- Society Members
- Newsletter No.XXVIII
- Annual Meeting Papers 2012
- Annual Meeting Papers 2011
- Annual Meeting Papers 2010
- Annual Meeting Papers 2009
- Annual Meeting Papers 2008
- Annual Meeting Papers 2007
- Annual Meeting Papers 2006
- Annual Meeting Papers 2005
- Annual Meeting Papers 2004
- Annual Meeting Papers 2003
- Annual Meeting Papers 2002
- Annual Meeting Papers 2001
- Annual Meeting Papers 2000
- Annual Meeting Papers since 1985
Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2007
WAS IT ENLIGHTENED OR
PROTESTANT? DOES IT MATTER?
Copyright 2007 Barry
One of the central questions of
continuing interest to students of the American founding concerns the nature
of the ideas and values that guided Americans into and out of their war of
independence. Most political
scientists contend that what was and "remains
Although republicanism enjoyed great influence among American
historians for much of the last three decades, recently it has greatly waned
debate regarding the nature of moral and political thought during the American
Founding has become a binary one, with the traditionalist defenders of an
Enlightened America on one side and those who give pride of place to
Protestantism on the other. Of
course, there is much to be found in the historical record that can offer
encouragement to both sides, but what is most surprising, given its limited
public visibility, is how powerful the evidence is supporting the Protestant
(and British) reading of American foundational political culture.
Yet, in spite of the comparative strength of the evidence marshaled
by its defenders and its timely utility in explaining important differences
between the cultural norms of much of Continental Western Europe and America,
this perspective has heretofore been largely relegated to the margins of the
But if the evidence for a British-inspired Protestant America even
comes close to approaching the power of that offered by those who argue for
an Enlightened universalist America, then how can one explain the disparity in
the national recognition that each perspective enjoys?
But, however one views such concerns, shouldn't one ask, "why be
concerned with such antiquarian interests?"
These are, in truth, questions worth asking and answering.
And, in response, I would like to: examine in brief the strengths of
these competing ways of viewing America's foundational political culture and,
in particular, consider evidence of America having been effectively founded as
a British Protestant nation; consider whether the most important personal
right, that of religion conscience, was in spirit Enlightened or Protestant;
examine the enduring importance in America of the Christian dogma of original
sin; then, pause to look at patterns of elite thought.
Finally, I will consider why the Protestant-inclined historiography has
not enjoyed comparable standing to that of secular accounts, and conclude by
briefly highlighting the continuing importance of getting this history right.
Protestantism vs. Enlightenment Influences
In comparing the influence of the Enlightenment and Protestant minds on
late eighteenth-century Americans, one must begin by recognizing that even
among the most highly respected historians, there is little debate as to which
of these, in a general sense, was dominant.
Thus, we find the
preeminent historian of the Enlightenment in
Yet, those whom we ordinarily view as cosmopolitan "founders"
held to political and social commitments, even if not religiously orthodox
in any simple sense,
that stood a sizable distance from the leading lights of the
British and French Enlightenments, and their emerging world of rationalism
in law and politics. In support of
this contention, let me ask you to consider a brief comparison of salient
Enlightenment and American political and social commitments to gauge whether
the positions endorsed by various Enlightenment authors correspond with
those held by those "founders" most visible on the national and
international stage. And although
there are many areas we might examine in outline, let me suggest three broad
categories that almost all will recognize as important areas of social and
political thought: constitutional and legal design; the centrality of
religion; and progressive perspectives on commercial life.
Of course, such a comparison must, at best, be cursory, but still if
the findings fit poorly with popular notions of an Enlightened
Let us begin. Concerning
essential constitutional design and legal norms, most leading Enlightenment
thinkers embraced unicameralism and deductively designed civil legal codes
(beginning in 1794 with that of
On still more strictly religious issues, the differences between the
leading lights of
Next, consider that in
Rather, what one finds in Revolutionary-era America, even among
those we would today view as leading political figures, are political,
religious, legal, and economic views that one would expect to find among a
British Protestant people who wished to be guided not by the stark reason of
the late Enlightenment, but by Revelation or inner illumination.
