"...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me..." [Deuteronomy 5:8-10]

Monday, June 28, 2004

The Dangers Of Gotcha Quotes
Surfing the Internet Infidels Newswire, I came across this quote from a letter to the York Daily Record, from a Joseph C. Korsak, dated 25 June 2004:

"Just 20 years after our founding, the Senate approved the enactment of the Barbary Treaties of 1796. Article 11 of the Barbary Treaties of 1796 stated:... 'As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, - as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, - and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.'"
A little checking shows that this version of events is disputed. Hunter Miller of Yale University notes:
"As even a casual examination of the annotated translation of 1930 shows, the Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic; and even as such its defects throughout are obvious and glaring. Most extraordinary (and wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation, with its famous phrase, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. The Arabic text which is between Articles 10 and 12 is in form a letter, crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and seemingly must remain so. Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point..."
So while this quote was contained in the text ratified by the US Senate in 1796, it does not appear to have been in the orignal text of the treaty itself.

This is a salutory reminder of the dangers of "Gotcha" "Smoking Gun" quotes - they're seldom as decisive as they first appear. However, the Barbary Treaties can be used with caution as evidence that the USA was intended by its founders to be more secular than not.

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