The “Christian Nation” Myth and The Treaty of Tripoli


It’s December and the Abrahamic religions are running wild, as they like to do this time of year. Christians are a particular loud bunch. Today’s powerful Christian organizations and promoters are working harder than ever to spread historical myths about early America. They are attempting to convince us to return to the Christianity of the early days. You may be familiar with some of these promoters and the media that allows them to spread their ignorance: Bill O’reilly, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson, and many, many others.

Earlier this year Sarah Palin and Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly condemned the critics of the National Day of Prayer, saying that the Judeo-Christian belief was the basis for American law and should continue to be used as a guiding force for creating future legislation.

According to Palin, the recent backlash against the National Day of Prayer is proof that some people are trying to enact a “fundamental transformation of America” and to “revisit and rewrite history” in order to shift the Christian nation away from its spiritual roots.

Palins’s advice: “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments.” [1]

As usual, these people have absolutely no idea of what they’re talking about…yet they have their own shows on T.V., but that’s a topic for another time.

I’d like to introduce a little known document signed by a President of the United States, you may have heard of him, his name is John Adams. Adams was, of course, a leading champion of American independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States (1797–1801), and one of the most influential Founding Fathers. He was also the one who nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief.

Among his many accomplishments, Adams introduced a treaty to congress in 1797 called Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, better known as the Treaty of Tripoli.

This little known but legal document written in the late 1700s explicitly reveals the secular nature of the United States to a foreign nation. It explicitly states that the United States of America is “not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”.

The treaty was essentially drafted to promote the peace between the U.S. and the Barbary Coast [the middle and western coastal regions of North Africa—what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya]. I would like to refer your attention to Article 11 of the treaty:


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 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. [2]

Let’s be very clear about this official denial of a Christian basis for the U.S. government.

  1. The entire treaty was read aloud on the Senate floor, and copies were printed for every Senator.
  2. The treated was approved for ratification unanimously!
  3. There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty.
  4. The treaty was reprinted in full in three newspapers, two in Philadelphia and one in New York City, with only scant public dissent. [3]

Now, let’s see what President Adams said after he approved the treaty:

Now be it known, That I John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof. And to the End that the said Treaty may be observed, and performed with good Faith on the part of the United States, I have ordered the premises to be made public; And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all other citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof. [4]

So here we have a clear admission by the United States that our government did not found itself upon Christianity.

But what exactly is a treaty? Why are they so important?

Article VI, clause 2 of the United States Constitution renders ratified treaties “the supreme Law of the Land”. This is usually called The Supremacy Clause and it states that the

Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it and treaties made under its authority, constitute the supreme law of the land. It provides that state courts are bound by the supreme law; in case of conflict between federal and state law, the federal law must be applied. Even state constitutions are subordinate to federal law. [5]

In other words, this treaty represented U.S. law as all treaties do according to the U.S. Constitution.

Although 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 much for returning to our old Christian nation… At least Palin’s correct about one thing: the Founding Fathers were “quite clear”!

Thanks for reading,


  1. Sarah Palin: American Law Should Be ‘Based On The God Of The Bible And The Ten Commandments’:
  2. The Barbary Treaties 1786-1816, Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796:
  3. Does the 1796-97 Treaty with Tripoli Matter to Church/State Separation? Speech given to the Humanists of Georgia on June 22, 1997 and at the 1997 Lake Hypatia Independance Day Celebration, by Ed Buckner, Ph.D.:
  4. Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, Volume 2, Documents 1-40; 1776-1818, edited by Hunter Miller, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1931. pp 382-83

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