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    “Crazy Jonathan”

    Number 13 · 8 January 1789

    Of late much has been said about the qualification of Federal Representatives—And it is curious to hear it advanced, both in pulpit and out, that piety, devotion and religion ought principally to recommend a candidate; while it has been declared, from a certain desk, that learning, genius and abilities, and an extensive acquaintance with men and manners were not necessary, provided the candidate be a man of grace, a man of piety and religion.*

    This kind of language was frequent among the clergy of [the] church of Rome, during the dark ages; when grace was looked upon as the sole foundation of property and government in this world, as it was a prerequisite for an heavenly inheritance in the world to come. But these are doctrines that ought equally to be detested in free America, where it has been so often demonstrated that government originates with the people, and property from personal labour.

    The idea that grace is connected with knowledge of arts, sciences, &c is quite a novel one: And upon all other occasions, except the present, endeavours have not been wanting to demonstrate that knowledge in arts, sciences, government, occupations and laws, was not necessary for the bestowment of grace; but rather that all human learning was adverse to religious graces—such as piety, faith, devotion, &c &c.

    Now I differ so much from these sentiments, as to think that piety, faith, devotion, or religion in general, are of themselves, no qualifications whatever for a candidate in the federal government; and that men may, yea, actually do possess all these in an eminent degree, but are, nevertheless, as superlatively unfit for federal representatives, as they are to make clocks or watches—build ships, or navigate them—command armies, or teach minuets.

    The world has been strangely led away from that line of conduct, which, had it been pursued, would have produced much happiness to the whole, by a notion that religion was either the sole, or an essential qualification for men in publick character—And yet, every one differs from his neighbor as to what makes a real religious character.

    The Jews rail at Christians, Mahometans and Heathens, because they cannot claim Abraham for their father. The Christians persecute Jews and Mahometans because these latter cannot see their way clear to pay divine honours to Jesus Christ, whom they conceive to have been but a mere man. The Mahometans enslave Christians, and deprive Jews of many of their natural rights, because these have not sufficient evidence to believe that Mahomet was specially sent by God as his great prophet. Yet these are all religious in their own way. And to God, whose sole prerogative it is to judge whether men are religious or not, let them stand or fall.

    * Were the duties of the future American Congress to be collected from some people in this eastern country, and from the sentiments delivered in one or two pulpits, a stranger would be led to think that that body is designed solely to settle the modes of worship, and religious creeds. But I trust that in the succeeding papers I shall be able to correct this error; and to demonstrate that the Congress will have nothing to do with religion—that in choosing Senators and Representatives, the electors, if they would discharge their duty to the country, will consider the ability, knowledge and integrity of the candidates; but never once say what is their religion. How dare one man say his neighbour’s religion is wrong, when he can have no greater evidence for the rectitude of his own religion, than hath his neighbour for his?

    Also, I shall endeavour to convince people who have fallen into the foregoing error, that the objects of Congress will be Agriculture, Manufactures & Commerce; and that they cannot discharge the duty they will owe the inhabitants of the United States, unless they are men of ability and extensive knowledge. For if they are persons of little minds, and void of information upon the important subjects that will come before them, it will be a pitiful excuse for them to hold forth their religion, their piety and devotion. They may pray without ceasing, and punctually perform every other act of devotion: But these, in the national legislature, will be like tithing of mint, anise and cummin;1 while every thing a legislator ought to possess will be wanting. Whereas, should they be men of proper information and integrity, the more free their minds are from an attachment to any particular religion, the better will they be able to discover the true interest of the United States—And having discovered this, we may rest assured, that nothing on their part will be wanting which may tend to its advancement.


    Number 14 · 15 January 1789

    To shew that religion is a bad criterion to judge of men’s fitness or unfitness for offices in government we need only look back about fifteen hundred years upon the faithful page of history. But as this might be tedious, and require too much time, let us look over the various divisions and sub-divisions of religion in America, and see what animosities and wranglings have been gendered among the people on this account. Towns are split to pieces—parishes are divided—new societies [congregations] are formed, and refuse to worship with the old, on account of religion. Family government is subverted—husbands and wives are separated—children become disobedient to parents, and parents “provoke their children to wrath” on account of religion.1 Benevolence, candour and charity are destroyed, and neighbor set at variance with neighbor on account of religion. These are not the paintings of fancy, but facts accurately stated—in proof of which, present and recent instances might be adduced.