Nor is this surprising for they were not Christians in name only in
that "the majority of inhabitants continued to go to church . . . [and]
the preaching colonists heard most of the time -- remained consistently
12 Such differences,
then, should be expected because Americans were not searching for a perfected
society created by the hand of man, as counseled by late Enlightenment
political and legal authors, but rather they continued to look for the
intercession of Christ and the Holy Spirit in their private and public lives,
for only through God's intercession could man become freed from sin -- above
all his disfiguring selfishness, lusts and passions.
Importantly, such distinctly different aspirations -- contrary to the
claims of those who would relegate Christianity to the sidelines of American
life -- are readily discoverable not only in the sermons of the pastors and
the private confessions of common folk, but as well in the legal codes and
social practices publicly articulated by the cosmopolitan elite.
For example, to the dismay of European Enlightened authors, only one of
the thirteen states,
And, looking back only a few years from those surrounding the creation
of a new American federal government, to the time of the Revolution, the
situation we find was even less in accord with the Enlightenment standards
regularly attributed to late-colonial Americans.
During the era of the War for
More in keeping with the historical record, careful students of the
period like James Hutson find that during the War for Independence the new
elites, such as the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thompson, "retired
from public life to translate the Scriptures from Greek to English" and
that the famous pamphleteer, John Dickinson, "also retired from public
life to devote himself to religious scholarship."
Much the same was true of three of the Congress's presidents: Elias
Boudinot, Henry Laurens, and John Jay.
And under their
leadership, one should not be surprised to learn that thirteen times Congress
unapologetically, via proclamations for days of fasting and humiliation,
sought on behalf of the young nation the intervention of Jesus Christ and the
Holy Ghost. Indeed, the
Continental Congress on 14 March 1781 even appointed young James Madison, a
favorite of the secularists, to serve on a committee of three "to prepare
a recommendation to the states for setting apart a day of humiliation,
fasting and prayer" that was delivered on 20 March 1781 for the second of
Yet, in still other ways the early national and state governments, led
by a putatively enlightened American political elite, displayed an ample
willingness to patronize Protestantism in ways that can only be described as
unimaginable to the authentic men of the Enlightenment.
Thus, "officials donated land and personalty for the building of
churches, religious schools, and charities.
They collected taxes and tithes to support ministers and missionaries.
They exempted church property from taxation.
They incorporated religious bodies.
They outlawed blasphemy and sacrilege, [and] unnecessary labor on the
Sabbath and on religious holidays."
Well into the
nineteenth century, states and localities were comfortable in
"endorsing religious symbols and ceremonies," crosses were common on
statehouse grounds, holy days were official holidays, chaplains continued to
be "appointed to state legislatures, military groups, and state
prisons," thanksgiving prayers were offered by governors, subsidies were
given to Christian missionaries, the costs of Bibles were underwritten, tax
exemptions were provided to Christian schools, "public schools and state
universities had mandatory courses in the Bible and religion and compulsory
attendance in daily chapel and Sunday worship services . . . [and] polygamy,
prostitution, pornography, and other sexual offenses . . . were prohibited.
Blasphemy and sacrilege were still prosecuted. . . .
and other activities that depended on fate or magic were
Justice Story, thus,
concluded that in
The Right of Religion of Conscience: Enlightenment or
There was, however, one freedom in
It is, nonetheless, true that during the years surrounding
Original Sin: An Enduring Protestant Influence
The enduring influence of the hallowed status attached to the
individual right of conscience is not the only Protestant presence that long
shaped American culture and politics of the late-eighteenth century.
For in any attempt to understand the American political and social
thought and practices of the period, one must take note not only of the
freedom of religious conscience, and those individual rights that followed in
its religious train, but as well the American understanding of the controlling
power over society and men of the Christian understanding of original sin.
For as president of
This teaching, an Augustinian Christian perspective, particularly a
Reformed Protestant or Calvinist one, holds that man's sinful condition makes
it impossible without Grace for him to live a life of ordered freedom, one
that he would have been able to enjoy eternally if not for his Fall.
