George Washington’s Political Writing

Thanksgiving is the holiday that most perfectly reflects the political theology of America. Its distinctive blend of religious politics, and political religion. And there are few better representatives of this fusion than George Washington. Listen to the music of his political theology in this, the beginning of his famous Thanksgiving Day proclamation of 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

As it happens, an excellent edited collection has just been published by Carson Holloway and our dear friend and outgoing executive director of the James Madison program at Princeton, Bradford P. Wilson: The Political Writings of George Washington (Cambridge University Press). I’m told a paperback edition is in the offing as well, but this one looks well worth a holiday splurge.

The Political Writings of George Washington includes Washington’s enduring writings on politics, prudence, and statesmanship in two volumes. It is the only complete collection of his political thought, which historically, has received less attention than the writings of other leading founders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. Covering his life of public service—from his young manhood, when he fought in the French and Indian Wars, through his time as commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army; his two terms as America’s first president, and his brief periods of retirement, during which he followed and commented on American politics astutely—the volumes also include first-hand accounts of Washington’s death and reflections on his legacy by those who knew or reflected deeply on his significance. The result is a more thorough understanding of Washington’s political thought and the American founding.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  •  In Walker v. Dismas Charities, Inc., the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Free Exercise Bivens claim by an inmate serving part of his sentence in home confinement. The inmate sued individual employees of a government contractor that contracted with the government to supervise federal prisoners serving home sentences, alleging that his sentence violated his right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment
  • In Bates v. Paksereshtthe plaintiff was denied certification to adopt children through the Oregon Department of Human Services because she would not agree to use a child’s preferred pronouns and undertake other required acts that the state claims “affirm a child’s gender identity” because of her Christian beliefs. The court rejected plaintiff’s free exercise and free speech claims because she was not seeking certification to become a full parent, but instead sought certification “to house and care for a child under the state’s umbrella of protection.”
  •  In Tosone v. Way, suit was filed in the District of New Jersey in early October challenging the New Jersey requirement that candidates filing to run for public office sign an Oath of Allegiance that ends with “so help me God.” The Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Elections recently issued a Memo to County Clerks stating that candidates for public office now have the option of a solemn affirmation or declaration in lieu of an oath, and the phrase “so help me God” will be omitted. Counsel for plaintiffs then filed to voluntarily dismiss the suit.
  • in Grace Community Church- The Woodlands, Inc. v. Southern Montgomery County Municipal Utility District, Grace Community Church filed a complaint challenging a utility district’s requirement that the church pay a capital recovery fee of $83,780 rather than the actual cost of $24,900 to connect its new office building and auditorium to the district’s water system. The church alleges the fee is an unlawful tax on an otherwise tax-exempt organization, and it further violates Texas’ version of RFRA and the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
  • The White House issued a Fact Sheet: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Takes Action to Address Alarming Rise of Reported Antisemitic and Islamophobic Events at Schools and on College Campuses.The Fact Sheet discusses recent initiatives taken by the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security to prevent further antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents which have been taking place at schools and colleges since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.
  • A New York Court of Claims judge serving as an active Supreme Court Justice is being investigated and no longer handling criminal cases after the justice asked a Muslim criminal defendant to remove her niqab–a religious garment that covers most of the face–at a plea hearing on October 24.