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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

American Slavery Was Not Biblicaly Supported

‘Make Good Use of Your Servitude’
Some Observations on Biblical Interpretation and Slavery
by Michael Marlowe
October, 2003

“When you buy a Hebrew slave, six years shall he serve; and in the seventh shall he go out free, for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and the children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the slave shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto God, and he shall bring him to the door or unto the door-post, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.”

—Exodus 21:2-6.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”

—Ephesians 6:5-6.

If there is anything in the Bible that makes modern people nervous, it is its treatment of slavery. Slavery is humanely regulated in the legal portions of the Old Testament, and in the epistles of the New Testament slaveholders are exhorted to show kindness to slaves, but nowhere in the Bible is there anything which can be interpreted as a disapproval of the institution as such. People of our generation, Christians included, tend to have a very hard time with this, because it seems to amount to a tacit approval of the institution, and we balk at the idea that God did not consider the institution itself to be immoral.

Part of the problem is that we have false ideas about what slavery was really like. The life of a slave was not easy, but we get an exaggerated idea of the hardships of slavery from watching movies or reading historical material that is written on a popular level. Here the purpose is usually to dramatize the plight of slaves or to make some point about the evils of slavery in general, (1) but the historical reality was less dramatic. In most cases the life of a slave was not much different from the life of any lower-class worker. Those who have been in the military have experienced something like it — being legally bound to an employer and to a job that one cannot simply "quit" at will, not free to leave without permission, subject to discipline if one disobeys or is grossly negligent — all of this is familiar enough to those of us who have served in the military. And yet we know that the daily life of a good soldier is not especially hard. This is what it was like to be a slave.

Another problem is, when thinking about slavery we tend to have in mind the recent slavery of the black race in America, and so the whole subject of slavery gets mixed up with the issue of racism. But in ancient times, slavery was not associated with any particular race. By condoning slavery the Bible does not approve of racism.

A third reason why modern people have a hard time understanding the Bible's treatment of slavery is that we often now tend to confuse morality with political values. The modern tendency is to politicize everything, including even the Christian gospel. Moral philosophy or ethics has become so politicized that it seems to be almost a sub-department of political science now, which is why we have seen the rise of an elaborate political correctness in our public life. "Racism," "sexism," "homophobia," and so on, are the really serious sins under this new morality. Although we all know that people are not really equal, the egalitarian ideology of our time is considered to be of such overriding importance that any slight affront to it is considered sinful, while the principles of ordinary old-fashioned morality are downplayed and even denied. This political correctness is not merely a fad, it is the logical and inevitable result of the politicization of morality, the elaboration of an entirely new morality based upon political ideas of right and wrong.

In recent years the principle of equality has been raised to the status of a theological axiom in liberal churches. This is illustrated by the remarks made by an Episcopal bishop in an interview following his church's decision to appoint a homosexual bishop in the Summer of 2003. The "Right Reverend" John Bryson Chane appealed to the egalitarian principle in this manner:

When I look at where gay, lesbian, and transgender persons are, they have been excluded from the full sacramental life of the Episcopal Church in the United States — and, in fact, excluded from the full sacramental life pretty much within the Anglican Communion. What I have to say to that is if, in fact, we believe theologically that God created human beings in the good image of God as creator, and if we, in fact, believe that everybody is equal in God's eyes, then how in God's name can we say that we don't have enough theology to work this issue through? And how can we say that a person's sexuality does not allow them to enter into the full life of this communion? (2)

"Everybody is equal in God's eyes" is the premise, taken utterly for granted here, and in a rather sweeping way that includes not only spiritual matters but also matters of church government. But the authors of the Bible knew nothing of such modern egalitarian notions. Morality in the Bible is set forth as a personal matter, not a political matter, and it is certainly not based upon any idea that all people are of equal worth in God's eyes. Salvation in the Bible is no "equal opportunity" proposition either. As for the political and social order, the Bible does not direct us to anything beyond the hierarchical principles of order which pertained to the ancient world of kings and patriarchs, promising only that in due time a righteous Kingdom will come. This must be understood by anyone who wants to get a clear idea of what the Bible is all about. A sensible and honest reading of the Bible cannot be possible for those who would read into it the politicized egalitarian morality of our age. Even the most cherished idea of modern civil philosophy — that "all men are created equal," and "endowed with certain inalienable rights," as the American Declaration of Independance puts it — must be left behind by the student who would fully enter into the world of the Bible.

