Above: John Adams, President of the United States from 1797 to 1801
Image in the Public Domain
The administration is not the nation-state. This is a simple fact that political dissidents keep having to repeat, even in my native land, the United States of America. To oppose the presidential administration is not to be disloyal. The Constitution of the United States even builds debate and dissent into the political system, complete with contested elections.
The failure to acknowledge the fact that the administration is not the nation-state during the Quasi-War with France during the administration of President John Adams (1797-1801) contributed to the abomination that was the Sedition Act of 1798.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and on conviction, before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, and by imprisonment during a term not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and further, at the discretion of the court may be ho]den to find sureties for his good behaviour in such sum, and for such time, as the said court may direct.
SEC. 2. And be it farther enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States, done in pursuance of any such law, or of the powers in him vested by the constitution of the United States, or to resist, oppose, or defeat any such law or act, or to aid, encourage or abet any hostile designs of any foreign nation against United States, their people or government, then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted and declared, That if any person shall be prosecuted under this act, for the writing or publishing any libel aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the defendant, upon the trial of the cause, to give in evidence in his defence, the truth of the matter contained in Republication charged as a libel. And the jury who shall try the cause, shall have a right to determine the law and the fact, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one, and no longer: Provided, that the expiration of the act shall not prevent or defeat a prosecution and punishment of any offence against the law, during the time it shall be in force.
APPROVED, July 14, 1798.
Source = The Avalon Project, Yale University
Adjusting dollar amounts for inflation is crucial. Know then, O reader, that $2000 (1798) is $39,800 (2015) and that $5000 (1798) is $99,400, according to MeasuringWorth.com.
It was a partisan law applied to opposition newspaper editors and Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont. One might also notice that the law permitted (by omission) all manner of negative press and speech regarding the Vice President, who was Thomas Jefferson, a leader of the opposition party. Newspaper editors went to prison, newspapers closed, and Lyon became a federal inmate. Lyon was hardly the most polite of Congressmen, but all that he had uttered and published negatively regarding the Adams Administration fell within the bounds of the First Amendment:
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.
Federalists who supported the Sedition Act of 1798 mistook partisanship for treason and trampled upon the First Amendment. Lyon had argued in a letter to Spooner’s Vermont Journal that the allegedly power-hungry president had “swallowed up” “every consideration of public welfare.” He had written this letter prior to July 14, 1798, so the legal principle of ex post facto protected him prior to the date that Adams signed the Sedition Act into law. After the law had gone into effect, however, Lyon repeated those charges repeatedly and added more criticisms of Adams and the Federalist majorities in Congress (such as that Adams fostered “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” and Congress should send the President to a mad house). The federal indictment (October 5, 1798) accused Lyon of having “malicious intent to bring the President and the government of the United States into contempt.” The verdict was guilty. Lyon went on to win reelection from his prison cell.
Alas, Jefferson was not a paragon of virtue with regard to freedom of the press. Although he, as Vice President, opposed the Sedition Act of 1798, which expired in 1801, he encouraged partisans to use similar state laws against Federalist critics of himself and of his administration. There was, for example, People v. Croswell (1804), which targeted Harry Croswell (1778-1858), editor of The Wasp, a Federalist newspaper in Hudson, New York. Croswell was openly critical of President Jefferson. Croswell lost that case, in which the prosecution convicted him of having committed both libel and sedition. The editor kept losing libel lawsuits. In 1814 he left journalism for the Episcopal priesthood.
The unfortunate tendency to confuse the presidential administration for the nation-state has recurred frequently, drawing support from the “rally around the flag” mentality. Resurgence of this confusion in the form of jingoism has been especially egregious during times of war, whether declared or otherwise. During World War I, for example, the federal government sent some antiwar activists to prison not for inciting violence, but for inciting nonviolence. Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., disappointingly, compared the rhetoric of nonviolence during time of war to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. “My country, right or wrong” has never impressed me, for as the great Voltaire wrote,
It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
And, as the moralist Samuel Johnson observed,
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Dissent is as American as the First Amendment. That is a patriotic statement. Those who enter public life should either have thick political skins already or grow them quickly. President Harry Truman‘s maxim that those who want a friend in Washington, D.C., should bring a dog remains true much of the time.
I am convinced that another contributing factor to the identification of the administration with the nation-state is fear. Out of fear individuals and institutions tend to trample people and ideals–even foundational principles. A time of crisis, however, is properly a time to double down on acting in accordance with those foundational principles, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the fact that dissent is patriotic. As Tom Dobbs, the character the late, great Robin Williams portrayed in Man of the Year (2006), said,
If dissent were unpatriotic, we would still be British.
