Archive for the ‘thomas jefferson’ tag
Perhaps no figure in American Revolutionary history has been the victim of vilification more than former U.S. vice president and New York senator, Aaron Burr.
And for some, with good reason. He was, after all, the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the heralded Federalist who was one of the most outspoken backers of the U.S. Constitution, supported the creation of a national bank and served as secretary of the treasury under George Washington. In his time, no one eclipsed Hamilton in economic and political influence in colonial and post-colonial America. And this brilliant thinker and fellow founder fell to Burr’s bullet in the famous duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Even to casual readers of American history, to mention the name of Aaron Burr is to conjure words such as “traitor” and “secessionist.” But is this an adequate picture of the man, or has history done Burr’s legacy a disservice?
Nancy Isenberg in “Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr,” brings this enlightened and progressive man’s life back into view, without — this time — the unsubstantiated claims that have marred nearly every account of Burr up until now. Even modern biographies such as 2005′s “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow have largely perpetuated the worst view of Burr, that he held no set of political ideas worth pursuing, that he was an opportunist of the highest degree and that he was sexually frivolous.
While the latter charge is most certainly true, the other two are rather spurious. Tracing the steps of Hamilton’s widow from her life some 45 years after Hamilton’s death, Chernow claims in his prologue that Burr had:
… fired a moral shot at her husband, Alexander Hamilton, in a misbegotten effort to remove the man Burr regarded as the main impediment to the advancement of his career.
This is a dubious claim at best. Sure, Burr possessed his own political ambition, and it’s true that Hamilton and Burr were on different political spectra, but the simple reason behind the duel was Hamilton’s refusal to make an apology stemming from a statement, recorded by Charles Cooper, that Hamilton:
…has come out decidedly against Burr; indeed when he was here he spoke of him as a dangerous man, and who ought not to be trusted.
This was not an isolated statement from Hamilton against Burr’s character, but only one of any many denigrations Hamilton had made about Burr in the lead-up to the duel. This one, for Burr however, necessitated that the two settle their differences under the code duello. Had Hamilton apologized or recanted the statement, admitting that he had gone too far in his criticism of Burr, the duel probably never would have happened. Later in life, Burr admitted that
Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.
In any case, Burr penned an apology dated June 25, 1804 in which he requested Hamilton sign. Hamilton would not, and in a statement written between June 27-July 4, a day before the duel in New Jersey, said:
… it is possible that I may have injured Col Burr, however convinced myself that my opinions and declarations have been well founded, as from my general principles and temper in relation to similar affairs – I have resolved, if our interview is conducted in the usual manner,and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, to reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thought even of reserving my second fire – and thus giving a double opportunity to Col Burr to pause and reflect.
It is not however my intention to enter into any explanations on the ground. Apology, from principle I hope, rather than Pride, is out of the question.
None of this admits that Burr entered upon the duel to protect his own political career. He was doing just fine for himself at that time in his career. He was vice president of the nation and a gifted lawyer, after all. Rather, it was the other way around. Certainly, Hamilton would have liked to have avoided a duel if he could have, but he was outspoken to a fault, as Chernow admits, and would not retract his comments about Burr. More likely is the case that — and Isenberg makes this point concretely — Hamilton, Jefferson and other political adversaries felt threatened by Burr. The only difference is that whereas Chernow links Burr’s challenge of a duel to his ambition, Isenberg does not, and in my opinion, it is the latter that stands on the right side of history in this particular case. Dueling was a common way to settle scores in those days (It was illegal in New York, and that is why the two traveled to New Jersey), and Burr, amid waves upon waves of Hamilton’s slash and burn hack campaign against him, he had had enough. Political ambition had little, if anything, to do with it.
