May 5, 2011

Article 7 and the Declaration?

Against my better judgement I watched the Republican clown show that is David Barton as he was interviewed by Jon Stewart. And he said something very interesting that I need some help with. He says that religion is mentioned 7 times in the Constitution, and that one of them is in Article 7, where he said (and I had to replay this several times) that the "Declaration (of Independence) is incorporated into Article 7?"
"The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the states so ratifying the same. 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 in Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names,"

Does he mean that the word "Independence" refers to the Declaration?

And this might clear something up. Because I have never quite understood why so many on the far right combine the Declaration and Constitution into one common document.


steves said...

While I don't put myself out there as a Constitutional expert, I enjoyed the subject and took several electives beyond the year of con law that was required. I can honestly say that I have never heard of Article 7 being used to incorporate the Declaration. The only case law I have ever heard of dealing with Article 7 was in regards to when the Constitution came onto effect on the states.

Streak said...

Ok. So it isn't just me. I found that to be a very weird reference.

steves said...

I don't know it is something that is exclusive to the right. Some people just don't know very much about these documents. The Declaration of Independence doesn't really have any "power".

Streak said...

Steve, I meant to respond to this earlier, but had that trip in the middle. I agree that ignorance about the constitution is not unique to the right, but they are rather unique in their claim that the Declaration is part of the Constitution--and combine them often.

Eric S said...

I'm on "the far right," you might say. The idea is factual, to my mind indisputable, why the two founding documents are viewed together. They act like articles of incorporation and by-laws. They are meaningless if not interdependent and noncontradictory. If as suggested the constitution amends the intentions of the character of the nation then like any articles of incorporation it necessarily would have required amendment. They understood the idea of amendment perfectly well. The first amendment was written by a man named Fisher Ames, for example. You might not know that he also wrote that the Bible should always remain the principle text book in America's classrooms.

Further the Deism of the founders in its implications is almost always overstated. "History will also afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion...and the Excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern." Benjamin Franklin

Irrespective of any personal convictions no Deist can say, "all men were created equal . . . Endowed by their Creator with . . . Inalienable rights . . . " Deism's God created the universe like a clock wound up and setup on the shelf. The God of Deism doesn't know that man exists, or if he does, he surely doesn't or can't care. So endowing rights of any kind, let alone inalienable rights is simply out of the question. Thus, the founders identified Theism as the philosophical axioms for interpreting US governance.

Streak said...

But you haven't actually proven their connection. They certainly understood the concept of amending, but started the Constitutional convention to amend the Articles of Confederation, not the Declaration. I understand that you want to include the part about their creator--since it isn't in the Constitution, but still don't see how the Declaration is part of or paired with the Constitution. In fact, as the perhaps preeminent Revolutionary scholar, Gordon Wood has shown, there is a huge gap between the intent of the Declaration and the implementation of the Constitution. The Constitution, is, as he argues, a conservative retrenchment against the radicalism and unfettered democratic impulse of the Declaration and Articles.

Not sure that Franklin is the best example of Christian virtue. He certainly believe that religion was valuable, but didn't exactly live the life. We can play "quote wars" until the end of time, but the reading of the actual sources and history of the time finds that people are far more complex. Yes, Christianity was an important influence. As was the Enlightenment and Classical thought.

Eric S said...

You have to recognize that the peculiarities of Christianity, as distinguished from Deism, is in the language of the DI. As for enlightenment, I would love to see a discussion among the founders that pits enlightenment against Christianity. It would almost certainly be very short. In fact, it nearly happened. Thomas Paine sent Franklin some of his manuscripts of anti-Christian writings and Franklin’s attempt to dissuade him was remarkable. Yes Franklin was a Deist but he stipulated that Christianity not Deism much less enlightenment be the bases for political discussion. His argument was that only something like Christianity would have the power to enforce a moral code, reducing the need for intrusive law. He was and is right.

Eric S said...

