Foreign Born and Anti-Christian and Anti-American Socialists and Infidels

From the report by the Rev. T. A. Fernley of the monthly meeting of Philadelphia’s Sunday Association:

Nothing of stirring interest has transpired during the month except the continued agitation of the so-called personal liberty movement by foreign born and anti-Christian and anti-American socialists and infidels. We are far from thinking that all who have come to our shores of late years belong to the class who are seeking to overthrow our Christian Sunday, but the most blatant, the most foul-mouthed and ignorant are disgracing themselves and their nationalities by their efforts in that direction.  The (Philadelphia) Times October 18, 1887

Sabbatarianism was a major front of the culture wars in the 19th century. I run into it often in my early baseball research. The idea behind Sabbatarianism was that the working classes had only one day off a week. They were supposed to spend it in church. The culture warriors realized they couldn’t quite get away with mandating church attendance, but failing that it was important that the people not enjoy themselves that day by, for example, attending a baseball game. This was routinely expressed in tones of high moral dudgeon.

Nativism, of course, dates from about the time the second boat landed. This little gem of an excerpt combines Sabbatarianism and Nativism into a nasty little package. Note that the “anti-Christian … infidels” were in many cases devout Christians, but the wrong sort. The American expression of how to spend Sunday afternoons was of distinctively Anglo-Saxon Protestant origin. Christians from continental Europe often found it mystifying.

There are only vestiges of Sabbatarianism left. Some places still restrict liquor sales on Sunday, and Chick-fil-A makes a point of conspicuous piety by being closed that day. But the idea of avoiding sports on Sunday is not part of the discussion–especially during football season, which is nearly sacramental in modern Evangelicalism.

Sabbatarianism is so much not a thing today that I have trouble persuading people that it ever was. There is a life cycle to culture war issues. Early on, they are existential crises. Then once they are lost, as they usually are, they gradually fade away until it is convenient to deny they ever were a thing in the first place. Fifty years ago interracial marriage was condemned on explicitly Christian grounds. Liberty University only allowed interracial dating in 1985. Yet today you can find conservative Christians who scoff at the idea that anyone ever made a religious argument against it, and condemn the claim as liberal disinformation. I suspect that gay marriage will go the same route, though it will likely take a generation or two.

Sabbatariansim faded away as an issue long ago. But what strikes me about the Reverend Fernley’s report is how very very easy it would be to substitute a bit of vocabulary here and there and have it fit right in today. Plus ça change, and all that…

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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55 thoughts on “Foreign Born and Anti-Christian and Anti-American Socialists and Infidels

  1. To whichever of The Powers That Be scheduled when this post would go live, I see what you did there.

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  2. America was something of a Protestant theocracy at the state and local level during a good chunk of its history. Sabbaterianism is a good example of this.

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  3. Interestingly the vestiges of Sabbatarianism exist more in the Northeast and in some of the bluest states than they do anywhere else in the United States. Here is an article from the New Yorker about Blue Laws against “Sunday trading” persisting in very wealthy and very Democratic Bergen County, New Jersey:

    http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/americas-last-ban-sunday-shopping

    Though notice how going to Church does not seem to be one of the common activities done on Sunday in place of shopping.

    Interestingly Colorado prohibits vehicle sales on a Sunday according to wikipedia.

    Blue Laws seem to have evolved into more of a people have a right off to a day from work kind of thing than anything else and the easiest way to do this is to make Sunday a day where businesses most close.

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    • I do t know if it’s law (probably yes) or just strictly followed custom, but car dealerships are closed on Sundays in Houston too.

      Which cuts the available window for car shopping for most people in half.

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    • The Colorado statutes regulating car dealerships are up for review this year under the state’s sunset provisions. The department responsible for regulating dealerships recommended that the Sunday sales ban be dropped. The auto dealers argued strongly for keeping the ban — as a group, the big dealers don’t think it will increase total sales, and it will definitely increase their expenses. The current version of the bill revising the statute retains the Sunday ban.

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      • Do dealers need a ban to stay closed on Sunday?

        They might, if they feel there’s enough of a competitive advantage that if another dealer is open on Sunday, they’ll lose out if they aren’t open as well.

