Friday, September 12, 2008

James Madison and the almighty hand

In response to this post, I received a note complaining that I should have quoted James Madison. The implication was that if I had fairly quoted Madison instead of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, it would have been apparent to me that the Saddleback Forum was a dreadful idea.

This note came with a link directing me to this website, which lists quotations by James Madison that support the argument that Madison was an avowed advocate of total separation of church and state.

Predictably, the list of Madison's statements does not include this one:

"The real wonder (of the success of the Constitutional Convention) is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted, and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution."

No separation of the divine from government here; Madison is actually saying that the Almighty helped create the U.S. government.

And where in Madison's works can this quotation be found? A private letter to Thomas Jefferson? A speech made to a small body of politicians?

No. It's from The Federalist No. 37. You're probably aware that these were the essays written by Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay and published in newspapers of New York, urging citizens to support ratification of the Constitution. Accordingly, Madison and the others were writing for a large audience; one would expect that under such circumstances they would be particularly careful in choosing their words. Even so, Madison basically wrote that God is on America's side.

My critics: AH! GOTCHA, YOU IDIOT! DON'T YOU KNOW THAT THE FEDERALIST WAS WRITTEN ANONYMOUSLY? Madison's words can't be taken too seriously since he wrote under a pen name which gave his reputation cover.

Wrong. Let Robert Scigliano, editor of the Modern Library edition of The Federalist, speak on this point:

"Although The Federalist's writers were not identified in the newspaper series or in the published edition, word as to who was involved in the project got around pretty quickly, aided by hints dropped by the writers themselves. Hamilton and Madison each told Washington early on of his own involvement, and Madison told Edmund Randolph, the governor of Virginia, about himself and Hamilton... A French translation of The Federalist, published in Paris in 1792, merely confirmed what most people knew by then when it carried the names of the three authors on its title page."

Madison meant what he wrote in Federalist No. 37.

The Separation of Church and State Homepage also has a list of "flawed quotes" which they define as "quotations we've seen advanced by accomodationists (sic) to suggest that the framers did not believe in separation." Naturally I looked there to see if Madison's words from The Federalist were there; they were not. Nor was the remark by Benjamin Franklin that I quoted in my earlier post; recall that Dr. Franklin said at the Constitutional Convention that "God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?"

The authors of the Separation of Church and State Homepage admit their list of "flawed quotes" is incomplete, but one might think that given the significance of Franklin and Madison, as well as the importance of the forums in which they made their remarks, that the website would address them and tell us why they think these are not evidence that the framers weren't dogmatic on separation of church and state.

More troubling is that according to the website, a quote is "flawed" if it comes from somebody who was "not a framer of the Constitution" or if it comes from somebody who was "an antifederalist (sic)." If you think a home run is significant only if it was hit by a member of the New York Yankees, it's then easy to prove that no home run hit by Ted Williams or Ernie Banks was of any consequence. So for every "flawed quote" by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, or Daniel Webster, the offending words are preceded by the number 1 to remind us that none of these fellows was at the Constitutional Convention. As though because Jefferson was serving his country in Paris, and John Adams doing likewise in London, their thoughts on religion and state were of no value!

As for the idea that a quote has no bearing on the concept of separation of church and state if it was made by Patrick Henry or some other Anti-Federalist--well, that's utterly laughable. The Separation website says:

"If you want to find out how the Constitution was understood in 1787, quote people that supported the Constitution, and not those who thought the Constitution was evil. Patrick Henry, for example, made a number of statements suggesting that our nation was founded on belief in God, and that it was important to acknowledge God in civic affairs, but Henry lost the battle to put religion in the Constitution. More to the point, Henry was an anti-federalist, and vigorously opposed the Constitution when Virginia discussed ratification. Quoting Henry to prove things about the constitution is like quoting the chairman of the Republican National Committee to prove things about the platform of the Democratic party."

Nonsense. Quoting Henry is NOT like quoting the chairman of the RNC to prove things about the Democrat's platform. Instead, it's literally as if someone said that nothing Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi says about the war in Iraq matters because the war is being conducted by a Republican administration. People respond to their critics, consciously or not. As anybody who has read anything on the period knows, the Federalists, like Madison and Hamilton, originally did not want a Bill of Rights. Hamilton, in fact, wrote The Federalist No. 84 in which he expressly argued that a Bill of Rights was a bad idea. The very reason we even have a Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment and the concept of separation of church and state so dear to the folks who run this website, is because the Anti-Federalists snarled loudly that the Constitution as written lacked one. Here are a couple of scholars on Patrick Henry speaking at the Virginia Convention for ratification of the Constitution:

"Henry wondered aloud why the Philadelphia convention had not proposed a bill of rights along with the Constitution and argued that one must be added now. He noted sarcastically that a 'Bill of Rights may be summed up in a few words. What do they (the Federalists) tell us?--That our rights are reserved--Why not say so? Is it because it will consume too much paper?" --Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, 2006, p. 105.

"Henry... warned that 'the Necessity of a Bill of Rights' was 'greater in this Government, than ever it was in any Government before' because without it Congress would violate one right after another." --Jack Rakove: Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, 1996, p. 323.

Madison, a Federalist who originally didn't want a Bill of Rights, was swayed by the arguments and wound up being not only the primary advocate of a Bill, but the main author of the one we eventually got (see generally Labunski). If it wasn't for the Anti-Federalist outcry, chances are good that the First ten amendments to the Constitution wouldn't be there.

So to recap: we've got a Bill of Rights, which includes the clause preventing an establishment of religion, largely because of the complaints of men like Patrick Henry, but the Separation of Church and State Homepage pooh-poohs anything said on establishment of religion.... by Patrick Henry! Amazing, isn't it? Perhaps these folks will consider founding another website in which they list flawed quotes about Darwinism made by Darwin.

Anyway, I stand by the earlier post. Several of the people responsible for establishing this great country figured there was an almighty deity directly involved in its well-being.

No comments: