Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Human Depravity, James Madison, and The Founding Fathers

David W. Hall's excellent book, "Genevan Reformation And The American Founding" provides excellent insight into Calvin's Influence on the Founding Fathers and in the formation of the United States. Here is Google's overview of the book:

"Calvinism's insistence on human rulers' tendency to err played a significant role in the founders' prescription of limited government and fed the distinctly American philosophy in which political freedom for citizens is held as the highest value. Hall's timely work countervails many scholars' doubt in the intellectual efficacy of religion by showing that religious teachings have led to such progressive ideals as American democracy and freedom."

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, this tendency to err on the part of human beings is encompassed in Calvin's exposition on human depravity. This condition, derived from Original Sin in the Scriptures, is imputed to all humanity by the fall of Adam. Nearly all our Founding Fathers adhered to Human Depravity; from Federalists George Washington to Democratic Republicans such as, James Madison.

Not to say Washington, or Madison for that matter, adhered to all tenets of Calvinism; but human depravity never left them. Madison quoted Calvin as late Feb. 1788:

"It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

As David W. Hall explains, Madison sounds not unlike John Calvin:

"If we were all like angels, blameless and freely able to exercise perfect control, we would not need rules or regulations. Why, then, do we have so many laws and statutes? Because of man's wickedness, for he is constantly overflowing with evil; this is why a remedy is required."
-Sermons on Galatians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 313.
Emphasis Added.

The best example of James Madison's adherance to human depravity is from a letter by a Presbyterian named Samuel Stanhope Smith. Madison's response to Smith is lost, but Smith tells us that Madison rejected moral liberty in favor of John Calvin's predetermined will, promoted by Jonathan Edwards and John Knox:

"I have read over your theoretical objections against the doctrine of moral liberty; for practically you seem to be one of its disciples.1 I remember the manner in which you have formerly expressed yourself upon that intricate subject..It was with a view to avoid the objections with which you press me, that I made a distinction betwixt desire, & volition; & supposed that the latter solely regards our actions, & not merely the objects themselves that excite desires the immediate motives of volition...But only that they have such an influence as to prevent any necessary & irresistible effect of their antagonists. The mechanism of the idea is the objection which I make to your illustration of a motive deficient by 1/3 of the force necessary to produce an action--which then would not be commensurate to the effect, & would require some supplement to make up the deficiency. Altho we are not able to explain the idea of moral liberty, & that innate of mind that is involved in it, so as to be exempt from all questioning & doubt, yet we have as clear a sentiment of nature to appeal to, as in the case of colour.4"
-Smith to Madison, September 15, 1778. The Papers of Madison, Vol. 1, William Hutchinson, 1970.

Footnotes:
1. JM's reply to Smith's letter of Nov. 1771-August 1778 (q.v.) is lost, but at least part of what he must have written is implicit, & occasionally explicit, in the present answer.
4. From Smith's rebuttal it would appear that JM had countered Smith's distinction between desire and volition by advancing a staple argument of the opponents of freedom of the will to the effect that desire and volition are both conditioned by a chain of antecedent forces necessarily determing any given choice. Another important thread of JM's argument seems to have been an effort to confound Smith's derivation of moral liberty from the multitude of desires, passions, interests, etc., which press upon human beings. JM apparently tried to show by a specific percentage analysis of the contending motives that even the interplay of forces from which Smith derived moral liberty might well be a part of the great chain of events (predeterming) every course of action.

It was a delight finding Hutchinson's volumes of Madison's papers. In light of Madison's other writings on depravity, the editor hit the nail on the head. Ultimately, Madison believed external(supernatural) forces determine our choices. He could only be referring to two causes; God or Satan. Defending Calvinism by percentage analysis is not influence at all, but evidence of his faith.

Calvin employed predestination directly from the scriptures:

"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren."
-Ro 8:29.

"Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will."
-Eph 1:5.

