America & the Ten Commandments

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RAPE was punished by the Saxon laws, particularly those of king Athelftan, with death: which was also agreeable to the old Gothic or Scandinavian constitutions. But this was afterwards thought too hard: and in it's stead another severe, but not capital, punishment was inflicted by William the conqueror; viz. All in all Blackstone mentioned Moses or Mosaic law only four times throughout all four volumes of this work.

Perhaps the one statement that gives the most recognition to Mosaic law is the following statement, where he discusses the origins of diversity in English law:. And this perhaps may have partly been the cause, that we find not only some rules of the mosaical, but also of the imperial and pontifical laws, blended and adopted into our own system.

A FARTHER reason may also be given for the great variety, and of course the uncertain original, of our ancient established customs; even after the Saxon government was firmly established in this island: viz. This must necessarily create an infinite diversity of laws: even though all those colonies, of Jutes, Angles, proper Saxons, and the like, originally sprung from the same mother country, the great northern hive; which poured forth it's warlike progeny, and swarmed all over Europe, in the sixth and seventh centuries. This multiplicity of laws will necessarily be the case in some degree, where any kingdom is cantoned out into provincial establishments; and not under one common dispensation of laws, though under the same sovereign power.

In any case, Blackstone's Commentaries, the most thorough examination of English law at that time, made little mention of Mosaic law and no mention of the Ten Commandments, while spending much time on the discussion of Anglo-Saxon, Roman, and Norman law, with a moderate discussion of Greek law. As has been mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with trying to define an American legal or ideological heritage is that there was an enormous degree of legal and ideological diversity among the colonists.

The inhabitants of America, at the time of The Revolution, represented the widest array of extremes that existed in England. American colonists were largely the people who were too extreme in some fashion to cohabitate with their peers in their homeland, or were unsatisfied with life there. Behaviors and beliefs that were not acceptable in England were engaged in in America. In America there existed the most extreme form of slavery, the most extreme form of religious tyranny, as well as the most extreme form of religious tolerance. What allowed all of these people to co-exist in the American colonies was space - the fact that there was so much land in America that all the very different groups were able to spread out and form their own little communities away from others that were not like them.

This is also why there was a large degree of distrust of and opposition to a strong federal government.


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The number of founders varies depending on who you ask, and how "founder" is defined. Under the most broad definition there are about American Founders, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and a small list of other critically influential individuals. Among this group alone there was significant ideological disagreement.

The most famous disagreement was between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, who took different views on the nature of government and the value of democracy. Indeed, some of the founders were afraid of democracy. Democracy was actually a "dirty word" at the time of the founding of the United States, almost like anarchy. Some of the founders expressed fear of "mob rule", which is why importance was placed on a republican system. Jefferson, however, was the staunchest supporter of democracy and played a pivotal role in securing and broadening democratic principles during his presidency.

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What is clear, however, is that the Founding Fathers as a whole had very little in common with the early Pilgrims and Puritans. First of all, both the Pilgrims and Puritans made the professional practice of law illegal. Both of these highly religious groups had been persecuted under the law in England and for other religious reasons they believed that practicing law for profit was immoral and despicable.

Therefore, there were no professional lawyers among the Puritans and Pilgrims, they generally represented themselves in legal cases. The Founders, on the other hand, were almost all professional lawyers and were not highly thought of by many of the ultra-religious sects in America. Indeed some preachers gave sermons denouncing the Founders as heathens and claiming that the Founders were usurpers of power for even creating a federal government at all.

As much as people today look back at the original formation of the country and see it as one with a limited federal government, at the time many people thought that the federal government was far too strong. These views were expressed most clearly in the Anti-Federalist Papers, a collection of newspaper writings by anonymous men who wrote in opposition to the arguments in favor of the Constitution, which were being put forward by the Federalists. Therefore, looking back at the origins of "American law" is not a straight forward or simple task, and it is common for some people to incorrectly associate laws, practices, and beliefs of non-founders with the Founders.

A very common mistake in understanding "American law" is to view the colonial law of the early states as compatible with the constitutional law that was set forward by the Founders. In fact, the constitutional law framed by the Founders was often in direct conflict with existing state laws. Others, especially James Madison, were concerned that the state legislatures—dominated by what he saw as oppressive, unjust, and overbearing majorities—were passing laws detrimental to the rights of individual conscience and the right to private property.

