The Treaty of Tripoli Proves Nothing!

That is what one of my readers would like us to think anyway. OK, let’s start at somewhere close to the beginning.

I wrote a column for the InkandVoice blog concerning the First Amendment and how it must be read as both preventing government from interfering with religion and, conversely, religion from interfering with government.

Of course, as will all of my IVC editorials, I posted it on “friendly” and “hostile” social networking groups and sites. Needless to say, there are a few of those discussion threads about to hit the 85 comment marks.

As will all conversations, Internet, live or otherwise, most of the threads do not follow a straight line of thought, but meander a bit off course. Eventually a new conversation starts and the conversation continues.

One of these conversations, in an otherwise not so “friendly” group, moved from the issue of religion interfering with government to the separation of church and state. The discussion from one of the respondents caught my eye.

The reader, I’ll call him John for this column, was upset with my position that the United States constitutional government is based on secular and not sectarian principles and morals. And a new discussion began.

John, by the way, is a very thoughtful adversary in discussions, well researched and deeply involved in the learning process. Though we do not see eye-to-eye, we do respect each other’s opinion – Which is the way good discussions are meant to be. I am glad we “hooked up,” sort to say.

John believes that the Constitution and Declaration cannot be separated in the context of the religiosity of our nation. I disagreed, stating that the Declaration was a letter of intent of separation and disenfranchisement from Mother England. The Constitution, as well as its predecessor the Confederation of the United States, is the governing and management document, they only one that we lean on to consider our nation’s laws.

John went on to declare our Christian heritage by pointing out that the Declaration talks about “God.” This is almost right.

Jefferson, along with Madison and others, was not talking about the Christian God but of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God…” Jefferson was a deist and by the election of 1800, was being called an atheist, thought that was incorrect.

He, Franklin, and the other Founders knew that theocracies were intolerant and needed to be avoided by any and all means. These men and the citizens of the colonies were subject to such a theocratic-monarchy. Though England did have a Parliament at the time, the royal family still had the final say in law making and enforcement.

A quick search of all three documents provides some clarification for those who believe that our government was somehow shaped by God or Jesus. Or both.

“God” is mentioned once.

“Lord” is used as was appropriate of the late 1700s to denote the year of signature in two of the three documents. It is not used in the Declaration of Independence.

Religion is mentioned three times; once in the Confederation and the Constitution, and once in the Amendments. All three times concerned the importance of individual rights concerning religion and, as mentioned earlier, religion out of government.

Christ, Christianity, Jesus, Yahweh, and any other manifestation of deity, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise, are not found in any of the documents.

The only conclusion that can be made is the United States was founded as a secular nation. All of my research has not found proof otherwise.

John’s next to on the Treaty of Tripoli, better known as the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1797. That document states in Article XI that,

“…the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation…”

John states that 1) the treaty was only valid to eight-years and therefore this one obscure statement has no legal bearing, and 2) the renegotiated treaty left this language out completely. Again, John is partially correct.

The treaty itself was not broken by the United States, but by the member states of the Ottoman Empire on the Barbary coast. I have been unable to find any record where the United States Senate removed the treaty from the books. So is it still the law of the land?

I believe that it is but I am waiting for confirmation from a number of constitutional and treaty experts from various law schools.

Even if it is not, that treaty completed during John Adams’ term did signify the position of the Founders, many of whom were members of Congress at the time. Many of them were also devout Anglicans. 

As for the renegotiated treaty of 1805, well were few provisions that survived from the 1797 document, which, I believe, invalidates that argument.

Then there is the question if Article 11 was found in the Arabic version of the treaty. With some research and a lot of help from the Library of Congress, I received a copy of the original Arabic version and will ask a native Arabic speaker to help me translate the handwritten document into English. Hopefully, I will do a bit better job than original Barlow translation. I will tell you about that later. Meanwhile, I am keeping an open mind.

As done so many times in the past, it appears that the arguments made by the Christian nation theory advocates just do not hold muster. All appear to be based on mis- or limited reading of the founding documents, as well as a misunderstanding of each document’s authority.

I do not believe that John or any of those who agree with his positions are trying to outwit, lie, or subvert. I do believe that most, if not all, have never done their due diligence in researching the information.

Research and reading are fundamental. Critical thinking is a terrible thing to waste.

Thanks for the discussion “John.” I look forward to continuing the conversations with you and others.


David Rosman’s newest book, A Christian Nation? An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs is now available through in paperback or eBook versions.

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About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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