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Washington and American Schools Revisited

Posted by sbh on Sunday, 30 January 2011

Did George Washington write:

What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ

on 12 May 1779?

No. As I commented before, this is another instance of a fake quotation being framed around a genuine kernel. In this case the phrases in blue were taken from Washington’s reply to a Delaware tribal delegation, while the words in red are adapted from a modern evangelist.

A bit of background is in order here. The Lenape (known as the Delawares to the colonists) lived originally in present-day New Jersey, along with adjacent areas of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York. Pressure from the colonists and the Iroquois forced them west into the Ohio valley, where they were when the American Revolution broke out. The war divided them; some supported the British, some supported the revolutionaries, and a third faction, under the influence of a Moravian mission led by David Zeisberger, were strict pacifists.

On 16 December 1775 the Continental Congress assured Captain White Eyes, a leader of the pro-revolutionary Lenape:

We are pleased that the Delawares intend to embrace Christianity. We will send you, according to your desire, a minister and a schoolmaster to instruct you in the principles of religion, and other parts of useful knowledge. [Journals of the Continental Congress, volume 3, p. 433]

And on 10 April 1776 the Continental Congress resolved:

That the commissioners for Indian affairs in the middle department, or any one of them, be desired to employ, for reasonable salaries, a minister of the gospel, to reside among the Delaware Indians, and instruct them in the Christian religion; a school master to teach their youth reading, writing, and arithmetic; and also, a blacksmith to do the work of the Indians in the middle department. [Journals of the Continental Congress, volume 4, p. 267]

And again, when the Lenape agreed to the Treaty of Fort Pitt on 17 September 1788—the first treaty the new government would negotiate with any group of native Americans—they were promised even more. In addition to the “articles of clothing, utensils and implements of war” they were supposed to receive, the government of the United States promised them that it would at least consider that

should it for the future be found conducive for the mutual interest of both parties to invite any other tribes who have been friends to the interest of the United States, to join the present confederation, and to form a state whereof the Delaware nation shall be the head, and have a representation in Congress… [Treaty with the Delawares in Charles J. Kappler, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (Washington, 1904), volume 2, pp. 3-5]

Relations soured quickly after the treaty however. Captain White Eyes, the Lenape leader most favorable to the United States, died while acting as a guide for an American military expedition. The official story was that he died of smallpox, but George Morgan, who brought up George White Eyes, the captain’s son, after his death, wrote on 12 May 1784:

His father was treacherously put to death at the moment of his greatest exertions to save the United States, in whose service he held the commission of a colonel

and

I have carefully concealed and shall continue to conceal from young White Eyes the Manner of his Father’s death, which I have never mentioned to any one but Mr. Thompson & two or three Members of Congress. [in Joseph Henderson Bausman and John Samuel Duss, History of Beaver County, Pennsylvania (New York, 1904), volume 1, p. 32)]

The result was catastrophic as far as friendly relations were concerned. In early 1789 the pro-American Lenape sent an embassy to the Continental Congress. Among the issues on the table were delivery of the clothing and goods promised them, the need for instructors who could teach their children useful arts, and their desire for support for the Moravian mission under David Zeisberger. As evidence for their desire to cooperate with the new nation they sent three young people to the Congress to receive an American education—George White Eyes, son of the murdered leader, age 8; John Killbuck, age 16, son of Captain Killbuck (another key leader), and Thomas, age 18, Captain Killbuck’s half-brother. (For the record Thomas was apprenticed to a farmer to learn agriculture and blacksmithing, while John and George went to Princeton.) [Louise Phelps Kellogg, Frontier Advance on the Upper Ohio 1778-1779, (Madison, 1916), p. 319]

On its way to Congress the embassy happened to pass near Washington’s troops. It was 12 May 1779. Washington wrote of this:

The deputies from the Delaware Nation arrived at Head Quarters two days ago. They presented me with a long memorial on various points, which they intend to present also to Congress. I was a little at a loss what answer to give and could have wished they had made their first application there. But as an answer could not be avoided, I thought it safest to couch it in general but friendly terms and refer them to Congress for a more particular one.

Washington assured the delegation that he had read their paper, and that he “rejoice[d] in the new assurances you give of their friendship. The things you now offer to do to brighten the chain, prove your sincerity. I am sure Congress will run to meet you, and will do every thing in their power to make the friendship between the people of these States, and their Brethren of the Delaware nation, last forever.” To Congress, however, Washington was more candid, writing, “Though there is reason to believe, they have not adhered very scrupulously to their pretended friendship, it appeared to me to be our present policy at least to conciliate; and in this spirit my answer was conceived.”

Three of the points brought up by the Lenape delegation were their need of supplies, the education of three of their youths by Congress, and their desire to receive practical and religious instruction in their own country. Let’s consider these points one by one.

On the first point, the Lenape petition read:

That when Congress and the Delaware Nation renewed their Friendship, as above mentioned, the former promised, & engaged to supply the latter, in Exchange for their Peltries, with Cloathing and other Goods; which from Custom have become absolutely necessary for the Subsistance of their Women and Children. This Engagement has been renewed on the party [sic] of Congress at four different Treaties successively, without ever having been complied with in any degree…

As a military man Washington of course had nothing to do with this issue. He assured them

I am sorry to hear that you have suffered for want of necessaries, or that any of our people have not dealt justly by you. But as you are going to Congress, which is the great Council of the Nation and hold all things in their hands, I shall say nothing about the supplies you ask. I hope you will receive satisfaction from them.

As we’ll see, this would be his pattern with all the replies—an expression of sympathy, followed by an expression of confidence in the Continental Congress.

