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Published on October 13th, 2008 | by Gary DeMar

7

Setting the Historical Record Straight

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I noted with interest the comments of John Manzi (”Secular Nation,” Oct. 7, 2008) in the Charleston Post and Courier and sent a version of this article to the editorial department for publication. Mr. Manzi contends that the United States was founded as a secular nation. There is no doubt that there are secular elements in the founding of America, but there are many more Christian elements that Mr. Manzi ignores.

In support of his claim, Mr. Manzi references a number of historical sources. He alleges, for example, that Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” There is no record of Jefferson ever writing such a statement. There is no doubt that Jefferson was critical of the clergy and believed that Christianity had been corrupted by Jesus’ followers, but he never described Christianity in the above terms.[1]

George Washington never wrote a treaty as Mr. Manzi contends. The Treaty of Tripoli that Mr. Manzi refers to was drafted in 1797 by Jeol Barlow near the end of Washington’s administration. It was ratified during Adams’ administration. The phrase “the Government of the United States . . . is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion” is found in the treaty. It was designed, as the context suggests, to appease leaders of Muslim nations who were commandeering ships, kidnapping sailors, and selling them into slavery. Barbary was described as “Christendom’s Gulag Archipelago.” The treaty was renegotiated in 1805 under Jefferson’s administration and the above phrase was removed. A 1783 treaty with Great Britain includes the following phrases: “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity . . . Divine Providence . . . Grace of God.” A treaty with Russia in 1822 opens with these words: “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.” The 1848 Treaty with Mexico begins with “In the name of Almighty God.”[2]

The Constitution sets Sunday aside as a day of rest for the President in Article 1, section 7. Just above George Washington’s signature the following phrase appears: “Done in the Year of our Lord . . . One thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.” This is direct reference to Jesus Christ.

The 1776 constitution of North Carolina, that remained in effect until 1868, included the following (XXXII): “That no person, who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”[3] North Carolina describes itself as a “Christian State” in the 1868 constitution (Art. XI, sec. 7). This same constitution stated that “all persons who shall deny the being of Almighty God” “shall be disqualified for office.”[4] These truths hardly support Mr. Manzi’s claims.

South Carolina’s original constitution of 1778 states that “no person shall be eligible to a seat in the said senate unless he be of the Protestant religion, and hath attained the age of thirty years, and hath been a resident in this State at least five years.” (Art. XII). Article XXXVIII reads like a church constitution whereby “The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State.” The following were minimal requirements for churches in the state:

1st. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.

2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped.

3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion

4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.

5th. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth.[5]

If we follow Jefferson’s claim, as Mr. Manzi thinks we should do, that “to talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings,” of which he included God, then Jefferson refutes himself. He believed in God. He was an author of the Declaration of Independence that states that our rights come from “the Creator” and that He is the “Supreme Judge of the world.”[6] He also believed in reason, logic, and numbers. These “things” are not material, and yet I doubt that Jefferson would claim that “they are nothings.”

Mr. Manzi takes John Adams out of context when he states that our second president claimed that Christianity was “the most bloody religion that ever existed.” He was referring to those who corrupted it, and I and other Christians would agree with him. In another place, Adams stated, “The Christian religion is, above all the Religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern Times, the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and humanity, let the Blackguard [Thomas] Paine say what he will; it is Resignation to God, it is Goodness itself to Man.”[7]

Mr. Manzi quotes Benjamin Franklin, but he fails to mention that it was this elder statesman who stood up at the Constitutional Convention and appealed for prayer and made reference to three specific passages from the Bible. His most direct was Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” He went on to state that if we as a nation fail to acknowledge God’s role in the establishment of our nation, then we will do no better than the builders of Babel.[8]

I could go on in my critique of Mr. Manzi’s historical research, but you get the picture. He has gone to the internet and found a few quips, some of which do not exist, strung them together and built a case that rests on historical sand.