Sorry about posting twice here but the charge of hypocrisy as leveled against Franklin defending Christian ideas is too easy. At the core of Christian teaching is a standard of perfection, and people all deviate. Most people at their worst do things that warrant criticism by any standard. You don't have to be able to run a 4 minute mile to make some true statements about the virtue in it, and you don't need to be apparently flawless to make some poignant observations about the virtue of Christianity.

Streak said...

Had to review our discussion here. I am not arguing that Franklin was imperfect, therefore his statements on Christianity are invalid. I am saying that he was not a fan of the kind of dogmatic Christianity, and even admitted to doubting the divinity of Christ. That said, I have no doubt that he valued the morality of the faith and thought that it should be emphasized. As did many Republicans of the time. This is what we might now call a secularized religion.

But none of that answers the question of this post--as to why the Declaration is supposed to be as important of a founding document as the clearly stated founding document--the Constitution. The intent of the Declaration is far different, the purpose, tone, etc--all come from a different place (as I noted from Gordon Wood's impressive work on both). The only reason I see conservatives conflate the two is because one mentions the creator and one doesn't.

Eric S said...

You are right I really didn't hit your main point. This is not a particularly scholarly observation but I think it is self evident enough to stand on its face. Our founders were not existentialist. They didn't believe that their right to do resided in their brass.

On its face the DI purports to give the rationale for the validity of the country separate from England. Absent that rationale, the authority would revert to King George. If there is no Creator arbitrating the matters of men, then the only real authority is the King. I simply believe that they believed what they said. It is the most reasonable conclusion. If that is correct, then if it is defective, the Articles of Confederation and or the Constitution can't rise above the legitimacy of its foundation.

Buck Minster Fuller even designed cities that would float in the air. Dose that mean that the foundation can be dispensed with? No, the foundation was in the design. Foundations are non-negotiable. Likewise the DI is non-negotiable.

Streak said...

Actually, the founders, and through the DI, claimed allegiance with the English people. They, like John Winthrop, claimed not separation from England, but actually a perfection of the original ideal.

But that isn't what the Constitution offers, and to connect them--on its face--is to deny history and to deny historical thought. They started with an idea--"revolution is great, and if the King doesn't do X, then you must revolt"--and then watched in horror as the ideas of the DI played out in state constitutions. Those ideals of direct democracy and equality produced chaos and people voting for their own naked self-interest. As a result, the "Founders" decided to break from the trend and rewrite the entire thing. That is the Constitution. Not a continuation, but a sharp break from the Declaration to say, "we actually don't trust the people, and we must assert some kind of central rule." Where the Declaration is idealistic and theoretical, the Constitution is pragmatic, and conservative. To conflate them is to deny that huge break between 1776 and 1787, and to act as if nothing happened in between. As I said in an earlier comment, the Constitution revised the Articles of Confederation, and actually replaced and repudiated them. The Articles were framed out of some vague reference to the Declaration. To then say that the Declaration is a base for the Constitution is simply a denial of history.

Eric S said...

It is not really necessary to address the particulars of your argument, because this issue is far easier to settle than it suggests. Did the Constitution attach to a legitimate sovereign entity or an illegitimate one? What answer would we get from the founders? Assuming they said legitimate, were we to then ask why? They would produce the DI.

There is no way, by any path, to force a disconnection between the fact of sovereignty and the method of sovereignty. A driving manual is of no use whatever until Henry Ford put some cars on the road. Quick, who invented the Auto Drivers Manual?

As important as the constitution is, the DI is more important. You may wish to amend the method of sovereignty but amending the fact of sovereignty is called subjugation.

Anonymous said...

Struggling to log in from my IPad while out and about, so I am commenting anonymously. But still as Streak.

First, I have to note that this may be the first conservative I have ever heard that has so casully dismissed the constitution and compared it to car manual. You know, the ones that owners commonly lose in the lifetime of the vehicle.

And yes, I see the argument about sovereignty, but it is not a slam dunk.

For one thing, as many people smarter than me have noted, the Declaration is often many things to many people. Different groups over time have read into that document what they wanted. I see it as a propaganda piece aimed almost more for the American colonists than for the King.

