Saturday, October 27, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part I

One of the things we, along with many scholars, have done is play up "the key American founders" (the ones on American currency, etc.) perhaps to the exclusion of the 2nd and 3rd tier ones who comprised a statistical majority of their numbers.

This post will feature the writings of St. George Tucker of Virginia, not a key American founder. But a notable statesmen from that era, nonetheless. Perhaps this post will not satisfy those who look for a difference of opinion between the key founders on the one hand, and the lesser founders on the other. And that's because Tucker's views seem to exist somewhere right between Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's (two key founders).

What I find interesting about this document labeled Blackstone's Commentaries, 1:App. 296--97, 2: App. 3--11 (named such, even though this particular text really has nothing to do with Blackstone's commentaries) is that it alludes to four major pieces of work from that era: 1. The Virginia state bill of rights, 2. the Memorial and Remonstrance; 3. the VA Statute on Religious Freedom, and 4. the US Constitution.

I'm going to publish this work in pieces. Below is the first excerpt, with some paragraph breaks added for clarity:
On the first of these subjects, our state bill of rights contains, what, if prejudice were not incapable of perceiving truth, might be deemed an axiom, concerning the human mind. That "religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." In vain, therefore, may the civil magistrate interpose the authority of human laws, to prescribe that belief, or produce that conviction, which human reason rejects: in vain may the secular arm be extended, the rack stretched, and the flames kindled, to realize the tortures denounced against unbelievers by all the various sects of the various denominations of fanatics and enthusiasts throughout the globe. 
The martyr at the stake, glories in his tortures, and proves that human laws may punish, but cannot convince. The pretext of religion, and the pretences of sanctity and humility, have been employed throughout the world, as the most direct means of gaining influence and power. Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together. 
To separate them by mounds which can never be overleaped, is the only means by which our duty to God, the peace of mankind, and the genuine fruits of charity and fraternal love, can be preserved or properly discharged. This prohibition, therefore, may be regarded as the most powerful cement of the federal government, or rather, the violation of it will prove the most powerful engine of separation. 
Those who prize the union of the states will never think of touching this article with unhallowed hands. The ministry of the unsanctified sons of Aaron scarcely produced a flame more sudden, more violent, or more destructive, than such an attempt would inevitably excite. . . . I forbear to say more, in this place, upon this subject, having treated of it somewhat at large in a succeeding note.
The language pretty strikingly speaks in terms of "separation" of church and state. I'm surprised that the secularists who like to cherry pick Jefferson and Madison haven't quoted from this more. The fact that the date of this document is from 1803 also fits Philip Hamburger's thesis that the Democratic-Republicans didn't speak in terms of "separation of church and state" until the early 19th Century.

That contention is one of the many analytical points where I think Hamburger gets it wrong. Whatever exact words they used, what Jefferson and Madison argued for in Virginia in the 1780s I think aptly could be termed "separation of church and state," even if they didn't use those exact words, but used others like "non-cognizance."

Rather, Tucker's view well represents what some scholars have termed the "Virginia view" (not the only one the American founders held on religious establishment issues). And the "Virginia" view, even in the 1780s, is one of "separation."

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