Time to publicize this again. It keeps coming up because Christians don’t like to to believe it. Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796.
Surely this is a country founded on Christian principles. Well, the founders didn’t think so.
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.
This treaty was negotiated during the end of George Washington’s administration and ratified by the Senate in 1797 – shortly after Washington retired from office.
There was disagreement then (and later) about the translation, but this was the language the Senate voted on.
It has been upsetting to Christians for 200 years, but there it is.
This country is founded on Enlightenment Principles. That and Democracy, which hails from ancient Greece. Oh, and the Representative form of government – where the smaller jurisdictions send representatives to the larger jurisdictions’ assemblies was mostly borrowed from one of the Native American nations. (Cherokee, I believe, but my memory isn’t what it used to be.)
If you doubt the Enlightenment connection, well all I can do is point you at the important documents. There is Locke, who wrote several treatises that outlined a just government. And I like to include De Tocqueville, who chronicled American Democracy in action in the 19th Century. (This obviously wasn’t the “basis” of anything, but it showed the results.) Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations should be included on the free market front. (“Capitalism” is a term coined by Karl Marx, in an effort to say that free markets are bad. He advocated dictatorship of the proletariat. “Capitalism” = Bad, “Communism” = Good. That is a term also coined by Marx and/or Engels.) You could also read Hobbes’ Leviathan, as that had some impact on the thinking of the time. He started the West thinking about individual rights, the “social contract” being the reason that we cooperate with one another, and the idea that people should be free to do what the law does not forbid.
If you are looking for a general introduction to Western thought, I like Six Great Ideas by Mortimer Adler. The six ideas are Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty Equality and Justice. Seems like 6 things worth thinking about – the 3 ideas we judge by, and the 3 ideas we govern by.
Christianity, on the other hand, is bound up with stuff like “the divine right of kings,” and the like. The best thing the Founders did for us was to keep religion out of government. The zealots have been trying to put it back in ever since.