Land of Immigrants

TimeWatch Editorial
October 25, 2016

President John F. Kennedy begins the second chapter of his book entitled, “A Nation of Immigrants” by relating the visit to America by Alexis de Tocqueville, a young french aristocrat on May 11, 1831. President Kennedy describes Tocqueville’s arrival in the bustling harbor of New York City. Kennedy says of Tocqueville:

“He had crossed the ocean to try to understand the implications for European civilizations of the new experiment of democracy on the far side of the Atlantic. In the next nine months, Tocqueville and his friend Gustave De Beaumont travelled the length and breadth of the eastern part of the continent, from Boston to Green Bay and from New Orleans to Quebec, in search of the essence of American life. Tocqueville was fascinated by what he saw. He marveled at the energy of the people who were building the new nation. He admired many of the new institutions and ideals. And he was impressed most of all by the spirit of equality that pervaded the life and customs of the people. Though he had some reservations about some of the expressions of this spirit, he could discern its workings in every aspect of American society, in politics, business, personal relations, culture and thought. This commitment to equality was in stark contrast to the class ridden society of Europe. Yet Tocqueville believed the “democratic revolution” to be irresistible.” President John F. Kennedy, “A Nation of Immigrants” page 1

But this was not always the case with the new nation in the early years. Their geographical location had changed but many of the Pilgrims had been so conditioned that fear of the past caused them to attempt to protect themselves by using some of the same methods their former oppressors used. Many brought with them some of the same habits that had caused them to abandon Europe in the first place. Dr. Philip Schaff in his book “Church and State in the United States” which was published in 1889 in describing this early condition says the following:

“The early settlers came from Europe to seek freedom for themselves, and then inconsistently denied it to others, from fear of losing the monopoly. In Massachusetts, Congregationalists had exclusive control; in Virginia the Church of England, for a century and a half. Even in the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania toleration was limited by the Toleration Act of 1689, contrary to the design of William Penn; and all legislators, judges, and public officers had to declare and subscribe their disbelief in transubstantiation, the adoration of the Virgin Mary and other saints, and the sacrifice of the Romish mass, as " superstitious and idolatrous," and their belief in the Holy Trinity and the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. This test was in force from 1703 till the time of the Revolution, when, through the influence of Benjamin Franklin, it was removed from the State Constitution framed by the Convention of 1776. In Rhode Island, the Roman Catholics were deprived for a time of the right of voting, but this disqualification was no part of the original colonial charter, and is inconsistent with "the soul-liberty" of Roger Williams, the founder of that State.”
Dr. Philip Schaff, “Church and State in the United States” page 22.

Fortunately there was an awakening to the situation that was developing. The framers of the Federal Constitution, remembering the persecution of dissenters and nonconformists in the mother country and in several American colonies, cut the poisonous tree of persecution by the root, and substituted for specific religious tests a simple declaration as proclaimed in the First Amendment. So that by the time that Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in America the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1791 had created a new environment. Listen to what Tocqueville has to say in his book “Democracy in America” Volume 1, page 339.

“Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country. My desire to discover the causes of this phenomenon increased from day to day. In order to satisfy it I questioned the members of all the different sects; and I more especially sought the society of the clergy, who are the depositaries of the different persuasions. To each of these men I expressed my astonishment and I explained my doubts; I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone; and that they mainly attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to the separation of Church and State. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet with a single individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the same opinion upon this point.”
Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America” Volume 1, page 339

As has been previously quoted on this site, the words found in the book the Great Controversy, page 441 are indeed true.

“The Constitution guarantees to the people the right of self-government, providing that representatives elected by the popular vote shall enact and administer the laws. Freedom of religious faith was also granted, every man being permitted to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. Republicanism and Protestantism became the fundamental principles of the nation. These principles are the secret of its power and prosperity. The oppressed and down-trodden throughout Christendom have turned to this land with interest and hope. Millions have sought its shores, and the United States has risen to a place among the most powerful nations of the earth.” {Great Controversy page 441.1}

Cameron A. Bowen

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