Pray “that the clergy of all denominations from one end of the continent to the other may intercede with the Lord of Hosts to dispose the minds of the people to obedience”

At first glance, one might think this quote came from one of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals.

Nope.

The quote in the title of this post comes from a member of Congress in 1792 who went by the pseudonym “a sanctified friend of aristocracy.” He was advocating for a national day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation to convince the whiskey farmers in Western Pennsylvania to obey the recently passed Whiskey Tax.

In my Pennsylvania History class this semester we are reading Thomas Slaughter’s book The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. Here is the full passage (pp.130-131):

It seemed clear that “the fate of the excise law will determine whether the powers of the government of the United States are held by an aristocratic junto or by the people.” Instead of responding to the flood of petitions against the excise that filled the halls of Congress, the members of that body “very improperly” handed them over to “an executive officer [i.e. Alexander Hamilton] who was the occasion of the injury, and was very interested in supporting it.” Now instead of repealing the law, a “sanctified friend of aristocracy” in the Congress advocated a national day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation “that the clergy of all denominations from one end of the continent to the other may intercede with the Lord of Hosts to dispose the minds of the people to obedience.” The arrogance of such a proposal infuriated opposition writers. Who were these aristocratic politicians to presume such a condescending attitude? Where was a recognition of republic principles, of the equality among men, for which the Revolution was fought? It now seemed that at least some who “passed under the name of federalists” embraced the Constitution only “because they looked on it as a promising essay towards a system of anti-republican orders and artificial palances.” These Federalists asserted their right to rule over the nation of farmers because they were “men of wealth and opulence, who could buy and sell the whole ragged race of whiskey drinkers twenty times over.” The question of th excise, friends of liberty warned, “is not longer between federalism and anti-federalism, but between republicanism and anti-republicanism.”

Of course Donald Trump used Christianity to suppress protests this summer in the same way that this Federalist congressman tried to use a day of fasting and prayer to keep the whiskey rebels in line. These rebels were men and women who invoked the spirit of the 1776 against what they believed to be an unfair tax levied upon them by eastern Federalists. To quote Slaughter, the opponents of the Whiskey Tax “resolved…that the law discouraged agriculture, fell most heavily on the newly settled areas, ‘especially upon the western parts of the United States,’ and was particularly discriminatory against citizens of the ‘laborious and poorer class,’ who were the consumers of cheap, domestically produced alcoholic beverages.”

I told my students that whenever the government starts talking about “law and order” or making Americans “obedient,” they will usually uncover some kind of religious or biblical argument.

I was reminded again of this passage in Slaughter when I saw this:

This is an all-star cast of court evangelicals. They will pray for a Trump victory on Sunday night. One of them might actually pray that “the Lord of Hosts… dispose the minds of the people to obedience” by convincing them to vote for Donald Trump.