Trump vs. the Founding Fathers on Muslims Coming to US

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In his never-ending trolling of the American public, Donald Trump has now come out and urged banning Muslim immigration into or even entrance into the United States.

Some of the below is revised from an earlier text

Forbidding people from entering the United States on the basis of their religion is inconsistent with the ideals of the Founding Generation of the United States of America, who explicitly mentioned Islam among the cases when they spoke of religious freedom:

‘George Washington asked in a March 24, 1784, letter to his aide Tench Tilghman that some craftsmen be hired for him: “If they are good workmen, they may be of Assia, [sic] Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, [Muslims] Jews, or Christian of any Sect – or they may be Atheists …”


In his letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, RI, Washington pledged that the “Children of Abraham” would not be made afraid in the United States (implicitly contrasting the new nation’s liberties and personal security with the pogroms of the Old World). It should be noted that Arab Muslims consider themselves, as well, descendants of Abraham through Ishmael:

” The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—-a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—- while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Washington underlined that in the new social experiment that is the United States, toleration is not merely the indulgence of one group of people by a dominant elite. It is a right, which requires only that the individual be an upright citizen of the new country, which “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Donald Trump is himself a bigot not good enough to pronounce George Washington’s name aloud, much less to succeed him in office.

Ben Franklin, the founding father of many important institutions in Philadelphia, a key diplomat and a framer of the US Constitution, wrote in his Autobiography concerning a non-denominational place of public preaching he helped found “so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” Here is the whole quote:

‘And it being found inconvenient to assemble in the open air, subject to its inclemencies, the building of a house to meet in was no sooner propos’d, and persons appointed to receive contributions, but sufficient sums were soon receiv’d to procure the ground and erect the building, which was one hundred feet long and seventy broad, about the size of Westminster Hall; and the work was carried on with such spirit as to be finished in a much shorter time than could have been expected. Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service. ‘

Not only did Ben Franklin not want to ban Muslims from coming to the United States, he wanted to invited them!

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his 1777 Draft of a Bill for Religious Freedom:

‘ that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right . . . ‘

As I observed on another occasion, it was Jefferson’s more bigotted opponents in the Virginia legislature who brought up the specter of Muslims and atheists being elected to it in the world Jefferson was trying to create. He was undeterred by such considerations, which should tell us something.

British social philosopher John Locke was extremely influential on the Founding Generation, and on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. John Locke had already advocated civil rights for non-Christians, including Muslims, in his Letter on Toleration:

‘ Thus if solemn assemblies, observations of festivals, public worship be permitted to any one sort of professors [believers], all these things ought to be permitted to the Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, Arminians, Quakers, and others, with the same liberty. Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing. ‘

Here is Jefferson again: “The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.”
– Thomas Jefferson, note in Destutt de Tracy, “Political Economy,” 1816.

Or: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-82

The US Senate, full of founding fathers, and the Adams government, approved the Treaty with Tripoli (now Libya) of 1797, which included this language:

“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 States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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.”

The treaty is important for showing the mindset of the fashioners of the American system.

And here is a final point for Mr. Trump and his ilk to consider. The United States was born of a war against the British crown, the state religion of which was the Anglican Church. Those Anglicans who insisted on swearing allegiance to King George III were viewed as the enemy. And, the British custom of ‘establishing’ the Anglican church in many of the colonies, i.e. making it the state religion, was renounced by the revolutionaries. But there was no question that apolitical Anglicans could practice their religion freely, found Anglican (“Episcopalian”) churches anywhere they liked (even in places where the Americans and British had waged fierce battles, like New York), and even go to Britain to arrange for the training of Episcopalian/Anglican priests.

There is more. In 1787, Samuel Provoost was made the Episcopalian bishop of New York. He had been a Whig and a supporter of the Revolution even though an Anglican. In 1789, the US Senate made him its chaplain!

So not only did the Founding Generation not harbor a grudge against the religion of the British Crown (which had tried to crush them), they were perfectly willing to give non-Tory Anglicans high official positions in the new Republic. It would be as though the the current chaplain of the Senate were a former al-Qaeda member who had broken with Bin Laden and declared allegiance to the United States.

That is, the Founding Generation made a key distinction between religious practice and political loyalty, and had granted freedom of religion to non-Tory Anglicans.

34 Responses

  1. Thanks for this inspiring history lesson. How fortunate we were to have such founders who, despite their own human limitations of time and place, were so far above some of those who would be leaders today.

  2. With apologies to Martin Niemoller:

    First Trump came for the Hispanics,
    and I did not speak out for I was not Hispanic;

    Then Trump came the trade unionists,
    and I did not speak out for I was not a trade unionist;

    Then Trump came for the Muslims,
    and I did not speak out for I was not Muslim;

    Then Trump came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.