It was exactly this strong sense of limits derived initially from the
Christian concept of original sin that largely determined, even if not quite
as openly as it had in the seventeenth-century,
the understanding of things both religious and political in
eighteenth-century America. And
according to Edmund Morgan, even as late as the years surrounding the
Revolution "the intellectual center of the colonies was New England, and
the intellectual leaders of New England were the clergy, who preached and
wrote indefatigably of human depravity and divine perfection . . . and the
purpose of government was to restrain the sinfulness of man, to prevent and
punish offenses against God."
then, the case for the centrality of original sin is nearly as strong in early
national American political culture as in its religious history.
Again, Witherspoon, gave voice to this in his rejection of
late-Enlightenment faith in human goodness.
He held that "the Enlightenment image of a virtuous society
seemed extremely cloudy. `Others may, if they please, treat the corruption of
our nature as a chimera: for my part,' . . . `I see it everywhere, and I feel
it every day.'"
Such relatively modest
assertions concerning human depravity are best appreciated when compared
both to bolder claims made concerning man's absolute depravity by America's
still dominant orthodox Calvinist denominations -- Congregational,
Presbyterian, and some Baptist -- and to the rare American Enlightenment
figures like Elihu Palmer, Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen,
and their plentiful European brethren, who by the end of the
century were arguing in defense of human perfectibility.
The American humanistic elite, both republican and Christian, to say
nothing of the more pious Protestant and conservative average American,
rejected the optimistic sentiments of the late-Enlightenment and instead
adhered to some version of the Protestant axiom of original sin.
Even according to the
celebrated liberal apologist Louis Hartz "Americans refused to join in
the great Enlightenment enterprise of shattering the Christian concept of
sin, [and] replacing it with an unlimited humanism."
At the end of the
century, when indeed the advocates of the French Revolution championed bold
ideas of human perfectibility, the moderate pillars of American provincial
society continued to distance themselves from any rejection of the concept of
original sin. Thus, as late as
1798, Israel Woodward compared the world views of the French and the American
elite, so different in their relationship to Christianity, and found that:
The liberties of the American and French nations, are grounded
upon totally different and opposite principles.
In their matters of civil government, they adopt this general maxim,
that mankind are virtuous enough to need no restraint; which idea is most
justly reprobated by the more enlightened inhabitants of the United States,
who denominate such liberty, licentiousness.
This rejection of secular optimism in human
perfectibility in favor of Reformed Protestant pessimism was and would long
continue to be part of American orthodoxy and, still today, does much to
distinguish American non-elite culture from that so common in Western Europe.
Similarly, American antipathy toward political and ecclesiastic
hierarchy, often taken to be native to certain strains of British
"country" ideology, may in truth be derivative from Reformed
Protestant thought. This,
importantly, helps explain the centrality of localism in American political
thought. It is too often forgotten
that equally at the center of the Reformation, along with the theology of
grace, was the ecclesiastic concern with localism and laity-based rather than
episcopacy-based church governance. Indeed,
And as a result of their continued adherence to the Protestant dogma of
original sin and their localist ecclesiology, eighteenth-century Americans,
elite and common alike, believed that man was destined to live always under
the restraints of government. For
as the rather progressive James Madison had written, "if men were angels,
no government would be necessary."
The possibly still
The most important political implication of their Calvinist-inspired
belief in the sinful nature of all men, however, might have been the Imperial
crisis itself. By passing the
Declaratory Act on
The Elite: How Exceptional?
Still, however, one must confront the exceptional thought of Publius in
The Federalist. Here, one
confronts a full-throated defense of May's moderate Enlightenment, though at
the time when authored by Publius, even this text lagged far behind the
leading edge of French and English Enlightened thought.
That is, The Federalist embodied the liberal moral, political,
and economic theory developed by Hume and Montesquieu fifty years earlier.
And in this earlier phase of Enlightenment thought, these authors, in
many ways seminal conservatives, had emphasized: a balance of power and the
rule of law; a low but solid expectation for political life with little
concern with corporate encouragement of virtue in either citizen or ruler;
an acceptance and reliance on the avaricious and ambitious nature of man; and
a willingness to make commercial development one of the featured goals of
Indeed, Publius not only embraced and followed the teachings of Hume
and Montesquieu but, in addition, made important contributions in his own
right to what would become modern liberal political theory.