Footnotes:
[1]From the “Th. Jefferson Encyclopedia”: “This quotation has so far not been found in any of the sources available to us. However, it may possibly be a misleading paraphrase of the following:
“…but 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, & perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in church & state: that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man has been adulterated & sophisticated, by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth & 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 & 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.” (Thomas Jefferson to William Baldwin, 19 January 1810 [draft-never sent]). [The draft copy can be found at the Library of Congress, at http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj1/044/0500/0530.jpg, mistakenly labeled “Mr Samuel Kercheval.”]
Also seemingly contradicting the quotation in question is the following:
“No doctrines of [Jesus’] lead to schism. It is the speculations of crazy theologists which have made a Babel of a religion the most moral and sublime ever preached to man, and calculated to heal, and not to create differences. These religious animosities I impute to those who call themselves his ministers, and who engraft their casuistries on the stock of his simple precepts. I am sometimes more angry with them than is authorised by the blessed charities which he preached.” (Thomas Jefferson to Ezra Stiles Ely, Monticello, 25 June 1819). [Polygraph copy at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers:  http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj1/051/0600/0654.jpg]
The source of the above material can be found at http://tinyurl.com/3hpye9
[2]
For a comprehensive study of the Treaty of Tripoli, see Gary DeMar, “America’s 200-Year War with Terror.” Available on request at mail@AmericanVision.org
[3]
Thorpe, The Federal and State Constitutions, 5:2793. The same 1776 constitution stated that “no clergyman, or preacher of the gospel, of any denomination, shall be capable of being a member of either the Senate, House of Commons, or Council of State, while he continues in the exercise of the pastoral function” (5:2793). This provision demonstrates the true meaning of “separation of church and state.”
[4]
Francis Newton Thorpe, The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies, 7 vols. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1909), 5:2815.
[5]
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/states/sc02.htm
[6]
http://www.christianparents.com/declarid.htm
[7]
Gary DeMar, “John Adams Under the Microscope”: http://americanvision.org/articlearchive/02-11-05.asp
[8]
http://www.usconstitution.net/franklin.html

 

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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).



7 Responses to Setting the Historical Record Straight

  1. While I will not refute Adams’ declaration, he who was a staunch Christian, I will point out that one: All old people look for salvation when death draws near, even those who were once the most adamant against religion it’s self. For that reason alone the elderly Franklin’s comments are remiss, what more you ignore what else he said prior to his call for prayer.
    ” I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."”

    He rapturously advocates that the church its self is of no consequence, nor is the religion-which conveys an untruth in their stalwart belief that their faiths are infallible; what more prior to this he even points out his own flaw of judgment.. You yourself sir have taken what has been said out of context and have miserably failed at proving a valid point in your argument over what Manzi has said.

  2. Okay now for the more interesting bits: North Carolina was established in the 16th century, where a great number of exiled Christians settled coming out of Spain, and later became a territory of the UK. It’s constitution, as a state, was not completed until after the state capitol was completed, even though they were one of the first to ratify the Federal Constitution. By the time their constitution was ratified it was in the height of the pre-civil war debates over slavery and, to prevent any slave from legally taking office (which oddly was possible) and to prevent anti-slave people from gaining office the ratification of the constitution of North Carolina was heavily inundated with Christian morality, which was the very basis of discrimination. Since slaves were not allowed to learn to read, the vast majority of them weren’t Christian, and still followed their old tribal beliefs. It was also common socially held belief that a god fearing Christian would side with the maintenance of slavery (somehow they ignored the whole Hebrew Egypt story’s very point…). The ratified state constitution didn’t last however and was revised removing most of the religious rhetoric out of it once the civil war was over 40 years after the constitution’s original ratification. Prior to the state’s ratification of its formal constitution, it’s worthy to note, that it had an informal constitution of its own, a state charter, formally a colonial charter. It would seem many people confuse this as the state constitution. This is after North Carolina broke off of South Carolina which was once the Province of Carolina.
    It is also notable that many state constitutions did incorporate Christian values, but none of these values, wordings, and articles were legal and directly violated the signed Federal government Constitution. That is why all of the state constitutions were revised and ratified after the Civil war to include new wordings that dismissed the old charter of religion and established that rights could not be abridged by the state.
    As for Jefferson’s quote; you seem to be in the habit of MISREADING: “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820”
    First he says the immaterial, things that cannot be grasped, are nothing. That means these metaphysical concepts (god, the soul, the human condition) are really not a matter that is real, it is trivial. Then he says directly, human soul, angels, and god are immaterial, nothing, thus trivial. Then he says “I cannot reason otherwise” meaning he cannot logically come to any other conclusion than that human souls, angels, and god are in fact trivial, immaterial, have no bearing on reality. Then he gets creative, he says “I believe I am supported in my creed (meaning thinking or logic or process) of materialism (that which is established as real) by Locke, Tracy and Stewart all contemporary philosophers and politicians of the time. Then he asks, at what point did this triviality of nothingness, an Atheist concept which denies the existence of god, this idealism which betrays the very notion of Christianity, become the foundation of the church? He doesn’t know, but he does know it is “heresy” it goes against the faith in god.