I bristle whenever I read or hear someone accuse dissidents of being stupid at best or treasonous at worst. One reason for my bristling is principled; I affirm that, in the words of The Use of Force in International Affairs (1961),
If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
What I think of the content of that dissent is irrelevant with regard to my estimate of the patriotism of the dissident. Another reason is personal; I know the feeling of hearing and reading people question either my intelligence or my patriotism or both because of a political difference. Dissent, however, is as American as the First Amendment.
Administrations come and go, but the United States of America persists. The administration is not the nation-state.
As Martin Luther probably did not say,
Here I stand; I can do no other.
I will do no other.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
FEBRUARY 10, 2017 COMMON ERA
I derived much material for this post from Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 2004).
Above: Icon of Ben Salmon
Image in the Public Domain
BENJAMIN JOSEPH SALMON (OCTOBER 15, 1889-FEBRUARY 15, 1932)
Roman Catholic Pacifist and Conscientious Objector
War is the health of the state.
–Randolph Bourne (1886-1918), 1918
It is dangerous to be right in matters about which the established authorities are wrong.
–Francois-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire (1694-1778)
I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
–Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1956); frequently attributed to Voltaire erroneously
To refuse to commit or be complicit in violence when one’s government encourages violences can be dangerous and fraught with legal difficulty.
Consider, O reader, the case of Ben Salmon, born in Denver, Colorado, on October 15, 1889. He grew up in a desert and working-class Roman Catholic family. Our saint became involved in leftist social justice movements, in particular, with labor unionism. According to some, he was even an agitator. Salmon, who attended Mass frequently, married his longtime sweetheart in 1917. Shortly thereafter, due to U.S. involvement in World War I and official intolerance of antiwar activism, his life changed for the worse.
President Woodrow Wilson, about whom I harbor mixed and mostly negative opinions, had predicted prior to April 1917 that, if the U.S.A. were to enter World War I, many Americans would forget that there was no such thing as tolerance. He was correct. He also led the charge of intolerance. In 1917 and 1918 state and federal laws incarcerated peaceful opponents of that war. The U.S. Government even treated Amish (yes, Amish!) conscientious objectors harshly. Authorities, suspecting Amish and Mennonites of being pro-German, kept them under surveillance. (For details, O reader, consult Steven M. Nolt, A History of the Amish, Revised and Updated Edition, 2003, pages 266-273.) Laws in some states targeted those who worshiped in a language other than English, so populations ranging from Dutch-psalm-singing members of the Christian Reformed Church to Lutherans who worshiped in Danish or German felt pressure (sometimes in the form of vandalism) to assimilate.
The Amish had been pacifists since their founding, centuries prior to World War I, yet they were not safe from the assaults of the U.S. military over their refusal to fight in a war. Neither was Salmon, whose pacifism, rooted in Roman Catholicism, put him at odds with the American bishops of his own church. He responded to the draft by applying for conscientious objector status. The Army refused to grant him that status, but offered non combatant status instead. Even that constituted a violation of Salmon’s conscience. In 1918 the military police arrested our saint. In short order he had gone through a court-martial and received a guilty verdict and a death sentence, reduced to a term of 25 years. For more than two years Salmon suffered as he refused to cooperate with his persecutors and oppressors, who retaliated by treating him inhumanely–including with much solitary confinement, sometimes in a vermin-infested cell above the prison sewer. When, in 1920, our saint started a hunger strike, guards force-fed him. Then the Army, arguing that he was not only a criminal but an insane person, had him committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C. The new American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) defended Salmon and other war resisters, sent to prison.
In prison Salmon, consulting only the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Bible, composed a 200-page refutation of just war theory. No modern war, he argued, can fit that theory. Furthermore, our saint insisted, militarism had become the new idolatry. Such arguments did not convert many enemies into allies at a time when the “rally around the flag” mentality turned into jingoism, vigilantism, and religious intolerance–all in the name of national security.
President Warren G. Harding, of whom I also harbor mostly negative opinions, at least pardoned Salmon and other war resisters in late 1920. The Army issued our saint a Dishonorable Discharge, however. Salmon returned to his wife, with whom he had three children. His prison experiences had broken his health. He died, aged 42 years, at Chicago, Illinois, on February 15, 1932.
I have attempted and failed to be a pacifist. Nevertheless, I have concluded that most violence is both avoidable and wrong. I have also concluded that the mistreatment of pacifists is always wrong. I have decided to place the persecutors and oppressors of Salmon in the same category as the Puritans who hanged Quakers in New England in the late 1600s: evildoers who reacted out of fear.
