The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Northwest Ordinance: Course of Debate

If you follow the progress of the debate regarding the Northwest Ordinance, you will see what was desired by specific commercial groups in Massachusetts. They wanted very much to link education and religion together -- to put government support of education into law. They actually began that fight in 1784, had a huge setback in 1785, tried again on July 11, 1787, and had that proposal reduced to a meaningless preamble sentence heading up a paragraph talking about the treatment of Indians.

Editing and Commentary by Jim Allison


The proposed wording for the sentence that appears in the July 11, 1787 proposed bill was hand written the night before by a lobbyist of the Ohio Company, a Massachusetts-based land speculation company that was contracting with the government to buy thousands upon thousands of acres of land at a giveaway price from the government in the western territories. (I might also add that they then turned around and sold large quantities of that very same land to members of the very same Congress for next to nothing as far as actual money was concerned. In addition, the president of that Congress was appointed the Governor of the new territories.)

In spite of all that, Congress still stripped that hand-written proposal of any power, any authority, and meaning, and left a wordy but meaningless sentence in its place.

Compare for yourself the evolution that took place from the first such appearance back in 1785 to the final version.

By the way, in the outline of townships, the requirement of the 16th square being used to maintain and support public schools, etc remained in effect from 1785 until the Northwest Ordinance finally died a natural death sometime in the early 1900's. The requirement that the use of the 29th square to support religion never was approved as part of the wording of the Northwest Ordinance.

So, as you can see, any government support of religion was defeated. The establishment of public schools and the linking of same to taxes supplied by the government, local, state and federal was approved. The requirement of religious freedom was established and, in fact, the first federal separation of church and state was created with the Northwest Ordinance.

The course of events below is taken from the historical source documents:


APRIL 14, 1785

(Report of the committee consisting of Mr. Pierse Long, Mr. Rufus King, Mr. David Howell, Mr. William Samuel Johnson, Mr. R.R. Livingston, Mr. Archibald Stewart, Mr. Joseph Gardner, Mr. John Henry, Mr, William Grayson, Mr. Hugh Williamson, Mr. John Bull and Mr. William Houstoun

An Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of lands in the Western territory.

There shall be reserved the Central section of every township for the maintenance of public schools and the [Section] immediately to the Northward for the support of religion, the profits arising therefrom in both instances to be applied for ever according to the will of the majority of male residents of full age within the same.

APRIL 23, 1785

Congress assembled. Present as yesterday.

Congress proceeded in the consideration of the Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of Lands in the Western Territory. An on motion of Mr. [David] Howell, seconded by Mr. [Hugh] Williamson,

Resolved, That the eleventh paragraph be amended by striking out the words, "same at public venue, excepting only such Townships and parts of Townships as may be hereinafter particularly reserved," and in lieu thereof inserting, "Townships or fractional parts at public Venue, or he may sell any Township by sections, provided he sells any thing in an Ordinance passed on the 27th day of January, 1785, notwithstanding.

Congress resumed the consideration of the Ordinance under debate yesterday: The following part of the Ordinance being under debate:

"Provided that none of the lands within the said Territory, be sold under the price of one dollar the Acre, to be paid in specie or Loan Office Certificates reduced to specie value, by the scale of depreciation, or Certificates of Liquidated Debts of the United States, including interest, besides the expence of the survey, and other charges thereon, which are hereby rated at forty nine dollars the Township, in specie or Certificates as aforesaid, and so in the same proportion for a fractional part thereof."

It was moved by Mr. [James] McHeery, seconded by Mr. [Melancton] Smith, to amend the same by inserting the word "half, " between the words "one" and "dollar;" so that "it read one-half dollar the acre."

And on the question to agree to this amendment, the yeas and nays being required by Mr. McHenry,

NEW HAMPSHIRE,      NO
Foster, no
Long, no
DELAWARE,     NON-VOTE
Mr. Bedford, no
MASSACHUSETTS,      NO
Mr. Holten, no
     King, no
MARYLAND,     NO
Mr. McHenry, ay
     J. Henry, no
     Hindman, no
RHODE ISLAND,      NO
Mr. Ellery, no
     Howell, no
VIRGINIA,     NO
Mr. Monroe, no
     Lee, no
     Grayson, no
CONNECTICUT,      NON-VOTE
Johnson, no
NORTH CAROLINA,      NO
Mr. Williamson, no
     Sitgreaves, no
NEW YORK, DIV.      NON-VOTE
Mr. Smith, ay
    Haring, no
SOUTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Pinckney, no
PENNSYLVANIA,      AY
Mr. Gardner, no
     W. Henry, no

So the question was lost.

The following paragraph in the Ordinance being under debate: "There shall be reserved the central Section of every Township, for the maintenance of public Schools; and the Section immediately adjoining the same to the northward, for the support of religion. The profits arising therefrom in both instances, to be applied for ever according to the will of the majority of male residents of full age within the same." A motion was made by Mr. [Charles] Pinckney, seconded by Mr. [William Grayson, to amend the paragraph by striking out these words, "for the support of religion;" and in their place to insert, "for religious and charitable uses." On which it was moved by Mr. [William] Ellery, seconded by Mr. [Melancton] Smith, to amend the amendment by striking out the words "religious and," so that it read "for charitable uses."

