The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Constitution and Separation of Church and State

Some historical references to the constitutional principle of separation of Church and state

Researched and edited by Jim Allison


PART VII

SEPTEMBER 17, 1856

"The manifest object of the men who framed the institutions of this country, was to have a State without religion, and a Church without politics -- that is to say, they meant that one should never be: used as an engine for any purpose of the other, and that no man's rights in one should be tested by his opinions about the other. As the Church takes no note of men's political differences, so the State looks with equal eye on all the modes of religious faith. The Church may give her preferment to a Tory, and the State may be served by a heretic. Our fathers seem to have been perfectly sincere in their belief that the members of the Church would be more patriotic, and the citizens of the State more religions, by keeping their respective functions entirely separate. For that reason they built up a wall of complete and perfect partition between the two."

Source of Information:

"Religious liberty," an address to the Phrenakosmian Society of Pennsylvania College, Delivered at the Annual Commencement, 17 September 1856, U.S. Attorney General Jeremiah S. Black, Essays and Speeches of Jeremiah S. Black (New York: D Appleton, 1885), 53. "Sowing Useful Truths and Principles: The Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson and the "Wall of Separation", By Daniel L. Dreisbach, Journal Of Church and State, Volume 39, Summer 1997, Number 3, p 492.

 

Editor's Note

: The value of the following three letters is twofold. (1) It shows a President of the United States acknowledging that there are no laws (Nothing in the Constitution or in any other laws) authorizing the appointment of chaplains for hospitals nor, as far as the Constitution was concerned any other branch or level of government, and (2) he went ahead and took such action any way. This is very similar to actions taken by the First Federal Congress in their appointment of Chaplains, their passing an act asking the president to proclaim a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Both were done without any such authority given them by the Constitution, and in the case of the latter, one of their own members reminding them they were forbidden to have anything to do with matters of religion.


OCTOBER 21, 1861

Rt. Rev. Sir: I am sure you will pardon me if, in my ignorance, I do not address [you] with technical correctness. I find no law authorizing the appointment of Chaplains for our hospitals; and yet the services of chaplains are more needed, perhaps, in the hospitals, than with the healthy soldiers in the field. With this view, I have given a sort of quasi appointment, (a copy of which I inclose) to each of three protestant ministers, who have accepted, and entered upon the duties.
If you perceive no objection, I will thank you to give me the name or names of one or more suitable persons of the Catholic Church, to whom I may with propriety, tender the same service.
Many thanks for your kind, and judicious letters to Gov. Seward, and which he regularly allows me both the pleasure and the profit of perusing.
With the highest respect Your Obt. Servt. A. LINCOLN

Source of Information:

Letter written to Archbishop John J. Hughes Washington, DC. Oct. 21, 1861 by Abraham Lincoln. Autographed draft Signed, The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, Vol. IV, Edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953) pp 559-560)
Archbishop Francis P: Kenrick of Baltimore assigned Reverend Francis X. Boyle and Reverend F. M. Magrath to the performance of the duties of chaplain, October 24, 1861 (ibid.).



OCTOBER 30, 1861

Rev. F. M. Magrath Washington, D.C. October 30, 1861.
Sir: Having been solicited by Christian Ministers, and other pious people, to appoint suitable persons to act as Chaplains at the hospitals for our sick and wounded soldiers, and feeling the intrinsic propriety of having such persons to so act, and yet believing there is no law conferring the power upon me to appoint them, I think fit to say that if you will voluntarily enter upon, and perform the appropriate duties of such position, I will recommend that Congress make compensation therefor at the same rate as Chaplains in the army are compensated. A. LINCOLN


Footnote:

Although Lincoln sent this letter to at least seven chaplains, none of the originals have been located by the editors.


Source of Information:

Letter written to Rev. F. M. Magrath Washington, D.C. October 30, 1861 by Abraham Lincoln. The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, Vol. V, Edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953) pp 8-9


DECEMBER 3, 1861

 

Rev. Sir:

Having been solicited by Christian ministers, and other pious people, to appoint suitable persons to act as chaplains at the hospitals for our sick and wounded soldiers, and feeling the intrinsic propriety of having such persons to so act, and yet believing there is no law conferring the power upon me to appoint them, I think fit to say that if you will voluntarily enter upon and perform the appropriate duties of such position, I will recommend that Congress make compensation therefor at the same rate as chaplains in the army are compensated.

Source of Information:

Form Letter to Chaplains, written by Abraham Lincoln December 3, 1861, Schedule A, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., December 3, 1861. Thirty-seventh Congress, Second Session, Senate Executive Document No. 1, p. 20. This form letter is printed as "Schedule A." immediately following the Annual Message [to Congress] The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, Vol. V, Edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953) pp 53-54.


