Treaty of Tripoli: “The US has no character or enmity against the religion of tranquility of Muslims”

Text of the Treaty of Tripoli

Text of the Treaty of Tripoli

The Treaty of Tripoli, which ended the Barbary Wars for the founding fathers off the coast of North Africa, was titled “The Peace and Friendship between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary.” The 11th article of the Treaty is crucial for understanding how the founding fathers wanted to express themselves to Muslims worldwide. The document is also a key element of the founding fathers’ vision for the United States as a tolerant and pluralist society:

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 Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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.

John Adams and the Treaty of Tripoli

John Adams and the Treaty of TripoliThe Treaty

The Treaty, which was written by American diplomat Joel Barlow in 1796, was also signed by second President John Adams of Massachusetts. It is a crucial document in American history because it further cements the separation of church and state and also expresses the founding fathers’ beliefs on freedom of religion.

You can read the text of the Treaty of Tripoli here.


A Muslim country was the first to sign a treaty with the United States of America

Sultan Abdallah of Morocco and George Washington

Sultan Abdallah of Morocco and George Washington

According to an article by Fred Barnes over at The Weekly Standard:

Before the United States had a president or a constitution, it had the Treaty of Marrakech with Morocco. That diplomatic pact has the distinction of being the longest standing treaty between America and another country. Tomorrow, July 18, marks the 225th anniversary of its ratification.

In an article on George Washington and Muslims for the Huffington Post Religion, Craig Considine sheds light on the origins of the friendship between the Moroccan and American governments:

In late 1777, Washington’s army suffered defeat after defeat against the British and were forced to surrender the major city of Philadelphia to the enemy. Washington’s worst day during the Revolutionary War came as his men were encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on December 19 of that year. Washington stressed in a letter to his friend George Clinton of “the dreadful situation … for want of provisions, and the miserable prospects before us, with respect to futurity.” Just as his army reached its most desperate state, Washington learned of the news of a Muslim man named Sultain Sidi Muhammad ben Abdallah of Morocco, who showed interest in helping the Americans in their fight against the British Empire.

Upon learning of Washington’s conflict, Abdallah assisted Washington by listing the newly independent United States of America as a country whose trading ships would be welcomed in the ports of Morocco, a move which offered the potential for supplies to be shipped to Washington’s army. In 1778, shortly after his initial effort to help Washington, Abdallah appointed Etienne d’Audibert Caille, a French merchant, to serve as an ambassador to unrepresented countries such as the United States of America. These early diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Morocco culminated in the ratification of the Treaty of Marrakech in 1786, which remains to this day the longest standing foreign relations treaty in American history.

You can continue reading more about the Treaty of Marrakach here

Should a Muslim occupy the White House?

Denise Spellberg notes that on July 30th, 1788 Muslims “became symbolically embroiled in the definition of what it meant to be American citizens.” Speaking in light of who might one day occupy the White House, William Lancaster, a delegate to the North Carolina convention, stated:

“But let us remember that we form a government for millions not yet in existence. I have not the art of divination. In the course of four or five hundred years, I do not know how it will work. This is most certain, that [Catholics] may occupy that chair, and [Muslims] may take it. I see nothing against it.”

Spellberg sheds further light on Lancaster’s passage:

“Lancaster asserted these future fears of a “certain” Catholic or Muslim president on July 30, 1788 as part of a day-long debate on the Constitution’s Article VI, section 3: “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  His views are preserved as the final utterance in the most detailed attack on – and defense of – a uniquely American ideal of religious pluralism, one that included Muslims at the founding.”

Here is the official text from Lancaster.

The Muslim friend of James Madison

James Madison, like Alexander Hamilton, is one of those founding fathers who is overlooked by more popular revolutionary figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Yet Madison deserves much of the intellectual credit behind the vision of the United States as a country open to people of all backgrounds. He is also an important figure because he served as an exemplary friend for one of America’s first converts to Islam.

In looking more closely at Madison’s personal life, we find an interesting relationship with George Bethune English. English was an American diplomat, Harvard alum, soldier, and one of the first American converts to Islam. Born and raised in Cambridge (Boston), English encountered doubts about his Christian upbringing and published “The Grounds of Christianity Examined”, which was motivated by his curiosity in the validity of the New Testament.

In 1815, Madison appointed English to the United States’ Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. While he sailed the Mediterranean Sea, English had the opportunity to stop in Egypt, where he studied Islam among Egyptian Muslims. After a brief stint of contemplation, English converted to Islam and changed his name to Mohammad Afendi. Later in his life English learned Arabic, the Quran and the sharia. It is also reported that he became so fluent in Turkish that the Ottoman Ambassador to London could not figure out if English was a native of the Ottoman Empire or not.

