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“Not, In Any Sense, Founded on the Christian Religion”

Lawrence Bush
June 6, 2017

The Treaty of Tripoli was ratified by the U.S. Senate on this date in 1797. It temporarily halted the enslavement of American sailors by Barbary pirates (from Tripoli, Algiers, Morocco and Tunis), but from 1801-05 and again from 1815-16, the U.S. would have to go to war over the issue. The Treaty of Tripoli included an Article 11 that stated: “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 Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) 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 was a key acknowledgment in the Republic’s early years of the country’s commitment to separation of church and state -- a crucial element of Jewish well-being in the U.S.

“Ten years after the Constitutional Convention ended its work, the country assured the world that the United States was a secular state, and that its negotiations would adhere to the rule of law, not the dictates of the Christian faith. The assurances were contained in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797 and were intended to allay the fears of the Muslim state by insisting that religion would not govern how the treaty was interpreted and enforced. John Adams and the Senate made clear that the pact was between two sovereign states, not between two religious powers.” --Frank Lambert, Purdue University

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.