About the three boys the petition read:

That the said Delaware Nation have on the Invita[t]ion of Congress by their Commissioners & Agent, sent down three Children of their principal Chiefs to be placed at School by Congress. These Children if they live, and imp[r]ove the Advantages offerd to them will naturally have great Interest & Influence in the Councills of the said Nation who therefore wish them to be educated accordingly & for this favour we beg leave to be obligated to the Wisdom and Genarosity of Congress alone.

And Washington expresses his pleasure in their gesture and his confidence in Congress’s reaction:

I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly.

And about instruction for their youth at home the petition read:

… the said Delaware Nation repeatedly applyed to Congress through their Commissioners & Agent, for School Masters and Mistresses to be sent among them, & for useful Tradesmen and Husbandmen to instruct the Youth of their Nation in useful Arts … [and] have established a Town where numbers of them have embraced Christianity under the Instruction of the Reverend and worthy Mr David Ziesberger whose honest zealous Labours & good Examples have Induced many of them to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been a means of introducing considerable order, Regularity and love of Peace into the Minds of the whole Nation—the[y] therefore hope Congress will countenance & promote the Mission of this Gentleman, so far as they may deem expedient…

And again Washington expresses pleasure and confidence:

My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.

And here, lest you’ve forgotten the main point of all this, let us observe the kernel of the fake quotation—the words “learn,” “above all,” and “the religion of Jesus Christ,” spoken mainly about the Ziesberger mission embraced by the Lenape. Please note there is not one word here about American schools, or what children should learn in them.

In my previous account I made no attempt to trace the actual origin of this fake quotation, since it appears to be very modern and its falsity is obvious. Some people actually criticized me for this—and while it isn’t necessary, I personally find it satisfactory to explain how the mistake came to be. In this case, the missing link appears to be the confused and inaccurate account of this incident that appeared in David Barton’s popular volume, Original Intent. On p. 85, as part of a meditation on the place of religion in American education, Barton wrote:

Perhaps George Washington, “The Father of the Country,” provided the most succinct description of America’s educational philosophy when Chiefs from the Delaware Indian tribe brought him three Indian youths to be trained in American schools. Washington first assured the chiefs that “Congress … will look upon them as their own children,” and then commended the Chiefs for their decision, telling them that:

You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention.

By George Washington’s own words, what youths learned in America’s schools “above all” was “the religion of Jesus Christ.”

Note the similarity of this last sentence to the fake quotation—it’s in the past instead of the present tense, there are quotation marks around Washington’s actual words, we have “youths” instead of “students”, and “America’s” instead of “American”, but in other respects it is identical. Barton’s inaccurate summary—Washington of course was not speaking of what the youths would learn in American schools, but what the Lenape were learning in their own institutions—clearly led to this fake quotation.

A likely explanation is that somebody, whether by accident or design, omitted the quotation marks and made the other changes and attributed the concoction to Washington. As I noted in my previous account the oldest reference Google Books turned up for the fake was from 2006, in a book called Is God with America? by Bob Klingenberg (p. 188). The passage there reads:

How far have we fallen? To answer that question, we have but to listen to a quote from President George Washington. On May 12, 1779, speaking to and assuring the Delaware Indian Chiefs, the founding father of America said: “What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.” Public education and Christianity were spoken in the same sentence. Ipso facto! Not only would the Indian children learn Christianity in America’s schools, it was the paramount subject in the classroom. President Washington put it his way: “Above all!”

Kingenberg has taken Barton’s confusion and amplified it. Again, Washington was not speaking about American schools in this passage at all. After saying that he was “glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us” he moves on to “the other matters” of receiving instructors to teach useful arts and of getting support for David Ziesberger’s mission. It is in that connection that he said “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.” He may well have hoped and expected that the three sons of Lenape leaders would likewise have received such instruction, whether in or out of school, but he didn’t say it, which is the only point at issue here. Barton’s mistake and somebody’s failure to check original sources are the clear sources of this particular fake quotation.

Links

Is God with America? (Bob Klingenberg [Amazon Books])

Speech of Delawares to Washington and Congress (in Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, volume 23)

Speech to the Delaware Chiefs (George Washington)

To the President of Congress (George Washington)

“Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice” — The Remarkable Hypocrisy of David Barton (Part 1) (Chris Rodda)

A Brief History of the Delaware Indians (Richard C. Adams, Senate Document 501, 59th Congress, 1st session)

Update: David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: Gnadedhutten and the Christian Indians (Warren Throckmorton)

Wikipedia Articles

Lenape

Christian Munsee

David Zeisberger

Gnadenhutten Massacre

Fake Quotation Sources

Founding Fathers Quotes (Eads Home Ministry)

George Washington Quotes (Revolutionary War and Beyond)

Freedom of Religion (Eternalchoice; this one adds the revealing observation that “Apparently ol’ George didn’t get the memo that the founding fathers were supposed to think teaching Christianity in schools was tyranny.”)

Is America a Christian Nation: More Quotes from Our Founders (Shades of Grace)

Arguments for Prayer in School (All About History)

Posted in Christian, Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, George Washington | Leave a Comment »

Washington and God in the Picture

Posted by sbh on Monday, 9 August 2010

Did George Washington claim

You cannot govern without God in the picture

as quoted here?

Okay, people, you’re not even trying, are you? This one is absolutely ludicrous, from the twentieth-century colloquialism of the second-person general statement to the relatively recent phrase “in the picture” (in this sense, anyway). No, George Washington didn’t say it. He didn’t write it. It’s not his.

This is in fact a misquotation of something written in various forms by James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000), evangelical theologian and author of many inspirational and devotional books. This version comes from his The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary, p. 1332:

Second, without God in the picture we have no sure means of guiding government properly.

