October 2, 1889
WE print in this number of the SENTINEL a report of the debate in the Constitutional Convention of Washington on the preamble to the pro-posed constitution of that State. This debate is of special interest to more people of this country than simply the people of the State of Washington. In view of the demand that is being made for a religious amendment to the National Constitution, the arguments used and the result in the Washington convention are worthy of careful study. It is evident that the opponents of the religious idea had by long odds the best of the argument. Not only so, but these stood solely upon principle, while those who favored it openly confessed that it was a mere matter of sentiment, while some of them went so far as to make it a matter of temporal gain and even of political party influence. Those members of the convention who had most respect for religion and for God as a matter of principle, were opposed to the religious preamble while those who had least respect for religion, whether in principle or in practice, were the ones who favored it most.
For instance, Mr. Warner, the chairman of the committee on preamble, is a member of the church and is a gentleman in whose life, religion and respect for God are matters of abiding principle; and because this is so he consistently opposed any sentimental or conjuring use of the holy name. On the other hand, Mr. J. Z. Moore, who had so little respect for God, or religion, or the convention, or himself, as to have a keg of whisky sent all the way from Kentucky for use during the convention, and openly advertised it in the convention on a question of privilege, and made use of it there,—he, consistently enough, favored the substitute in order to prevent “a bad example to the youth of the growing State!” These two cases form as good an illustration of the respective merits of the two sides of this question as can ever be found.
The arguments proposed in favor of the religious substitute are worthy of brief notice. Thus Mr. Cosgrove wanted the name of God in the preamble as an immigration scheme, and to sustain this idea, he presented the plea that “the people of the East believed that Washington Territory was a heathen land,” and are “only now commencing to learn that the people of Washington Territory are civilized and enlightened.” We would simply remark, that if Mr. Cosgrove expects by constitutional provisions to instruct the people of the East in regard to the State of Washington he has got a bigger task on his hands than he will ever get through with.
In his second speech, Mr. Cosgrove made it a political party matter and a bid for votes by arguing that “The party which organized this convention, from president to page, would be held responsible for all that was left out as well as all that was put into this constitution; and might find itself needing votes for this document from the very people who would withhold them from it unless a simple recognition of the Supreme Being was in.”
Mr. Turner, the other one of the three chief advocates of the substitute, first stated that “it was a matter of sentiment, he admitted,” but afterward declared that “it was from the highest motives of duty” that he offered the substitute. Yet neither his religious sentiment nor his motives of duty prevented him from getting roiled at Mr. Sullivan’s incisive speech. If it had been a matter of religious principle rather than of sentiment with Mr. Turner, he would have been enabled to keep his temper; yet if it had been a platter of religious principle and real respect for the Lord, he would neither have offered nor supported the substitute that he both: offered and supported.
This is further shown by the fact that those who favored the substitute started out with a professed respect for Almighty God and proposed to be grateful to him, but yet they had not gone far before they admitted that it mattered not whether it was He who was recognized or not, just so it was somebody. Mr. Dyer, who presented one of the substitutes that caused all the debate, in arguing for it said he “believed in beginning this great constitution by recognizing the Supreme Being, whether as God, Allah, or Jehovah, and express gratitude to him. Mr. Cosgrove argued in the same line, to the effect that “the man who is not accountable to a Diety pf some kind is unsafe in any community.” And all the rest who were so strongly sentimental in their favor to Almighty God were willing to compromise, as Dyer and Cosgrove were, upon “God, Allah, or Jehovah,” or “a Diety of some kind;” all of which conclusively shows that none of those who so strongly favored the substitute had any definite idea of whom Almighty God is, nor who it was to whom they proposed to be grateful. And so far was their action from being a tribute of respect or gratitude to Almighty God, indeed, that the whole thing was precisely what Mr. E. H. Sullivan called it, just “stuff and nonsense; and was not far removed from blasphemy. Blasphemy is not only “denying that which is due  and belonging to God,” but is “attributing to him that which is not agreeable to his nature.” And to attribute to God such a sentiment or character as to imply that he would receive as a token of gratitude to him, and thus make himself a party to, an act done merely as an immigration scheme or for political party effect, is nothing else than to make him as they themselves were, mere politicians; and was certainly to attribute to him that which is not in any sense agreeable to his nature.
We have said that this is important to the people outside of the State of Washington, in view of the fast growing demand for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States embodying the same ideas, or proposing to recognize religion in some way in that instrument. In view of the result in the Washington convention, it is not by any means a groundless fear that when such a proposition comes before Congress, it will be passed, and for the same reasons, supported by the same arguments, and by the same kind of men. Nor is it by any means an extravagant conjecture that when Congress shall pass such a measure, it will be adopted by the people.
It may be said by others as it was by its advocates in the convention, that being a mere matter of sentiment, it will not amount to anything either way. But before many years there will be questions before the Supreme Court of Washington that will demonstrate that that thing is much more than a mere sentiment and will amount to a good deal. Mr. Turner, who so strongly advocated the sentiment, is spoken of as a candidate for the Supreme Court, and if, upon a question of religion before the Supreme Court, his influence should prevail, the first effect of this supposed sentiment would be the establishment of a religion and the enforcement of its observance. It is not a harmless thing. It has proved to be a very harmful thing in New York, and other States. That part of the preamble to their constitution ought to be decisively rejected by the people of Washington.
A. T. J.