Jackson’s Sturdy Wall of Separation

Andrew Jackson is an odd figure in American life. A warrior and a populist, he is little understood, and his … Continued

Andrew Jackson is an odd figure in American life. A warrior and a populist, he is little understood, and his views on church and state—and religion and politics—are no exception. But Jackson is worth studying on these questions, for he largely got them exactly right by insisting on liberty of conscience and resisting calls for the formation of what was to be called the “Christian party in politics.” He refused to formally join the Presbyterian church while in public life for fear of being seen as craven, and he refused to endorse legislation setting aside a national day of prayer amid a terrible cholera outbreak in 1832.

Still, he respected the religious, and grew more faithful as he aged. In politics he was essentially Jeffersonian on church and state, endorsing a “wall of separation.” He did so partly because he believed the church could be corrupted by the state. Few presidents rival Jackson in his immersion in the Bible; he called Henry Clay, his great foe, “the Judas of the West,” and he believed in the workings of providence. But he hewed to the best tradition of the Founders, recognizing that religion should shape us without strangling us. His example is worth following even now.

Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor and On Faith co-moderator, is author of the new book “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.”

Jon Meacham
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  • ZZim

    Nice article, Jon. Andrew Jackson could serve as a good example in modern times. I especially liked the idea that was able to consider separation of Church and State important while simultaneously having high respect and regard for the religious. Far too many of the separation of Church and State proponents who write here have scornful, dismissive and intolerant attitudes toward religion and religious people. It makes these boards a generally negative place.

  • larissa_payne

    Not sure the Creeks, Cherokees, and the other American Indian tribes he virtually wiped out with deceit and dislocation would agree with you on this one. He orchestrated a great mass murder of American Indians. Not sure God would “lionize” that.

  • journeyer58

    All of the happenings of today, started because of one man’s vision, Ronald Reagan. He started a faction of the Grand Orgy Party, to court the White,

  • DoTheRightThing

    Ah, yes, Andrew Jackson was a great one to separate church from state. It’s very apt that Mr. Meacham ask us to follow the example of this president, whose policies parallel those of today’s Democrats well beyond the church/state issue. For political expediency, Jackson denied en masse the personhood of every member of the Cherokee Nation in the Carolinas and dispossessed thousands of them of their lands. He then used the U.S. Army to force-march them in their thousands along the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma, during which death-march many of them died. I bet you are smart enough to draw a modern Democratic Party parallel to this abomination, but I also bet you will immediately dismiss it from your consciousness as “ridiculous” because your self-preservation in your current socio-economic and political situations depends upon it.

  • stevestegman

    As a Catholic, the last election was like getting drilled on a raw nerve. Our Priest, from the pulpit, even equated how we voted to “our eternal salvation” with the abortion issue being the only one that mattered. A few of the outspoken Bishops echoed this. I love my Church but inspite of the tragedy of abortion, politics is not the Church’s game. It only undermines her moral and spiritual authority and allows weaker political candidates to use religion as a weapon. Witnessing an attempt to intervene in a national election from the pulpit was a chilling reminder that the wisdom of the founding fathers should not be forgotten.

  • DMZ1

    Dotherightthing:Ah, nothing like a little fascist hate speech to start the morning. Apparently, you wouldn’t know the right thing if it kicked you in the face.

  • kengelhart

    Jackson got it right. Religion holds an essential role in government, but no church can claim to be the sole representative of religion. You will note that churches basically do not get along with other churches or, in fact, with other opinions about religion. If you let a church dominate government, it will dominate the state, just like it dominates its congregation.