And on the question, shall the words moved to be struck out of the amendment, stand? the yeas and nays, being required by Mr. [Charles] Pinckney,

NEW HAMPSHIRE,     AY
Foster, ay
Long, ay
DELAWARE,    AY
Mr. Vining, ay
    Bedford, ay
MASSACHUSETTS,     AY
Mr. Holten, ay
    King, ay
MARYLAND,    NO
Mr. McHenry, no
     J. Henry, no
     Hindman, ay
RHODE ISLAND,     NO
Mr. Ellery, no
    Howell, no
VIRGINIA,      AY
Mr. Monroe, ay
     Lee, ay
     Grayson, ay
CONNECTICUT,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Johnson
NORTH CAROLINA,     NON-VOTE
Mr. Williamson, ay
     Sitgreaves, no
NEW YORK, DIV.       NON-VOTE
Mr. Smith, no
     Haring, ay
SOUTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Pinckney, no
PENNSYLVANIA,      AY
Mr. Gardner, ay
     W. Henry, ay
GEORGIA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Houstoun, ay

So the question was lost, and the words were struck out.

And thereupon, the motion of Mr. [Charles] Pinckney for the amendment was withdrawn.

A motion was then made by Mr. [William] Ellery, seconded by Mr. [Melancton] Smith, to strike out the following words in the foregoing paragraph: [and the section immediately adjoining the same to the northward, for the support of religion, the profits arising therefrom in both instances, to be applied for ever according to the will of the majority of male residents of full age within the same." A division of the motion was called for by Mr. [Rufus] King: And on the question, shall the former pert stand? namely, "and the section immediately adjoining the same to the northward, for the support of religion." The yeas and nays being required by Mr. [Melancton] Smith and Mr. [Rufus] King,

NEW HAMPSHIRE,      AY
Foster, ay
Long, ay
DELAWARE,     AY
Mr. Vining, ay
     Bedford, ay
MASSACHUSETTS,      AY
Mr. Holten, ay
     King, ay
MARYLAND,     NO
Mr. McHenry, no
     J. Henry, no
     Hindman, ay
RHODE ISLAND,      NO
Mr. Ellery, no
     Howell, no
VIRGINIA,     AY
Mr. Monroe, ay
     Lee, ay
     Grayson, ay
CONNECTICUT,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Johnson
NORTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Williamson, ay
     Sitgreaves, no
NEW YORK, DIV.      NON-VOTE
Mr. Smith, no
     Haring, ay
SOUTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Pinckney, no
PENNSYLVANIA,      AY
Mr. Gardner, ay
     W. Henry, ay
GEORGIA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Houstoun, ay

So the question was lost, and the words were struck out.

A motion was then made by [Mr. Melancton] Smith to strike out the following words "and the section to religion."

NEW HAMPSHIRE,      AY
Foster, ay
Long, ay
DELAWARE,     AY
Mr. Vining, ay
     Bedford, ay
MASSACHUSETTS,      AY
Mr. Holten, ay
     King, ay
MARYLAND,     NO
Mr. McHenry, no
     J. Henry, no
     Hindman, ay
RHODE ISLAND,      NO
Mr. Ellery, no
     Howell, no
VIRGINIA,     AY
Mr. Monroe, ay
     Lee, ay
     Grayson, ay
CONNECTICUT,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Johnson
NORTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Williamson, ay
     Sitgreaves, no
NEW YORK, DIV.      NON-VOTE
Mr. Smith, no
     Haring, ay
SOUTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Pinckney, no
PENNSYLVANIA,      AY
Mr. Gardner, ay
     W. Henry, ay
GEORGIA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Houstoun, ay

Words are struck out.

A motion was made by Mr. [William Samuel] Johnson, seconded by Mr. [Rufus] King, farther to amend the paragraph by inserting after the word "Schools," the following words,"And the Sections immediately adjoining the same to the northward, for charitable uses;" so that the paragraph read thus; "There shall be reserved the central Section of every Township, for the maintenance of public Schools; and the section immediately adjoining the same to the northward, for charitable uses. "' And on the question to agree to this amendment, the yeas and nays being required by Mr. ~William Samuel] Johnson,

NEW HAMPSHIRE,      AY
Mr. Foster, ay
    Long, ay
DELAWARE,     AY
Mr. Vining, ay
    Bedford, ay
MASSACHUSETTS,      AY
Mr. Holten, ay
     King, ay
MARYLAND,     NO
Mr. McHenry, no
     J. Henry, no
     Hindman, ay
RHODE ISLAND,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Ellery, no
     Howell, ay
VIRGINIA,     AY
Mr. Monroe, ay
     Lee, ay
     Grayson, ay
CONNECTICUT,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Johnson
NORTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Williamson, ay
     Sitgreaves, no
NEW YORK      NO
Mr. Smith, no
     Haring, no
SOUTH CAROLINA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Pinckney, no
PENNSYLVANIA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Gardner, ay
     W. Henry, no
GEORGIA,      NON-VOTE
Mr. Houstoun, ay

So the question was lost.