This is denied by many liberal scholars (e.g. John Dominic Crossan, Gerd Theissen, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza), who, trying to put a 'biblical' coloring on their politicized version of Christianity, have argued that the New Testament contains some evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was a social revolutionary who founded a short-lived 'egalitarian' community based upon a 'discipleship of equals.' These scholars maintain that by the end of the first century the egalitarian program of Jesus was abandoned by his followers, who suppressed the egalitarianism of the early Church when they wrote or edited the New Testament documents. In two recent articles (3) John H. Elliott has reviewed these unconvincing efforts to find an egalitarian 'historical Jesus,' and in conclusion he finds it necessary to restate the obvious:

This concept that all persons are equal in respect to economic, social, legal, and political domains is of modern, Enlightenment origin and has been shaped by momentous economic, social, and political changes dramatically distancing our modern world from that of the biblical writers. The equality celebrated in the American and French revolutions, has little, if anything, in common with the comparatively rarely discussed concept of equality (more frequently "equity" or proportional equality) in the ancient world. Accordingly, searching for instances of egalitarianism in the New Testament communities, indeed in the ancient world on the whole, is as pointless as hunting for modern needles in ancient haystacks. (4)

As hard as this may be, it is only by prescinding from such modern cultural presuppositions and by adopting instead the presuppositions of the Bible's authors, that one can even begin to understand and respect its teachings as the word of God. As D.E. Nineham puts it:

If God has condescended to address men in the full particularity of their peculiar historical and cultured environments, then we have got to immerse ourselves fully and sympathetically in those environments, with their customs and values, ways of thinking and patterns of imagery, before we can understand either his demand or their response. (5)

Unfortunately, it is not only liberal scholars who refuse to immerse themselves sypathetically in the Bible, but also many 'evangelical' scholars. We are not always well served by our own conservative commentators and translators in this matter. There seems to be an apologetic motive at work here — the Bible is domesticated in order to avoid scandalizing those who would be shocked to discover how utterly foreign it is to modern values. (6) This tendency appears in many forms. Regarding slavery, some of our English translations remove the offense by using the word "servants" instead of "slaves," (7) and many evangelical expositors have tried to distract attention from the foreignness of the Bible's teaching on slavery by dwelling upon things in the Bible which they allege to be part of some latent egalitarian "trajectory." Usually reference is made to something or other in Paul's Epistle to Philemon, which is construed as if the whole point of the letter was to urge Philemon to free his slave Onesimus. But this attempt to discover and highlight some hidden egalitarian agenda in the Bible is all the more difficult for evangelicals because they cannot simply dismiss most of the New Testament by calling it "secondary," as do the liberals. And it not only fails to convince, but it is a serious misdirection, because it prevents people from coming to terms with the world-view of the Biblical authors.

However much we may want to find a Biblical case for the abolition of slavery, it is simply not there, not even in the Epistle to Philemon. (8) As George Elden Ladd puts it:

Paul has no word of criticism for the institution as such. In this sense, he was unconcerned about "social ethics" — the impact of the gospel on social structures. In fact, he admonishes slaves to be indifferent to their social status (1 Cor. 7:21), because a human slave is really a freedman of the Lord. (9)

1 Corinthians 7:21
Ladd mentions the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21, which we will examine now in some detail, because some recent Bible versions have paraphrased the verse in such a way that it appears to be telling slaves that they should seek emancipation. But this interpretation is anachronistic and does violence to the context. In fact the meaning is quite the opposite. It is an instruction to slaves that they should care so little for worldly freedom that they should not even take notice of any opportunities to become free, as in the following modern versions:

New English Bible (margin). Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let that trouble you; but even if a chance of liberty should come, choose rather to make good use of your servitude.

Revised English Bible (margin). Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let that trouble you; but even if a chance of freedom should come, choose rather to make good use of your servitude.

Today's English Version (margin). Were you a slave when God called you? Well, never mind; but even if you have a chance to become a free man, choose rather to make the best of your condition as a slave.

New American Bible. Were you a slave when your call came? Give it no thought. Even supposing you could go free, you would be better off making the most of your slavery.

American Standard Version. Wast thou called being a bond-servant? care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather.

Revised Standard Version (margin). Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition instead.

New Revised Standard Version. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.

The Church Fathers (early writers of the Church) favored this interpretation. See, for example, the commentaries of Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophlact. Here are Chrysostom's words on the verse:

"Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. Hast thou been called, having an unbelieving wife? Continue to have her. Cast not out thy wife for the faith's sake. Hast thou been called, being a slave? Care not for it. Continue to be a slave. Hast thou been called, being in uncircumcision? Remain uncircumcised. Being circumcised, didst thou become a believer? Continue circumcised. For this is the meaning of, "As God hath distributed unto each man." For these are no hindrances to piety. Thou art called, being a slave; another, with an unbelieving wife; another, being circumcised.

Astonishing! where has he put slavery? As circumcision profits not, and uncircumcision does no harm, so neither doth slavery, nor yet liberty. And that he might point out this with surpassing clearness, he says, "But even (All eikai dunasai) if thou canst become free, use it rather:" that is, rather continue a slave. Now upon what possible ground does he tell the person who might be set free to remain a slave? He means to point out that slavery is no harm but rather an advantage.