Further, as I have noted, the different approaches to governing between the Declaration and the Constitution are notable and important. That is the entire point of both the failure of the Articles, and the experimentation of those state constitutions between 1776 and 1787.

But even if I accept that the Declaration is about establishing sovereignty, it only symbolically does so. Many, many people have written manifestos declaring a political ideal that never actually occurred. Sovereignty didn't occur because Jefferson took from the other declarations to write his own (admittedly masterful) version, but because American troops bled and died, and ultimately were able to force the Treaty of Paris. That treaty recognizes the sovereignty of the US--but that isn't a holy document.

And that is the real objection I have to this. It is applying to the Constitution and Declaration a kind of mysticism--the same kind that is used to read the Bible. In both cases, I hear assertions that it says one thing, and means one thing. Clearly, in both cases, that is not true. With the Declaration, people like David Barton attempt to assert ownership of this American experiment and claim that it is not "ours," but "theirs"--where they are conservative Christians who want to see America as a Christian nation benefitting from God's blessing.

And finally, as I noted above, we have had hundreds of documents written modeled on the Declaration. But the uniqueness of America lays in that owners manual--where governing and community are defined and articulated, and the sovereignty of the government is laid at the feet of the people.

Eric S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric S said...


When you say that the DI is a propaganda piece, I simply can’t agree. These are people who had something to loose. If you suggest that they were trying to pull off a snow job, that is simply unbelievable. Every one of them signed their death warrant when they affixed the signature to that document. The debate about declaring independence, forgetting the language for a moment, was poignant, for they would have swung from a gallows to a man, had we lost.

Now as to dismissing the constitution lightly, let me say that every analogy can be pressed beyond its usefulness and this one breaks down at the level of raw materials. Henry Ford had a lot more control over his raw materials than did the founders. The founders were using what they would have regarded, as fallible sinful men, subject to all the seven deadly sins. The importance of the owner’s manual is a function of just how temperamental the thing you are trying to take care of is. It is hard to imagine something more temperamental than political union.

So I would say your criticism breaks down at exactly the same place my analogy breaks down. You have simply made the mistake of carrying my analogy beyond its usefulness. My basic point there is that amending the DI would have been inconceivable to them. There was simply no dispute on those points. Suggesting a pragmatic solution, that gets you off responding to the facts in evidence, isn’t fooling anyone. No one can read the DI and conclude that it is not a straight forward statement of their fundamental beliefs, so sure as to stake their lives and treasure on it.

Its purpose stated in its own voice, grammar and intent, is to establish the sovereignty of America in indisputable authority superior to that of England and that is in fact, not in poetry. When you evoke the notion of propaganda you bring that idea with you. It doesn’t come from the text, the letters, the history; it comes from the lately written books that you read not the founders.


Streak said...

Honestly, Eric, you cannot criticize me for the car manual comment, as it was only a small part of my response. Yet, the bulk of your response is about that? Not about what the state constitutions tell us about the Founders and the Declaration?

As for the propaganda comment, I am not the only one to say so. By calling it that, I certainly am not saying that it didn't reflect their beliefs (or at least some of them) but more that it was at least more about trying to convince American colonists to side with the revolution as it was to convince the English that they were serious.

You can dismiss my argument all you want. I have spent my adult life studying American history--so have at it. And I note that you dismiss scholarship as well--your choice. That certainly makes it easier to dismiss my argument. If you can decide that the Declaration means what you say it means, period, then what smart people have to say about it doesn't matter.

I certainly don't pretend that my take on the Declaration is THE interpretation. I will leave that to you. I said in my comment that most people bring to the Declaration their own interpretation (again, taking that from scholars who know more than I do), but you assure me that your interpretation is THE interpretation. That, with all due respect, is the arrogance of fundamentalism.

Pardon my tone. I find your dismissal, and your arrogance on this matter to be annoying right now. Perhaps it is the rejection of my expertise. Perhaps just the blanket rejection of all things scholarly.

