The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
"God in the Constitution."
"God in the Constitution."
Some time ago a Convention assembled in the city of Alleghany for the purpose of effecting a change in the Constitution of the United States, with the view of making the instrument, and the people under it, "Christian" in character. Soon after another Convention met in Philadelphia for t he same object. After much discussion the following memorial to Congress was adopted and circulated among the people lor their signatures:
To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress Assembled:
We, citizens of the United States, respectfull v ask your honorable bodies to adopt measures for amending the Constitution of the United States so as to read, in substance, as follows:
"We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power In civil Government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the Nations, and his revealed will as of supreme authority, in order to constitute a Christian Government, and in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the inalienable rights and blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves, our posterity, and all the inhabitants of the land, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
And we further ask that such changes be introduced into the body of the Constitution as may be necessary to give effect to these amendments in the preamble. page 2 Subsequently to this a "National Association" was formed, and a monthly paper established in Philadelphia to secure the changes contemplated. When such a man as Judge Strong, of the Supreme Court of the United States, can accept the post of President, and such a man as General Howard, of the Army, can accept the Vice Presidency of such a society, it is time that the people who are to be affected by the desired changes should examine the subject.
The opinions and wishes expressed in the above memorial are confined chiefly to the class of Presbyterians whose seat of influence is in Western Pennsylvania. This section of country, having been settled originally by Irish and Scotch Irish people, is the home and stronghold of the Presbyterian element in the American church. We have Reformed Presbyterians or Old Side Covenanters, Reformed Presbyterians or New Side Covenanters, Associate Presbyterians, Associate Reformed Presbyterians, United Presbyterians, Old School Presbyterians and New School Presbyterians united. The oldest of these sects is the first named, being the descendants and representatives of the men who, at the Revolution Settlement in 1690, refused to acknowledge William and Mary as King and Queen of Great Britain, because they declined to subscribe the "Solemn League and Covenant," as their predecessors had done. They held verbatim to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and retain in their creed the following article on the powers and duties of the civil magistrate:
Chapter XXXIII, Sec. 2. "The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments or the power of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; yet hath he authority, and it is his duty to take order that, unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed, and for the better effecting whereof he hath power to call Synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God."
Most, if not all, the other sects of the Presbyterian family in the United States, have repudiated the doctrine of this article; and, adopting sentiments diametrically opposite, have either expunged it from their creeds altogether or explained it away by foot notes. page 3 Yet such is the veneration cherished by all Presbyterians for the wisdom and godliness of the Westminster Assembly that to these views of the power of the Civil Magistrate must be traced the present movement for altering the Constitution of the United States by inserting in the preamble a series of theological doctrines. All intelligent lovers of human liberty are free to acknowledge the obligations of the world to the Scotch Presbyterians for the long and arduous service they rendered the sacred cause in their native land. They preserved the Ark of Freedom when it would have been dashed to pieces forever by the crown and the nobility. But they were tainted with the spirit of religious intolerance in common with all their contemporaries, as is evident from the article of their confession just quoted.
Philip II, of Spain, never claimed more for himself as Civil Magistrate than this article claims. When he waded knee-deep in the blood of the Netherlanders, he was thoroughly sincere and conscientious. In slaughtering by fire and sword fifty thousand human beings of both sexes, he was only "taking order that unity and peace be preserved in the church, and blasphemies and heresies," as he understood them to be, "were suppressed." He and his red-handed colleagues, the ecclesiastics, declared that they knew "the mind of God." and that they were acting in accordance therewith.
