Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The United States Not A Christian State.


We have often maintained, both in private conversation and in our writings, that no one can claim for the United States the name of a Christian state, in the legal sense of the words; which does not say that the whole people of the country might not, for all that, be Christians, or sectarians of an especial branch of Christianity. All the words mean to convey, is, that Christianity does, as such, not enter into the polity of the government; and that the constitution, the fundamen­tal law, has no necessary connexion with either the dogmas or precepts of Christianity. The proposition, we always thought, was so evident, that we could not help wondering, and our astonishment is not lessened at this day, that people should even dare to call this a Christian coun­try, and speak of the population as a Christian people; when to a surety they cannot point to a single constitutional clause of the Union, and of nearly all the states, except, perhaps, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, which demands the existence of Christianity as a prerequisite of the existence of the government. In this, the various authors of the respective fundamental codes, as we may freely call the several union and state constitutions have shown <<564>>their wisdom; they found men of the most opposite opinions joined together in this country, and they would not, and could not take upon themselves to decide which should be the orthodox or state religion. The laws of the country know nothing of any religious profession, and leave every man to pursue whatever religion he pleases.

Nevertheless it is not an atheistical country, and there can be no doubt that more is done for the maintenance of religious establishments here than in any other state; in fact, we should say that more is spent in church-building than there is any occasion for. At all events, it is foolish to pretend to assert that there is a state religion ; either that it is Judaism, Christianity, or anything else. All men have an equal right to be here; one does not tolerate the other, nor has he to thank him, legally, for leaving him undisturbed, however practically the minority are at the mercy of the majority.

Might makes right here as well as elsewhere; and the fanatics for all opinions know this perfectly well, and they therefore endeavour to make their views those of the majority, that they may carry them through and force them on the community by the brute power of numbers. Hence the great efforts at abolition of slavery, free soil, free trade, protection, bank, and anti-bank, Sunday laws, as opposed to freedom of travelling and labour, Christianity and its opposite, and whatever else you may think of. The agitators first persuade small parties, these again influence, like leaven in a dough, those nearest to them; then there are held conventions, mass meetings and the like; the aid of the press is invoked; public speakers travel about to make their ex parte appeals, and you find yourself opposed to a party strong and united, without any better reason existing for its being there, than that it has become, for the time, the opinion of the public, which means not the people at large, but those who vociferate loudly enough to out-thunder their neighbours, and drown by their superior powers of breath the weaker efforts of others. But if all knew how weak the vociferating party were in numbers, it would remain unheeded, and legislation would progress as though it existed not.

Let us instance the daily-becoming more imminent danger in some states of a compulsory recognition of the Sunday as a universal day of rest. Does any one in his senses believe that the people of any one state would be shocked in case railroad cars, steamboats, and stages, were employed to carry wayfarers on that day? It is ridiculous to maintain the affirmation, or else why do people ride to church in their own or hired vehicles? Why are ferry boats used to carry church‑goers to and fro? Why do ministers permit themselves to ride on horseback or to be conveyed in coaches, when they have an engage<<565>>ment to preach or to attend a funeral or a wedding? If they mean to keep a Sabbath let them do it on the Jewish fashion; that is, let them abstain from labour of all sorts; but this they will not do, it is not profitable; and consequently their clamour is to force their peculiar views of Sunday rest on the public, whether they will or not; and but for the faint-heartedness, the cowardice, the meanness of their opponents, they would not dare to lift up their head.

Men fear to be crushed by that awful giant, public opinion; hence they invest him with eyes to see, with ears to hear, and with arms to strike; but if they would but approach him boldly they would discover nothing but a purblind, half-deaf, diminutive pigmy, with no power to injure, and with barely strength enough to grumble. We mean, simply, that the sound sense of the people is for freedom as guarantied by the constitution, and that it is only the dread of offending a supposed majority, which counsels men at all to yield even the slightest point to the loud clamour of interested fanatics.

We have been led to make these remarks in consequence of a recent sketch by Judge [Mordecai Manuel] Noah of a scene in which he was a part actor at the court of the Bey of Tripoli, when he was U. S. Consul, and when he carried a point in dispute by pointing out to the Pasha, that the United States government was not a Christian government, in that usual sense of the word. The Commercial Advertiser of New York doubted the assertion of the Judge, and to prove himself right he sent to that paper the following communication, for which we ask the careful attention of our readers.

