Our friends at Right Wing Watch have caught Christian nation advocate and pseudo-historian David Barton spreading another myth from the founding era.
Last month, Barton spoke in Memphis at a luncheon for pastors sponsored by Bott Radio Network. There he spun a creative tale about how the U.S. Constitution was ratified. According to Barton, it had to be approved first by churches.
“Once they got the Constitution finished – it’s not the document of the nation yet – you have to have it ratified,” Barton told the pastors. “You’ve got to send it to the 13 states and get it ratified. And so, they sent it to the 13 states. If you’re going to receive a government document and have a debate over whether to ratify it, where are you going to send it? The state capitol? No, it’s not the way it happened. North Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts – the ratification conventions were held in churches. They sent it to churches to ratify the Constitution? Yeah.”
Barton added, “Forty-four of the constitutional ratification delegates were ministers of the gospel. So again, preachers were highly, highly involved.”
As Kyle Mantyla points out, this is all baloney. What really happened is that in a handful of states, ratifying conventions were held in churches simply because they were the only buildings large enough to accommodate everyone.
Were 44 ministers involved? Sure. But what Barton omits is that more than 1,750 people took part in state ratifying conventions. As Mantyla notes, this means ministers accounted for less than 3% of the total number of delegates. (A shout-out to secularist blogger Hemant Mehta, whose take on this reminds us of Barton’s long litany of falsehoods.)
Here’s an additional factor to consider: Some conservative ministers and their allies hated the Constitution and attacked it after ratification. They disliked the document’s secular nature and were furious that our governing charter contained no references to God or Jesus Christ and that it failed to give any preference to Christianity.
In Boston, an anonymous writer assailed language at the end of Article VI of the Constitution, which bans religious tests for public office. “All religion is expressly rejected, from the Constitution,” he carped. “Was there ever any State or kingdom, that could subsist, without adopting some system of religion?” (Gee, that argument sounds familiar – because we’re still hearing it today.)
The Constitution was ratified in spite of, not thanks to, Christian nationalists of the 18th century. Will Barton ever tell that story? Don’t hold your breath.