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.