And there was nothing that the union government could do about it because the Articles left matters of religion and commerce to the states. The solution, concluded Madison, was to create an extended republic, in which a variety of opinions, passions, and interests would check and balance each other, supported by a governmental framework that endorsed a separation of powers between the branches of the general government.

And in a Gov' of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. The Founders were among the most highly educated and well read men of the Americas. They were also among the wealthiest men of North America. These are men who studied the ancient classics and many knew several languages including Greek and Latin.

The 10 Commandments were in Ancient AMERICA - Travelogue 1

They studied the legal codes and government structures of ancient Greece, Rome and even China. John Adams was, of course, a lawyer. As a law student John Adams put extensive effort into the study of Roman law. This was due in part to the fact that Roman law is the basis of civil law and Roman law was also the most common root of all European law, thus Roman law was important for dealing with foreign merchants, such as the Dutch, French and Spanish.

Jeremiah Gridley, John Adams' personal tutor, is said to have told Adams that classical texts "ought to be the study of our whole lives. It is low to admire a Dutch Commentator merely because he uses latin and greek Phraseology. Let me therefore distinguish myself from them, by the Study of the Civil Law, in its native languages, those of Greece and Rome.

Indeed Adams was an astute student of both law and history. The book's Table of Contents reads as follows:. Marino 8 IV. Underwald 26 VII. Glaris 28 VIII. Zug 31 IX. Uri 32 X. Berne 35 XII. Fribourg 39 XIII. Soleure 42 XIV. Lucerne 45 XV. Zurich 47 XVI. Lucca - Genoa 56 XIX. England 70 XXI. Poland 72 XXII. Swift 97 XXV. Franklin XXVI. Harrington XXX. Polybius XXXI. Athens XLII. Achaia XLIV. Crete XLV.

Corinth XLVI. Sybaris - Charondas LI. Locris - Zaleucus LII. Congress LIV. Locke, Milton, and Hume LV. It is clear that Adams drew lessons from many different civilizations, and saw the Constitution of the United States as being influenced by these many different examples of government in the past. The book contained both writings written for the book and reprintings of letters that Adams had written in the past.

In one such letter Adams stated:. Adams' defense of the Constitution consists firmly of lessons drawn from history. Nowhere in the volume did Adams make an appeal to divinity or the Bible. In fact, the Bible is not even mentioned one time in the work and Adams stated, "it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

Commerce begins to thrive: and if religious toleration were established, and personal liberty a little more protected, by giving an absolute right to demand a public trial in a certain reasonable time — and the states invested with a few more privileges, or rather restored to some that have been taken away — these governments would be brought to as great a degree of perfection, they would approach as near to the character of governments of laws and not of men, as their nature will probably admit of.

In so general a refinement, or more properly reformation of manners and improvement in knowledge, is it not unaccountable that the knowledge of the principles and construction of free governments, in which the happiness of life, and even the further progress of improvement in education and society, in knowledge and virtue, are so deeply interested, should have remained at a full stand for two or three thousand years? A variety of mixtures of these simple species were conceived and attempted, with different success, by the Greeks and Romans.

Zoroaster, Confucius, Mithras, Odin, Thor, Mahomet, Lycurgus, Solon, Romulus, and a thousand others, may be compared to philosophers making experiments on the elements. Unhappily a political experiment cannot be made in a laboratory, nor determined in a few hours. The operation once begun, runs over whole quarters of the globe, and is not finished in many thousands of years. The experiment of Lycurgus lasted seven hundred years, but never spread beyond the limits of Laconia. They have spread all over Europe, and have lasted eighteen hundred years. They afford the strongest argument that can be imagined in support of the point aimed at in these letters.

Nothing ought to have more weight with America, to determine her judgment against mixing the authority of the one, the few What is the ingredient which in England has preserved the democratical authority? The balance, and that only. The English have, in reality, blended together the feudal institutions with those of the Greeks and Romans; and out of all have made that noble composition, which avoids the inconveniences, and retains the advantages, of both.

Adams also clearly drew inspiration from many different individuals, as did many of the Founders. It is, in fact, difficult to read the work's of Adams without an overwhelming respect for both the breadth and depth of his knowledge as well as the sincerity of his inquiry. We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form.

Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best. All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue.

Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this. If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form? Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

Adams also gave specific examples of where he looked to Greek and Roman laws for inspiration, such as his mention of Greek and Roman religious tolerance:. One other of these laws deserves particular notice. In private, every family were free to worship the gods in their own way; and in public, though certain forms were required, yet there was not any penalty annexed to the omission of them, as the punishment of offences in this matter was left to the offended god. This, probably, was the source of that wise and humane toleration which does so much honour to the Romans, and reflects disgrace on almost every Christian nation.

Adams, obviously well aware of the history of conflict within Christian civilization and the countless horrors of persecution administered in the name of God, turned to pagan Rome for an example of working laws regarding religion. It was also a specific refutation of some Colonial American laws.

Indeed it is a far cry from the early Massachusetts law that proscribed a punishment of death for anyone who didn't worship "the Lord God". In January Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams stating:. The book indeed gives them to us verbatim, but where did it get them? It is not only the sacred volumes they have thus interpolated, gutted, and falsified, but the works of others relating to them, and even the laws of the land. We have a curious instance of one of these pious frauds in the laws of Alfred.

He composed, you know, from the laws of the Heptarchy, a digest for the government of the United Kingdom, and in his preface to that work he tells us expressly the sources from which he drew it, to wit, the laws of Ina, of Offa and Aethelbert not naming the Pentateuch. Here Jefferson was discussing how a document was manipulated later by the clergy to prepend a part of Exodus containing the ten commandments to the work. In February that same year Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Thomas Cooper further discussing the subject of the Christian influence on English law.

In the letter Jefferson vehemently denied that the Ten Commandments were any part of English law thus no part of American law. Jefferson argued that English law was based on Anglo-Saxon law, which existed before the Anglo-Saxons were even introduced to Christianity. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year , and that of the last about Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it.

If it ever was adopted, therefore, into the common law, it must have been between the introduction of Christianity and the date of the Magna Charta. But of the laws of this period we have a tolerable collection by Lambard and Wilkins, probably not perfect, but neither very defective; and if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it.

But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

Finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland's question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England? This was Jefferson's answer to why Fortescue was wrong about the Ten Commandments being a part of English common law, because he had gotten his information from the same tampered document mentioned above in his letter to Adams. Indeed a reading and study of the laws of England, as has already been reviewed, reveals that English law is based on Anglo-Saxon and Roman law, though Mosaic law and Christian influence did filter in over time as well, it was certainly never a basis of the law.

Jefferson actually wrote many letters and papers on the subject of the role of Christianity in English common law. He repeatedly provided proof that Christianity and Mosaic law were not the basis of common law. The notes of the Constitutional Convention of , taken by James Madison, are another significant resource for understanding the influences on American law.

Nowhere in all of the notes, which are the most complete record of the proceedings, are the Ten Commandments mentioned. The Constitution itself bares no resemblance to the Ten Commandments, nor indeed to anything Biblical. The Preamble to the Constitution reads:. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The character of the United States Constitution is in fact the very opposite of the character of the Ten Commandments and of Biblical tradition. The Ten Commandments are said to be a covenant made with the Israelites, handed down from on high as an absolute dictate from God. The American Constitution, however, states that power lays in the hands of the people, and that we the people shall establish our own laws with the goal of securing our own happiness as we see fit.

The Constitution, unlike any major document of governmental authority in the Western world since the fall of Rome, gets its power from the people. In light of all these things, the fact still remains that displays of the Ten Commandments do exist on public property in America today. What are these displays, where did they come from, who put them there, and when were they put in place? The displays generally fall into three categories: Displays that contain images that artistically depict the Ten Commandments, displays of the text of "the" Ten Commandments, and monuments of stone tablets with the text of "the" Ten Commandments.

All in all there are thousands of such displays across the country, the majority of which are displays that were donated to both public and private institutions by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles during the s. There are other displays that predate those monuments, but none of the displays date to the time of the founding of the country however.

America & the Ten Commandments

In fact almost all of the monuments were put into place during the 20th century, and virtually all of the displays are on city or county property not state or federal. The Ten Commandments are displayed on the Supreme Court building, which was built in All of the depictions of the Ten Commandments on the Supreme Court fall into the category of artistic depictions, which do not contain the full text of the commandments. Inside the Supreme Court the Ten Commandments are artistically depicted in a large frieze.