DECEMBER 22, 1863

I have just looked over a petition signed by some three dozen citizens of St. Louis, and three accompanying letters, one by yourself, one by a Mr. Nathan Ranney, and one by a Mr. John D. Coalter, the whole relating to the Rev. Dr. McPheeters. The petition prays, in the name of justice and mercy that I will restore Dr. McPheeters to all his ecclesiastical rights.
This gives no intimation as to what ecclesiastical rights are withheld. Your letter states that Provost Marshal Dick, about a year ago, ordered the arrest of Dr. McPheters, Pastor of the Vine Street Church, prohibited him from officiating, and placed the management of the affairs of the church out of the control of it's chosen Trustees; and near the close you state that a certain course "would insure his release." Mr. Ranney's letter says "Dr. Saml. S. McPheeters is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, but can not preach the gospel!!!" Mr. Coalter, in his letter, asks "Is it not a strange illustration of the condition of things that the question of who shall be allowed to preach in a church in St. Louis, shall be decided by the President of the United States?"
Now, all this sounds very strangely; and withal, a little as if you gentlemen making the application, do not understand the case alike, one affirming that the Dr. is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, and another pointing out to me what will secure his release! On the 2nd. day of January last I wrote Gen. Curtis in relation to Mr. Dick's order upon Dr. McPheeters, and, as I suppose the Dr. is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, I only quote that part of my letter which relates to the church. It is as follows: "But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but the churches, as such must take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches." This letter going to Gen. Curtis, then in command there I supposed of course it was obeyed, especially as I heard no further complaint from Dr. M. or his friends for nearly an entire year.
I have never interfered, nor thought of interfering as to who shall or shall not preach in any church; nor have I knowingly, or believingly, tolerated any one else to so interfere by my authority. If any one is so interfering, by color of my authority, I would like to have it specifically made known to me.
If, after all, what is now sought, is to have me put Dr. M. back, over the heads of a majority of his own congregation, that too, will be declined. I will not have control of any church on any side.

Yours Respectfully A. LINCOLN


Source of Information:

Letter to Oliver D. Filley, Dec. 22. 1863. Autographed letter signed, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas McPheeters, St, Louis, Missouri,
Filley's letter to Lincoln, November 9, 1863, as well as that of Nathan Ranney of the same date to Edward Bates, petitioned for restoration of Samuel B. McPheeters as pastor of the Pine (not Vine) Street Church at St. Louis. [The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress] John D. Coalter's letter to Bates, December 13, 1863, asked the attorney general to use his influence with the president to see that he "shall actually read the petition." (Ibid.). See Lincoln's endorsement, infra. The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association. Springfield, Illinois. Vol. VII, Roy P. Basler, Editor, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953), pp 85-86.


FEBRUARY 11, 1864

To Edwin M. Stanton(1)

Hen. Secretary of War Executive Mansion,
My dear Sir Washington, Feb. ii, 1864.
In January 1863, the Provost-Marshal at St, Louis, having taken the control of a certain church from one set of men and given it to another, I wrote Gen. Curtis on the subject, as follows:
"the U.S. Government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but the churches, as such, must take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches."
Some trouble remaining in this same case, I, on the 22nd. of Dec. 1863, in a letter to Mr. O, D. Filley, repeated the above language; and, among other things, added "I have never interfered, nor thought of interfering as to who shall or shall not preach in any church; nor have I knowingly, or believingly, tolerated any one else to so interfere by my authority. If any one is so interfering by color of my authority, I would like to have it specifically made known to me. . . . I will not have control of any church on any side."
After having made these declarations in good faith, and in writing, you can conceive of my embarrassment at now having brought to me what purports to be a formal order of the War Department, bearing date Nov. 30th. 1863, giving Bishop Ames control and possession of all the Methodist churches in certain Southern Military Departments, whose pastors have not been appointed by a loyal Bishop or Bishops, and ordering the Military to aid him against any resistance which may he made to his taking such possession and control. What(2) is to be done about it? Yours truly A. LINCOLN


Footnote:
(1)ALS, DLC-Stanton Papers; LS copy, DLC-RTL. The circular letter of November 30, 1863, signed by Edward D. Townsend by order of the Secretary of War, is as follows:
"To the Generals commanding the Departments of the Missouri, the Tennessee, and the Gulf, and all Generals and officers commanding armies, detachments, and posts, and all officers in the service of the United States in the above mentioned Departments:
"You are hereby directed to place at the disposal of Rev. Bishop Ames all houses of worship belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church South in which a loyal minister, who has been appointed by a loyal Bishop of said church, does not now officiate.
"It is a matter of great importance to the Government, in its efforts to restore tranquility to the community and peace to the nation, that Christian ministers should, by example and precept, support and foster the loyal sentiment of the people.
"Bishop Ames enjoys the entire confidence of this Department, and no doubt is entertained that all ministers who may be appointed by him will be entirely loyal. You are expected to give him all the aid, countenance, and support practicable in the execution of his important mission.
"You are also authorized and directed to furnish Bishop Ames and his clerk with transportation and subsistence when it can be done without prejudice to the service, and will afford them courtesy, assistance and protection." (Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United Slates .. . During the Great Rebellion, p. 521).
According to McPherson, the Reverend John Hogan, acting for the loyal Methodists of Missouri, brought the matter to Lincoln's attention and procured an explanatory order to General William S. Rosecrans from Townsend on February 13, as follows:
"I am directed by the Secretary of War to say that the orders from the Department placing at the disposal of the constituted Church authorities in the Northern States houses of worship in other States, is designed to apply only to such States as are by the President's Proclamation designated as being in rebellion and is not designed to operate in loyal States, nor in cases where loyal congregations in rebel States shall be organized and worship upon the terms prescribed by the President's Amnesty." (Ibid., p. 523)
See further Lincoln's endorsement to John Hogan, February 13, infra.
(2) Lincoln originally wrote: "is this supposed order genuine? And if so, what is to be done about it?" It appears deleted in both the ALS and LS copy.