Madison again, explaining the heart, in general terms, is depraved:

"The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side, not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in independence on the people, by a short duration of their appointments; and that even during this short period the trust should be placed not in a few, but a number of hands...The history of almost all the great councils and consultations held among mankind for reconciling their discordant opinions, assuaging their mutual jealousies, and adjusting their respective interests, is a history of factions, contentions, and disappointments, and may be classed among the most dark and degraded pictures which display the infirmities and depravities of the human character."[bold face mine]
-Federalist #37.

Madison believed, along with the other Calvinists, that whatever decisions humans make, God already foreknew those decisions. Whatever volition we make was God's will.

What does this say about Madison's belief in Calvin's unconditional election? If he believed our choices were pre-determined, it follows he believed in predestination, which is based on the same argument he was making to Rev. Smith. Is it not an inconsistency to believe our choices are predestined, and not our souls?

Madison's biographer Ralph Ketcham, here and author Mark Noll, here, affirm Madison adhered to Calvin's doctrine of human depravity. It's Calvin's doctrine, as the word "depravity" isn't found in the Bible of the framers.

That James Madison has been labeled a "rationalist" in any meaningful sense, should be forever abandoned. The evidence now supports Madison believed in a form of predestination, and the depravity of human nature. Furthermore, in a recent post, I declared Madison was most likely not a unitarian in the way his elite contemporaries, such as: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were. Madison had a Calvinist education; Jefferson, his southern compatriot, did not. Madison believed in God's Grace; Jefferson did not. And Madison believed in the supernatural; which Jefferson rejected. It wasn't until the 19th Century that Unitarian intellectuals, from Jared Sparks, to William Ellery Channing, who, proclaimed more accomodating views toward the essentials of the Christian Faith. Enlightenment Unitarians of the 18th Century, here, and in Europe, abandoned all foundational Christian fundamentals, such as: Original Sin, Total Depravity, Grace, and the Vicarious Blood Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, Orthodox Christianity starts with human depravity, of which is the basis of Original Sin. Upon this depravity, the Blood Atonement of Jesus Christ is the logical cure. The concept of the Blood Atonement is precisely the same as that of Original Sin(Human Depravity), that is, imputation; sin imputed to man, man's sin imputed to Christ, and Christ's righteousness imputed to man. This is the Bible, and Calvinism; all consistent, of which Madison was taught.

The rationalists believed God saved souls by a works doctrine by character; read Jonathon Mayhew, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.
The following are only a couple of quotes by Founding Fathers; the orthodox such as: Mason, Jay, Stockton [who tutored Law to Boudinot and Paterson], Wolcott, Webster, Trumbull, Boudinot, Witherspoon, King, Marshall, Lee, Pendleton, Sherman, Ellsworth, Dickinson, Rush, Laurens, Johnston, Read, McKean, Huntington, Hancock, and Samuel Adams, no doubt believed in one or more of John Calvin's Theology.

Alexander Hamilton, one of the greatest Statesman to ever live, is sometimes labeled a rationalist, however he rejected their views on human nature. Hamilton's views are no different from those of James Madison. For instance, he attacked reason in April 1802, four months after his son died. Although I doubt he ceased to be a rationalist because his son died; more likely, he never was a rationalist. His son's death is not a motive for dropping rationalism to the curb, especially when he attacked reason, and claimed "I will comply with your invitation by submitting some ideas which, from time to time, have passed through my mind." Obviously, supporting the Christian religion had to be one of those ideas, and he is writing this letter to his Orthodox friend. It doesn't appear probable that Hamilton would write to Rev. Bayard, wanting to support a heterodox religion Bayard rejected. Here is Hamilton's rant on reason:

"Nothing is more fallacious than to expect to produce any valuable or permanent results in political projects by relying merely on the reason of men. Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion. This is well understood by our adversaries, who have practised upon it with no small benefit to their cause; for at the very moment they are eulogizing the reason of men, and professing to appeal only to that faculty, they are courting the strongest and most active passion of the human heart, vanity!"
http://www.reclaimliberty.com/hamiltonplan2009.html

Here is Hamilton's definitive statement on the condition of humanity:

"And making the proper deductions for the ordinary depravity of human nature, the number must be still smaller of those who unite the requisite integrity with the requisite knowledge. [bold face mine]
-FEDERALIST No. 78

