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How often did the founders quote the Bible?


Research by Jim Allison and Tom Peters. In the first version of his videotape, America's Godly Heritage, David Barton makes reference to two University of Houston researchers who studied the most frequently cited authors in the writings of the founding fathers. According to Barton, these researchers concluded that !" of all the citations found in these writings were either to the Bi#le, or to authors who #ased their conclusions on the Bi#le. $his, he concludes, demonstrates the profound influence of the Bi#le on the %onstitution. &hile Barton doesn't name the researchers in his videotape, he refers to them in his recent #ook, Original Intent. Barton's reference is to The Origins of American Constitutionalism (hereafter, Origins), a * ++ #ook #y political scientist Donald ,ut-. .n pages */01*! of Origins, ,ut- summari-es the results of a * +! paper in which he and colleague %harles Hyneman analy-e some *2,333 items of American political commentary pu#lished #etween *403 and *+32 (5$he 6elative Influence of 7uropean &riters on ,ate 7ighteenth1%entury American 8olitical $hought,5 The American Political Science Revie , 4+ (* +!), pp. *+ 1* 49 hereafter, Relative Influence). $he purpose of the paper was to determine the sources that most influenced the development of American political thought during our nation's founding period. Does ,ut-'s and Hyneman's research support Barton's conclusions a#out the Bi#le and the %onstitution: In some ways, the answer is 5yes.5 In particular, ,ut- and Hyneman demonstrate that the Bi#le was the most frequently quoted source #etween *403 and *+32, and he concludes that future research on the development of American political thought should include increased attention to 5#i#lical and common law sources5 (Relative Influence, p. * 3). It is perfectly reasona#le that Barton would use this evidence to support his argument, and we have no quarrel with that aspect of Barton's case. But this isn't all that ,ut- concludes. ,ut- also devotes a full section of his article to political writings a#out the %onstitution, and these data largely refute Barton's conclusions. ;eedless to say, Barton doesn't report these data, despite their relevance to his argument. Additionally, Barton attri#utes to ,ut- and Hyneman conclusions they do not reach a#out the importance of the Bi#le during the founding period. Accordingly, Barton's treatment of ,ut-'s data is #oth selective and dishonest. ,et's #egin with Barton's !" figure. In the videotape, Barton #reaks it down as follows< /!" of the founder's quotations were taken directly from the Bi#le, and 03" were from authors that #ase their conclusions on the Bi#le. $he /!" figure, at least, is accurate9 this corresponds e=actly to ,ut-'s and Hyneman's conclusions with respect to the total percentage of citations #etween *403 and *+32. But where does the 03" figure come from: ;ot from the paper9 ,ut- and Hyneman provide no category of citations that even remotely corresponds to 5authors that #ase their conclusions on the Bi#le.5 6ather, the 03" figure is manufactured #y Barton himself on the #asis of his own reading of other authors that scored highly in ,ut- and Hyneman's survey, people like >ontesquieu, Blackstone, and ,ocke. ?ou would not know this from the videotape, which reports the 03" figure as if it were the conclusions of ,ut- and Hyneman themselves. @;ote< there are a num#er of pro#lems

with this 03" figure. In particular, Barton overstates the degree to which these authors used the Bi#le in reaching their own conclusions. &e'll do an article on this issue at a later time.A Beyond this, what e=actly does this !" figure prove: Barton wants us to think that #ecause the founders quoted at length from the Bi#le, or people that quoted the Bi#le, the %onstitution must somehow em#ody Bi#lical law, #e 5#ased5 on the Bi#le, or otherwise have the Bi#le in mind. But this doesn't follow9 the fact that the Bi#le was frequently quoted is not the same thing as saying it was quoted for the purpose of creating a legal code or the %onstitution. Indeed, ,ut-'s and Hyneman's data suggest that the Bi#le was for the most part irrelevant to the %onstitution, and that what connections there were #etween the Bi#le and the %onstitution are not of the type that support Barton's claims. Birst, Barton does not report the most relevant evidence from ,ut-'s article< in addition to their general citation count from *403 to *+32, ,ut- and Hyneman compile a count specific to political de#ate on the %onstitution #etween the years *4+4 and *4++ (the years corresponding to the drafting and ratification of the %onstitution). According to ,ut-, this sample 5comes close to e=hausting5 the literature written on the %onstitution during this period (Relative Influence, p. * !). If the founders #elieved that the Bi#le was truly relevant to the %onstitution, Bi#lical citations should appear in a#undance in this sample, #ut, they don't. .n the contrary, Bi#lical citations are virtually none=istent in this sample. According to ,ut-, federalist (i.e., pro1%onstitution) writers never !uoted the "i#le in their political ritings #et een $%&% and $%&&. %onversely, anti1federalist writers quoted the Bi#le only " of the time. According to ,ut-< $he Bi#le's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the de#ate centered upon specific institutions a#out which the Bi#le has little to say. $he Anti1Bederalists do drag it in with respect to #asic principles of government, #ut the 'ederalist's inclination to (nlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the "i#le relevant....$he de#ate surrounding the adoption of the %onstitution was fought out mainly in the conte=t of >ontesquieu, Blackstone, the 7nglish &higs, and maCor writers of the 7nlightenment (Relative Influence, pp. * !1* 2, emphasis ours). Additionally, Barton omits ,ut-'s #reakdown of sources for his /!" figure. $hree fourths of the Bi#lical citations in ,ut-'s *403 to *+32 sample come, not from secular sources, #ut from reprinted sermons (one of the most popular types of political writing during these years). %onversely, the Bi#le accounts for only " of all citations in secular literature, a#out equal to the num#er of citations from classical authors (Origins, p. *!3). Hence, were it not for the political activity of religious clergy, the Bi#le would #e tied for fourth place among source citations during *403 and *+32. Interestingly, Barton's reference to ,ut-'s work in .riginal Intent is not to ,ut-'s article, #ut to Origins, ,ut-'s later #ook. ,ut-'s #ook reports his * +! data in a##reviated form, and does not refer to his citation count for the years *4+4 to *4++, or the conclusions he draws from that count. A reader that simply follows Barton's citations, in other words, would #e ignorant of this data. At the same time, no reader of ,ut- #ook would likely come away with the feeling that the %onstitution was written with the Bi#le particularly in mind. As ,utdocuments, #y the time of the %onstitution, American political theory was a rich tapestry of ideas drawn from many different sources9 the Bi#le and colonial covenant theology were simply two of many influences that played in the minds of the American founders. In the end, ,ut-'s work is far more supportive of separation than of accomodationism. Did the founder's quote the Bi#le in their political writings: .f course they did, and there is nothing remarka#le a#out that fact. ,ut-'s

data suggest that, whatever the cultural influence of the Bi#le, it did not play much of a role in the construction of the %onstitution. .n the contrary, the %onstitution is a secular document concerned with the nuts and #olts issues of how to create a worka#le nation in a land of economic, cultural, and religious diversity. It simply did not touch on matters relevant to the Bi#le. Return to home