Or perhaps it is just the mood I am in.

Eric S said...


Sorry, I'll have to check my tone. Looking over it now I do seem to suggest that you are trying to "fool" some one. That was not particularly called for now that I think of it. I'll see if I can't round off a few of those sharp edges.

Let me take a run and see if I land on a more substantive point. You say, "if I accept that the Declaration is about establishing sovereignty, it only symbolically does so." Now you may be able to produce any number of scholars who will affirm you on this idea. I will stipulate that I am not a history scholar but the intent and grammar give every indication of being intended to be comprehensible to any reader of a certain level of sophistication.

I don't have a contempt or dismissive attitude about scholars. Have you ever read "Against Apion?" It is written by a scholar, it is in the public domain; you can pull it down and read it. It is a rather quick read. It presents two views of scholarship. One that presents a consistent view of history and one that is turning over interpretation, after interpretation, after interpretation. The authors point is that it is more intellectually honest to believe that issues can be settled, than to believe that every thing that is true today will be false in 40 years.

It is easy for me to believe there is plenty of light that can be shed on the founders from the state documents at that time, but it is somewhat harder for me to believe it would essentially flip the meaning of the grammar in the DI itself.


Streak said...

Hmm, so your source on historiography is Josephus?

Let me suggest that you don't really understand what historians do, nor the nature of historical revision. I can do so with one very great example--the nature of slavery in America. In the years following Reconstruction, the dominant historical explanation for both slavery and reconstruction came from Southern historians who very clearly wanted to defend and explain the ante-bellum south. Their explanation was one that southern plantation owners loved--that slaves were backwards and uncivilized savages who liked the comfort of slavery, and the owners were well-intentioned Christians who owned their slaves out of a desire to help them. That interpretation went on to suggest that blacks were opposed to the Civil War and to freedom, and actually preferred the ante-bellum world. Their brief foray into politics during Reconstruction was short lived for a reason--they simply were not advanced enough to govern, and so did everything badly.

That interpretation, in addition to the happy slaves, and the benevolent masters, persisted as the dominant historical explanation for many decades until the civil rights movement forced a reconsideration of slavery and reconstruction. The same could be said about Native American history and the history of women. Well, except women were just ignored in the history until the modern historians asked the question, so that is a bit of an outlier.

So yes, historical revision can mean turning our understanding on its ear, and rightfully so. New information, and new questions may further upset our applecarts, because history is not all known. And if we look at the contemporary political or cultural shifts, we don't quite understand them, so why would we assume history would have 20-20 vision?

To put it back to the Declaration and turning the language on its ear, let me ask you about Jefferson writing that "all men are created equal." Did he mean that? Did he mean it when he was banging his slave mistress whom he owned? Did he mean it when he believed that Indians were pre-modern humans?

I suspect he did mean it, but if I am supposed to accept that as accurate then I have to understand that Jefferson had a different understanding of the word "equal" than I do. Likewise for all of the people from that time period who use words like "freedom," or "liberty" in a manner that we would never recognize today. But that necessitates understanding the context of the time, and the meaning of words, and reading through what others are saying about all of these ideas. It means trying to understand culture, and language and all of those different elements, and means, absolutely, that we cannot read those words from a 21st century perspective and assume that they mean what we would mean.

Now if you want to suggest that history should be locked in that first interpretation, we can simply agree to move on. Because slavery (as one example, and we can look at the Cold War, Western Expansion, etc.) is just one example of history that absolutely needed to be turned upside down. Or if you really want to insist that words written in the 18th century mean exactly what 21st century ears hear, then we probably are talking about different concepts.

Otherwise, we have to understand that the past, as it is said, is a different country. And it is one that we struggle to understand and we do so with humility because we know that around the corner might be that interpretation, or understanding, or cache of documents, or new conceptualization, that makes us all question our previous assertions.

Eric S said...


Your writing has a great flow to it. You are obviously well read. Now to your points: I agree that the interpretation of history has some nuances that respond to issues that are unique to generations, the problems they are working through, and the demons that may vex them. What is true for the historical metanarrative, as our existentialist friends might say, is not at all true for our specific beliefs and ideas expressed in pros.

