a copy of it. Available at http://www.amazon.com
Did you see the special from the Smithsonian on restoring it? I think you can watch it on the following link. It is very, very interesting. Can you imagine being the one to touch it and take it apart and put it back together? Amazing to literally touch history, Murph!
BTW….I REALLY appreciate having someone of your caliber at the Planet to chat on this topic….you bring real scholarship, integrity and balance to the discussion. Thank you.
Aw-shucks, Murph, your very kind words are greatly appreciated. Thank You!
Great article and research into a pivotal point in this country’s history. I can’t imagine any of our current crop of politicians being able to work on such a tough issue with such integrity. Of course, they were united in trying to give birth to a new country and government, whereas today’s group is more interested in how they can improve their own (or their handlers) profit margins.
Zeke, Thanks for your work, I enjoyed the information.
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it, NWGuy.
If our current crop of politicians were our politicians back then…
Zeke left you a very long comment…want to be sure you see it…..It is near the top of the page.
Zeke, this is really a treasure. There’s nothing in the world like primary sources for history — even though, as you say, there are sometimes eye-glazing sections of tedium. When you finally do find the oyster with the lovely pearl in it, it makes all the eyestrain worth it, no?
Contrary to what you say, you really are a fine writer and a fine thinker. It’s hard to believe that being a historian is not your day job, but I gather it’s not.
The thing that amazes me is how well the Founders managed to negotiate that narrow little pathway between slipshod, rushed debate just to get something — anything– down on paper, and endless mincing of fine point after fine point to the place where it all just bogs down in the quicksand of endless minutiae. I mean, these
debates could have gone on until — well, they could STILL be going on. But at some point rational heads prevailed and they said — in effect — okay we have to compromise and hammer out some sort of workable language and move on. We have work to do, and we can’t afford to dither or endlessly bicker.
Whatever happened to that head?
Anyway, it’s pretty obvious that the Founders never did intend this to be a Christian theocracy. And the more you read, the more you realize how serious they were about that. It seemed that one of their main concerns was that it might be atheists who would be the ones to be persecuted. They certainly didn’t express the hysterical paranoia that some modern day “Christians” do about jack-booted federal thugs bursting into their (luxurious) houses of worship to haul them off to FEMA camps. Well,there probably weren’t FEMA camps back then, but you know what I mean. 😉
I do hope that you’ll keep on writing for the Planet. It’s just such a delight to read the wonderful posts that you and other members have contributed — even in just the past few weeks. You help to make the Planet the unique and fascinating place that it is!
Thank you very much for your kind words, kesmarn.
It’s true, I’m not a historian. I guess I’m just a bit of a history nerd, and the pearls are definitely worth the glazed eyes. It was, however, near infuriating misrepresentations and out and out lies about the founders by online theocratic trolls that inspired me to do this research. Maybe they are good for something. Wait, I take that back, no they’re not.:)
Compromise… seems to be a lost art form these days, don’t it?
Zeke, the framers were way ahead of their time. Even though they did a fine job, things change and some of what they put in the Constitution seems to be applied literally by the Tea Party folks. Some is misinterpreted by some folks, too. Because of the “well armed militia” , the TP think it’s okay for anyone to have powerful weapons with multiple ammo clips. I doubt the framers envisioned that.
Also I doubt they envisioned the Congress locking up and doing absolutely nothing.
As the esteemed Kilgore has recently observed, the founders were products of The Enlightenment. These men were advocates of utilizing reason, logic, and common sense. Therefore, it’s relatively easy for me to conclude that most of the founders would approve of common sense legislation regarding background checks and such, just as most of Americans, as well as the majority of gun owners. Even the way off the deep end gun nuts don’t mind infringing the gun rights of people convicted of a felony, or diagnosed schizophrenics… or Obama (because most [all?] of the off the deep end gun nuts are Republican, right?:) Or am I stereotyping?
I would like to relay an anecdote from the 1787 Constitutional Convention regarding the “well regulated militia.” This doesn’t really pertain to your comment, it’s just a humorous anecdote that I think you will enjoy. Unfortunately, the following does not appear in Madison’s notes and is relayed to us through oral tradition, so have the asterisk cued. Elbridge Gerry was an advocate of a well regulated militia and a strident opponent of a standing army. Mr. Gerry had quipped, “a standing army is like a standing member: an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility; but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.” He would go on to propose that the army should not exceed 3000 troops, and George Washington said in a stage whisper, “then the Constitution should include a rule that invading forces must be limited to the same number.” And that would have been the first words Mr. Washington spoke while in session since he had been elected president of the convention more than two months previous.
There is no evidence that this exchange occurred, but I REALLY hope it did, solely for its comedic value.
Excellent article Zeke,
I have read over and over through my lifetime the debates and the opinions on the debates of the framers of the constitution. I still to this day wonder why they were not more forceful in their rejection of organized religion in this land. After escaping religious persecution in Europe, many who came to this nation began committing the same practices they were escaping from.
