December 17, 1896
THERE have been those who held to a distinction between the nation and the Government of the United States. They therefore have held that this might be a Christian nation without being a Christian Government. And when the United States Supreme Court declared that by “organic utterances,” and according to the meaning of the Constitution, “this is a Christian nation,” they said that that did not mean anything special as to the recognition of a national religion, because the court did not say that this is a Christian Government.
This distinction is not sound; but for the sake of the case, let us admit that claim just once, and see what will come of it. The Government of the United States is composed of three departments—the Legislative, the Judicial, and the Executive. It is impossible to deny this. Neither of these alone is the Government. No two of them together are the Government. All three are essential parts, and any one is only a part, of the Government. The three together—this is the Government.
Now in 1892 the judicial department of the Government definitely committed itself to the Christian religion as a governmental thing, by declaring that by “organic utterances” and the “meaning” of the Constitution, this is a Christian nation. And at every opportunity that has been offered since, this department of the Government has shown that it adheres to this doctrine.
In 1892 likewise the legislative department of the Government committed itself not only to the Christian religion as a governmental thing, but to that particular phase of it that a represented in Sunday observance. In 1893 this branch of the Government, by direct action, confirmed itself in this thing; and nothing has been done since to the contrary, by this department of the Government.
In 1892 also the executive department of the Government committed itself to the Christian religion as a governmental thing, by officially approving the action of the legislative department; and nothing has been done since to the contrary by this branch of the government. In addition to this, in 1896, the executive department of the Government, in a thanksgiving proclamation, did commit itself again specifically to the Christian religion as a governmental thing.
Now as it is undeniable that these three departments are the Government of the United States; and as it is also undeniable that these three departments have by repeated action committed themselves to the Christian religion as a governmental thing; it is equally undeniable that in the bad sense in which such a term is always used, the Government of the United States has been made and continues to be a “Christian Government.”
What more could possibly be necessary to accomplish such a thing? Was it essential that all three branches of the Government should by definite action take such a step? All three have done it. Was it essential that all three branches of the Government should by repeated action take such step? All three have by repeated action done it. Then is it not undeniable that the thing has been done?
This is not to claim that all has been done that will be done. More, much more, will be done. This is to say, however, that the particular, the essential thing, of the recognition of a governmental national religion, has been done. And when more shall have been done, it matters not what it may be, in this direction, it is impossible for it to be essentially, or in principle, the doing of any new thing. All it can possibly be is the enlarging and deepening of the thing that has been already done.
Nor is this to say that the opposition should be any the less earnest to all that may be attempted in addition to what has been done. The opposition must never be less, nor less active, than it has been, but more if possible, to anything and everything of the kind, both to what has been done and what may be attempted. It is a wicked thing; and opposition to it is both civilly and religiously right. Never let up; and never surrender.
OF “trusts and monopolies,” President Cleveland, in his late message, said: “Another topic in which our people rightfully take a deep interest may be here briefly considered. I refer to the existence of trusts and other huge aggregations of capital, the object of which is to secure the monopoly of some particular branch of trade, industry or commerce, and to stifle wholesome competition.
“Their tendency is to crush out individual independence and to hinder or prevent the free use of human faculties and the full development of human character.
“Through them the farmer, the artisan, and the small trader is in danger of dislodgment from the proud position of being his own master, watchful of all that touches his country’s prosperity, in which he has an individual lot, and interested in all that affects the advantages of business of which he is a factor, to be relegated to the level of a mere appurtenance to a great machine, with little free will, with no duty but that of passive obedience, and with little hope or opportunity of rising in the scale of responsible and helpful citizenship.
“To the instictive [sic.] belief that such is the inevitable trend of trusts and monopolies is due the widespread and deep-seated popular aversion in which they are held and the not unreasonable insistence that, whatever may be their incidental economic advantages, their general effected upon personal character, prospects, and usefulness, cannot be otherwise than injurious.”
That is all true. And though this was written with particular reference to the trusts and monopolies of capital, it is just as true of trusts and monopolies of labor, religion, or anything else, as it is of those of capital.