  • drbill21

    Actually I don’t know any serious member of the so-called religious right that would disagree with President Jackson as far as it goes, just in case you were implying that they would.The problem occurs in what people today mean by “separation of church and state” and what Jackson (and early Americans) likely meant.The religious right support separation of church and state for the very reason Jackson suggested… it tends to corrupt the church… which is why the church must very carefully discern the best way to influence society so as not to sully itself.However, and this is a big however, separation of church and state does NOT mean separation of religion and politics. It doesn’t mean that because it CAN’T mean that. If one’s religion has no relevance to civil matters (which is what politics concerns itself with), then it is a rather pitiful religion.Separation of church and state exists primarily for the benefit of the church, not the state. The state owns all the cards… it controls the army and it can impose taxes…. what can a church do? It is the church that is protected so it can then be free to do its job influencing society. In effect, the church plays the role of “internal affairs” keeping the govt honest.The church also provides instruction and guidance to its parishioners on matters of doctrine and the consequent moral values that flow from that. These moral values are then brought into the world and influence the culture both by direct good works and through working for justice and order via the democratic process.The fact is that almost ALL laws are the result of a democratic majority imposing their moral views on everyone else. Whether the issue is slavery or child labor or prohibition or abortion or gay marriage or domestic violence or workplace discrimination, in EVERY case you are limiting someone else’s “freedom” in the name of SOMEONE’S moral values and in almost all cases, those moral values are rooted in religious assumptions.The church would not be the church if it did not encourage and even admonish its followers that they have a duty to bring justice and moral order to the world.Of course this is not what modern secularists mean when THEY talk about separation of church and state. They want to remove all religious values from the public square. If it was up to them, there would be a sign at the polling place saying “leave your religion at the door.” Of course the result would be that only secular values (rooted in their secular assumptions) would be permitted as the basis for any laws. To them Separation of Church and State means to “wall off” churches onto their little reservations where people can visit occasionally but then leave their religion there when they return to the “real” world.

  • harveyh5

    Hey if you obtain value from the Bible for some of it’s moral tales, like Aesop’s Fables, alright then. Doesn’t sound though like Andrew Jackson took as the word of God.

  • robinlandseadel

    DRBILL21 : “Actually I don’t know any serious member of the so-called religious right that would disagree with President Jackson as far as it goes, just in case you were implying that they would.”Not to get too far into the argument clinic, but it’s very hard for me to imagine a “serious member of the so-called religious right.” As far as I can tell, they’re all demagogic clowns À la Elmer Gantry.In any case, the notion of deity held by the founding fathers is very different than that of the current crop of evangelicals. The god worshiped by the crew emerging from the so-called “Age of Enlightenment” and leading to our Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights was very Apollonian and cut off from human affairs. All this pleading, demanding and beseeching of the evangelicals of the Religious Right—particularly psycho Dominionists like Sarah of the Frozen Tundra—would be viewed askance by the likes of Jefferson and Franklin [who was a world class weirdo and Occultist anyway.]DRBILL21 :”Separation of church and state exists primarily for the benefit of the church, not the state. The state owns all the cards… it controls the army and it can impose taxes…. what can a church do?”See “European History, 900a.d.—1945a.d.” Come On! Get Real!Catholic Church/Protestant Church, wars, wars, wars!!! Don’t pretend for a second that Churches haven’t controlled governments. You’re smarter than that, I know you are.

  • alanshapiro

    We all have moral grounds for what we believe. We might believe in God, Satan or magical mushrooms. The point of the separation of church and state is that when you bring up an idea to be a rule of the state, you need to have a secular basis for it. In the abortion issue, for instance, you can not say that God said or, leaving out God, that life begin at conception. You need to talk about the basic rules for government and the consequences if this were accepted or not. You must think of the lives of people. the things that happen. You can not think about the moral judgments we will have made of them.

  • knivesanddemons

    Yeah, well God has wiped out people en masse for quite some time – but he isn’t exactly demonized for it.

  • obrier2

    “Christian party in politics.” We have one, we call them republicans.

  • justillthen

    dotherightthing:”I bet you are smart enough to draw a modern Democratic Party parallel to this abomination, but I also bet you will immediately dismiss it from your consciousness as “ridiculous” because your self-preservation in your current socio-economic and political situations depends upon it.”I assume you are alluding once more to abortion. There is no parallel to these two at all. Please don’t continue to bring abortion up in every thread. There are other discussions. And single issue litmus tests did not work, so perhaps it is valueable to compartmentalize and discuss what is on topic.