Chernow makes another point about Burr that seems historically dishonest. He attempts to make the case that Burr did not leave behind any substantial documents that relate his political ideas, and Chernow questions why some consider Burr a founder in the first place. He says that while Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams and other left behind thick and voluminous volumes, “packed with profound ruminations,” only two volumes exist of Burr’s writings. This is certainly true, but unlike some of the other founders, Burr had few living relatives in which to preserve his writings. His intelligent wife, Theodosia, died young; so did his daughter of the same name. Both were women of the enlightenment and carried their studies as far as their sex would take them at the time. Burr was more progressive than any of the founders, and he instilled, with the help of Theodosia the elder, the forward-thinking and high-minded ideals of Mary Wolstencraft and Jean-Jacques Rousseau into the younger Theodosia’s studies. The younger Theodosia, as it happens, disappeared after setting sail on the Patriot ship from Georgetown, S.C. The most common theory is that the schooner was captured by pirates, but in effect, no one knows what happened to Theodosia Burr Alston. The important point is that Burr outlived all of his immediate relatives and few, if any, were left to collect and carry on his legacy. All we are left with, as for Burr’s first-hand writings, are, unfortunately, the dregs, with a few exceptions, as Isenberg highlights.
Isenberg also makes a full account of Burr’s treason trial and his supposed conspiracy to create a new republic, separate from the United States, along with a portion of what was then called the “Southwest.” In reality, however, Burr’s schemes did not include any sort of separatist movement against the U.S., rather, he made plans to expand U.S. territory into Spanish Florida and Mexico (i.e. Manifest Destiny). Probably because he killed Hamilton and because of the political enemies he had made in Washington and elsewhere, many were suspicious of him, and it was actually Jefferson who had Burr arrested and indicted on a charge of treason. Jefferson was so cocksure of Burr’s guilt, and without any apparent reason, other than what he read in the obviously biased newspapers of the day. For all of Jefferson’s acumen in nearly every other subject that matters, I find it hard to rectify his headstrong determination to destroy Burr despite lack of any concrete evidence. Needless to say, no evidence was forthcoming in the actual treason trial because there was no evidence, and Burr was spared his life. But certainly not his political legacy.
Following the trial and still dogged by his detractors, he fled to Europe, suffered some unsuccessful ventures there and eventually returned to the U.S. in 1812 under the name, “Edwards,” which was probably a nod to his grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, and his uncle, Timothy Edwards, the latter of whom helped raise him as a boy.
With Isenberg’s book, readers will get a fuller and more balanced account of Burr’s life than, to my knowledge, has ever been written. Unlike Chernow and many others who have written about Burr, she does not push aside or ignore or fail to investigate the questionable sides of Burr’s character in order to inflate the good. In “Fallen Founder,” readers will be refreshed to read an unfiltered account of the former vice president, with his sexual exploits, filibustering schemes and progressive political ideas about women’s rights and other topics of import intact. One warning here: she is not kind to Hamilton at all. Rightly so? I’m not sure. Of course, we can reward Hamilton with the titles of being a brilliant political thinker and founder. But for whatever reason, he was obsessed with destroying Burr, and seemed to have personal, and more than just political reasons, as his motivation.
In the end and ironically, Burr turned the trump card, not only “winning” the duel against his most fire-penned adversary, but outliving nearly all of his former detractors at the ripe age of 81.
Continuing with my study of the Constitution and the debates and writings leading up to its ratification, this month I supplemented my recent reading of “The Federalist Papers” with “The Antifederalists: Critics of the Constitution 1781-1788″ by Jackson Turner Main.
Like a handful of the other short non-fiction works I have read this year, this book, at only 286 pages, is dense with information and has the most impact if it is read slowly and carefully. Having read Hamilton, Jay and Madison’s work and earlier this year, “Ratification” by Pauline Maier, I was fairly familiar with most of the political issues that were important to politicians and their constituents in late 18th century America. As such, I didn’t expect that this short work would take so long to digest. It took a good two weeks longer than expected to finish it up.