In regard to this reverence for the authority of our ancestors, I wish to say that, as the world is older now than it was then, we are the ancients, and the Westminster Assembly, their cotemporaries and predecessors, were the moderns. We understand the genius of Christianity, its doctrines and its requirements, far better than those who lived in the first century of the Christian Era, or any other intervening century between that and this. If this is doubted, I ask whether it would be possible to engraft the puerilities and credulities of the Patristic ages upon the faith of this generation? The subject of human rights, and the province of human government are better understood now than they ever were since the creation. This veneration, therefore, for errors, because they were held in the infancy of civilization by men who, although good and sincere and great for their times, were comparatively babes in all kinds of knowledge, is highly discreditable to us who have all the attainments of the past ages with those of the present superadded. We might as well hold to the page 4 Ptolemaic system of astronomy, which represented the earth to be flat and the sun to revolve around it, because our ancestors, believed that theory. We might as well believe in wichcraft because so good a man as John Wesley, only a hundred years ago, declared that to give up belief in witchcraft was the same as to give up the Bible.
The National Association, presided over by Judge Strong, ask Congress to take the necessary steps for having inserted into the preamble of the Constitution of the United States, which sets forth the purposes of the instrument, three distinct theological propositions:
1. "That Almighty God is the source of all authority and power in civil, government." Now what is the import of this language? Does it mean simply that civil government is an ordinance of God? Or does it affirm that the form of government must have the divine sanction? If the latter, is it a monarchy with a Stuart at its head, as it was during the reign of the Solemn League, or a Democracy, with a temporary President to execute the laws? Does it mean a theocracy, in opposition to a government by the people? If so, who is to be the Moses to interpret and enforce the will of God as announced? I ask whether it is not clearly taught in the Bible, where our fathers in 1776 found the doctrine and incorporated it into the Declaration of Independence, that to secure the inalienable rights of man, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed? Did they not insert the same divine truth in the preamble of the Constitution when they declared that the people of the United States ordained the government, in other words, that the source of all authority and power in civil government was, by the will of God, in the people and no where else? Was not the prophet Samuel directed to acquiesce in the will of the Jewish people, when they changed their form of government into a monarchy?
After remonstrating and filing his protest against their folly, did he not by divine direction bow before the sovereignty of the people, anoint Saul to be King, and thus lay the broad foundation for the maxim—vox populi, vox Dei? Did not Joshua also defer to the same inherent rights of the people when he said to the Israelites—"choose ye this day whom ye will serve?" If the power and right of choice were not in the people, where was the propriety of saying choose?page 5
I do not wish to be understood as holding that this idea of Popular Sovereignty is peculiar to the Bible. It was taught in the Universal Religion of Nature long before there was a Bible or a Jewish Church at all. The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man are instinctive suggestions of the human heart and conscience, and would have blessed the world in all ages with just, popular governments but for the unholy conspiracy entered into between Kings and Priests to keep the people ignorant and submissive. But the "National Reformers," as they call themselves, appeal to the Bible as exclusive authority, and to the Bible shall they go. The early Christians settled all their questions by a showing of hands, just as the Jews were directed to do in their political affairs in the days of Samuel; and this was the custom up to the Council of Nice, when the endorsement of the Canonical books of Scripture, and the rejection of the Apocryphal, were settled by a vote of the members. It is, then, clearly the will of God, as revealed in the Book of Nature and the Bible, that the source of all authority and power in civil government is in the people themselves; and that to assert the contrary is to utter what the Apostle Paul would denominate a "damnable" political heresy, unworthy of a place in any Constitution of Government.
II. The second dogma which these "Reformers" wish the Constitution to affirm, is that "the Lord Jesus Christ is the ruler among the Nations." This language is meant to express the doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus Christ as Mediator between God and Man.
Now there are three classes of our citizens, composing an overwhelming majority of the whole, whose opinions would be subjected to constitutional censure by such a provision as this.