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          • And yet there are people (not Road Scholar) who still insist that there are no real-world examples of the Prisoner’s Dilemma or of real-world responses by rational actors to changing market regulations.

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            • I seem to recall a variety of statements from top auto industry people over the decades to the effect of, “Yes, our cars should be safer/cleaner/get better mileage/whatever. But I can’t act on my own because the modest price increases will cost us market share. We need the government to force all of the auto makers to move at the same time.”

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    • There are a couple of really good reasons for car dealers to be closed on Sundays. Most people either finance or lease — very few cash purchases — and banks aren’t open on Sundays. And then before you can send the customer home in their shiny new toy you need to transfer the tag or get a new temporary registration. And before you can do that you need to arrange the insurance.

      Lots of moving parts, most of which don’t turn on Sunday (and there’s a hard time cutoff on every other day as well). So the best you could do is get them sold on a car and have them come in later to close the deal. Which, frankly, doesn’t happen very reliably.

      Bottom line is that being open on Sundays would be a big waste of time and effort.

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      • Actually today you don’t need a bank to have a person waiting as a computer approves the application in most cases, no human involved at all. The program grabs the fico score and other matters and does its thing. On insurance, in general most policies have a 20-30 day window during which a new car is covered under the policy. In Tx in general the temp tag does not involve the folks that take care of titles etc, that is done in the week or so after the deal. So if Sunday sales were allowed procedures could adapt. In Tx the ban on Sunday sales is a left over from the ban on a lot of commerce on sunday that fell during the turndown of the late 1980s.

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      • We bought our last car on a Sunday, and the only issue was that the detailing place was closed so we had to bring the car (which had been parked outside for a couple months) back for a detail a different day.

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        • Okay. Well, my personal experience in this is from the late eighties in Illinois and the late nineties in Connecticut. Things may have very well changed since then (as things are wont to do).

          A loan officer is still going to have to sign off on loans of that size regardless of how automated the process has become.

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    • I grew up in Bergen County. The main justifications for the Blue Laws remaining are to A) help “Mom-and-Pop” shops compete with big box stores by allowing them to close one say a week without losing business (rent seeking) and B) to give residents in mall-heavy areas (specifically Paramus which has routes 4 and 17 — lined with malls and stores — cut through it) have a “traffic break”. I struggle with that since they benefit from tons of commercial activity.

      But those are the reasons that get trotted out most whenever it’s debated.

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      • Those laws certainly helped businesses in the surrounding counties. I grew up in Essex county. When i first saw closed malls in Bergen it felt like it was on Mars or something. It was a cultural difference almost to large to imagine.

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        • I had the opposite experience. Growing up that way, it was just what was. It didn’t feel inconvenient because you didn’t know otherwise. Then I went to school in Boston and people would suggest a mall trip on Sunday and I’d laugh. Dummies! It never even occured to me. I just grew up in a culture that organized around Saturday for errands.

          I do really feel for the large Jewish Orthodox populations, who basically can’t get anything done over the weekends.

          Also, I see that article basically echoed my comment. Ha!

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          • It’s all about your priors. As a California child, the idea that one could run out of beer on a Sunday in Connecticut took a lot of adjusting to.

            Heck, I was stunned just months ago when Mrs. N sent me out for champagne in Oklahoma and not only did it require a trip to a liquor store, but they couldn’t sell it chilled.

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            • Oh, of course. I was just weighing in since I actually grew up in the area under discussion and can speak to the actual experience. As I plan a move back to the area — and lived in a neighboring county for a little while and still have parents in the area — I’d greatly prefer they do away with the Blue Laws.

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            • heh. I was gonna comment from the other direction–where buying beer meant a trip to a special store that was really more like the front desk of a warehouse, and you only bought it by the case, and you had to go to another store to get wine and whiskey.

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    • Lochner v New York was decided in 1905.

      To me, it’s interesting to compare these old Blue Laws to modern laws regulating minimum wages, maximum hours and workplace conditions. There has always been a tension in the US between maximizing personal liberty and establishing legal limits on the ability of an employer to extract work out of his employee (even when the employer and employee are the same person).

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  4. Kolohe: Man, nobody has ever liked Libertarians.

