Constitution and Christian principles

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by fromtheright, Oct 11, 2003.

  1. fromtheright

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    I've heard it claimed by such as Peter Marshall and David Barton that the Constitution was based explicity on Christian principles. Any thoughts?
     
  2. rsr

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    Don't think so, other than Christianity dominated the culture of the time. The Founders didn't even mention God in the Constitution.

    Madison, the framer of the Constitution, was a secularist, one who opposed even granting a corporate charter to a church.
     
  3. PastorGreg

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    It's absolutely true. The vast majority of the founders were evangelical Christians. There are a lot of reasons why churches may not incorporate - to be opposed to that does not make one a secularist.
     
  4. True Blue Tuna

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    I don't think so. I believe the vast majority were Deists - far removed from evangelical thought.

    Also, David Barton's historical analysis is weak; it's similar to creationists and science.
     
  5. Taufgesinnter

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    It wasn't. It was based on the democratic and republican principles of pagan Greece and Rome, liberally mixed with Enlightenment-based political philosophy antithetical to biblical teachings about government. Many of the Founding fathers were skeptics and rationalists, Deists, and Luciferians (Freemasons).
     
  6. Major B

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    It wasn't. It was based on the democratic and republican principles of pagan Greece and Rome, liberally mixed with Enlightenment-based political philosophy antithetical to biblical teachings about government. Many of the Founding fathers were skeptics and rationalists, Deists, and Luciferians (Freemasons). </font>[/QUOTE]Look closer, Tauf. As a teacher of history, I've learned that many myths exist. One is that the founding fathers were deists, etc. There was only one full-fledged Deist in the group, Thomas Paine, who was not, in any case, all that significant compared to the others. Ben Franklin was certainly not orthodox, but he believed in Divine Providence, which is hardly a Deist position. Jefferson had some doubts about the deity of Christ, but was to his dying day a member of his local Episcopal congregation and was on the Vestry committee.

    A lot of the Deist myths are based on opponents of these men who accused them of being Deist (like the red scare of the 1950s).

    Washington was an orthodox episcopalian, and the Adams boys were quite devout congregationalists. Witherspoon, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was president of Princeton, and was a strong evangelical Calvinist.

    As for the revolution being based on the enlightenment, that is also problematic. Certainly there was some influence, but there was at least as much puritan influence from Rutherford, etc.

    Look up the English Bill of Rights at the Yale Law School's Avalon Project. This document, written in 1689, long before the enlightenment, reads like a rough draft to our Bill of Rights from 102 years later.

    Our revolution was not a radical overthrow of the social or governmental order. It was a conservative revolution against the abuse of executive privilege (by King George and his men) and a natural continuation of the Puritan revolution and the Glorious Revolution of 1689.

    "The Glorious Cause," by Robert Middlekauf, won the Pulitzer. It is a graduate level college text used at many secular universities. Middlekauf devotes much of the second chapter to establishing the influence of the Great Awakening on the Revolution, calling the Revolutionary generation "The Children of the Twice Born."

    I also recommend "The Rewriting of America's History" by Katherine Millard.

    [ October 17, 2003, 12:03 AM: Message edited by: Major B ]
     
  7. Taufgesinnter

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    It wasn't. It was based on the democratic and republican principles of pagan Greece and Rome, liberally mixed with Enlightenment-based political philosophy antithetical to biblical teachings about government. Many of the Founding Fathers were skeptics and rationalists, Deists, and Luciferians (Freemasons). </font>[/QUOTE]Look closer, Tauf. As a teacher of history, I've learned that many myths exist. One is that the founding fathers were deists, etc. There was only one full-fledged Deist in the group, Thomas Paine, who was not, in any case, all that significant compared to the others. Ben Franklin was certainly not orthodox, but he believed in Divine Providence, which is hardly a Deist position. Jefferson had some doubts about the deity of Christ, but was to his dying day a member of his local Episcopal congregation and was on the Vestry committee.

    A lot of the Deist myths are based on opponents of these men who accused them of being Deist (like the red scare of the 1950s).

    Washington was an orthodox episcopalian, and the Adams boys were quite devout congregationalists. Witherspoon, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was president of Princeton, and was a strong evangelical Calvinist.

