Those Who Control the Past Control the Future
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Apr 07, 2007 at 02:55:45 PM EST
In his December 2006 Harper's Magazine article, Through a Glass, Darkly: How the Christian Right is Reimagining U.S. History, Jeff Sharlet recounted a discussion he had with revisionist historian William Federer while accompanying the Minutemen United on a bus trip to the site of the First Baptist Church in Danbury, Connecticut, the church of the Danbury Baptists to whom Jefferson, in 1802, wrote his famous "wall of separation" letter.

From Sharlet's article:

It would be cliché to quote Orwell here were it not for the fact that fundamentalist intellectuals do so with even greater frequency than those of the left. At a rally to expose the "myth" of church/state separation I attended this spring, Orwell was quoted at me four times, most emphatically by William J. Federer, an encyclopedic compiler of quotations whose America's God and Country--a collection of apparently theocentric bons mots distilled from the Founders and other great men "for use in speeches, papers, [and] debates"--has sold half a million copies. "Those who control the past," Federer said, quoting Orwell's 1984, "control the future." History, the practical theology of the movement, reveals destiny.


Sharlet went on to provide a bit of background information on Federer, ending this part of his article with the irony of this "Encyclopedia of Quotations" author's misattribution of the Orwell quote:

"Those who control the present," Federer continued his quotation of 1984, "control the past." He paused and stared at me to make sure I understood the equation. "Orson Welles wrote that," he said.

What Orwell actually said, of course, was,"Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past." Revisionist historians like Federer, even if they don't know who said it, understand the truth of this statement, and, with books like his selling half a million copies, and those of Barton and other revisionists remaining popular in spite of their known deceptions and inaccuracy, the Christian Reconstructionists have already made great strides towards controlling the past by controlling the present. If we don't make a much stronger effort to reclaim American history before it's too late, they will certainly control the future.

After reading Chip Berlet's piece here on the Minutemen United, Christian Nationalist "Minutemen" Convening in Lexington, MA?, I ordered a copy of "Coach" Dave Daubenmire's CD, "Endowed by our Creator, Exposing the Lie of Separation of Church and State." Like Jeff Sharlet, one of the things that surprised me the most when listening to Daubenmire was the unexpected quoting of Orwell.

It's going to take several posts to cover all of the revisionist history on this CD, but I thought I'd start with a list that also appears in the printed material that came with it. This list was compiled by William Federer, and first appeared on WorldNetDaily in October 2003 as an article entitled Separation of God and State? Since then, this list has become one of the most widespread pieces of "Godspam," often emailed under the title "All 50 States Can't Be Wrong!" I've wanted to debunk this list since the first time I saw it, and now seems like as good a time as any to do it.

Federer's article begins with the following assertion:

"America's founders did not intend for there to be a separation of God and state, as shown by the fact that all 50 states acknowledged God in their state constitutions..."

This is followed by a list of all of the states, accompanied by excerpts acknowledging God from each of their state constitutions, all but four from the preambles. This list, however, is extremely deceptive because, in order to find these religious acknowledgements, Federer had to pick and choose particular versions of many of the state constitutions.

The biggest deception is that, for many of the early states, Federer did not use the the original constitutions, but instead chose later versions, rewritten during the second half of the 1800s and the early 1900s, another era in our country's history when a movement to push religion into the government was making some headway. Anyone not familiar with the dates of admission of the various states would assume that it was the founders of these states, and not the authors of the new constitutions written generations after these states were admitted, who were responsible for the religious acknowledgements. Federer employed this later version tactic for thirteen of the quotes on his list.

For example, this is what Federer used for Alabama:

Alabama 1901, Preamble. We the people of the State of Alabama ... invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution ...

But, Alabama, was admitted in 1819, not 1901. This was the "Godless" preamble to the state's original constitution:

We, the people of the Alabama Territory, having the right of admission into the General Government, as a member of the Union, consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States, by our Representatives, assembled in Convention at the town of Huntsville, on Monday the 5th day of July, one thousand eight hundred and nineteen, in pursuance of an act of Congress, entitled "An act to enable the people of the Alabama Territory to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the admission of such State into the Union, on an equal footing with the original States;" in order to establish justice, insure tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the rights of life, liberty, and property, do ordain and establish the following Constitution, or form of Government; and do mutually agree with each other to form ourselves into a Free and Independent State, by the name of "THE STATE OF ALABAMA." And we do hereby recognize, confirm, and establish the boundaries assigned to said State by the act of Congress aforesaid, "to wit: Beginning at the point where the thirty-first degree of north latitude intersects the Perdido River; thence, east, to the western boundary line of the State of Georgia; thence, along said line, to the southern boundary line of the State of Tennessee; thence, west, along said boundary line, to the Tennessee River; thence, up the same, to the mouth of Bear Creek; thence, by a direct line, to the northwest corner of Washington county; thence, due south, to the Gulph of Mexico; thence, eastwardly, including all Islands within six leagues of the shore, to the Perdido River; and thence, up the same, to the beginning;" subject to such alteration as is provided in the third section of said act of Congress, and subject to such enlargement as may be made by law in consequence of any cession of territory by the United States, or either of them.