  • justillthen

    DrBill:Fine post and good job. Good arguments. I don’t agree altogether, but few do. In saying that serious members of the religious right agree with separation of church and state is a huge stretch, done so presuming a difference between “church” and state and “religion” and politics. There is effectively no difference. You venture into wordgames and faulty rationalizations to support your justifications for church involvement in politics while attempting to remain clean. It is dishonest. It would be more truthful to say that you feel that your church has a right to manipulate politics and you intend to continue to do so.

  • justillthen

    DrBill:A continuation:”Of course this is not what modern secularists mean when THEY talk about separation of church and state. They want to remove all religious values from the public square.That is not me, and I could easily call myself a secularist. Yet I am deeply spiritually centered and believe that a life devoid of God is a relatively worthless thing. It is one reason that this debate is important to me. I DO believe that religion should be kept out of government, but not out of the public square. I am disgusted by some of the tactics of the religious right, hell bent (!) to enact religiously derived laws and to ensconce judges and lawyers and politicians into government. The unholy alliance of radical fundamentalism and the neo-con war machine, coupled with liberal monetary policy and government open for world change business signs have brought about a form of end times. End of Americas moral authority times. End of balanced budget times. End of the American Dream times. End of what could have been movement toward world peace. Religions, those institutions devoted to God, cannot even find peace and prosperity between themselves. Don’t trust them with the reins of government. Support them plying their trade inside the sanctity of their church, where they have plenty of security and rights.

  • AnneCV

    Historical references are of great value, especially as the issue of religion and governments has been so center stage. It seems that Jackson had the clarity to comprehend the Constitution without the influence of his devout religious beliefs, rather he had the confidence in the founding principles to let it stand on its own without inserting the values or conduct based on religious beliefs. I am continually perplexed by the lack of understanding of this concept. I find there is little understanding that while the Constitution allows for freedom of religion, another essential aspect is it guarantees freedom FROM religion. If my child is learning Creationism as part of the public school curriculum then our family is not free from another person’s religious beliefs. This is an important component, often misconstrued as the view of religion haters or anti-Christian politically correct trend setters. We seem to be in a mode in which Christian conservatives are defending why their beliefs are valid and are threatened by people who do not share the same beliefs but they are not connecting to the real views of fellow Christians, non-Christians and non-believers, which is, we respect your religious beliefs, so respect our choice to exercise our right to be free from your relgion and have different beliefs. Many people worry about true freedom when a portion of a political party advocates for a Constitutional amendment to formally recognize America as a Christian nation. This is against everything our founders wanted for us. The willingness to take on such a devisive issue acts as a dangerious devide for our country. I’m fearful of Americans who are willing to fight with fellow Americans for the chance to change the concept of our government.

  • bartedson

    Well, we definately have a Christian Party in this country now–the Party of George Bush and Sarah Palin.

  • Peter22

    Interesting. You don’t say very much about Jackson’s views.

  • bevjims1

    drbill21 wrote: “However, and this is a big however, separation of church and state does NOT mean separation of religion and politics. It doesn’t mean that because it CAN’T mean that. If one’s religion has no relevance to civil matters (which is what politics concerns itself with), then it is a rather pitiful religion.”Politics is the discussion of using government towards an end. It is about whether to build roads, whether to go to war, whether to enact laws, etc. It is not about saving souls, making people better people nor leading people in religious teaching. If you lump these things together then this is why you see no separation. But in England the government dictated church law and the church used governmental power to its benefit including mandatory taxes paid to the church. This also happened in early America before independence. That is the danger Jackson saw and the need for a separation. Today the religious right wing is working to write new laws and use government power to its benefit. Jackson would be appauled. Maybe you should take a trip to Wikkiamsburg where the church’s power over the state determined taxes (paid to the church), punishments based on your beliefs, etc. In New England withces were burned due to religion corrupting government. I hope you can undertsand why Jackson saw evil when the church dictates state functions.drbill21 wrote: “The state owns all the cards… it controls the army and it can impose taxes…. what can a church do?”But if the church were not separate from the state then the church, as in England or early America, would control those things. Why is this so hard for you to understand? And one church would control those things, not all churches. A catholic in colonial Williamsburg paid taxes to the Anglican church. All you need to consider is what life would be like if a very different church from yours influenced government.