The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.
Persecution in America
Although they were victims of religious persecution in Europe, the Puritans supported the Old World theory that sanctioned it, the need for uniformity of religion in the state. Once in control in New England, they sought to break “the very neck of Schism and vile opinions.” The “business” of the first settlers, a Puritan minister recalled in 1681, “was not Toleration, but [they] were professed enemies of it.” Puritans expelled dissenters from their colonies, a fate that in 1636 befell Roger Williams and in 1638 Anne Hutchinson, America’s first major female religious leader. Those who defied the Puritans by persistently returning to their jurisdictions risked capital punishment, a penalty imposed on four Quakers between 1659 and 1661. Reflecting on the seventeenth century’s intolerance, Thomas Jefferson was unwilling to concede to Virginians any moral superiority to the Puritans. Beginning in 1659 Virginia enacted anti-Quaker laws, including the death penalty for refractory Quakers. Jefferson surmised that “if no capital execution took place here, as did in New England, it was not owing to the moderation of the church, or the spirit of the legislature.”
All of the debate, all of the anguish over trying to get it right, was as everything else the framers of the constitution believed in, the only problem is the framers were only thinking of themselves and other wealthy land owners when they were toiling over these concepts.
As Christians, they were, as they were having these debates committing all sorts of atrocities.
“The degrading experience of Residing in Caucasian Countries, that Europeans founded on your ancestral lands, which they appropriated by brute force for themselves, where the existence of your Race is considered of no value”
“The people of our Frontier carry on private expeditions against the Indians, and kill them whenever they meet them. And I do not believe there is a jury in all of Kentucky who would punish a man for it.” – John H. – Major, U.S .Army
“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians. I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s Heaven to kill them.” – Colonel John Chivington
From 1492 to the late 1900s, throughout the Americas, the killing and raping and robbing of American Indians by Caucasians did not result in very much, or any, negative consequences for the perpetrators. The reason why such barbarous injustice prevailed for the better part of five centuries is laid bare by the Caucasian mindset described in the next two paragraphs.
This statement, “No state can achieve proper culture, civilization, and progress … as long as Indians are permitted to remain.” although articulated by U.S. President Martin Van Buren in 1837 it lays bare the predominate White supremacist genocidal mentality that the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have had to contend with since Columbus landed in 1492.
In April 1850, the California legislature passed a law that stated “In no case shall a white man be convicted of any offense upon the testimony of an Indian ” Thus, if any case was brought to trial any white men who raped, killed, enslaved Indians or illegally took their lands, they were not found guilty simply because no Indian would or could testify”. In this case it was a written law, but, realistically, across the Americas, the same law prevailed, albeit, mostly unwritten.
Slavery, slaughter of Native Americans by so called Christians, and the list goes on an on.
Sorry, but I can’t agree with you on the accolades you seem to think these people deserve. 🙁
Hello and thanks, monicaangela, I know that this is the first we’ve talked, but I’m glad that you took the time to comment. Having read a number of your posts in the past, I knew that you would bring a wealth of history to the discussion, as you usually do. I am well aware of the sordid and checkered history of the US, and I give no sanction to it. But, I do think that the delegates deserve some credit for creating the first secular constitution in human history. It certainly doesn’t excuse the evils of past atrocities but, in my humble opinion, the Constitution has ultimately been beneficial to human rights, at least in the modern times anyway.
…but yes, it does suck having those atrocities in American history as well as human history. Hopefully the future will be much, much, brighter.
It is good to exchange ideas with you Zeke. I hope you realize that my comment in no way was intended to criticize what you wrote.
The reason I wrote my comment is of course because I don’t believe in missing an opportunity to bring both sides of any issue into the equation.
The framers with “good intentions” in the eyes of some, have to be called out for what their intentions were concerning other human beings who were also living in this nation at the time, they had their own beliefs and their own religions, separation of church and state did not extend to them, we always have to remind the reader of this IMHO.
This in my opinion can never be ignored. Accidental, maybe that is a better way of putting it, they accidentally came up with an idea but they were not trying to create a secular constitution. Not a single person who signed the Constitution — not one — intended to create a “secular” document, meaning a document which gave the federal government the power to secularize our legal system and government.
I believe the framers of the constitution were at the time attempting to stop some of the violence that religion causes when people decide to worship in a way that is not exactly the same way the majority in a given area might worship. They, I believe had had enough of the violence, bloodshed and control of religious factions over government and the people. They experienced this in their homeland before they migrated to America, and attempted to, for themselves, white wealthy land owners, the opportunity to unite, to escape the binds of religion thereby allowing the powerful and the wealthy to be able to organize without having to squabble over differences in their religious beliefs.
Please don’t think I have taken any offense from your comments, because I haven’t. I’m still considering your comment and contemplating my response. I have some family plans today and I will respond tomorrow. It might be a longer post and since we’re getting into skinny thread territory, keep an eye out for a comment from me at the top, beginning @you. I hope that this doesn’t come off as sounding short, as that is not my intention, I’m just in a bit of a hurry. TTYL, Cheers.