The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association. Springfield, Illinois. Vol. VII, Roy P. Basler, Editor, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953), pp 179-180


FEBRUARY 13, 1864

Endorsement to John Hogan(1)

February 13, 1864.
Indorsed on the modifying Methodist order & sent to Rev John Hogan.
"As you see within, the Secretary of War modifies his order so as to exempt Missouri from it. Kentucky was never within it; nor, as I learn from the Secretary, was it ever intended for any more than a means of rallying the Methodist people in favor of the Union, in localities where the rebellion had disorganized and scattered them. Even in that view, I fear it is liable to some abuses, but it is not quite easy to withdraw it entirely, and at once.
["]Feb. 13· 1864, A. LINCOLN ["]

Footnote:

(1) ADS, DLC-RTL. The original endorsement written on an order of February 13 has not been discovered, and there is some question as to the precise document which Lincoln endorsed and gave to Hogan. On February 28 General Rosecrans notified Stanton as follows:
"On the 12th of the present month the Rev, Bishop Ames presented at these headquarters a circular letter from War Department, dated November 30, 1863, copy of which is hereto annexed, marked A, directing that-- 'All houses of worship belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church South, in which a loyal minister appointed by a loyal bishop of said church does not now officiate, are placed at the disposal of the Right Rev. Bishop Ames- and asked that an order be issued in conformity thereto. I immediately issued a circular to commanding officers of troops of the department ... directing that 'they furnish Bishop Ames every facility and assistance compatible with the interests of the service' under the order mentioned. Saturday, Mr. John Hogan called with a letter dated February 13, 1864 (copy inclosed, marked C), bearing the official signature of James A. Hardie ...directed to Major-General Rosecrans...with an indorsemcnt in the handwriting and bearing the signature of the President ... intended, as he (Hogan) claimed, to abrogate entirely in this State the circular order printed by Bishop Ames. As no official copy of the letter to me of the 13th...has been received...and as there is a doubt in my mind as to the policy the War Department intends to adopt as regards church property in this State ... I would respectfully request that more definite instructions be furnished.. ." (OR, I, XXXIV, II, 452-53)·
A footnote in the source states that neither the order of November 30, 1863, nor the letter from Hardie of February 13, 1864, could be found at the time the Official Records were compiled. As given by McPherson (see note to Lincoin's letter to Stanton, February 11, supra), both the order of November 30 and the modifying order of February 13, were issued over the signature of Edward D. Townsend rather than that of James A. Hardie. It seems probable, however, from the contents of Lincoln's endorsement, that the order was substantially the same.

The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association. Springfield, Illinois. Vol. VII, Roy P. Basler, Editor, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953), pp 182-183.


MARCH 4, 1864

I have written before, and now repeat, the United States Government must not undertake to run the churches. When an individual in a church or out of it becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked, but the churches as such must take care of themselves. It will not do for the United States to appoint trustees, supervisors, or other agents for the churches. I add if the military have military need of the church building, let them keep it, otherwise let them get out of it, and leave it and its owners alone except for causes that justify the arrest of any one of them.
A. LINCOLN

The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association. Springfield, Illinois. Vol. VII, Roy P. Basler, Editor, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953), pp 223


MARCH 15, 1864

Endorsement Concerning Churches in New Orleans

While I leave this case to the discretion of Gen. Banks, my view is, that the U.S. should not appoint trustees for or in any way take charge of any church as such. If the building is needed for military purposes, take it; if it is not so needed, let its church people have it, dealing with any disloyal people among them, as you deal with other disloyal people. A. LINCOLN

March 15th. 1864


Source of Information:

Endorsement Concerning Churches in New Orleans, March 15, 1864, Copy, The Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the papers of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress. The copy of Lincoln's endorsement is on a copy of a letter from Elijah Guion. Thomas Sloo, and John B. Morison. of New Orleans, March 5, 1864, complaining of an order by General James Bowen requiring them to surrender the keys and property of St. Paul's Church. The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln, The Abraham Lincoln Association. Springfield, Illinois. Vol. VII, Roy P. Basler, Editor, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, (1953), pp 247-248)


See Part VIII of this topic for additional reference materials.