Here is your Thursday morning court evangelical update

More and more Republicans are implying that it is time to move on from this election and admit defeat. I wish more would step up and proclaim Biden president-elect so that the country can move forward, but most of them seem more concerned about party loyalty than what is good for the nation right now. Many are probably afraid that Trump will somehow exact some kind of revenge if they dare speak out against his claims of widespread voter fraud. Others are worried that if they criticize Trump it will hurt the Republican cause in the two Georgia Senate run-offs on January 5. If Trump voters don’t show-up for that run-off election, and the the Democratic candidates (Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock) win, the Democrats will gain control of the U.S. Senate.

Let’s check-in if anything has changed among the court evangelicals. Remember, I have used this term to describe the pro-Trump evangelical leaders who regularly visit the White House for photo-ops with the president and to supposedly advise him on policy matters. Based on this definition, I am not a Biden court evangelical. I have never been to the White House. Nor do I expect to be part of some kind of Biden faith-advisory council! 🙂 )

The folks at the Falkirk Center at Liberty University is still pushing voting fraud. Today they interviewed Rudy Guiliani:

Today in my Pennsylvania History class we continued our conversation about the Whiskey Rebellion. We talked about how George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Federalists believed that the followers of Jefferson and the members of the Democratic-Republican societies they established in the west were a threat to American ideals. But many of these societies were articulating their grievances against Hamilton’s excise tax on whiskey in very American ways. In other words, they were appealing to the principles of the American Revolution, particularly the resistance to the 1765 Stamp Act.

Washington condemned the whiskey rebels and their societies as threats to national unity, but despite all Washington’s well-rehearsed concerns about partisanship he was not above the fray. He wanted national unity on his terms. He failed to understand that in the 1790s there were two visions of American identity among the people and these visions were at odds with one other.

I thought of this again as I read a Falkirk Center tweet from Ryan Helfenbein. He wants to “proclaim Christ and defend America.” Whose America?

At one point in this video, David Barton, a self-proclaimed historian, suggests that Donald Trump’s tweets about election fraud should be taken seriously as a legitimate primary source. One of the first things we teach history students at Messiah University is how to evaluate sources. Barton is treating the Trump claim of election fraud in the same way he treats the American past. He collects stories about supposed fraud, adds them up without any larger context, and claims something happened. When he engages with the past he collects quotes from the founding fathers, adds them up without any larger context, and claims America is a Christian nation.

Eric Metaxas is encouraging people who are “losing hope that Trump can pull this off” to stay the course. He continues to speak with a sense of certainty that Trump will win this election. He also says that “Fox News has gone over to the dark side” and even implies that Fox is now working with George Soros. Then he tells his audience that he, Eric Metaxas, is now one of the only sources of honest news out there right now.

Metaxas says the Democrats are trying to steal the election and “there is nothing more disgusting” than this. Apparently at Metaxas’s prayer meeting on voter fraud the other night some guy blew a red, white, and blue shofar.

Robert Jeffress wants to make sure he is not misunderstood. He is still a court evangelical:

Gary Bauer is fighting the good fight as he sees it. He apparently has some disagreements with Twitter about Trump’s recent tweet.

Tony Perkins is still sowing seeds of doubt among his followers:

I am not sure Trump is doing much “leading” right now.

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.

Another time in American history when the people did not trust the experts

I was struck this morning by a passage from Thomas Slaughter’s The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution:

Hamilton…succeeded in getting the endorsement of the respected Philadelphia College of Physicians. These medical doctors and teachers enthusiastically supported his efforts to reform the “morals and manners” of whiskey consumers. The physicians offered their combined professional opinion that “a great proportion of the most obstinate, painful, and mortal disorders which affect the human body are produced by distilled spirits.” The doctors expressed no doubt that a plague or other pestilential disorder threatening thousands of persons would bring the most vigorous actions of government. They saw “no just cause why the more certain and extensive ravages of distilled spirits upon human life should not be guarded against with corresponding vigilance and exertions.”