There are four friezes inside the Supreme Court. Two of the friezes show allegorical figures representing such things as justice, liberty, etc. The other two friezes depict historical figures. The Two friezes showing historical figures are shown below:. According to official Supreme Court documentation linked above , the figures depicted on the frieze above are as follows:.

Menes c. First King of the first dynasty of ancient Egypt. He unified Upper and Lower Egypt under his rule and is one of the earliest recorded lawgivers. Menes is shown in the frieze holding the ankh, an Egyptian symbol for life. Hammurabi c. King of Babylon credited with founding the Babylonian Empire. He is known for the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest known legal codes. The first stone of the Code depicts him receiving the law from the Babylonian Sun God.

Moses c. Prophet, lawgiver and judge of the Israelites. Mosaic Law is based on the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses is depicted in the frieze holding two overlapping tablets, written in Hebrew. Commandments six through ten are partially visible. Solomon c. King of Israel and renowned judge. Lycurgus c. Legislator of Sparta. He left Sparta after convincing the Spartan leadership not to change his laws until he returned, but he never did. Solon c. Athenian lawgiver. He was appointed archon, an officer of state, and was charged with remodeling the Athenian constitution in B.

He was instrumental in codifying and reforming Athenian law, often revising the laws of Draco. Draco c. Around B. His code included many strict penalties and death sentences, often for what seemed to be minor offenses. Confucius — B. Chinese philosopher whose teachings stressed harmony, learning and virtue. Within years of his death, the Chinese State adopted his teachings as the basis for government. Although officially abandoned by the Chinese government in , Confucianism continues to have an influence throughout the world.

Octavian 63 B. First Emperor of the Roman Empire. He brought widespread reforms to many facets of Roman life. He supported the concept of using previous opinions of leading jurists to aid in determining new disputes. Justinian c. He ordered the codification of Roman law and published Corpus Juris Civilis.

This work was instrumental in preserving Roman law and encompassed what has become known as the Justinian Code. Muhammad c. The figure above is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet.

Charlemagne c. King of the Franks and Roman Emperor. Charlemagne was reportedly an avid student who became an eloquent speaker of several languages and supported learning and literature throughout his realm. Under his leadership, most of Western Europe was united by becoming the foundation for the Holy Roman Empire.

He was also a reformer of legal, judicial and military systems. King John — born John Lackland. King of England from until his death. His policies and taxation caused his barons to force him to sign the Magna Carta. This document, depicted in the frieze as a scrolled document in his hand, is regarded as the foundation of constitutional liberty in England. Louis IX c. Louis in Hugo Grotius — or Huig de Groot. Dutch scholar, lawyer and statesman. He is depicted holding De jure belli ac pacis Concerning the Law of War and Peace , one of the first books on international law, which he wrote in Sir William Blackstone — English law professor and jurist.

He wrote Commentaries on the Law of England — , which has had a major influence on English and American law. His opinion in Marbury v. Madison stated that the Supreme Court of the United States had the authority to determine the constitutionality of a law, establishing the power of judicial review for the Court. Napoleon — Emperor of France from to He ordered and directed the recodification of French law into what became known as the Code Napoleon or Civil Code.

Published in , this code formed the basis for modern civil law. Napoleon, at St. But what nothing will destroy, what will live eternally, is my Civil Code. As you can see, this depiction of the Ten Commandments does not in any way put the Ten Commandments in any uniquely special place among the many laws and law givers of the past. Interestingly, the only religious book depicted in the entire frieze is the Koran. The Ten Commandments as depicted in the frieze only show secular commandments and are written in Hebrew, not English. There is a depiction of the Ten Commandments on the outside of the Supreme Court building as well.

The front facing pediment, shown below, depicts three central allegorical figures representing Authority, Liberty, and Order. The pediment on the back of the Supreme Court building, which you can't see unless you specifically walk around behind the building, shows three central historical figures. The three figures shown are Confucius, Moses and Solon.

Moses is shown seated in the middle holding two tablets, presumed to represent the Ten Commandments. The tablets are blank however. Surrounding the Supreme Court are many figures of Justice represented by the female form. The forms represent Themis and Justicia. All in all the Supreme Court building is hardly a shrine to the Ten Commandments.