Your antebellum slavery example is convincing, but when you zoom into Jefferson I think you miss the mark. Jefferson like all of us, couldn't keep the moral code he affirmed. Slavery and his involvement in it, exposed this by way of opportunity, in a horrific way. We affirm principles we don't keep, that's what it means to be a fallible human. It is an easy explanation, it is sin.

My answer to you would be that historians have the responsibility to make sense of the flow of history, but they don't have a right to tinker with the ideas that belong to the very real people who occupied that history. When historical figures, individually or institutionally, speak in their own voice, that message belongs to all generations and it must be sacrosanct. Historians have no right to shove the grammarians out of the way, to interfere with that message.


Streak said...

Eric, you misunderstand history and the historical process. Badly, unfortunately. First, when you suggest that the difference between slavery as benevolent institution and horrific exploitation is a "nuance," you do the historical revision a large disservice.

Second, when you dismiss the criticism of Jefferson, you do so in a way that avoids my point--I hope not on purpose. It was not to hold Jefferson as flawed. Any person knows that. My fault with Jefferson is not that he was mortal and had failings, it was that he posited a public position that was in complete contradiction to his own life. But my bigger point is that he is not the only one, and that is what I was trying to suggest to you. They used the word "freedom" differently than you and I. Perhaps you dismiss that as casually as you dismiss scholarship on the declaration, but that doesn't actually disprove the point. It just says that you assert your conclusion, period, regardless of context of evidence to the contrary. I can give you example after example of how people from that time period use words differently than we do. Meanings change, and usage changes, and those changes can be quite subtle. Jefferson was, perhaps, more hypocritical about freedom than others, but he was not the only one, because they didn't actually mean that all men were equal. The Founders demonstrated that when, after those state constitutional experiments I mentioned, they completely backtracked on the idea of universal suffrage and extending the vote to all men--because in fact, they did not believe them to be equal--and that was just talking about white males. Forget any assumptions of universality when talking about people of color--because the vast bulk of Americans well into the 20th century believed in some form of white supremacy--and did so with no sense of irony as they spoke of freedom and equality.

I have no problem with you, nor any person reading the original voices. But you dismiss--still quite arrogantly--the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, they didn't mean what you claim they did. And for you to say that it is we who are interfering with the message, not you who is imposing a modern understanding on their words--is just more evidence.

I appreciate your kind words about my prose. I am well read--though not as well read as I would like to be. There is much about our history that I do not understand. But I have to say that you are still, through the nice words, asserting quite arrogantly that you simply dismiss historical scholarship out of hand, because their conclusions do not match your understanding. They, who have immersed themselves in the culture, language and documents of the era, and you who has read one of the documents and asserts that it means what you want it to mean.

Perhaps I am too strident. I appreciate your tone. But under that tone, you are still telling me and everyone that your interpretation of the Declaration, or of American history is THE interpretation. Evidence to the contrary, it seems, be damned.

Eric S said...


Wait a minute, I didn’t say that your illustration of slavery was a nuance; I said I was convinced by it. As for Jefferson, Streak, you are missing a point. People don’t defend lying but they still lie. Jefferson defended equality but couldn’t apply it to the economics of his life. He couldn’t be a gentlemen and a politician precisely because he was a slave holder. If he knew how to be a publisher like Franklin this would not have been a problem. But he didn’t he only knew how to be a gentleman farmer who didn’t get his hands dirty. When his morals and economics collided, economics won. That is a sin. That is not dismissing anything. If Washington believed that his slaves were not really made in Gods image, what did he mean by setting them free on his death? I think that Washington’s actions are good evidence that he understood the DI as I do. Abolition was discussed at precisely this time. It had to be pushed back to make a union including southern states, but to speak as though it was not a topic of the times is not correct. It was set aside as a matter of pragmatics but it weighed on the consciences of people like Washington who himself was an offender.