Alabama's 1861 constitution, adopted upon the state's secession from the Union, was the first one "invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God" in its preamble. Other southern states, of course, had various new constitutions during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and, in many cases, these were the first versions to acknowledge God in their preambles. Federer disregards all of these. There are also a few states for which Federer had to skip other earlier constitutions, revised for different reasons, before finding one whose preamble acknowledged God. For the sake of keeping this piece as short as possible, however, only the dates of the versions on Federer's list and the dates of (and links to) the original constitutions are given here for the other twelve states in this later version category.

Arkansas 1874 -- 1836
Florida 1885 -- 1838
Illinois 1870 -- 1818
Indiana 1851 -- 1816
Kentucky 1891 -- 1792
Louisiana 1921 -- 1812
Michigan 1908 -- 1835
Mississippi 1890 -- 1817
Missouri 1945 -- 1820
New Jersey 1844 -- 1776
North Carolina 1868 -- 1776
Ohio 1852 -- 1802

Next, there are three states for which Federer shifted gears and chose to quote the original constitutions rather than later versions. Why? Because three of the original thirteen states, although acknowledging God in the preambles to their Revolutionary War era constitutions, omitted these acknowledgements when revising their constitutions in the first few years following the ratification of the federal Constitution. Unlike the changes made generations later to the constitutions of other states, which say nothing about the intent of "America's founders," these three constitutions were rewritten during the founding era.

Georgia 1777 -- revised 1789
Pennsylvania 1776 -- revised 1790
South Carolina 1778 -- revised 1790

Then, there are four states that have never acknowledged God in the preamble to any version of their constitutions. For these states, Federer had to deviate from his format of quoting the preambles and resort to using excerpts from the religious freedom sections. Obviously, all state constitutions acknowledged God in some way in the course of guaranteeing freedom of worship, in statements like the following, used by Federer for New Hampshire:

New Hampshire 1792, Part I. Art. I. Sec. V. Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience ...

The three other states for which Federer had to quote religious freedom sections are:

Oregon 1857, Bill of Rights, Article I. Section 2.
Tennessee 1796, Art. XI. III.
Virginia 1776, Bill of Rights, XVI

Lastly, there are a few oddballs, also deceptively presented by Federer, but in ways that don't exactly fit into the above categories.

Vermont 1777, Preamble. Whereas all government ought to ... enable the individuals who compose it to enjoy their natural rights, and other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed on man ...

Vermont, although declaring its independence from England with its 1777 constitution, did so as an independent republic, not a state of the United States. Vermont wrote a second constitution in 1786, but it wasn't until 1793 that it held its first constitutional convention as a state of the United States, having been admitted in 1791. This constitutional convention voted to delete the preamble from the previous constitution entirely.

Maryland 1776, Preamble. We, the people of the state of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty ...

This did not appear in Maryland's 1776 constitution. Like the other states for which Federer chose later versions, this is from the preamble of the state's 1850 constitution.

Delaware 1897, Preamble. Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshipping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences ...

This statement is not part of Delaware's preamble. The preamble consists of a single sentence: "We, the People, hereby ordain and establish this Constitution of government for the State of Delaware." Federer's quote is from the first paragraph of the constitution, in which a summary of the people's rights, including religious freedom, is given, followed by a statement saying that it is because of these other rights that the people also have the right to alter their constitution.

West Virginia 1872, Preamble. Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia ... reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God ...

West Virginia's 1872 constitution was its second. Its first was written in 1863, when splitting off from Virginia to remain a part of the Union in the Civil War. The preamble to the 1863 constitution did not acknowledge God. I guess West Virginia's "faith in and constant reliance upon God" was contingent upon the outcome the war.

Rhode Island 1842, Preamble. We the People of the State of Rhode Island ... grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing ...

Rhode Island's first constitution was not written until after the days of "America's founders." The last of the original states to write a constitution, Rhode Island was governed by its colonial era charter until 1842.

That takes care of exactly half of the states. But what about the other twenty-five? Well, with only four exceptions, the remaining states are those that weren't admitted until long after all of"America's founders" were dead and buried. Obviously, nothing in the constitutions of these twenty-one states -- admitted between 1845 and 1959 -- can be considered to be a reflection of the intent of these founders.

Only four of the fifty quotes on Federer's list -- those from the constitutions of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York -- are not in some way deceptive or irrelevant.




Display:
I hope I can find this post the next time I get the mangled list of quotes. I knew from the second time it received it that the dates looked off and odd, but I never pursued the disconnect and have since ignored any e-mail with the incorrect information. Now, I have a good response! Thank you. Maybe I can get a few people thinking with more care about the facts.

Can you get this posted at Snopes or Hoaxbusters?

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 11:52:26 PM EST

Bill Federer was a perennial candidate for MO-3 Congressional district. He never came close, despite having a mostly white working-class and middle-class district to work with, and an open seat at one point. He has various campaign finance violations to his credit, so his inaccuracies are global. Unlike the majority of authors of revisionist tracts of this type, he is Catholic - I don't know if he is the vacant-seat type of Mel Gibson et al.

by NancyP on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 09:22:01 PM EST

This piece shows your unrelenting diligence in digging up the facts and debunking the myths propagated by this Anti-American unconstitutional movement (reconstructionism).  I am always impressed by your research and thoroughness.  

by TMurray on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 07:51:48 AM EST

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