  3. It was difficult to read the words of President Washington, Ambassador Franklin, and President Jefferson. Difficult not because of their words, which we hold dear and near our hearts, but because the confluence of our political babble today doesn’t measure up-by any stretch of imagination! Thank you for your work. The founding fathers came from and understood the divisive politics of Anglican England, but thanks be to god(s) they also understood history, or so it seems. In contrast today our political discourse is as significant as the words of two drunkards in a brawl. Where do we go as a civilization from here?

  4. How sad that you have to quote all this Juan. The dynamic of the McCarthy era seems to coming back with Muslims in the place of Communists.

  5. Isn’t this an example of an ‘original intent’ argument analogous the the current disputes regarding the ‘original intent’ of the 2nd Amendment that so many gun rights advocates cite?

    • The point is that right-wingers use “original intent” as coded language based on the assumption that the Founding Fathers were infallible, that the state they founded was perfect and that all revisions were heresy, and that the Founding Fathers made no provision for a more liberal future. In other words, the Right’s agenda is to restore all the worst of life 250 years ago, while censoring out all the demands of intellectuals like Jefferson (who did benefit from many of those bad things) that society be set on a path to greater equality via an activist, secular government.

  6. We know where Trump is headed next: all Muslims in the U.S. required to wear a yellow crescent.

  7. Since tRump is not too forthcoming with details on virtually anything, I will assume he means there’s a difference between Muslim visitors, refugees, and applicants for citizenship and Muslim American citizens. I would assume also that it is commonly understood by the general population that American Muslim *citizens* are immune to this brownshirt-ism. But, however, it is but one very short step away from Muslim registration and deportation should Congress allow it. What a sad little man and trying times for the rest of us.

  8. One of the problems with Trump and his rhetoric is the snowballing effect. Going over the top of his previous preposterous statement appears to be Trump’s modus operandum. Another problem is the support he gets from a significant portion of the American people for a variety of reasons, one of which is a habit of speaking the truth on occasions that probably encourages people to believe anything he says is the truth. How often do we get truthful statements out of Jeb!, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Hillary, etc? Voters who go for the lesser evil will have a tough choice if it is Hillary vs. The Donald or Cruz or Rubio or Carson.

  9. I’ve often been guilty of imposing, in my own mind, some method on the madness of the right wing in America, but it’s hard to escape the nagging suspicion that Trump has another candidate in mind for the run against Clinton, that he’s a classic berserker, throwing himself against the rationality of the American electorate in hopes of opening a breach for someone else. After Trump, any of the other candidates is bound to look almost sane.

  10. Poor Donald Trump…the once brilliant entrepreneur whose legacy will now be crazy race baiting bigot. Best thing that’s happened in a long time. More backing for Muslims than ever before. Not voting for him…college educated, young, African Americans; Latinos, Muslims..Japanese, Democrats, most Liberals…70 percent of Republicans. And it will increase voter turn out…not to his benefit.
    A good test for American conscience.
    Mein Trumpf..and look what happened to that guy….

  11. Thank you for this timely piece. As an American Muslim, the rhetoric I have to hear on a daily basis makes me sad and depressed more than scared. My family has been here since the 70s, and are all hard working middle-class/upper middle class professionals. We are observant, dutiful Muslims, but also believe that our faith teaches us to respect the laws of the land, wherever we live. The Prophet (pbuh) instructed Muslims to be be good citizens regardless of where they are living. There is no justification to wage war on civilians of a country in Islamic law when you are a citizen of that country, or any other country for that matter. It’s absolutely forbidden, no if’s and’s or buts. This divisiveness being done by the GOP is no better than what ISIS is doing inside iraq and the levant. Us vs them. It must stop. We’re better as a nation than these thugs.

  12. “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights…”

    This is absolutely critical in understanding where modern right-wingers are coming from. They DO think that they are really the Master Race and that they have only allowed any rights for blacks, Latinos, atheists, etc, etc, as an indulgence based on their endless Christian generosity. So even equality is actually proof of their superiority. But now, they imply, those groups have abused their undeserved gift and are to blame for all the country’s problems, for surely the Master Race and infallible Free Enterprise and our unimpeachable boys in uniform can’t possibly be to blame. So they must now restore the natural order.