1. There are the Israelites, who, for the first time in eighteen hundred years, have found in the United States a resting-place for the soles of their wandering feet. You charge the Hebrew with a want of patriotism, and say his wishes ought not to be consulted in the matter in hand. Have you forgotten that during the long and wearisome centuries of his persecution—a persecution which knew no merey and no abatement—he had no country to love; that he was banished from every land under heaven, and oppressed as no people on earth has ever been? Where was there in all the world a more patriotic people than the Jews, when Palestine was their country and page 6 Jerusalem their glorious capital? At Babylon did they not weep and hang their harps upon the willows, when they remembered the land of their birth? You charge the Jew with being selfish and unscrupulous in his methods of making money. In many cases this is true; but have you forgotten that these features of character were ground into him by the ceaseless impositions and robberies committed upon him by every government of the Old World for more than fifty-four generations? These were not the characteristics of the Jews in the days of the Hebrew Commonwealth. Then they illustrated all that was noble and magnanimous in man, and all that was refined and gentle in woman. These attributes are superinduced upon the character of a people by oppression; and it is creditable to our common nature, when we consider how for eighteen centuries the Jew has been treated as the offscouring of all things, that he is no worse than he is. Under the genial influence of our American institutions, all these faults you criticise in the Hebrew character gradually disappear, just as the "blarney" of the Irish, and the imputed deceit fulness of the Scotch character, generated by centuries of civil and political disability in their native countries, give way in the first generation after they become American citizens. I am proud to allude to the fact, and I deem it a pledge and a gurantee of the present and future protection of heaven to the government and people of the United States, that no son of Abraham, the friend of God," has ever been persecuted in this country—that while everywhere else on earth, and by every other government, he has been treated as a brute and a devil, under the outstretched wings of the American Eagle he stands, not only civilly, but politically and religiously free, and the equal before the law of every other citizen. The Constitution now, in order to throw the shield of its protection over him, only inquires whether he is a man. But if "amended" in the way contemplated, it would be compelled to inquire into his theology. For long ages the so-called Christian governments of Europe have tried by fire, by banishment, and by every other means of cruelty, to make him believe in the Messiahship of Jesus Christ, but all in vain. Shall we treat his religious opinions with contempt as a nation, by virtually making the constitution declare him a heretic?
2. Then there are the Unitarians, who would be disfranchised by the adoption of the proposition we are page 7 considering. Many of the most refined, intelligent, virtuous, and benevolent people in this country belong to this class of religionists. As we, Presbyterians, cannot, with the evidence now before our minds, receive the doctrine of the Unitarians, so they, with existing evidence before their minds, cannot receive our doctrine. Belief is not a matter of choice, as seems to be taken for granted by all those who propose to legislate men into the belief of a given creed by pains and penalties, but it is a matter of evidence. A man is not responsible for his honest belief, whatever it may be. He must believe according to the evidence before his mind, and can do no otherwise. But he is responsible for an earnest examination of all the grounds of belief or disbelief of any important propositions in religion. Men's opinions are generally a matter of hereditary descent; but beliefs—convictions—are the result of a sincere investigation of both sides of a question. But the misfortune, for which there is no remedy at present, is that equally honest men, viewing a proposition in religion from different stand-points, and through, the jaundiced medium of prejudice, differ fundamentally from each other, and that unavoidably. And as no man knows, whatever he may think:, that he is right and all the rest are wrong, respect for the opinions of others is as much a duty as respect for his own.
Now what havoc would be made of the political status of the Unitarians, the Universalists, the Disciples and other classes whom the orthodox call errorists and heretics, if the so-called Reformers could succeed in putting this dogma of the divinity of Christ into the Constitution, and such legislation by Congress "as will give effect" to it? The whole of the New England delegation at Washington, with the exception of Henry Wilson, and probably one or two more, would be disfranchised and sent home to civil life. Even Charles Sumner, to whom this nation owes a debt it can never pay, must give up his place in the Senate and seek the shades of private life! This proposal is so stupid and abhorrent to one's sense of decency and justice, that the "Reformers," in one or two instances, have denied it to be part of their plan. But look at the facts of the case.