Thus, unlike, the rationalists, he did not believe learning and the enlightenment would cause virtue, but only that the depravity would change its form. Hamilton knew he couldn't change his condition, because it was inherrant:

"As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature: It is what, neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is a common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as all others..It is a harsh doctrine, that men grow wicked in proportion as they improve and enlighten their minds. Experience has by no means justified us in the supposition, that there is more virtue in one class of men than in another. Look through the rich and the poor of the community; the learned and the ignorant. Where does virtue predominate? The difference indeed consists, not in the quantity but kind of vices, which are incident to the various classes; and here the advantage of character belongs to the wealthy. Their vices are probably more favorable to the prosperity of the state, than those of the indigent; and partake less of moral depravity." [bold face mine]
-Alexander Hamilton, New York Ratifying Convention 21 June 1788. Papers 5:36--37, 40--43
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch13s38.html

Hamilton thought the later stages of the French Revolution a prime example of human depravity:

"But though we may find in these causes a solution of the fact calculated to abate our solicitude for the consequences; yet we can not consider the public happiness as out of the reach of danger so long as our principles continue to be exposed to the debauching influence of admiration for an example which, it will not be too strong to say, presents the caricature of human depravity. And the pride of national character at least can find no alleviation for the wound which must be inflicted by so ill-judged so unfortunate a partiality.
If there be anything solid in virtue—the time must come when it will have been a disgrace to have advocated the Revolution of France in its late stages.
-Alexander Hamilton on the French Revolution [bold face mine] [Philadelphia, 1794]
http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/593/

Not a few Hamilton scholars hold a similar view of his belief in human depravity:

"The effects of what he called “the ordinary depravity of human nature” were everywhere, of “uncontrollable impulses of rage . . . . jealousy. . . . and other irregular and violent propensities.”(18)
Quoted in Adrienne Koch, “Hamilton and Power,” in Cooke, P. 17. Also see idem., Power Morals and the Founding Fathers; Essays in the Interpretation of the American Enlightenment (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1963), ch. iv., pp. 50-80. Cf-The Federalist No. 15 in Milton Cantor, ed., Hamilton (Prentice-Hall, 1971), pp. 51-53.

Important Founding Father Patrick Henry understood depravity as the others:

"The Northern States will never assent to regulations promotive of southern aggrandizement. Notwithstanding what gentlemen say of the probable virtue of our representatives, I dread the depravity of human nature. I wish to guard against it by proper checks, and trust nothing to accident or chance. I will never depend on so slender a protection as the possibility of being represented by virtuous men."[bold face mine]
-Patrick Henry, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution [Elliot's Debates, Volume 3] Thursday, June 12, 1788

James Wilson, one of the principal builders of the Constitution, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence, appears to have believed that our human nature was corrupted, that man's nature is selfish, a form of depravity, not a grown or learned selfishness, but an inherrant corruption in our nature. The nature of man, refers to the natural tendencies of man.

Wilson said the Scriptures were from God, affirming inerrancy. Claiming inerrancy, refers more so the entire Scripture, as he did not clarify what portions were not inspired. Only the original autographs are inspired, so Wilson may not have referred to the King James Version. Whenever the framers quoted depravity of human nature, or nature, etc., the meaning is inherrant:

"It is the nature of man to pursue his own interest in preference to the public good, and I do not mean to make any personal reflection when I add that it is the interest of a very numerous, powerful and respectable body to counteract and destroy the excellent work produced by the late convention." [bold face mine]
-Pennsylvania State Convention, October 6, 1787
http://www.constitution.org/afp/jwilson0.htm

George Washington also wrote about depravity:

"[F]ew men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good. It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed." [bold face mine]
-To THE COMMITTEE OF CONGRESS WITH THE ARMY
[Head Quarters, January 29, 1778.]

and

"Good God! who besides a tory could have foreseen, or a Briton predicted them! were these people wiser than others, or did they judge of us from the corruption, and depravity of their own hearts? The latter I am persuaded was the case, and that notwithstanding the boasted virtue of America, we are far gone in every thing ignoble and bad."[bold face mine]
-To HENRY KNOX, December 26, 1786.

