Gingrich on Jefferson, God, Immigration

I was bumming around the ‘Net recently, looking for arguments against socialism, when I came across a speech by Newt Gingrich. Well, I kept hearing stuff that I couldn’t help but question. So, I transcribed the speech and added some annotations. The bracketed numbers, if it isn’t clear, are a rough indication of where Mr. Gingrich said that in the speech.

The speech was posted without information about the venue, date, or time. I can only guess that he gave it in 2005, around the time he published Winning the Future.

The speech starts…now:

[audio: to .55.mp3|titles=:0 to :55] [:0 – :55]

I’m going to take just two or three topics to give you examples of this level—this is the Reagan/Thatcher level of setting up arguments so profound that the other side, in the end, can’t win them, and then just sticking to it.

So, I’m going to give you a couple of areas to think about. I’m going to deal with patriotic education and patriotic immigration. And, in order to explain the context of patriotic education and patriotic immigration, I’m going to talk a little bit about the centrality of our Creator to understanding America as an exceptional country.

And I want to talk in that context about how we rebalance the constitution by bringing the courts back into the American system and taking them out of their current, dictatorial biases. [applause] And then I’m going to briefly talk about— I’ll take questions.

[audio: to 1.4.mp3|titles=:55 to 1:40] [:55 – 1:40]

Let me start because somebody asked me a question they were so concerned about. They said, “How does John Q. Public prevent the ACLU from running roughshod with the removal of a historical cross and God?” This is a reference to the Los Angeles county problem.*

I’m going to start by saying the Los Angeles county problem was not the ACLU. The Los Angeles county problem was cowardly commissioners. [applause] They didn’t go to court. They didn’t wage a fight when you have to beat them. You have to find people with the courage to go out and run. And again, this is hard work, this is not easy. You’ll say, “Oh, it’s really hard to win in Los Angeles.” It’s really hard to win in Los Angeles because you allow the current political structure to define Los Angeles.

[audio: to 2.07.mp3|titles=1:40 to 2:07] [1:40 – 2:07]

Let me give you an example: if you went through Los Angeles and you took a poll and you said, “How many of you believe you ought to have the right to say, ‘One nation under God’ as part of the pledge?” the answer will be at the most liberal 85% and maybe as high as 93%. Now, I would argue that even with Republican tactical incompetence somewhere around 85%. But around 85%, you show the winning issue, OK?

[audio: to 2.30.mp3|titles=2:07 to 2:30] [2:07 – 2:30]

But that means you’d have to actually go out into Hispanic neighborhoods and talk to people probably in Spanish and you’d have to say to good Catholics, “Gee, do you think saying something about God is OK?” This is a fairly strong issue among Catholics. They tend to believe that you should be allowed to talk about God. That’s a shocking thought. I’m Baptist. My wife sings at the Basilica. So, I notice this [unintelligible—perhaps “experience it”]. For a Baptist, it’s very interesting.

[audio: to 3.mp3|titles=2:30 to 3:00] [2:30 – 3:00]

So, let’s start with that. Second, you need to ridicule them. I mean, somebody needs to propose that the city should become known as Secularville. I mean, how can you be Los Angeles? If you’re not allowed to have a cross, how can you have angels? [laughter, applause] I mean, which is it? Either the angels are OK, so put the cross back up or the angels are wrong too so change the city’s name.

[audio: to 3.38.mp3|titles=3:00 to 3:38] [3:00 – 3:38]

But, this is the core question. And I stick with this because this is the core, defining issue in American culture in the next fifteen years. We, as a nation, on a non-denominational basis, there is a huge underlying belief that our rights come from God. And this is a debate that we need to have. Now, I say to all of my secular friends, if you are not endowed by your Creator with certain inalienable rights which is, by the way, a historical document not a religious document—the Declaration of Independence.

[audio: to 4.15.mp3|titles=3:38 to 4:15] [3:38 – 4:15]

So, if you’re not endowed by your Creator with certain inalienable rights, where do they come from? And if you want to tell me you’re randomly-gathered protoplasm [laughter] and that you have contract rights, you just explained totalitarianism. Because if all you are is randomly-gathered protoplasm, why can’t I have a Holocaust? Why can’t I torture you? Why can’t I brainwash you? Why can’t I eliminate your historic memory, by doing things like, for example, taking the cross off your seal. So, it’s either one or the other. There’s no middle ground here.

[audio: to 4.56.mp3|titles=4:15 to 4:56] [4:15 – 4:56]

And I start with history not with ideology, not with theory, with history. The founding document of the United States of America says, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” That makes us the most exceptional country in history. We are the only country that says, “Each one of you, including, by the way, the atheists, they may not recognize God, God recognizes them, it’s OK—” [laughter] Which is why [Michael] Nudow has every right to dissent, but no right to dictate. [applause]

[audio: to 5.45.mp3|titles=4:56 to 5:45] [4:56 – 5:45]

Now, at the back of the book — and this is downloadable for free for any of your friends who are coming to Washington — there’s an entire walking tour to God and the national capitol. And the reason I was determined to put in a walking tour to God in the national capitol is my most secular friends would walk up and say, “Well, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and we know he was a Deist.” Well, they don’t have a clue what that meant. But, they felt good about it. [laughter] They knew he wasn’t Baptist or Catholic so they somehow felt more secure.

So, I suggest you go to the Jefferson Memorial, which on three of its four walls has a quote about God, and around the top of the memorial, it says the following. In fact, the memorial is what we use for the cover of the book. Around the top it says, “I have sworn upon the altar of God Almighty [sic] eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the minds of man.”