Opponents of the excise in Congress were outraged at the physicians’ “interference.” They believed that these medical men had no business instructing Congress how to perform their duties, and no right telling the American people how to conduct their lives. Congressman Jackson of Georgia argued that this sort of advice, if heeded, could quickly get out of hand. Next thing they knew, House members would be told by the doctors to legislate against mushrooms; and “they might petition Congress to pass a law interdicting the use of ketchup because some ignorant persons had been poisoned by eating mushrooms.”

What is Treason?

trump

On Monday, Donald Trump said that the Democrats who refused to applaud during his State of the Union address were committing treason.  Yesterday the Pittsburgh Tribune ran an article on Trump’s remarks that quotes University of California-Davis law professor Carlton F.W. Larson, who is writing a book about treason and the American Revolution.

Here is Larson’s definition of treason:

For starters, treason is the only crime defined in the U.S. Constitution. And it specifically makes it a crime to adhere to or give comfort to the enemies of the United States.

Discussion of the topic has been around for some time. And by that, we mean a long, long time.

The New York Times reported in “Treason Against the United States” — an article published in 1861:

• Section 110, Article III, of the U.S. Constitution:

“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason.”

• The U.S. Congress in 1790 enacted that:

“If any person or persons, owing allegiance to the United States of America, shall levy war against them, or shall adhere to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States, or elsewhere, and shall be thereof convicted on confession in open Court, or on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act of the treason whereof he or they shall stand indicted, such person or persons shall be adjudged guilty of treason against the United States, and SHALL SUFFER DEATH; and that if any person or persons, having knowledge of the commission of any of the treasons aforesaid, shall conceal, and not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President of the United States, or some one of the Judges thereof, or to the President or Governor of a particular State, or some one of the Judges or Justices thereof, such person or persons, on conviction, shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of treason, and shall be imprisoned not exceeding seven years, and fined not exceeding one thousand dollars.”

• James Madison, founding father and former U.S. president, said:

“The Constitution confines the crime of treason to two species; First, the levying of war against the United States; and Secondly, adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

John Mitchell and Philip Weigel–two of the so-called “whiskey rebels” of 1791–were the first people convicted of treason in the United States.

Read the entire Tribune-Review piece here.

George Washington and Revisionism

The students in my early American republic course are reading Thomas Slaughter’s The Whiskey Rebellion: A Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. The book is now over twenty years old, but it is still the best, and most undergraduate accessible, study of the Whiskey Rebellion. I have been using it for about seven years now and find it to be a wonderful window into the early years of the Federalist period.

I love teaching Chapter Five, “George Washington and the Western Country.” Slaughter warns his readers early in this chapter that he is going to offer an “understanding of this heroic figure as a very human person.” He certainly delivers. He reminds us that Washington owned large tracts of land on the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontier, the main region where the whiskey rebellers lived. Washington harbored a disdain for the settlers of the west, particularly those who squatted on his property. Though he loved the land, and saw its rivers as vital to the economic transformation of the United States in accordance with the plan that Alexander Hamilton, his treasury secretary, had proposed, he had little toleration for the common settlers and probably used his office as a means of gaining more land in the area.

Slaughter pulls no punches:

His mixture of public and private affairs included solicitation of a custom collector’s aid in selling some tobacco and wheat, an attempt to convince the commissioners of the District of Columbia to purchase rocks from his quarry and the enlistment of a U.S. Senator to sell land in western Pennsylvania.

Could you imagine, I asked my students, if a contemporary president were to mix “public and private affairs” in this way. Can you say impeachment?

In the end, Slaughter agrees with Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner that “Washington had ‘a personal economic stake’ in the outcome of the Whiskey Rebellion.”

I often wonder how my students, some of whom are political and cultural conservatives, will react to this chapter. This year I was surprised to find that virtually none of the students had any beef with Slaughter’s interpretation of Washington. A few thought he may have “piled on” a bit at the end of the chapter, but all of them thought that this view of Washington was historically plausible. Since many of my students are Christians who believe that human sin is a powerful force in human history, they could relate to Slaughter’s attempt to “humanize” Washington.

“Founders Chic” has not yet made its way to Messiah College!