The “Deep State” of the 1790s?

Morse

Jedidiah Morse

Is there a “deep state” seeking to undermine the Trump presidency? Yes, if you define the “deep state” as men and women working to stop Donald Trump from undermining American democracy and institutions.

But for many Trump supporters, the “deep state” is a secret, shadowy, and sinister group of leftist politicians, government bureaucrats, Chinese officials and scientists, journalists, academics, and intellectuals seeking to destroy American values. Some even believe that Anthony Fauci is a “deep state doctor.” In this sense, the “deep state” hates America.  It has been created to invoke fear.

These conspiracy theories are not new.  In the late 1790s, Jedidiah Morse, the congregational minister in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and a well-known author of geography textbooks, drew national attention by suggesting that a secret organization called the Bavarian Illuminati was at work “to root out and abolish Christianity, and overturn all civil government.” He was convinced that this group of atheists and infidels were behind the secular Jacobin movement in France that sought to purge the nation of organized religion. Morse believed that the Illuminati group was pursuing the same clandestine agenda in America and was working closely with Thomas Jefferson-led Democratic Republicans, the Federalists’ political rivals, to pull it off.

Morse learned about the Bavarian Illuminati from books published in Europe describing a network of secret lodges scattered across the continent. In a 1798 fast day sermon, he appealed to the worst fears of those evangelicals who remained concerned with the moral character of the republic. He described the Illuminati’s ominous attempts to “abjure Christianity, justify suicide (by declaring death an eternal sleep), advocate sensual pleasures agreeable to Epicurean philosophy…decry marriage, and advocate a promiscuous intercourse among the sexes.” The presence of the Illuminati in America should cause Christians to “tremble for the safety of our political, as well as our religious ark.” In another sermon on the subject, Morse printed a list of secret societies and Illuminati members currently working their sinister schemes in his Christian nation.

Soon Timothy Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards and the president of Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, expressed similar fears about the Illuminati and used his pen to sound the alarm. In a Fourth of July discourse entitled The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis, Dwight quoted from Revelation 16 to caution his listeners and eventual readers about “unclean teachers” who were educating innocent people in “unclean doctrines.” Such teachers were spreading throughout the world to “unite mankind against God.” As they performed their malicious work, the Bavarian Illuminati took cues from previous opponents of Protestant America–the Jesuits, Voltaire, and the Masons, to name a few.

Dwight called Americans back to God . This, he believed, was the only effective way of resisting such subversive threats to social virtue. “Where religion prevails,” he wrote, “Illuminatism cannot make disciples, a French directory cannot govern, a nation cannot be made slaves, nor villains, nor atheists, nor beasts.” Dwight reminded his readers that if this dangerous society succeeded in its plans, the children of evangelicals would be forced to read the work of deists or become “concubines” of a society that treated “chastity” as a “prejudice,” adultery as virtue, and marriage as a “farce.”

By the turn of the nineteenth century, news of the Illuminati had traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard and as far as the Caribbean islands. Elias Boudinot, a former president of the Continental Congress, and John Jay, a Federalist statesman, also bought into this conspiracy theory.

Critics of these evangelical Federalists argued that Morse and Dwight, both clergymen, spent too much time dabbling in politics instead of tending to the souls of the Christians under their spiritual care. Others accused these conspiracy theorists of having “overheated imaginations.” Eventually, Morse’s accusations against Democratic-Republican societies were unable to withstand the weight of evidence. As historian Jonathan Den Hartog has written, evangelical Federalists concerned about the preservation of a Christian nation “overplayed their hand” by propagating the Illuminati scare. In the process, they “called their standing a societal authorities into question, and ultimately weakened their position” as shapers of American culture.

The comparison between the “Deep State” and the “Illuminati” is not perfect. No historical analogies are. But sometimes, as we like to say, history rhymes.

