In my opinion, whenever David Barton tells his audiences to read the founders writings, he takes a large risk that someone in the audience will actually do it. What such curious readers find is a hodgepodge of political theories with much disagreement on matters of substance. One will also find much that contradicts Barton’s tendentious claims. For instance, last week Barton said the founders all agreed that God’s law was higher than man’s law. Our second president John Adams is worth reading on these points.
Frequently, Barton promotes American exceptionalism. Next time he talks on that subject, he should try to explain John Adams words to John Taylor in an July 29, 1814 letter:
Again, how are the United States distinguished from all other governments, or from any other government? What are the good moral principles from which the governments of the United States are deduced, which are not common to many other governments? In all that great number and variety of constitutions which the last twenty-five years have produced in France, in Holland, in Geneva, in Spain, we find the most excellent moral principles, precepts, and maxims, and all of them complicated with the idea of a balance. We make ourselves popular, Mr. Taylor, by telling our fellow-citizens that we have made discoveries, conceived inventions, and made improvements. We may boast that we are the chosen people; we may even thank God that we are not like other men; but, after all, it will be but flattery, and the delusion, the self-deceit of the Pharisee.
In the entire letter, he gives no credit to the Bible or Christianity for American government. He does imply that man is sinful and bent for corruption which is consistent with a reformed view of human nature. However, in his defense of the Constitution, Adams claims that such knowledge of human nature may be discerned from reason without aid of revelation. In that work, Adams defends the checks and balances of the Constitution by addressing other views from history. In doing so, he criticizes those who attempt to generate good citizenship via religious exceptionalism.
If this writer had been one of the enthusiasts of that day, and told the people they must pray to God for his omnipotent grace to be poured out upon them, to distinguish them from all the rest of mankind as his favorite people, more even than the Jews were, that they might be enabled to observe the rules of a free state, though all history and experience, even that of the Hebrews themselves, and the constitution of human nature, proved it impossible without a miracle; or if he had told them that they were a chosen people, different from all other men, numbers would have believed him, and been disappointed; for it is impious presumption to suppose that Providence will thus distinguish any nation;
Adams criticizes what sounds very much like the battle cry of the Christian political right. If we just turn to God, all will be well. If we turn to God, our political house will come into order. God will smile and we will be the shining city on a hill as his covenant nation. Adams dismisses this kind of thinking as “impious presumption.”