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THE CHRISTIAN AMENDMENT Morton Borden Following the battle of Bull Run, Reverend Horace Bushneil of Connecticut preached a sermon, "Reverses Needed," which argued that out of the "long, weary, terrible sacrifices" of war would arise, for the first time, a true nationality grounded in spiritual suffering shared by all Americans. Hitherto we had been a nation in name only. Bushneil blamed the founding fathers for establishing a government without moral or religious ideas, based upon "godless theorizing." How could there be loyalty without a spiritual foundation? How could there be patriotic devotion to an instrument which fails to recognize that all authority is derived from God? Thefighting, the sacrifices, the inevitable victory, however, would generate "a kind of religious crowning of our nationality. All the atheistic jargon we have left behind us will be gone." Bushneil suggested that "it might not be amiss, at some fit time," to add a recognition of God's authority in the preamble of the Constitution. By doing this we would succeed in "cutting off . . . the false theories under which we have been so fatally demoralized."1 A New York church paper, The Independent, probably the most influential religious publication in the country, and generally a voice of moderation, published an editorial agreeing with Bushneil. "From this atheistic error in our prime conceptions of government," wrote the editors, "has arisen the atheistic habit of separating politics from religion," the error of worshipping the work of ones own hands rather than that of God. Even in the national legislature, "when Senators are warned that a measure is unjust and against the law of God, it is sneeringly, scornfully answered, 'There is no higher law than the Constitution.' "2 Bushneil was not a Protestant fundamentalist—he had long broken with the evangelical alliance—but as a leading theologian his sermon 1 Horace Bushneil, Reverses Needed: A Discourse delivered on the Sunday after the Disaster of BuU Run in the North Church, Hartford (Hartford, Conn., 1861), 21, 23, 25-26. 2 D. M'Allister, "Testimonies to the Religious Defect of the Constitution," Proceedings of the National Convention to Secure the Religious Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, Held in Pittsburgh, February 4, 5, 1874 (Philadelphia, 1874), 53-54 (hereafter cited as M Allister, "Testimonies"). Civil War History, Vol. XXV, No. 2 Copyright ® 1979 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/79/2502-0004 $00.60/0 THE CHRISTIAN AMENDMENT157 aided their cause. Bushneil spoke of God's absence from the Constitution; the fundamentalists defined God as Christ, more specifically a Protestant Christ, and for three-quarters of a century they had complained of the omission. As early as 1787 thefirst protest against the secular nature of the Constitution was expressedby Luther Martin of Maryland, a delegate to the Philadelphia convention, who thought "it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism."3 In New Hampshire a Deacon Stone expressed his alarm that the Constitution left the Bible, "that precious jewel, that pearl of great price, without support."4 In North Carolina the Reverend David Caldwell warned that the Constitution provided "an invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us. At some future period this might endanger the character of the United States."5 Even as George Washington was first inaugurated, an anonymous essayist wrote about "The IMPORTANCE of the PROTESTANT RELIGION politically considered." The author did not wish to restrict religious toleration, but the national government, he insisted, must "honor" Protestantism by affording it "every possible distinguishing mark of pre-eminence."6 Some months later the ministers and ruling elders of the "First Presbytery Eastward, in Massachusetts and New Hampshire" reminded President Washington that "we should not have been alone in rejoicing to have seen some explicit acknowledgment of THE ONLY TRUE GOD, AND JESUS CHRIST whom he has sent, inserted somewhere in the Magna Charta of our country."7 In his publishednotes to a sermon he delivered in 1793, ReverendJohn M. Mason of New York wrote: That no notice whatever should be taken of that God who planteth a nation and plucketh it up at His pleasure, is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 156-167
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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