Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christianity as a "Founding Religion" Disavowed: What DID the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli Say (and when did it say it)?

Originally posted 5/13/2005

In a February 3, 2005 piece entitled "Our Godless Constitution" posted on The Nation's web site (and subsequently included in their Feb. 21, 2005 issue), Brooke Allen called upon a bit of history, the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, to buttress the "unreligious" side of the "separation of Church and State" debate. The use of history in political rhetoric is nothing new and, by this time, we should be well-accustomed to those on both sides of this debate pulling quotes, often selectively and sans context, to support their arguments. The point of this post is not to enter the weeds of the Church/State debate, but to delve deeper into a particular piece of history to discover if it warrants the mantle it has been given.

As chance had it, I was doing research in the historical era of the Barbary Wars when I came across Allen's column that cited a 1796 Treaty with the 19th century "terrorist" nation of Tripoli. According to Allen, this official document was unique and important because it expressly disavowed any relationship between the Christian religion and the U.S. government. As Allen wrote:
In 1797 our government concluded a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 [ed.- hyperlink mine] of the treaty contains these words:

"As the Government of the United States...is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams. It was then sent to the Senate for ratification; the vote was unanimous. It is worth pointing out that although this was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history. There is no record of debate or dissent. The text of the treaty was printed in full in the Philadelphia Gazette and in two New York papers, but there were no screams of outrage, as one might expect today.
This was enough to persuade some historians, such as Ralph Luker, that, at least once, the U.S. had specifically stated there was a distinct wall between church (read: religion) and state. However, while I could not say upon first reading if any of the history cited by Allen was wrong, I did have a problem with the Allen's implication--supported by the observation that it was a "unanimous vote" with "no record of debate or dissent" and there were no public "screams of outrage"--that such widespread national acceptance of the Treaty indicated that the nation viewed itself as not being "in any sense founded on the Christian religion." Frankly, it didn't ring true to me and seemed to be an overreach.

Allen seemed to be dismissing much of the larger, practical and political context surrounding the Treaty--especially the sense of urgency felt by all who wanted to keep the young nation out of foreign entanglements and keep the commerce rolling--in an attempt to use the Treaty as an example of the Founders making a grand statement of America's irreligious ideals. I decided to look deeper into the history of the Treaty with the aim of filling in some of the spaces I believed Allen skipped. Admittedly, in this I was motivated by my own belief that the U.S. does indeed have a Christian heritage that was acknowledged as invaluable by the same men that Allen implied had said the opposite. However, while my initial motivation for further investigation may have been ideological, the result is a cautionary tale concerning the use of history as a rhetorical tool and believing historical facts used in contemporary context simply because they support our own ideological bent.

I began my search the way we web-savvy historians often do: I Googled "Treaty with Tripoli" and "Christian" and followed the first link, which led me to this essay, written by Jim Walker, which referenced the 1796 Treaty as support for Walker's larger argument that America was founded as a secular state.

According to Walker, Article 11 of the Treaty had also proven to him that the U.S. Government, as evidenced by an official document, had proclaimed it was not a Christian nation. Walker also provided additional details concerning the American Agent, Joel Barlow, who drew up the treaty:
The preliminary treaty began with a signing on 4 November, 1796 (the end of George Washington's last term as president). Joel Barlow, the American diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army. He became good friends with Paine, Jefferson, and read Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned Christian orthodoxy for rationalism and became an advocate of secular government. Joel Barlow wrote the original English version of the treaty, including Amendment 11. Barlow forwarded the treaty to U.S. legislators for approval in 1797. Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, endorsed it and John Adams concurred (now during his presidency), sending the document on to the Senate. The Senate approved the treaty on June 7, 1797, and officially ratified by the Senate with John Adams signature on 10 June, 1797. All during this multi-review process, the wording of Article 11 never raised the slightest concern. The treaty even became public through its publication in The Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797.

So here we have a clear admission by the United States that our government did not found itself upon Christianity. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this treaty represented U.S. law as all treaties do according to the Constitution (see Article VI, Sect. 2).