Originally written in 1961, Main informs readers in the introduction that up to that point, the story of the Antifederalists, that bloc of American politicians and thinkers in the 1780s that was opposed to the Constitution, had been unwritten. The term “Antifederalists” was one that was placed on them by the Federalists, and the Antifederalists themselves rejected the moniker. Main opens his book by setting up the political and social landscape of 18th century America. Even casual readers of American history probably know this part of the script: the merchant class, lawyers and the commerce sector flourished along in many of the North’s bustling seacoast towns, while in the South, the planter class and merchants held much of the property and wealth along the coasts and small farmers (many of them crippled by personal and business debt) mainly held the interior. There were, of course, exceptions, but that was the general economic layout at the time.
Main then proceeds by presenting the Antifederalists’s major objections to the Constitution and their proposed solutions. The major objections, of course, were that the Constitution would give too much power to the central government and leave too little for the States, prevent the States from making paper money for debt relief, that it lacked a bill of rights assuring certain personal liberties, that it provided Congress with too much power in levying taxes, among other objections. Main outlines the overarching opposition to the proposed Constitution:
The substance of criticism of the Constitution from the democratic point of view is summarized in the argument that the new government would be controlled by the upper class, not the “democracy,” and therefore it would favor the rich, not the common man.
As mentioned earlier, the general dichotomy at the time divided the mercantile classes of the seacoast towns and the small-town farmers further inland, the latter of whom were predominantly Antifederalists, with the exception of Georgia (At the time, its territory stretched into what is now Alabama and Mississippi to the Mississippi River). That state, as Main notes, was heavily Federalist because the people there needed federal protection from the Native Americans who were an ongoing threat to the west. Thus, the Constitution, which granted Congress with the power
to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
was a reasonable document in which to throw behind their support.
In the conclusion, Main articulates the basic premise of the whole book and the central concept that must be understood in any study of the Federalists and Antifederalists:
In all parts of the country, therefore, the commercial interest with its ramifications, including those who depended primarily and directly upon commerce, were Federal, and the “non-navigating” folk were Antifederal.
Next year, I may read the Antfederalist Papers, but for now, I was pleased to be able to study both sides of the debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution. I would encourage anyone with a cursory interest in American history to take a look at some of these enlightening polemics because it’s critical in understanding just how forward-thinking the framers of the Constitution — and indeed, even their detractors — and also how savvy they were in anticipating future problems that inevitably did arise on the national scale.
If Main’s book suffers from any flaws, it may be that it tends to be repetitious at times. This may benefit readers who are unfamiliar with the most of the issues, but it gets tedious for someone who wants to dig deeper.
The day will come, when the mystic 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. — Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823
I recently completed the second biography of Thomas Jefferson that deals specifically with his religion (I have read three Jefferson biographies in total). It is called “The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson” by Charles Sanford and presents a rather exhaustive review of the third president’s personal letters to friends and family and other statements about Jesus, the nature of man, the afterlife and other theological issues.
Even today, Christian apologists, politicians, cable news talking heads, modern deists, agnostics and atheists have tried to adopt Jefferson and other American founders as their own, claiming, or not depending on the worldview, the Founders essentially wanted to establish a nation with God or Jesus as its centerpiece, or at the least, create a nation based upon Christian or Judeo-Christian principles. The simple fact is that, at least publicly, most of the Founders were either Congregationalists, Presbyterians or Episcopalians with varying degrees of religious devotion. Here is a list that details each of their specific affiliations. Except for those, like Jefferson, who wrote a great deal about religion in private correspondence, we can say little about what they really believed in their private lives and in their hearts, just as we can little about what Bill Clinton or Barack Obama and Georgia W. Bush really believe. Their outward expressions of faith or participation in church services or public prayers speaks little to what they actually believe behind closed doors or what they write about to friends and family.
That said, Jefferson passed along, and in abundant detail, clues as to his true feelings on religion. We can be grateful that these letters and other statements on religion survived, since knowing the true religiosity of arguably the greatest historical American figure is of utmost importance if we are to make any broader claims as to the true wishes of the Founders on the topic of religion and the separation of church and state.
I have felt a bit out of the blogging groove as of late. Even in years past when I have left town for vacation, I still found time for a post or two, as in 2008 when I wrote from Boston about the presidential debate between then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain or in 2010 when I marveled about how difficult it was for a tourist like myself to get a clear view of the ocean on the coast of Maine.