In the dispatches of the same day that the President’s message was printed, there was the following:—
ST. LOUIS, MO., Dec. 7, 1896.—One of the greatest labor organizations that the world has ever seen has just had its inceptiomn in this city. It is a universal building trades union, and includes the labor of every artisan from the digging of the foundation to the last touches upon a building.
There met here yesterday representatives of building trades from many cities at the call of the local building trades council. H. W. Stainbias, secretary of the St. Louis Building Trades Council, is authority for the statement that 2,500,000 persons are interested in the movement.
It is not proposed to antagonize the employers of skilled labor, but to show them the benefits of cooperation with the laborers who create wealth.
This later organization comes within the President’s description of trusts, as certainly as does any organization of capital. For  assuredly the object of this organization of building trades is nothing else than “to secure the monopoly of some particular branch of trade, industry, or commerce, and to stifle wholesome competiton.”
It is true that this building-trades trust suggests “benefits” that can come from their monopoly; and so does the coal trust, the sugar trust, and all the others. The President’s answer to the claim of “benefits” to others made by the capital trusts is also an answer to this suggestion of “benefits” to others made by this latest, or any other, labor trust. Admitting that such a thing may incidentally and occasionally appear, it is only incidental and occasional, and “such occasional results fall far short of compensating the palpable evil charged to the account of trusts and monopolies.”
And the greatest of these evils is that which the President points out, which we have before pointed out, and which only last week we dwelt upon—the destruction of individuality. As the President expresses it: “This tendency is to crush out individual independence and to hinder or prevent the free use of human faculties and the full development of human character;” the relegation of the individual “to the level of a mere appurtenance to a great machine, with little free will, with no duty but that of passive obedience, and with little hope or opportunity of rising in the scale of responsible and helpful citizenship.”
The President recommends legislation that shall check the operations of trusts and monopolies of capital. But how can a law be made that will have the desired effect upon the trusts and monopolies of labor as well? Any legislation proposed which should bear upon the labor trusts, however, would be instantly and vigorously resented as an attack upon labor and an invasion of the rights of labor; and certainly would not be suffered to become law. Yet any law bearing only upon trusts and monopolies of capital, would certainly be rejected by the courts as special or class legislation. Indeed, the President says that the legislation that has been enacted already, has failed, “simply because the laws themselves, as interpreted by the courts, do not reach the difficulty.”
There is danger then, indeed there is a probability, that in the attempts to remedy the evil by legislation, it will be done in such a way that a governmental trust and monopoly will be erected which will be more destructive to individuality than all the other trusts and monopolies of all sorts together. The danger is that laws may be enacted and enforced, even by decrees of the highest courts, overstepping the boundaries of strict impartiality and general justice, and the assent of all be exacted simply because it is the law; and when any one presumes to question the law as to whether it is right, or strictly impartial or generally just, and refuses his assent to it because it is not such a law, he will be denounced as an enemy of the government and a revolutionist.
There is too much of this doctrine spread abroad in the United States already, that every law must be accepted and obeyed simply “because it is the law.” Benjamin Harrison, while he was president, as he was “swingin’ round the circle,” made this his particular theme. In the late campaign he made a specialty of the same thing, and denounced as “revolutionists” all who should refuse assent to a decision of the United States Supreme Court on a constitutional question. The principles upon which the Government of the United States is founded, admit no such doctrine. Abraham Lincoln’s whole political contest was waged against it.
Yet this doctrine is the stronghold of the religious combination that proposes by Sunday laws and religious legislation generally, to dominate the country, and which is already dominating it to vastly too large an extent. They never ask, nor do they care, whether a thing is constitutional, or whether it is right. They only want to know whether it is the law, or whether by any means it can be made the law. Then whoever opposes it or refuses to obey it—no matter how flatly unconstitutional and wrong it may be—he is denounced as an “enemy of the government,” “revolutionists,” “anarchists,” “Adventist,” etc., etc. And having the governmental power in their hands, and public opinion on their side, they can, and they do, make it very uncomfortable for the man who chooses to think for himself and to maintain the constitutional provisions and fundamental principles upon which the nation rests. The effect of this religious trust and monopoly, precisely as is that of every other trust and monopoly, is to crush out individual independence and to hinder or prevent the free use of human faculties and the full development of human character;” to relegate the individual “to the level of a mere appurtenance to a great machine, with little free will, and with no duty but that of passive obedience.”