Although the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of Tripoli only lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status, it clearly represented the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of the U.S. government.
I noted that Allen and Walker both relied on the same facts, with almost the same exact phrasing, to buttress their argument. Subsequent digging revealed other instances in which the Treaty, and Barlow's role in it, have been used to support the notion that, because there was no public outrcry against the treaty, there must have been widespread acceptance by the American people that the United States was, indeed, not a Christian nation. In fact, it would seem that the story surrounding the Treaty with Tripoli has become a sort of mantra for the church/state separatists. Thus, I came to believe that Allen's piece was simply a restatement of these historical "talking points."

While Allen and Walker were both factually correct, they did not provide some of the historical context surrounding the drafting and ratification of the treaty. In contrast, Rob Boston, who also wrote of the Treaty (in 1997) in a similar attempt to support claims identical to Allen and Walker, provided more historical context as to Barlow's more diplomatic, instead of contra-religious motivations for inserting the particular clause in Article 11.
While in Algiers, Barlow met Richard O'Brien, one of the first seamen captured by Barbary pirates. Barlow sought and won permission to send O'Brien to Europe to borrow money to pay the tribute, but on the way O'Brien's ship was captured by pirates from Tripoli. O'Brien, under Barlow's direction, used the time to negotiate the famous Treaty with Tripoli and forwarded it to Barlow for redrafting and approval.

On Nov. 4, 1796, Barlow concluded negotiations on the Treaty with Tripoli with Jussof Bashaw Mahomet, Bey of Tripoli. The treaty was forwarded to the United States. By the time it reached America, a change of administrations had occurred. President John Adams submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

In a brief note dated May 26, 1797, Adams wrote to the Senate, "I lay before you, for your consideration and advice, a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary, concluded, at Tripoli, on the 4th day of November, 1796."

Unfortunately, no record of the negotiations leading to the treaty exist. It's not known how Article 11 found its way into the document. Other treaties negotiated at the same time with Algiers and Tunis do not contain similar clauses. This has led to speculation that the provision may have been inserted at the insistence of officials in Tripoli, who wanted some assurance that the United States would not use religion as a pretext for future hostilities.

The Muslim regions of North Africa would have had good reason to be concerned about this issue, given the centuries long conflict between Islam and Christianity. Muslim leaders resented their treatment at the hands of the officially Christian countries of Europe. Tripoli's leaders may have viewed the United States as a mere extension of "Christian" Great Britain and expected similar tensions over religion.

To be sure, Islam was considered an exotic religion to most Americans at this time. Although Jefferson celebrated the fact that his Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom extended its protections to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, the infidel of every denomination," the fact is that Muslims were rare in 18th century America if there were any at all - and most Americans continued to view Islam as a strange, even sinister, faith.

For their part, North Africa's Muslims had little love for Christianity. In 1784, Barbary pirates captured the U.S. schooner Maria and took the crew and passengers to Algiers, where they were paraded through the streets and jeered as "infidels" before being imprisoned.

In 1793, Algerian pirates captured the cargo ship Polly, plundered it and imprisoned the 12-man crew. The Algerian captain informed the American captives they could expect harsh treatment "for your history and superstition in believing in a man who was crucified by the Jews and disregarding the true doctrine of God's last and greatest prophet, Mohammed."

Incidents like this underscore the current of religious tension between the United States and the Barbary region, but they do not prove conclusively that Article 11 was an attempt to mollify those pressures.

The reality is that no one is certain how Article 11 got into the Treaty with Tripoli. "It's an interesting question - why this was put into the treaty," says Robert J. Allison, a Suffolk University history professor who authored the 1995 book The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World. . .[and whose] research did not turn up any definitive clues, but, he adds, "I don't think you can ascribe a treaty to any one author. There are too many interests at play. Whether it came from Barlow or Tripoli will remain unknown."
Thus, the "Christian" clause seemed to have an unknown source.