As for subtle differences in the meaning of words, that is fine as far as it goes but subtle doesn’t carry you as far as you have gone. You need something a lot more heavy duty than subtle. The backtracking you mentioned is not an idea that is explained by subtlety. It is quite well understood in the light of the economics of the time and politics.

You complain about my insistence on paying attention to the grammar but if you have a real case to make you need to point to some of the text and say how the proper understanding of the grammar interpreted supports your view.

You seem to be saying that I am arrogant because I disagree with what you paint as a monolithic consensus of historians which uniformly disagree that the DI means what it says. I just want to make sure that there aren’t perhaps one or two or perhaps a dozen who don’t fall in to that category. If so, it is possible that we are all arrogant. And if that is the case are we arrogant, because we disagree with the consensus, or because we disagree with you? I’m just not buying the view that the conservative view is necessarily the arrogant one. Unless you disagree with yourself, it takes at least two parties to disagree.

Streak said...

Actually, I believe you to be arrogant, not because you disagree with me, but because you assert your analysis absent actual knowledge. You have read the Declaration and a little more, and you have decided that gives you more than enough knowledge to decide. That is arrogance. Your passing understanding of the Founders gives you the sense that you know more about them than professional historians. Again, arrogance.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. Hell, it happens all the time. What I find frustrating is that someone who knows so little about the colonial period, nor the context of the time can be so dismissive of the scholarship of people like Gordon Wood--who has spent decades studying this period.

No, but you know better. You know because you know what the Declaration declared, pure and simple.

Seriously, I have no idea what to say. My expertise in history is actually irrelevant here, I am guessing. Which is fine. If you know better, then you know better. Nothing I can say will change that.

I think I might be done with this argument. It is hard to argue with someone who already knows you are wrong.

Eric S said...


From my perspective it looks like the weight of your argument is that the monolithic experts say you are wrong. That turns the whole question into a black box. I suppose the only non arrogant thing to say about that is – Oh!

Perhaps it is my naiveté that suggests to me that if their arguments were so convincing they could be convincingly abbreviated. Or should I say it is my arrogance that suggests that to me.

But to my mind, until someone does the hard work of suggesting the original meanings of the words, and then interprets the document with those meanings, within the grammar at hand; and can defend all their steps, then absent that, I think people are within their rights to say it can be read and understood within the context of the grammar and definitions we are all familiar with.

Why that approach is not called for, it seems to me, begs for an explanation. This may be unreasonable but I can’t see why.

And if it is true that I “assert . . . analysis absent actual knowledge,” then my errors in fact should demonstrate the truth of that charge. You didn’t mention any. Is that an oversight?

You would know far better than I the extent to which I disagree with professional historians. But this “sense” about my knowledge as compared to theirs, you mention, I can assure you it exists only in your mind.

I agree that your expertise in history is actually relevant here, but you don’t seem to be able to say why enough of the equation lies in the history that it virtually overturns the meaning of the language of the declaration.

I’m really not trying to be obstinate, but am I dense to believe you ought to be able to do that? Strictly speaking this is a logic question not a history one, but it seems reasonably accessible to avoid being an unjustified burden.


Streak said...

Actually, I believe you are trying to be obstinate. You have your conclusion, period. And "black box?" I would wager that anything Leighton knows about physics or math is a black box to many of us. Colonial history is all written in english, and with no formulas. You are free to read Gordon Wood, Jack Rakove and the rest, just as I did.

And I did actually present evidence. I think you purposefully ignored it. The founders enjoyed the DI, because it got the American people behind it. Doesn't mean they didn't believe in the broad principles, but it also doesn't mean that they meant them as holy scripture. Because when the states formed constitutions after 1776, they did so with the DI in the background. They went radical, in some states, and completely rejected the three tiered government of the king. Instead, Pennsylvania went with a unicameral legislature, with the reps elected every year. Nearly universal suffrage, because the words of the DI rang in their ears.

