This post finishes up my blogging on the second segment of Barton’s appearance on The Daily Show last week. In case you want to follow along, I have, once again, posted the segment below.
11:23: Stewart asks Barton about the Treaty of Tripoli. Barton claims that people only read the part of Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli that says: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” and fail to read the rest of the paragraph. To be fair, here is the entire text of Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
I think Barton has a point here. The Treaty of Tripoli was necessary because Barbary pirates, under the sanction of Tripoli, were capturing American ships and selling crew members into slavery. The Muslim states of the Barbary Coast (Tripoli, Algiers, Morocco, and Tunis) had long used piracy to control Mediterranean trade routes. Any nation that wanted to trade freely in the region was forced to negotiate a peace treaty with the Barbary States, which usually included some kind of monetary tribute. (This was basically negotiating with terrorists).
During the colonial era, American vessels were protected from the Barbary pirates by British warships, but after the Revolution the United states would need to work out its own treaty with these countries. The Treaty of Tripoli, which included the assertion that the United States was not founded on the Christian religion, was signed by John Adams and ratified unanimously by the Senate. The text of the treaty was published in several newspapers, and there was no public opposition to it.
As I argue in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction, the American negotiators of this treaty did not want the religious differences between the United States and Tripoli to hinder attempts at reaching a trade agreement. Claiming that the United States was not “founded on the Christian religion” probably made negotiations proceed more smoothly.
But today this brief religious reference in a rather obscure treaty in the history of American diplomacy has played a prominent role in the debate over whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
On one level, the authors of the Treaty of Tripoli were correct. The United States, at least according to its Constitution, was not a Christian nation. On the other hand, most people living in America during this time had little toleration for Muslims and would certainly have understood themselves as living in a Christian nation as opposed to a Muslim nation like Tripoli.
In the end, Article 11 should be taken in context. Its primary purpose or “original intent” was not to rule on whether or not we were a Christian nation. It was a foreign policy document. Its goal was to make sure American ships could trade freely in the Mediterranean Sea. While there are a lot of ways one could argue that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation, I am not sure that the Treaty of Tripoli is the best way.
So I agree here with Barton. But here is my question: Why does Barton appeal to the historical context of some documents and not others? He spends all this time showing how people take the Treaty of Tripoli out of context by not reading the complete Christian nation clause, but when it comes to the John Adams quote mentioned in my previous post, he is guilty of the same charge.
Dr. Fea, didn't Barton claim that God is mentioned in Article 7 of the Constitution four times? That is the section as I know you know, where the phrase “in the year of our Lord” appears, but I don't see God mention in addition to that. Do you see anything to Barton's claim? Thanks.
It's interesting that after Barton goes through the pains of emphasizing (in expanded segment 2 @8:46) that the current in use version of “Democracy in Americ” is “edited for the modern reader,” and says “I've got problems with that.” However, this is exactly what he's done with the letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush, and his words, explaining the “Treaty of Tripoli,” are: “The government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion as having an inherent hostility toward Muslims.” He lied! He leaves out the significance of the semicolon and paraphrases (for his purpose) the next seventeen words. It's completely disingenuous.
John Fea says
You are correct. God is never mentioned in the Constitution. The “Year of our Lord” line was added by the clerk after the convention had already disbanded. I have never heard Barton say this, but if he did he is certainly wrong.
Tom Van Dyke says
Why does Barton appeal to the historical context of some documents and not others?
Because as you say John, he's an advocate, not a historian.
HOWEVER, the Treaty of Tripoli is always in the top handful of arguments in the “not a Christian nation” thesis, and is one of the few things cited by many calling for Barton's scalp. They don't know much about history either, but they sure know their Treaty of Tripoli!
So it's quite proper for advocate Barton to spend time on it. Ignorance isn't solely the province of Barton's side.
I don't think Barton relies on anyone document the way his opponents rely on the Treaty of Tripoli. Hence, your problem in “knocking him out.”
As for the actual history, the US also signed treaties with Europe in the Name of the Holy Trinty. America was like, yeah, whatever. The whole treaty thing is in my eyes a push.
Go back to the Daily Show website and look at David Barton, part 2:
Around 2:50 he says,
“By the way, the Declaration is incorporated in the Constitution in Article VII, that's four references to God just in Article VII.”
Here Barton is making the idiotic claim that because Article VII includes the phrase, “and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth” after the “Year of our Lord” he takes it to mean that the DoI is incorporated into the Constitution even though Article VII makes no mention of the Declaration. Thus, Barton gets the number four from “Lord” in Article VII and “Nature's God”, “Creator” and “Supreme Judge” from the DoI.
Our Founding Truth says
Good point Joe! I never saw that until you referred to it. This would be important if the framers wrote the DOI is still binding through the Constitution.
Maybe PFAW's article is what is attributed to Barton: “Barton also insists that the U.S. Constitution was not meant to be a secular document. The First Amendment prohibits an establishment of religion and the Constitution includes an explicit ban on religious tests for public office, and its authors did not include any assertion of divine origin or blessing, but Barton has a theory. At the end of the text of the Constitution, its authors write that the Constitution’s crafting was “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.” Barton claims that this passing reference to the Declaration of Independence incorporates that document and its reference to rights endowed by a Creator into the U.S. Constitution, making the Constitution a religious document that reflects and requires a national acknowledgment of God’s hand in our founding, history, and prosperity.”
The Declaration mentions God three or four times.
PFAW is found at: http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/barton-s-bunk-religious-right-historian-hits-the-big-time-tea-party-america?gclid=CJ2m7OTJ6KgCFQpm7Aod9keqHw
Btw, Dr. Fea, could you post the reference that supports the contention that a clerk added the “year of our Lord…year of independence” to Article 7?
politicususa.com heard the same thing I did but I can't find it in the videos…”The difference here is that Barton actually did try to offer Stewart evidence to support the claim. For starters he says that there are four references to God in Article VII”
I guess I'll have to wait til your book arrives in the mail, Dr. Fea.
Alas, I found mention of the Article VII “Year of our Lord” on page 150 of Dr. Fea's book, BUT he only says that it is a common way of referring to the date back in the day. Maybe the 2nd ed. will explain that a clerk appended the date phrase after the signatures were attached.
I hope I don't have to wait until the 2nd ed. to find out where it is written that the clerk made the appendage. After all, I paid good money for this book (smile).
I guess no one wants to admit the falsehood of a clerk adding “in the year of..” after the signatures were signed. Sounds like Barton's bad habits are wearing off on somebody.
The more I think about the idea, after all the months of deliberating over what the Constitution would say we are to accept the idea that they forgot to date until everyone had signed it. We need to see a retraction Dr. Fea
John Fea says
Craig: I appreciate your zeal and your reading of the blog. Sit tight and let me dig this up. I will do a post on it soon. Just be patient.