  3. What more the words themselves could apply to about 2/3rds of all religions on the face of the Earth. “Most Holy Trinity” appears in; Asatru, Christianity (and it’s denominations), Rastafari, Taoism, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism: just to name a few that are still around, but even a holy trinity goes back to Egyptian and Mesopotamia gods and exist in some Native American beliefs.
    Divine Providence applies again to any super natural influence on fate, and Grace of god, well god could apply to any god (from Amastuafa to Zeus).
    First off, this line Section 7-Revenue Bills, Legislative Process, Presidential Veto, paragraph 2, line six, last sentence “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.” Does set aside Sunday, but why? Very simple answer, the President deserves time off, and many religions meet once a week. Historically speaking, Sunday, is the day of worship of the SUN, and has been used by hundreds of religions as a day of rest, reflection, or worship. Traditionally speaking Christianity at this time, didn’t celebrate on Sunday, but instead did so on Friday. What more it’s been a known fact for several decades now that it’s a misconception that Sunday was the day of rest as “God” ordered it in the bible. It was Saturday.
    As for the date: be careful in your assertions. At the time of the signing of the declaration the usage of time reference was standard to say in the year of our lord or Anno Domini, because it was the standard and was recognized by all other countries, the US maintained its use. I’m sure that, had they a different reference method, like CE (Common Era) or BCE (Before Common Era) they’d have used it. By no means does this mean or prove we are or have ever been based on a Christian faith, it just means the Framers were stuck with a common method of recording the year which everyone knew.