Now we are not ignorant that some say the words, "use it rather," are spoken with regard to liberty: interpreting it, "if thou canst become free, become free." But the expression would be very contrary to Paul's manner if he intended this. For he would not, when consoling the slave and signifying that he was in no respect injured, have told him to get free. Since perhaps someone might say, "What then, if I am not able? I am an injured and degraded person." This then is not what he says: but as I said, meaning to point out that a man gets nothing by being made free, he says, "Though thou hast it in thy power to be made free, remain rather in slavery."

Next he adds also the cause; "For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord's free man: likewise he that was called, being free, is Christ's bondservant." "For," saith he, "in the things that relate to Christ, both are equal: and like as thou art the slave of Christ, so also is thy master. How then is the slave a free man? Because He has freed thee not only from sin, but also from outward slavery while continuing a slave. For he suffers not the slave to be a slave, not even though he be a man abiding in slavery: and this is the great wonder.

But how is the slave a free man while continuing a slave? When he is freed from passions and the diseases of the mind: when he looks down upon riches and wrath and all other the like passions.

Ver. 23. "Ye were bought with a price: become not bondservants of men." This saying is addressed not to slaves only but also to free men. For it is possible for one who is a slave not to be a slave; and for one who is a freeman to be a slave. "And how can one be a slave and not a slave?" When he doeth all for God: when he feigns nothing, and doeth nothing out of eye-service towards men: that is how one that is a slave to men can be free. Or again, how doth one that is free become a slave? When he serves men in any evil service, either for gluttony or desire of wealth or for office's sake. For such an one, though he be free, is more of a slave than any man. (10)

Early modern interpreters which follow this line include Camerarius, Estius, Wolf, Bengel, and many others. In the nineteenth century, de Wette, Osiander, Maier, Ewald, Baur, Vaihinger, Weiss, and Meyer. In recent years it generally prevails among scholarly commentators, as for example in C.K. Barrett's commentary:

"Were you a slave when you were called? See i.26 for the low social standing of many Corinthian Christians. Let not that trouble you, but even though you should be able to become free (emancipation could take place in a variety of ways, and was not infrequent) put up rather with your present status. A number of grammarians (e.g. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, i. 247; ii. 165; Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, pp. 21, 167; M.E. Thrall, Greek Particles in the New Testament (1962), pp. 78-82), and many commentators, prefer to render, If you actually (ei kai) have an opportunity of becoming free, by all means (mallon, elative) seize it. This finds some support in the aorist tense of the imperative (crhsai), but does not make sense in the context; see especially the discussion, with references, in J.N. Sevenster, Paul and Seneca, pp. 189 f. (and the same context for a discussion of the Pauline and Stoic attitudes to slavery). Particularly important is the for (gar) with which the next verse begins: You need not hesitate to put up with your servile condition, for the slave who has been called in the Lord (that is, to be a Christian, one who is in Christ) is the Lord's freedman; and similarly the free man who has been called is Christ's slave." (11)

1 Timothy 1:10
Sometimes 1 Timothy 1:10 is mentioned as one verse which might indicate that the Bible considers slavery to be sinful. This misinterpretation was often put forth in abolitionist writings of the Civil-War Era. For example, in 1836 Angelina Grimke (a feminist abolitionist who was neither a scholar nor a believer in the Bible) wrote, "how can it be said Paul sanctioned slavery, when, as though to put this matter beyond all doubt, in that black catalogue of sins enumerated in his first epistle to Timothy, he mentions 'menstealers,' which word may be translated 'slavedealers'?" (12) The verse lists andrapodistaiV "menstealers" along with other ungodly and sinful persons (murderers, fornicators, sodomites, liars, etc.), and indeed this word is translated "slave traders" in the New International Version and in the New Living Translation. The New International Reader's Version (a revision of the NIV for children) even interprets it as, "people who buy and sell slaves." This is in keeping with Grimke's interpretation. But this is certainly not the meaning of the word. Thayer's Lexicon explains that the word means "one who steals the slaves of others and sells them" or "one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery." This crime was often committed in ancient times. Penalties for it are specified in the Mosaic Law (see Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7), and it is frequently mentioned by Greek writers as the crime of andrapodon. In the ancient Roman code known as the Lex Fabia (third-second century B.C.) these slave-snatchers were called plagiarii, and so the word is translated thus in the Vulgate. (13) So andrapodistaiV in 1 Timothy 1:10 does not refer to all slave traders, any more than the word pornoiV "whoremongers, fornicators" in the same verse could refer all men who have sexual relations with a woman. It refers to those who engage in an illegal activity, kidnapping of slaves, and not the legal slave-trade itself. For this reason, most Bible versions translate the word "kidnappers."

