Revisiting the Constitutional Convention This Summer

Journal Federal Cons LogoI was reminded by Thomas Kidd in his excellent article about Benjamin Franklin in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that the Constitutional Convention kicked off activities this month on May 14, 1787 and then really got down to business on May 25. In light of recent claims by David Barton that “every clause of the Constitution has an overarching Biblical theme to it. Because they understood the nature of man, the nature of God, the nature of government, and that all comes from a study of the Bible in the study of history,” I thought it would be good to read through the notes taken by James Madison on a daily basis. For my reading, I am using the 1893 version edited by E.H. Scott and published by Albert, Scott & Company. Another reading option from the Avalon project provides a link to each day’s entry (see also this one from Ashland University). I hope you will read along with me.
I plan to look for the Bible in the notes of the Convention. Surely, if the Bible influenced much of the Constitution, I will find frequent references to it in my reading. I will report every one I find.
I hope readers will also read along in order to keep me honest and help discern the influences which animated the delegates to create the form of government we now enjoy.
Madison’s first dated entry was May 14:

Monday, May 14th, 1787,
Was the day fixed for the meeting of the Deputies in Convention, for revising the federal system of government. On that day a small number only had assembled. Seven States were not convened till,
Friday, May 25th.
When the following members appeared: (p. 53)

Madison then listed the delegates in the first meeting.
The first order of business on May 25, 1787 was to elect a president. George Washington was unanimously chosen:

Mr. Robert Morris informed the members assembled, that, by the instruction and in behalf of the deputation of Pennsylvania, he proposed George Washington, Esquire, late Commander-in-Chief, for President of the Convention.* Mr. John Rutledge seconded the motion, expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous; and observing, that the presence of General Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might otherwise be proper.
General Washington was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the Chair by Mr. R. Morris and Mr. Rutledge ; from which, in a very emphatic manner, he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him; reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.

Following the selection of a secretary and rules committee, the Convention adjourned until May 28.

Does Article II of the Constitution Come from Deuteronomy 17:15?

Self-styled historian David Barton says it does. In a DVD (also on YouTube) called Constitutional Christian, Barton repeats a familiar claim that the Constitution is full of Bible verses (hat tip RWW). Watch:
Barton specifically mentions Deuteronomy 17:15 which reads (NASV):

you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.

The relevant clause of Article II of the Constitution reads:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

First, it is important to see critical differences between Deuteronomy and this clause of Article II. The major difference is that God chose the king of Israel while the Constitution sets eligibility requirements for an elected official who is not a king. Another important difference is that Article II contains an exception to the citizenship requirement. Foreign born people who were citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted were eligible. Thus, a foreigner could be eligible, at least until that generation died off.
Barton’s essential claim is that the framers included the citizenship requirement because it is in the Bible. However, Barton offers no evidence that the framers of the Constitution consulted the Bible or even referred to the Bible in establishing this clause. Happily, we have a reasonably detailed record of the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention. The delegates discussed citizenship requirements in depth but didn’t appeal to the Bible. Barton’s claim fails on two counts: Article II is not Deuteronomy 17:15 and the framers didn’t refer to the Bible when crafting eligibility requirements for federal office.

What did the delegates to the Constitutional Convention talk about?

In July and August of 1787*, the delegates debated the citizenship requirements for legislators and president. Some of the framers (e.g., Madison, Franklin) wanted to allow foreigners to hold office, while others (e.g. Morris, Pinckney) wanted tighter restrictions. Several votes were taken on the number of years foreign born people must live in the U.S. before being eligible to serve in the House, Senate and as president. The framers were not unified and certainly did not rally around a set of biblical principles.
An excerpt will illustrate the debate:

Article 5, Sect. 3, was then taken up.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris moved to insert fourteen instead of four years citizenship, as a qualification for Senators; urging the danger of admitting strangers into our public councils.
Mr. Pinckney seconded him.
Mr. Ellsworth was opposed to the motion, as discouraging meritorious aliens from emigrating to this country.
Mr. Pinckney. As the Senate is to have the power of making treaties and managing our foreign affairs, there is peculiar danger and impropriety in opening its door to those who have foreign attachments. He quoted the jealousy of the Athenians on this subject, who made it death for any stranger to intrude his voice into their legislative proceedings.
Col. Mason highly approved of the policy of the motion. Were it not that many, not natives of this country, had acquired great credit during the Revolution, he should be for restraining the eligibility into the Senate, to natives.
Mr. Madison was not averse to some restrictions on this subject, but could never agree to the proposed amendment. He thought any restriction, however, in the Constitution unnecessary and improper ; —unnecessary, because the National Legislature is to have the right of regulating naturalization, and can by virtue thereof fix different periods of residence, as conditions of enjoying different privileges of citizenship ;—improper, because it will give a tincture of illiberality to the Constitution ; because it will put out of the power of the national Legislature, even by special acts of naturalization, to confer the full rank of citizens on meritorious strangers ; and because it will discourage the most desirable class of people from emigrating to the United States. Should the proposed Constitution have the intended effect of giving stability and reputation to our Governments, great numbers of respectable Europeans, men who loved liberty, and wished to partake its blessings, will be ready to transfer their fortunes hither. All such would feel the mortification of being marked with suspicious incapacitations, though they should not covet the public honors. He was not apprehensive that any dangerous number of strangers would be appointed by the State Legislatures, if they were left at liberty to do so ; nor that foreign powers would make use of strangers, as instruments for their purposes. Their bribes would be expended on men whose circumstances would rather stifle than excite jealousy and watchfulness in the public.
Mr. Butler was decidedly opposed to the admission of foreigners without a long residence in the country. They bring with them, not only attachments to other countries, but ideas of government so distinct from ours, that in every point of view they are dangerous. He acknowledged that if he himself had been called into public life within a short time after his coming to America, his foreign habits, opinions, and attachments, would have rendered him an improper agent in public affairs. He mentioned the great strictness observed in Great Britain on this subject.
Doctor Franklin was not against a reasonable time, but should be very sorry to see any thing like illiberality inserted in the Constitution. The people in Europe are friendly to this country. Even in the country with which we have been lately at war, we have now, and had during the war, a great many friends, not only among the people at large, but in both Houses of Parliament. In every other country in Europe, all the people are our friends. We found in the course of the Revolution, that many strangers served us faithfully, and that many natives took part against their country. When foreigners after looking about for some other country in which they can obtain more happiness, give a preference to ours, it is a proof of attachment which ought to excite our confidence and affection.

Concerning the office of Senator, the delegates argued over how long a foreign born citizen had to be a citizen in order to be eligible.  Rather than the Bible, Morris appealed to fear and national loyalty while his colleague Pinckney appealed to Greek political law. Only citizens could vote in Athens and Pinckney cited their law as support. South Carolina delegate Pierce Butler also cited the example of Great Britain as support for lengthy citizenship requirements.  Later in the debate, Morris made a strong appeal to nationalism, saying

As to those philosophical gentlemen, those citizens of the world, as they called themselves, he owned, he did not wish to see any of them in our public councils. He would not trust them. The men who can shake off their attachments to their own country, can never love any other. These attachments are the wholesome prejudices which uphold all governments. (p. 489)

Mason and Ellsworth countered that many good people had served the nation during the Revolution and should be allowed to continue to serve. Madison and Franklin viewed citizenship requirements for foreign born citizens as illiberal and too restrictive. Not one delegate cited Israel, Deuteronomy, or the Bible as a source or support for their position. Eventually, Morris’ argument won out and the delegates settled on a nine year citizenship requirement to be eligible to be a Senator.
The next day, the delegates again took up the debate, this time over citizenship requirements for the House of Representatives. Again, the debate centered on merits of being open and liberal versus the perception of danger from foreign meddling. Eventually, as with the requirements for president, a compromise was suggested which allowed citizens at the time the Constitution was adopted to serve without having to meet the lengthy citizenship qualification.
The requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen” or a citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution was passed on September 7 without debate as recorded by James Madison. The delegates also decided that the chief executive must have been a citizen for at least 14 years. Again, Madison recorded no debate over the matter. For sure, there was no recorded reference to the Bible, Deuteronomy, or Israel.
For Barton’s argument to have any weight, he would need to produce evidence. I am open to any primary source evidence he might bring. However, what I have seen so far provides evidence against his claim. The Constitution doesn’t quote the Bible verbatim no matter how much he wishes it did.
*July 26 (page 434), August 8 (p. 472), August 9 (p. 482), August 10 (p. 497), and August 13 (p. 506)

