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The Treaty of Tripoli
De-Christianizing America?


Maybe you've seen the article that should go here. Send us the link Or send us the book or journal article and we'll plagiarize it like all our other pages.

Here's what it says:

  • Secularists argue that the Treaty of Tripoli says America is not a Christian nation.
  • Not all official copies of the treaty even have these words
  • The words don't mean what Secularists say they do

Until you send us this article, readers of this page will have to be content with the following dialogue on American OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Discussion Board.

In article <19981125135527.03747.00000512@ng-fr1.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>Well, Kevin, then you must agree that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.
>Because, while these treaties only trade Bibles and buildings in a quid pro
>quo, and they make no representations for internal policy, there IS that
>little treaty with Tripoli, from the same time.
>CorumB posted on this board last December 27, again in response to Kevin:
>Officially called the "Treaty of peace and friendship between the United
>States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary," most
>refer to it as simply the Treaty of Tripoli. In Article 11, it states:

"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 tranquillity [] of Musselmen [-] and as the said [s]tates never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any M[a]hom[e]tan 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." [Note: corrections to Walker's text by CorumB, based on the photo of the same portion of the Treaty shown at the website]

>The preliminary treaty began with a signing on 4 November, 1796 (the end of
>George Washington's last term as president). Joel Barlow, the American
>diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty
>negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the
>revolutionary army. He became good friends with Paine, Jefferson, and read
>Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned Christian orthodoxy for
>and became an advocate of secular government. Barlow, along with his
>associate, Captain Richard O'Brien, et al, translated and modified the Arabic
>version of the treaty into English. From this came the added Amendment 11.
>Barlow forwarded the treaty to U.S. legislators for approval in 1797. Timothy
>Pickering, the secretary of state, endorsed it and John Adams concurred (now
>during his presidency), sending the document on to the Senate.The Senate
>approved the treaty on June 7, 1797, and officially ratified by the Senate
>with John Adams signature on 10 June, 1797. All during this multi-review
>process, the wording of Article 11 never raised the slightest concern. The
>treaty even became public through its publication in The Philadelphia Gazette
>on 17 June 1997.
>So here we have a clear admission by the United States that our government
>did not found itself upon Christianity. Unlike the Declaration of
>Independence, this treaty represented U.S. law as all treaties do according
>to the Constitution (see Article VI, Sect. 2).
>Although the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of Tripoli only
>lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status, it clearly represented
>the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of the U.S. government.
>So, if you wish to argue that treaties with foreign nations indicate what the
>founders wanted, this friendship treaty with Tripoli is clear indication that
>the founders did not intend to found a "Christian" nation.

The Founders did not intend to "found" a Christian nation. This is true.
America was already a Christian nation. If the Founders intended to found a secular nation, their constitution would have been utterly rejected.

As for the Treaty, I'm always happy to repost the facts.

  1. The phrase in question does not appear in the Arabic version
  2. The phrase was understood to mean that the US did not have officially
    hostile relations with nations which were officially Muslim.
  3. The treaty was renegotiated a few years later. The phrase was indisputably
    NOT a part of the subsequent treaty.

In 1783 the US and Britain ended the war with the Paris Peace Treaty.
The treaty was written by John Adams, John Jay, and Ben Franklin.
Its very first words are

In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.
It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts . . .


Clearly America WAS a Christian nation, so any claim that it "never" was is inaccurate.
Nothing legally changed America from a Christian nation to a non-Christian one. Certainly the Treaty with Tripoli did not.

The following distortions (written by Jim Walker) on the Treaty of Tripoli can be found at the website:


In article <1998072712305100.IAA20463@ladder03.news.aol.com>, corumb@aol.com (CorumB) writes:

>The U.S. is not, and never was, a Christian nation.

>Unlike governments of the past, the American Fathers set up a
>government divorced from religion.

This statement is terribly misleading. Unlike governments of the past, the American Fathers set up a government divorced from ecclesiastical control, not religion in general, and not Christianity.

Isaac Cornelison wrote a book in 1895 entitled:

Relation of Religion
Civil Government
The United States of America
A State Without a Church, but Not Without a Religion

No nation is without a religion.

Today our nation's religion is the religion of Secular Humanism.

Nor is any nation without a duty to have a religion.

George Washington stated that "it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor." He went on in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1789 to write, that as a nation "we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions." George Washington, "Proclamation: A National Thanksgiving," A Compilation Of The Messages And Papers Of The Presidents, 1789-1902, ed. John D. Richardson, 11 vols. (Washington, DC: Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1907), 1:64.

If the disputed language in this treaty was actually signed by Adams, he undoubtedly meant something other than that attributed to him by secularists. Adams expressed his religious views on numerous occasions, but his call for a National Fast Day on March 6, 1799 is the most expressive:

As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, not any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the growing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness of individuals and to the well-being of communities.... I have thought proper to recommend, and I hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the twenty-fifth of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain, as far as may be, from their secular occupation, and devote the time to the sacred duties of religion, in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through His Holy Spirit, we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" [Proverbs 14:34]."