Welcome to the United States Senate, the “World Great Deliberate Body”

Senate

1788:

As the select assemblies for choosing the President, as well as the State legislatures who appoint the senators, will in general be composed of the most enlightened and respectable citizens, there is reason to presume that their attention and their votes will be directed to those men only who have become the most distinguished by their abilities and virtue, and in whom the people perceive just grounds for confidenceThe Constitution manifests very particular attention to this object. By excluding men under thirty-five from the first office, and those under thirty from the second, it confines the electors to men of whom the people have had time to form a judgment, and with respect to whom they will not be liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism, which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle. If the observation be well founded, that wise kings will always be served by able ministers, it is fair to argue, that as an assembly of select electors possess, in a greater degree than kings, the means of extensive and accurate information relative to men and characters, so will their appointments bear at least equal marks of discretion and discernment. The inference which naturally results from these considerations is this, that the President and senators so chosen will always be of the number of those who best understand our national interests, whether considered in relation to the several States or to foreign nations, who are best able to promote those interests, and whose reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence. With such men the power of making treaties may be safely lodged.

–John Jay in Federalist 64:

2020:

 

Historian Saul Cornell on Originalism and the Impeachment Process

22c0d-united-states-constitution

Fordham University historian Saul Cornell asks, “How should the Constitution’s provisions on impeachment be interpreted?”  I am glad to see a historian weighing-in here.

Here is a taste of Cornell’s piece at The New Republic:

Another problem with originalism’s approach to history is its static (which is to say, decidedly ahistorical) view of the past. American legal and constitutional history did not pause in freeze-frame when the Constitution was ratified in 1789. And constitutional meaning has likewise not remained frozen over the course of American history, a point that the Founding generation well understood. Even James Madison came to recognize that constitutional meaning would evolve, both through the decision of the courts and through actions taken by the people themselves beyond the formal jurisdiction of the courts. In the 1790s, Madison vigorously opposed Alexander Hamilton’s belief that the Constitution allowed the federal government to charter a bank, but by the era of the War of 1812 he had come to realize that such an institution was a necessity—and all branches of the federal government and the American people had also embraced the federally chartered financial system in a host of ways by then.

Finally, in contrast to originalists, liberal legal scholars need to recognize that interpreting the Constitution inevitably requires some form of translation—taking concepts rooted in the realities of the eighteenth century and trying to make sense of them in our own. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the importance of translation to the entire enterprise of constitutional interpretation is to look at a claim made by the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, during that committee’s impeachment inquiry last month. Nunes claimed that Trump’s efforts to use Rudolph Giuliani to conduct a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine were no different from George Washington’s decision to dispatch John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain in the 1790s.

In his flat-footed historical analogy, Nunes suggested that his House Democratic colleagues likely would have impeached Washington for dispatching Jay. Of course, any comparison between Giuliani and Jay is preposterous on multiple levels. Jay was a co-author of The Federalist, chief justice of the Supreme Court, and had extensive diplomatic experience, notably stemming from his tenure as the secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. He was not only one of the most distinguished lawyers of the Founding generation but was one of the most experienced diplomats in the new nation. Moreover, at the time that Washington turned to Jay to negotiate a treaty, there was nothing even remotely resembling the modern State Department. The original State Department consisted of six employees. (By 1824, the department’s staff had more than doubled, to a size of 13.) The geopolitics of the Jay overture were also strikingly different from those of the Ukraine affair: Jay was then negotiating for America from a position of weakness with the most powerful nation on earth. In 2019, America was the most powerful nation on earth, and Ukraine was in a position much weaker than America was at the time of the Jay treaty. Finally, and most importantly, Jay was advancing American interests and acting as an official representative of the American nation; he was not a private actor furthering Washington’s personal interests (and his own).

Moreover, if Nunes had dug deeper, he would have learned that many Americans did demand that Washington face impeachment. (Effigies of Jay were burned in cities across the new nation, a fate that Giuliani has thus far avoided.) Washington rebuffed demands from the House of Representatives that he turn over documents related to Jay’s instruction: Indeed, Washington’s decision laid the groundwork for the idea of executive privilege that the Trump administration has repeatedly asserted over the course of today’s impeachment proceedings. (The concept of executive privilege claims no originalist pedigree to speak of. It appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution and can’t be sanctioned by a strict originalist theory of interpretation.) Yet once he’d asserted this privilege, Washington himself expressly conceded that if Congress requested such materials in the context of an impeachment inquiry, he would have to produce them. Thus, a genuine examination of the relevant history here not only undermines Nunes’s facile analogy, but also sets up the foundation for another impeachable offense. The refusal of the Trump administration to turn over documents critical to the House’s impeachment inquiry is itself an example of a high crime and misdemeanor and hence an impeachable offense.

