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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-6

   

A Commentary on the Bill of Rights

   

Part 4

   

 

Columbus discovered the continent of North America in 1492; but the actual settlement of this nation didn’t begin until 1620.  It was in that year that the Pilgrims journeyed from England to establish the first colony of settlers in this new land.  With their arrival, they established the very first modern form of government on this continent.  The government that they established was the prototype for the governments that followed and upon which our Founders built.  The Pilgrims established their new government before they even disembarked from their ship, the Mayflower.  They established a compact, and to this day their document is known as the Mayflower Compact.  What sort of government did the Pilgrims envision?

 

THE COMPACT
Signed in the Cabin of the “Mayflower”
Nov. 11th, Old Style, Nov. 21st, New Style, 1620

 

In the name of God, amen.  We whose names are underwritten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith &c, having undertaken for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by verture hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the general good of the colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cap-Codd the 11 of November, in the year of the raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James of England, Franc, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fiftya-fourth.  A No Dom 1620.  (Emphasis added).

 

At least some of our Founders picked up where the Pilgrims left off:

 

Article XXII Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust . . . shall . . . make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: “I, ________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”

 

The preceding paragraph is taken from the Constitution of the State of Delaware of 1776.  In another section it stated, “[It is] the duty of all men frequently to assemble together for the public worship of the Author of the Universe [Creator].”  These examples sound reasonably Christian to me.  Neither were these an aberration or an anomaly.  You will find numerous passages of this kind in the founding documents and laws of many, if not most, of the original thirteen colonies.  The fact that they may no longer be in the modern laws and constitutions in no way disproves, or even diminishes, the fact that this nation was originally conceived in Christianity.  Many of the original states were quite denominational in their religious affinity.  Later, the central government endeavored to be non-denominational; but even it was decidedly Christian.  You may consider all of this either good or bad or be totally indifferent to it; but that will not change history.

 

In the year 1831, this young nation received a visitor from abroad.  He traveled the length and breadth of the nation that then existed and then returned to his native country, France.  He had no direct stake in this nation whatsoever.  He was, more or less, sizing up this country for the benefit of his own.  His name was Alexis de Tocqueville, and he wrote what has come to be viewed as the most thorough analysis of the relationship between character and the citizens of this nation as has ever been written.  His work is titled Democracy in America.  Though his views cannot accurately be described as those of a disinterested third party, they are the views of an outsider.  He wrote such passages as:

 

Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.

 

In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, . . . there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

 

The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable.  They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man.  Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God . . . Moreover, all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same.

 

Religion in America . . . must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country . . . In the United States the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people . . . Christianity, therefore reigns without obstacle, by universal consent.

 

This state of affairs prevailed because it was established by our Founders.  The following two quotes should provide some insight into their mindset:

 

The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite . . . And what were these general Principles?  I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all these 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 believe, 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.  (John Adams, our second President, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated June 28, 1813, as cited in America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations by William J. Federer).

 

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.  (Patrick Henry, Revolutionary War leader and Founder, as cited in America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations by William J. Federer).

 

To repeat: though this state of affairs may no longer be thought the case, it does not expunge what once was.  The matter of impartiality or neutrality of the national central government concerning religion is addressed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, where it clearly states:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ” (Emphasis added).

 

At this point, it is necessary to note the acute distinction that exists between the national central government, which is managed by Congress, and any other government, be it state, county, or municipal.  The First Amendment, as is each of the other nine amendments of the Bill of Rights, was intended to be a proscription on, and only on, Congress.  And hence, because only Congress can enact civil statute (“laws”), it also serves as a proscription on the entire national central government — the executive and judicial branches included.  It was not intended as a proscription on the several states or any other government.  The several states were to remain unimpeded in this matter, free to exercise their powers as best suited the citizens thereof.  The recorded history of that period concerning the several states and the citizens thereof would seem to indicate that they surely believed this to be the case.  And once again, just because we do not function in this manner today does not negate what once was.

 
   

 

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