Note the contrast Adams draws between things "secular" and "sacred." Clearly Adams did not labor under the illusion that he had to have a "secular purpose" for declaring a national day of prayer ("Lemon test"), nor did he believe that government could never "advance religion," but rather, had a duty to do so. Thus Tocqueville wrote,

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other...In the United States, if a political character attacks a sect [denomination], this may not prevent even the partisans of that very sect, from supporting him; but if he attacks all the sects together [Christianity], every one abandons him and he remains alone.
(The Republic of the United States of America and Its Political Institutions, Reviewed and Examined, Henry Reeves, trans., Garden City, NY: AS Barnes & Co., 1851, Vol. I, p. 334-335)

>The establishment of a secular government
>did not require a reflection to themselves about its origin; they knew this
>as an unspoken given.

"Disestablishment" has reference to ecclesiastical (church) affairs, not to Christianity in general. All of the Signers of the Constitution believed that Government depended on and should encourage the Christian religion. I challenge secularists to quote one signer of the Constitution who believed that their document secularized an already-Christian nation.

Religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people. By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.
Runkel v. Winemiller; 4 Harris and McHenry 276, 288 (Sup. Ct. Md. 1799)

On another occasion, John Adams wrote: "The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were . . . the general principles of Christianity."

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813, in Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 2:339-40.

>However, as the U.S. delved into international affairs,
>few foreign nations knew about the intentions of America.

>Joel Barlow, the American diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held
>responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under
>Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army. He became good friends
>with Paine, Jefferson, and read Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned
>Christian orthodoxy for rationalism and became an advocate of secular
>government. Barlow, along with his associate, Captain Richard O'Brien, et al,
>translated and modified the Arabic version of the treaty into English. From
>this came the added Amendment 11.

The statement "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" must be read in context and with background knowledge of the religion of Islam before its meaning can be determined with certainty. For those desiring more detail, click here.

America was considered to be a Christian nation by Tripoli. This is made clear by reading the original Treaty. In a 1930 annotated translation of the Treaty, Dr. C. Snouck Hurgronje of Leiden, Netherlands, reviewed the original Treaty and found numerous statements that clearly show that Tripoli considered America to be a Christian nation. Here is just one example:

Glory be to God! Declaration of the third article. We have agreed that if American Christians are traveling with a nation that is at war with the well-preserved Tripoli, and he [evidently the Tripolitan] takes [prisoners] from the Christian enemies and from the American Christians with whom we are at peace, then sets them free; neither he nor his goods shall be taken."

Throughout the Treaty "Christian nations" (e.g., Article VI) and "Tripoli," a Moslem stronghold that was used as a base of operations for Barbary pirates, are contrasted. Moslem nations were hostile to "Christian nations." The Barbary pirates habitually preyed on ships from "Christian nations." In drafting the treaty, the United States had to assure the Dey (ruler) of Tripoli that in its struggle with the pirates that "it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen," that  "the said states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan (Moselm) nation."

A contrast was also being drawn between America as a disestablished Christian nation, and the European nations which had long been involved in military struggles with the Muslims (crusades, Ferdinand & Isabella's expulsion of Muslims from Grenada, etc.). As Noah Webster said, "The ecclesiastical establishments of Europe which serve to support tyrannical governments are not the Christian religion but abuses and corruptions of it." Daniel Webster similarly explained: "Christianity to which the sword and the fagot [burning stake or hot branding iron] are unknown -- general tolerant Christianity is the law of the land!"

>Although the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of
>Tripoli only lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status, it
>clearly represented the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of
>the U.S. government.

Nothing about the clause is "clear." It is not even clear if it is in the treaty at all. It is not representative of the feelings of the Founders. It may have been Joel Barlow's intent to state that, but the Senate's intent was simply to reassure the Muslims that "holy war" was not a part of this new nation's policy.

Piracy remained a problem despite the 1797 Treaty. In addition, Tripoli demanded increased tribute payments in 1801. When President Jefferson refused to increase the tribute, Tripoli declared war on the United States. A United States squadron, under Commander Edward Preble, blockaded Tripoli from 1803 to 1805. After rebel soldiers from Tripoli, led by United States Marines, captured the city of Derma, the Pasha of Tripoli signed a treaty promising to exact no more tribute.

It is important to note that the 1805 Treaty with Tripoli differs considerably from the 1797 Treaty. The most important difference is this:

In the 1805 version "as the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion" is conspicuously absent. The first Treaty was terminated by war. A new treaty was drafted in 1805 (ratified April 12, 1806). Article 14 of the new treaty corresponds to Article 11 of the first treaty. It reads in part: "[T]he government of the United States of America has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen." The phrase declaring that the "government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" does not appear. Assurances are still offered that the United States will not interfere with their religion or laws.

