On the Fourth of July, Senator Josh Hawley decided to celebrate America by posting a fake quote from a Founding Father. Even a minute of critical thinking should have stopped him from doing so.
Beyond Hawley using his Independence Day message as a vessel to rear for Christian nationalism, he also attributed the quote to Founding Father Patrick Henry.
Henry, known for declaring at the Second Virginia Convention, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” passed away in June 1799. This was famously before America had built any history of affording “asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship” to anyone. Nevertheless, Hawley seems to think that it made sense for Henry to hail America for somehow doing all that just years after the nation was founded.
The quote Hawley tweeted is actually from an article written almost 200 years after the revolutionary war, a 1956 piece from the viciously antisemitic and white nationalist magazine The Virginian.
The article was responding to what it calls an “insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion.” The author cited Henry’s will, in which he wrote about how he wishes he could also give his family “the Christian Religion,” as apparent proof of this notion.
As Seth Cotlar, a professor of U.S. history at Williamette University, pointed out, The Virginian is certainly not the kind of magazine you’d want to be citing from. Beyond its yearning for America to be a Christian nation, it has decried “race mixing in [the] army” and made a donation pitch to readers by whipping up fears about “the conspiracy to mongrelize white America [that] lies in the powerful, wealthy Jewish organizations.”
Besides either the stupidity or malice behind the tweet, the core message is not an aberration for Hawley. Just two weeks ago, he appeared at a religious-right activist conference where he asserted that Christianity had “formed the soul of this country” and cried that “the time for Christians to rise is now.”
Either Hawley (or his staff) didn’t know that Henry never actually said the quote (and they didn’t bother to think more than five seconds about the basic logic behind it), or Hawley willfully misquoted Henry and even knew where the quote came from and was happy to do so.