So no correct answer to my first trivia question (though our astute commenter noted that “have” suggests pre-Civil War thinking about the U.S. as a collective, though it could also have been Ronald Reagan). It’s all right, we’re just getting started with this feature. Anyway, on to the answer:
President John Tyler
The letter quoted yesterday is cited as one of the first times an American political figure acknowledged that the practical impact of the First Amendment expanded beyond protecting the practice of various Christian denominations to include Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.
The tenth President of the United States, called “His Accidency” by some because he came to power after William Henry Harrison decided to blow off a hat and overcoat while delivering his inaugural address in the rain…and subsequently died. Tyler was, by most accounts, kind of a dick who betrayed both political parties of the era, leading to his unceremonious booting from the White House after he completed Harrison’s term. He then went on to serve in the House of Representatives…of the Confederacy, because apparently his bold statement of political freedom was limited to “not black folks.”
But his letter is relevant today as conservatives seek to rewrite history and pretend that American religious freedom is limited to “Judeo-Christian” religious tenets. In the earliest days of the country, the First Amendment was intended to cover the wide scope of religious belief.
The most interesting thing about John Tyler is that even though he was born in 1790 and served as POTUS from 1841-1845, his grandchildren are still alive in 2012.