The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
Welcome Contents What's New Search this site
Visitors since 7/15/1998
Links Guest Book Contact Us
This site is eye friendly: Use your browser's view options to increase or decrease font size

President Grant calls for a constitutional amendment

For reasons that were basically political, President Grants calls for a constitutional amendment in his Seventh Annual Message to Congress in December 1875.

Researched and edited by Jim Allison


Enter main body of text here

(Excerpts of relevant portions of that Annual Message follows)

SEVENTH ANNUAL MESSAGE

Executive Mansion, December 7, 1875

"From the fall of Adam for his transgressions to the present day no nation has ever been free from threatened danger to its prosperity and happiness. We should look to the dangers threatening us, and remedy them so far as lies in our power.

We are a republic whereof one man is as good as another before the law. Under such a form of government it is of the greatest importance that all should be possessed of education of intelligence enough to cast a vote with a right understanding of its meaning.

A large Association of ignorant men can not for any considerable period oppose a successful resistance to tyranny and oppression from the educated few, but will inevitably sink into acquiescence to the will of intelligence, whether directed by the demagogue or priestcraft. Hence the education of the masses becomes of the first necessity for the preservation of our institutions.

They are worth preserving, because they have secured the greatest good to the greatest proportion of the population of any form of government yet devised. All other forms of government approach it just in proportion to the general diffusion of education and independence of thought and action.

As a primary step, therefore, to our advancement in all that has marked our progress in the past century, I suggest your earnest consideration, and most earnestly recommended it, that a constitutional amendment be submitted to legislatures of the several states for ratification, making it the duty of each of the several states to establish and forever maintain free public schools adequate to the education of all of children in the rudimentary branches within their respective limits, irrespective of sex, color, birth place, or religions; forbidding the teaching in said schools of religious, atheistic, or pagan tenets; and prohibiting the granting of any school funds or school taxes, or any part thereof, either by legislative, municipal, or other authority, for the benefit or in aid, directly or indirectly, of any religious sect or denomination, or in aid or for the benefit of any other object of any nature of the kind whatever.

In connection with this in a very question I would also call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to a great trouble in our land before the close of the nineteenth century. It is the accumulation of vast amounts of untaxed church property.

In 1850, I believe, the church property of the United States which paid no tax, municipal or State, amounted to about $83,000,000. In 1860 the amount had doubled; in 1875 it is about $1,000,000,000. By 1900 without check, it is safe to say this property will reach a sum exceeding $3,000,000,000.. So vast a sum receiving all the protection and benefits of Government without bearing its proportion of the burdens and expenses of the same, or not be looked upon acquiescently by those who have to pay the taxes. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time, as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional authority and through blood.

I would suggest a taxation all property equally, whether church or corporation, exempting only the last resting place of the dead and possibly, with proper restrictions, church edifices."

"The report of the Commissioner of Education, which accompanies to report of the Secretary of the interior, shows a gratifying progress in educational matters."

"In nearly every annual message I have had the honor of transmitting to Congress I have called attention to the anomalous, not to say scandalous, condition of affairs existing the territory of Utah, and have asked for definite legislation to correct it. That polygamy should exist in a free enlightened, and Christian country, without the power to punish the flagrant crime against decency and morality, seems preposterous. True, there is no law to sustain this unnatural vice, but what is needed is a law to punish it as a crime, and at the same time fix the status of the innocent children, the offspring of this system, and of the possibly innocent plural wives. But as an institution polygamy should be banished from the land."

"As this will be the last annual message which I shall have the honor of transmitting to Congress before my successor is chosen, I will repeat or recapitulate the questions which I deem of vital importance which may be legislated upon and settled at this session:

First. That the States shall be required to afford the opportunity of a good common-school education to every child within their limits.

Second. No sectarian tenets shall ever be taught in any school supported in whole or in part by the State, nation, or by the proceeds on any tax levied upon any community. Make education compulsory so far as to deprive all persons who can not read and write from becoming voters after the year 1890, disfranchising none, however, on grounds of illiteracy who may be voters at the time this amendment takes effect.

Third. Declare church and state forever separate and distinct, but each free within their proper spheres; and that all church property shall bear its own proportion of taxation.

Fourth. Drive out licensed immorality, such as polygamy and the importation of women for illegitimate purposes. To recur again to the centennial year, it would seem as though now, as we are about to begin the second century of our national existence, would be the most fitting time for these reforms.

Source of Information

Excerpts from President U. S. Grant's Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1875. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Vol. IX. Bureau of National Literature, pp 4288-89, 4309, 4310