So, let me briefly review what I’ve been up to the last couple weeks. As I hinted, I was on vacation in New England last week. Unlike in 2010 or 2008 (or the time before that), I didn’t bother to actually go into the city this time. My friend lives about 10 minutes north of Boston on the North Shore, so I mostly stayed in that general area, visiting numerous used book stores in Rowley, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Danvers. Among them were the Used Book Superstore, (This is a chain store, but the one I visited was in Danvers), Broken in Books (Rowley) and my favorite, Manchester by the Book (Manchester-by-the-Sea). In total, I came back to Georgia with seven books, and while I did visit Barnes & Noble once in Peabody, Mass., I resisted the urge to buy any brand new books. Prior to making it to Boston, I stayed over a couple days in Plymouth, where I drove past but did not actually see, what others described as “unimpressive” rock of that town’s fame.
I have also been reading quite a bit. Since the editor of the paper where I work seems fond of calculating the completion percentage of whatever history book through which he’s currently plowing (I believe he’s at 90 percent), I recently tabulated mine. I am about 72 percent done with From Sea to Shining Sea (not to be confused with this one), the former of which is a 600-page romp through the War of 1812, the war with Mexico and America’s westward expansion. It is an elegant and entertaining read and not so erudite that it’s inaccessible to the common reader. I plan to begin “The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson” next, which will no doubt make the incontrovertible case that while Jefferson made outward shows toward religion, he was privately more likely a deist and did not believe in the various miracles attributed to Christ. According to Charles Sanford:
From the evidence of his life, we may safely conclude that Jefferson remained a member in good standing of his local Episcopal church all his life, in outward form at least. His inward convictions were another matter, however. His great-grandson described Jefferson’s religion as that of a “conservative Unitarian….He did not believe in the miracles, nor the divinity of Christ, nor the doctrine of the atonement, but he was a firm believer in Divine Providence, in the efficacy of prayer, in a future state of rewards and punishments, and in the meeting of friends in another world.”
Jefferson also famously said in a letter to Benjamin Rush:
I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man.
In any case, I’m quite anticipating reading the book on Jefferson after I finish my romp through America’s expansionist years.
Otherwise, I have been catching up on my Counter Strike: Source, which I did not get to play at all while on vacation. This is a super high priority, I know, especially for someone who puts so much importance on reading and studying, but since I don’t watch much TV, I’ve got to have an engine by which to channel a little nightly frivolity. Of course, even at that, I am quite competitive and probably take it too seriously. Before going to Boston, for instance, I was quite disappointed with the my so-called “KDR” or kill-death ratio (It was o.95 or something. Quite unacceptable), but happily, the server was reset, and so too were the stats. Now, I’m at about 1.07. While some players’ KDR is above 1.50, anything above 1.0 is respectable in my case. I tend to quit the round or “spectate” if I find myself slipping too far below 1.0 so as not to totally screw up my stats. So much for the mirth.
Site notes: I just updated the software to version WordPress 3.1.3, and for anyone who uses WordPress plugins, you may want to shy away from Statpress. Although I had been using it for quite some time, it apparently caused some overload issues on one of my web host’s servers. My host, IXwebhosting.com, had to disable my database until I detected and fixed the problem. Luckily, the word “statpress” actually appeared in the error message generated by the server, so the culprit was clear.
I want to take some time to address a link recently posted by a Facebook friend of mine. I was going to post it as a comment on Facebook, but the reply, as you can tell, got a bit lengthy. I thought this might be an apt forum. The friend posted a link to this article, which makes the claim that
Secular Humanism is an attempt to function as a civilized society with the exclusion of God and His moral principles. During the last several decades, Humanists have been very successful in propagating their beliefs. Their primary approach is to target the youth through the public school system.