Read the entire piece here.

Trinity Church’s $6 Billion Portfolio

trinity-church-secrets-financial-district-alexander-hamilton-NYC-Untapped-Cities-1

Trinity Church in New York City was formed in 1697 by a small group of Anglicans. Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton, and Angelica Schuyler, three of the stars of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” are all buried in New York City’s Trinity Church.  Alexander and Eliza baptized five of their children at Trinity.  John Jay was also a parishioner.

Today, Trinity Church is very wealthy.  Over at The New York Times, Jane Margolies writes about the church’s real estate investments in the city and its own construction of a $350 million glass tower.  Here is a taste:

While many places of worship are warding off developers as they struggle to hold on to their congregations and buildings, Trinity is a big-time developer itself.

The church has always been land-rich. And it has long had its own real estate arm, which controls ground leases and office space rentals in the buildings it owns. But now it finds itself with a newly diversified portfolio worth $6 billion, according to the current rector, the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer.

After being instrumental in changing the zoning laws in Hudson Square, a neighborhood between West Houston and Canal Streets, Trinity Real Estate has entered into a joint venture that gives it a majority stake in 12 buildings that contain six million square feet of commercial space. A lucrative deal with the Walt Disney Company, valued at $650 million, was signed just last year.

And as it builds its glass tower — which will house administrative offices, public gathering spaces and, yes, commercial tenants — Trinity is also renovating the interior of its historic church, which is expected to cost $110 million.

Trinity has been able to do all this because it’s been a savvy manager of its resources. It is also, as a church, exempt from taxes.

But some wonder about the ethics of a religious institution being such a power player in the world of New York real estate.

Read the entire piece here.

George Washington Asks for a Ride to Church

Trinity

Federal Hall, Wall Street, and Trinity Church, 1789

Historian Jonathan Den Hartog of the University of Northwestern is working on a project on John Jay at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington this month.  At his Facebook page he shared this great 1789 letter from Washington to John Jay.

The President of the United States presents his Compliments to Mr Jay, and informs him that the Harness of the President’s Carriage was so much injured in coming from Jersey that he will not be able to use it today. If Mr Jay should propose going to Church this Morng the President would be obliged to him for a Seat in his Carriage.

The letter is dated “April-Dec. 1789.” Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, so it is unclear if he is POTUS yet.  There is no place mentioned on the letter, but all signs point to New York.  This was the site of the Federal Government until 1790 and it was the home state of Jay.  I would guess Washington needs a ride to New York’s Trinity Church where Jay was a church warden.

Hey, we all need a ride to church every now and then.

ADDENDUM: See the comments section.  It looks like GW was probably asking for a ride to St. Paul’s Chapel, not Trinity Church.  Nice work!

David Barton on the American Bible Society

It looks like I am not the only one interested in this subject. This video was just released by David Barton:

This video is a good example of why David Barton is more a politician than a historian and why his “historical” presentations need to be looked at very critically.  Most of what he says about the founding of the American Bible Society is accurate, but he does not paint an entire picture of the founding or the men involved in the founding.

For example:

  • Boudinot did indeed respect the Bible.  He defended its inspiration and authority against attacks from skeptics like Thomas Paine.  He also turned to it to make predictions about the end of the world and to claim that native Americans were the ten lost tribes of Israel
  • John Jay was a devout Anglican Christian.  He also tried to ban Catholics from participating in New York government.

My point here is not to drag these founders through the mud.  Sometimes it is important to talk about the good things that founders did and celebrate their achievements.  But historians must be committed to telling the truth about the founders.  This may require placing their accomplishments in the larger context of their lives and, in some cases, an eighteenth-century world that looks quite different from the one in which we live.

Barton is more interested in a sugar-coated history that makes all of his constituency feel good about themselves and their country.  Why would he talk about the full or complete history of these figures, or even the full story of the ABS (take my word for it, it’s interesting), when his only reasons for engaging the past is to win political points.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #56

John Jay was a life member of the ABS

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I spent most of my “writing time” today (about two hours this morning) working on Chapter Three of the American Bible Society book.  It is tentatively titled “A Bible for Every American Family.”  After giving more thought to this title I am not completely satisfied with it.  The ABS “General Supply” of 1829-1831 attempted to provide a Bible for every FREE family in the United States.  Slave families were not part of the distribution.  Perhaps the title should be “A Bible for Every Free American Family.”  What do you think?