    Is religion, then, a criterion by which we may judge of men’s qualifications for any business or active profession in civil society? It is more variable than the wind—And I think it not extravagant to say, that it is as easy to determine the exact direction of the latter ten years hence, as to ascertain, by the former, the fitness or unfitness of a man for any active employment or profession in civil life.

    I cannot see why persons of a particular religious sect, or division of a sect, should say that one of his sentiments only is suitable for a member of a legislature which is to make laws for a people whose opinions respecting religion are as different as their faces. And yet when a man asserts that none but religious men should be in the legislature, he either means this, or nothing. If he intends no more than that he ought to be religious in his own way, he utters nonsense, or does but differ about words; for every man is religious in his own way—that is, he has certain principles which he holds sacred—as sacred as does any sectary the particular tenets of his own religion. Even Atheists, or such as are by very religious people deemed Atheists, have demonstrated that they are governed by principles of integrity, and love of truth, as firmly as any of those celebrated martyrs, who with their blood have witnessed a belief of the christian religion.

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    Number 15 · 22 January 1789

    To build a ship, the masterworkman must understand the art or mystery (for a mystery it is to all who do not understand it) of that trade or profession; and to do this, he must serve an apprenticeship with somebody that is skilled—extraordinary cases excepted. To make watches and clocks, a different art must be learnt than that to build a ship: and to navigate a ship or fleet, another different from either. In short, all the various productions of art that have become necessary to the convenience and happiness of man, in improved society, require skill and information before they can be made. Suppose a merchant was about building a ship, and for that purpose he enquired for a master builder, would he not render himself ridiculous, if instead of trying to get one that understood the business, he should enquire for a man of religion—and should declare that he cared nothing about the natural abilities of the man, or whether he had any knowledge of ship building, provided he was a man of piety, grace and devotion—a man who could pray well, talk divinity, and make sermons: I say, would not every intelligent man take such a merchant to be as crazy as Jonathan himself. The same may be said of watch makers, clock makers, shoe makers, and the professors in the various mechanical arts. It is skill in the art that makes the artist; and integrity in his dealings with mankind, that secures their confidence, and gains their custom—while their religion, their piety, their grace and faith are but secondary considerations; and it would be happy for mankind in their dealings with one another, if they were wholly out of the question. For so long as these things are held up of importance in the various connections that must take place among men in society, all the ill consequences depicted in No. 14, will follow. They will arise as naturally as earthquakes, thunder, lightnings, and other terrible phenomena, in the natural world, do from their principles.

    When I want a coat or jacket made, I do not enquire for a man of religion, but a taylor—I do not enquire whether he prays in his family or not; but whether he understands his business, that is, if he cuts with propriety, and sews well—I do not ask whether he goes to meeting on Sundays, or whether he keeps Saturday night, or Sunday night; but whether he is an honest man, a man of integrity, and eschews cabbaging with his soul. And if these queries are answered in the affirmative, what has any one to fear? if in the negative, what avail his piety, his grace and prayers, but to make his honesty more suspected?

    If men and women were to go upon these principles in all their dealings with one another, and never enquire or say a word about their neighbour’s religion, his faith, piety, grace, &c I think I may assure them that in a few years they would find their own tempers and dispositions much sweetened; they will feel more good natured, and less given to backbiting, and the train of vices the apostle [Paul] exhorts against.

    Hereafter I will endeavour to apply the reasoning contained in this number, to the notion of making religion a criterion in the choice of men to form, regulate and administer civil government.

    Number 17 · 5 February 1789

    Government “is as much an art, founded, as all other arts are, upon science, as husbandry, architecture, ship building,” watch making, or clock making. “In all these cases, we have a practical problem proposed to us, which must be performed by the help of” principles “with which experience and observation” have made us acquainted. The end of ship building is to make the best ships; of architecture, to build the best houses; of watch making, to construct the best time pieces, &c.—and the end of government is the happiness of the members of it, in the perfect and undisturbed enjoyment of the more important of our national rights, for the sake of which we voluntarily give up others of less consequence to us.1

    Most of the governments in Europe, having derived their origin from the times of ignorance and barbarity, as to the knowledge of the true end of government, and being founded on force and fraud, are of but little more use to Americans in the formation and administration of their governments, than as beacons to give seasonable information where the rocks, shoals and quicksands are. They instruct us what we ought not to do, rather than afford us any direct information of what combinations in first principles, or qualifications in the administrators, are most likely to obtain the true object of society.

    In foreign governments, property and religion are generally so interwoven in their constitutions, that they have become essential qualifications for legislators, and officers under government. Hence it is, that the candidates, fixing their attention upon the religion of the country, and that quantity of property necessary for any office, we find people admitted into very important stations, full of religion, zeal, and property—but as void of knowledge in the art of government, as a “mole or a musquash.”

