Friday, April 26, 2013

The Religious right, the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson

I am ignorant, speculating, and asking for information. I am a bit puzzled by self proclaimed constitutional conservatives enthusiasm for the Declaration of Independence.  I always consider the Declaration to be the lefty document and the Constitution to be a sharp shift right.

My guess is that they mainly interested in one word in the Declaration "creator".  OK also "the Supreme Judge of the world" and "divine Providence"

They also consider themselves Jeffersonian which is odd, since he is the only major party presidential candidate to refuse to publicly declare himself a Christian (and in private correspondence said he was a Christian only if belief in implausible claims such as the virginity of Mary was optional "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" Jefferson, of course, was no more an atheist that Robespierre was (although he believed in freedom of concience, tolerated atheists and didn't sentence atheists to death as Robespierre did)).

I note that the Declaration was amended by Congress.  The working document is here with a transcription

from Jefferson's draft "We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all Men are created equal & independent; that from that equal creation"

no "creator" similarly the draft contains no reference to any "supreme judge"  and no reference to  anything "divine" anything (search to check)

Of course Jefferson was one person and Congress had the authority to ignore his draft entirely (or vote down the resolution to be independent).


mike shupp said...

It's a really big mistake to assume that American conservatives (or American liberals, for that matter) are actually knowledgeable about the text of the Declaration of Independence or much of the Constitution, or even very informed on American history. Most American high school history courses jump from Yorktown (1781) to the Constitution (1789) in the space of a single breath, and students seldom waste their lives pursuing other details.

Is it so different in Italy?

Robert said...

I'm from the USA. I know less about Italian education than US education (just as a not as involved as I might be parent). Italian history goes on and on (Rome wasn't built in a day). They barely get to the current constitution.

The Italian Constitution is very long. It is also very much a compromise document with alternating clauses which declare a right then reduce it to nothing (basically saying there is a right and it is up to Parliament to define it further -- which means that the 2 clauses add nothing to the clause saying Parliament is sovereign). I'd say almost no one in Italy has read the constitution once (I did).

I recall extensive discussion of the Declaration and Constitution in high school history. Also a good bit other times. Now I was in high school in 1976 (yes I'm old) so there was all that bicentenial stuff.

The odd thing is that people talk about the Constitution and the Declaration all the time, they are very brief, they are on the web, no one seems to re-read them before commenting.