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NOAH WEBSTER


Picture of Noah Webster

1758-1843

Writer on Topics Related to the Constitution

Biographical Data
Religious Views
Quotations
Misquotations
References, Links, & Further Reading



Education: Yale

Occupation: lexicographer, educator, writer, editor

Political Affiliation:


Religious Affiliation:

Summary of Religious Views:

Views on Religion & Politics:


Quotations:

"In order therefore to secure the obedience of subjects, the terrors of religion have always been called in to aid the civil power, and in most countries, have been incorporated with the political institutions. It has been the policy of the sovereign to keep his subjects in ignorance, to teach them a blind obedience to the oracles of some deity, commonly fabricated or feigned by human contrivance, to impress their minds with the belief that their rulers and priests were beings of a superior order, who had some intercourse with their gods and had power to punish disobedience with the severest judgments. All the events of the natural world, earthquakes, thunder and lightning, eclipse, storms and famine, with the whole catalogue of imaginary prodigies, miracles, dreams, tricks of magic, and fabulous stories of demons, have been converted, by power and artifice; into instruments of tyranny. Thus mankind have been deluded from age to age and rendered subservient to the caprice, the pleasure and the ambition of their sovereigns." -- Sketches of American Policy, 1785

"The legislators of the American states are neither swayed by a blind veneration for an independent clergy, nor awed by the frowns of a tyrant. Their civil policy is or ought to be the result of, the collected wisdom of all nations, and their religion, that of the Savior of mankind. If they do not establish and perpetuate the best systems of government on earth, it will be their own fault, for nature has given them every advantage they could desire." -- Sketches of American Policy, 1785

"Another circumstance, favorable to liberty and peculiar to America, is a most liberal plan of ecclesiastical policy. Dr. Price has anticipated most of my observations on this head. If sound sense is to be found on earth, it is in his reasoning on this subject. The American constitutions are the most liberal in this particular of any on earth; and yet some of them have retained some badges of bigotry. A profession of the Christian religion is necessary in the states, to entitle a man to office. In some states, it is requisite to subscribe certain articles of faith. These requisitions are the effect of the same abominable prejudices, that have enslaved the human mind in all countries; which alone have supported error and all absurdities in religion. If there are any human means of promoting a millennial state of society, the only means are a general diffusion of knowledge and a free unlimited indulgence given to religious persuasions, without distinction and without preference. When this event takes place, and I believe it certainly will, the best religion will have the most advocates. Nothing checks the progress of truth like human establishments. Christianity spread with rapidity, before the temporal powers interfered; but when the civil magistrate undertook to guard the truth from error, its progress was obstructed, the simplicity of the gospel was corrupted with human inventions, and the efforts of Christendom have not yet been able to bring it back to its primitive purity.
"The American states have gone far in assisting the progress of truth; but they have stopped short of perfection. They ought to have given every honest citizen an equal right to enjoy his religion and an equal title to all civil emoluments, without obliging him to tell his religion. Every interference of the civil power in regulating opinion, is an impious attempt to take the business of the Deity out of his own hands; and every preference given to any religious denomination, is so far slavery and bigotry." -- Sketches of American Policy, 1785

"An uniformity in the general principles of each [State] constitution, deserves attention. Some defects may be found in all: I will mention but one, which is not common to all; the exclusion of clergymen from all civil offices. Considering the evils that mankind have suffered from ecclesiastics in Europe, it is no wonder that Americans should dread their power. But men, in avoiding one error, run into another. We are not apt to attend to the difference of circumstances. The clergy in America do not and ought not, as a body, to form a part of government. But why, as individuals, they should be excluded from all the emoluments of government, and all share of making the laws to which they are subject, is to me inconceivable. Merchants, mechanics and farmers as distinct bodies, have no power, but as individuals, they are eligible to offices of trust and profit, and so ought to be ecclesiastics. Here is the distinction and the reasoning applies with equal force, to every possession. Must clergymen, because they are employed about spiritual concerns, be deprived of the privileges of society? But aside of the flagrant injustice of such exclusion, the measure counteracts its own end. When ecclesiastics, as a body, are admitted to a share of legislation, they may form combinations dangerous to states. To prevent this danger some states exclude them totally from civil offices and thus make them foes to the government by a most tyrannical distinction. Such an exclusion therefore produces the very effect, which it was intended to prevent The state of New York is a witness of this truth. Add to this the inevitable tendency of such an exclusion to discourage men of knowledge and liberality from entering into a most useful and necessary profession. Surely no State ought to interweave, into its constitution, a general discouragement of a profession, calculated at least to promote the peace and happiness of society. Should I be asked what privileges clergymen ought to enjoy? I would answer, the same as other citizens. This would annihilate their power as a body, by scattering its force, by leveling a distinction of orders, and blending the civil and ecclesiastical interests in one indivisible interest.
"The same principle, which excludes clergymen from civil offices, and which has introduced test laws and subscription of creeds, into some of the American constitutions, would have justified the religious wars in France and Germany; nay, the same principle would have justified Nero and Dioclesian in extirpating Christianity and committing the bible to the flames. The principle would only be extended further in one case than in the other. If there is in the system of things, such a thing as true religion, and a spirit of pure benevolence; religious establishments, sacramental tests, articles of faith, partial exclusions from emoluments, and that illiberal pride which sanctifies our own opinions and damns all others, will forever banish them from human society. Had it not been for these barriers, invented to guard human absurdities, millions of lives would leave been saved, and the members of every enlightened community would have been of one religion." -- Sketches of American Policy, 1785