Turns out, the Declaration missed some details, as many started to observe. The people voted their naked self-interest rather than some Republican (ideal, not party) view of governing. They weren't interested in the public good, but rather their own economic needs. Other states had similar experiences. By the 1780s, people were worried. the masses were voting and doing very stupid things. All people were not, in fact, created equal, and we were seeing the proof of that.

So, the Constitution, deemed to take back some of that power. Strong executive, the populist House reduced in power, and the Senate a place where the elite cream of the crop could rule. Those people (not Jefferson, probably--though he is far more enigmatic than you clearly believe) believed that the elite were the elite because they were better, and the commoners were the commoners because they were not. The Declaration, when it came to asserting equality, was an overstep--and an overstep that the writers of 1787 looked to correct. The Articles, written in the spirit of the Declaration--were unsustainable, and everyone by 1787 knew it.

Don't take my word for it. Read the encyclopedic Creation of the American Republic. Wood makes the case very clear, and won numerous prizes for his impressive, impressive book.

But in your case, you read the Declaration, and decide that it means exactly what you believe it to mean. And from that, you posit that everyone from GW to TJ believed as you did. Yes, you have the right. Of course you do. Just as Sarah Palin has the "right" to assert that Paul Revere shot off guns and rang bells to keep the British from taking his guns. You have the right to believe whatever you want. And in this case, you, like many others, have turned the Declaration into holy scripture, unquestionable, and unassailable by academic elites. Argue that the words and meaning transcend time. But you do so willfully ignoring the evidence that that is not true. And you sound amazingly similar to David Barton. Don't expect me to respect that approach.

Eric S said...

Rest assured that you are not likely to be mistaken for someone who respects my approach. When you say, “Doesn't mean they didn't believe in the broad principles [of the DI], but it also doesn't mean that they meant them as Holy Scripture.” Fair enough, but did they take the Holy Scripture [HS] to be Holy Scripture? If so how much time have you spent becoming familiar with the concepts that overlap the DI and the HS? Any? You appear to be sanctifying secular historical interpretation while arguing at exactly the same time for the de-sanctification, of the HS.

Do you mind if I point out why that is a problem? You say, “All people were not, in fact, created equal, and we were seeing the proof of that.” This suggests that you either believe or are happy to use rhetoric to suggest that the signers of the DI believe that equal before their creator meant equal intelligence, education, or insight. That is patently condescending. “Created equal,” means equal before God and the HS is relevant to what they understood this to mean. For you to pat them on the head letting the arguments you have advanced serve as cover, as well as the historical commentary, and the apparent feeling that you are smarter by virtue of being born more recently and of course knowing their future, isn’t particularly convincing, at least to me.

Created equal means created in God’s image. Had you attended any church service of the time you would have seen every woman’s head covered in a hat. Why? Because St. Paul gave an instruction along those lines having to do with sex roles in worship. The same St. Paul who said there is neither “male nor female.” Did he contradict himself? No. Male and females stand equal in creation, in obligation and in redemption before God. God creates, rules and redeems all humans equally. Sex roles were seen as different just as economic, educational, and countless other roles were and are different. The freedom of the citizen needs to correspond to the free will of the created man before God in order for the authority of nations to be established within the sovereignty of God. England broke that higher sovereignty and America was determined not to do that.

Arguing that intent can be uncovered by subsequent action is an unwarranted assumption. The colloquial proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is a truth right out of the HS. You don’t seem to be the least bit interested in the fact that they were familiar with it. Like it or not they were very, very familiar with it.

So if a concept is sacred in HS and it also appears in DI, it is very, very safe to say they held it sacred. In fact, Jefferson and Franklin argued over the term “self-evident.” Franklin argued the truths should be described, “sacred and inviolable” and not “self-evident.” That phrase “sacred and inviolable” is right out of the definition of the word “blasphemy.” Are we going to argue that this didn’t dawn on Franklin? He was a pretty good word smith.

We understand from what we know. You have read on point books that our founders did not read, and you think you know. I have read a book our founders did read and I think I know. For better or worse we start from where we stand, in judgments of truth, but I think you could use a strong adult understanding of Christian theology. The concepts common to the HS and DI were in fact held to be sacred by the founders.