    And to do that, they need a legal angle that the public will largely support that divides citizenship into first-class and second-class. Just as the racists who built Jim Crow started on the tiny crack of voter suppression via Grandfather Clauses and poll taxes, and widened it into an entire culture of apartheid. That’s why they now scream so wildly for things like a religious right to discriminate against gays (but not for people of other religions to discriminate against other people). Or the right of a white man to regard a black man as a more “natural” threat than vice versa and thus have the right to shoot first. Or the right to profile-search Moslems at airports, but not good, gun-nut Christians. All of those are of value to them, but the greater value is the restoration of legal precedents for the return of massive, legal discrimination by them against everyone else. They only need one victory; they already have an organized legal cult ready to seize upon it and argue that it applies to everything else they want in more cases than normal citizens can ever keep track of.

    The American Right today is, in all its forms, a cult of inequality, worshiping the past for its injustices, not despite them.

  13. Thank you, Prof. Cole for pointing out what all Americans should already know – namely, the Founding Fathers envisioned an America of tolerance and enlightened thinking.

  14. How sad that this even needs to be repeated. This should be common knowledge in this country. Since I was too young to remember McCarthy, this is the worst intolerance i can remember in my life and I’m 70. The fact that 30% or more of one of our major parties accepts this rhetoric is truly frightening. BTW, regarding Franklin, he was born and raised in Boston, but left for Philadelphia at a relatively early age largely because he couldn’t stand the intolerant Puritan preachers who dominated Boston society at the time.

  15. But wait, it gets worse: “Cruz Threatens to Nuke ISIS Targets: Exclusive: Republican presidential campaign rhetoric is red-hot regarding Islamic terrorism, with Sen. Cruz suggesting the use of nuclear weapons to see “if sand can glow in the dark,” a threat even more troubling than Donald Trump’s call to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the U.S.”, writes Robert Parry. – link to

  16. Consider this: Many, if not most, of the Republicans (and Hillary) criticizing Trump for excluding Muslims from entry into the US approved the mass murder, mayhem and dislocation of millions of Iraqis and the Israeli attacks on Gaza that resulted in consequences worse than not reaching the US. This doesn’t make Trump’s demagoguery OK, but let’s not overlook people who are worse.

  17. On-Hillary voting for the Iraq War: Our best intelligence agencies backed Cheney and Bush on the Iraq threat. Forged yellow cake papers, aluminum . Tubes, WMD’s. Mushroom clouds. Poor Colin Powell taken in. The Media..didn’t question it.
    How could she possibly believe they were all lies. Because OBVIOUSLY the truth would eventually come out. All those deaths- for lies. President Bush, Cheney and all of them would be severely punished and run out of office!


    • Poor Colin Powell taken in.

      That’s another myth. Members of his intelligence staff revealed on “60 Minutes” they knew Powell was talking hogwash when he made his craven speech before the UN, so Powell must have known it too. Robert Fisk ripped his speech apart within a few hours of Powell’s delivery.

  18. The comments in this thread have been generally quite good and powerful, even though I understand our voices are quite small. I have written in comments here before, many times now, that the GOP will eventually need to be outlawed as a White Supremist Hate Group. Sorry if I preen for a minute or two about my prescience – I wish I were wrong, but this has been coming on for many years. But does any one else feel that this is going anywhere else but in this general direction, unless Cruz is elected, really does make the “sands glow”, and in which case we are all cooked? Hilary, Cruz, Cheney, they all hate Muslims, but The Don (yes, the reference is to Corleone, because who the fuck else does The Don [Corleone and Mr. T.] sound like?) hates Muslims in his own fashion (apologies to Tolstoy!)

    Maybe Canada and Mexico can invade before we do anything more truly dire and establish a war crimes tribunal before we actually commit them . . . after all, wasn’t that, in a sense, how the Iraq War (2003 not the 1991 fiasco) was justified? Remember “preventive war”?

    I’ve watched the career of the GOP since Reagan with fascination – it has been a revelation to me what small minds wielded to limitless ambition can achieve and how they can destroy a country full of clever men. But Trump is not the disease, no, we must look elsewhere for that! He is merely the putrefaction, the great stench that comes after death in a gust of really bad breath.

    He is a lesson in history, that mankind, above all else . . . still needs . . . its sense . . . of SMELLLLLLLL.

    • the GOP will eventually need to be outlawed as a White Supremist Hate Group.

      They are not only hostile to non-Whites. They can be just as vicious towards fellow-whites who happen to be below their economic and social status. Nor are certain Democrats innocent in this regard.

      • You are absolutely right. But any precedent for prosecuting those who make war on the poor? I wish there were, and there should be . . . we must stand up for them, but they must also stand up for themselves as a political force? How is this to be done? I don’t know. I sometimes think of the Rabbi Hillel’s words in this regard: “If I am not for myself, who will be?”

  19. I think it is about time we declare that republicans are a terrorist organization :(

Comments are closed.