The View From 1776
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
The Religious Foundation Of The United States
While the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any official religion at the Federal level, Judeo-Christian moral values and religious faith were inseparably interwoven with all political issues in 1776 and in 1787, when the Constitution was crafted.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, traveling from New England to New Orleans. The year before, in 1830, France had been convulsed by one of its repeated political upheavals after the 1789 Revolution. Tocqueville’s purpose was to discover how the United States had managed to avoid the episodic armed rebellions and bloodshed in the streets of Paris that plagued French political life under socialistic egalitarianism, the societal condition called social justice by liberal-progressives.
His observations were set forth in Democracy in America, often cited as one the best surveys ever written regarding American political, social, and religious life.
Two things struck Tocqueville forcibly as he traveled across the United States. Everywhere there was a strong attachment to the equality conferred by political liberty, and everywhere there was an unwavering devotion to Christianity. The two, he concluded, were inseparably connected.
“On my arrival in the United States,” he wrote, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”
“[Christianity] contributed powerfully to the establishment of a republic and a democracy in public affairs; and from the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never [as of 1831] been dissolved.”
“The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man…. all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God.”
“In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state…. Thus, while the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash and unjust. Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.”
“When [people in France] attack religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions and not of their interests. Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.”
A century later Bancroft Prize-winning historian Clinton Rossiter, who described himself as a centrist, somewhere between labor union radicals and the late Senator Barry Goldwater, wrote in The First American Revolution (1956):
“Finally, it must never be forgotten, especially in an age of upheaval and disillusionment, that American democracy rests squarely on the assumption of a pious, honest, self-disciplined, moral people. … Whatever doubts may exist about the sources of this democracy, there can be none about the chief source of the morality that gives it life and substance. From Puritanism, from the way of life that exalted individual responsibility, came those homely rules of everyday conduct – or, if we must, those rationalizations of worldly success – that have molded the American mind into its unique shape. … The men of 1776 believed that the good state would rise on the rock of private and public morality, that morality was in the case of most men and all states the product of religion, and that the earthly mission of religion was to set men free.”
Tocqueville would have said that present-day American liberal-progressives’ advocacy of libertine license in personal life and smothering regulation of economic activity and public expression of religious faith represent all the worst elements of French political life, the very sources of France’s social and political instability. French revolutionaries had destroyed the monarchy and the Catholic Church, making the nation a secular and socialist republic. It was the absence of religious moral restraint that had permitted the slaughter in the Reign of Terror of more than 70,000 people in the name of perfecting humanity. This same secular irreligion in the 20th century was to murder as many as one-hundred-million people in Soviet Russia, National Socialist Germany, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Cambodia, and other liberal-progressive-socialistic countries.