    I think it is because they talk funny. They argue over things like: Is it a freedom or a liberty? While all most people care about is: Can I do a thing?

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  5. A related thing that has changed: places that are open on holidays. In the summer of 1969, my family moved from a small city in NW Iowa to an Omaha suburb. We got to the new house the evening of July 3. The morning of the Fourth of July we went looking for breakfast, and it was miles and miles before we found a place that was open.

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  6. In tangentially related news, the lectionary readings for today include the passage from Acts: 2 in which it is explained that the very early church were a bunch of communists. This is one of my favorite passages, as I enjoy quoting it at Evangelicals whenever they explain to me how very Biblical their church is.

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    • Odd, for some reason we were John 14:1-14 today (also relevant, as the sermon started with a version of this joke:

      “Welcome to heaven!” Saint Peter said. I give all newcomers a guided tour, so please follow me and be prepared to be amazed.” Peter then led the new arrivals on a breathtaking tour of heaven, showing them everything from the streets of gold to the tree of life. Finally, he led them to a vast worship hall with numerous doors on either side. He opened one door to reveal people singing praises to God. “These are the Muslims.” He then opened another door to reveal people praising God, sitting in silence. “These are the Buddhists.” Door by door, all earth’s religions and sects were revealed. But approaching the last door, Peter made a shushing sign and whispered, “These are the Christians; they think they’re the only ones here!”

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  7. Peter Cartwright was an itinerate preacher who led tent revivals, ran against Lincoln for Congress, who later defended Cartwright’s grandson in a trial fro murder, winning the case.
    Cartwright is said to have left the pulpit on at least two occasions to pound someone to a pulp who he felt to be disturbing the congregation.
    You just don’t see many of the cloth storming down from the altar to kick someone’s ass anymore.
    Oh, the Good Old Days!

    EDIT:
    There are also letters from Lincoln at that time stating his concerns of being unelectable due to having no particular faith.
    And the story of Lincoln attending Cartwright’s congregation, with Cartwright saying for everyone who thinks they’re going to Heaven to stand, then everyone who thinks they’re going to Hell to stand, with Lincoln remaining seated the whole time. Cartwright then asked Lincoln where he thought he was going to go, and Lincoln replied, “I’m going to Washington.”

    Contemporaneous records also indicate that membership in a temperance society was often taken as a rough equivalent of church membership.

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    • While I wouldn’t endorse Cartwright’s actions, I’ve been noticing the amount of talking in Catholic churches has increased over the past decade or two. It’s partly due to the influence of Evangelicals on worship in America, but a lot of it is due to new immigration. American Catholic churches were at their quietest during the era of the dominance of the Irish immigrant.

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  8. “This little gem of an excerpt combines Sabbatarianism and Nativism into a nasty little package.”

    I think this is rather unfair. The group that supported Sunday blue laws in the 19th century was by and large the same group that opposed slavery, advocated assimilation as opposed to Indian removal, advocated women’s suffrage and supported public funding of education. This moralizing tendency could be ridiculed as religiously intolerant by their foes, but these foes can be seen as advocates of white male privilege to do what he wants as he wants.

    Also, see Abraham Lincoln.

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    • The point is well taken that social issues didn’t line up the same then as they do now, which can make it confusing when assessing positions.

      That being said, I wouldn’t assume that they lined up in the 1850s and ’60s the same way they did in the 1880s. Abolitionism suffered from winning enough that it no longer enflamed passions, while at the same time not winning enough that blacks were treated as fully human. The color line in baseball was much stronger in 1890 than it had been in 1880. In 1890 there was essentially no ideological argument made for including black players. There was the pragmatic argument of pointing to the guy’s batting average, but there was a strong ideological argument against including black players, and this made the batting average argument not worth the candle. In the meantime, Sabbatarianism kept chugging along.

      In any case, the abolitionists were never more than a subset of the sabbatarians. Sabbatarianism was a widespread expression of WASP respectability. Indeed, it was the default position for wide swaths of society. Abolitionism even at its height was a minority position. Even stipulating that an abolitionist quite likely had sabbatarian views, it does not follow that the reverse was true, even in the 1850s.