    As for the revolution being based on the enlightenment, that is also problematic. Certainly there was some influence, but there was at least as much puritan influence from Rutherford, etc.

    Look up the English Bill of Rights at the Yale Law School's Avalon Project. This document, written in 1689, long before the enlightenment, reads like a rough draft to our Bill of Rights from 102 years later.

    Our revolution was not a radical overthrow of the social or governmental order. It was a conservative revolution against the abuse of executive privilege (by King George and his men) and a natural continuation of the Puritan revolution and the Glorious Revolution of 1689.

    "The Glorious Cause," by Robert Middlekauf, won the Pulitzer. It is a graduate level college text used at many secular universities. Middlekauf devotes much of the second chapter to establishing the influence of the Great Awakening on the Revolution, calling the Revolutionary generation "The Children of the Twice Born."

    I also recommend "The Rewriting of America's History" by Katherine Millard.
    </font>[/QUOTE]Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, all had considerable influence on the development of the Constitution. As the Enlightenment was a 17th- as well as 18th-century phenomenon, I fail to see on the face of it why the English Bill of Rights would be considered to predate it, even if some of the major thinkers had not been born or published yet.

    Prof. Manuel of Brandeis has written that Benjamin Franklin held a personal creed that was almost identical to the 5 points of Deism established by Herbert. Manuel also notes that critics of Deism often tried to force its adherents into a position of denying divine providence that few Deists held so strictly.

    I've used the Avalon Project documents for my students in college history classes. They're very useful indeed.

    I hope you realize I was only hoping to serve as a corrective, not denying Christian influences on the Constitution, but attempting to counter their near-constant exaggeration.
     
  8. Major B

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    It may be that some Christians overstate the influence of Christianity on the leadership of the Revolution, but that itself is a corrective to secondary school texts which barely, if at all, even mention the Christian influence.

    The character, religious beliefs, and ideas of the men of the 17th century were vastly different from the ideas of the 18th century enlightenment. This is particularly true of Samuel Rutherford. I think it would be a novel idea to state that the enlightenment had any influence at all on the English Bill of Rights or the Glorious Revolution that prompted that document. These were the culmination of hundreds of years of struggle against absolute executive power in England, and the Bill reflects mainly Protestant Reformation and English Puritan ideas.

    Furhtermore, the foot soldiers, company commanders, regimental commanders, etc., of the Revolution were much more influenced by the pulpit than by any other intellectual influence.

    Myths abound; the Masons claim Washington, who apprently was a nominal member, but can only produce actual evidence of his attendance at a couple of meetings. The delegates to the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention were not a pack of Deists and infidels. Most of them were Church-going professing believers. And, the correction does not need to be in the direction of minimiaing the influence of Christianity, but in acknowledgement of Christianity's majority influence. Again, the high school texts I have seen are sadly lacking in this area.
     
  9. rlvaughn

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    It is easy to debate back & forth with general statements and say the founders were either Christians or deists. Perhaps if we put names to the discussion it will not be quite so subjective. Here are some "founders":

    Signers of the Declaration of Independence
    </font>
    • Delaware: George Read, Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean
      Pennsylvania: George Clymer; Benjamin Franklin; Robert Morris; John Morton; Benjamin Rush; George Ross; James Smith; James Wilson; George Taylor
      Massachusetts: John Adams; Samuel Adams; John Hancock; Robert Treat Paine; Elbridge Gerry
      New Hampshire: Joshiah Bartlett; Wiliam Whipple; Matthew Thornton
      Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins: William Ellery
      New York: Lewis Morris: Philip Livingston; Grancis Lewis; William Floyd
      Georgia: Button Gwinnett; Lyman Hall; George Walton
      Virginia: Richard Henry Lee; Francis Lightfoot Lee; Carter Braxton; Benjamin Harrison; Thomas Jefferson; George Wythe; Thomas Nelson, Jr.
      North Carolina: William Hooper; John Penn; Joseph Hewes
      South Carolina: Edward Rutledge: Arthur Middleton; Thomas Lynch, Jr.; Thomas Heyward, Jr.
      New Jersey: Abraham Clark: John Hart; Francis Hopkinson; Richard Stockton; John Witherspoon
      Connecticut: Samuel Huntington; Roger Sherman; William Williams; Oliver Wolcott
      Maryland: Charles Carroll: Samuel Chase; Thomas Stone; William Paca</font>
    The Signers of the Declaration of Independence - some info here, though not that much on the faiths of the founders