No member of Congress or of a State Legislature can take his seat, no attorney at law can practise in our courts of justice, no man can hold office at all, unless he swears to support the Constitution of the United States. If, then, the Constitution contained page 8 this religious article, not standing as a dead letter, but as an essential part of the organic law to be carried out as the memorialists ask, neither the Jew nor the Unitarian could hold office without perjury. For they do not believe, and therefore cannot support, the article of faith embodied in the Constitution, declaring the divinity of Jesus Christ.
3. Then there are at least twenty millions out of our thirty-eight millions of people who are not professors of religion at all, some of whom have no clearly defined opinions on religious subjects, and many of whom may be unbelievers in the Bible, but who are all nevertheless men, and as much entitled to their rights as we are. "Will it make this large class "Christian" in the sense of the Alleghany Convention, by simply putting the doctrine in question into the Constitution? And if only a few millions of our population really hold the doctrine as an article of faith, while twenty millions do not hold it, would not the insertion of the doctrine into the Constitution, which purports to express as a test and qualification for office the opinions of the whole people, make us a nation either of ignoramuses or hypocrites? And can the Omniscient God who trieth the hearts of the children of men be pleased with so empty a procedure as this would be? It would be re-enacting the folly of the Scotch Presbyterians, who, although they had the best evidence that the two Stuart Kings were perjured traitors to the Solemn League and Covenant, yet seemed satisfied when they went through the solemn mockery of subscribing the bond. As if there were the least virtue in a mere profession I
The province of civil government, as an ordinance of God, is just as distinct, peculiar and exclusive, as that of a railroad company, an insurance company, or a bank. Its purpose is confined solely to the concerns of this world, which, in their place, are just as important to our well-being here and hereafter as the things we denominate religious. It is a means to an end. The end of government is the protection of every human being in his person and property. The civil magistrate, therefore, is a minister of God to see to this very thing, and nothing else. The moment he transcends his functions and undertakes to meddle with the religious opinions, of the people, he ceases to be the minister of God for good, and becomes the servant of the devil for harm. Why, then, put into a constitution of civil government theological doctrines which no one would dream of inserting into page 9 the organic law of a railroad company or a bank? Is not God honored infinitely more by the Government, when it attends religiously to its own specific business of protecting the persons and property of man, than when it impudently, stupidly, and unlawfully intermeddles with those matters with which, in the nature of the case, it has nothing in the world to do? When shall we learn that God alone is Lord of the conscience, and that the moral machinery of the soul by which a human being works out his own religious convictions is beyond the reach of all legislation, either by the Church or the State? God made the intellect to be free and to hold intimate communion with Him on the high places of the truth. But kings and priests have evermore attempted to enslave it, and they sanction and sanctify their high-handed interference by proclaiming that they do it "by the grace of God," and for the good of the Church.
III. But the memorialists demand that the Constitution of the United States shall declare "the revealed" will of God to be the supreme law of the land" Now what an apple of discord, what a Pandora's box, this proposition, if adopted, would be! What is the "revealed will of God?" Is it the Old Testament, including the law of Moses, as the Jews allege? Is it the Old Testament and the New combined, as the Christians claim? Is it the Bible, interpreted by the Councils of the Church, and including the Apocryphal Books, as the Catholics contend? Is it the Bible, interpreted by private judgment, and excluding-the Apocryphal writings, as the Protestants declare? Is the moral law called the Decalogue, requiring among others things the observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath, in which no manner of work shall be done by either man or beast upon pain of death, as one class of Baptists maintain? Is it the Moral Law, with the Sabbath of the fourth commandment altered from the seventh to the first day of the week, with a modification of the stringency of" the rule in cases of necessity and mercy, as held by the members of the Alleghany and Philadelphia Conventions? Each one of the innumerable sects of Christendom, from the mere fact that it is a sect, claims that it has the authority of "the revealed will of God" for its existence, its dogmas, and its other peculiarities, as against all the rest. And under the "amended" Constitution each would set forth its superior and unquestionable claim with tremendous zeal. In the midst of this jargon, who shall decide- page 10 what is "the revealed will of God?" The very umpire himself, before he takes his seat, must belong to some sect. Will all the rest agree that his definition of the terms shall be deemed final?