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      • I don’t disagree that abolitionists were a minority, even in the North, but I’ll still hold to my point that abolitionists by and large supported Sabbath laws. And I would emphasize that this was not entirely a matter of personal religious conviction, secular Whigs like Lincoln, believed in the utility of such laws for most people, though he didn’t personally honor them and was of uncertain religious views. Horrace Greeley supported Sunday laws and was a Unitarian, though his opponents labeled him a pagan for his dalliances in spiritualism.

        I am not certain how popular these laws were though. A common-law inheritance, they tended to be ignored in many places. In 1810 Congress passed a law requiring the post office to operate on Sundays for at least one hour and appears to have only generated opposition from New England, and despite repeal campaigns over the years was not repealed for a hundred years by the combined force of religion and labor. I think for most of the 19th century, Democrats, particularly Southerners, were ardent church-state separatists in the spirit of Jackson (personal piety with contempt for public moralizing)

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        • The debates on the separation of religion in state in general and Sabbaterianism and bible readings in public schools were passionately intense. The Democratic Party had to walk a fine line because its Southern members were passionate and strict Anglo-Protestants but it also represented naturalized immigrants who tended to be Catholics or less strict Protestants.

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          • At least in the Jacksonian era, I don’t think Democrats were that conflicted. The typical Democratic voter in the South was a low-church Baptist. A strict Calvinistic Baptist (Primitives, Hard-Shell or Anti-Mission) had no use for public causes of moral reform, the heathen was destined for Hell anyway, why would they care if they violated the Sabbath? Baptists were generally at the forefront of opposition to Sabatarianism as it reeked of establismentarianism and high-church condescension.

            The split was in the anti-Jackson constituents that became the Whig Party, as it had its moral and business planks. For Western Whigs, interrupting mail service once per week would make the mail far less efficient, at least before the railways. Usually morality and markets could be harmonized; it was hard to argue for postal road improvements while effectively shutting them down 1/7th of the week.

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    • “The group that supported Sunday blue laws in the 19th century was by and large the same group that opposed slavery, advocated assimilation as opposed to Indian removal, advocated women’s suffrage and supported public funding of education. ”

      Shaw, I wonder whether anyone other than you and me actually got the joke you made here :D

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  9. I don’t shop on Sundays except at the pharmacy in an emergency. I’ll go to restaurants and museums, since recreation is commonly accepted as permissible on Sundays.

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    • When the Met first opened in New York, there was a huge debate/culture war fight about whether it should be opened on Sunday or not. As Richard mentions, there was a huge fight over whether Sunday baseball was an acceptable thing or not with German Christians saying Aye and Anglo-Christians saying Nay. But the Ayes had it. This fight took decades to resolve though.

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  10. Part of me thinks that a return to Sabbatarianism would be kind of nice. A day that all of society has off.

    But then I think about how I, personally, would still want gas stations and sit-down restaurants to be open… and, if those are open, why not the grocery store? Oooh! And remember back when liquor stores were still closed on Sundays? That was a pain in the butt if you were having company over and you forgot to get a bottle of something on Saturday night…

    And, next thing you know, the nose of the camel inside the tent has turned into the camel being inside the tent and you sitting outside of it as you find yourself arguing for yourself to have Sundays off with a lot of support staff who pretty much have to go in to work in order to make your own day off that much less inconvenient.

    Which isn’t really what I want, at all.

    But when I grew up, everything was closed, pretty much, except for a handful of sit-down restaurants (catered to the church crowd), gas stations, and a handful of grocery stores.

    Something to keep in mind the next time Thansgiving rolls around and stores start discussing opening at 6PM on Thanksgiving Day to give you a head start on your Christmas shopping (and you can be the crazy person talking about how, when you were a kid, people set up tents in front of Best Buy on Thanksgiving Day so that they’d be first in line come the morning).

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    • Sabbatarianism made more sense when most of your work was at your home/farm. The men tended the farm and the tool making; the women the vegetable garden, the kitchen, the loom. It was good to have a family rest/play day.