Why have the translators of the NIV and the NLT used the words "slave traders" here, without even indicating the correct interpretation in a footnote? One might expect the NIV Study Bible, at least, to indicate the meaning, but even in that copiously annotated edition of the NIV there is no explanatory note here. We also observe that the recently-published English Standard Version has "enslavers" here, which is somewhat better than "slave-traders," and it also has a note stating that the word means "those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery." But this translation and this note are also incorrect for two reasons: In ancient times those who were taken captive in war were often kept or sold as slaves, unless they were redeemed by the payment of a ransom, and this military custom was not considered to be andrapodon. It was considered to be a merciful alternative to the massacre of defeated enemies. (14) Also, the crime of andrapodon often involved the kidnapping of one who was already a slave, not the enslavement of one who had been free. If the translators were not satisfied with "kidnappers" because this word does not indicate the connection with the illegal slave trade, they might have rendered it "slave-kidnappers," but "enslavers" is not the meaning of this word.

We suspect an apologetic purpose for these mistranslations. All of these versions were sponsored by evangelical publishers, and many evangelical apologists have used isolated misinterpretations of 1 Timothy 1:10 in support of their contention that the Bible does not really condone slavery after all. But however well-meaning this may be, and however expedient it may be for apologists, it prevents people from really coming to terms with the world-view of the Biblical authors—a world-view which is very remote from modern egalitarian values and agendas.

None of this is to suggest that slavery is a good idea in the modern world. But it is a requirement of scholarly integrity, and of any true understanding of the Bible, that we should refrain from importing our own modern political and social values into the text.


1. For example, Schaff's History of the Christian Church (vol 1, chap. 8, § 48) hyperbolically states that at times there were perhaps twice as many slaves as freemen in the Roman empire, and that, while the treatment of slaves "depended on the character of the master," "as a rule it was harsh and cruel." Indeed, life was harsh for all working-class people in ancient Rome by modern standards. But it strains credulity when we are asked to believe (without any evidence presented for the sweeping assertion) that "the character of the master" was "as a rule ... cruel." Such characterizations belong more to the realm of melodrama than to history.

2. Radio interview with the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, DC, broadcast by National Public Radio on August 1, 2003 and subsequently published in the Public Broadcasting Corporation's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. We note the irony of this appeal to the egalitarian principle in the context of the Episcopal Church's decision, which concerned the appointment of a homosexual to a prestigious and decidedly hierarchical office, with an honorific title and a pompous costume. Such ecclesiastical personages bear little resemblance to the "bishops" or overseers mentioned in the Bible.

3. John H. Elliott, "Jesus Was Not an Egalitarian. A Critique of an Anachronistic and Idealist Theory," Biblical Theology Bulletin 32/3 (2002). pp. 75-91; "The Jesus Movement Was Not Egalitarian but Family-oriented," Biblical Interpretation 11/2 (April 2003), pp. 173-210.

4. John H. Elliott, "The Jesus Movement Was Not Egalitarian," p. 174.

5. D.E. Nineham, The Church's Use of the Bible Past and Present (London: SPCK, 1963), p. 161.

6. This is not mere speculation. Douglas Groothuis, professor of apologetics at Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary, has published on the internet a surprisingly frank article — "Apologetics: The Egalitarian Imperative" (dated June 04, 2002) — in which he argues that "biblical egalitarianism" is an "apologetic imperative" because "unbelievers recoil in horror, and reject the gospel without further thought" after hearing "pronouncements about female submission."

7. For example, the Revised Standard Version uses the word "servant" in Romans 1:1, where Paul really calls himself a "slave of Christ." It seems that the RSV editors were not entirely comfortable with this manner of speaking. One recent version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, reluctantly uses the word "slave" with a bullet pointing to an editorial note in the appendix: "The strong Greek word doulos cannot be accurately translated in English by 'servant' or 'bond servant'; the HCSB translates this word as 'slave,' not out of insensitivity to the legitimate concerns of modern English speakers, but out of a commitment to accurately convey the brutal reality of the Roman Empire's inhumane institution as well as the ownership called for by Christ." It seems that the editors could not bring themselves to use the word "slave" without a note denouncing slavery as an inhumane and brutal institution. But we observe that Paul and the other biblical authors were not moved to make any such apology for their use of the word doulos. Rather, as the HCSB note mentions, they used the word as a very apt one to express the 'ownership called for by Christ.' But would they have done this if the reality of slavery in ancient Rome was as brutal and inhumane as the writer of this note seems to think? Wayne Grudem, one of the translators of the English Standard Version, maintains that "the word 'slave' is probably not the best translation of the Greek word doulos" because in ancient times slavery "was an institution far different from the horrible abuses of slavery in the 18th and 19th century in North America" (Interview with Adrian Warnock, 8 Dec. 2006).

