JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

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Thursday, August 28, 2003
 
But where is it from?
Clayton Craymer writing on a post by Glenn Reynolds writes:

Instapundit has a whole bunch of quotes about religion and the founding of the United States.
As George Washington noted, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
The nice thing about the Library of Congress is that they have the complete set of Washington's papers online, and searchable by word and phrase. You can also search the complete text of the Journals of the Continental Congress, House and Senate journals through 1873, a gobs of other documents here. Guess what? That phrase "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" doesn't show up in either collection. Sorry, but with the choice of believing the Library of Congress, or someone with a strong antireligious bias (Instapundit's correspondent), I think I'll trust the Library of Congress more.
So, Washington didn't write it. It's not in the Journals of the Continental Congress. It's not in the House or Senate journals (through 1873). It's not in gobs of other documents. Is it in the Library of Congress or is it just a made up quote by someone with a strong antireligious bias?

Whereas it's true President Washington did not, himself, write it the line, it's certainly authentic and authentically important. With a more rigorous search of the Library of Congress, I'm sure Craymer would have found it.

The line "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" can be found in Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripolli. This treaty was signed by Commissioner Plenipotentiary David Humphreys on November 4, 1796. So, it wasn't Washington, himself, but an official representative of President Washington. (Aside: trivia question. When did the Department of State stop using the term "Commissioner Plenipotentiary" and replace it with "Ambassador"?) It was ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by President John Adams.

So, in summary: this line was negotiated by an official representative of George Washington, ratified by the 1797 United States Senate (whose presiding officer was Thomas Jefferson), and was signed by John Adams. I'm guessing that in the textbook definition of "original intent," this line is used as the example. (And if you want to see an original copy of the line "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion", click here).

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