It was not by any means a small club to be used to this end that President Cleveland put into the hands of this religious monopoly, when in his last Thanksgiving proclamation he committed the national government specifically to the patronage of the Christian religion—or rather, to that form of the Christian religion which is dealt in by this religious “Trust.”
REALLY we did not suppose that anybody could be found who would defend President Cleveland’s action in dragging the Christian religion into his last Thanksgiving proclamation. Many we knew would be glad that he did so, and would gladly use it for all that could be made out of it; but that any would attempt to justify it or defend it, we did not believe.
The issuing of a religious proclamation at all, even in the most general and non-committal terms, by the President of the United States, is so clearly an act of usurpation, that we could not think that anybody would have the face to defend such an act when he went so far beyond this as to adopt distinctly the religion of one class of the people of the country.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, … are reserved.” No man can for a moment say that the power to appoint religious festivals, and prescribe religious exercises, has been delegated by the Constitution. Every person who ever read the Constitution, knows there is no delegation of any such power. For the President of the United States to do such a thing, is for him to act without authority, without the Constitution, without legal right. It is even more than this; for the makers of the Constitution and of the Government under it, particularly excluded religion, and specifically the Christian religion, from the cognizance of the national authority. Such an act of the President, therefore, is not only with the Constitution, but against the Constitution—against the spirit and express intent of the Constitution.
Yet for all this there are those who have the face actually to defend this latest thing of the kind. It will be of interest to the people to know who they are that do it, and how they do it.
The Independent was the first to do it. After quoting the particular sentence of the proclamation, it acknowledges that “this is a recognition of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Christian religion in a proclamation addressed to all the people of the country, Christians and Jews alike.” But why mention only Christians and Jews? “All the people of the country” are not composed of Christians and Jews. There are thousands and thousands of “the people of the country” who are neither Christians now Jews, and yet who are entitled to just as much consideration from a President of the country as is any Christian in all the land. Was Mr. Cleveland chosen and elected to be the President of all the people of the country? or of only the Christians of the country?
But even though all the people of the country were composed of only Christians and Jews, then under a Constitution including both Christians and Jews the President of the country would have no kind of right in his official capacity to recognize exclusively Christian doctrines. To do so would be at once to give public notice that he did not consider himself the President of all the people; but of the Christians only. It would be to say that in his view the Constitution did not include Christians and Jews, but Christians only. And when as is the fact all the people of the country are composed promiscuously of Christians, Jews and non-religionists, living under a Constitution that was framed expressly to include all without any distinction whatever; when, in view of this the President, having taken an oath to maintain the Constitution, in his official capacity as President issues a document which is exclusively Christian, notice is thereby plainly given to all the country that he does not consider that the Constitution includes all the people, but Christians only; and that he considers himself under that Constitution as President, not of all the people, but only of the Christians of the country. This must be so, or else it will have to be admitted that a President who issued such a document was an exceedingly thoughtless personage.
As we did not suppose anybody would defend this thing, so also we would not have supposed that anybody would attempt to defend it in the way that the Independent does in the following words:—
Our President and governors are authorized by law to set apart certain days as seasons of thanksgiving and fasting. All that the law provides is the bare announcement of the time.
As it relates to the President of the United States, there is not a shadow of truth in this statement. As for the governors, it is true that there are States that provide that they shall appoint days of thanksgiving. But as regards the President, it is absolutely false. There is no law authorizing him to do any such thing; not even as to “the bare announcement of the time.” His doing of it is entirely without law, as well as without the Constitution. The Independent’s pretense that there is such a law, is a fraud. But that a fraudulent thing should be supported by fraudulent means is natural enough; and, by the by, it is becoming enough too.
The Independent further says:—
If the President or governor says anything further [than the law provides] it is not a legal act.
Very good. That is true enough. And as it is certainly true that there is absolutely no law which provides that the President shall  say anything at all on the subject, it follows as also certainly true that what he does say on this subject “is not a legal act.” That is true. We only wish all the people would tell him so; and instruct him to quit committing acts that are “not legal.”
