The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Is it true that Madison said "Our future is staked on the 10 commandments?"

Research and writing by Jim Allison.


On page 120 of David Barton's book The Myth of Separation, David Barton quotes James Madison as saying:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments."

Barton gives the following footnote for the quotation:

Harold K. Lane, Liberty! Cry Liberty! (Boston: Lamb and Lamb Tractarian Society, 1939), pp. 32-33. See also Fedrick Nyneyer, First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association (South Holland" Libertarian Press, 1958), pp. 31.

The only problem with the above is, no such quote has ever been found among any of James Madison's writings. None of the biographers of Madison, past or present have ever run across such a quote, and most if not all would love to know where this false quote originated. Apparently, David Barton did not check the work of the secondary sources he quotes.

Robert Alley, an distinguished historian at the University of Richmond, made an attempt to track down the origin of this quote. The following is his report on his effort as published in "Public Education and the Public Good," William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal,, Summer 1995, pp. 316-318:

C. The Ten Commandments Hoax

In July, 1994, the organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) pointed out that Rush Limbaugh had incorrectly attributed to James Madison a quotation concerning the centrality of the Ten Commandments to "American civilization."(245) Quickly rising to Limbaugh's defense were several California residents who wrote letters to the Los Angeles Times. One writer prefaced the alleged quotation with the following: "Here (as quoted in The Myth of Separation by David Barton) is precisely what Madison said."(246) The bogus quote followed: "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far From it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."(247) What the writer, Rick Crowell, did not tell us was that Barton cited as his only sources for those words two twentieth century writers, Harold K. Lane in Liberty! Cry Liberty!, (248)and Frederick Nyneyer in First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association.(249)

Responding to the public hubbub, editors of The Papers of James Madison, John Stagg and David Mattern, referred all inquirers to a letter dated November 23, 1993, in which Mr. Mattern wrote concerning the alleged quotation: "We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private."(250) This expert response has not dampened the ardor of those who privately would have Madison affirm their own distorted version of American history. Crowell accused Mr. Mattem of "revisionism at its worst."(251) I offer here a reconstruction of the convoluted trek of the words in question.

In citing David Barton's The Myth of Separation as the source, Mr. Crowell apparently missed the fact that Barton did not include the words, "of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government."(252) In a video tape Barton inserts "of all our political institutions" but still omits the "capacity of mankind."(253) This video version was read into the Congressional Record by Representative Dannemeyer on October 7, 1992.(254)

Barton's sources are two, or three, depending upon how you sort out his confusion. Apart from citing the Lane volume of 1939, he offers as his other source Frederick Nyneyer's First Principles in Morality and Economics; Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association. (255) In fact, his source appears to be an article entitled "Neighborly Love and Ricardo 's Law of Association". (256) Far from appearing in a source by Nyneyer, the alleged quote is found in the latter article and drawn "[f]rom the 1958 calendar of Spiritual Mobilization."(257) Barton's attempted documentation becomes exponentially more curious. He seems to have no clue as to his sources. When approached about his mythical additions to Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists, he deleted the references in a later edition of his tape.(258)

The connection between the Ten Commandments and James Madison has been variously advanced by numerous commentators from the political right over the past several decades. In 1964, Clarence Manion wrote:

As Madison stated in the [T]he Federalist, our entire political experiment swings upon our capacity to govern ourselves according to the moral law.... The only people who can afford the great luxury of a civil government strictly limited by law are those people who recognize and are willing to live by their natural, God-imposed obligations and responsibilities under the Ten Commandments.(259)

There is nothing in The Federalist Papers remotely resembling what is argued by Manion. Madison never mentioned the Ten Commandments in any of The Federalist essays. There are, however, two points to be made. First, Manion, while claiming to cite The Federalist Papers, does not have the temerity to quote Madison. Second, while Manion espouses generally the same sentiment about the Ten Commandments as does the Barton material, the references to the Decalogue are utterly different from the Barton version.

Proving that a quotation does not exist is a daunting task. If you cannot find it in any extant manuscripts or collections of Madison's works, just how does one prove it will not turn up in someone's attic tomorrow? Of course you cannot. That is why the Madison editors were careful in how they phrased their response. But, after all, it is incumbent solely upon the perpetrators of this myth to prove it by at least one citation. This they cannot do. Their style is not revisionism, it is anti-historical.

We likely have not heard the last of this nonsense, but it is important to press the new media frauds to document what they claim. Because they cannot do so in most instances, time may ultimately discredit the lot of them.

Footnotes:

(245) Howard Rosenberg, "Limbaugh Devotees Rush to his Defense", L.A. Times,July 111, 1994, at F1.

(246) Id. at F1.

(247) Id.

(248) David Barton, The Myth of Separation 308 (1992) (Citing Harold K. Lane, Liberty! Cry Liberty 32-33 (]939)).

(249) Frederick Nyneyer, First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association 31 (1958).

(250) Letter from David Mattem to Gene Garman, Nov. 23, 1993. A copy of this letter was supplied to the author by Mr. Mattem, current editor of The Papers of James Madison.

(251) Rosenberg, supra note 245, at F1.

(252) BARTON, supra note 248, at 155.

(253) Barton, supra note 82, at E3072.

(254) Id. at E3071.

(255) BARTON,supraa note 248, at 308.

(256) 4 Progressive Calvinism 31 (1959)

(257) Id.

(258) See supra text accompanying notes 233-36.[*]

[*]The supra text cited in note 258 as taken from "Public Education and the Public Good", Robert S. Alley, William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Summer 1995. pp 314-315.

One other remark about the Danbury Letter is in order here. David Barton in America's Godly Heritage(233) comments upon the Danbury Letter with outrageous disregard for the facts. After totally missing the point of the Danbury Letter, Barton incorrectly asserts that in his reply Jefferson explained that the First Amendment was to prohibit the establishment of a national denomination only.(234) He also fabricates a long list of things Jefferson supposedly used to explain the First Amendment. He quotes Jefferson as saying that "such a wall would protect the church from the government, that there would be open and free religious expression of all orthodox religious practices (whether public prayer, the use of the Bible, etc.)."(235) It is appalling that the Jefferson Letter, readily accessible to the public, should be so abused. Barton's claims have no relationship to truth but can be floated easily to support political agendas concerning school prayer. Under pressure from critics, it is reported that Barton has now withdrawn some of his lies about the letter to the Danbury Baptists.(236)

Footnotes

(233) Barton, supra note 82, at E3069

(234) Id at E3071.

(235) Id.

(236) " Sects, Lies and Videotape" Rob Boston, Journal of Church & State, Apr. 1993, at 8, 9.

(259) Clarence Manion, The Conservative American 197 (1964). Manion attributes these sentiments to Madison in .

Source of Information:

"Public Education and the Public Good", Robert S. Alley, William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Summer 1995. pp 316-318.
 
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