Skip to comments.One Nation Under God - America's Christian Heritage - Joseph Story
Posted on 08/18/2004 5:24:44 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
A Congressman and Professor of Law at Harvard, Joseph Story was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1811 by James Madison, the Father of the U.S. Constitution. He served on the Court for 34 years. Story's great work, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, is considered a classic of American jurisprudence. He was instrumental in establishing the illegality of the slave trade. He also convincingly argued that the United States of America was built on the principles of Christianity. In a speech at Harvard, Story stated bluntly:
There never has been a period of history, in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundation.
In his work, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, Justice Story, had this to say about the purpose the First Amendment:
We are not to attribute this prohibition of a national religious establishment [in the First Amendment] to an indifference to religion in general, and especially to Christianity (which none could hold in more reverence than the framers of the Constitution)....
Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendment to it now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship.
Any attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.
In other words, the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect a religious people from the government -- not to protect the government from a religious people. It is perfectly all right, under the First Amendment, for the Government of the United States to favor Christianity over other faiths -- so long as other faiths are not persecuted by the government, and so long as the national government does not attempt to set up a national church, such as the Anglican Church in England. In his Commentaries on the Constitution, Justice Story stated:
It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape.
In fact, in his commentary on the purpose of First Amendment, Justice Story stated:
The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects [denominations] and to prevent any national ecclesiastical patronage of the national government.
Justice Story was quite mistaken.
Of the greatest leaders of our American Republic, only Ronald Reagan was unquestionably a Christian. Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln were all Deists.
Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously approved by the US Senate on June, 7, 1797, reads:
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; ..."
Like all ratified treaties, this language is the law of the land here in the USA.
The seemingly endless struggle of Christian fundamentalists to rewrite history, with the aim of establishing Chritianity as the official state religion of the United States, is quite tiresome. They should at least stop asking why so few Jews vote Republican. The reason may be that they don't wish their children to be forced to recite Christian prayers in the public schools, as used to be the case not so long ago. Apparently American Jews fear Christian fundamentalists even more than Yassir Arafat.
You need to check your facts. All the men you listed considered themselves Christians.
Here's a couple of links on Washington:
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams:
"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" (Works, Vol. iv, p. 365).
"Mr. Lincoln was never a member of any Church, nor did he believe in the divinity of Christ, or the inspiration of the Scriptures in the sense understood by evangelical Christians." (Col. Ward H. Lamon's Life of Lincoln, p. 486.)
Col. Lamon, a close friend and long-term associate of Lincoln, was himself a Christian, and considered Lincoln's lack of belief a defect of his otherwise great character.
While some argue the contrary, the evidence is pretty persuasive that these men were not in fact Christians.
Lincoln and Ghandi, who'da thunk it?
More Lincoln lore:
"In 1846, when he was a candidate for Congress against a Methodist minister, the Rev. Peter Cartwright, his opponent openly accused him of being an unbeliever, and Lincoln never denied it. A story is told of Mr. Cartwright's holding a revival meeting while the campaign was in progress, during which Lincoln stepped into one of his meetings. When Cartwright asked the audience, "Will all who want to go to heaven stand up?" all arose except Lincoln. When he asked, "Now, will all who want to go to hell stand up?" Lincoln still remained in his seat. Mr. Cartwright then said, "All have stood up for one place or the other except Mr. Lincoln, and we would like to know where he expects to go." Lincoln arose and quietly said, "I am going to Congress," and there he went.
"On March 26, 1843, at the time Lincoln was attempting to obtain the nomination for Congress, he wrote to Martin M. Morris, of Petersburg, Ill.:"
"There was the strangest combination of church influence against me. Baker is a Campbellite; and therefore, as I suppose with few exceptions, got all of that Church. My wife had some relations in the Presbyterian churches, and some in the Episcopal churches; and therefore, wherever it would tell, I was set down as either one or the other, while it was everywhere contended that no Christian ought to vote for me because I belonged to no Church, was suspected of being a Deist and had talked about fighting a duel." (Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Nicolay & Hay edition, vol. 1, p. 80.)
Oh...for a minute there I thought this was going to be a thread about a multicolored coat. :o)
Protestant ministers were the class most fervently Whig, as all the British commanders noted. But to taken the case of Lincoln, it is anachronistic to speak of him as a Deist, if only because of the role that Providence played in his last thinking. Even so, Lincon was out of sorts with the religiosity of his period. Story reflects the opinion of his time as we can confirm by reading Tocqueville. During the first half of the 19th century, as Ray Billington pointed out, the Protestant religion became unoffically established religion, and for more than a century thereafter the Establishment of the country was Protestant. You are confused by the fact that that Establishment has now become
indifferent or hostile to the churches.
I'll tell you something else that's tiresome--members of minority religions (or no religion) telling Christians that listening to a Christian prayer at a high school graduation or commemorative ceremony is a "shocking violation" of their religious and civil rights. Just because the government has no right to endorse any particular religion (or demomination) doesn't mean that someone else has the right to repress it.
"... the government has no right to endorse any particular religion ..."
Correct. And the public schools are agencies of the government. Sectarian prayers should not be led by public officials acting in their official capacity.
"Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"
IOW, you spout typical ACLU crap...
Not so. They were Christians.
If you want the entire story check out Tree Farm Communication's web site which handles Michael Medved's historical tapes.
"Apparently American Jews fear Christian fundamentalists even more than Yassir Arafat."
"You sound just like a lawyer for the ACLU".
Actually I'm a regsitered Republican, but I must admit it's becoming a strain sharing a political party with the likes of you.
Since the days of the Warren Court, judicial decisions have removed the vestal remnants of Christianity and, in the more radical cases, even belief in God from government. In so doing, they have not achieved neutrality, but rather promoted a rival religion. Public officials are supposed to follow the religion of secular humanism in matters of state, even if they trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for their personal salvation. It matters not if Bush is a Methodist or Kerry professes to be a Catholic. Their decision making is supposed to come from a worldview closer to that of Bertrand Russell than to those of John Wesley or Thomas Aquinas.
Every government is based on one sort of religion or another. People, whether atheist, agnostic, deist, Christian, Jewish, etc., should not be impelled to have their tax money support the promulgation of beliefs they oppose, especially to their own children.
"Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"
The second part means that school children can pray; moment of silence is OK with me, our sometimes stupid courts notwithstanding. I also have no objection to giving parents vouchers they can use to pay for parochial schools.
The first part means that public school teachers/officials cannot lead sectarian prayers as part of their job.
It all seems pretty clear to me. Any problems?
Agreed. What I have a problem with is your "moment of silence" implication that they must keep their prayers silent.
BTW, nowhere in the Constitution do I find anything about your (or my) right not to be offended by someone else's exercise of their First Amendment rights.
In fact, we seem to be doing a fair job of exercising them here -- and I don't see anyone bleeding...
in his speech on May 12, 1779, (Washington) claimed that what children needed to learn "above all" was the "religion of Jesus Christ," and that to learn this would make them "greater and happier than they already are"; on May 2, 1778, he charged his soldiers at Valley Forge that "To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian"; and when he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the military on June 8, 1783, he reminded the nation that "without a humble imitation" of "the Divine Author of our blessed religion" we "can never hope to be a happy nation." Washington's own adopted daughter declared of Washington that you might as well question his patriotism as to question his Christianity. - LINK
In Benjamin Franklin's 1749 plan of education for public schools in Pennsylvania, he insisted that schools teach "the necessity of a public religion . . . and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern."
...in 1787 when Franklin helped found the college which bore his name, it was dedicated as "a nursery of religion and learning" built "on Christ, the Corner-Stone." - LINK
Quotes by Thomas Jefferson
The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend to all the happiness of man.
Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus.
"I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." [Letter to Benjamin Rush April 21, 1803]
God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever. [Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781]
It [the Bible] is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." [Jan 9, 1816 Letter to Charles Thomson] - LINK
It is said in one of the admonitions of the Lord, "As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect." The Savior, I suppose, did not expect that any human creature could be perfect as the Father in Heaven. . . . He set that up as a standard, and he who did most towards reaching that standard, attained the highest degree of moral perfection. So I say that in relation to the principle that all men are created equal, let it be as nearly reached as we can. - Lincoln, speech at Chicago, July 10, 1858, in Roy T. Basler, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953), vol. 2, p. 501.
There is no doubt at all that Lincoln was a very religious man. No one reading his Second Inaugural Address could ever think otherwise. The reference you quote to "The Savior" does have a Christian connotation. Lincoln was of course a practical politician who governed a largely Christian nation, so he spoke about the Almighty in terms his fellow Americans would relate to. Even Jefferson, who was really an Agnostic Deist, did the same thing in public. So far as I know, the weight of evidence is that Lincoln did not personally believe in the divinity of Jesus, or the divine inspiration of the scriptures. As you've proven, there is evidence that can be cited on both sides of this issue.
Your quotations from Thomas Jefferson illustrate clearly that he was not a Christian. He greatly admired the teachings of Jesus ( as I also do ), but did not believe in his divinity, or that of the scriptures. He probably felt ( as I do ) that the major deficiency of Christianity is that it is devoted to worshipping Jesus, rather than to following his sublime teachings. Someone who tries their best to follow the teachings of Jesus, but does not believe in his divinity, is not considered a Christian; Jefferson was not, and neither was Mahatma Ghandi.
As to Washington, your quote does not state his age when he wrote that prayer book. All testimony is that he gave up Christianity as an adult, after being raised as an Episcopalian.
That's the great thing about religious freedom. No one denomination gets to decide for everyone else what it means to be Christian. Certainly non-Christians have no say in the matter at all.
"Without making ostentatious professions of religion, he was a sincere believer in the Christian faith, and a truly devout man." - Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, 1826
"Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
OK, if you can get a Unitarian, a Jehovah's Witness, and a born-again Southern Baptist to agree on a single prayer, I guess we can consider that prayer for public ceremonies.
My personal recollection of the Unitarians is as a left-wing political cult. The final straw for me was when one of their leaders sent a letter to the newspaper justifying the Long Island Railroad shooter, Colin Ferguson; some claptrap about Black rage as I recall.
"George Washingtons prayer for America:"
You give no source.