Boice wrote similar things elsewhere, but I rather doubt that he ever put it in the second person (as the version quoted at the top of the page has it), based on my limited exposure to his writing style. I could easily be wrong on this point, however, and I don’t insist upon it.

The attribution to Washington may have come about through confusion with another fake quotation, the without-God-and-the-Bible statement I debunked earlier, and sometimes now quoted in the form

It is impossible to govern a nation without God and the Bible.

But as far as this present item is concerned, both saying and concept are Boice’s, not Washington’s; and if the saying seems attractive, it should be correctly quoted and attributed. If it is supposed to gain added stature by its attribution to the first president of the United States and the father of his country rather than to its true author, then it’s probably best to leave it undisturbed in the bag of stale tricks.

Posted in Bible, Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, George Washington | 1 Comment »

“No king but Jesus” and the American Revolution

Posted by sbh on Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Did John Adams and John Hancock reply to Major Pitcairn

We recognize no sovereign but God and no king but Jesus!

when the British officer called on the assembled minutemen to disperse on 19 April 1775? (source: Eads Home Ministries, by 16 January 2006)?

No. This is a recent (probably twenty-first century) concoction.

The Eads Home Ministries site tells the story like this:

Until then let me tell you a story: on april 18, 1775 John Adams and John Hancock were at the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, a Lexington Pastor and militia leader. That same night Paul Revere arrived to warn them of the approaching Redcoats. The next morning British Major Pitcairn shouted to an assembled regiment of minutement. “Disperse ye villians, lay down your arms in the name of George the Sovereign King of England. The immediate response of John Adams and John Hancock was “WE RECOGNIZE NO SOVEREIGN BUT GOD AND NO KING BUT JESUS!

The Eads Home Ministry site does not give a source for this tale, but does seem to be the earliest to give it in exactly this form. There are several difficulties with this account. First, John Adams and John Hancock weren’t present at the encounter between Major Pitcairn and the minutemen. John Hancock and Samuel (not John) Adams had indeed stayed the night at Jonas Clark’s house, but they had fled upon receiving Paul Revere’s warning. Second, while Jonas Clark was an agitator and involved in training the militia, the minutemen were in this case led by Captain John Parker.

Oddly, the Eads Home Ministry version of the tale is virtually word-for-word identical to an earlier (2001) relation by Charles A. Jennings, with only one telling detail (aside from a couple of misspellings) different:

On April 18, 1775 John Adams and John Hancock were at the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, a Lexington pastor and militia leader. That same night Paul Revere arrived to warn them of the approaching Redcoats. The next morning British Major Pitcairn shouted to an assembled regiment of Minutemen; “Disperse, ye villains, lay down your arms in the name of George the Sovereign King of England.” The immediate response of Rev. Jonas Clarke or one of his company was: “We recognize no Sovereign but God and no King but Jesus.

Note that the sole significant difference between the two lies in who gave the immediate response—“John Adams and John Hancock” in the Eads Home Ministry account has replaced “Rev. Jonas Clarke or one of his company” in the Jennings version. Why the historically impossible substitution was made is anybody’s guess, but it seems that it was one of the minutemen—Jonas Clark or one of his associates—who actually made the remark in question.

Or was it? Jennings gives sources (mostly non-scholarly narratives with a Christian Nationite bent) for some of his assertions, but not this one. Still, as this event has been told and retold innumerable times, we should have no trouble running it down. Let’s start with Jonas Clark’s own account. What does he have to say? Well, for one thing he does confirm that Samuel Adams (not John) and John Hancock were present at his house:

On the evening of the eighteenth of April, 1775 we received two messages; the first verbal, the other by express, in writing, from the committee of safety, who were then sitting in the westerly part of Cambridge, directed to the Honorable John Hancock, Esq; (who, with the Honorable Samuel Adams, Esq; was then providentially with us) informing, “that eight or nine officers of the king’s troops were seen, just before night, passing the road towards Lexington, in a musing, contemplative posture; and it was suspected they were out upon some evil design.”

As both these gentlemen had been frequently and even publicly, threatened, by the enemies of this people, both in England and America, with the vengeance of the British administration:—And as Mr. Hancock in particular had been, more than once, personally insulted, by some officers of the troops, in Boston; it was not without some just grounds supposed, that under cover of the darkness, sudden arrest, if not assassination might be attempted, by these instruments of tyranny!

To prevent any thing of this kind, ten or twelve men were immediately collected, in arms, to guard my house, through the night.

Some attempt was made to gather intelligence as to what the British were up to, and then

Between the hours of twelve and one, on the morning of the nineteenth of April, we received intelligence, by express, from the Honorable Joseph Warren, Esq.; at Boston, “that a large body of the king’s troops (supposed to be a brigade of about 12, or 1500) were embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to land on Lechmere’s Point (so-called) in Cambridge: And that it was shrewdly suspected, that they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores, belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord,” in consequence of General Gage’s unjustifiable seizure of the provincial magazine of powder at Medford, and other colony stores in several other places.

Joseph Warren had sent this intelligence, though Clark didn’t say so, through the now-famous midnight ride of Paul Revere. The militia assembled and sent out observers to collect intelligence on the British movements; after a while one of them returned and reported that all was quiet, at which point the militia dispersed. The result was that they were taken by surprise when the British troops actually appeared, and the militia had to be called hastily back by means of signals with drums.