    Constitutional Convention delegates
    </font>
    • Connecticut: William Samuel Johnson; Roger Sherman; Oliver Ellsworth*
      Delaware: George Read; Gunning Bedford, Jr.; John Dickinson; Richard Bassett; Jacob Broom
      Georgia: William Few; Abraham Baldwin; William Houston*; William L. Pierce*
      Maryland: James McHenry; Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer; Daniel Carroll; Luther Martin*
      John F. Mercer*
      Massachusetts: Nathaniel Gorham; Rufus King; Elbridge Gerry*; Caleb Strong*
      New Hampshire: John Langdon; Nicholas Gilman
      New Jersey: William Livingston; David Brearly; William Paterson; Jonathan Dayton; William C. Houston*
      New York: Alexander Hamilton; John Lansing, Jr.*; Robert Yates*
      North Carolina: William Blount; Richard Dobbs Spaight; Hugh Williamson; William R. Davie*
      Alexander Martin*
      Pennsylvania: Benjamin Franklin; Thomas Mifflin; Robert Morris; George Clymer; Thomas Fitzsimons; Jared Ingersoll; James Wilson; Gouverneur Morris
      South Carolina: John Rutledge; Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; Charles Pinckney; Pierce Butler
      Rhode Island: **
      Virginia: John Blair; James Madison Jr.; George Washington; George Mason*; James McClurg*; Edmund J. Randolph*; George Wythe*</font>
    *did not sign the Constitution
    **did not send any delegates to the Constitutional Convention

    America's Founding Fathers

    First Five Presidents (under present Constitution)
    George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe

    This gives us some actual names of "Founding Fathers" whose faith can be researched to see whether they were practicing Christians, nominal Christians, deists, Unitarians, atheists or whatever. I have no problem including the names of John Locke, Thomas Paine, and others, but there should also be no objection to including the likes of Roger Williams, John Leland, and Isaac Backus.
     
  10. rlvaughn

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    Found this site - God & Country: Religious Views of the Founding Fathers, Presidents, and Vice Presidents

    Religious Affiliation of the Signers of Declaration of Independence
    </font>
    • George Read - Episcopalian
      Caesar Rodney - Episcopalian
      Thomas McKean - Presbyterian
      George Clymer - ?
      Benjamin Franklin - none (deist)
      Robert Morris - Episcopalian
      John Morton - ?
      Benjamin Rush - Presbyterian, then Universalist
      George Ross - ?
      James Smith - ?
      James Wilson - ?
      George Taylor - Presbyterian, then Episcopalian
      John Adams - Unitarian
      Samuel Adams - Congregationalist
      John Hancock - Congregationalist
      Robert Treat Paine - Congregationalist
      Elbridge Gerry - Episcopalian
      Joshiah Bartlett - Congregationalist
      Wiliam Whipple - Congregationalist
      Matthew Thornton - ?
      Stephen Hopkins - ?
      William Ellery - Congregationalist
      Lewis Morris - ?
      Philip Livingston - Presbyterian
      Grancis Lewis - ?
      William Floyd - Presbyterian
      Button Gwinnett - Episcopalian
      Lyman Hall - Congregationalist
      George Walton - Anglican
      Richard Henry Lee - ?
      Francis Lightfoot Lee - ?
      Carter Braxton - Episcopalian
      Benjamin Harrison - ?
      Thomas Jefferson - none (deist)
      George Wythe - Episcopalian
      Thomas Nelson, Jr. - ?
      William Hooper - Episcopalian
      John Penn - ?
      Joseph Hewes - ?
      Edward Rutledge - Anglican
      Arthur Middleton - ?
      Thomas Lynch, Jr. - ?
      Thomas Heyward, Jr. - ?
      Abraham Clark - Presbyterian
      John Hart - Presbyterian
      Francis Hopkinson - Episcopalian
      Richard Stockton - ?
      John Witherspoon - Presbyterian (minister)
      Samuel Huntington - Congregationalist
      Roger Sherman - Congregationalist
      William Williams - Congregationalist
      Oliver Wolcott - Congregationalist
      Charles Carroll - Roman Catholic
      Samuel Chase - Episcopalian
      Thomas Stone - Episcopalian
      William Paca - Episcopalian</font>
    Comments -
    </font>
    1. This appears to be a non-biased resource</font>
    2. Religious affiliation doesn't necessarily translate into personal views</font>
    3. 56 names - not one Baptist, not even from Rhode Island</font>
    4. 19 unknown or unsure affiliation, 15 Episcopalian or Anglican, 11 Congregationalist, 6 Presbyterian, 2 unaffiliated, 1 Unitarian, 1 Universalist, & 1 Roman Catholic</font>
     
