Senator Josh Hawley went looking for patriotic and unmistakably right-wing sentiment to tweet on the 4th of July, and offered a moving quote from Patrick Henry of ‘give me liberty or give me death’ fame , about the centrality of Christianity in the founding of the United States. Or anyway, Hawley attributed the quote to Henry. It was wrong.
In reality, the words came from a 1956 article in regards to Henry in “The Virginian,” a white nationalist publication. Hawley is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, served as a Supreme Court clerk and generally has a reputation as one of the brightest minds in the Republican Party. Somehow he relates himself with it.
“It cannot be overemphasized or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religious, but by Christians; not about religions, but about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Hawley asserted, Henry had said. “For this very reason, people of other faiths have been granted asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.”
Here is the background from historian Seth Cotlar:
Patrick Henry was a slave owner himself, so it’s a name with a giant asterisk if you want to celebrate freedom. But taking words from that specific source and attributing them to Henry is an entirely different matter. It’s an allusion to where Hawley might get his news and memes: the places where white nationalist misinformation about the Founding Fathers circulates.
Hawley’s assertion of Christianity as an original force in the United States is also worth considering. Even if the quote was real, Hawley was making a specific and highly political choice in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people to assert that freedom in this country stems from Christianity.
Notes by Steve Benen that Hawley is not just misrepresenting Patrick Henry here:
The Constitution is a secular document that created a secular government. Thomas Jefferson – in an actual quote – written in 1802 that our First Amendment has built “a wall of separation between church and state.” In 1797 John Adams agreed: “The government of the United States of America is in no way based on the Christian religion.”
But Hawley, the man who raised his fist in solidarity with the Jan. 6 crowd and then tried to pass himself off as a masculinity guru, isn’t interested in such inconvenient realities. He is an example of how extremism and white nationalism in the Republican Party today is not limited to representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. And his version of American history must be dismissed for the false view it is on every level.