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Fake Quotations: Congress on School Bibles

Posted by sbh on Monday, 15 June 2009

Did the United States Congress pass this resolution

The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.

in 1782?

No.  Not in 1782 or any other year.

On this one there’s no real story behind it all, no misunderstanding to clear up—it’s a fake pure and simple.  And it’s the sort of fake that shouldn”t deceive anybody who has the slightest understanding of American history.

First, of course, the United States Congress didn’t exist in 1782.  Even assuming that its predecessor, the Continental Congress, is meant, it’s still nonsensical (and of course the Continental Congress never passed such a fatuous resolution).  What the forger seems to have done in this case is to use a genuine resolution recommending a Bible published by a Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitkin, for its care and accuracy in printing (colonial printers were notoriously careless and inaccurate) as the basis for this forgery:

Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied of the care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorise him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.

The words in bold are the ones lifted by the forger.  The phrase “for use in all schools” is apparently the forger’s own, though it may have been suggested by these words in Robert Aitkin’s petition: “your Memorialist begs leave to inform your Honours that he hath begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.”


Debunking an Email (Ken Ashford)

Barton Revises History to Promote the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (Chris Rodda)

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Bible of the Revolution (sbh)

2 Responses to “Fake Quotations: Congress on School Bibles”

  1. Kathy said

    I found the congressional records on this. Take a look around September 12 1782 and you will find the quote that you have above.


    The confusion comes from Mr. Aikten letter which says that the Bibles printed will be for the schools.

    Basically – they couldn’t get Bibles from England and Mr. Aikten was going to print Bibles with Congressional approval. I’m amazed that they cared to be sure there was an accurate Bible while at war – maybe this was important to them

    • sbh said

      Just to be clear, the link provided here is to the genuine quotation about Robert Aitken’s bible edition, the one used as a basis for creating the fake quotation under discussion. The fake quotation (of course) appears nowhere in the official record; it is a fake.

      The reason Robert Aitken approached the Continental Congress to announce “that he hath begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools” is that the printing of the bible was a crown prerogative. In Great Britain only one publisher was authorized to print bibles–though there were ways around that prohibition. The situation in the new nation was far from clear, but presumably the Continental Congress would have inherited the right to appoint the official printer of bibles. So when Robert Aitken, printer, “prays that he may be Commissioned or otherwise appointed & authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures, in such manner and form as may best suit the wants and demands of the good people of these States” he is operating under the rules in place during his time.

      The Continental Congress, in contrast, was obviously not clear on what the rules should be in the new nation. It did not appoint and authorize Robert Aitken “to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures” (though precedent would have been on its side here). It didn’t have the book published under its authority. What it did do was have the chaplains check it for accuracy and then authorize Aitken to publish a statement that the congress had been “satisfied of the care and accuracy in the execution of the work”. They gave as their reasons for approving Robert Aitken’s project that it was “subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country”.

      This is one of many concerns that the “United States in Congress assembled” had to deal with during the period; not every issue was connected with the war. They still had a nation to run, and the British were no longer there to carry on the tasks of governing.

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