Pat here: I promised in my last blog to continue my nattering about American history because it’s relevant and it’s interesting (which is why I wrote those six ROGUES AND DESPERADOES books early in my career!).
I don’t want to make any political points, but I’ve heard the arguments about whether the writers of the US Constitution were God-fearing Christians or Deists, which is to say they didn’t adhere to a particular religion. Both categories are an over-simplification. The 18th century is not the 21st. There are huge cultural differences. One must know American history to understand the background of our founding fathers.
I think most of us remember our basic elementary school history—the Pilgrims came to this country in pursuit of freedom of religion. England had just fought a bloody civil war between Protestants and Catholics, and they weren’t putting up with any more dissension, so anyone who didn’t agree with the Church of England was pretty much up a creek in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Although many of the dissenters originally fled to Europe, not everyone accepted them there either.
Thus began the migration from the established religions of Europe to the Americas, where each colony could institute their own religious dictates—which they did, people being people. The Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, followed later by other dissenters and the Puritans. New York and New Jersey were settled by Dutch Reformists (my father’s family was among those early settlers—they included Hugenots from France who, like the Pilgrims before them, fled to the Netherlands in search of religious freedom). The Catholics took their religion to Maryland and Louisiana, and the Quakers went to Pennsylvania. Lots of fabulous history behind all of this but I’m simplifying and sticking to my point, eventually.
Our early colonies were a melting pot of religions, but each settlement had its own specific church and laws. One of the main reasons for this uniformity was that the church was the only form of village government available. The church collected taxes and tariffs to support the poor and run the town. Everyone had to belong to a church. Everyone had to contribute their fair share to the well-being of the community—the churches were an early form of town hall. So saying a founding father attended the Baptist Church is utterly irrelevant to what he actually believed. It simply meant his town was run by the Baptist Church and as a good law-abiding citizen, he tithed his fair share.
By the time of the American Revolution, a form of religious thinking called Deism raged through intellectual society. Because, as today, religion had caused so much strife in the world, rational thinkers strived to philosophize religious theories and apply them to the way they lived. Jefferson and Franklin in particular were known for their anti-clerical views; many others held hybrid views of religion. They may have attended church, but they did not necessarily believe in the church’s precepts. Calling them “Christians” or “Protestants” puts a pretty name to them but Jefferson didn’t even believe in Christ. The human need to compartmentalize does us no favors when applied to these intellectual free-thinkers and philosophers.
If anything, our founding fathers revered freedom. They were well-versed in the principles and history of the settlers who sought freedom in the Americas (you will note–they looked backward, not forward for their precepts, so women and slaves weren't in their philosophy). They understood what had worked and what had not. The theory of separation of church and state emerged far before the Constitution and was part of the backbone of their beliefs. It was first used to apply to governance in 1657 in what was called the Flushing Remonstrance (really, read this article—times never change!) in protest against New Netherland’s (New York) Director General Peter Stuyvesant ban on Quakers. The phrase may have originated from a treatise by Roger Williams in 1644, founder of the Baptist church and later paraphrased by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Jefferson amended the original quote to read "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
So essentially, our founding fathers were like us—individual thinkers, supporters of the community, but not always religious or even God-believing Christians. They wanted freedom from the ills of the old world, most of which had been created in the name of religion. Because each representative came from a colony established by a different religion, or no religion at all, they had to find some means of creating a constitution that encompassed all beliefs and all the colonies as one. By building that wall (what is it with people and walls?) between church and state, they ensured that all citizens could celebrate their individual religions without government intervention.
So those of us who know our history can counter those who throw sound-bites at us–baffle them with facts if not inform them is my motto!
While I’m fascinated with how history applies to today’s current events, and in the past I have explored major upheavals like the Civil War and the Irish Rebellions through the eyes of the characters affected, it’s difficult to use politics and religion in romance these days. Why do you think that is? Have we all been bombarded with unpleasantness too long? Are we looking for complete fantasies? Do you know of any romance books that explore controversial subjects that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
In addendum: I've just been reminded I have a new release out Tuesday, TWIN GENIUS, the fourth book in the Family Genius mystery series, and it just happens to poke a little fun at politics and religion! Follow the link for an excerpt.