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June 2005 Archives

June 25, 2005

Flagpipes !

"So elder son, do you want to listen to some music this morning?"


"What sort of music do you want to listen to?"

"uhmmm . . . flagpipes"

"Tannahill Weavers OK?"


And so we listened to flagpipes.

I have this terrible fear that, during his later obnoxious teen years, we will see him cruising down South street, going slow with the windows open and the convertible top down, with a pair of bagpipers tooting away in the back seat.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)
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June 20, 2005

An observation

Another weekend at the shore, another good time, and another observation.

Toddlers live life in the imperative mode.

That is all.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:46 AM | TrackBack
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June 16, 2005

Think Piece for Chapter 3

I have been wrestling with the conceptual framework for the new chapter three.

This is going to be a think piece where I try to figure out what I want to argue by explaining myself to an audience of general readers using conversational language. It may ramble, and it may make no sense, but if it helps me figure out how to frame things then it will have done its job. Some folks figure out what they think by explaining it to another person, some by writing a letter to a relative. I write blog posts.

Chapter three is about the interactions between law and civil religion, especially in blasphemy trials, in the notion that christianity is a part of the common law, and in state constitutional provisions limiting the right to give testimony in court to people who express the correct religious opinions.

The whole thing touches on two powerful but somewhat fuzzy notions.

The first is civil society, what some folks called the Commonwealth ideal. This holds that every society has a knowable common interest - almost like Rousseau's General Will. Government is a social compact instituted by men in order to carry out this common interest. Government can give special privileges, sharing the powers of the state with people or more commonly with organizations, and it should do so only because and only to the extent to which these privileged organizations are also serving the common good. The most common instance of these special grants is charters of incorporation, which were generally passed by special act of the local legislature until sometime in the mid 1830s when general incorporation acts were passed. Even then, special acts tended to be more favorable than general incorporations, and state legislatures continued to pass special acts until the 1840s and 1850s when most state constitutions were amended to prohibit all special charters.

There is an extensive historiography of these commonwealth charters, starting with Handlin and Handlin writing in the 1950s, continuing with the work of the legal-economic historians of the 1960s and 1970s, and it is still live today in work by folks like Johann Neem.

Furthermore, civil society - that society created by the civil compact - contains a very important law and order or social control aspect. Locke argues that people enter the social contract and move from natural law to civil law in order to protect themselves and their property. This protection is provided by law. Anything that undermines the law or the respect that people have to the law is a danger to civil society.

For many people in the early nineteenth century, religion supported the rule of law and was a crucial component of civil society. Americans generally repudiated the strong form of Christendom, the notion that a nation must share a single unified state religion if it is to maintain coherence, but they still responded to the weak form, in which a nation must share a set of common religious values in order to maintain coherence. They dropped sects, but retained a fondness for Christianity in general. Religion did not simply provide a common bond between citizens. Religious teachers taught morality, and everyone praised the civic nature of religious faith. A proper religion taught the being of a god and of a future state of rewards and punishments. This added a Divine sanction to the laws that governed daily life. You might be tempted to take advantage of your fellow citizens if there was no watchman around, but the knowledge that sins in this world would be punished in the next might still deter you. It is God as Big Brother, always watching and always judging.

Anything that undermined popular belief in God as Big Brother inherently undermined civil society. And, anything that undermined the shared beliefs and values that tied people together also undermined civil society.

What I want to examine in more detail are changes in the idea that Christianity is a part of the common law, and in the operation of that idea, and, more broadly, changes in the way that people imagined the connection between religion and civil society. That latter is, of course, civil religion. But I am trying to write about aspects of civil religion as a way to avoid the whole conceptual mess of defining and explaining civil religion. There is no single or simple civil religion, but there are a lot of aspects of civil religion.

What I am not sure is whether I should try to define the idealized community that goes along with the realm of civil society - christendom lite if you will. I spent much of yesterday thinking about it, and I am still feeling mighty nebulous. Right now I am going with the theory that if you can not explain what it is you want to talk about, then remain silent.