8. The apologists for slavery in the Confederate States of America produced some writings on this subject which are today usually dismissed as mere special-pleading, and perhaps rightly so. But whatever one may think of their motives, it should be recognized that their opponents were much more guilty of special-pleading when they tried to use the Bible in support of the abolitionist cause. The truth is, the Bible gives no deliberate support to either side of this political question, because the Bible was not written for political purposes. For an interesting critique of the abolitionist use of Scripture see the discussion in chapter 3 of Albert Taylor Bledsoe's An Essay on Liberty and Slavery (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co., 1856).

9. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 529.

10. Homily XIX on 1 Corinthians. English translation from Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. American edition. Series I, Vol. XII (New York, 1889).

11. C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 170f.

12. Angelina Grimke, "Appeal to the Christian women of the South," in The Anti-Slavery Examiner 1/2 (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836)

13. For details on the Roman law see the article "Plagium" by George Long in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, ed. William Smith (London: John Murray, 1875).

14. It is not at all clear how this ancient practice can be called less humane than the modern practice of deliberately and wantonly destroying civilian populations by aerial bombardment, as was done by Allied forces during the Second World War. This policy of "total war" against the population of a foreign country, which is even now the plan of the American military in the event of nuclear war, can hardly be called more humane than slavery.

Jame Madison
David Barton - 09/2002
In recent days, Michael Newdow - infamous for his successful initiation of the ruling striking down "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance - has broadened his efforts and has filed suit against the use of chaplains in the U. S. House and Senate. In his public appearances defending this newest pursuit, Newdow cites James Madison's quotes from his "Detached Memoranda" as his authority in opposing chaplains. Did Madison actually oppose chaplains in Congress? Yes, and no.

Madison's religious views and activities are numerous, as are his writings on religion. They are at times self-contradictory, and his statements about religion are such that opposing positions can each invoke Madison as its authority. An understanding of Madison's religious views is complicated by the fact that his early actions were at direct variance with his later opinions. Consider six examples of his early actions.

First, Madison was publicly outspoken about his personal Christian beliefs and convictions. For example, he encouraged his friend, William Bradford (who served as Attorney General under President Washington), to make sure of his own spiritual salvation:

[A] watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest, while we are building ideal monuments of renown and bliss here, we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.[1]

Madison even desired that all public officials - including Bradford - would declare openly and publicly their Christian beliefs and testimony:

I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ; and I wish you may give in your evidence in this way. [2]

Second, Madison was a member of the committee that authored the 1776 Virginia Bill of Rights and approved of its clause declaring that:

It is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other. [3] (emphasis added)

Third, Madison's proposed wording for the First Amendment demonstrates that he opposed only the establishment of a federal denomination, not public religious activities. His proposal declared:

The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established. [4] (emphasis added)

(Madison reemphasized that position throughout the debates. [5])

Fourth, in 1789, Madison served on the Congressional committee which authorized, approved, and selected paid Congressional chaplains. [6]

Fifth, in 1812, President Madison signed a federal bill which economically aided a Bible Society in its goal of the mass distribution of the Bible. [7]

Sixth, throughout his Presidency (1809-1816), Madison endorsed public and official religious expressions by issuing several proclamations for national days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. [8]

These were the early actions of Madison. In later life Madison retreated from many of these positions, even declaring in his "Detached Memoranda" his belief that having paid chaplains and issuing presidential prayer proclamations were unconstitutional. Recent Courts have made a point of citing Madison's "Detached Memoranda" in arguing against public religious expressions. [9]

Significantly, the "Detached Memoranda" was "discovered" in 1946 in the papers of Madison biographer William Cabell Rives and was first published more than a century after Madison's death by Elizabeth Fleet in the October 1946 William & Mary Quarterly. In that work, Madison expressed his opposition to many of his own earlier beliefs and practices and set forth a new set of beliefs formerly unknown even to his closest friends. Since Madison never made public or shared with his peers his sentiments found in the "Detached Memoranda," and since his own public actions were at direct variance with this later writing, it is difficult to argue that it reflects the Founders' intent toward religion.