I originally commented in Facebook that I would need a lot of “space and time” to address all the errors and misrepresentations in the aforementioned article. Before I do so, it’s important to note that a cursory look at the content of the host website, allaboutphilosophy.org, appears to be an apologetic site masquerading as a philosophical trove of data. A quick read of other articles such as this one on existentialism makes this immediately clear. As such, this seems to be a place for Christians and other believers to go and read a little about some other strains of thought, like existentialism, so they can feel as if they have “learned” something about some contradicting philosophies, when, in reality, the articles mainly present either flatly wrong interpretations of such philosophies or greatly misrepresented versions of those ideologies.
Take, for instance, this statement about existentialism:
Existentialistic ideas came out of a time in society when there was a deep sense of despair following the Great Depression and World War II. There was a spirit of optimism in society that was destroyed by World War I and its mid-century calamities. This despair has been articulated by existentialist philosophers well into the 1970s and continues on to this day as a popular way of thinking and reasoning (with the freedom to choose one’s preferred moral belief system and lifestyle).
In this paragraph, the article attempts to make the case that existentialist thought began after the Great Depression and WWII, that it was born out of despair and that it prescribes that people have the freedom to cherry pick whichever moral systems they choose. This makes it seem almost morally relativistic. To the contrary, existentialism officially sprang up in the 19th century well before the Great Depression. It is less about despair than living decent, personally responsible lives in spite of the despair that may come from realizing the apparent meaninglessness of the world. The writer of the article in question seems to be attempting to claim that existentialism is steeped in despair when really, it’s the opposite. At its core and as I understand it, existentialism is about how to live noble and sincere lives in the absence of anything else for which to live. Some noted existentialists were believers and some were not, but most of them said people were personally responsible for how they live and conduct their lives. Many sub-strains of existentialism exist, of course, and it’s a challenge to reduce the entire philosophy to one sentence, but this is my basic, working definition.
In any case, back to secular humanism. We should note in the first quote the capitalization of the personal pronoun, “His,” to refer to God. This is another clue that this article is not presenting an objective look at secular humanism but one slanted through a theistic lens.
The author’s second quote, framed as a “strategic focus” by humanists, comes from John Dunphy, who supposedly said in an “award winning” essay from 1983 titled, “The Humanist:”
The battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: A religion of humanity — utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to carry humanist values into wherever they teach. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new — the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.
If Dunphy actually made this statement (I can’t confirm that he did because while I found couple essays with his name on them, I could not find one titled, “The Humanist,” anywhere except on apologetic websites, which, unsurprisingly regurgitated the quote in question), he used some unfortunate terms like “faith” and “religion” to describe humanism. Humanism is a philosophy or ideology, not a religion, that explores the concepts of human responsibility, freedom and potential. Or, simply:
Most people who describe themselves as humanists would likely cringe at being lumped into some kind of “new faith.” Humanists, to put it as succinctly as possible, have humans’ best interest at heart. They aren’t satanists or egoists or attempted demigods, as believers have, no doubt claimed.
In any case, if an essay titled, “The Humanist,” received some unnamed award, one would think a record of said essay would have surfaced in an Internet search result.
Moving on, here is the next passage from the article on secular humanism:
John Dewey, remembered for his efforts in establishing America’s current educational systems, was one of the chief signers of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto. It seems the Humanists have been interested in America’s education system for nearly a century. They have been absolutely successful in teaching children that God is imaginary and contrary to “science.”
It is true that Dewey signed the Humanist Manifesto, but after scanning two of Dewey’s works on the education system, “The Child and the Curriculum” and “Moral Principles in Education,” I could find no references to either “God,” “creation,” ”Darwin” or “evolution” and only a few references to “science.” The only references to science in these two works discuss it as a mere subject in the classroom and do not address a deity in any way. One would think that if humanists were so interested in taking over the classroom, one of its leading proponents would have made some reference along those lines in two of his works that address education directly.
While Dewey probably did think Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the correct one in explaining how complex life came about, I can find no evidence to suggest that he lead or supported some kind of humanist conspiracy to take over the school system in the way suggested by this article. The concept of creationism, of course, is indeed “contrary to ‘science’,” and that’s not under dispute by any serious scientist who adheres to the scientific method to draw his conclusions about how the world works.