[audio: to 6.23.mp3|titles=5:45 to 6:23] [5:45 – 6:23]

And I say to my secular friends, “What do you think Jefferson might’ve meant by the term ‘God Almighty’?” [laughter] Now, because they got tenure in the kind of universities that David describes, they promptly say to me, “This was actually a stunningly, subtle use of language to actually mean ‘large, purple banana.’ ” [laughter] Because, of course, if they actually believe that Jefferson meant God Almighty then he would’ve meant God Almighty, then he might’ve meant Creator, if he meant Creator and Creator was God Almighty their entire theory of America just disappeared.

[audio: to 6.45.mp3|titles=6:23 to 6:45] [6:23 – 6:45]

They will then say to you, “Ha! But Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danville [sic] Baptists saying that there should be a wall of separation between church and state which is exactly right. And by which, Jefferson meant we should not have a nationally funded national church which I agree with. They then mean separation of church and state has now become anti-religion.

[audio: to 7.15.mp3|titles=6:45 to 7:15] [6:45 – 7:15]

Well, what they won’t tell you is that two days after Jefferson signed that letter, he got in his carriage at the White House, rode up Pennsylvania Ave., went to the U.S. House of Representatives chamber and went to church because the U.S. House was used as a church ’til after the Civil War. Furthermore, Jefferson turned over the treasury every Sunday to be used as a church. So, it’s a little hard to explain how Jefferson thought you couldn’t say “one nation under God” or have a prayer or do a variety of really radical things like posting the Ten Commandments.

Mr. Gingrich doesn’t say from where he gathered this statistic. I cannot confirm this statistic.
One might argue that the cross is the most common symbol of Christianity. It is at least as strongly attached to Christianity as the crescent moon and star to Islam and the Star of David to Judaism. Angels, on the other hand, are specific to no single religion.
Here is the Encyclopædia Britannica definition of totalitarianism:

form of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of the individual’s life to the authority of the government. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini coined the term totalitario in the early 1920s to describe the new fascist state of Italy, which he further described as: “All within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.” By the beginning of World War II, “totalitarian” had become synonymous with absolute and oppressive single-party government.

This is another reference to the Los Angeles County Seal. Mr. Gingrich doesn’t point out that the Board of Supervisors replaced the cross with the Mission San Gabriel. The board explained that this mission, “represents the historic role of the missions in the settlement of the Los Angeles region.” For those concerned about “historic memory,” one might argue that the Mission San Gabriel is a much more specific symbol of California history than the Christian cross.
In saying, “There’s no middle ground here,” Mr. Gingrich appears to be saying that one either believes in a Creator or one has no ability to determine right from wrong. However, due to the diversity of opinion about the wishes of a potential Creator, no one can claim a universal morality derived from those wishes. At best, many religions which profess belief in a Creator have in common a mention of the Golden Rule (regardless of whether or not they’re able to adhere to it). However, those who do not believe in a Creator have nothing to prevent them from accepting the Golden Rule as a valid moral tenet.
I believe this book is Winning the Future.
Here is a definition of deism from Merriam-Webster: “a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.”

Here is another definition, this time from Random House: “belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation (distinguished from theism).”

To start, this is a slight misquote. The word “Almighty” is not in Jefferson’s original quote. More importantly, in context, it is clearer that Jefferson wrote this statement in reference to Christian sects that were hoping to insinuate themselves in the government:

The delusion into which the X.Y.Z.1 plot shewed it possible to push the people; the successful experiment made under the prevalence of that delusion on the clause of the constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro’ the U.S.; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians & Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me, forging conversations for me with Mazzei, Bishop Madison, &c., which are absolute falsehoods without a circumstance of truth to rest on; falsehoods, too, of which I acquit Mazzei & Bishop Madison, for they are men of truth.

1 Three Frenchman—referred to in diplomatic dispatches as X, Y and Z—attempted to bribe members of an American delegation to France in 1797. The publication of these dispatches in 1798 created a furore in the U.S.—Eds.

—Thomas Jefferson
Political Writings
Editors: Joyce Oldham Appleby, Terence Ball
Cambridge University Press, 1999

Jefferson didn’t use the term “God Almighty” in the quote Mr. Gingrich mentions above. However, Jefferson did use this term elsewhere. What God was Jefferson talking about, though? Jefferson wrote favorably of Jesus when he compiled an edited version of the New Testament. So, was he talking about the Judeo-Christian God? This seems unlikely if his The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth is any indication. Jefferson apparently felt that more than 80% of the New Testament is comparable to a “dung-hill”:

We must reduce our volume to the simple Evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphiboligisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dung-hill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages.

—Thomas Jefferson
from a letter to John Adams
Monticello, October 13, 1813
Memoir, correspondence, and miscellanies, from the papers of Thomas Jefferson
By Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph
Published by Gray and Bowen, 1830

There seems to be good evidence to indicate that Mr. Gingrich is correct on every point here. Not only is all of this probably true, but it also seems that church services were all Christian. However, the services were not of any single denomination. We don’t seem to have any of Jefferson’s own thoughts on his church attendance. That he did regularly attend may contradict his statement in favor of a wall of separation between church and state.

So, how do we reconcile such things? Perhaps church influence on government was inescapable at the time. Perhaps Jefferson was less worshipper at these services than watchdog. Or, perhaps he really did approve of strong ties between church and government after all.

Library of Congress: Religion and the Federal Government

The below quote may be evidence that Jefferson disapproved of the idea of associating the Ten Commandments with government buildings:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

—Thomas Jefferson
from his autobiography
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson
By Thomas Jefferson, Henry Augustine Washington
Published by Taylor & Maury, 1853

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