Immediately upon their appearing so suddenly, and so nigh, Capt. Parker, who commanded the militia company, ordered the men to disperse, and take care of themselves; and not to fire.—Upon this, our men dispersed;—but, many of them, not so speedily as they might have done, not having the most distant idea of such brutal barbarity and more than savage cruelty, from the troops of a British king, as they immediately experienced!—!—For, no sooner did they come in sight of our company, but one of them, supposed to be an officer of rank, was heard to say to the troops, “Damn them; we will have them!”—Upon which the troops shouted aloud, huzza’d, and rushed furiously towards our men.—About the same time, three officers (supposed to be Col. Smith, Major Pitcairn and another officer) advanced, on horse back, to the front of the body, and coming within 5 or 6 rods of the militia, one of them cried out, “ye villains, ye Rebels, disperse; Damn you, disperse!” —or words to this effect. One of them (whether the same, or not, is not easily determined) said, “Lay down your arms; Damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms!”—The second of these officers, about this time, fired a pistol towards the militia, as they were dispersing.—The foremost, who was within a few yards of our men, brandishing his sword, and then pointing towards them, with a loud voice said to the troops, “Fire!—By God, fire!”—which was instantly followed by a discharge of arms from the said troops, succeeded by a very heavy and close fire upon our party, dispersing, so long as any of them were within reach.—Eight were left dead upon the ground! Ten were wounded.—The rest of the company, through divine goodness, were (to a miracle) preserved unhurt in this murderous action!—

So, Jonas Clark made no mention of the “No king but Jesus” line—or the demand in the name of George the sovereign king of England that supposedly led to it. In fact, given the rapidity of events as Clark described them, it’s difficult to see where there would have been time to fit it in.

Frank Warren Coburn wrote an account of the battle early in the twentieth century, taking into account not only Clark’s narrative but a wide variety of other sources. Here’s how he narrated the encounter (notes omitted):

On came the British, almost on the run, the light companies of the Tenth Regiment in advance. At their head rode Major John Pitcairn and two other mounted officers.

“Stand your ground,” exclaimed Parker; “don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they want to have a war let it begin here!”

Major Pitcairn galloped up to within six rods of Captain Parker’s foremost line, and exclaimed:

“Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse.”

Captain Parker, seeing the utter hopelessness of armed resistance, gave the order to disperse and not to fire. He did not, however, order his men to lay down their arms. Evidently Pitcairn wished to disarm them, for while they were dispersing he shouted again:—

“Damn you, why don’t you lay down your arms?”

But no answer came back, and each one of Capt. Parker’s little band retiring from the field, carried his gun with him.

Then one of the other mounted officers, about two rods behind Pitcairn, name unknown, brandished his sword and the regulars huzzaed in unison. He then pointed his pistol towards the minute-men and fired.

Pitcairn was back to that officer, so did not see him fire. He heard the discharge, and easily might have mistaken it as coming from an enemy, for he had not authorized it himself. Furious with passion he gave the order:

“Fire!”

There was hesitation to obey from his men, for he repeated:

“Fire, damn you, fire!”

The first platoon of eight or nine men then fired, evidently over the heads of the minutemen, for none were killed or wounded. Pitcairn saw the effects of that volley and realized that his men did not aim to kill. Then came his next order:

“G-d d—n you, fire at them!”

The second volley surely was fired to kill.

From the notes we see that Coburn used in addition to Clark’s narrative depositions of Captain John Parker, William Wood, Thomas Fessenden, John Robbins, William Draper, William Munroe, Simon Winship, John Munroe, and John Bateman (a British soldier). Besides these he used Paul Revere’s narrative and a handful of British sources. And there’s still no mention of “George the Sovereign King of England” or “no king but Jesus.”

It’s beginning to look as if not only did John Hancock and John Adams not say it, but neither did Jonas Clark or any of the men with him.

So who did say it?

Well, No king but Jesus was a slogan of the Fifth Monarchy men a century before the American Revolution. These were opponents of the monarchy during the Interregnum who justified their opposition to monarchy by claiming to believe that the second coming of Jesus was imminent, bringing the Fifth Kingdom prophesied by the prophet Daniel that would be ruled by Jesus himself. One of them went so far as to write a future history of Europe based on this belief, and while the Fifth Monarchists themselves were crushed by the return of the British monarchy, this idea was still kicking around, ready to be used by anybody needing a justification for throwing off the shackles of tyranny. It’s quite conceivable that that some during the American Revolution employed this concept, and there is at least a shred of evidence in its favor. The British parliamentary records include this item (22 April 1774):

SIR RICHARD SUTTON read a copy of a letter relative to the Government of America, from the Governor of America to the Board of Trade, shewing, that at the most quiet times, that the disposition to oppose the laws of this country were strongly ingrafted in them, and that all their actions conveyed a spirit and wish for independence. If you ask an American who is his master, he will tell you he has none, nor any Governor but Jesus Christ. I do believe it, and it is my firm opinion, that the opposition to the measures of the Legislature of this country, is a determined prepossession of the idea of total independence.

So here we have No governor but Jesus, but how on earth did it mutate to No king but Jesus? Well, this item did turn up in a number of places over the years, among them William J. Federer’s America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations, and it may well be from some such place that Senator John Ashcroft (later to be Attorney-General) dredged up his misremembered account in May 1999 in a short speech at Bob Jones University:

A slogan of the American Revolution which was so distressing to the emissaries of the king that it was found in correspondence sent back to England, was the line, “We have no king but Jesus”. Tax collectors came, asking for that which belonged to the king, and colonists frequently said, “We have no king but Jesus”.

In any case the furor over that speech popularized this form of the saying, and it’s after that that we start seeing the saying grafted onto the account of the opening moments of the Battle of Lexington. Internet sites like Eads Home Ministry and Truth in History seem to have taken the lead; according to Google Books the first time the John Adams and John Hancock version of the story turns up in print was in 2007, and the Jonas Clark version doesn’t turn up in print until 2008.