The Independent further says that when the President says anything further than the law provides, it is not a legal act, “but an expression of personal opinion or advice;” and that—
no Jew or pagan can rightly take exception to some recognition of Jesus Christ, as an expression of the President’s personal faith…. Although addressed to all the people his little sermon is no more official than his address at the Presbyterian Home Missionary meeting in Carnegie Hall last winter.
Mr. Cleveland did not address that missionary meeting in his official capacity of President of the United States. He did not say to them, “I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, do hereby,” etc. He did not write it out and say, “Witness my hand and the seal of the United States, which I have caused to be hereunto affixed.” He did not close that address with “Done at the city of Washington, … in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and twenty-first.
“By the President, “GROVER CLEVELAND.
“RICHARD OLNEY, Secretary of State.”
Yet all this was done to his Thanksgiving proclamation. In fact it would be impossible for any document to have more of an official character.
For any one to say, in view of all this, that what he said in the proclamation “is no more official” than was his address at the missionary meeting, is, if possible, more fraudulent than the statement that he is “authorized by law” to make such proclamations. Though of course it should only be expected that all the statements on the subject would be of the same piece.
As the whole document, however, because of its being “not a legal act,” was in itself only an expression of opinion, it may in that sense be admitted that the particular sentence was also “but an expression of personal opinion,” “an expression of the President’s personal faith.” But even then, it is pertinent to inquire, What right has any man to attach the Great Seal of the United States to his personal opinions, and thus to pass them out to the country as official business of national importance? What right has any man thus to make his personal opinions the official opinions of the nation? What right has any man to put the national seal upon his personal faith and officially send it forth to the people of the country as a governmental thing to which they are expected to conform? What right has any man thus to make his personal faith the official faith of the nation?
But the climax of the Independent’s ghastly defense is reached in the following:—
Suppose the President had been a Roman Catholic and referred to the invocation of Mary as a mediatrix, he would have made a mistake, because the prevailing sentiment of the land would be against him.
And is the Independent absolutely sure that there will never be so much of a prevailing sentiment in that direction that it will not be a mistake for a Roman Catholic in the presidential chair to refer to the invocation of Mary as a mediatrix, in a Thanksgiving proclamation? The Independent positively justifies such a thing whenever the prevailing sentiment may permit it. This is what the fathers saw when they made the National Government separate from religion, when they said: “Who does not see that the same authority that can set up the Christian religion in exclusion of all other religions, can with the same ease set up some particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects?” Other presidents gave national recognition to religion in general. President Cleveland has given national recognition to the Christian religion in exclusion of all other religions. It is only a question of time when the next step will be taken, and a President will give nation recognition to some particular sect, and that the Catholic sect, in exclusion of all other sects.
Rome sees this too. And therefore Cardinal Gibbons’s organ, the Catholic Mirror, also comes to the defense of this latest proclamation and this latest phase of the development of National religion. The Mirror of November 28, says:—
The Cleveland and Cincinnati rabbis and congregations who have made all this disturbance about a trifle are placing themselves in the same boat with those cranks and bigots who would “leave God out of the Constitution,” or indeed, refuse to recognize any overruling Providence whatever—who would practically make our government agnostic or infidel.
And finally there comes the Reform Bureau of Washington, D. C., in the Ram’s Horn, of Dec. 5, 1896, declaring it to be “unusual if not unprecedented,” and that “Thus at last we have a proclamation in accord with the Supreme Court dictum, ‘This is a Christian nation.’” And in a communication to the Washington, D. C., Evening Star, of November 30, the same body says further: “The Thanksgiving proclamation is in this respect the first one that might not have been as appropriately issued in China or among the Choctaws, or wherever a Supreme Being is recognized. This is the first proclamation in accord with the long list of historic facts on the basis of which the Supreme Court said, on February 29, 1892, in a unanimous opinion (Trinity Church case): ‘This is a christian nation.’ This proclamation, with the burial of the spoils system and the arbitration treaty, will make this administration distinguished in history above any other since the war.”