There were fifty-five individuals directly involved in framing the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention, and an additional ninety in the first federal Congress that framed the First Amendment and Bill of Rights. Allowing for the overlap of nineteen individuals who were both at the Constitutional Convention and a part of the first Congress, [10] there were one hundred and twenty-six individual participants in the framing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The records of the Constitutional Convention demonstrate that James Madison was often out of step with these Founders. The other delegates rejected Madison's Virginia plan in preference for Roger Sherman's Connecticut plan and voted down 40 of Madison's 71 proposals (60 percent). [11] Nevertheless, today Madison is cited as if he is the only authority among the Founding Fathers and the only expert on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

Was Madison responsible for the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights? Definitely not. In fact, during the Constitutional Convention, it was Virginian George Mason that advocated that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution, [12] but the other Virginians at the Convention - including James Madison - opposed any Bill of Rights and their position prevailed. [13] Consequently, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Edmund Randolph, and others at the Convention refused to sign the new Constitution because of their fear of insufficiently bridled federal power. [14]

Mason and the others returned to their home States to lobby against the ratification of the Constitution until a Bill of Rights was added. As a result of their voices (and numerous others who agreed with them), the ratification of the Constitution almost failed in Virginia, [15] Massachusetts, [16] New Hampshire, [17] and New York. [18] Rhode Island flatly refused to ratify it, [19] and North Carolina refused to do so until limitations were placed upon the federal government. [20] Although the Constitution was eventually ratified, a clear message had been delivered: there was strong sentiment demanding the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.

When the Constitution was considered for ratification, the reports from June 2 through June 25, 1788, make clear that in Virginia, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Edmund Randolph led the fight for the Bill of Rights, again over James Madison's opposition. [21] Henry's passionate speeches of June 5 and June 7 resulted in Virginia's motion that a Bill of Rights be added to the federal Constitution; and on June 25, the Virginia Convention selected George Mason to chair a committee to prepare a proposed Bill of Rights, [22] with Patrick Henry and John Randolph as members. [23] Mason incorporated Henry's arguments as the basis of Virginia's proposal on religious liberty. [24]

Although Madison had opposed a Bill of Rights, he understood the grim political reality that without one, it was unlikely the new Constitution would receive widespread public acceptance. [25] Consequently, he withdrew his opposition, and in the federal House of Representatives he introduced his own versions of the amendments offered by his State.

Very little of Madison's proposed religious wording made it into the final version of the First Amendment; and even a cursory examination of the Annals of Congress surrounding the formation of that Amendment quickly reveals the influence of Fisher Ames and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire, John Vining of Delaware, Daniel Carroll and Charles Carroll of Maryland, Benjamin Huntington, Roger Sherman, and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, William Paterson of New Jersey, and others on that Amendment. [26]

The failure to rely on Founders other than Madison seems to imply that no other Founders were qualified to address First Amendment issues or that there exists no pertinent recorded statements from the other Founders. Both implications are wrong: numerous Founders played pivotal roles; and thousands of their writings do exist.

However, if critics of public religious expression believe that only a Virginian may speak for the nation on the issue of religion (they usually cite either Madison or Jefferson), then why not George Mason, the "Father of the Bill of Rights"? Or Richard Henry Lee who not only framed Virginia's proposals but who also was a Member of the first federal Congress where he helped frame the Bill of Rights? Or why not George Washington? Perhaps the reason that these other Virginians are ignored (as are most of the other Framers) is because both their words and actions unequivocally contradict the image portrayed by the one-sided picture of Madison given by those who cite only his "Detached Memoranda."

George Washington provides a succinct illustration. During his inauguration, Washington took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution but added several religious components to that official ceremony. Before taking his oath of office, he summoned a Bible on which to take the oath, added the words "So help me God!" to the end of the oath, then leaned over and kissed the Bible. [27] His "Inaugural Address" was filled with numerous religious references, [28] and following that address, he and the Congress "proceeded to St. Paul's Chapel, where Divine service was performed." [29]

Only weeks later, Washington signed his first major federal bill [30] - the Northwest Ordinance, drafted concurrently with the creation of the First Amendment. [31] That act stipulated that for a territory to become a State, the "schools and the means of education" in that territory must encourage the "religion, morality, and knowledge" that was "necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind." [32] Conforming to this requirement, numerous subsequent State constitutions included that clause, [33] and it still appears in State constitutions today. [34] Furthermore, that law is listed in the current federal code, along with the Constitution, the Declaration, and the Articles of Confederation, as one of America's four "organic" or foundational laws. [35]

Finally, in his "Farewell Address," Washington reminded the nation:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness. . . . The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. [36]

Washington - indisputably a constitutional expert - declared that religion and morality were inseparable from government, and that no true patriot, whether politician or clergyman, would attempt to weaken the relationship between government and the influence of religion and morality.