Today's Lesson in White Privilege is Brought to You by David Barton

Yesterday, Right Wing Watch posted some audio of David Barton lamenting his status as white, Christian male. Want to understand white privilege? Today’s lesson is brought to us by Mr. Barton. On the American Pastor’s Network radio show, Barton said (audio posted by RWW):

Every item in the Bill of Rights is given to every individual, it’s not given to groups, but today, the Supreme Court says the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect the minority from the majority. Now how stupid is that? Because I’m in the majority as a white guy, do I not get the right to a trial by jury, do I not get the right to free speech? No, because I’m in the wrong group. And so, what happens is even back in 1992, in a Supreme Court case I was involved with, the court at the time created classes of religions and if you’re in Christianity, that’s the biggest religion so we give you the least protection. But if you’re in a small religion, we’ll give you more protection than anyone else.

Keep calm and speak freely, Mr. Barton; you have all your First Amendment rights. Even though you are a white Christian, you can have a trial by jury if ever you need one. What hubris to think minorities have it better than you. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate white Christian privilege than these statements.
Surely, Mr. Barton has read the Federalist papers. It appears he disagrees with Madison who wrote in #51:

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.
There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments possessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.
In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.

Madison (also in #10) expressed confidence that the U.S. system would protect the rights of minorities from the state and from the majority. In the quote above, Madison wrote that “Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens.” Madison was not as troubled by discussing the interests of “groups” as Barton is. Instead of complaining that the majority had fewer rights, Madison expressed concern that minority rights could be “insecure.”

Happy Birthday to Thomas Jefferson – Share the Land

On April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, Virginia. Over 270 years later, Jefferson is trending on Twitter. Many people want to claim Jefferson. Today, for instance, the Heritage Foundation has an article claiming that the Tea Party embodies Jefferson’s legacy.
Jefferson had many sides and wasn’t perfectly consistent. The letter to James Madison below might be a surprise to many of Jefferson’s conservative fans.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison
28 Oct. 1785Papers 8:681–82
Seven o’clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you; this [Fontainebleau] is a village of about 5,000 inhabitants when the court is not here and 20,000 when they are, occupying a valley thro’ which runs a brook, and on each side of it a ridge of small mountains most of which are naked rock. The king comes here in the fall always, to hunt. His court attend him, as do also the foreign diplomatic corps. But as this is not indispensably required, and my finances do not admit the expence of a continued residence here, I propose to come occasionally to attend the king’s levees, returning again to Paris, distant 40 miles. This being the first trip, I set out yesterday morning to take a view of the place. For this purpose I shaped my course towards the highest of the mountains in sight, to the top of which was about a league. As soon as I had got clear of the town I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her, which I began by enquiries for the path which would lead me into the mountain: and thence proceeded to enquiries into her vocation, condition and circumstance. She told me she was a day labourer, at 8. sous or 4 d. sterling the day; that she had two children to maintain, and to pay a rent of 30 livres for her house (which would consume the hire of 75 days), that often she could get no emploiment, and of course was without bread. As we had walked together near a mile and she had so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned, because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid. This little attendrissement, with the solitude of my walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe. The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards. These employ the flower of the country as servants, some of them having as many as 200 domestics, not labouring. They employ also a great number of manufacturers, and tradesmen, and lastly the class of labouring husbandmen. But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.

The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 32

Jefferson worried that too much wealth in the hands of a few would work against the natural rights of all. Clearly, Jefferson saw a role for the government in creating policies to address the needs of the poor and unemployed. Jefferson surely did call for limited government but not so limited as to ignore “those excluded from the appropriation.”
I don’t know what TJ would have thought about The Guess Who, but after reading this letter again, I thought of this song.
If you want a more scholarly treatment of Jefferson, why not treat yourself to Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President?

Phil Robertson Uses Spurious James Madison Quote to Explain His Support for Ted Cruz

Today, Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson used a spurious quote often attributed to James Madison to explain his support for Ted Cruz. Watch (see especially the segment starting at 1:30 into the clip)
There is no such Madison quote about America being based on self-governance according to the 10 commandments. Even Ted Cruz’s historian, David Barton, now labels that quote “unconfirmed.” By all accounts, the quote cannot be found in any of Madison’s writings or can’t be traced to any primary source.
Someone should tell Phil Robertson that several of the quotes Barton used in his first book cannot be found in primary sources.