(For the Commercial Advertiser.)

“In your paper of Thursday evening my attention has been called to the following paragraph:

“ ‘A Very Old Subscriber,’ asks us to tell him whether it is true that a treaty of the United States with Tripoli contains an express renunciation of the Christian character on the part of the former. We cannot give the desired information. The alleged fact was put forth recently, we believe, by Major Noah, in his Messenger. If his account of the matter is true, perhaps he will designate the treaty more particularly.

“The treaty alluded to was negotiated by Joel Barlow, Esq., consul-general and agent plenipotentiary of the United States, with the Bey and subjects of Tripoli, in Barbary, and was confirmed by the Senate in the year 1797; the treaty itself bears date the fourth day of January, 1797. The section referred to is the 11th article, as follows:—

“ ‘As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion: it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, and tranquility of Mussulmen [Mussulmans], and <<566>>as the said states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation; it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from any religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.’

“Mr. Barlow was a freethinker in religious matters, and I disapproved of the article, because it was engrafting his private prejudices upon a solemn official contract made with a foreign nation, when the object contemplated could have been reached without using any language calculated to offend the religious attachments of the people, and when, at all events, it was quite unnecessary to inform the Mussulmans of Tripoli that in effect we had no religion at all. Our relations with Tripoli at the time were so threatening that if the Senate had rejected that article and sent the treaty back, it would have been difficult to obtain another.

“M. M. NOAH.”

It will be seen from the above, that Mr. Noah completely proves his assertion, there is a treaty made by a minister of the Union, and confirmed by the President and Senate, (mind it takes two-thirds of a majority to confirm a treaty to become the supreme law of the land,) emphatically declaring that Christianity is not the law of the land. What more was needed to establish the point? What need is there for our venerable friend to go beyond the record to defame the character of Joel Barlow? One thing we do know, that Mr. Barlow was for several years chaplain in the army pending the war of Independence, during all which time his ministry was acceptable to his hearers; if he turned afterwards free-thinker, of which we know nothing, it does not argue, to say the least, in favour of Christianity, though we admit that neither does it prove much against it. Wherefore his free-thinking is nothing to the public; enough for all to know that the treaty did and does exist, and it is not very dignified in a Jew, as Judge Noah is, to seek for an excuse which was not needed, to justify the Senate of the United States for merely affirming to the truth.

We honestly believe that not a man in that august body was moved by the critical relations between this country and the paltry state of Tripoli to affirm what he believed to be falsehood. The men who were of that sort of mettle to attack the republic of France, then at the height of power and enthusiasm, would not, in all likelihood, shrink before the Bey of Tripoli, to say what they did not believe. It is preposterous, it is monstrous, it is absurd.

No, Christianity is not the law of the land—let it offend whom it may; Judaism is not the law of the land—let all Jews hear it and be shocked, if they like; infidelity and atheism are not the law of  the land—let their supporters wince as they will. There is here freedom for all, and rights and protection for all; and so far from Joel Barlow deserving <<567>>censure, so far from the Senate of 1797 needing to be screened by false pretences,—for such we consider Mr. Noah’s attempted excuse—from public blame, they deserve, one and all, the highest commendation for maintaining that no religion whatever is the basis of the state, though all churches or fractions of churches are alike protected. The treaty contains the simple truth; and well would it be for all parties in the country, if all legislators, and they who agitate public opinion, would draw wisdom from the legacy of those who stood up for the rights of men and the freedom of the subject, at a time when there was danger to be encountered, when men had to march barely clad over the frozen snow, without shoes or stockings on their feet! It is easy for men who sit in easy chairs and on carpeted floors to descant on the legacy of the revolutionary heroes and sages; but it ill becomes those who have been benefited and elevated by their struggles in the field and the Congress for the practical and theoretical rights of all, to defame the name of even one of all who have deserved so well of mankind, who belonged truly to no country or age, but laboured for all nations and all times.

For the present we must close. We regret to differ from one whom all the world, and we among them, esteem so much as Judge Noah; but where the truth of history and true liberty is concerned, we know of no friends, of no party. We protest, then, in the name of freedom and of truth, that we honour the name of Barlow, the Senate of the Union, and the patriotic President, for putting on record a proposition, a law which deserves the deepest gratitude of all men who love truth, liberty, and religion.