      But now we dont work at home or for ourselves. Most of us can’t attend our family needs (get food, get clothes, get a car) except on the weekend. Probably the best solution is for stores and companies to open seven days a week and have employees chose two days off on a semi first come/first served (like choosing seats in your baseball season tickets)

      P. S. I love supermarkets that stay open late in the evening. 9 pm is a great time for grocery shopping, even if you don’t get the freshest produce, and frees my weekend for other things. You don’t get the freshest produce in the weekends either.

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      • Probably the best solution is for stores and companies to open seven days a week and have employees chose two days off on a semi first come/first served (like choosing seats in your baseball season tickets)

        I imagine that this will make it easier for them to get a second job that knows that they can always schedule them on these two days. (And vice versa)

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      • “I love supermarkets that stay open late in the evening.”

        I’ve often wondered what would happen if the American service industry gave up on the idea that everyone is married and the wife doesn’t work and is home all day.

        Like, what if every service industry went to a second-shift paradigm? The Post Office is open from three PM to midnight. UPS delivers packages starting at 5 PM. When someone says “there’s a two-hour window for our installer appointment” the two hours are not “ten AM to noon”.

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        • Same with getting a doctor or dentists appointments. Most dentists seem to work on weekends but doctors do not in my experience if they have their own practice. Many lawyers work on weekends but try to avoid meeting with clients and just do paper work and memo writing if they have to.

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      • America was already a very urban country with factory workers, office workers, and other not working for yourself people during the time that the Blue Laws came into bloom and full force. They lasted for decades long after the time when most Americans worked on a farm for themselves ended.

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    • I understand the sentiment; it hits me every Thanksgiving (but for the opposite reason of the Retail issue). In my line of work, the *only* universal day-off is Thanksgiving Thurs/Fri. In the business world (that is, narrowly defined), nothing is or will be scheduled on Thanksgiving Weekend.

      Its the only true Armistice I’ve ever experienced in 20-yrs. The peace and unspoken rule about not conducting business, expecting results, or assigning tasks for that weekend (and, truth be told the M-W before) is good for all of us. We could use more Armistice days.

      It is true that keeping holy the Sabbath (transferred to Sunday for Christians) is a biblical injunction (the meaning of which differs by sect, time and location); but I think a lot of you are overlooking the simple fact that it was a good rhetorical argument. We do this today with all sorts of moral assumptions that we regulate into expected behavior – even if we’re not 100% on-board with the fullness of their meanings and the complete implications of their applications if applied universally and consistently.

      But, we’re long past staring at camel noses… we’re full on staring at camel asses and they pretty much have run of the tent.

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    • American society grew increasingly secular during the early 20th century but lots of not really religious people wanted to keep blue alive so people could enjoy of arrest though. They realized that allowing people to relax in the early 20th century meant that that some recreational facilities like museums, parks, and restaurants needed to be open. There were lots of fights what should be permissible and what should not be permissible that were kind of fascinating.

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        • Oddly enough, Sunday baseball was part of the argument for the Saturday half holiday. The argument was that baseball clubs had to play on Sunday to make ends meet, what with that being the only day their working class fans could attend. But if the workers have Saturday afternoons off, then that would meet the clubs’ financial needs without desecrating the Sabbath. I’m not claiming that this was the argument that gave us the weekend, but it was part of the discussion. This was not merely a sportswriter’s argument. I have seen it in discussions otherwise unrelated to sports.

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          • I think the full weekend first came to New York as a sop to the New York City’s very large Jewish population. Sabbaterian laws regarding Sunday closing already evolved into secular Blue Laws for relaxation at this point. New York had a large population of Jews hurt by the blue laws because it kind of forced them to close their businesses two days of the week and made it hard for them to do chores. Making Saturday a day off was rational in very Jewish electorate.

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    • …you find yourself arguing for yourself to have Sundays off with a lot of support staff who pretty much have to go in to work in order to make your own day off that much less inconvenient.

      This, it seems to me, is a particularly English* solution; namely, to expand observance of estate to more and more people, rather than questioning the concept of estate as it stands.

      * As English as the Normans, that is.
      From researchers I’ve spoken with, the incongruency of reduced property rights of women among a people once led by a warrior queen was a notion imported by the Normans.
      Hammurabi was much more forward-thinking.

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