Further poking around brought me back to the Avalon Project at Yale, where I found a relevant excerpt concerning the provenance of the now-mysterious Article 11:

The translation first printed is that of Barlow as written in the original treaty book, including not only the twelve articles of the treaty proper, but also the receipt and the note mentioned, according to the Barlow translation, in Article 10. The signature of Barlow is copied as it occurs, but not his initials, which are on every page of the fourteen which is not signed. The Humphreys approval or confirmation follows the translation; but the other writings, in English and Spanish, in the original treaty book, are not printed with the translation but only in these notes.

It is to be remembered that the Barlow translation is that which was submitted to the Senate (American State Papers, Foreign Relations, II, 18-19) and which is printed in the Statutes at Large and in treaty collections generally; it is that English text which in the United States has always been deemed the text of the treaty. [ed.- the American State Papers, Foreign Relations, II were published in 1832, as can be seen from the title page].

As even a casual examination of the annotated translation of 1930 shows, the Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic; and even as such its defects throughout are obvious and glaring. Most extraordinary (and wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation, with its famous phrase, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. The Arabic text which is between Articles 10 and 12 is in form a letter, crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and seemingly must remain so. Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point

A further and perhaps equal mystery is the fact that since 1797 the Barlow translation has been trustfully and universally accepted as the just equivalent of the Arabic. Its text was not only formally proclaimed as such but has been continuously printed and reprinted as such; and yet evidence of the erroneous character of the Barlow translation has been in the archives of the Department of State since perhaps 1800 or thereabouts; for in the handwriting of James Leander Cathcart is the statement quoted above that the Barlow translation is "extremely erroneous"; and while the Italian translation of the Arabic text on which that endorsement appears, presents its own linguistic difficulties, largely owing to its literal rendering and its consequent non-literary character as Italian, it is none the less in essence a reasonable equivalent of the Arabic. Indeed, allowing for the crudeness of the original Arabic and the changes which always result from a retranslation, it may be said that a rendering of the Italian translation into English gives a result which is in general not dissimilar from the English translation of Doctor Snouck Hurgronje of 1930; and of course the most cursory examination of the Italian translation would show (assuming the Italian to be even an approximation of the Arabic), that the Barlow translation, as Cathcart wrote, was "extremely erroneous"; but nothing indicating that the Italian translation was even consulted has been found, and it does not appear that it was ever before 1930 put into English. Some account of the Italian translation as a document is given above.
With so many questions surrounding the provenance of Article 11, it seemed a flimsy foundation on which to build an argument. Assuming that the Treaty of 1796 originally included Article 11, I find it entirely plausible that the disassociation from the Christian religion was made to assuage the "Musselmen" who definitely held the power in the negotiation and didn't themselves refrain from alluding to God in this instance or others. Thus, it seemed to me, it was much more likely that the disavowment was included in the text of the treaty as a diplomatic maneuver and less likely that Barlow took the opportunity to proclaim the U.S. as an irreligious nation. Even if Barlow had a higher purpose, he did so unilaterally and it was doubtful that the language was inserted as some sort of statement of U.S. government policy.

As Walker had earlier explained, "the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of Tripoli only lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status." For example, in the Treaty with Tripoli of 1805, Article 14 contains the following language:
As the Government of the United States of America, has in itself no character of enmity against the Laws, Religion or Tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any voluntary war or act of hostility against any Mahometan Nation, except in the defence of their just rights to freely navigate the High Seas: It is declared by the contracting parties that no pretext arising from Religious Opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the Harmony existing between the two Nations; And the Consuls and Agents of both Nations respectively, shall have liberty to exercise his Religion in his own house; all slaves of the same Religion shall not be Impeded in going to said Consuls house at hours of Prayer.
To my eye, this section clearly called upon the familiar rhetoric of American religious tolerance to assuage "Musselmen" fears of holy war, but there was no claim that America was not founded as a Christian nation. In fact, variations of this clause showed up a few more times [see here and here] and none stated the U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation.

I concluded that the exclusion or inclusion of God in a Treaty had much more to do with the "facts on the ground" as interpreted by the parties involved in the Treaty making than in either or both making a philosophic or political statement. Thus, perhaps Boston was correct both in focusing on Barlow's role and on the American public's reaction (or lack thereof) to the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli.