After his stint in Egypt and elsewhere, English returned to the United States, where President John Adams appointed him to the Diplomatic Corps of the United States in the Levant. In Istanbul, English delivered a personal message from Adams to the sultan saying that Muslim Americans would be granted the same rights as Christian Americans. English was also able to finalize a trade agreement between the United States and the Ottoman Empire in 1822.

Madison’s friendship with English suggests that Madison saw no problem entering into a friendship with someone who practiced Islam. It also appears that Madison had no quarrel with appointing a Muslim American to one of the highest offices in the United States. Madison’s tolerance and appreciation for religious freedom is at the core of American identity. So too isn’t English’s brilliant life story.  

Quotes from the founding fathers on religious freedom

Virginia Act

Virginia Act

“We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition … In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.” — George Washington (letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793

“I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country.” — George Washington, responding to a group of clergymen who complained that the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ,

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and [Muslim], the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.” -Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by [Religious] Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in history.” – James Madison

"To bigotry no sanction." - GW

“To bigotry no sanction.” – GW

“The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.” — James Madison

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Religious controversies always produce more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” – George Washington

“I wish Christianity were more productive of good works … I mean real good works … not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing … or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious [doctrine claiming] miracles?” – John Adams

“If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. The Puritans found it wrong in the Bishops of the Church of England, but fell into the same practice themselves in New England [in America].”– Benjamin Franklin, in an essay on “Toleration”

Jefferson's Allah tablet at the University of Virginia

Jefferson’s Allah tablet at the University of Virginia

“Experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” – James Madison

“Religious establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.” “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.” – James Madison

“Soon after I had published the pamphlet, ‘Common Sense’ [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion.” – Thomas Paine

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to Jesus by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.” – Thomas Jefferson

“But a short time elapsed after the death of [Jesus] the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the [refuse]; restore him to the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, the roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus.” — Thomas Jefferson (See “The Jefferson Bible,” which is his edited version of the New Testament, removing the “corruptions.”)

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

“The truth is, that the greatest enemies of the doctrine of Jesus are those calling themselves [preachers], who have perverted them … without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come, when the mystical generation [birth] of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation [birth] of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” – Thomas Jefferson

“What influence, in fact, have religious establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.” – James Madison

“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.” – Thomas Paine

“They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Across the ages, clergy have been interested not in truth but only in wealth and power; when rational people have had difficulty swallowing their impious heresies, then the clergy have, with the help of the state, forced them down their throats.” – Thomas Jefferson

Did Islam influence the writing of the Declaration of Independence?

Did Islam influence the writing of the Declaration of Independence?

“In every country and in every age, the [clergyman] has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” – Thomas Jefferson

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a clergy-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The artificial structures [the clergy] have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it money and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.” – Thomas Jefferson

“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” – John Adams

“The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” – Declaration of the U.S. Congress in 1797


When Benjamin Franklin criticized Christian frontiersmen and praised Muhammad and Muslims

Frankie Martin wrote an important piece for the Huffington Post Religion where he reminds us of the value of tolerance in a country (the US) forged by men who cherished the value of freedom of worship:

“For the Founding Fathers, religious freedom was at the very core of being American. As America’s first president George Washington wrote, America was open to receive “the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions”, including Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, throughout its history America has sometimes failed to live up to this ideal, most recently after the 9/11 attacks.”

I have chosen to write about Martin’s article for its particularly interesting reference to a fascinating story about Benjamin Franklin:

In December 1763, a group of 50 Pennsylvania frontiersmen, seeking to prevent Native American attacks on their homes and frustrated that the government had not taken action against hostile tribes, tortured, mutilated and murdered a group of peaceful Christian Native Americans in the most horrific fashion.

The supposedly Christian frontiersmen, wrote an outraged Franklin, were more barbaric than those to which they claimed superiority.

Franklin went on to assert that Native Americans would have been safer had they been living in a Muslim country, as Islam shows even prisoners more humanity than the frontiersmen had shown free men. Franklin praised the compassion of the Prophet Muhammad, writing that the Prophet had applauded the humaneness of soldiers who treated their captives well. Franklin also spoke of his admiration for the 12th century sultan Saladin as a ruler who demonstrated both justice and compassion.

As Martin notes, the outlook of the Founding Fathers could not be more significant considering the current American environment where feelings against Muslims are precarious.

Martin ends his article in the egalitarian spirit of the founding fathers: “… both Muslims and non-Muslims can benefit by considering both the American ideals of the Founding Fathers and the Islamic ideals for which they had such admiration.”

“To bigotry no sanction.” – George Washington

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