Or why not cite the actions of the entire body of Founding Fathers? For example, in 1800, when Washington, D. C., became the national capital and the President moved into the White House and Congress into the Capitol, Congress approved the use of the Capitol building as a church building for Christian worship services. [37] In fact, Christian worship services on Sunday were also started at the Treasury Building and at the War Office. [38]

John Quincy Adams, a U. S. Senator, made frequent references to these services. Typical of his almost weekly entries are these:

[R]eligious service is usually performed on Sundays at the Treasury office and at the Capitol. I went both forenoon and afternoon to the Treasury. October 23, 1803. [39]

Attended public service at the Capitol, where Mr. Ratoon, an Episcopalian clergyman from Baltimore, preached a sermon. October 30, 1803. [40]

The Rev. Mannasseh Cutler, a U. S. Congressman (as well as a chaplain in the Revolution and a physician and scientist) similarly recorded in 1804:

December 23, Sunday. Attended worship at the Treasury. Mr. [James] Laurie [pastor of the Presbyterian Church] alone [preached]. Sacrament [communion]. Full assembly. Three tables; service very solemn; nearly four hours. Cold day. [41]

By1867, the church in the Capitol had become the largest church in Washington, and the largest Protestant church in America. [42]

There are numerous other public religious activities by the Founding Fathers that might be cited, and Madison participated and facilitated many of them. Yet Madison later privately renounced his own practices, thus distancing himself from his own beliefs and practices as well as those of the other Founders. Therefore, to use Madison's "Detached Memoranda" as authoritative is a flagrant abuse of historical records, choosing a long unknown ex post facto document in preference to those concurrent with the framing and implementation of the First Amendment.

Newdow's use of James Madison is typical of most revisionists: it gives only the part of the story with which he agrees and omits the part with which he disagrees. If Newdow wants to take the position that the "Founding Fathers" (plural) opposed the use of chaplains, then he must provide evidence from more than one Founder; he must show that the majority of the Founders opposed chaplains - something that he cannot do.

WallBuilders has a resource that provides comprehensive information on the Founders views on the Constitution (see Original Intent).



[1] Letter of Madison to William Bradford (November 9, 1772), in 1 James Madison, The Letters and Other Writings of James Madison 5-6 (New York: R. Worthington 1884).

[2] Letter of Madison to William Bradford (September 25, 1773), in 1 James Madison, The Papers of James Madison 66 (William T. Hutchinson ed., Illinois: University of Chicago Press 1962).

[3] The Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates, Held at the Capitol in the City of Williamsburg, in the Colony of Virginia, on Monday the 6th of May, 1776, 103 (Williamsburg: Alexander Purdie 1776) (Madison on the Committee on May 16, 1776; the "Declaration of Rights" passed June 12, 1776).

[4] 1 The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States 451, 1st Cong., 1st Sess. (Washington, D. C.: Gales & Seaton 1834) (June 8, 1789).

[5] 1 Debates and Proceedings 758-759 (1834 ed.) (August 15, 1789).

[6] 1 Debates and Proceedings 109 (1834 ed.) (April 9, 1789).

[7] Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States 1325, 12th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Washington: Gales & Seaton 1853) ("An Act for the relief of the Bible Society of Philadelphia. Be it enacted, &c., That the duties arising and due to the United States upon certain stereotype plates, imported during the last year into the port of Philadelphia, on board the ship Brilliant, by the Bible Society of Philadelphia, for the purpose of printing editions of the Holy Bible, be and the same are hereby remitted, on behalf of the United States, to the said society: and any bond or security given for the securing of the payment of the said duties shall be cancelled. Approved February 2, 1813.")

[8] 1 James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, 513 (Published by Authority of Congress 1899) (July 9, 1812), 532-533 (July 23, 1813), 558 (November 16, 1814), and 560-561 (March 4, 1815).

[9] See, for example, Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 617 (1992); Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 791 (1983); ACLU v. Capitol Square Review, 243 F.3d 289 (6th Cir. 2001); Sherman v. Cmty. Consol. Dist. 21, 980 F.2d 437 (7th Cir. 1992); American Jewish Congress v. City of Chicago, 827 F.2d 120 (7th Cir. 1787), and others.

[10] Ten members of the Constitutional Convention also served in the first federal Senate (William Few, Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, William Paterson, Robert Morris, Oliver Ellsworth, William Samuel Johnson, Caleb Strong, and John Langdon) and nine members of the Convention served in the first federal House (Abraham Baldwin, James Madison, Hugh Williamson, Daniel Carroll, George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, Roger Sherman, Elbridge Gerry, and Nicholas Gilman).

[11] Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution 208-209 (Lawrence, Kansas, 1985), compiled from The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (Max Farrand, ed., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), Vol. I, 216, 373, and Vol. II, 45, 306, 324-325, 345, 440, 500, and 617.

[12] 3 James Madison, The Papers of James Madison 1566 (Henry D. Gilpin, ed., Washington: Langress and O'Sullivan, 1840) (Wednesday, September 12, 1787); see also 2 George Bancroft, Bancroft's History of the Formation of the Constitution 209-210 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1882), and 2 Farrand's Records of The Federal Convention 588 (September 12, 1787) and 637 (September 15, 1787).