  • NYCman

    Jackson had many flaws, just like the people that elected him. Amazing how that principle of governance always holds. Still, he had wisdom on the separation issue.In most of recorded history regarding any country or culture, there has been no practical difference between the church and the state. They were in effect one power. Good for the hierarchy in control of both; hardship for the faithful, tyranny and death for the non-believers.Let’s not go back.

  • paultaylor1

    It seems that so many things which are important to us, that go against the social flow, can be seen clearly only from afar; or by a prescient few up close, whom no one wants to listen to.Does history teach us a lesson? It always seems to, in retrospect. But I wouldn’t bet on that. It all still depends on “who” the “us” is.A problem persists that there are too many of us teaching too many lessons, from too many interpretations.

  • FH123

    “I am continually perplexed by the lack of understanding of this concept. I find there is little understanding that while the Constitution allows for freedom of religion, another essential aspect is it guarantees freedom FROM religion. If my child is learning Creationism as part of the public school curriculum then our family is not free from another person’s religious beliefs.”You can’t not allow an explanation because it has a religious component. The cellular complexity, DNA et al., they have a level of order that is difficult to explain without consideration of the possiblility of design. To not allow even the consideration of this possibility due to the fact that it may mean a designer is wrong. Science is about following the evidence wherever it leads, and eliminating a possibility because you don’t like its conclusions is going against the grain of the basic principles of the scientific method.”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”There’s nothing here that protects you from all religious contact…this is about respecting your opinions not insulating you from religion.

  • bevjims1

    FH123 wrote: “You can’t not allow an explanation because it has a religious component. The cellular complexity, DNA et al., they have a level of order that is difficult to explain without consideration of the possiblility of design.”Really? Have you seen how much junk DNA there is? The only explanation is either a God that was inept at making clean DNA or evolution.FH123 wrote: “To not allow even the consideration of this possibility due to the fact that it may mean a designer is wrong.”And which designer should the children learn about? There are more than one that mankind believes in. Which should the government teach you child?FH123 wrote: “Science is about following the evidence wherever it leads, and eliminating a possibility because you don’t like its conclusions is going against the grain of the basic principles of the scientific method.”But adding a possibility based purely on belief is called bias and is something science recognizes and works to keep to a minumim. You proposal makes bias the basis of scientific study. Once bias is the basis of scientific study it is no longer scientific. FH123 wrote: “There’s nothing here that protects you from all religious contact…this is about respecting your opinions not insulating you from religion.”It protects me from religious establishment by the government. You are confusing free religious expression with a government’s religious establishment. The two are not the same so don’t say that they are. And if you cannot understand this then consider how you would react when your child comes home from school and shows you how he learned to pray to the east using a prayer cloth at school. What, you afraid of a little free religious expression?

  • FH123

    bevjims1 wrote:Scientists considered everything they did not understand “junk’…everyday scientists are learning more and more about the functionality of this “junk”.Bevjims1 wrote:This is not about teaching which designer and to assume that a specific designer needs to be addressed is a strawman argument.Bevjims1 wrote:Bias…what are you talking about??? Excluding a possiblility due to its implications is bias…I would present every possible explanation…starting with evolution, which is obviously the most plausible explanation for life that we currently have.Bevjim1 wrote:It does not exempt you from any discussion of a creator, or the possibility of a creator, which is the basis of your argument. You continue to create strawmen arguments, which you tear down.

  • iamweaver

    My real problem isn’t that religious citizens (like me) decide to impose their morals on society, as long as those morals involve inter-human interaction. It’s when they decide to impose moral values relating to human vs. deity relations that they go too far. We may be a nation of (mostly) Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. There is a huge difference between the two terms.Things like attempts to force non-Christians to listen to scheduled, event-driven Christian prayers at non-Christian events is (IMO) an abominable misuse of the power of the state (note the use of abominable here is meant to be religious sense). There are many other instances where man-to-God relations have been codified in our laws – fortunately most of them have gone away and I am confident that the rest will vanish within the next decade or so.