This chapter is about the intersections between civil society and religion, what was once called civil religion. That term has been defined and redefined so many times now that I use it as a general term for all the interactions between the religious and the civil. But, three aspects of civil religion seem to be very prominent in the materials I want to discuss this chapter: civic faith (religion constraining officials, oathtakers, and people who participate in the mechanisms of law and government), social control (keeping the lower orders from running amok), and legitimation (explaining why the society is structured the way that it is.) The thing to remember as I write this chapter is that many of the things that I want to take as givens - christian republicanism for example - were actually heavily contested during this era. Everyone agreed that there should be some mutually beneficial interaction between religion and civil society, and that government as the organization created to protect and preserve civil society had to take recognize the role that religion should play. But, within that recognition of an overlap, there was incredible disagreement about how to most efficiently manage the overlap. Madison said the best thing you could do for religion was to get government out of the religion business. Lyman Beecher agreed with him so long as folks were talking about state support, establishment, or the endorsement of a given sect or denomination. But, Beecher disagreed with Madison about the measures that government should take to preserve common Christianity. Beecher wanted the sabbath mails halted, Madison probably wanted them to continue.

So the case studies in this chapter are the notion of a christian nation, the notion that christianity was part of the common law (blasphemy trials, etc.), the problem of oaths as a moment where the religious is pressed into the service of the state, and sabbath rest. I will use those studies to examine civic faith, social control, and legitimation, all of which are aspects of civil religion.

Good, NOW I can write. I have a 40 page draft and another 5 pages on Sabbath mails that I can plug into the draft, and I should be able to use this framework to create a fairly tight 50 to 60 page draft chapter.

The scary thing is that I spent two, no three days, wrestling with the above rambling and discursive statement.

Posted by
Red Ted
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June 14, 2005

Chapter 2 away !

Dear advisor,

Attached is the May draft of Chapter 2 (a couple of weeks late.)

It is at the point where I have absolutely no idea if my connections, transitions, and foreshadowing make any sense.

I hope it is quite good, but I just don't know anymore.

And so to work on the new chapter 3.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 07:55 AM | TrackBack
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June 09, 2005

Amusing Webcomics

I stumbled across Partially Clips last night while talking to my insomnia. Several things that made me laugh are below the fold.

French Waiter
Cowboy Letter
50s Mother
On Holiday
Wizard and Dragon
Cowboy Eulogy

Based on this sample, it appears that I find sex, surrealism, and literary references funny.

Just don't combine them in the same evening without first checking with your partner.

Posted by
Red Ted
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June 02, 2005

Rum and Lemonade

Dr. Curmudgeon wonders "what exactly was the accident with the rum and lemonade? Is that some kind of New Hampshire cocktail?"

Very close - the intended cocktail was wine and lemonade, but French grabbed the wrong decanter. Full story below the fold.

French himself was a second tier New Hampshire politician and lifelong Mason. He ended up as the head of the American Masonic order in the 1850s and 1860s. He served as Clerk of the House of Representatives in the 1840s and 1850s, then after switching his allegiance from Democrat to Republican he served in the city public works during the civil war. I forget the details, but recall that he was constantly working with Lincoln about the civil defenses of the capital during the Civil War. French grew up in New England Congregationalism and flirted with reform, including taking a Temperance Pledge, before returning, as did many of his contemporaries, to drinking and smoking in the 1850s and 1860s. He ended up drifting into the Unitarian Church, the least doctrinal and most works-oriented of the mid-century religious choices.

Things to notice:

  • French presided over a temperance meeting but drank wine and had rum readily available in his house.
  • Some temperance advocates wanted to focus on all alcohol, while French and many early temperance reformers were more interested in social control - the whiskey epidemic - than in the more expensive tipples.
  • French resents the crusading temperament common among New England reformers.
  • French is deeply concerned that he might be a heretic: he rejects the specific proposals made by the mainstream clergy, but still grants them a large dose of moral authority - like modern secular jews who define Judaism by the most Frum Orthodox standards.
All italics are in the original, and were almost certainly underscores in the manuscript diary.

Donald B. Cole and John J. McDonough [ed]
Benjamin Brown French
Witness to the Young Republic:
A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870.

University Press of New England, Hanover NH, 1989.

