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Monday, November 5, 2007

This week at America's founding faiths.

In an excerpt from his new book on the religious politics of America's first five presidents — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe — Forrest Church tells the story of a culture war most of us have forgotten: the thirty-year battle between the proponents of divine order and the proponents of sacred liberty that defined the separation of church and state. (I'll write more about Church's fascinating book later this week.) From the archives, Peg Duthie writes about the ironies of the ways we UUs claim historic figures in "Was Thomas Jefferson really one of us?"

In the news, Jane Greer reports on the October meeting of the UUA board of trustees, where trustees expressed concerns about security procedures at the 2008 General Assembly site. Don Skinner provides an update on UUs affected by the fires in southern California. And Sonja Cohen tracks this week's Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 5 November 2007 at 7:50 AM

Previous: Winter 'UU World' in the mail, now online.
Next: Guide to Cambridge city elections.





November 5, 2007 11:28 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's a Daily Kos diary about Forrest Church's article.


November 5, 2007 07:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

I don't think Church can blame the 1814 anti-war movement on Calvinists. The two main leaders of the Hartford Convention were Harrison Gray Otis and George Cabot, both Unitarians.

Also claims that the US "won" the war of 1812 baffle Canadians. They think they won. After all, they still exist.


November 5, 2007 08:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

In the book Church explicitly identifies the New England antiwar movement with the Standing Order clergy, both orthodox and Unitarian. One of the things that really jumped out at me in reading his book is that both sides of the dispute over christology shared a political theology — they emphasized covenant theology, believed in the importance of righteous leaders, and defended their prerogatives as the state church of Massachusetts — and shared a strong bias toward England and against France. Church says that the "Unitarian controversy" erupted in full force only after the collapse of the Federalist Party and the embarrassment of the Federalist clergy by Madison's "victory" in the war. Without a shared political cause, their theological disputes came back to the surface.

Which brings us to the War of 1812. Oddly, the military outcome (draw?) seems more or less irrelevant to the fact that Madison and his party emerged as political victors. The war wasn't worth England's effort, and Canada held off the Americans, but domestically Madison was victorious and the Federalists faded away.

will shetterly:

November 5, 2007 09:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

Canada "held off" the Americans? Who burnt whose capitol?


November 5, 2007 10:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

I should note: I am the farthest thing from an expert on the War of 1812! The U.S. tried to invade and take Canada from Britain and failed. The British did burn and lay siege to Washington. What else should I know? ;)


November 5, 2007 10:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

You should know that it began with American resentment of British impressment of American sailors on the high seas and British interference with American trade. You should know that Britain was more concerned with opposing Napoleon than the US. You should know about the Battle of York (take that, Canada!), the Battle of New Orleans, and Dolley Madison.

Also the Francis Scott Key song "The Star Spangled Banner", the Stan Rogers song, "Barrett's Privateers", and the contra dance tune "Hull's Victory", but seeing as you're a New England UU, you probably know those already.

And finally, that if Canada had truly been the victor, the Toronto Blue Jays wouldn't have jumped from the International League to the American League as soon as they had the chance.

will shetterly:

November 6, 2007 09:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

Seconding the Stan Rogers rec.

Folks in the US like to think they've never been defeated in a war. Folks in Canada like to disagree. Attacking a country, being driven out, and then having your capitol burnt by the people you attacked sure sounds like defeat to me.


November 6, 2007 05:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Canadians are taught that the US decided that with Britain distracted by war with Napoleon, 1812 would be a good time for the US to grab Canada. They learn that the invasion was crushed by heroic Canadians who thereby assured their independence from the US. From a Canadian point of view, the war was both principled and successful.

Conversely, from an American point of view, the war was both immoral and unsuccessful. In the 1790s supporters of atheism and/or democracy could logically be pro-French. By 1812, Napoleon had long since made peace with the Pope and discarded any pretense of democracy. Everyone knew he was a mass-murdering egomaniac. No principle except greed justified allying with Napoleon.

The details of the war on the US side are depressing and hard to believe. Support for the war came mostly from the South. The parts of the US that actually bordered Canada wanted no part of the fight. We tried to invade Canada from bases in Kentucky. This did not turn out well.

So generations of Americans have been taught a distinctly muddy account of the 1812 war. We are taught that the war was somehow about "trade" or "impressment", despite that fact that American traders and shipowners were the war's fiercest opponents. We are taught that the war was a "draw", although we don't consider Iraq's comparably successful 1990 invasion of Kuwait to be a "draw". The fact that a revered figure like Thomas Jefferson advocated stealing Canada is usually evaded. We sing stirring songs about tactically successful defenses of Baltimore and New Orleans without asking why, if the point of the war was to conquer Canada, we were fighting at Baltimore and New Orleans in the first place.

I think Americans are bothered less by the immorality of the war than by the fact of American defeat, something we have obliterated from our historical memory.


November 6, 2007 06:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Canadians are taught that the US decided that with Britain distracted by war with Napoleon, 1812 would be a good time for the US to grab Canada. They learn that the invasion was crushed by heroic Canadians who thereby assured their independence from the US.

Well, I think that's just as glossed up as the American version. I think the "land grab" idea was a responsive counteroffensive, not the primary motivation for commencing hostilities. The Americans thought they'd be liberating Canada from Crown oppression, and would be greeted with open arms by the grateful locals (just as they more recently thought about Iraq). What they got instead was somewhere between indifference and "Yankee go home". Which, once they realized that was the way it was going to be, they eventually did.


November 6, 2007 09:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

Granted, it's fun to learn how the silly War of 1812 was viewed as a victory (or draw) by all sides, but the point Forrest Church was making — which I found really fascinating, and which I'd love to hear others' thoughts about — was that the Republicans (the Jeffersonian-Madisonian party) were able to treat the end of the war as a terrifically unifying national moment that just happened to humiliate the clergy-dominated Federalist Party. Church sees this domestic political shift, and the subsequent end to state support of churches in Connecticut, as the two key reasons that "divine order" ministers finally stopped focusing on installing a Christian government.

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