Here is another flatly wrong statement from the secular humanism article:
Yet Evolution has not been proved. In fact, it seems that the Theory of Evolution is contrary to established science.
When it comes to the Origin of Life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way.Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!”
Contrary to what the article says, Wald was known for his work on retinas in the eye, not for evolution. Whatever personal opinions Wald might have held on evolution are irrelevant. He was most certainly not an evolutionist, so here is another patently false statement. A look at more recent Scientific American articles, however, will provide reams of credible information about evolution. Here are some examples: 1, 2 and 3.
The scientific explanation of how life developed from simpler forms is, not only a more beautiful and marvelous explanation than creationism, it is the default explanation. People purporting creationism or intelligent design have all their work ahead of them in explaining these subversive notions. Evolution by natural selection, to say it again and for the millionth time, is a scientific theory, as firmly established as gravity. Here’s a good explanation:
A theory is a scientific explanation of an observed phenomenon. Unlike laws, theories actually explain why things are the way they are. Theories are what science is for. If, then, a theory is a scientific explanation of a natural phenomena, ask yourself this: “What part of that definition excludes a theory from being a fact?” The answer is nothing! There is no reason a theory cannot be an actual fact as well. … So there is the theory of evolution. Then there is the FACT of evolution. Species change– there is variation within one kind of animal. There is a predictable range of genetic variation in a species, as well as an expected rate of random mutations. …
Yes, evolution is a fact, as real as gravity. The fact that all species alive today have descended from a common ancestor can be denied, but not refuted. We know it happens because we can observe it directly in short-lived species, and for longer lived species there is genetic and fossil evidence that is unambiguous. There is no other scientific explanation for the diversity of living species. Evolution is a very well established scientific concept with a massive amount of physical evidence for support. It is not a guess. Evolution is the basis of modern biology, and universities and laboratories across the world are engaged in research that explores evolution.
To address the other part of the quote from the secular humanist article, the idea that God, like creationism, is contrary to science, I might propose the following: If a supremely intelligent and powerful being actually exists, would this not tear down everything we have learned in 300 years of serious scientific inquiry? For, he would have to be somewhere, perhaps not in this dimension but in some other dimension, a fourth or fifth dimension perhaps. Or, some heretofore unexplained “spiritual” dimension, whatever that might mean. Christians here will roll out the oft-touted claim that God must exist outside of space and time, but to say that throws God, along with the baby, out the window.
Here is former pastor Dan Barker on the subject:
To say that God does not exist within space-time is to say that God does not exist. And even if it is true that God does exist “outside of time,” despite our failure to intuitively grasp what appears to be an impossibility, then how can he possibly interact with us mere temporals? It would be similar to an author trying to interact with one of the fictional characters in his or her novel — you can’t get there from here.
My believing friends might retort that if God is all-powerful, surely he can jump into our own space-time from wherever it is he abides, thus crashing into our world to alter the thoughts, actions and outcomes of human lives. But if this is the case, he is not outside of space-time after all. Ignoring the fact that there is, by definition, nothing outside of space-time, at the very least, God would have to exist in part of this space-time in addition to partly existing in some other realm. Here, we are bordering on the absurd, but to say that he exists outside of space-time either suggests that a) he is beyond our grasp and vice versa, b) does not exist or c) is at least a part-time member of our space-time. And if he is partly a member of our space-time, he requires an explanation like any other phenomenon. And it is here that we return to futile attempt to explain how a supremely complex being came into being. As Richard Dawkins has stated, if we grant this being the power to intervene in this world, the attempt to explain his complexity then becomes a scientific endeavor.
Here is Dawkins in “The God Delusion,” writing about a couple points he made at a conference at Cambridge:
First, that if God really did communicate with humans, that fact would emphatically not lie outside of science. God comes bursting through whatever other-worldy domain is his natural abode, crashing through into our world where his messages can be intercepted by humans brains — and that phenomenon has nothing to do with science? Second, a God who is capable of sending intelligible signals to millions of humans simultaneously, and of receiving messages from all of them simultaneously, cannot be, whatever else he might be, simple. Such bandwidth!
