Friday, December 02, 2011

An Absurd Superstition

Okay, after a dearth of posting, it's time to get my groove back.

I'm currently reading Ratification: The People Debate The Constitution, 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier.  It is a very dense, well researched book about the process of debating and ratifying the Constitution that runs over 470 pages, excluding the end notes.

While it is a very worthwhile story in its own right, the book caught my attention several months ago while trolling for bargains at Borders before it closed its doors because I wanted to see if it offered any revealing insights into what degree, if any, overt Christian or Biblical beliefs played in the debate over the Constitution. 

So far, I haven't seen any reference in Maier's book to any of the Founders crediting God in crafting the Supreme Law of the Land.  On the other hand, I did find the following passage amusing.  It's on page 102, where Maier writes about the ratifying convention in Pennsylvania.

"In its opening days, the convention rejected a suggestion by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a somewhat quixotic Philadelphian and one of the country's best trained physicians, that it appoint a minister to open its business with prayer.  Several delegates objected: Considering the religious diversity of the state, they argued, any such appointment would offend some people.  Moreover, neither the Pennsylvania legislature nor the convention that had drafted the state constitution had begun with prayer.  When Rush suggested that was why the state had ever since been beset with divisions, [John] Smilie dismissed the doctor's theory as an 'absurd superstition.'   That ended that."

If one took pseudo-historians like David Barton at their word, one would labor under the impression that every public undertaking in early America was suffused with prayers and overt religiosity.  The bitch slap that Benjamin Rush received when he pushed to have the convention open with a prayer led by a minister shows that this was not necessarily the case.

And as I showed in this post, when the governor of South Carolina issued an overtly Christian Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1844, he provoked the ire of the Jewish community of Charleston.   This all took place decades, well over a century actually, before there were organizations like the ACLU and Americans United championing the separation of church and state.

2 comments:

phillychief said...

That's a great find. I'll probably use that a lot in the future.

Doug Indeap said...

Thank you for that useful find.