However, whether or not Barlow did act unilaterally has been conveniently dismissed. Rather, what has been deemed important by the strict Church/State separation supporters was the lack of "evidence" of an outcry against the "official" disavowment of Christianity. Boston explained how subsequent arguments against religion and the state called upon the text of Article 11.
In the end, how Article 11 got into the Treaty is less important than the reaction it received in the United States. As Borden notes, "What is significant about the Tripoli treaty is ...its ready acceptance by the government. Not a word of protest was raised against Article 11 in 1797 ....Whatever their personal feelings on the question of religious equality for non-Christians in particular states, all concurred that Article 11 comported with the principles of the Constitution."

In the Senate, the treaty barely caused a ripple. According to The Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the United States Senate, the treaty was read aloud on the floor of the Senate and copies were printed for the senators. No discussion or argument about the document was recorded, and the vote in favor was unanimous.

In recent years, some "Christian nation" advocates have argued that Article 11 never appeared in the treaty. They base the claim on research conducted by a Dutch scholar, Dr. C. Snouk Hurgronje, published in The Christian Statesman in 1930. Hurgronje located the only surviving Arabic copy of the treaty and found that when translated, Article 11 was actually a letter, mostly gibberish, from the bey of Algiers to the ruler of Tripoli.

But Hurgronje's discovery is irrelevant. There is no longer any doubt that the English version of the treaty transmitted to the United States did contain the "no Christian nation" language. Article 11 appeared intact in newspapers of the day as well as in volumes of treaties and proceedings of Congress published later, including the Session Laws of the Fifth Congress, published in 1797, and in a 1799 volume titled The Laws of the United States. In 1832 Article 11 appeared in the treaty when it was reprinted in Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States 17891815, Volume 11- a tome that can still be examined today at the Library of Congress.

Furthermore, in Hunter Miller's definitive 1931 work on treaties, Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, he notes that "the Barlow translation is that which was submitted to the Senate ....it is the English text which in the United States has always been deemed the text of the treaty." It's clear that the English version of the treaty, which Congress approved, contained the famous Article 11. Why the article was removed from the Arabic version of the treaty, who did it and when remains another mystery.
However, the Avalon project has the full extract of Hunter Miller's notes in which he discusses his examination of the original treaty.
The first to be noted is that which contains the original treaty. It is a book in the literal sense. There are fourteen pages of Arabic text; all of these are right-hand pages. In the Arabic order, the first of them is the "note" of the money and presents, mentioned, according to the Barlow translation, in Article 10 of the treaty; the second is the "receipt," also mentioned in that article, and this page, like the first, is sealed with the seal of the Dey of Algiers. Then come the twelve pages of the treaty; the preamble is on the first of these with Article 1; and there is one article on a page, except that the script on the page between Articles 10 and 12, is, as fully explained in the annotated translation of 1930, not an article at all. The last of those twelve pages has also the seals and superscriptions, of which there are eleven In all, including one for the Dey of Algiers. The fourteen pages of Arabic text are reproduced above in left-to-right order of pagination; but the twelve treaty pages come first and then the "receipt" and then the "note."

In the original treaty book, on the corresponding fourteen left-hand pages, each signed or initialed by Joel Barlow, Consul General at Algiers, is a purported English translation of the Arabic of the respective pages opposite.

It is the Barlow translation which is here printed following the Arabic text and in the same order, first the twelve articles of the treaty, then the "receipt" and the "note," after which is the approval of Col. David Humphreys, then Minister at Lisbon, dated February 10, 1797; as written in the original document.