That is, in his understanding of how to balance power between
governmental branches, without the benefit of king or governmentally
recognized class distinctions, Publius developed a new understanding of
this matter in which the private passions of the individual would be tied to
the public activities of governmental institutions.
Publius, however, in
creating this new theory with which to replace the traditional Whig
conceptualization based on formal estates or on publicly inculcated virtue
was rather unusual and comparable commitments to a moderate Enlightenment
rejection of the necessity of self-less virtue are impossible to find earlier
in American thought and remain rare in contemporaneous late-eighteenth century
But, in considering Publius as an exception to the argument advanced
above, two further considerations must be borne in mind.
First, most of the soon-to-be liberal elite were still, during the
Second, most of the elite who were personally not religious were
careful about keeping their personal views private and were not hesitant to
advise others to do the same. For
example, the English philosopher and Unitarian, Richard Price, in responding
to a request from Dr. Benjamin Rush to keep his religious views private,
refused and added "you observe that in writing to the citizens of
It seems safe to conclude, therefore, that Christianity in
The Social Production of American History
But if this is so, why then, in
First, in spite of the anomalous religious character of American
society among all contemporary advanced-industrial countries, our cultural and
intellectual leaders (though not political) little differ from their
And, not surprisingly, much the same is true of most non-Christian
intellectuals who are also committed to under-reporting the Protestant
character of eighteenth-century American political thought and culture.
Accurate accounts could, if widely accepted, potentially legitimate
streams of political thought that American intellectual and cultural elites
find repugnant. Given our system
of Constitutional jurisprudence, it is clearly "dangerous" to bring
undue attention to potentially "destabilizing" historically accurate
religiously dominated patterns of thought and behavior from our past because
of their uncontrollable potential. It
is far better to pretend as Rev. Falwell's remarks after September 11 blaming
our nation's suffering on what he claimed was our religious and moral
degeneracy were anomalous rather than confront the utter normalcy of them in
the broad sweep of American history.
Of course, with a far weaker evidentiary foundation, no comparable
qualms were experienced during the past several decades by scholars shaped by
1960s radicalism in their highlighting the influence of classical
republicanism in eighteenth-century American thought.
And, even when historians work hard to get the history right, as for
example concerning the authentically communal rather than individualistic
nature of the Bill of Rights,
they seem to exercise a limited power in disseminating their
understanding to the broader public whose knowledge of such matters is
informed primarily through mass-media outlets.
In short, the Protestant foundation of American political thought and
culture is a story, because of its potential political and juridical power,
that most who control the dissemination of such ideas in both secular and
elite Christian outlets (most particularly Catholic) would prefer to see
relegated to the sidelines of American intellectual life.
Indeed, as a
celebrated Catholic intellectual at
Still, there is a second set of reasons that help explain the limited
influence enjoyed by a history that emphasizes the Protestant nature of
American political institutions and culture.
This one is far from obvious and results from the nature of the
evidence available and the training of, in particular, political theorists.
That is, late eighteenth-century Americans produced no secular texts
dedicated to an exploration of their understanding of the political good and
no full-time moral or political theorists of note.
Even their most renowned political work, The Federalist, only
addressed questions of the good elliptically in a series of editorials with
a joint authorship. Accordingly,
those texts or documents in which light is likely to be shed on such matters
often go unread and those that are read were written for more limited
Most political theorists have been trained to approach their subject by
reading texts that have come to be viewed as canonical.
It would not be surprising, then, that when they find little that
passes as normative political theory and nothing at all of stature, that they
would declare Americans bereft of a political theory of the good and, thus, by
necessity secular and "liberal" by default.
What is being overlooked is that in order to extract the normative
teaching embedded in most eighteenth-century texts or documents, even in The
Federalist, one must be prepared to hunt, uncover, reconstruct their
theory of the good, and consider that much that was written was rhetorical in
nature and often directed at multiple audiences with divergent expectations.
This effectively is a different activity than the exegesis, even of
esoteric texts, of focused works of political philosophy.
The studying of American normative political theory, particularly when
it is most likely to be buried in political sermons or hard to find documents,
is more akin to archaeology than histology and because of the way the
professions are structured is not an activity encouraged among those working
today in political theory.