There are more pagan images on the Supreme Court building than Judaic ones, and there are no Christian images at all. The images of the Ten Commandments on the Supreme Court building were not created until Prior to the building of the current Supreme Court building in , the Supreme Court met in various different chambers. None of these locations had any images of the Ten Commandments or any religious monuments of any kind. The early Supreme Court chambers were relatively simple and modest, like the one shown below, used from to The vast majority of Ten Commandments monuments in America are the ones dedicated by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles.

In total the FOE produced about 40, large and small framed prints of the Ten Commandments, which they distributed to both public and private institutions starting in In Cecil B. He suggested that they make larger monuments that could be placed at court houses and public parks, etc. The FOE liked the idea and they worked with DeMille to promote his movie by unveiling monuments across the country just prior to its opening, with actors from the movie present at the unveilings.

All in all monuments were dedicated around the country before and after the release of the movie. There are a handful of Ten Commandments displays on public buildings that date back prior to in America, they are typically on either county or city property and are just small documents or plaques, typically in obscure places. The monument above is the the monument that was placed in front of the Alabama state courthouse by justice Roy Moore in The monument was later ordered removed by the Federal Appeals Court.

The monument itself has several interesting displays. The monument includes a quote from the Declaration of Independence , written by Thomas Jefferson and a quote from Sir William Blackstone. Both quotes reference the "Laws of Nature", and in so doing the monument insinuates that the authors considered the Ten Commandments to be Laws of Nature. In fact, though, neither author considered the Ten Commandments to be Laws of Nature, both authors actually meant the scientifically established laws of nature, such as gravity, etc.

Both Blackstone and Jefferson specifically made this clear in their writings. In statements to the press, Roy Moore's legal advisors presented their case in support of the Ten Commandments display. The Ten Commandments are the "very fountainhead of the common law" the body of law developed in England and followed in America , according to Herbert W. The monument, provocative to some, simply restates that historical fact, he says. Law professor John Eidsmoe adds that "Mosaic law has influenced and really been the basis for Western law. Charlemagne similarly relied on biblical law, he said.

But facts of history aside, should the Ten Commandments play a role in contemporary law? Yes, says Titus. The Ten Commandments are the "very foundation of law and liberty in America" and critical to our continued freedom. Yet another objection to the Ten Commandments is that the Mosaic law has no place in a pluralistic culture populated not just by Christians, but Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and those of no faith. But that presupposes that the Ten Commandments is purely religious in nature. Herbert W. The legal code of Alfred the Great refers to the documents already mentioned above by Thomas Jefferson as having been forged by clergymen after the fact.

Indeed, Roy Moore is still using evidence that has been disproved for hundreds of years as support for his claim that the Ten Commandments are of critical importance to English law. In Jefferson's commonplace book he wrote:. Howard, in his Contumes Anglo-Normandes, I. These he calls a hors d'aeuvre of some pious copyist. This awkward monkish fabrication makes the preface to Alfred's genuine laws stand in the body of the work, and the very words of Alfred himself prove the fraud; for he declares, in that preface, that he has collected these laws from those of Ina, of Offa, Aethelbert and his ancestors, saying nothing of any of them being taken from the Scriptures.

It is still more certainly proved by the inconsistencies it occasions. For example, the Jewish legislator, Exodus xxi. But Alfred himself, Le. Indeed the very laws of Alfred don't follow the Ten Commandments or Mosaic law and Jefferson went on to list many more examples of inconsistencies. They are clearly not a criminal code because they don't designate any standard for judgment or guidelines for punishment.

All of the historical claims by Roy Moore and his supporters can be disproved. In addition, the men quoted by Roy Moore's legal advisors are fellow Christian activists, not traditional legal scholars. American law is not based on the Ten Commandments, nor have the Ten Commandments played any special role in American history.

Indeed, the Founding Fathers made it clear that Roman law and English common law were the basis of American law, and American Founders also refuted the claim that either Christianity or the Ten Commandments were the basis of English common law. Modern historical analysis provides the same conclusion. In addition it is clear that the Ten Commandments were not the first laws known to man, indeed even the Bible itself mentions other laws prior to the Ten Commandments, which are actually not even laws.