I have about one more day of outlining before I begin to create prose.  I need to make sure that all of the research I want to use in this chapter finds a place in the outline.


On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #39

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

When I first started this project on the American Bible Society I realized that if I was going to complete it by May 1, 2015 I would need to rethink how I use my time.  This means doing some work on the weekends and, once the school year begins, carving out considerable time for research and writing in the early mornings.  In order to make it through the year I will need to be disciplined with my time, be more consistent with an exercise plan, and perhaps drink more coffee than usual.  

Part of this effort will also require times of strategic rest.  I did work on the ABS project on Friday night, Saturday, and early Sunday morning, but I also spent part of my weekend hanging out with my daughters (who were recuperating from long weeks at volleyball camp and basketball camp) watching re-runs of Castle and NCIS.  We had some nice family dinners on our back deck (thank you Joy).  And I took a nap or two and went to church.  I don’t have this time-management thing down to a science just yet, but I am committed to making it work, even if it is only for the next ten months.

I continue to work on getting chapters one and two into shape.  This weekend I added to my section in chapter two on the millennial visions of Elias Boudinot and John Jay, the first two ABS presidents.  I also strengthened the chapters (and the footnotes) by adding material from Daniel Walker Howe’e What Hath God Wrought, David Paul Nord’s Faith in Reading, Peter Wosh’s Spreading the Word, and Paul Gutjahr’s An American Bible.

This week I am in Princeton teaching a seminar on colonial American history.  I am hoping to get in a few hours of work on the ABS each day.  Stay tuned.

John Jay: Christian Providentialist

This morning I read an excellent essay by Jonathan Den Hartog on the religious beliefs of John Jay–Founding Father, Federalist, diplomat, Supreme Court justice, and promoter of Christian voluntary societies. I have been talking a bit about Jay in my U.S. survey course this week and I am trying to write part of a chapter on his religious beliefs for my book on Christian America, so the timing could not have been any better.

Den Hartog’s essay appears in a valuable new collection entitled The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life (Notre Dame, 2009), edited by Daniel L. Driesbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry Morrison The book sets out to examine the religious beliefs of those men and women who the editors call “The Forgotten Founding Fathers.” While I think the title is a bit of a stretch (can we really say that Samuel Adams, Abigail Adams, Thomas Paine, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Patrick Henry are “forgotten?”), it offers a study of the religious beliefs of the so-called “Founders” that takes us beyond the usual suspects: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. In addition to Samuel Adams, Abigail Adams, Paine, Jay, and Henry, the book includes essays on Oliver Ellsworth, Edmund Randolph, Roger Sherman, and Mercy Otis Warren. I am looking forward to reading some of these essays. The editors of this volume have done a real service for those of us who think, teach, and write about religion and the American Revolution. Mark Noll writes the book’s foreword.

After reading Den Hartog’s essay in this book, it is hard not to see Jay as one of the most self-consciously Christian “Founders.” He clearly connected his orthodox Protestant beliefs to the moral good of the new United States and even advocated for a “Christian nation.” (Although for Jay this meant an orthodox PROTESTANT Christian nation. He actually went out of his way at times to prevent Catholics from participating in the political life of the country). Jay’s religious roots were Calvinist (Huguenot), but he spent most of his religious life in the Anglican Church. If you read Jay’s religious rhetoric, especially during his stint later in life when he served a number of Christian voluntary societies, he sounds very, very evangelical. He regularly wrote about the workings of “Providence” in the world. (Den Hartog explains that when Jay wrote about “Providence” he meant it in an orthodox Christian way, as opposed to the more rationalist views of “Providence” employed by Washington, Franklin, or Adams). In fact, Jay even used this language of Providence in Federalist Paper #2 where he connected national unity to the plan of God.

Den Hartog’s essay is the best thing I have ever read on Jay’s religion. I know that Jay is an important player in Den Hartog’s current book project on Federalist religion–a book I am eager to read.