June 2, 1831.
".... Went to ride with Pierce this morning. Was in at the State Temperance meeting, took the chair as Vice President, came home and drank a glass of rum by mistake, thought it was wine, & poured it into a tumbler full of Lemonade. Pierce quizzed me for it very much. Never mind, I shall pay him one day. Temperance is a glorious affair -- if it be not intemperately followed. There are men in the world who never ought to have been unclouted -- they are children in years. One of this class made a motion that foreign wines should be debarred access to those throats which are so often stretched in the cause of temperance. How very ridiculous; those very wines, if they could be generaly used in the community would do more to promote the cause of Temperance than 10,000,000 speeches from grown-up babies. I wish the Temperance cause well with all my heart, but I fear the imprudence of the Reverend Clergy will upset it all -- they are the most imprudent class in the whole community, the orthodox clergy I mean, they think everything must be driven -- not so -- men may be coaxed but not driven. I fear I am getting to be a heretic. Is there a hereafter? I believe there must be; it cannot be that we are to end when this tenement of clay becomes uninhabited. If so what motive could have caused our existence. But on this serious matter I grow sleepy, & it's after 10. I am for bed." p 19

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Red Ted
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Tennessee 1796

Seeing as how much of the recent History Carnival was about the use and abuse of civil religion in the 1790s, I decided to post another dissertation outtake. Having spent several hours trying to figure out how to get the following paragraphs into the narrative, I will replace them with a single sentence and move on.

I hate it when that happens. But we cut the ones we love.

Tennessee 1796 below the fold, footnotes removed. And yes, Tennessee still has both a religious test and a disavowal of all religious tests.

Tennessee wrote the most striking constitution [between 1790 and 1815], affirming the rights of conscience, denying any religious test for state office, and requiring office holders to affirm the existence of God and of future rewards and punishments. The Tennessee Constitutional Convention met in Knoxville on January 11, 1796, after the French Revolution had turned anti-American but before the Illuminatti crisis. Immediately after choosing officers and setting procedures they agreed to write a declaration of rights and then a Constitution, and proceeded to transform themselves into a committee of the whole to discuss the matter. After about a week of debate they agreed on their Bill of Rights, including an outright ban on religious tests for state office and the statement that "men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences." They then went on to meet in committee of the whole again while they wrote a frame of government. Finally, they met as a convention to ratify and modify their committee work. On February 2, during this final approval, George Doherty from Jefferson county proposed that "No person who publicly denies the being of a God, and future rewards and punishments, or the divine authority of the old and new testament, shall hold any office in the civil department in this state." Doherty's proposal passed by acclamation. Landon Carter of Washington County, who had been a floor manager during the revision process, then moved that the reference to the Testaments be struck out. This proposal led to a roll call, which Carter won 27 to 25. The convention immediately adjourned, several hours ahead of schedule, as was common after votes involving religion and the state. Later that week the test and a couple of other added statements were bundled into a new article, miscellaneous provisions, and the convention proceeded to wrap up affairs.

To the modern eye, the actions of the convention in January and February are completely antithetical. They agreed "That no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this State" with no debate. A month later, they approved a test that would have restricted office holding to Christians, a test very like the one that North Carolina maintained until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Journals of the convention are scanty, but they do suggest that most of the men in Knoxville saw no initial conflict between their February test and their January rights. The earlier liberty of conscience was a statement of inalienable rights, the later test a matter of civil religion. Carter's amendment, then, was a debate about what beliefs are necessary for good government, what gives civic faith its compelling power. Doherty looked to scripture, with the implication that revelation led to moral behavior and that the state could press the contents of the Bible into service as required. Carter moved a Deist civil religious test: even Tom Paine agreed in the being of a God and in future rewards and punishments. Carter and a bare majority of the delegates argued that the God of nature was sufficient to compel good behavior, in effect stating that the idea of a divine being was more important than the details, words, or promises made by that divine being.

Religion and government overlapped in the Tennessee Constitution, with government putting religion to work to ensure good behavior from office holders. The easy acceptance of Doherty's proposal suggests that the men in the room came from homogenous religious backgrounds. Most if not all were Protestants, at least in formal affiliation, all read the Bible as scripture. Anyone who accepted "the divine authority of the old and new testaments" must accept the common tenets of morality and must therefore be a good republican. In addition, by turning to the Bible alone Doherty attempted to avoid all denominational conflict over what teachings were best suited to teach moral behavior. His civil religion would have required the Bible, and would have trusted that the Bible would be enough. What Doherty's proposal did not address was the extent to which religious men of good will, each reading the same scriptures, could come to radically different conclusions about the best way to organize republican government. And, more to the point, men who agreed on the basic premises of republican government could accuse other Christians of holding opinions that would subvert the state.

Posted by
Red Ted
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June 01, 2005

Caption Contest

I was digging through the digital pictures from May and came across this one of the littler man reaching for my copy of Brad DeLong's Macro textbook.

I decided that this one deserved a caption contest - so go to it. If Brad's undergraduates find this, they are welcome to join in.

Picture of a baby reaching for a book.

Posted by
Red Ted
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