Fact Checking Barton Part V: Treaty of Tripoli

When David Barton and Jon Stewart begin discussing the Treaty of Tripoli (11:30 into the interview), Barton maintains that it simply demonstrates that the US isn’t an anti-Muslim nation like Tripoli’s European enemies. But Article 11 of the treaty clearly states that the US isn’t an anti-Muslim nation because “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Here is the full text of Article 11:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Barton goes on to allege that Article 11 wasn’t in the original document. While there is confusion with how Article 11 materialized, there is no doubt that it was included in the treaty that was ratified unanimously by the Senate and approved by John Adams.

Rob Boston found in his research on diplomat Joel Barlow and the Treaty of Tripoli [PDF] that Article 11 was in fact part of the original treaty, negotiated under George Washington and ratified under Adams, and the only version without it is in an Arabic version, not the one ratified by the US:

In recent years, some “Christian nation” advocates have argued that Article 11 never appeared in the treaty. They base the claim on research conducted by a Dutch scholar, Dr. C. Snouk Hurgronje, published in The Christian Statesman in 1930. Hurgronje located the only surviving Arabic copy of the treaty and found that when translated, Article 11 was actually a letter, mostly gibberish, from the dey of Algiers to the ruler of Tripoli.

But Hurgronje’s discovery is irrelevant. There is no longer any doubt that the English version of the treaty transmitted to the United States did contain the “no Christian nation” language. Article 11 appeared intact in newspapers of the day as well as in volumes of treaties and proceedings of Congress published later, including the Session Laws of the Fifth Congress, published in 1797, and in a 1799 volume titled The Laws of the United States. In 1832 Article 11 appeared in the treaty when it was reprinted in Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States 1789-1815, Volume II – a tome that can still be examined today in the Library of Congress’ main reading room.

Furthermore, in Hunter Miller’s definitive 1931 work on treaties from this period, Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, he notes that “the Barlow translation is that which was submitted to the Senate….it is the English text which in the United States has always been deemed the text of the treaty.” It’s clear that the English version of the treaty, which Congress approved, contained the famous Article 11. Why the article was removed from the Arabic version of the treaty, who did it and when remains another mystery.