It's obvious that by 1805 the United States had greater bargaining power and did not have to knuckle under to the demands of this Muslim stronghold. A strong navy and a contingent of marines also helped. 


If the critics of the Christian America thesis are going to be honest, then they must give an adequate reason why the 1805 treaty does not contain the words that seem to denounce the Christian religion. They also must answer why the revised Treaty occurred during Thomas Jefferson's term as president, since Jefferson, when compared to Washington and Adams, is the most hostile to organized Christianity!

If treaties are going to be used to establish the religious commitment of the nation, then it's essential that we look at all of the treaties. In 1822, the United States, along with Great Britain and Ireland, ratified a "Convention for Indemnity Under Award of Emperor of Russia as to the True Construction of the First Article of the Treaty of December 24, 1814." (16) It begins -- as many treaties did -- with these words:

"In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity."

Only Christianity teaches a Trinitarian view of God. If the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli does in fact make Christianity null and void in America (which it does not),  the Treaty of 1822 reestablishes Trinitarian Christianity as the official religion of the United States.


CorumB: > I realize there are many more
>interesting details regarding the Treaty, and I would like to check on this
>material from other sources, but I would like to ask the other readers here
>for their comments on this explicit declaration that "... the Government of
>the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian
>religion; ...".

>I'm also curious - Kevin, can you cite any official, legally
>binding document of the U.S. signed by a Founding Father that explicitly
>states that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian Nation"? I don't mean
>your interpretation of references to God and religion as denoting
>Christianity in particular ("generic" or otherwise).

The question betrays a failure to understand the nature of the American system. Each of the colonies became independent states after 1776, much like Switzerland is in independent state. Neither the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution changed that. The Constitution would not have been ratified without the guarantee in the First Amendment that there would be no declaration of a Federal church which would override the religious character of the states. The foundation of all the states was Christianity, a founding which took place generations before the Constitution, and connected America with centuries of Christian common law. What united the states was not a federal declaration of religious unity but a religion commonly-held by the states. The Constitution did not transform America from "Christian" to "secular." Had there been any thought that the Framers intended to do so, the Constitution would have had no chance whatsoever of ratification.

Subject: Re: The Truth about the Treaty of Tripoli
From: kevin4vft@aol.com (KEVIN4VFT)
Date: 02 Aug 1998 01:47:13 EDT

In article <1998080202115800.WAA28811@ladder01.news.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>But the facts remain that the Senate approved and the President signed an
>English version of the treaty that contains the words exactly as CorumB
>presented them. There were acceptable to the Senate, and acceptable to the
>President. When the treaty was renegotiated, the Moslem nations did not
>demand that the U.S explicitly state it would not go to war with them over
>religious items. There was a history at that point.

The line was apparently inserted into the treaty by Joel Barlow acting as an autonomous secularist. His intentions were not those of Adams and the Senate. Whatever cognizance they took of the phrase, they most likely intended it to convey to the Muslims no intention on our part to attack them solely on the basis of religion.

>The phrase in the English version was put there by the State Department's guy
>on the spot, the one who knew what the treaty was supposed to say. On what
>authority do we question the guy who negotiated the treaty?

Barlow did not know Arabic. The treaty was translated into English sometime in Jan-Feb 1797, probably by an Algerian court official. The translation Barlow submitted with a signed statement that "The foregoing is a literal translation of the writing in Arabic" is way off the mark. A better translation was made in 1930 by Dr. C. Snouck Hurgronje of Leiden, and is found in Charles I. Bevans, Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 (Department of State, 1974) vol XI at 1073f. See the translation of Article 12. It differs markedly from Barlow's.

On Article 11, Bevans has the following:

Most extraordinary (and wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation with its famous phrase, 'the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion,' does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. The Arabic text which is between Articles 10 and 12 is in form a letter, crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and seemingly must remain so. Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point.(at 1070)

A number of explanations have been put forth as to how Article 11 became part of the Treaty. "One explanation is that the Dey of Algiers wrote this note on the Treaty to mollify certain concerns of the Pasha of Tripoli about entering into a Treaty with an 'infidel' (non-Islamic) nation. The Algerian court official translating the document translated everything on the page without regard to its nature or source. It is also possible that the American foreign service officials, eager to conclude a treaty, allowed the Barbary officials to continue under that impression." (Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, p. 415)

>So it was written out by the guy who negotiated the treaty and knew what it
>meant; the treaty's language that the U.S. is in no way a "Christian nation"
>was approved by the Senate and the President.
>It's rather like the Constitution. No matter how much Kevin doesn't like it,
>there's no explaining away the simple words of the law.

No one can beat Ed at explaining away the words of the U.S. Supreme Court:

These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.

And all of the "organic utterances" cited by the Holy Trinity Court are real and their authenticity unquestioned, in sharp contrast to the elusive Article 11 of a long-ago superceded treaty.


David Barton's book Original Intent provides some excellent analysis of the Treaty and its context. Excerpts here.


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