  • To review: John Adams seems to have been included in the narrative by mistake for Samuel Adams.
  • Neither John Adams nor John Hancock (nor for that matter Samuel Adams) was present at the time the alleged statement was supposed to have been made.
  • Jonas Clark, who was there, and according to an earlier version of the story, may have actually made the statement, says nothing of it in his account.
  • Nobody seems to have written anything of this statement until John Ashcroft misquoted the No governor but Jesus line in a 1999 speech at Bob Jones University.
  • In 2001 it turns up grafted onto an account of the opening of the Battle of Lexington at the Truth in History website. John Adams is mistakenly substituted for Samuel Adams in this version, but the No king but Jesus slogan is attributed to Jonas Clark or one of his associates.
  • In 2006 the same account turns up word-for-word at the Eads Home Ministries website with John Adams and John Hancock substituted for Jonas Clark or associate.
  • The next year the story starts turning up in printed books. (At least one of them credited the Truth in History website as its source for the story.)

The sequence of events seems relatively clear. Not only did John Adams and John Hancock not say it, nor Jonas Clark nor an anonymous minuteman, it is quite possible that nobody said it at all in connection with the American Revolution until John Ashcroft threw it into a short speech at Bob Jones University.

Links

Summary of American Governor’s Letter Read in Parliament (by Sir Richard Sutton)

Opening of the War of the Revolution (Jonas Clark)

The Battle of April 19, 1775 (Frank Warren Coburn)

Speech at Bob Jones University (John Ashcroft)

No King But King Jesus (Charles A. Jennings, 22 April 2001 cache at Internet Archive)

Tutorial: explaining Founding Fathers quotes that seem to show they weren’t Christian (Eads Home Ministries)

Further Reading

Barton is At It Again (Jim Allison)

Not a Nation of Christians! (W. D. Clabaugh)

English Dissenters: Fifth Monarchists or Fifth Monarchy Men (ExLibris)

Battles of Lexington and Concord (Wikipedia)

Posted in Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, John Adams, John Hancock, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Adams and the General Principles of Christianity

Posted by sbh on Saturday, 8 May 2010

Did John Adams write:

The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God

as he has been quoted on many blogs and websites—here, here, here, and here, for example?

No, not really. This is a patchwork of three phrases taken from a letter (28 June 1813) to Thomas Jefferson juxtaposed to give a misleading impression of Adams’ meaning:

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were …

… the general principles of Christianity …

I will avow, that I … believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God….

The omissions here are easily significant enough to give this extract the red designation.

Understanding this passage involves going back to the year 1798, when John Adams was president of the United States. While the nation attempted to maintain neutrality in the ongoing war between Great Britain and revolutionary France, the French started seizing American vessels, leading to an undeclared war. It was in this context that a group of young men from Philadelphia wrote to Adams to express their support for his actions:

The youth of the American nation will claim some share of the difficulty, danger, and glory of its defense; and although we do not hold ourselves competent to form an opinion respecting the tendency of every measure, yet we have no hesitation in declaring that we place the most entire confidence in your wisdom, integrity, and patriotism; that we regard our liberty and independence as the richest portion given to us by our ancestors; that we perceive no difference between the illegal and oppressive measures of one government and the insolent attempts now made to usurp our rights by another; that as our ancestors have magnanimously resisted the encroachments of the one, we will no less vigorously oppose the attacks of the other; that at the call of our country we will assemble with promptitude, obey the orders of the constituted authorities with alacrity, and on every occasion act with all the exertion of which we are capable; and for this we pledge ourselves to you, to our country, and to the world.

John Adams returned a polite reply, in which he ventured to give some paternal advice:

It would neither be consistent with my character, nor yours, on this occasion, to read lessons to gentlemen of your education, conduct, and character; if, however, I might be indulged the privilege of a father, I should with the tenderest affection recommend to your serious and constant consideration, that science and morals are the great pillars on which this country has been raised to its present population, opulence, and prosperity, and that these alone can advance, support, and preserve it.

Without wishing to damp the ardor of curiosity, or influence the freedom of inquiry, I will hazard a prediction, that, after the most industrious and impartial researches, the longest liver of you all will find no principles, institutions, or systems of education more fit, in general, to be transmitted to your posterity, than those you have received from your ancestors.

Thomas Jefferson was then vice-president under Adams, and he favored policies entirely at odds with his. Something about this seemed to sum up for him a basic difference between the Federalists’ view and his own, and years later (on 15 June 1813) he wrote to Adams about it:

One of the questions, you know, on which our parties took different sides, was on the improvability of the human mind in science, in ethics, in government, etc. Those who advocated reformation of institutions, pari passu with the progress of science, maintained that no definite limits could be assigned to that progress. The enemies of reform, on the other hand, denied improvement, and advocated steady adherence to the principles, practices and institutions of our fathers, which they represented as the consummation of wisdom, and acme of excellence, beyond which the human mind could never advance. Although in the passage of your answer alluded to, you expressly disclaim the wish to influence the freedom of inquiry, you predict that that will produce nothing more worthy of transmission to posterity than the principles, institutions and systems of education received from their ancestors.

Adams, in his reply (28 June 1813), disclaims any such general application of his words. He limits the “principles … received from their ancestors” to two areas: “the general principles of Christianity … and the general principles of English and American liberty”. What did he mean by “the general principles of Christianity”? He doesn’t spell them out in the letter, but they are principles held in common by a diverse range of beliefs, including “Roman Catholics, … Presbyterians, Methodists, … Universalists, … Deists and Atheists ….” In other words, Adams had in mind the common system of morals held by all humankind throughout history. And far from giving it the unique status implied by the patchwork quotation, he couples “the general principles of Christianity” throughout with “the general principles of English and American liberty”.