  4. And while it is true Washington did not write the treaty of Tripoli, it is not true that article 11 was written to pacify the people of Tripoli or the people of the Muslim religion.
    It reads: Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
    The section about the US coincides with Jefferson’s and other framer’s concepts that the US is a state run by its people, all people who reside in its boarders, regardless of religion. The first amendment even guarantees the right of freedom of speech (ergo thought) freedom of the press (ergo freedom to discuss one’s thoughts) and freedom of religion (meaning the free choice to choose which ever religion you want to practice.)
    What more, I have the feeling Manzi’s article didn’t say Washington wrote the treaty, but had been the president in term when the treaty occurred, and as president would have had to give final approval of its terms and articles (thus probably and more than likely having a hand in its wording.) What more, in my research, the treaty was not revised, nor was the section on the US not being founded on Christianty removed. In fact, it was an entirely new treaty, which reads nothing as the first one did that as created four years later. John Adams took term right before the negotiations took place.
    Rather, this very unique bit of writing was placed in the treaty to reassure the Muslim nations of Tripoli that the government of the US would never enter into a “religious war”. It was meant to be a precedent as to the nature of the US for all of the world, not just Tripoli and the Muslims who lived there.
    What more, and I would like to quote from another research “I found the treaty and Adams' statement [Article XI of the treaty] reprinted in full in three newspapers, two in Philadelphia and one in New York City and, in one case, held the actual newspaper (the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser for Saturday, 17 June 1797) in my hands. There is no record of any public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.”
    (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/buckner_tripoli.html)
    In other-words the intended message, as you’ve portrayed it, even if it is a rebuttal to the incorrect argument of Manzi, is in fact completely incorrect. You’ve not even really understood it’s meaning and interpreted it properly.
    Then you mention these treaties as evidence the US is in fact a Christian nation in foundation “A 1783 treaty with Great Britain includes the following phrases: “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity . . . Divine Providence . . . Grace of God.” A treaty with Russia in 1822 opens with these words: “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.” The 1848 Treaty with Mexico begins with “In the name of Almighty God.”[2]” Yet you’d be very wrong.
    These treaties in fact were written by the opposing countries, England and Russia, and agreed to upon their approach by the US. Both Britain and Russia were very much Christian nations, the UK ruled by the Church of England and the Catholic Church, and Ruassia having their own Catholic Orthodoxy. In those same treaties nowhere does the US declare that is a Christian Nation or a Nation founded on Christianity.

  5. And while it is true Washington did not write the treaty of Tripoli, it is not true that article 11 was written to pacify the people of Tripoli or the people of the Muslim religion.
    It reads: Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
    The section about the US coincides with Jefferson’s and other framer’s concepts that the US is a state run by its people, all people who reside in its boarders, regardless of religion. The first amendment even guarantees the right of freedom of speech (ergo thought) freedom of the press (ergo freedom to discuss one’s thoughts) and freedom of religion (meaning the free choice to choose which ever religion you want to practice.)
    What more, I have the feeling Manzi’s article didn’t say Washington wrote the treaty, but had been the president in term when the treaty occurred, and as president would have had to give final approval of its terms and articles (thus probably and more than likely having a hand in its wording.) What more, in my research, the treaty was not revised, nor was the section on the US not being founded on Christianty removed. In fact, it was an entirely new treaty, which reads nothing as the first one did that as created four years later. John Adams took term right before the negotiations took place.
    Rather, this very unique bit of writing was placed in the treaty to reassure the Muslim nations of Tripoli that the government of the US would never enter into a “religious war”. It was meant to be a precedent as to the nature of the US for all of the world, not just Tripoli and the Muslims who lived there.
    What more, and I would like to quote from another research “I found the treaty and Adams' statement [Article XI of the treaty] reprinted in full in three newspapers, two in Philadelphia and one in New York City and, in one case, held the actual newspaper (the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser for Saturday, 17 June 1797) in my hands. There is no record of any public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.”
    (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/buckner_tripoli.html)
    In other-words the intended message, as you’ve portrayed it, even if it is a rebuttal to the incorrect argument of Manzi, is in fact completely incorrect. You’ve not even really understood it’s meaning and interpreted it properly.

  6. Yet another article in which I find myself arguing and dismantling with wit far greater it would seem than the man whom wrote the article itself with all discord and with all intent on twisting the facts of history yet again.
    I shall address the grievances of this article in order of appearance, starting with what Jefferson supposedly said. Since the article in question and like there in isn’t available (though a link to Secular Nation by Manzi is given I cannot find the article its self, and the link is connected to an empty page) I must assume two things, one what Manzi is quoted as saying Manzi said, was actually paraphrased by Manzi, and two that the author of this article hasn’t read much of Jefferson’s known quotes on Christianity, many of which are far more damning and critical of the religion than the paltry quote of “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man”. Here is an actual quote from Jefferson which reads, at least in meaning, to much the same degree as the above quote.
    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus."
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816
    More damning I do believe would be: Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782
    Or
    I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion and wrote "Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?")
    The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814
    Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814
    My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith, August, 6, 1816
    Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] 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.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, April 13, 1820
    It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825

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