National security is an invalid excuse for trampling the rights of people, in this case, a man who simply refused to commit violence or to be complicit in it. As Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) stated,
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Or at least a jingoist.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 4, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A
THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF DAMASCUS AND COSMAS OF MAIUMA, THEOLOGIANS AND HYMNODISTS
THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERILL, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST
Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor:
By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may
do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Judge and Redeemer, who lives and reigns
with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 2:1-2, 10-12
Acts 14:14-17, 21-23
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 736
Above: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Image in the Public Domain
PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN (MAY 1, 1881-APRIL 10, 1955)
Roman Catholic Priest, Scientist, and Theologian
Lord, since with every instinct of my being and through all the changing fortunes of my life, it is you whom I have ever sought, you whom I have set at the heart of universal matter, it will be in a resplendence which shines through all things and in which all things are ablaze, that I shall have the felicity of closing my eyes.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, quoted by his friend, Father Pierre Leroy, S.J., in the biographical sketch in The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life (first Harper Torchbook edition, 1965), page 42
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), 73 years old, died of a stroke on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955, in the City of New York. He was more famous as a scientist than as a theologian, for the Roman Catholic Church, of which he was a priest, had forbidden him to publish any spiritual, theological, or philosophical works since the 1920s. He was, by the standards of the Roman Catholic Church at the time, a heretic. His funeral was a small event, with ten friends present. Teilhard de Chardin’s reputation grew posthumously with the publication of once-forbidden works. His death created the opportunity for his spiritual, theological, and philosophical writings to go to the printing presses.
Cinephiles among the readers of this post might know The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), a pious movie with a flawed script which leaves too many dangling plot threads. Anthony Quinn does a wonderful job of portraying Pope Kiril (I), a native of the Ukraine. Kiril is a compassionate man with a Pope Francis-like common touch and desire to effect peace where military conflicts rage. Among Kiril’s friends is Father David Telemond, whose theological orthodoxy is suspect. Telemond is the Teilhard de Chardin figure in the story, based on Morris West’s 1963 novel.
Our saint was a Frenchman. The native of Orcines, Auvergne, France, was the fourth of eleven children of Emmanuel and Berthe-Adele Teilhard de Chardin. Emmanuel was a gentleman farmer, and Berthe-Adele was a great-grandniece of Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), a.k.a. Voltaire, snarky author of Candide, or Optimism (1759) and one of the most famous author of the Enlightenment. The 18-year-old Teilhard de Chardin entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) at Aix-en-Provence in 1899. The realities of French government policy required him to continue his studies in Jersey, England, from 1902 to 1905. Our saint taught chemistry at the Jesuit high school in Cairo, Egypt, from 1905 to 1908. Then, from 1908 to 1911, he studied in Hastings, England. There, in 1911, he became a priest.
A scientific career followed. In 1912 Teilhard de Chardin commenced doctoral studies in paleontology and geology at the Sorbonne. World War I (1914-1918) interrupted those plans, for he was a stretcher-carrier in the French Army for a few years. After the war our saint returned to the Sorbonne, where he completed his doctorate in 1922. That year he became the Chair of Geology at the Institute Catholique, Paris.
That was when the trouble started for Teilhard de Chardin. Pope Pius X (reigned 1903-1914), with the anti-intellectual mindset he learned from his peasant background, was a theological stalwart. He condemned Modernism, born out of an effort to reconcile faith and theology with developments in science and other secular knowledge. Among these developments was evolution, extant since Greek antiquity yet restated and revived powerfully in the writings of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Wallace (1823-1913). Pius X (beatified in 1951 and canonized three years later) unleashed what J. N. D. Kelly described in The Oxford Dictionary of Popes as
a widespread, often embarrassing harassment of scholars which widened the breach between the church and the intelligentsia.
Although Pope Benedict XV (reigned 1914-1922) calmed that conflict, official Roman Catholic suspicion of evolution and Modernism persisted for decades. For example, in Humani generis (August 12, 1950), Pope Pius XII (reigned 1939-1958) wrote:
A glance at the world outside the Christian Fold will familiarize us, easily enough, with the false directions which the thought of the learned often takes. Some will contend that the theory of evolution, as it is called–a theory which has not been proved beyond contradiction even in the sphere of natural science–applies to the origin of all things whatsoever….These false evolutionary notions, with their denial of all that is absolute or fixed or abiding in human experience, have paved the way for a new philosophy of error….The Teaching of the Church leaves the doctrine of Evolution an open question, as long as it confines its speculations to the development, from other living matter already in existence, of the human body…..Original sin is the result of a sin committed, in actual historical fact, by an individual man named Adam….
–Quoted and excerpted from The Papal Encyclicals in Their Historical Context: The Teachings of the Popes from Peter to John XXIII (edited by Anne Fremantle, 1963), pages 294-298
The opening of the proverbial church windows to the world had to wait until Pius XII’s successor, John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963).