Here is what Adams wrote to Jefferson, with the selected passages in bold:

Now, compare the paragraph in the answer with the paragraph in the address, as both are quoted above, and see if we can find the extent and the limits of the meaning of both.

Who composed that army of fine young fellows that was then before my eyes? There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.” Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.

Could my answer be understood by any candid reader or hearer, to recommend to all the others the general principles, institutions, or systems of education of the Roman Catholics, or those of the Quakers, or those of the Presbyterians, or those of the Methodists, or those of the Moravians, or those of the Universalists, or those of the Philosophers? No. The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system. I could, therefore, safely say, consistently with all my then and present information, that I believed they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles. In favor of these general principles, in philosophy, religion, and government, I could fill sheets of quotations from Frederic of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, as well as Newton and Locke; not to mention thousands of divines and philosophers of inferior fame.

If the passage as given above can really be considered a fair summary of the entire passage, then so can this version, emphasizing the other elements Adams gave as the “general principles on which the fathers achieved independence”:

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were … the general principles of English and American liberty … I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that … those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system.

Obviously neither version is a fair representation of the original. Each leaves out one essential element in the original mix so that even though these extracts are made up of Adams’ own words, the overall quotation (particularly sans ellipses) is as dishonest as the Patrick Henry “religionists” misattribution or the Washington “impossible to govern without the Bible” concoction. One of the sites given above promotes all three of these fake quotations, and has the gall to attempt to justify them as follows:

And yes, there are the detractors who would say that the quotes are wrong or taken out of context. That will be argued for generations. But to deny that faith has played an integral part in this nation’s history is simply to show an ignorance of that very history.

Nice distraction—and typical of many who manufacture and distribute these counterfeit wares. Ideology trumps fact—and who can really know the truth about the past? Actually, it is not all that difficult to run down a quotation to its source—it just takes time and effort. Nothing about these fakes “will be argued for generations”—unless by ideologues who choose to stubbornly ignore the facts. As Adams went on to observe to Jefferson

I might have flattered myself that my sentiments were sufficiently known to have protected me against suspicions of narrow thoughts, contracted sentiments, bigoted, enthusiastic, or superstitious principles, civil, political, philosophical, or ecclesiastical.

Apparently not.

Links

1798 Exchange between Adams and Philadelphia Young Men (Anonymous and John Adams)

Letter to Adams (15 June 1813) (Thomas Jefferson)

Letter to Jefferson (28 June 1813) (John Adams)

Posted in Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, John Adams | 5 Comments »

Fake Quotations: Washington and American Schools

Posted by sbh on Friday, 2 April 2010

Did George Washington write:

What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ

on 12 May 1779 (or at any point in his life)?

No. This is another instance of a fake quotation being framed around a genuine kernel—in this case the words given in blue above.

It is a curious fact that George Washington almost never used the expression “Jesus Christ” in his extant writings. The genuine ones, anyway. Where reality lacks, invention often races in to fill the void, and so various fake George Washington prayers and prayer-books and the like have come down to us, and some of them refer in fulsome terms to Jesus Christ, but, as I said, there is only one genuine reference, and it was discovered and first printed only in the twentieth century. It is from this document that the words “learn,” “above all,” and “the religion of Jesus Christ” were lifted.

I’ve often been struck by the lack of a sense of history betrayed in so many of the modern fake quotations that have come to my attention. For George Washington to be commenting on students learning about the religion of Jesus Christ in schools ought to set off anybody’s BS detector. When would he have been likely to say such a thing? As a colonial surveyor? As a soldier in the French and Indian War? As a general during the Revolution? As President of a new nation that had no public school system? He had no kids, but I suppose he could have been commenting on the education of a young relative or friend, but, really—it’s a stretch. It just isn’t likely. If the fake had been attributed to somebody known to be interested in education—Noah Webster and William McGuffey come to mind—it might pass. But it seems unlikely on the face of it to have come from George Washington.

And of course it didn’t. The genuine document emerged as part of events in the west during the Revolutionary war. The Delaware Indians had been formidable opponents in earlier conflicts, but under the influence of Moravian missionaries, whose pacifistic brand of Christianity dampened their war ardor, they had settled down somewhat. The Continental forces wanted to keep it that way. Efforts to keep the lid on the situation took a blow when in November 1778 influential chief White Eyes died during an American expedition. The official story was that he had caught smallpox; it came out later that he had been murdered by members of the militia. In a last ditch effort to save the peace the pacifist and pro-Christian party among the Delawares sent out an embassy to the Continental Congress. Passing near George Washington’s forces they presented him with their petition. The date was 12 May 1779.

Washington was taken aback. He had no instructions from Congress on how to deal with the situation. The delegation, he wrote,

… presented me with a long memorial on various points, which they intend to present also to Congress. I was a little at a loss what answer to give and could have wished they had made their first application there. But as an answer could not be avoided, I thought it safest to couch it in general but friendly terms and refer them to Congress for a more particular one. Though there is reason to believe, they have not adhered very scrupulously to their pretended friendship, it appeared to me to be our present policy at least to conciliate; and in this spirit my answer was conceived. I hope I may not have deviated from the views of Congress. I send a copy of my answer.

It is this “answer” that contains Washington’s only use of the phrase “Jesus Christ”. The relevant sentence was a reply to their 4th (in part) and 5th points:

4th … The Delaware Nation think they cannot give more ample Testimony than this, of their firm Resolution to continue an inviolate Friendship with the United States of America to the end of time; and for this desirable purpose the said Delaware Nation repeatedly applyed to Congress through their Commissioners & Agent, for School Masters and Mistresses to be sent among them, & for useful Tradesmen and Husbandmen to instruct the Youth of their Nation in useful Arts: These, tho expensive at present, may in time be fully repaid to the United States in many respects.