Total depravity of the human heart was adhered to by another Architect of the Constitution; Charles Pinckney:

"To the liberal and enlightened mind, the rest of Europe affords a melancholy picture of the depravity of human nature, and of the total subversion of those rights, without which we should suppose no people could be happy or content."
-The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution [Elliot's Debates, Volume 4][bold face mine]

Influential delegate, and Signer of the Constitution, Luther Martin, admitted his own depravity:

"Why then all this misrepresentation of my absence at Baltimore and New York? Why the attempt to induce a belief that the Convention had been engaged in business from the fourteenth of May, and the insinuation that it might have happened in those periods? And why the charge that in not stating those facts I had withheld from the public information necessary to its forming a right judgment of the credit which ought to be given to my evidence. But, Sir, I am really at a loss which most to admire--the depravity of this writer's heart, or the weakness of his head." [bold face mine]
-Luther Martin's Reply to the Landholder, March 3, 1788. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand's Records, Volume 3]

Here, a Congressman refers to depravity as common knowledge:

"The President, notwithstanding the supposed depravity of mankind, will hardly remove a worthy officer to make way for a person whom the Senate max reject." [bold face mine]
-Mr. Hartley, House of Representatives, June 16, 1789. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution [Elliot's Debates, Volume 4]Removal by the President.--On the Bill for establishing an executive Department, to be denominated the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Most of the Ratifiers of the Constitution understood the depravity of human nature:

"We ought to consider the depravity of human nature, the predominant thirst of power which is in the breast of every one, the temptations our rulers may have, and the unlimited confidence placed in them by this system. These are the foundation of my fears, They would be so long in the general government that they would forget the grievances of the people of the states. But it is said we shall be ruined if separated from the other states, which will be the case if we do not adopt."[bold face mine]
-Ratifier of the Constitution, Wm. Lenoir. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution [Elliot's Debates, Volume 4]DEBATES IN THE CONVENTION OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, ON THE ADOPTION OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.

and

"You will feel yourself little obliged to me even now that I draw off your attention from the endearing concerns of private and domestick life, from the recesses of rural and philosophic retirement, to fix it upon scenes that characterise human nature in its most depraved state, and almost tempt a man to arraign providence that he has been cast into being at a time when private & political Vice is at a Crisis & the measure of Iniquity full and overflowing."
-Signer of the Declaration of Independence William Hooper to Samuel Johnston, Sept 26th, 1776.

If the Founding Fathers believed in inherrant depravity of human nature, then, isn't assuming belief in the other mysteries of Revelation, such as the Trinity, and Atonement, within the realm of possibility?

105 comments:

Our Founding Truth said...

Imputation, by which the depravity of human nature is passed down, is the same principle by which the Blood Atonement is passed down. Belief in the former, is evidence of belief in the latter.

This is an important point for anyone examining the faith of the Founding Fathers, and should be high-lighted in any further examination.

No doubt the Founding Fathers were aware of the corruption of human nature, however, they always looked to the best that man could achieve:

To say that officers of government will oppress, when nothing can be got by oppression, is making an inference, bad as human nature is, that cannot be allowed.
-James Wilson, Sept. 7, 1787, in the Pennsylvania Convention.

polymathis said...

I just found your site via a comment you made at jonrowe's blog.

I look forward to your evidence re: Calvinism in early America. Your comment about Washington being a Calvinist is certainly an attention getter. At the least I would say he and others were influenced by Calvinism; I await to see evidence that he was actually one.

I, too, have written on this topic and would be interested in your comments: polymathis.blogspot.com

Protestantism & the West, 6 part series.

polymathis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Our Founding Truth said...

Well, I never said Washington was a Calvinist. Rather, he said he believed in Calvin's Total Depravity, which means he, like Madison believed in imputation; the basis of the Gospel.

Washington, and the others, said they believed in human depravity, not merely an influence.

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