Source of Information:

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 28, pp 291-296.


APRIL, 26, 1785

An Ordinance ascertaining the Mode of disposing of lands in the Western Territory

There shall be reserved the Central section of every township for the maintenance of public schools within said township.


MAY 29, 1785 TO JAMES MONROE. Orange May 29 1785. DEAR Sir,--

. . . It gives me much pleasure to observe by 2 printed reports sent me by Col. Grayson that, in the latter Congress had expunged a clause contained in the first for setting apart a district of land in each Township for supporting the Religion of the majority of inhabitants. How a regulation so unjust in itself, foreign to the Authority of Cong", so hurtful to the sale of the public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated Bigotry, could have received the countenance of a Committee is truly matter of astonishment... In one view it might have been no disadvantage to this State in case the Gen' Assess' should take place, as it would have given a repellent quality to the new Country in the estimation of those whom our own encroachments on Religious Liberty would be calculated to banish to it.

But the adversaries to the assess' begin to think the prospect here flattering to their wishes, The printed Bill has excited great discussion and is likely to prove the sense of the Comunity to be in favor of the liberty now enjoyed. I have heard of several Counties where the late representatives have been laid aside for voting for the Bill, and not of a single one where the reverse has happened. The Presbyterian Clergy too who were in general friends to the scheme, are already in another tone, either compelled by the laity of that sect, or alarmed at the probability of further interferences of the Legislature, if they once begin to dictate in matters of Religion,

I am, Dr Sir, Yours affecly.

James Madison

The letter herewith inclosed is from Mrs. Carr sister of Mr. Jefferson.

Source of Information:

The Writings of James Madison, Volume II, Edited by Gaillard Hunt, 1783-178,7 G P Putnam's Sons, New York London 1901, pp 143 - 145.


JULY 11, 1787

IN CONGRESS (meeting in New York)

(Those words capitalized are words that were added by debate in Congress, and other means, since the last reading of this proposed bill.)

The committee consisting of Mr. Edward Carrington, Mr. Nathan Dane, Mr. Richard Henry Lee, Mr. John Kean, and Mr. Melaneton Smith to whom was referred the report of a Committee Touching the temporary government of the western territory reported an Ordinance for the government of the United States North West of the river of Ohio, which was read a first time.

An Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio.

Article the First. No person demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner shell ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory.

. . .

Article the Third. Religion, INSTITUTIONS FOR THE PROMOTION OF religion AND Morality, Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged, AND ALL PERSONS WHILE YOUNG SHALL BE TAUGHT SOME USEFUL OCCUPATION. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights and liberty, they never shall be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorised by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

. . .


JULY 13, 1787

IN CONGRESS (meeting in New York)

(Those words capitalized are words that were added by debate in Congress, and other means, since the last reading of this proposed bill.)

FRIDAY, JULY 13,

Congress assembled present as yesterday.

According to Order the Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio was read a third time and passed as follows

An Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio.

. . .

And for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected; to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all laws, constitutions and governments, which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said territory; to provide also for the establishment of States and permanent government therein, and for their admission to a share in the federal Councils on an equal footing with the original States, at as early periods as may be consistent with the general interest,

. . .

Article the First. No person demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner shell ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory.

. . .

Article the Third. Religion, Morality AND KNOWLEDGE BEING NECESSARY TO GOOD GOVERNMENT AND THE HAPPINESS OF MANKIND, Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights and liberty, they never shall be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorised by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

. . .

Be it Ordained by the Authority aforesaid, that the Resolutions' of the 23rd of April 1784 RELATIVE TO THE SUBJECT OF THIS ORDINANCE be, and the same are hereby repealed and declared null and void.

'Done &c.

On passing the above Ordinance the yeas and nays being required by Mr. [Abraham] Yates

MASSACHUSETTS,      AY
Mr. Holten, ay
Mr. Dane, ay
VIRGINIA,     AY
Mr. Grayson, ay
Mr. R. H. Lee, ay
Mr. Carrington, ay
NEW YORK     AY
Mr. Smith, ay
Mr. Haring, ay
Mr. Yates, ay
NORTH CAROLINA     AY
Mr. Blount, ay
Mr. Hawkins, ay
NEW JERSEY     AY
Mr. Clark, ay
Mr. Schurman, ay
SOUTH CAROLINA     AY
Mr. Kean, ay
Mr. Huger, ay
DELAWARE      AY
Mr. Kearny, ay
Mr. Mitchell, ay
GEORGIA     AY
Mr. Few, ay
Mr. Pierce, ay

So it was resolved in the affirmative.

(And became the law of the land)

Source of Information:

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 32, pp 334-343.



 
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