  11. rlvaughn

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    From God & Country

    Religious Affiliation of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

    William Samuel Johnson - Presbyterian, Episcopalian
    Roger Sherman - Congregationalist
    Oliver Ellsworth* - Congregationalist
    George Read - Episcopalian
    Gunning Bedford, Jr. - Presbyterian
    John Dickinson - Quaker, Episcopalian
    Richard Bassett - Methodist
    Jacob Broom - Lutheran
    William Few - Methodist
    Abraham Baldwin - Congregationalist, Presbyterian (licensed minister)
    William Houston* - Episcopalian
    William L. Pierce* - Episcopalian
    James McHenry - Presbyterian
    Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer - Episcopalian
    Daniel Carroll - Roman Catholic
    Luther Martin* - Episcopalian
    John F. Mercer* - Episcopalian
    Nathaniel Gorham - Congregationalist
    Rufus King - Episcopalian
    Elbridge Gerry* - Episcopalian
    Caleb Strong* - Congregationalist
    John Langdon - Congregationalist
    Nicholas Gilman - Congregationalist
    William Livingston - Presbyterian
    David Brearly - Episcopalian
    William Paterson - Presbyterian
    Jonathan Dayton - Presbyterian, Episcopalian
    William C. Houston* - Presbyterian
    Alexander Hamilton - Episcopalian
    John Lansing, Jr.* - Dutch Reformed
    Robert Yates* - Dutch Reformed
    William Blount - Episcopalian, Presbyterian
    Richard Dobbs Spaight - Episcopalian
    Hugh Williamson - ? licensed Presbyterian minister, then maybe deist later
    William R. Davie* - Presbyterian
    Alexander Martin* - Presbyterian
    Benjamin Franklin - none
    Thomas Mifflin - Quaker, then Lutheran
    Robert Morris - Episcopalian
    George Clymer - ?
    Thomas Fitzsimons - Roman Catholic
    Jared Ingersoll - Presbyterian
    James Wilson - ?
    Gouverneur Morris - Episcopalian
    John Rutledge - Episcopalian
    Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - Episcopalian
    Charles Pinckney - Episcopalian
    Pierce Butler - Episcopalian
    John Blair - Presbyterian, Episcopalian
    James Madison Jr. - Episcopalian
    George Washington - Episcopalian
    George Mason* - Episcopalian
    James McClurg* - Presbyterian
    Edmund J. Randolph* - Episcopalian
    George Wythe* - Episcopalian

    Comments -
    </font>
    1. See above post</font>
    2. Did not sign, some due to absence, some to disagreement *</font>
    3. 8 duplications with signers of DoI</font>
    4. 55 names, again no Baptists</font>
    5. 21 Episcopalian, 9 Presbyterian, 6 Congregationalist, 6 doubly affiliated or changed, 3 unknown or unsure affiliation, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Lutheran, 2 Methodist, 2 Roman Catholic, 1 no affiliation</font>
    6. A little more religious diversity, adding Dutch Reformed, Lutheran & Methodist</font>
     
  12. rlvaughn

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    From God & Country

    Religious Affiliation of the First Ten Presidents of the United States (under the present Constitution)

    George Washington - Episcopalian
    John Adams - Unitarian
    Thomas Jefferson - none (deist)
    James Madison - Episcopalian
    James Monroe - Episcopalian
    John Quincy Adams - Unitarian
    Andrew Jackson - Presbyterian
    Martin Van Buren - Dutch Reformed
    William Henry Harrison - Episcopalian
    John Tyler - Episcopalian
     
  13. rlvaughn

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    Delegates to the Constitutional Convention who were Masons

    Gunning Bedford, Jr.
    Jacob Broom
    John Dickinson
    John F. Mercer
    James McHenry
    Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer
    Daniel Carroll
    Rufus King
    Nicholas Gilman
    David Brearly
    Jonathan Dayton
    William Paterson
    William Blount
    William R. Davie
    John Blair
    George Washington
     
  14. rlvaughn

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    God & Country lists these as Other Founders.