The Barlow translation of the treaty proper is that which has been printed in all official and unofficial treaty collections ever since it appeared in the Session Laws of the first session of the Fifth Congress, in 1797, and in The Laws of the United States, Folwell ea., IV, 44-8, printed in 1799; but in those treaty collections, as, for example, in 8 Statutes at Large, 154-56, the "receipt" and the "note" (there called "notice") are omitted; and the first source of the texts of those collections was clearly a now missing copy, as is shown by the fact that they include a certification of the text as a copy; that certification is signed by Joel Barlow under date of January 4, 1797, and it is neither in the original document nor in the Cathcart copy, which is particularly described below.[ed.-further down he details his examination of the "Cathcart copy" of the treaty and notes differences].
Thus, as we continue to decipher the provenance of Article 11, those documents published well after the original treaty, such as the Annals of Congress or the American State Papers do not prove that Article 11 was original or even included in the Treaty at the time of its debate and signing. As to the Session Laws of the Fifth Congress (1797) and the The Laws of the United States (1799) mentioned by Boston, it is clear that these were based on Barlow's edition of the Treaty, which I would argue is of questionable veracity. Further, it seems that Boston has selectively taken from Miller's notes to support his argument without including points made by Miller that could call into question Barlow's credibility.

More digging on the web found reference to the Session Laws only in articles that put forth essentially the same argument made by Boston. Of these, the earliest was written in 1994 by William Edelen, who mentioned the Session Laws without providing a source and pointed to Folwell's 1799 edition of the Laws of the United States, which I confirmed existed by going here. Additionally, Boston himself pointed to another source, though it also seemed to selectively quote Miller's notes.

The bottom line is that a singular phrase--possibly belatedly inserted--in an obscure Treaty has been used time and again by those who claim that the Founders, particularly John Adams, proclaimed the U.S. to be a secular state. I think the historical "facts" are not so clear cut, as I have demonstrated, and thus it is much too thin a strand on which to hang an argument.

Yet, these "secularists" [forgive the overused label] relied heavily, and perhaps this is a more convincing point, upon the supposition that the public didn't react negatively to the Treaty with the Christianity-disavowing clause. Nearly every writer mentioned that the treaty was published in the Philadelphia Gazette (found here or here?) and 2 New York newspapers, but, other than Walker, who pointed to the Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797, there was no scholarly citation to support the oft-repeated claim. This begged the question: Why are only these three newspapers cited? From whence did this claim originate? [I'd be interested to see if anyone could provide more contemporary proof of the claim. Unfortunately, I didn't (and don't) have access to those newspaper resources and, for the sake of continuing my investigation, I trusted the veracity of the claims, albeit reluctantly.]

In the end, without contrary evidence, I decided to accept, with reservations, that the 11th Article was indeed present during ratification and that it was published with nary a protest. The question that follows is: why no protest? Perhaps another (brief) explanation concerning the other, practical factors that may have contributed to a lack of an uproar is worthwhile.

It is important to consider the logistics of treaty making in the late 18th Century. If the Congress disliked the wording of the 11th clause, and they decided to strike it, the Treaty would have had to have been renegotiated. This would have included further delays as ships carrying messages crossed the ocean to and fro. Meanwhile, more U.S. ships would have continued to be vulnerable to pirate raids. It also must not be forgotten that there were American sailors being held hostage in Tripoli and their families were imploring the government to do something to return their loved ones home. With all that, it is safe to assume that President Adams, the Congress and the American people wanted the Treaty ratified and sent back to Tripoli as soon as possible. Thus, I believe that it is more believable that politicians and citizens viewed the Treaty for what it was--a practical document crafted to meet an urgent problem. If the U.S. had to "disavow" Christianity as a founding principle to a bunch of infidel "Musselmen," so be it: the crisis had been resolved and the sailors were coming home.

In the end, my investigation reminded me that reliance solely upon "the document" can lead to flawed conclusions, or at least conclusions with a flawed emphasis. That the Treaty contained the clause in official documents is irrefutable. Yet, as I think I've shown, to make what was essentially a throwaway line of questionable provenance contained within the 11th section of a relatively obscure treaty a key pillar in the argument that Christianity was disavowed as informing the founding of the U.S is more rhetoric than history. Once again, Clio was spun.

NOTE: I originally wrote a shorter and less-well researched post on this subject on February 11, 2005, but have since deleted that original post from Spinning Clio. However, if you're curious to see how this later piece compares to that first, I cross-posted the original at my personal blog here. Just remember, it's the equivalent of a rough draft!