David Barton Removes Claim About Chaplains at the University of Virginia in New Edition of The Jefferson Lies

In the 2012 edition of The Jefferson Lies, David Barton claimed to debunk the notion that the University of Virginia (founded by Jefferson) had no chaplains. He took up this as one of his major points as evidence that Jefferson established UVA as a “transdenominational” college. See below from the first edition of The Jefferson Lies:

4. Did the University of Virginia Have Chaplains?
The modern claim that the University of Virginia had no chaplains is also easily disproved by original documents, including early newspaper ads that the university ran to recruit students from surround-ing areas. In the Washington newspaper the Globe, the Reverend Septimus Tuston (identified in the ad as the chaplain of the university and who later became the chaplain of the US House of Representatives and then the US Senate) discussed religious life at the school, reporting:
Barton, David (2013-02-15). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 1330-1335). WallBuilder Press. Kindle Edition.

Barton then cited a 1837 article from the Washington Globe. Jefferson died in 1826; he had nothing to do with chaplains at UVA. Perhaps anticipating this counterpoint to his argument, Barton crafted a narrative to try to explain why chaplains were not appointed in the early days of the school. However, what Barton does to James Madison (who took over when Jefferson died) demonstrates his bias. From the first edition of The Jefferson Lies, Barton selectively quoted Madison:

The University of Virginia did indeed have chaplains, albeit not in its first three years (the university opened for students in 1825). At the beginning, when the university was establishing its reputation as a transdenominational university, the school had no appointed chaplain for the same reason that there had been no clergyman as president and no single professor of divinity: an ordained clergyman in any of those three positions might send an incorrect signal that the university was aligned with a specific denomination. But by 1829, when the nondenominational reputation of the university had been fully established, President Madison (who became rector of the university after Jefferson’s death in 1826) announced “that [permanent] provision for religious instruction and observance among the students would be made by . . . services of clergymen.”
Barton, David (2013-02-15). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 1362-1369). WallBuilder Press. Kindle Edition.

This treatment of Madison completely changes Madison’s meaning. Actually these words from Madison comes from a letter he wrote to a fellow university trustee. Here is what Barton cited Madison as saying:

“that [permanent] provision for religious instruction and observance among the students would be made by…services of clergymen.”

However, Madison made no public announcement about UVA policy. Instead, Madison wrote those words in a May 1, 1828 letter to Chapman Johnson, one of the members of the university Board of Visitors. The actual quote depicts a completely different meaning than Barton implies. Here is the entire section of the letter, from which Barton lifts his quote. Barton leaves out the words from Madison which are required to understand the meaning. Another unwarranted change Barton makes is to add the word “permanent.” What Barton omitted is in bold print below:

I have indulged more particularly the hope, that provision for religious instruction and observances among the Students, would be made by themselves or their Parents & Guardians, each contributing to a fund to be applied, in remunerating the services of Clergymen, of denominations, corresponding with the preference of the contributors. Small contributions would suffice, and the arrangement would become more & more efficient & adequate, as the Students become more numerous; whilst being altogether voluntary, it would interfere neither with the characteristic peculiarity of the University, the consecrated principle of the law, nor the spirit of the Country.

Instead of securing chaplains, Madison hoped that the students and parents would handle the religious matters themselves voluntarily.
In the new edition of The Jefferson Lies, Barton continues to assert that Jefferson wanted to establish a “transdenominational” school but he leaves out the chaplains story. From the new edition:

As already noted, in 1818 Jefferson and the university Visitors publicly released their plan for the new school announcing that it would be transdenominational and making clear that religious instruction would be provided to all students. But Jefferson insisted on additional steps to ensure that religious training would occur at the university.
Barton, David (2015-12-22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Kindle Locations 1997-2000). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

I am surprised that Barton left this story out because in February 2015, Barton told the same story to Jack Hibbs, pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills. He told this story as evidence that he is positively revising errors of academic historians. Watch:

There is no actual academic debate over the eventual presence of chaplains at UVA. Barton’s narrative seems designed to make him look like he is revising history in the direction of accuracy. However, when you know the rest of the story, it is easy to see who engaged in revision.

Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission
Cover of Getting Jefferson Right, used by permission

Barton has taken the position that Michael Coulter and I are mostly wrong in our critique of The Jefferson Lies. However, in this case, our accurate telling of the story apparently resulted in a significant alteration in his book. Instead of acknowledging this, Barton and World Net Daily are doubling down on the false narrative that the first edition was killed due to liberal attacks.