Ragged Clown

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Which of the Founding Fathers would get elected today?

In the comments at In the confident hope of a miracle, Matt suggested that the founding fathers were – or at least appeared to be – devout Christians and added

It would have been heresy 🙂 to elect someone who wasn’t a Good Christian at that time, I’d expect.

I wonder how many of them were actually Christians and how many of them would be electable today.

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12 responses to Which of the Founding Fathers would get elected today?

Kevin March 8, 2007

When I get home tonight, I’ll do a little research and blog again. Meanwhile, if you can cite any evidence either way, please add it to the comments.

Matt March 8, 2007

Not sure how to answer this. Jefferson had slaves, which would tend to hurt him, but you really mean, if he was time-travelled to 2007? They’d need to spend a few years loading the modern context, yes?

Kevin March 8, 2007

I was think specifically about their rating on the Christianity index. I don’t imagine people wearing strange wigs would stand much of being elected either 😉

Let’s assume, for the sake of this thought experiment, that they are thoroughly modernised but keep the same opinions about the Christian God.

Kevin March 8, 2007

Matt’s comment about Jefferson’s slaves made me wonder whether he would announce “I did not have sexual relations with that slave woman” and whether he would be impeached for it.

I assume that duelling is also less popular in New Hampshire primaries than it used to be. It’s lucky that none of them spoke French!

Rob March 8, 2007

I think most recent discussions about the religiosity of the Founding Fathers comes to the conclusion that they could be generally labeled “deists”. Men like Jefferson and Ben Franklin lean more toward rationality, while Washington and Adams seemed to give credence to a more metaphysical perception of God. I think the sticking point in this discussion is the definition of “good Christian” in the past versus the present. As usual, my mind is going about six different directions, so I’ll just ask the questions and hopefully they’ll each spur discussions. How many of the current politicians really believe what they profess to believe (I’m talking religion here, but the general case holds, too)? How much of their professed beliefs are marketing? Manipulation? Are the terms “Christian”, “conservative”, “right wing”, etc. all just code words for the same thing? In the end, we are analyzing the Founding Fathers by their actions, and a view of their lives as a whole. We don’t (and can’t) do that with current politicians. Sorry for rambling, I just wanted to jump in the conversation while it was current 🙂

Kevin March 8, 2007

This discussion is about several things:

Were the founding fathers Good Christians?

Did they pretend to be Good Christians to get elected?

(my instinct answer to both of those questions is ‘no’, so assuming that…)

Would a modern Not Good Christian founding father like Jefferson or Washington or Adams or Franklin stand a chance in the 2008 presidential election?

There are certainly interesting peripheral questions like ‘To what extent are Obama|Clinton|Bush|Gore|Reagan Good Christians and to what extent do they fake it to get elected?’ but those first three questions are what I am immediately interested in so I can turn my ‘instinctive no’ into a ‘confident yes or no’.

Rob March 8, 2007

I think Adams was a Good Christian, and would play that up in the 2008 election.
I think Washington would be seen in church, but focus on other things.
I think Jefferson would go to church on Easter and Christmas, and avoid questions about religion.
I think Franklin would avoid elected office altogether.

I think we see examples of each in today’s politics, but the focus on religion today is much more dogmatic than philosophical compared to 250 years ago. Unfortunately the more I think about it, the less I’m convinced that Jefferson would be elected in 2008.

Matt March 8, 2007

I think Christianity is a checkbox for most and being a fervent true believer doesn’t help all that much, except for with a minority of voters, that are hoping to drive a christian legislative agenda. Even for that subset, the founding fathers were probably good enough. The refer to god multiple times in the declaration of independence – and in a presumably respectful way.

I don’t think they’d pretend that they were good christians to get elected, because it’d just be assumed that everyone was at that time.

Kevin March 8, 2007

I think someone was very careful with their wording here:

“the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them”

My guess is that Nature’s God is a lot like Einstein’s god or Bob’s metaphorical, Sense of Wonder god. That is, Not God.

As far as I could tell, that was the only reference to god in the Declaration of Independence.

Kevin March 8, 2007

I quoted from conservative commentator George Will’s review of Moral Minority a little while ago, so I won’t quote it all again.

Go read it for yourself at the NY Times
Alright, I’ll quote one bit:

Not since the medieval church baptized, as it were, Aristotle as some sort of early — very early — church father has there been an intellectual hijacking as audacious as the attempt to present America’s principal founders as devout Christians. Such an attempt is now in high gear among people who argue that the founders were kindred spirits with today’s evangelicals, and that they founded a “Christian nation.”

Matt March 8, 2007

>endowed by their Creator

Note capitalization, and verb

>appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world

> Divine Providence

In a document widely shared at the time. These references are more to do with the vernacular of the time rather than an intent to enshrine religion, but still … arguably 4 times in the formation of a secular new country is remarkable.

To be clear, I’m not saying that they were religious zealots, but that they were religious enough to be elected. There’s a presumption of being religious enough, because most people were, and the comments made much later in life that showed that some of them were … less ardent in their beliefs came far too late to compromise their election (I’d imagine it was largely manifest after they were long out of office).

Julio March 9, 2007

Thomas Jefferson would be in Guantanamo.

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