First of all, welcome to The Planet, zeke.
Thank you for all the great links in one place about a subject I have always been interested in, but have been too often distracted from learning about in detail.
The graphic at the top is great and for someone like me who yearns to be a part of bygone times, I can imagine myself there lurking in the shadows listening to the wonderful conversations they must have had.
Thanks again, now I must find my big studying hat with the huge “S” on and do some reading.
Thank you very much, Kalima.
It can be very interesting, but there can also be large sections of boring. Do lots of skimming looking for key words or phrases. One thing that I noticed when reading Madison’s notes of the 1787 convention is how concerned the delegates were of creating either a monarchy or an aristocracy, and that by preventing one they might ensure the other. Patrick Henry even declined (thankfully) his invitation to the convention because he, “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.” They may have prevented a monarchy, but an aristocracy… maybe not so much.
I’m glad you like the painting, but you might have had a hard time lurking in the shadows while wearing a corset.=^P
Thanks for the skimming advice, but I’m prepared to have a go after you went to all that trouble to do this research.
The reason I don’t know as much as I should is because I’m European, and we only touched briefly on it in school. So thanks again.
About those corsets, maybe I was a bit hasty, never did like wearing anything that would make me feel like a sausage. 😉
You’re very welcome, Kalima
…and MMMM sausage.:)
A peaceful day to you, and a goodnight from me.
Zeke, couldn’t be a more timely article about how cautious and mindful the Framers were when it came to the separation of church and state. That wall had to be strong, secure and complete and despite the lapses that have and continue to occur, it was quite brilliant and far-sighted.
Now if we can only get a new majority on the SCOTUS that understands history and the context of the 1st Amendment (The Framers didn’t want another religious entity oppressing their freedoms after breaking away from King George III) and views the 1st Amendment as a “Stop” sign instead of a “Yield” sign, we can get back to being the nation we’re supposed to be.
Thank you kindly, Adlib.
I spent about five months doing the research in my spare time. With the pertinent information so spread out in the record of the Bill of Rights debates, posed quite a challenge. I had the research part done, but I was unsure of how I wanted to open and close the article, as I am not the best writer. I decided that I wasn’t going to rush it, figuring that it would come to me eventually and worse come to worst I could try to submit this in time for ‘Constitution Day’ on September 17; however, SCOTUS’s gang of five provided the needed inspiration. I knew recent rulings would inspire typical theocratic misrepresentations of history and I wanted to ensure that this information was more readily available. I wish I could say that I hope this helps even one person, but I would much prefer that every theocrat receive a copy of this article and it inspires them to read the record for themselves, even if it’s only out of a desire to prove me wrong.
I’m still irritated that the five could just openly and blatantly ignore the science in the Hobby Lobby case.
Thank you gentle friend Zeke.
“History is an unfortunate record of the present.”
A Future of the Brave
Thanks, gentle friend ST.
Appropriate words from you that are unfortunately true, as much of society seems to have such a difficult time learning from history. Thankfully most of our founders had no such problem.
Zeke, thank you for your post. I found it very informative. Our founding fathers didn’t do it all in one night, one week, one month, or one year. And, they intended it to live with history and make its own going forward.
Thank you again for sharing.
Thank you, Sally. You are absolutely right, it didn’t happen overnight. If you look at the progression from Declaration of Independence, to the Articles of Confederation, to the Constitution you see less and less religious language. Many people don’t realize that religious disestablishment was a process that went on for decades, and indeed, is still ongoing today.
Zeke, Well done! A combination of KT’s post and yours is very informative.
I really like opinions but facts are even better.
Thanks, I’ll reread it and may have to refer to it often.
Thank you, Nirek.
If you have an interest in this era, I would encourage you to read some of the record for yourself. You can find a number of other interesting and sometimes humorous items. Just be aware that, if you’re anything like me, large chunks of political legalese WILL make your eyes glaze over and raise the question “what the hell did I just read?”
Excellent Zeke! Very interesting and informative, to see records of the actual construction of our first amendment and the very wise and careful deliberations that went into it.
Why can’t we have such thinkers AND writers today?
Thank you very much, KT.
You pose a good question, one that I don’t have a good answer for because I am neither a good thinker or writer, but my glib answer would be television.
As I’m aware of some of you past articles, I think you would enjoy reading some of the record for yourself. I would occasionally come across something that would make me chuckle. For instance, when they were debating the phrase “but no persons religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms” a phrase cut from the 2nd amendment, after Mr Gerry expressed his concern about the wording, Mr Jackson states “(I) do not expect that all the people of the United States would turn Quaker or Moravians;”
But then again, I have a quirky sense of humor.
Ha! I guess I’m not a good reader either by mistaking “can’t” for “don’t”