IV. But the "Reformers" "further ask that such changes be introduced into the body of the Constitution as may be necessary 0) give effect to these amendments in the preamble." This means that there shall be a Constitutional requisition on the co ordinate branches of the government to carry out these provisions and require the citizens by law to profess and act in accordance therewith. In short, it means an established church which shall co-operate with the civil magistrate in carrying out the purposes announced in the Preamble. I know that this idea was disclaimed by one or more of the Philadelphia Convention. But 'if the Convention really desired to organize a Court of High Commission after the Scotch model, for the purpose of bringing before that tribunal all those who repudiate the doctrines of the preamble, and violate the "revealed will of God" as the Court understood it, they could not use more precise and definite language than they have used to express the idea. Ask an honest and intelligent old Covenanter, who sincerely adopts the Article of the Westminster Confession on the powers of the civil magistrate which I have quoted, what he means by the language of the memorial, and he will frankly "tell you that it means legislative enforcement of the doctrines of the Preamble. For he knows that it would be superlative folly and emptiness to parade a set of religious dogmas in the Constitution without enforcing the belief and practice of them by law. He will tell you that God is not Baal that he can be deceived and hoodwinked by We the people," declaring in the preamble of the Constitution that we believe and practise such and such doctrines and duties, while, at least, nineteen-twentieths of the whole population believe and practise no such thing. The preamble of the Constitution sets forth the establishment of justice as one of the grand purposes of the instrument. And, there fore, in the body of the Constitution we have articles and sections organizing a Supreme Court. For carrying out the other great objects, we have the Executive and Legislative Departments of the Government. But here are three most important religious dogmas in the preamble, so important that their adoption is deemed necessary to make us a Christian Government; and lest they stand there a mere bra- page 11 tum fulmen, like the Pope's bull against the comet, the memorialists ask that such changes may be made in the body of the Constitution, as will give effect to these amendments of the preamble. What does this mean—what can it mean but an organization, a fourth department of the Government, whose function, as it is in European Governments, is to give order concerning the worship of God, and to see to it that all the citizens believe the established articles of faith, and square their conduct by the revealed will of God, which is the supreme law of the land, and of the prohibitions and requirements of which that department is to be the judge?
Suppose now the people of the United States were guilty of the stupendous folly of voting themselves heretics, and putting their religious opinions, or non-opinions, under the ban of the Constitution, as would result from these proposed amendments, the next step in the programme might be, as one sect after another found itself in the numerical majority, the introduction into Congress of a bill declaring that—"Whereas baptism by immersion, or baptism by sprinkling, or Episcopacy, or Presbyterian ism, or Congregationalism, or a thousand other things, in belief or practice, is, or is not, contrary to the 'revealed will of God,' which is the supreme law of the land, and contrary also to the other Articles of Faith in the Preamble of the Constitution, therefore, be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives," &c. And then for the thumb screws and the iron boot! Then for Laud, and the inevitable Court of High Commismission, and the Court of Star Chamber, and a recurrence of those scenes of blood, the history of which, one would suppose, would lead the descendants of the Scotch Presbyterians in the United States to thank God every day of their lives that by our glorious and most Christian Constitution they are in no danger of the Sharpes and Lauderdales who martyred their sainted fathers by the thousand. The waves of religious persecution ebb as well as flow, in the just retribution of Heaven, for such folly and wickedness. And although under our "amended" Constitution, the Jews, the Unitarians, and the Infidels would be the first to suffer, the next class to drink the bitter cup might be the very men who are so zealous now in seeking to make the contemplated change. In Scotland the Catholics, having at first the power, persecuted the Protestants in common. The Prelatists mounted the next wave, and overwhelmed the page 12 unhappy Presbyterians. Then the Presbyterians in their turn came into power, and wreaked their vengeance on the Prelatists. Then the tide turned under James II, and the Presbyterians had again to bite the dust. Thus it was in England and all over Europe, till the earth was fattened with the blood its inhabitants shed in the unholy cause of religious persecution. So it would be in this country. Even in this enlightened age there is no man, no set of men, and no church great or small, that can be trusted with absolute dominion over the human conscience for a single hour. In the minority and powerless, the ecclesiastical or sectarian passion is as amiable and harmless as an unweaned cub. But invest it with power, and it becomes as ferocious and blood-thirsty as a Bengal tiger. Such is human nature in all ages and countries when diabolized by the sectarian spirit. This spirit is just as rampant and cruel in the United States as it ever was in the Old World. It attempts to read all history with its eyes shut. It keeps its face eternally towards the Past instead of the Future, and its unquenchable desire is to be both Pope and King. If history teaches us anything clearly, it teaches us this lesson. And now that the American people, by the mercy of God, have this foul fiend constitutionally chained and under their feet, let them keep it there.