I have only covered the first page of the allaboutphilosophy.org article. The second page trots out some quotes from a few of the Founders on religion, most notably one from John Adams, which is often summoned by conservative talking heads. It reads:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
This was a passage from a letter written to a brigade in Massachusetts in October 1798 and must be understood through his audience, his personal thoughts on religion and Christianity being markedly different than his “public” stance on the matter. Probably most if not all of the soldiers to whom Adams was writing were Christians, so being the statesman that he was, he framed his letter according to his audience.
But consider some of Adams’ personal correspondence:
The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles? — letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815
As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? — letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! — letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations
And now, Thomas Jefferson. Notice that the final fourth and fifth quotes are addressed to John Adams himself.
I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. — letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799
I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others. — letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
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. — letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp July 30, 1816
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 … without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. — letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820
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. — letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
There is no need to go further. I think I have sufficiently made the case that allaboutphilosophy.org both gets the basic definition of secular humanism wrong, distorts basic science and trots out a very selective grouping of quotes from some Founders, whereas other quotes, which are more personal in nature, more truly represent some of our Founders’ thoughts on religion, indeed, of two of our most revered Founders, Adams and Jefferson.
What is with the propensity to come up with comic book, superhero names for political factions, politicians and generals in Washington? Down through history, we have:
- “Old Rough and Ready” (Zachary Taylor),
- “The Railsplitter” (Abe Lincoln),
- “Old Hickory” (Andrew Jackson),
- “Young Hickory” (James Polk),
- “Sage of Monticello” (Thomas Jefferson),
- “Sons of Liberty” (anti-Loyalist group in American Revolution)
- “Copperheads” (anti-Civil War, pro-peace and possibly slavery faction of the old-school Democrats)
- “Blue Dogs” (current right-wing faction of the modern Democrats, once known as Dixie-crats”)
There are actually many more of these sorts of nicknames. The most recent to my knowledge has been this anti-health-care reform faction of Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition. The Copperheads, or the Peace Democrats, actually strike me as a similar group to the Blue Dogs. Although the party today and the party in the mid-19th stood for vastly different ideals, I see similarities. As we know, the Republicans in the mid-19th century were the more progressive, generally anti-slavery faction, while the Democrats were generally in favor of the South and for maintaining the institution of slavery.
The Copperheads wanted to the Civil War to end and blamed it on the abolitionists. They wanted peace, to their credit, but that would be at the expense of allowing the institution to continue. They said Lincoln was abusing his powers as president. Bizzarely, the most prominent Copperhead faction was the Order of the Golden Circle (the Golden Circle being the perceived and wished for circle of slavery extension from the southern United States around through a portion of South America back around to the South), and its most prominent politician was Clement L. Vallandigham, who was exiled in Canada for awhile.
The Blue Dogs, thus, are the fiscally conservative wing of the Democratic Party, as it exists today, but they are also, to their discredit, the more lobbied group by the health care industry:
… more than half the $1.1 million in campaign contributions the Democratic Party’s Blue Dog Coalition received came from the pharmaceutical, health care and health insurance industries, according to watchdog organizations. — Democratic Underground
and, like the Copperheads, are speaking out against the president taking too many liberties to expand federal power.
Given their ties to the health care industry, the Blue Dogs have largely adopted stances against health care reform. Go figure.
I want to comment on some comments I heard recently while listening to Micky Plyler’s radio sports talk show (link to his blog) on The Drive, WCCP 104.9, based in Clemson, S.C. For the next few weeks, I will be working in one town and living in another state, which affords me ample driving time to catch some talk radio. As a side note, it’s disheartening that the news talk radio station once pulsing through Greenville, S.C., known as The Peak, shut down several years ago and reformatted to a popular music station. Meanwhile, a 24/7 sports talk radio station in WCCP seems to be thriving and growing. Examples abound, but this shows one where our interests as a society are: not on the truly important stuff, but on the escapist stuff. And lest one should question such a statement, I say that as a fan of WCCP.
