Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee and the "Clergymen" Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Last October, during a Republican Presidential debate, candidate Mike Huckabee made the following comment, which has caused quite a stir on several historical blogs:

"When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them."

I have been intrigued by the numerous responses to this event on various historical blogs that I follow. The Boston1775 blog has witnessed an intense debate over this issue. From what I've been able to gather, most historians are in complete disagreement with Huckabee's statements, and have been piling on him ever since. The general consensus amongst historians that I have read is that only 1 out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence was a clergyman (John Witherspoon). Huckabee's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, has argued that, "at least 26 of the people that signed were ordained ministers." Rollins was able to come to this conclusion by including signers that simply participated in Bible groups as ordained ministers.

Though I am not fond of mixing politics with history, I think this is a unique chance to look at how history influences political thought. Clearly Huckabee has been trying to appeal (and he has done a successful job if I might add) to the Christian Conservative Right. I am reminded of just how polarizing religion has become in America when I read the words of John Meachem in his book, American Gospel. Meachem stated:

"There is a vast and growing literature about the Founding Fathers...and a steam of strong scholarship about the problem of church and state. Yet because faith is such an emotional subject for both believers and nonbelievers, discussion of the question of religion and public life can often be more divisive than illuminating. Secularists reflexively point to the Jeffersonian 'wall of separation between church and state' as though the conversation should end there; many conservative Christians defend their forays into the political arena by citing the Founders, as though Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were cheerful Christian soldiers."

The current trend in American politics seems to follow exactly what Meachem has stated. Now the respective supporters of secularism and religion are jockeying to see who can most effectively twist history for his/her benefit. Do you believe that this is what Huckabee is doing when he claims that "the majority" of signers were "clergymen"?

I would reccomend that you all check out the boston1775 piece, and that you also check out this article on the ongoing Huckabee history saga.


Brian Tubbs said...

I didn't know Huckabee said that, but I'm not surprised. I don't think he was being dishonest or anything. There's a lot of these kinds of 'urban legends' going around in evangelical circles. (And I don't think this is unique to Christians. Legends have a way of circulating in just about EVERY interest group). I'm sure Huckabee had heard this and believed it. Now, he's being corrected.

A more accurate way of describing the signers would have been to say that the overwhelming majority professed Christian faith. That is easily defensible.

Raven said...

It's your old friend Raven everyone back to give "enlightment to discussions. So, I think Huckabee did know what he was doing. It wasn't unintentional because his campaign manager said so. At least that is what was in the article.

Also, the majority of the founding fathers were NOT Christians. I have to disagree there.

samantha_kearney said...

i have to agree with Raven, it was only the minority who were Christian however I do think that Huckabee made the comment unintentionally.

SpringHill Suites Quail Springs said...

I am an ordained minister, yet I work in a secular job. Oh yes, I do indeed stand for Christ in my hotel industry, I do participate in bible studies, and I do preach voluntarily. My identity is with Christ, that is my stand and my employers/ees knew/know it. At the same time, I excel in my work and for the profit of the companies I serve, that God has provided. (Col. 3:23-15)I was ordained in the United Methodist church, took honorary leave and am now ordained in the Church of God, Anderson. My identity as a preacher has always been my persona, for the scripture says, "God's gifts and His Call is irrevocable." (Romans 11:29) So thank you for CONFIRMING that 26 were indeed "ordained" at one time or another, confirming that Ben Franklin knew these were identified as ministers, and that Huckabee was right.

Frank Codispoti said...

I have heard the number is closer to 17 ordained ministers, but the campaign managers inclusion of others at a minimum frames 26 of the men in that room as ministering men of faith. You have to read Washington and some of the other letters and look into their histories to know for sure. For them, religion was not to be forced down anyone's throat, however, at the same time, these were Christian men who were forming a nation based upon Christian and biblical ideals. Immigrants were expected to assimilate.

Another issue that drove, and still drives the conservative Christian dialogue today, is that Christian feel that we can prove our faith is the correct one. This doesn't mean Christians are better, just saved and expected to live a kind of life that is moral and just. Of course, every Christian blows it every day like anyone else. The differenced is, our mistakes won't result in hell. Christ had 515 eye witnesses that saw Him after he rose from the dead. Science has proven that group hallucinations are impossible. Check out the facts for yourself. There are plenty of non biblical resources to find the truth if you want to. ;)