Not only is it true, however, that eighteenth-century Americans were
more likely to discuss matters in print that are best described as political
science or constitutional jurisprudence (rather than moral or political
philosophy), but scholarly treatment has followed suit and has examined in
detail only a limited number of pamphlets concerned with such matters.
Indeed, the normative political theory of Revolutionary-era
Nevertheless, such an association is likely mistaken in two ways.
First, we are wrong to assume that their institutional visions are only
correctly associated with liberal constitutionalism when, in fact, these same
concerns are readily associated as well with ancient and medieval theorists.
Indeed, the true
essence of liberalism, according to many of its adherents, is not its
strictures regarding institutional arrangements.
Rather, it is its belief that reasonable people tend to differ and
disagree about the nature of the good life, and that therefore, the public
must play a limited role in determining the ends pursued by individuals.
Such a view may be more readily associated with certain institutional
designs, but it is not primarily institutionalist in its focus.
Political institutions that have become commonplace under liberal
regimes are, nonetheless, equally compatible with other political visions.
And second, assuming for the moment that the particular institutional
arrangements embraced by Americans were uniquely liberal, we would be wrong in
concluding that their theory of the good must likewise be secular and liberal.
Americans could very well have adhered to what we now describe as
secular and liberal theories on how to limit central governmental power
vis-à-vis the people, while continuing to believe that the government,
especially at the state and local levels, had been appropriately empowered by
the people to protect and foster their communal and Protestant vision of human
flourishing. Indeed, isn't that
what federalism allows for? Thus,
it is conceivable that both those who describe
Moreover, this confusion between political theories of regimes and
those of the good, I suspect, is not particular to
Why Getting Foundational American History Right, Matters
Finally, such unreliable historical accounting is troubling not only
because it has falsely reified Enlightenment secularism into
Akhil Reed. The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction.
Hans. "Calvinist Republicanism and its Historical Roots." Church
History 8 (1939): 30‑42.
M. E. Founding Fathers: Brief Lives of the Framers of the
George W. The Federalist: Design for a
Antoine-Nicolas de. Progress of the Human Mind, trans. by June
Derek H. Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Contributions to
Daniel L. "Another Look at
and Jeffry H. Morrison. "George Washington and American Public
Religion." Paper delivered at
the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, 31 August -
M. Stanton. Theme Is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American
Jack Jr., Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom.
Robert. "Letter to the editors," The New Republic,
Philip. Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child‑Rearing,
Religious Experience, and the Self in Early
Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison. The Federalist: A Commentary on
the Constitution of the
Norman. The Enlightenment: An Evaluation of its Assumptions, Attitudes
and Values. 1968, reprint ed.
Louis. "American Political Thought and the American Revolution." American
Political Science Review 46 (June 1952): 321-42.
Nathan O. Sacred Cause of
Richard. "Preface," in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity,
ed. Arthur Stephen McGrade.
David. Political Essays, ed. Knud Haakonssen.
James H. Religion and the Founding of the
"`The Great Doctrine of Retribution': The Founders' Views on the Social
Utility of Religion." Paper presented to the John Courtney Murray
Seminar, American Enterprise Institute,
Thomas. Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson.
Stanley N. "Legal and Religious Context of Natural Rights Theory: A
Comment." In Party and Political Opposition in Revolutionary
Larry D. "
Donald S. Preface to American Political Theory.
James. Joseph Story and the American Constitution: A Study in Political and
Bernard. Fable of the Bees, ed. Phillip Harth.
Henry F. Enlightenment in
Perry. Errand Into The Wilderness.
Joshua. Not By Reason Alone: Religion, History, and Identity in Early
Modern Political Thought.
Edmund S. "American Revolution Considered as an Intellectual
Movement," in Essays on the American Revolution, ed. David L.
"Safety in Numbers: Madison, Hume, and the Tenth Federalist."
Gouverneur. Diary of the French Revolution, ed. Beatrix Cary
John Courtney. We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American
H. Richard. "Idea of Original Sin in American Culture," in H.
Richard Niebuhr -- Theology, History, and Culture: Major Unpublished Writings,
ed. William Stacy Johnson, pp. 174-191.
Michael. On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American
Thomas. Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American
Founders and the Philosophy of Locke.