The gigantic folly of the proposal to amend the Constitution by incorporating religious dogmas into it consists in this, that in the matter of religion and religious doctrines there is, and can be, no umpire on the earth to decide what is truth and what is error. The Church in all its branches is a perfect Babel of confusion on the subject, one party denouncing as heresy and damnable error what another deems to be truth. Totally and entirely forgetting the Protestant doctrine of common sense, that each man born into the world is to be the sole judge for himself what is Scripture and what the Scripture teaches, the sects of Christendom denounce each other as heretics and malefactors, each one claiming to be right, and authorized to declare their judgments as the will of God. How, then, could we expect unanimity in Congress and the courts of law?
Suppose, for instance, that the law of Pennsylvania should fine and imprison a citizen of Ohio for violating the Sabbath by working or travelling within our State limits on the first day of the week. He carries the case by appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States under the "amended" Constitution. Of the page 13 Judges on the Bench, suppose a third of them were Seventh Day Baptists, who believed that the Seventh day was still the Sabbath, and that the Westminster Assembly of Divines had no authority to repeal the law of Sinai as they did. These Judges would give their opinions that labor done on the first day of the week was not a breach of the Sabbath, and that the man had done no wrong. A third, however, of the Judges are Presbyterians, believing in the authority of their Confession of Faith, that the first day is the Sabbath, and that it is the old Jewish institution, only changed in this respect. They would of course condemn the man. But suppose the rest of the Judges were devout Jews, who still regarded the institution of Moses as authority, what would be the ultimate decision of the Court, and how much would it be worth?
Let no man say I am drawing too much on my imagination for arguments. These things, and worse, are among the possibilities, if not the certainties, of the future, should we, by amending the Constitution as is proposed, transform the Civil Magistrate, who is now the minister of God for good, into a merciless, bigoted, persecuting blood-hound, chasing men and women up to scaffolds and down to dungeons, because they cannot pronounce the word "Shibboleth" as we do.
These men who want to remodel the Constitution are in dead earnest. They feel that loyalty to Jesus Christ as King of Nations requires them at least to make the effort. One of them, the Rev. Dr. Sproull of Alleghany, in an article published in the Christian Statesman for January 15th, 1868, while commenting on that clause of the Constitution, Article 6, Section 3—"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust'"—uses the following language: "The question demanding consideration is, should those parts of the Constitution be so amended as to secure the appointment of religious men to office, and give the Christian Church the benefit of National support? e take the affirmative, and will in this paper sustain our position. . . . We do not wish an amendment to come as a kind of patch-work—a piece of new cloth on an old garment. We want the whole made new; the government to be put squarely under Christ, and none but Christ's friends to be suffered to meddle with its administration . . . . . The clause in question should be expung- page 14 ed, and a declaration inserted in its place, that civil office be restricted to God fearing or religious men."
