The US is not a nation founded on Christianity, it is a secular nation with a Christian majority. This was accepted and non-contraversial back in the days of the Founding Fathers (some were Christians, some not).
The Treaty of Tripoli includes the statement:
"the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion"
and this was not contraversial at the time.
In 1797, at the very end of George Washington's presidency, the Americans signed the treaty known as the"Treaty of peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary" or the Treaty of Tripoli. This was accomplished during the spate of years in which the muslim pirates of Barbary were attacking merchant ships and the Americans were periodically paying them ransom to do business in a series of treaties known as the Barbary Treaties.
This period ended with the presidency of Thomas Jefferson who despite the trepidation of his fellow statesmen, thought it ridiculous to pay criminals to stop stealing. Better, he thought, to speak to them in the language they understood, death and destruction.
When the Pasha of Tripoli demanded payment amounting to 1/40th of the entire US treasury, as ransom for the American lives and property they had taken captive. Jefferson delivered his answer by canon and after a couple of wars the Muslim Turks conceded and left American ships alone. By 1816, after two wars, the Americans were freed from paying Muslim Pirates for the right to sail their ships in international waters.
The Treaty of tripoli was the the first of the Barbary treaties in which Muslim pirates forced the brand new United States to pay for the right to sail their ships unmolested in international waters.
According to General William Eaton, Barbary philosophy at the time was "Christians who would be on good terms with us must fight well or pay well".
The Barbary pirates were not picky about who they stole from or enslaved and Christians were certainly not their only victims. However, according to historian Peter Earle in his book "Corsairs of malta and Barbary" the muslim pirates held a special hatred for Christians and they knew that the Americans in 1783, newly independent from and out from under the naval protection of Britain, were Christians ripe for the picking.
The Muslim pirates were carrying on the tradition of the Muslim "razzia", a french word for "raid". Paul Fregosi in his book, "Jihad in the West"(1998) goes into tremendous detail about the ingrained nature of jihad in the Muslim culture and in the Ottoman Empire, all of whose Chieftains were given the title , Ghazi, the arab word for razzia, meaning essentially "raider led by Mohammed for Islam". Historian Andrew Bostom in his book "Legacy of Jihad" also notes the Ghazi nature of the raids on the American ships of the 18th century. These pirates, under the authority of the Ottoman Empire knew that the ships were manned by Christians from a Christian country and their treatment of these captives was especially harsh. But they were pirates and they did love money. So, in 1785, they demanded 60,000 dollars for 2 ships and their crews, a considerable sum for the new and financially challenged American government.
The Americans had just acquired their independence and were not in the least confident that they could muster a navy and handle a war against the Ottomans, so they paid up. The Ghazi pirates kept on raiding and capturing and torturing Christian sailors and demanding increasing sums of money. In 1797, America signed the Treaty of Tripoli, sending Joel Barlow to translate the treaty, which was written in Arabic. (It is interesting to note that Joel Barlow had been an orthodox Christian but by the time of the treaty he had become a secular humanist, in agreement with the Enlightenment philosophies of the time that proposed purely secular government.)
The Arabic treaty contained a preamble and eleven articles. In between the article 10 and 11 was a diatribe from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli concerning the nature of the American government. Barlow translated this as declaring the foundations of the American government to be unattached to Christianity and then included the letter as an article of the treaty, for some unknown reason. The disparity between the Arabic and Barlow english translation are vast enough to cause Barlow's translation to be called into question by many historians, especially the inclusion of "article 11".
This particular discrepancy was obviously not lost on the American statesmen of the time considering the fact that the article was removed from the treaty in 1805.
It is an oddity that can only be wondered at ,that John Adams, one of our most fervent defenders of the Christian nature of our nation would have read the Barlow translation of Article 11 and signed it without comment. There is a wealth of evidence as to John Adams view of Christianity in regards to the American government.
The Massachusetts Constitution which he helped to write, states: "the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality". In 1813 he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God." During his presidency and at the request of congress, he proclaimed an official Day of Fasting "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;" It is also unlikely that most of the members of the American Congress would have listened to "article 11" of the treaty without any distress over its declaration, unless they simply discounted it as the ravings of an Arab chieftan who happened to have the fledgling US between a rock and a hard place.
sssssssss Also the ratified treaty which was printed in all the newspapers of the day did not seem to elicit any comment concerning the article from any of the citizens of the US, who were mostly Christian. There is no historical record of exactly how or when the letter became included as a treaty article , so we will never know for sure. The only things we know for sure is that it was not written as an article and it was removed as such 8 years after the treaty. The only explanation that appears to make sense is that the new United States of America was so unsure of its ability to survive as a nation against strong forces such as the Ottoman Empire, that an intentional humiliation such as an Arabic statement that our government had nothing to do with Christian principles was slap in the face, to which we were willing to turn the other cheek in exchange for survival.
It is noteworthy also that in 1805, when America won the First Barbary War against the Pasha of Tripoli, the supposed "Article 11" was removed.
In summary, the Treaty of Tripoli was written by Muslim leaders who knew that America was Christian, preyed on our shipping trade and gave the crews extra harsh treatment because of their Christianity. John Adams, the congress of the US, and David Holmes notes in his book "the Faiths of the Founding Fathers" the people of 18th century America "were overwhelmingly Protestant or unchurched". (This only makes sense as the established churches of the colonial period were Christian, hence the education would have been Christian based. This is absolutely proved out by the fact that the Colleges and Universities founded at the time were almost all Christian(106 out of 108)The stated purpose of the educational programs given by Harvard, Princeton, Yale, University of Penn., and William and Mary were to advance the intellect and Christian sensibilities of the students.)
While the founding fathers of our nation were careful not to create religion as a government power, they realized that a population practicing Christian morals was necessary to keep the government functioning properly within the intended bounds The treaty was written in Arabic and did not originally include the statement about America's non-Christian government as an article but a letter. This letter is considered poorly translated by Barlow and erroneously placed into the treaty for unknown reasons. It was later removed. We are not given historical documentation for the reasons that the article was accepted without comment, nor are we given reasons for why it was removed without comment. To take this one small mistake written into a treaty crafted by Arab pirates to coerce a new nation with a non-existant naval power and questionable financial abilities to sustain a war against a huge superpower, to take this one dubious example as proof that we are not a nation based on Christian beliefs, Christian culture and Christian morals is wildly unconvincing.
Consider the Treaty of Tunis in which even the Muslim leader, Hamuda Pasha Bey, acknowledges president John Adams as a believer in Jesus Christ (His Messiah)
Treaty with Tunis, Ratified1/10/1800
God is infinite.
Under the auspices of the greatest, the most powerful of all the princes of the Ottoman nation who reign upon the earth, our most glorious and most august Emperor, who commands the two lands and the two seas, Selim Khan I the victorious, son of the Sultan Moustafa, whose realm may God prosper until the end of ages, the support of kings, the seal of justice, the Emperor of emperors.
The most illustrious and most magnificent Prince Hamuda Pasha, Bey, who commands the Odgiak of Tunis, the abode of happiness; and the most honored Ibrahim Dey; and Suleiman, Agha of the Janizaries and chief of the Divan; and all the elders of the Odgiak; and the most distinguished and honored President of the Congress of the United States of America, the most distinguished among those who profess the religion of the Messiah, of whom may the end be happy.