J. G. A. Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the
Atlantic Republican Tradition.
Ben Perley, comp. The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters,
and Other Organic Laws of the United States, two vols. Second ed.
Richard. "Letter to Rush," in Richard Price and the Ethical
Foundation of the American Revolution: Selections from His Pamphlets, with
Appendices, ed. Bernard Peach.
Daniel T. "Republicanism: The Career of a Concept." Journal of
American History 79 (June 1992): 12-38.
A. G. "Long Road to Vidal: Charity Law and State Formation in
Barry Alan. Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of
American Political Thought.
"One Nation, Under God," review essay of Religion and The
Continental Congress, 1774-1789 by Derek H. Davis and of Religion and
the American Constitutional Experiment by John Witte, Jr., in Books
& Culture, July/August 2001, 29-32.
"Religious Conscience and Original Sin: An Exploration of
"Understanding the Confusing Role of Virtue in The Federalist: The
Rhetorical Demands of Two Audiences," in The Many Faces of Alexander
Hamilton: The Life and Legacy of America's Most Elusive Founding Father,
ed. Douglas Ambrose and Robert W. T. Martin, 134-64.
"Rights Natural and Civil, and the Declaration of
"Reading The Federalist: Brilliant and Precocious,
Robert E. "Toward a Republican Synthesis." William and Mary
Quarterly 29 (1972): 49‑80.
"Republicanism and Early American Historiography." William and
Mary Quarterly 39 (1982): 334‑356.
Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,
ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, two vols. Indianapolis: Liberty
H. Shelton. Changing Conceptions of Original Sin: A Study in American
Theology since 1750.
Herbert J, ed. The Anti‑Federalist. Selection by
Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the
Keith. "Politics Recaptured," in
"Letter to Richard Price," in Correspondence of Richard Price,
ed. D. O. Thomas.
Joseph P. and Gerald J. Russello. "Community and American Federalism:
Images Romantic and Real." Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the
Law 4 (Spring 1997): 683-742.
Paul C. "Religion and Traditional Values in Public School
Textbooks." The Public Interest 84 (Summer 1986): 79‑90.
Censorship: Evidence of Bias in our Children's Textbooks.
Max. Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. Talcott
John G. Politics of Revelation and Reason: Religion and Civic Life in the
John. Dominion of
Ann Fairfax. Toward a More Perfect
John Jr. Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential
Rights and Liberties.
Gordon S. The Creation of the
"Introduction," in Rising Glory of
Michael. Peaceable Kingdoms: New England Towns in the Eighteenth Century.
given the broad agreement concerning the Protestant character of Americans,
this fact is often set aside and otherwise overlooked by students of the
period. See Katz, "Legal
and Religious Context of Natural Rights Theory: A Comment," pp. 36-7,
who observes that "curiously, however, neither the 1920's nor the
1960's interpretations took religious ideas seriously as a
component of American opposition ideology . . . in what was, after all,
still an intensely religious society"; Novak, On Two Wings;
Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic; and
Hampson, Enlightenment, p. 131, who writes of the eighteenth
century that "it is something of an historical impertinence to
consider the century as the age of Enlightenment since religion exercised
a far greater hold over most sections of every society than it does
Enlightenment in America, p. xiv, and see pp. 45-6, where he
continues that "for most inhabitants of the American colonies in the
eighteenth century, Calvinism was . . . in the position of laissez-faire in
Miller, New England Mind: From Colony to Province, p. 69, who follows
Augustine's Confession where it is argued that "`whenever God
converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him
from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone inables him
freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good'"; and
Augustine, "On Grace and Free Will," p. 771, and "On the
Predestination of Saints," pp. 779-785, in Basic Writings.
see ibid., 2:602-09 where Story writes that "the right of a society or
government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be
contested" for "the great doctrines of religion . . . never can be
a matter of indifference in any well-ordered community."
Indeed, "the real object of the First Amendment was not to
countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, Judaism, or infidelity, by
prostrating Christianity; but to exclude rivalry among Christian
sects." See also McClellan, Joseph Story, pp. 118-59 and Roeber,
"Long Road to Vidal," p. 417.