    In No. 16, I have attempted to shew that property is, in the nature of things, no qualification for a legislator; and in No. 13, 14 and 15, that as religion, piety, grace, &c are neither by the continental Constitution, or by the reason and just estimate of things, their relations and connections, qualifications of a federal legislator, so they ought not to be made necessary in the minds of the electors in giving their votes for such officers. This I have done by referring to the mischief arising to the human species by making religion a constitutional qualification of a legislator—as also, from the nature of man, his powers, passions and affections. Whether I am right or not, I cannot absolutely pronounce. We may think ourselves right in many things, and for a long time indulge the idea, till it becomes almost impossible to be convinced of our error: yet our train of thinking being interrupted by the suggestion of some new idea, or a new connection, may even in this case, be the means of setting one right, who had gone on till then in error, though unperceived. I know too, the unpopularity of the sentiments advanced in the four preceding numbers: but conscious of having nothing but truth and a candid investigation of positions important to the happiness of man, in view—I cheerfully submit them; and shall, with candour, and the same attachment to truth wherever I find it, attend to any observations made upon the foregoing sentiments.

    After shewing what are not qualifications of a federal legislator, it may be expected that I point out what are. This I confess is difficult to do, but in general terms, which often convey little information. However, I shall give my idea of the qualification of federal legislators.

    To do this, we must consider government, as before observed, to be an art, which has the greatest possible sum of happiness to its members, for its object; and this is to be effected by a skilful management and adjustment of those unimportant rights, that were before said to be given up to obtain an undisturbed enjoyment of our more important ones. This shews the federal legislators are under a twofold restrain: first, the Constitution—they can pass no law, nor take any step, however beneficial they may suppose it would be, if it infringe upon the Constitution: and secondly, all those things given up to them by the Constitution, must be regulated for the good of the whole. Hence it follows,

    1. Federal legislators ought to know accurately what powers are given them by the Constitution.

    2. As the federal government is built and rests upon the state governments, they must acquaint themselves fully with these local governments, least they infringe them without right: and to be able to do this with facility, they must understand the history and progress of these several governments—their changes and revolutions—their laws, customs, and mode of administring justice. This appears to me indispensibly necessary. For the laws of the United States are hereafter to be uniformly the same through the Union; and must be, in a great measure, made up of those parts of the laws of the several States, wherein they all agree, or approach the nearest to a sameness. The continental laws must be a sort of abstract from the whole of the state laws.

    3. There are now subsisting six or seven commercial and friendly treaties between the United States and European powers; and the Congress hereafter is to regulate trade and commerce with foreign powers. It behoves them, therefore, to have a clear knowledge of the trade and commerce of Europe, Asia and Africa—and those parts of America that have heretofore been shut up as it were, from the general commerce of the world. And in order to make this knowledge subservient to the interest of the United States, it follows that the Congress must be well informed of the various productions, and their quantities, of the several States in the Union—what can be produced with the most ease, and exported to the best advantage—and what may be imported without hurting our own manufactures, or discouraging the husbandry, and at the same time prevent too great a spread of luxury, and its baneful concomitant, a dissipation of manners.

    4. Provision must be made for the payment of perhaps forty millions of dollars. This requires an extensive acquaintance in the various systems of finance; and skill in drawing forth the resources of the country in a manner the lest injurious to any class or order of men in the society.

    5. It appears to me the situation and circumstances of the federal legislators will be such as to make them watchmen and guards to the rights and privileges of the people at large—not only to preserve them, by wise regulations, from domestick broils and contentions, but from foreign intrigues and machinations. And as government is a progressive art, to be matured by time and experiments, it will be incumbent upon our federal legislators from time to time, to give due notice to the people wherein the continental government is imperfect, and suggest such expedients as may be calculated to ripen it to perfection. And to do this, they ought,

    6. To be well versed in the knowledge of human nature, “the proper ground work of all political knowledge”2—history, ancient and modern—how the various governments have sprung from the smallest exercise of power to the most extensive despotism, under Emperours, Kings, and Popes; and how, and by what means, they have decayed, expired, and new ones sprung out of the ruins. This is the more necessary, as before hinted, to prevent the present generation from being too implicitly governed by the former. This is a branch of politicks too little attended to. Hence we hear words and phrases made use of, long after they have lost their meaning; and maxims peculiar to one government or general state of things, applied to a different government and another state of affairs. Had this observation been attended to, we should, in the course of debating upon the new Constitution, have heard less about democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy—with the balance of power, &c and more arguments drawn from the nature of man, under the peculiar circumstances attending America at this time.