Teilhard de Chardin’s superiors suspected that he stood outside of Roman Catholic tradition. In some ways he did. Roman Catholicism has long contained mutually exclusive traditions, actually. Critics in the mold of Pius X stood in the anti-intellectual tradition, which has existed within Roman Catholicism for more than a millennium. Distrust of scientific knowledge has long run amok there. Teilhard de Chardin stood within the also longstanding Roman Catholic tradition of reconciling faith and reason, informed by science.
Teilhard de Chardin not only accepted human evolution as fact but gave it a prominent place in his theology. He wrote that the emergence of humans constituted the birth of reflection. Physical evolution, he wrote, had gone about as far as it could. The current phase of evolution, he insisted, was human socialization, that is, cultural convergence toward a single society in which love is the highest radial energy, or inward tendency, toward self-perfection. The culmination of evolution, Teilhard de Chardin wrote, will be the Second Coming of Christ, the physical center of evolution, and the source of the love energy in that process.
Teilhard de Chardin’s optimistic theology had Christ at its center. Our saint understood the human-divine relationship as being properly collaborative. Jesus, he wrote, was the Divine Milieu, always at work in creation. Since “milieu,” in French, indicates both “center” and “environment,” the use of that word was especially expressive and compact.
Certain critics noted that our saint did little theologically regarding issues of sin and evil, and that his treatment of them was either wrong or inadequate. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) had, for example, defined sin as disordered love, which was not Teilhard de Chardin’s opinion.
No human being is perfect, hence no human system of theology avoids flaws. No theologian has ever been infallible, so yes, Teilhard de Chardin committed some theological errors, as did his critics and St. Augustine of Hippo also. My primary question regarding our saint’s theology is whether the core of it was sound. Integrating science and religion and placing Christ at the center of the evolutionary process seems sound to me.
Teilhard de Chardin got into trouble with Holy Mother Church initially because of a paper he wrote on the relationship to original sin to human evolution. No draft of it satisfied his ecclesiastical superiors, who forced him to sign official renunciations of the views contained in that paper. In 1925 the Jesuit Superior General removed our saint from the position of Chair of Geology at the Institut Catholique, Paris. The Vatican forbade Teilhard de Chardin to publish anything in the realms of spirituality, theology, or philosophy, and in the late 1920s, exiled him to China. Our saint spent most of the next almost twenty years in Asia, living in China until 1934 and again from 1939 to 1946. He participated in many expeditions, including the one which discovered the 400,000-year-old school of Peking Man in 1929. Teilhard de Chardin visited France periodically, and traveled in India, China, Japan, and the United States from 1934 to 1939.
Troubles with the Church continued to follow Teilhard de Chardin after World War II. He returned to France in 1946, but had to leave after a few years. Our saint served as the director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research. In 1948 the Jesuit Superior General prevented him from standing as a candidate for the Chair of Paleontology at the College de France. Teilhard de Chardin eventually left for the United States, where he accepted a position with the Wenner-Grenn Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Our saint had a joie de vivre, for he enjoyed pleasures such as good food and humor. Nevertheless, official rejection and interference caused him much distress. Teilhard de Chardin’s friend, Father Pierre Leroy, S.J, wrote:
There was no contradiction in his soul, no ambiguity between his humble loyalty as a son of the Church and the boldness of his philosophical views. But in the depths of his being there raged the excruciating torment of reconciling his complete submission to the Church with the integrity of his thought.
–“Teilhard de Chardin: The Man,” in The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Inner Life (first Harper Torchbook edition, 1965), page 37
Teilhard de Chardin left an astounding legacy. He wrote 10 volumes of hard science and 15 of anthropology, philosophy, spirituality, and theology. He had to endure the Vatican’s official frown during most of his life, but recent Popes have affirmed parts of his theology. Our saint wrote in The Divine Milieu (written, 1926 and 1927; published in French, 1957; published in English, 1960):
Nothing is profane to those who know how to see.
By that standard, Roman Catholicism knows how to see better after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-1965) than it did before.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 15, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER
Eternal God, the whole cosmos sings of your glory,
from the dividing of a single cell to the vast expanse of interstellar space:
We bless you for your theologian and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,
who perceived the divine in the evolving creation.
Enable us to become faithful stewards of your divine works
and heirs of your eternal kingdom;
through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one Gd, for ever and ever. Amen.
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 321
I have not attempted to write a comprehensive account of Teilhard de Chardin’s life and theology, for others have done that already. For more complete yet not tome-length accounts, O reader, I refer you to three sources:
- The American Teilhard Association;
- “Teilhard de Chardin: The Man,” by Father Pierre Leroy, S.J., in the Harper Torchbook edition of The Divine Milieu; and
- The chapter on Teilhard de Chardin in A Handbook of Christian Theologians–Expanded Edition (1984), edited by Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman.
There are also Teilhard de Chardin’s writings, of course.