Regardless, Plyler runs in the early morning on weekdays. He’s a solid sports analyst, and I’ve enjoyed listening to him. But during a segment while talking about sports salaries, he began talking about University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams and how some had critized guys like him for their seemingly exhorbitant salaries. Plyler then went on a five-minute or so tangent, veering into politics, saying how guys like Williams should not be hated for their wealth, but rewarded because they clawed their way up, working hard and making it: the American dream. As he was drifting ever away from sports, I wondered to myself, to paraphrase my own early-morning thought, “What the heck is a sports talk host doing commenting on politics?”
He then implied we were laying the groundwork for socialism — Wonder where he could have heard that?? — and that we seemingly reward those who sit on their butts and do nothing and are going to begin taxing those who have worked hard and scratched their way to the upper echelon.
First, let me make President Barack Obama’s tax policy clear: families earning less than $250,000 per year will get a cut, leaving the wealthiest 3 percent of Americans to see an increase. Now, by comparison, and just for fun, I make in the neighborhood of one-sixth of $250,000. Of course, my taxes will be cut come April 1, but so will the taxes of numerous families who draw enough money to afford lake houses, and heck, second houses, of which, I do not … not by a long shot. So, people who will actually get tax cuts include, not only those who’s fiscal belt may be tight, but those who’s fiscal belt may be quite comfortable. I would be doing jumping jacks if I made $240,000 per year, and these very folks will get cuts! For couples making more than 250k, if you feel you will be financially hurt by the new tax hikes, get real.
Now, Plyler and others have made the claim that the rich help keep the country afloat, have done the work and deserve to be where they are. Why tax them more? Isn’t that self-defeating for the economy? On this, here’s two points. First, every person who makes 250k or more did not get it through their own work ethic. Every person who is rich did not necessarily get it through some effort of themselves, as Plyler seems to claim. Some were simply born into privileged positions or families (i.e. members of the Kennedys, Bushes or Tony Blair’s four children, etc.) Yes, many in sports, like Alex Rodriquez and Roy Williams, likely worked hard to achieve their level of success, but let’s face it, others did not. They were simply born and privilege followed. Here’s where the argument against taxing the hard-working and relieving the destitute breaks down: not every person who is rich clawed up the ladder to get that way and not everyone who is poor or needy is lazy.
I saw a bumper sticker recently that read, to paraphrase, I’m too poor to vote Republican. That should be true of anyone making less than 250k or so per year. If it’s not clear by now, the Republican calling card goes something like this: tax cuts for corporations and for the rich; deregulation of big business; personal freedoms, like gun rights, unless such rights, (i.e. censorship, gay marriage or abortion) contrast with the Bible’s teaching, which consequently, has nothing at all to do with running a country. See: Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state,” which has become quite permeable.
To end, the common Republican ideology of letting poor folks and middle class folks fend for themselves (in the belief that church and other civic groups will and should come to the aid of the most needy) is, not only flawed, but cruel. Churches and other groups are limited in who they can help, and government programs, while sometimes mired in bureacracy and inefficiency, are some folks’ only means to survival. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others can talk tough all they want about personal responsibility, but when was the last time they were in a Medicaid office or a health department office? Plyler claimed the private sector can perform worlds better than anything the government can offer, and I’m inclined to agree. But I don’t see any private industries waiting in line to help the indignant or the unemployed or those who need insurance for their children. So, for some, government aid is the only alternative. Republicans who bemoan the welfare state should take a trip down to the local health department, hospital or Social Security office to get a big whiff of humanity.
Obama, of course, probably hasn’t seen the inside of one of these offices in years, except to visit, but at least he seems to understand the need that exists, not only for those who are the neediest among us, but for the working families who are putting bread on the table and yet worried about tomorrow. The Republican ideology, as I have outlined, simply doesn’t work, and Plyler and others are out of their element in praising the private sector over the public one, for the former certainly has its own means toward an incongruent end.