Withington, Toward a More Perfect Union, p. 184, who describes the
Continental Congress' embrace of such prohibitions, and Roeber, ibid., p.
435, who writes that even in 1794
the Federal Farmer, "Letter VI," in Anti-Federalist, ed.
Storing, p. 70, who writes that "of rights, some are natural and
unalienable, of which even the people cannot deprive individuals: Some are
constitutional or fundamental; these cannot be altered or abolished by the
ordinary laws; but the people, by express acts, may alter or abolish them --
These, such as the trial by jury, the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus,
etc. . . . and some are common or mere legal rights, that is, such as
individuals claim under laws which the ordinary legislature may alter or
abolish at pleasure."
of the original 13 state constitutions had no declaration of rights:
is not true of the Declaration of Rights of Virginia (1776),
Poore, ed. Federal and State Constitutions, 2:1280-1.
Miller, "Religion and Society in the Early Literature of
Virginia," in Errand into the Wilderness, pp. 129, 132, who
writes that in both Virginia and Massachusetts, "political doctrine was
founded on the premise of original sin" and that the authoritarian
character of their governments was "the logical consequence of a
theology of depravity and enslavement of the will."
Hatch, Sacred Cause of Liberty, p. 125, who writes that "the
primary purpose of government" for the Standing Order of New England,
"was to restrain the corruptions of human nature"; and Zuckerman, Peaceable
Kingdoms, pp. 116-7.
gauge better the moderate character of these stances, consider Greven's, Protestant
Temperament, pp. 65-6, description of the centrality of "the
doctrine of original sin and of innate depravity" to the thought of
eighteenth-century American evangelical Christians; for them "human
nature was corrupt, not in part but totally.
Sinful men, said Jonathan Edwards, `are totally corrupt, in every
part, in all their faculties . . . There is nothing but sin, no good at
May, Enlightenment in America, p. 231, who discusses the few radical
deists in America, like the blind preacher Elihu Palmer, who adhered to the
belief that man was perfectible and that "this great truth, the new
deists tirelessly explained, had been hidden from mankind by the sinister
alliance of priests and kings, whose chief reliance had always been the
absurd doctrine of original sin."
Weber, Protestant Ethic, pp. 255-6, who has written of the
"sinfulness of the belief in authority, which is only permissible in
the form of an impersonal authority, the Scriptures, as well as of an
excessive devotion to even the most holy and virtuous of men, since that
might interfere with obedience to God . . . It is also part of the
historical background of that lack of respect of the American which is, as
the case may be, so irritating or so refreshing"; and Zuckerman, Peaceable
Kingdoms, pp. 248-9. Such
political cultural inheritances are still readily observable in the
differing legal traditions found in common-law and civil-law legal systems.
Thomas, "Politics Recaptured," p. 28, who writes "Lutherans
and Calvinists alike continued to represent resistance to unsatisfactory
rulers as a religious duty rather than a political right."
early-modern rationalists shared in common with their more religious
brethren a belief in objective moral truth and rational ethical standards.
They no more countenanced arbitrary, in effect, sinful behavior than
the more religious members of the elite.
See Wood, "Introduction," The Rising Glory of
May, Enlightenment in America, p. 257, who writes that "all the
New England High Federalists [in the main Unitarians] believed morality
essential . . . and religion essential to morality," and Dreisbach and
Morrison, "George Washington and American Public Religion."
May, ibid., p. 274, who writes that "it is almost impossible to find
any Republican, from Jefferson down who defended or admitted the deist views
of the Republican candidate"; and Mason, Voice of Warning to
Christians on the Ensuing Election of a President, pp. 8-9, who, in
great frustration, attempts to offset the propaganda efforts of the
republicans so that the electorate would believe, what we now know to be
true, that Jefferson's standing as a Christian is debatable.
He draws attention to how well kept this secret was at the time.
See also Hale, Liberty and Law, p. 23, who writing in 1837,
could boldly emphasize without embarrassment how different the irreligiosity
of men believed to be infidels like Paine was from the "true founders
of our national independence [who] were religious men."
is most particularly true of followers of the late John Courtney Murray who,
in the spirit of his We Hold These Truths, hope to move
George, "Letter to the Editors," who following the spirit of