This is explicit, this is honest—too honest; for such was the alarm produced by the language quoted, that the Christian Statesman choked off the old Cameronian so that he has never given us, as he promised, the rest of his views. But we all know whom Dr. Sproull means by "Christ's friends"—"God-fearing, religious men." They are such as he allows to come to the communion table of the Covenanter Church. If, by an unprecedented stretch of charity, others are included in these phrases at all, they are regarded as merchants regard their damaged goods; or as English Rail Roads regard second and third class passengers. They are not worthy of being considered the particular, reliable friends of Christ—first-class Christians, travelling the land of Canaan in first-class cars with first-class accommodations, but as mere hangers on to the trains—outside of the "uncovenanted mercies of God."
A very specious argument used by the "Reformers," and one which clouds the undisciplined minds of common people, is, that "the State is a moral person" and accountable to God for its acts, and therefore ought to have this confession of its faith in the Constitution. The fallacy of the idea is seen in this, that, if the State is a moral person, it stands precisely on the same level' of responsibility and capability as a human being; for a man is no more and no less than a moral person. If, then, the State is a moral person too, instead of a corporation without a soul whose only function is limited to the concerns of this world, it can do all that a man can do in the way of duty, and is responsible for the same. But a man can believe in Jesus Christ. He can be baptized. He can take the sacrament. He can go to church and worship. Can the "State," which in this country is only a term to express the civil authority of thirty-eight millions of people, do such things? It is not only an impossibility, but an absurdity.
The idea of a State performing an act of worship when more than two-thirds of the people who compose it make no profession of religion at all, and the minority, made up of Jews, Catholics, and Protestants with their scores of sects, all having conflicting notions of the character of God and the kind of homage that is due to him, is so stupendously foolish that the reader may doubt whether men like Judge Strong, page 15 of the United States Supreme Court, and Governor Geary, of Pennsylvania, and Ex-Governor Pollock, would give it their endorsement. But in the Resolutions of the National Association these "Reformers" declare that, by such an amendment of the Constitution as is contemplated, "no injustice would be done to those few individuals who are enemies of the Christian Religion, and who claim the right to prohibit the nation as such from all religious worship.
Now a nation is indeed a body corporate,—only so, however, like all other bodies corporate, in order to reach the specified ends for which a national organ ization is designed, namely, to protect the persons and property of all of its inhabitants. But it is a legal definition of a corporate body, as old as Sir Edward Coke, that "it hath no soul," and therefore no conscience, and no religious diameter in the dogmatic sense. Consequently it cannot worship; it cannot exercise faith; it cannot repent, and be baptized, either by immersion or sprinkling. All these are the acts of an individual and only of an individual. They cannot be predicated of a State reaching from the Lakes of the North to the Rio Grande of the South, and from one ocean to the other, and embracing a people whose religious opinions are multiform and mixed.
That persons of intelligence should make use of so lame an argument proves either that they are dishonest and have no real fealty to the truth, or that the haziness of the object they aim at has obscured' their vision so that they cannot see the wide difference there is between sense and nonsense. If Judge Strong in a law case at Washington should reason in that way, the bar would suspect him of a softening of the brain. Clergymen, who, as a general rule, know little or nothing of the nature and laws of evidence, and who have been trained to look at but one side of a question, may be pardoned for such weakness; but a lawyer is presumed to know better, and should blush when detected in an effort to deceive and mislead plain people.