UPDATE: Thanks to Ralph Luker for mentioning this post and for his comments. While I'm fairly certain we don't see eye-to-eye ideologically, I've always been impressed by his historical open-mindedness and willingness to revisit topics in pursuit of historical "truth," even if it may differ from his own preconceptions. Ralph also made a point I think important. I may have implied that Ralph agreed with Allen's article in its entirety when that wasn't so. As Ralph explained:
I disagreed with much of Allen's article. Underlying our founding documents is a long history of wisdom about human nature and human communities that led the founders to insist on a mixed system of checks and balances. Among other things, that wisdom traces back through a Calvinist sense of governance and human obligation to a biblical sensibility about human nature. Having said that, it still seems to me that the unanimous adoption of this language by the United States Senate in 1797 is remarkable and important to recall. It seems unthinkable that it might be adopted without objection in today's Senate.
Ralph also offered some of his own analysis
One of Marc's interesting findings is that the surviving Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli does not include the language cited above in the official versions of the Treaty as published in English. Rather, in the surviving Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11 is "actually a letter, mostly gibberish, from the bey of Algiers to the ruler of Tripoli." It is otherwise described as "a letter, crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli."* What Marc doesn't see, I think, is that, if the language of the published English version of the Treaty's Article 11 doesn't appear in the only surviving Arabic copy of the Treaty, that undermines his claim that the language is there only to assuage the Muslim rulers of north Africa. It appears to me that there's need for additional research on the subject.

* In fairness to Marc, neither of these characterizations of Article 11 in the surviving Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli is his own. The prejudicial language is from old secondary sources.
Ralph makes a valid point regarding the inconsistency of my argument regarding Article 11. To clarify this point, this piece was sort of a running commentary, so at first I took Article 11 to be original and came up with my pragmatic explanation based on this supposition. As Ralph correctly pointed out, if Article 11 did not exist in the Arabic, then there was no need to include the disavowment to assuage any Muslim fears. I failed to go back and properly explain this. Thus, if Article 11 existed in the U.S. but not the Arabic, then, as intimated by Walker, Boston, et al, Barlow probably inserted the language on his own for different purposes. Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Ralph that further investigation should be done, particularly by someone who has access to the contemporary newspapers of the time.

The discussion that was prompted by Ralph's analysis of my post is also worth a read, particularly the points made by Oscar Chamberlain
I think there is an important distinction between the idea of a godless constitution and a constitution that is not Christian. There was a near universal belief in some sort of intelligence shaping the universe (too many examples of intelligent design, perhaps?).

However, it is very clear that a majority in the constitutional convention plus all those who supported the first amendment did not want the United States government to be designated as Christian, or any subdivision thereof.

This was not an anti-religious impulse, except perhaps for a few. I think that the majority recognized that an appeal to any religion beyond that to a vague supreme deity would have pernicious and divisive consequences.

Think about religious belief in the 1780s and 90s. Would a majority have accepted the United States enshrining Catholicism as part of its identity? I don't think so. Once they started dividing bad Christianity from good Christianity could they have agreed on anything without chaos and dissension marking the founding of the constitution?

Again, I don't think so. They understood that the more clearly the United States identified itself officially with any religion, that the more divisiveness they would cause. Thus, while the language in the treaty is strikingly and unusually frank, I don't think the belief it expressed was uncommon.
Oscar also provides further context, but his main point is worth remembering. Even if they consciously disavowed Christianity, the Founders certainly did not disavow religion itself as a key component of the foundation of the U.S.


D. B. Light said...

Nice post. Good corrective to some bad history writing. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Despite your unearthing of new information, your article furthers the idea that Christianity is not the centerpiece of the American government, as the religious right contends. If, as you indicate, the Congress may have been more religious than they have been portrayed, how easily did they throw away what is argued to be one of the most central ideas to America--Christianity--in an effort to expedite a treaty so as not to have to renegotiate it? No, the treaty shows what the forefathers routinely professed: that the United States shouldn't be enslaved and chained to one religion, if any.