Streak said...

Wow, you are right. I actually don't respect your approach. I especially dislike the false humility and the false sense of civility. It wears thin, especially with the subtle jabs at people's intelligence and knowledge. You wear thin.

Here is a great example. You might not care, but I grew up in the church, and am well aware of the Holy Scripture. I am also painfully aware of pious religious people who wave that bible like a weapon.

But what you clearly don't know, is that historians are aware of religious history too, and we understand and are interested in what our historical counterparts believed. Your arrogance in assuming that because I tend toward the secular in explaining history--that I am ignorant of religious ideas, or the religious ideas that people like Jefferson might be aware of--is palpable and offensive.

Yes, you and you alone know what these people thought? Why? Because you have read their words. Great. Good for you. Jesus, you are so smart. And so arrogant that you reject any understanding other than that. I think that makes you a fundamentalist. You don't need any "fancy phds telling you anything," do you? The fact that historians might suggest that what people say they believe might not be what they actually believe, or that they might understand things differently than you? That is unacceptable. To paraphrase Little Big Man, no one here is worthy of making you reconsider your decision.

Your fake humility has worn thin with me, as has your fake offer of actual discussion. You are already smarter than any of us here, and already know more.

Fine. Go. Educate someone else. I am so very tired of pompous overly pious Christians educating me on my own field, much less every other field.

Bye. I have tried.

Eric S said...

Streak, were ridicule as effective as reason you'd have persuaded me three posts ago. Laboring under the delusion that substance not condescension changed minds, I've been focusing on all the wrong stuff.

But thanks for apprising me that my civility is false, my arguments are subtle jabs at your intelligence and knowledge, that my brand of piety is to use the bible as a weapon, that my arrogance assumes your ignorance, that I exclusively know the thoughts of historical figures, that [heaven forbid] I'm a fundamentalist [that was not a complement, right?].

The fact is that I was interested to know if there were substantive answers to my line of thinking on this question, and I hoped that I would hear, substantive answers to what were intended to be substantive points. But I suppose the fact is that you don't really need to be seen associating with my kind, so I'm sorry to waist your time. Please accept my apologies.

Streak said...

Actually, Eric, I have been thinking about this conversation. My comment was written out of frustration, and was probably not as clear or as civil as I would have preferred.

My frustration with this conversation remains, but I will try to explain it better. My emotional response was, in part, because I have a very painful memory of a family member who succeeded in turning every conversation into one where only his expertise mattered. Everyone else's did not. That is certainly what it feels like here.

But to be brief, you don't need me. You don't want a historian's professional take, because you have taken them out of the picture and, in fact, said that they are unnecessary. I will absolutely concede that my professional historian credentials are thin when talking Colonial history. My research is in late 19th Century America and there I feel on much more solid ground. But I do know the difference between good history and bad, and the history I gave you was from the best. An ass, to be sure, but Gordon Wood is the gold standard when it comes to historians. Same with the others I pulled from in my explanation.

My explanation, to be fair, that you routinely ignored and dismissed. I am not sure you can do that consistently and then claim that you were arguing in good faith. Perhaps you were. I don't know you. But I do know that you essentially asked a professional historian his opinion on something, and then said that professional history is wrong, period.

The shot I took at fundamentalism was probably not fair. Perhaps you are, perhaps you are not. I am frustrated with all forms of that right now, and took that out on you. That applies to people who claim there is one understanding of the Bible (and all others are false) and similarly that there is one understanding of the Founders and all others are wrong. You certainly sounded like that when you consistently said that your view of Jefferson and Washington was the correct one--professional historians be damned.

Perhaps you can see where my frustration comes from. Or perhaps not. All I know is that you have essentially told me that my profession is nearly useless because it doesn't approach the past as you do.

Eric S said...

Streak, that was not my intent. I’ll try to take in some Gordon Wood as you suggest, and see if I can’t do a more reasonable job if I find myself broaching this subject again.