The Ten Commandments are just that - commandments. According to Jewish tradition there are actually hundreds of Mosaic laws, all of which are claimed to have been given to Moses by God. Not all of these are in the Christian Bible. The difference between laws and commandments is that laws can be enforced by courts while commandments cannot.

The commandments are religious by definition. They are a covenant between the giver of the commandments and the followers. The only one who can pass judgment on commandments is the one who gave the commandments. The Ten Commandments don't provide any guidelines for judgment or standard for punishment, they just say "don't do it". It is clear that the Ten Commandments are a purely religious covenant because in Exodus 21, immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments, actual laws are given.

Instead of saying "You shall not steal", eight or nine laws governing theft are given, such as:. The basis of all Western law stems from Greek and classical Roman law, which were not influenced by Judaism or Christianity at all. English law is based on pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon and Roman law. Mosaic law and Christianity did have a later influence on European and English law, but it was never the basis. The proponents of putting the Ten Commandments on government property continue to make the claim that doing so would honor the Founding Fathers or that it would honor our nation's past, yet in no case are any examples given, because none exist.

If the Ten Commandments are such an important part of American history then where are all the Ten Commandments monuments from the s and s?


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Where are the documents that cite the Ten Commandments as a basis for American law? The one known document to reference a commandment is the document of Massachusetts colonial law from , which was later overturned when the colony's charter was revoked by the Crown of England, and which would have been ruled unconstitutional after of the signing of the Bill of Rights anyway.

Of all the laws in the Massachusetts document, the only one that cited a commandment was the law stating that if anyone worshiped any god but the Lord God they would be put to death. Clearly, based on even the most conservative reading of the intent of the Founders and of the Constitution, that is exactly the type of nonsense that the founding of the United States was in opposition to. The only law in all of American history that can be traced to the Ten Commandments is a colonial law that is most blatantly un-Constitutional. The imposition of the Ten Commandments on American public property is not representative of our legal heritage, it is not representative of the views of the Founding Fathers, it has no basis in early United States history, and it is an attack on the very principles of moderate and diverse government that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written to protect.

Ironically, the Bible does provide us with a valuable lesson. Even the Biblical story of the Ten Commandments presents them as a divisive code of conduct. Within days of the issuance of the commandments thousands of people were slaughtered for worshiping according to their own conscience. The very first punishment meted out for failure to follow the commandments was not for the failure to follow the "secular" commandments, it was for failure to follow the two commandments regarding worship.

The very story of the commandments tells us that they pit father against son, friend against friend, and neighbor against neighbor. This may actually be the story's most timeless lesson. Coquillette, Daniel. The Anglo-American Legal Heritage. Law in the Ancient World.

The Evolution of Western Private Law. Civilization in the West fifth edition. Timeline of Western Legal History. Note: Bibliography only includes resources that were not already linked within the body of the article. History of the Separation of Church and State in America. Purchase a hard copy of this document. Articles Special Store Recommended Reading. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make graven images. Thou shalt not use the Lord's name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

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Honor thy mother and thy father. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's property. The Biblical Account of the Ten Commandments According to the Bible, after leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, where he instructed Moses to introduce his people to him so that he could form a covenant with them. Exodus 1 "These are the laws you are to set before them: These laws cover many different issues.

Yet, there is still more to the story. While Moses was gone the people got restless. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. This retelling has God writing the second set of Commandments, not Moses. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important? Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin.

But anyone who says, 'You fool! It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The version of the Ten Commandments that is currently on display at the Texas capitol, which was ruled to be permissible by the Supreme Court to stay on public property, is pictured below: Furthermore, the New Testament says that Jesus has replaced the Ten Commandments with new rules and has created a new covenant with the people, thus making the Ten Commandments obsolete for Christians.

The Common Origins of Western Law One of the many justifications made by those in favor of posting the Ten Commandments on public property is the claim that the Ten Commandments are historically significant to American law. Sumerian Cuneiform Among these proverbs are several statements similar to those found in the Ten Commandments, including statements such as: You should not steal anything; you should not You should not break into a house; you should not wish for the money chest; You should not pick a quarrel; you should not disgrace yourself.