    Let this suffice for the present; the remainder at some future opportunity—as we ministers say.

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    Number 18 · 15 August 1791

    After a storm cometh a calm—This observation is not more just when applied to the natural, than, metaphorically speaking, to the political world. Both worlds are subject to storms, quakings, shakings, tornadoes, hurricanes and calms: And as it is dangerous to put to sea in a gale of wind, so likewise it is sometimes imprudent even for a crazy man to express his sentiments and queries while certain political and religious questions are in agitation among the people. The time, however, will come, and I flatter myself it has now almost overtaken us, when there will be no more danger to ourselves, or offence to those we converse with, in enquiring what is the utility to the public, in giving credit to any propositions or principles adopted for truth among the people in general, than for us, when on a journey, to ask those we meet with on the way, about the road we are traveling—whether it be the most direct rout to the place we are bound—if it be a good or bad one—whether there be any other leading to the same place; and which of them, if more than one, is the best, all things relative to pleasant traveling being taken into the account.

    Now I look upon government and religion connected, as we generally find them, together, as the road to happiness; and I can see no more reason to be angry with another for having different sentiments on these subjects, than for taking a road different from that I am in, though bound to the same place with myself.*

    If we cannot agree to a common road, why let each of us jog on in our own way. Perhaps, after making several journies, we shall discover which is in an error, and agree to take the same road. In the mean time let us be candid, and charitably disposed towards all such as we may think have taken a blind and dark path, and administer to them all the light we can. We are called rational creatures, and if we really are such, why should we not reason upon all subjects that present themselves to the understanding, and claim our attention.


    Number 21 · 5 September 1791

    Among the variety of amusements I enter into, none are more pleasing, and at the same time, improving, than that of hearing and attending to the opinions and sentiments of others. This circumstance also gives me an additional happiness, that though I scarcely ever met with three persons who agreed among themselves in divinity, morality or politics, and never with one who united in all things with myself, I feel equally disposed to extend candor and charity to such as are at the widest extremes from me as those who are on the next point to a perfect agreement. For after all the difference in opinion, which sometimes creates havock and devastation, the individuals of the whole human race are brethren, having the same Father—all acting from the same general principle, as well as having the same object, their own happiness, in view. A man’s thinking differently from me can be no just reason for me to found a censure upon; because when I make his sentiments the standard (and what mortal can declare which ought to be the criterion) he would have the same reason to throw censure upon my differing from him—So that people must be universally uncandid and uncharitable because of their universal discord in sentiment; or else this discord of sentiment must produce an agreement to be candid. And if we have any command in forming our tempers and dispositions, every person who knows the happy effects of good humour and tranquility of mind, over a sour, morose, and censorious turn of thinking, will be always on his guard against indulging a spirit of censure.

    Some little time since I fell in company with a number of gentlemen, who, when I joined them, were closely engaged in canvasing the federal Constitution, and more particularly that part of it which has reference to the qualifications of Senators and Representatives. A young man, who appeared to take the lead, and conversed with much ease on the subject, gave it as his opinion that there ought to have been a clause making a belief in the Christian Religion an essential qualification for a Senator or Representative—for this is a christian country, and none should have any hand in administring the general government but Christians. But would you exclude Jews, replied an elderly man? Yes, certainly, continued the young man; for they are no Christians. And I, answered the old man, might upon the ground of your argument, say that Christians, where there happened to be a majority of Jews, should in their turn have no hand in the administration of government, and merely because they were not Jews. This would be making a man’s sect or denomination an essential mark of legislative abilities; which to me appears improper. But why, said the young man, should a Jew, whose religion is so different from christianity, wish to meddle with the government of Christians? For two reasons, replied the Old man—First, though it is true than Judaism and Christianity are in some respects very different, yet in those respects wherein civil government can with propriety expect to be benefited by any religion, they are pretty much the same. And secondly, civil government can extend to nothing but the life, liberty and property of its citizens; and as to these things, Jews are equally interested as Christians in a good administration of the governance they live under. And, continued the old man, I cannot but look upon the liberality of the federal government, in this particular, the noblest feature in it. It hereby resembles the Deity, and declares to the world, that of every nation he that fears God and worketh righteousness shall be protected by it, and equally partake of its benefits—whether they be Jews, Christians, Mahometans, Chinese, Indians, or Hindoos.

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    CG. The essays carry no internal date; the date assigned to each is the date of publication.