5th That the said Delaware Nation have established a Town where numbers of them have embraced Christianity under the Instruction of the Reverend and worthy Mr David Ziesberger whose honest zealous Labours & good Examples have Induced many of them to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been a means of introducing considerable order, Regularity and love of Peace into the Minds of the whole Nation—the[y] therefore hope Congress will countenance & promote the Mission of this Gentleman, so far as they may deem expedient; and they may rely that the Delaware Nation will afford every encouragement thereto in their Power.

Washington replied to these points:

My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.

There is, of course, nothing in this about American schools, or about what students should learn there.

The fake quotation is very modern, probably twenty-first century in origin. I’ve made no special effort to run down its history; the oldest reference Google Books turned up was from 2006, in a book called Is God with America? by Bob Klingenberg (p. 188). The passage there reads:

How far have we fallen? To answer that question, we have but to listen to a quote from President George Washington. On May 12, 1779, speaking to and assuring the Delaware Indian Chiefs, the founding father of America said: “What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.” Public education and Christianity were spoken in the same sentence. Ipso facto! Not only would the Indian children learn Christianity in America’s schools, it was the paramount subject in the classroom. President Washington put it his way: “Above all!”

In light of the passages cited above, the rank dishonesty of this account needs no special emphasis.

Links

Is God with America? (Bob Klingenberg [Amazon Books])

Speech of Delawares to Washington and Congress (in Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, volume 23)

Speech to the Delaware Chiefs (George Washington)

To the President of Congress (George Washington)

“Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice” — The Remarkable Hypocrisy of David Barton (Part 1) (Chris Rodda)

Posted in Christian, Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, George Washington | 3 Comments »

Questionable Quotes: William McGuffey and American Religion

Posted by sbh on Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Did William McGuffey, educator and author of the McGuffey readers, once used extensively in American schools, write:

The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our nation, on the character of God, on the great moral Governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free Institutions. From no source has this author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology

in an 1836 essay?

Partly.

This version comes from a Christian website; another version is found in the internet scam document often called “Forsaken Roots”. The actual quotation runs

The christian religion, is the religion of our country. From it are derived our prevalent notions of the character of God, the great moral governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free institutions.

It can be found in a piece called “Duties of Parents and Teachers” that appeared in Transactions of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Western Literary Institute, Cincinnati, 1836, pp. 129-152. This quotation appears on p. 138. The last two sentences appear nowhere in this article, nor do they sound much like McGuffey’s prose style.

As I remarked in an earlier piece on this subject:

Little as I like McGuffey’s turgid prose style, I’m quite positive he would not have written of himself in the third person like this—“the author”, phooey. And I’m sure he wouldn’t have written “From all these extracts” instead of “For all these extracts”.

I’ll also repeat myself on the overall content of the piece:

In reading McGuffey’s piece I was continually reminded of Samuel Schoenbaum’s line, “A penalty of the scholar’s vocation … is the reading of rubbish”. At the time, when the issues in question were live and a matter of some import to educators, it probably made interesting reading. No, I take that back. Even then it must have been mind-numbingly dull. The context for the given quotation is a section developing McGuffey’s concern about “the great variety of intellectual and moral character, found among [a teacher’s] numerous pupils.” It’s necessary for a teacher, he observes, to fit his approach to each individual student, and to modify it as necessary. Students should neither be pushed too fast, nor held back unnecessarily to make the teacher’s life easier. And while teachers may have their own speculative opinions on morality, those opinions should not be brought into the schoolroom. Christianity is the basis of American culture; it is the only guarantee that people will tell the truth under oath, and the belief in an all-seeing entity is the only way to make them behave themselves. Without this supernatural guarantee, everything “that is beautiful, lovely, and valuable in the arts, in science, and in society” would be at risk. For this reason the “revolutionary principles of modern infidelity” should not be taught; neither, however, should “sectarian peculiarities in religion”. McGuffey seems to have in mind a sort of bland, generic christian morality as the basis of character formation in schools.

Links

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Fractured Founders part 3 (sbh)

Duties of Parents and Teachers (Wm. H. McGuffey)

Forsaken Roots (author unknown)

Posted in Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, Legitimate quotation | Leave a Comment »

Fake Quotations: Madison and Government’s Basis

Posted by sbh on Saturday, 15 August 2009

Did James Madison write:

Religion is the basis and foundation of government

in his Memorial and Remonstrance?

No.  It’s a fake made by taking “the basis and foundation of government” from a title Madison was citing, the word religion from a few lines before it, and inserting the word is from a section in between.

Here is the passage as it appeared originally (the quoted words are in bold):

SECTION 15, Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider the “Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.

Although it would have been technically correct to quote it in this form: “… religion … is … the basis and foundation of government …” in that all these words are actually found in the source, that still would have been a fake quotation, as it does not in any way reflect the sense of the original. It’s particularly worth noting that the word religion comes from one quoted passage, while the words the basis and foundation of government are from a title.  The words in the title refer to various individual rights of which the free exercise of religion is one.  The document in question is usually referred to as The Virginia Bill of Rights.  Madison is indeed arguing that freedom of religion is a basic right; he is by no means asserting that “religion is the basis and foundation of government,” which would be quite a different thing.

The quotation turns up in David Barton’s Myth of Separation and in Federer’s America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations. As both authors are familiar with Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance it is hard to how their use of it in this form could be an honest mistake.

Links

Did Madison ever say that religion is the foundation of government? (Jim Allison)

Memorial and Remonstrance on the Religious Rights of Man (James Madison, 1824 edition at Google Books)

Posted in Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, James Madison, US Founding Fathers | Leave a Comment »

Franklin and God’s Gift

Posted by sbh on Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Did Benjamin Franklin write

Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God.

in his Maxims and Morals in 1789?