The list of proverbs contains many more mundane and even amusing statements as well. Code of Hammurabi Egyptian law is actually thought to have proceeded the existence of Sumerian law, but it appears that the Egyptian legal system didn't use written laws and was not as well defined as Babylonian and Sumerian law. The 42 Confessions are as follows: 1. The Hebrews later became subjects within the Roman Empire. Solon Following this, Solon went into self-imposed exile in order to prevent himself from becoming a dictator, and to see that his code of laws could survive in his absence.

By CE the Romans had fully withdrawn from Britain. Anglo-Saxon and Norman Law Because early American law is founded most heavily on English law, the history of English law is important for understanding American law. Magna Carta King John failed to honor many of the traditional customs and rights of his subjects, and thus in he was forced by a group of nobles to sign the Magna Carta, which is a written statement that defined the rights of the governed and of the government. Of all of the nations of Western Europe, England was perhaps the most anti-Catholic. In King James asserted the divine right of kings.

James wrote: The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself are called gods. Colonial American Law By this time, of course, the first English colonies had been established in America. Signing of Mayflower compact, showing both pious and non-pious participants The wording of the contract was standard for its time. The section on capital crimes reads as follows Note: "s" was written with a letter similar to our "f" Between and four Quakers were hanged, and many more imprisoned or tortured, for preaching views that contradicted Puritan teachings.

In Virginia passed the first such law to define slaves as property: All servants imported and brought into the Country Back in England A lot was going on back in England during the period of American colonialism: wars, power struggles, the overthrowing of the government, industrialization, and more. The declaration: suspended all penal laws in matters ecclesiastical for not attending the established Church of England or not receiving communion according to its rites; permitted people to worship other than in the established Church of England either in private houses or in chapels; ended the requirement that people take various religious oaths before advancement to civil or military office.

The English Bill of Rights stated the following: Englishmen, as embodied by Parliament, possessed certain civil and political rights that could not be taken away. These included: freedom from royal interference with the law the Sovereign was forbidden to establish his own courts or to act as a judge himself freedom from taxation by royal prerogative, without agreement by Parliament freedom to petition the king freedom from a peace-time standing army, without agreement by Parliament freedom for Protestants only to bear arms for self-defense, as allowed by law freedom to elect members of Parliament without interference from the Sovereign the freedom of speech in Parliament, in that proceedings in Parliament were not to be questioned in the courts or in any body outside Parliament itself the basis of modern parliamentary privilege freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, and excessive bail freedom from fines and forfeitures without trial In the famous English thinker John Locke published The Second Treatise of Civil Government.

One example is in Blackstone's discussion of laws governing rape: A THIRD offence, against the female part also of his majesty's subjects, but attended with greater aggravations than that of forcible marriage, is the crime of rape, raptus mulierum, or the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will. Perhaps the one statement that gives the most recognition to Mosaic law is the following statement, where he discusses the origins of diversity in English law The Founding Fathers and the Constitution As has been mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with trying to define an American legal or ideological heritage is that there was an enormous degree of legal and ideological diversity among the colonists.

In Introduction to the Constitutional Convention , Gordon Lloyd writes: Others, especially James Madison, were concerned that the state legislatures—dominated by what he saw as oppressive, unjust, and overbearing majorities—were passing laws detrimental to the rights of individual conscience and the right to private property. The book's Table of Contents reads as follows: I. Adams also gave specific examples of where he looked to Greek and Roman laws for inspiration, such as his mention of Greek and Roman religious tolerance: One other of these laws deserves particular notice.

He went on to discuss clerical forgeries of the laws, stating: It is not only the sacred volumes they have thus interpolated, gutted, and falsified, but the works of others relating to them, and even the laws of the land. Jefferson went on to say: Finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland's question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England?

Jenna Weissman Joselit chronicles how the Decalogue became iconic in a pluralistic American society. This page volume engagingly explores how the Ten Commandments became part of the fiber of American society, deeply embedded in its consciousness — so deeply embedded as to inspire not one but two Cecil B. But to most Jews — and to Christians — the Ten Commandments worked. But more basic is the question of why the Decalogue has the resonance it does among American Christians. The Christians, after all, were the most eager to mount displays of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and other public places.

This is a puzzler; unfortunately, historian Joselit is not theologian Joselit. Students and scholars, and general readers, both Jew and Christian, will savor the book.


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