On this date in 1796, President John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which had been unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate three days earlier. The document essentially protected the young nation’s shipping rights, shielding American ships off the coast of North Africa from attacks by Muslim pirates and kidnappers who hailed from what is now Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (collectively known at the time as the Barbary Coast region).
Article 11 in the treaty reads:
“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; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim, TF] 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.”
It was an uncontroversial statement at the time; also, a practical one in assuaging Barbary leaders’ fears that the United States, had it embraced a formal Christian identity, would take up the old cause of the European crusaders.
No one in the halls of government thought Article 11 worthy of public dissent (with the possible exception of Secretary of War James McHenry). It’s a sad fact that today, at any level of the federal government, such an unabashed expression of secularism would result in sharp controversy and several news cycles’ worth of Breitbart / FOX News outrage.
Luckily, no one can change the historical record. Next to the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli provides all the proof we need that U.S. theocrats have no legal leg to stand on.
For that reason, 610 deserves be at least as well-known and liked as 420.
(Image via Shutterstock)