Another favorite argument used by those who urge the unchristian character of the Constitution as a reason for amending it in the way proposed is that, "were this instrument lost, and a copy dug up after a thousand years, no one would be able to determine whether ii was the Constitution of a Pagan or Christian land."page 16
Now, in my humble judgment, the very opposite of this would be true. The simple fact that the Constitution—knowing no priesthood, no sect, and no dogmatic religion,—scrupulously abstaining from the remotest interference in matters that were spiritual,—securing to every person, whether Jew, Christian, Pagan, or Mohammedan, his inalienable right to form his own religious opinions and to worship or not worship as he pleased, would be proof cumulative and overwhelming that the newly-found document was a Christian Constitution of Civil Government; and that those who framed it understood the will of God better than any other founders of States who had ever lived on earth before. All other governments have transcended their legitimate sphere. They have obliterated the distinction between the three great institutions—the Family, the State, and the Church; and have made the State to predominate over the religion and consciences of men. The consequence invariably has been that human governments, under the dictation of the Church, have been human slaughter houses; and kings in their bloody work have had their consciences drugged by the priesthood with the falsehood that they rule by the grace of God and are nursing fathers and nursing mothers to the Church.
But our statute-book, thanks to the superintending Spirit of God, which guided the framers of the Constitution in their work, is not defiled by a single drop of blood. No human being has ever suffered death, imprisonment, or fine for his religious opinions, whatever they may be. The Church for the first time is free, and the State for the first time attends to its appropriate duties without arrogating to itself the business of expounding, propagating, and enforcing religious doctrines, and thus driving men who cannot conscientiously receive them, either into hypocrisy by professing them, or to prison by denying them. To me the crowning glory of the Constitution consists in this feature of its character. It is pre-eminently Christian. To be sure it does not mouth the name of Christ or God, and babble and bluster about the grace of God, as the priest-ridden and despotic Governments of the Old World do. But it honors God as the Christian man honors Him, by doing the work which God has appointed it to do, and thus accomplishing the end of its being.
I regard the Constitution and Government of the page 17 United States, embracing the Declaration of Independence, as the only well-formed, legitimate child which Christianity has ever borne to the world. In all other lands, the Church, to use a Scriptural and most significant phrase, has gone a-whoring after false gods, and the hermaphroditical monsters which they dignify with the name of Governments are the unnatural offspring of such adultery. But our Government is no freak of Nature or of chance. It is no hermaphrodite, impotent because undertaking too much. It belongs to the masculine gender alone, and produces only men, and not priests. Indeed, I see no trace of the priest in its character, for the prophetic woman was delivered of the man-child in the wilderness of this western world where no priest was. But it bears the impress of divinity upon it in this, that it is one thing and not two at a time—that it has only one grand purpose—that the things which are Cæsars it attends to exclusively and ably, while the things which are God's it meddles not with at all. It gives to every man, in our Homestead law, a vine and fig-tree to sit under, and bids him enjoy without molestation all his sacred rights. Hence thousands every week, and tens of thousands every month flock to our shores, to assume the proud honor and the rich privileges of American citizenship. On this account deem any such change in the Constitution as is contemplated, not only not desirable, but intensely to be deprecated.
In regard to the word "Christian" in this discussion, I do not use it in a theological sense as an adjective qualifying either a dogma or a man. A set of religious dogmas professing to be based upon the Bible, and receiving the assent of all the sects of Christendom, has never yet been announced, and never will be. And as for a man who shall embody such a creed, and be universally recognized as a "Christian," he would indeed be a vara avis in terris—so rare as to belong, like the Dodo, to the category of defunct species. But I mean the loving, sympathizing, deferring, self-sacrificing, just, and gentle spirit that was pre eminently illustrated in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and which was an exemplification of the religion he inculcated—supreme love to God, and equal love to man. This religion frowns upon the insane attempt to convert the Constitution and Government of the United States into a society for the propagation of dogmas.
and this galvanic movement of the bloody and dead Past to throw its dark shadow over the bright path of the Future will only have the effect to lead Americans to study the subject 06 government more profoundly than ever, and to build up around the rights of the human conscience bulwarks of granite to protect them against the heaven-daring assaults of the theological spirit, which the history of the Church for 1800 years shows to be both unscrupulous in its means, and relentless in its aim.
"There is some soul of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out;"