  • bevjims1

    FH123 wrote: “Scientists considered everything they did not understand “junk'”There has been some DNA termed junk where functions have been found, but there is also a lot of DNA that is shut off and no longer has a function in humans. Some of these same genes are found functioning in other animals. Junk DNA is not a mystery and it points to evolutionary scraps of DNA in your genome, or a bad designer who forgot to clean up.FH123 wrote: “This is not about teaching which designer and to assume that a specific designer needs to be addressed is a strawman argument.”But a “designer”? A spiritual one? Aliens from other planets? What ever you want it to be? This is not science, its fantasy.FH123 wrote: “Bias…what are you talking about??? Excluding a possiblility due to its implications is bias…I would present every possible explanation…starting with evolution, which is obviously the most plausible explanation for life that we currently have.”One form of bias is starting with a conclusion and bending the evidence to meet that conclusion. There is no other way to conclude a designer created man and animals. And science does not have a bias against a designer. There simply is no evidence for a designer. If there were there are more than a few scientists who would follow that evidence. But there is nothing to follow.FH123 wrote: “It does not exempt you from any discussion of a creator, or the possibility of a creator, which is the basis of your argument. You continue to create strawmen arguments, which you tear down.”What strawmen? We can discuss designers or creators but when we look at the evidence there is nothing to back it up. The evidence shows evolution, a natural process, brought life to where it is today. What I’m saying is that you can fanticize all you want about life and its origins and how we got here, but that is not science. And the evidence for a designer is not only not there, the evidence is against a designer, except a very poor one.

  • FH123

    bevjims1 wrote:You mean a conclusion such as starting with the premise that there can be no causal agent so naturalism is the only science allowed???Hard to see evidence for design with your eyes closed…eh.I don’t think ID should be in schools right now because in its current format its not testible/verifiable/predictive. However, if a testable model should be produced it certainly is worth considering.From molecular motors to the incredible complexity and efficiency of dna, if you don’t see the possibility of design, you clearly are not looking. Regardless, I wish you well and have enjoyed the discussion.

  • FH123

    One more thing…do we really want the guy who forced-marched an entire civilization across the country to be the arbiter of morality…I’m just saying.

  • justillthen

    BevJims1:”And the evidence for a designer is not only not there, the evidence is against a designer, except a very poor one.”We should not judge God too harshly, given the constraints He created under.Here is another thought. Maybe WE are perfect, and do not know how yet…Perhaps the “junk dna”, like many other pieces of yet to be understood information, has purpose that is unknown. Or has purpose that is not current, and so sits dormant but awaiting its’ use…

  • justillthen

    Hello FH123:I enjoyed your debating of BevJims. “I don’t think ID should be in schools right now because in its current format its not testible/verifiable/predictive. However, if a testable model should be produced it certainly is worth considering.”And there is the rub, yes? And if it is “testable” I would assume that we are speaking verifiable or at least with enough empirical data to support a postulation. As you said:

  • FH123

    JUSTILLTHEN WROTE:You can’t teach in a classroom anything that has any relationship to the biblical creation story. That would be contradictory to our constitution and good science. What you can do is build a model based on some biblical principles. The universe came into existance quickly, life is complex, the earth shows evidence of being uniquely suited for advanced human development…etc, etc.In short, Darwin himself said that if life could be shown to be so complex that natural mechanisms did not adequately explain its origin, then his theory could be proven false. A “Causal Agent” would in that case be the only explanation for its presence.

  • justillthen

    FH123:”In short, Darwin himself said that if life could be shown to be so complex that natural mechanisms did not adequately explain its origin, then his theory could be proven false. A “Causal Agent” would in that case be the only explanation for its presence.”Two things.

  • FH123

    Your comments bring a smile to my face…there is a wisdom in what you say and how you express yourself…you really have a gift.My conversation with BEVJIM1 was meant to be a hypothetical in my mind. Should ID come up with a valid scientific theory, would it then be appropriate to include said theory in a schools curriculum. I would say based on principle that it should be, regardless of the theological implications. However, the ID community is a long way from this, and as you say…if it’s not a sound scientific formula, it has no place being taught in science class.My own view on the divine is that to believe in a higher power is the only logical option. I never enjoyed Sartre too much…if I have to chose, I’ll take the hope behind door #1.

  • justillthen

    FH123:

  • harveyh5

    DRBILL21,Nothing to change my opinion. Dream on!