    Religious Affiliation of Other Founders

    Ethan Allen - none
    Nathan Hale - ?
    Patrick Henry - ?
    John Jay - Episcopalian
    James Otis - ?
    Thomas Paine - none (a deist, not an atheist as some think)
    Paul Revere - ?
    Haym Salomon - Jewish
    Noah Webster - ?
     
  15. Major B

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    b]Religious Affiliation of Other Founders[/b]


    Patrick Henry -Presbyterian. He learned his speaking style at revivalist Presbyterian meetings (Source: The Founding Fathers Video Series, History Channel)

    James Otis - Congregational; he had to be, since he was a government official and the Congregational Church was established in MASS until the 1800s

    Paul Revere - Congregationalist, according to Fishers biography.
     
  16. Major B

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    Jefferson was not a Deist. He was a watery Episcopalian with some doctrinal doubts, but he was in regular attendance at his local Episcopal church until he died.
     
  17. Major B

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    Which means nothing as far as their religious beliefs. Many of these fellows (G.W. for instance, who can only be documented to have attended a couple of lodge meetings) may have been "joiners." Fisher points out in his bio of Paul Revere that he joined all kinds of groups, as a socially-climbing and civic minded man.

    And, even though I don't like this, you would not want to know how many Southern Baptist deacons and pastors are Masons today. I've been told by someone who knew him personally that Herschel Hobbs was a Mason!
     
  18. rsr

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    You can make what you want to of Jefferson. Watery Episcopalian? Deist? Both, maybe? Neither?

    He's in a category by himself — he felt himself competent to edit the Gospels — and he talked too much. Unlike Madison, who kept his religious opinions to himself ... religiously.

    The later correspondence between Jefferson and Adams about religion is especially enlightening.

    Besides, this in an area in which misinformation, poor sources and pious forgeries have clouded the historical record. Caveat emptor.

    I agree that too much may has been made of the deism of the founders, but it's also wrong to try to make them into a gathering of evangelicals that James Dobson would present a seminar to and get a rousing "Amen."

    And all this begs the original question. Can anyone say exactly what "based explicity on Christian principles" is supposed to mean?

    Is this a "specifically Christian" principle?

    Is the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness such a principle?

    As to the Constitution, it seems to me that it's a essentially a Hobbesean document. People are naturally selfish, grasping and not to be trusted with too much power.

    The Constitution never once mentions God, much less Christianity. The original document doesn't even consider religion. It's interested in making sure no single interest group or institution can amass enough power to become tyrannical. It is only interested in civil affairs, specificallly the body politic, the relationship of the government to citizens. As a Baptist, I concur, but I don't know that it's a "specifically Christian" principle.

    I stand by my original posting.
     
  19. Jeff Weaver

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    For more details on Patrick Henry, see Patrick Henry Timeline

    I dug out my copy of William Wirt's 1850 biography of our former governor. Patrick Henry was baptized as a member of the Anglican Church, but attended Presbyterian meetings, but never joined.

    Henry's sister, Elizabeth Henry at one time owned the land my house now sits on. She is quite the big deal in these parts. At any rate, Madame Elizabeth Henry Russell (she was married to Rev. War Brig Gen. William Campbell, and after his death to Rev. War Brig. Gen. William Russell) was quite the follower of Francis Asbury and did much to promote the Methodist Church, hosting Asbury on several occasions. Madame Russell also let it be known that anyone who was anyone was expected to join the Methodist church. She donate the property for the first Methodist Church in our humble little town, and it was named Elizabeth Chapel. This church was reoganized in 1894 and is now known as Madam Russell Methodist Church (Actually the stone over the door says, "Mme Russell Church, M. E. South"
     
  20. Jeff Weaver

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    Stephen

    I'll give you a hearty Amen for that last post.

    Jeff.
     

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