"The revisal of the test law has at length passed by a respectable majority of the Representativs of this State. This is a prelude to wiser measures; people are just awaking from delusion. The time will come (and may the day be near!) when all test laws, oaths of allegiance, abjuration, and partial exclusions from civil offices, will be proscribed from this land of freedom.
"Americans! what was the origin of these discriminations? What is their use?
"They originated in savage ignorance, and they are the instruments of slavery. Emperors and generals, who wished to attach their subjects to their persons and government; who wished to exercise despotic sway over them or prosecute villainous wars, (for mankind have always been butchering each other) found the solemnity of oaths had an excellent effect on poor superstitious soldiers and vassals . . ." -- On Test Laws, Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration, and Partial Exclusions from Office, March 1787

Misquotations:

"The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory [sic] to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer." -- This quotation has not been found anywhere in Webster's recorded writings or speeches, as has been acknowledged by David Barton.

"There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet." -- This quotation has not been found anywhere in Webster's recorded writings or speeches, as has been acknowledged by David Barton.

References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links


Books

Works by Noah Webster

A dictionary of the English language, explanatory, pronouncing, etymological, and synonymous, with a copious appendix. Mainly abridged from the quarto dictionary of Noah Webster, LL. D. As rev. by Chauncey A. Goodrich, D. D. and Noah Porter, D. D. By William A. Wheeler. With supplement of nearly four thousand new words and meanings. Illustrated by more than six hundred engravings on wood. G. & C. Merriam & Co., 1872; from Amazon.com, A Dictionary of the English Language

Biographies

David Micklethwait, Noah Webster and the American Dictionary, McFarland, 2000
John S. Morgan, Noah Webster, Mason/Charter, 1975
Richard Rollins, The Long Journey of Noah Webster, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1980
Harlow Giles Unger, Noah Webster: The Life and Times of an American Patriot, Wiley, 1998
Harry R. Warfel, Noah Webster: Schoolmaster to America, Macmillan, 1936

Articles

"Noah Webster," New Englander and Yale review, Vol. 1, Iss. 4, October 1843, pp. 565-568
"Noah Webster," The International Magazine of Literature, Art, and Science, Vol. 4, Iss. 1, August 1851, pp. 12-16

Links

Works by Noah Webster

Sketches of American Policy, 1785 (The Potowmack Institute)
"On Test Laws, Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration, and Partial Exclusions from Office," March 1787 (The Founder's Constitution)
An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (Lexrex)
An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (Online Library of Liberty)
To the DISSENTING MEMBERS of the late Convention of Pennsylvania (Online Library of Liberty)
An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution [alternate site](Online Library of Liberty)
An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (The Potowmack Institute)
A Citizen of America: An Examination Into the Leading Principles of America (TeachingAmericanHistory.org)
The Revolution in France (Online Library of Liberty)

Biographical Sites

Noah Webster History (Noah Webster House)
Noah Webster and America's First Dictionary (Merriam-Webster)
The Noah Webster House -- Museum of West Hartford History

Religious Views

"On Test Laws, Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration, and Partial Exclusions from Office," March 1787 (The Founder's Constitution)
Noah Webster's views on the Separation of Church and State (Separation of Church and State)
Noah Webster and Religion (Noah Webster House)
Noah Webster (1758-1843) (Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty)



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