No.  Not in the least.

First of all, Maxims and Morals of Benjamin Franklin is a 1927 book by one William S. Pfaff (not a 1789 book by Benjamin Franklin). Not having seen a copy yet, I can’t say whether this quotation actually appears there or not, but it isn’t relevant. What we have here is a slight misquotation from an essay by John Webbe, a publisher contemporary with Benjamin Franklin, that originally appeared in Franklin’s paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, on 1 April 1736. It probably became attributed to Franklin through confusion of author and publisher.  The original quotation ran:

Thank God! we are in the full enjoyment of all these privileges. But can we be taught to prize them too much? or how can we prize them equal to their value, if we do not know their intrinsic worth, and that they are not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature?

(There is no clear antecedent in the text for “these privileges,” but the privileges enjoyed under the constitution of Great Britain are clearly meant—in effect, the privileges of a representative government where the powers are held by the people, rather than by an aristocracy.)

Webbe’s essay was anonymous, though the paper later named him as author. Perhaps overlooking this, William Duane included it in his 1834 Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin (vol. 2, pp. 439-440), as did Jared Sparks in his 1882 Works of Benjamin Franklin (vol. 2, pp. 278-282). Sparks, however, included the following note with his essay:

What proof there is, that the two essays on Government were written by Franklin, except that they appeared in his Gazette, I have no means of determining. The internal evidence does not appear very strong. They are included in Duane’s edition. — Editor.

And by 1905, when Albert Henry Smyth’s The Writings of Benjamin Franklin started emerging from the press, the confusion had been cleared up.  Smyth wrote the following in the first volume (pp. 171-172):

“The Essays on Government” which were published by Sparks and Bigelow, are acknowledged in a later issue of the Gazette to have been written by John Webbe.

So the basic facts are: this is (1) a slight misquotation from (2) a 1736 essay (3) written not by Benjamin Franklin, but by John Webbe. There is nothing wrong with citing it correctly if attributing it to John Webbe; as a Benjamin Franklin quotation it is totally bogus.

Links

Freedom is a Gift Bestowed by God (sbh)

Posted in Benjamin Franklin, Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation | Leave a Comment »

Fake Quotations: Washington and Governing without God

Posted by sbh on Friday, 3 July 2009

Did George Washington say

It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible.

in his farewell speech of 1796?

No. Not then or any other known time.

This particular version is relatively modern. The statement appears to go back (through several permutations) to a claim made by an 1835 biographer on unknown authority. Supposedly George Washington said to a gentleman skeptical of the existence of a Supreme Being:

It is impossible to account for the creation of the universe without the agency of a Supreme Being.

It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being.

It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to; and well has it been said, that if there had been no God, mankind would have been obliged to imagine one.

You will note of course that the sense here is quite different from the sense of the derivative version. When the version quoted above is dragged out, it is with the intention of showing that Washington believed that God and the Bible were an essential part of governing a nation.  In the 1835 version Washington is explaining that it is impossible for the universe to run without God keeping it going, so to speak.  But the thing is, if there is a genuine version, this one is it.

Is this version likely to be authentic?  Not particularly.  These are not Washington’s words, but somebody’s recollection of Washington’s words written down after an unknown period of time.  No authority is given, and the words are at least second hand, and maybe even further down the transmission chain.  But this is as good as it gets.

A quick check of Google books shows that this particular version continued to be quoted independently of the mutation that we’re now going to follow.  In 1867 the American Tract Society put out Testimonies of American Statesmen and Jurists to the Truths of Christianity.  This contained the following piece, attributed to George Washington:

It is impossible to govern the world without God. It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits and humbly implore his protection and favor. I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during the revolution; or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of Him, who is alone able to protect them. He must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.

Okay, this is an interesting little florigelium. After the first sentence, the only part of this that is really under consideration, we have a bit from the 1789 Thanksgiving proclamation, another bit from a private letter of 11 March 1782 to John Armstrong, and a final bit from a letter to Brigadier-General Nelson of 20 August 1778.

You will notice that the sentence here has undergone a notable shift.  The “universe” has become the “world” and “the aid of a Supreme Being” has become “God”.  And in this version, followed as it is by the stuff about it being the duty of nations to acknowledge God, makes it easy to think that he’s talking about national politics rather than celestial mechanics.  This version survived independently (though truncated to just this statement and the Nelson letter fragment) also as this 1922 example shows.

Let me put the next mutation after the first two versions so that the reader gets a picture of the gradual changes so far:

It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being.

It is impossible to govern the world without God.

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.

This new permutation goes back at least to 1893, when it turns up in A Lawyer’s Examination of the Bible by Howard H. Russell.  The meaning in this version has completely shifted from the cosmic to the ephemeral, from the universe to the affairs of men.

These two derivative versions are clearly bogus.  The only version with any claim to authenticity is the first, and its claim is not high.  No authority is given, nor is there any way to tell how close we are to the (alleged) auditor of this argument.  On the other hand the paraphrase of Voltaire at the end makes it unlikely to be a pious fiction.  That’s not enough to redeem it as source material, but it gives it an interest it might otherwise not reflect.

Update (25 May 2016)

I have written a series of posts giving a fuller history of this fake quotation at Rational Rant. They are:

Without God and the Bible: Introduction
Without God and the Bible Part 1: The Playwright
Without God and the Bible Part 2: The Preacher
Without God and the Bible Part 3: The Politician
Without God and the Bible Part 4: The Lawyer
Without God and the Bible: Concluding Remarks

Posted in Bible, Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation, George Washington | 4 Comments »

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.”

Links

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)

Posted in Bible, Christian Nationitis, Fake quotation | 2 Comments »