[13] 1 Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution 306 (Jonathan Elliot, ed., Washington, 1836) (September 12, 1787).

[14] Dictionary of American Biography, s.v., "George Mason," "Edmund Randolph," "Elbridge Gerry."

[15] Elliot's Debates, Vol. III, 652-655, Virginia Ratification Debates, June 25, 1788.

[16] Elliot's Debates, Vol. II, 176-181, Massachusetts Ratification Debates, February 6, 1788.

[17] Joseph B. Walker, A History of the New Hampshire Convention (Boston: Cupples & Hurd, 1888), 41-43, June 21, 1788.

[18] Elliot's Debates, Vol. II, 413, New York Ratification Debates, July 26, 1788.

[19] Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society (Providence: Knowles and Vose, 1843), Vol. V, 320-321, March 24, 1788.

[20] Elliot's Debates, Vol. IV, 242-251, North Carolina Ratification Debates, August 1-2, 1788.

[21] Elliot's Debates, Vol. III, 616-622, James Madison, Virginia Ratification Debates, June 24, 1788.

[22] Rowland, Life of George Mason, Vol. I, 244.

[23] Elliot's Debates, Vol. III, 655-656, Virginia Ratification Debates, June 25, 1788.

[24] Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence and Speeches, William Wirt Henry (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891), Vol. I, 430-431; see also Rowland, Life of George Mason, Vol. I, 244; see also Elliot's Debates, Vol. III, 659, Virginia Ratification Debates, June 27, 1788.

[25] 1 Debates and Proceedings 448-450 (1st Cong., 1st Sess) (June 8, 1789); see also Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 93-99 (1985) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting).

[26] See 1 Debates and Proceedings 440-948 (1st Cong., 1st Sess.) (June 8- September 24, 1789, for the records chronicling the debates surrounding the framing of the First Amendment).

[27] 4 Washington Irving, Life of George Washington 475 (New York: G. P. Putnam & Co., 1857); Mrs. C. M Kirkland, Memoirs of Washington 438 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1870); Charles Carleton Coffin, Building the Nation 26 (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1882); etc.

[28] 1 Richardson, Messages and Papers 51-54 (April 30, 1789).

[29] 1 Annals of Congress 29 (April 30, 1789).

[30] Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America Begun and Held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, in the Year 1789, 104 (Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1791) (August 7, 1789).

[31] 1 Debates and Proceedings 685 (1st Cong., 1st Sess.) (July 21, 1789, passage by the House), and 1 Debates and Proceedings 57 (August 4, 1789, passage by the Senate).

[32] Constitutions (1813) 364 ("An Ordinance of the Territory of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio," Article III).

[33] For example, State constitutions across the decades reflecting this requirement include the 1803 Ohio Constitution (Constitutions (1813), 334, Ohio, 1802, Article 8, Section 3); the 1817 Mississippi Constitution (The Constitutions of All the United States According to the Latest Amendments (Lexington, KY: Thomas T. Skillman, 1817), 389, Mississippi, 1817, Article 9, Section 16); the 1858 Kansas Constitution (House of Representatives, Mis. Doc. No. 44, 35th Cong., 2nd Sess., February 2, 1859, 3-4, Article 1, Section 7, of the Kansas Constitution); the 1875 Nebraska Constitution (M. B. C. True, A Manual of the History and Civil Government of the State of Nebraska (Omaha: Gibson, Miller, & Richardson, 1885), 34, Nebraska, 1875, Article 1, Section 4); etc.

[34] See The Constitution of North Carolina 42 (Raleigh: Rufus L. Edmisten, Secretary of State, 1989) (Article 9, Section 1); Constitution of the State of Nebraska 1-2 (Lincoln: Allen J. Beermann, Secretary of State, 1992) (Article 1, Section 4); Page's Ohio Revised Code Annotated 24 (Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Co., 1994) (Article 1, Section 7).

[35] United States Code Annotated 1 (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1987) ("The Organic Laws of the United States of America").

[36] George Washington, Address of George Washington, President of the United States . . . Preparatory to His Declination 22-23 (Baltimore: George and Henry S. Keatinge, 1796).

[37] 1 Debates and Proceedings 797 (6th Cong., 2nd Sess.) (December 4, 1800).

[38] Hutson 89; see also 1 John Quincy Adams, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams 265 (Charles Francis Adams ed., Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1874) (October 23, 1803).

[39] 1 John Quincy Adams, Memoirs 265 (October 23, 1803).

[40] 1 John Quincy Adams, Memoirs 268 (October 30, 1803).

[41] 2 William Parker Cutler & Julia Perkins Cutler, Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL.D. 174 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co. 1888).

[42] James Hutson, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic 91 (Washington, D. C.: Library of Congress 1998).