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The following is the entire text of a rebuttal to Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom distributed as indicated in the title page information below and generally attributed to John Swanwick (1740-1798), a citizen of Philadelphia.
We have indicated the original page numbers of the document with Roman Numerals and Arabic Numbers centered above the text of that page.
To review the provisions of Jefferson's bill, please see: Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom (Passed December, 1785)
AN ACT FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.
BY A CITIZEN of PHILADELPHIA.
PRINTED AND SOLD BY ROBERT AITKEN AT POPE'S HEAD IN
To the Reverend Clergy of all Christian denominations in the City of Philadelphia, and to the Public Friends of the respectable Society called Quakers, in this Metropolis.
THE following sheets contain a few hasty reflections drawn up in short intervals of leisure, as they occurred to my mind on the perusal of the annexed act of assembly, lately passed by the state of Virginia, entitled, "An act for the establishment of religious freedom;" which, considering the tolerating spirit prevailing all over America, I was led to consider as unnecessary; but which, if the objects of it were even of suck a nature as to require to be fixed by a permanent law, still will leave this act justly liable to many objections, both on account of the erroneous reasoning it contains, and its being more a general declamation against all religion, than an attempt to fix the freedom of any on a liberal and just foundation. By this act you will see, I am sure, not without regret, that a door is opened wide for the introduction of any tenets in religion, however degrading to christianity, or however tending to its destruction; that all countenance or support of government to it is withdrawn, and that the legislature of Virginia may be held and administered by men professedly atheists, Mahometans; or of any other creed, however unfriendly to liberty or the morals of a free country.
When you consider this, Gentlemen, I am sure you will feel with me one motive more of attachment to Pennsylvania, where the important concerns of religion, are not so lightly esteemed; being thought worthy of the protection of its constitution, in which a pledge of security to the christian faith hath been interwoven with its political sanctions; and this is merited by the most
amiable and pacific temper prevailing among the religious of all denominations in this state; a disposition which it is your study on all occasions to cultivate, as it is by your venerable and examplary lives tp give the fullest refutation to all the calumnics and invectives usually applied to the profession of piety by the prophane. If I have ventured to place this little essay under your patronage and care, it is from a consciousness that its chief motive was the promotion of truth a the calling the attention, of able writers to the subject --- dear as it is to the prosperity of the federal states---Objets that must be invaluable to men, on whole assiduity in the faithful discharge of their venerable office, they do so much depend.
Nothing can exceed the respect which I feel for your characters and persons, dedicated as both are in so pure and disinterested a manner to the advancement of learning, of virtue, and of religion, in the state. "May you long continue to ornament the church of Philadelphia, and finally enjoy the reward promised to its name-sake of old. "Him that overcometh will, I make a, pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." "And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which corneth down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name."--Thus you will have enjoyed on earth the most dignified stations, and be exchanged only from being useful and happy citizens here, to a glorious residence in that everlasting city, where the wife and good of all ages shall form a community---invincible by time, and immortal by virtue.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
A CITIZEN of PHILADELPHIA
An Act for the Establishment of Religious Freedom
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry chose temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing ally citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency
is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Be it therefore enacted by the general assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his belly or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies,
constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
( 1 )
It was with a very great degree of surprise and regret, that I perused in late paper the act published by the legislature of Virginia, entitled, "An Act for establishing religious freedom," but which seems calculated to destroy all religion, and to open the gates of scepticisin and immortality to the people of that state. And although l am not inhabitant of it, and therefore not immediately affected by its laws, still as a member of the general Confederacy, and very sensible of the benefits or disadvantages enjoyed suffered by any part of the Union, I cannot resist the inclination, or rather the duty I feel, to make a few general observations on this law; calculated as I think it is, however rightly it might have been intended, to create the most alarming consequences not only to Virginia, but even to its neighbors who may become hereafter affected by it.
I have so long accustom myself to consider religion as of the first importance to the well-being of individuals, and of course to that of the nations, who only form communities of such individuals, that I cannot persuade myself it can be right to release men by public authority, as
( 2 )
this act least apparently does, from the necessity of any attention to it, or from contributing in any shape to its decent support. Nor yet do I believe that any government, before that of Virginia, would have chosen to hazard the morals and manners of the people under its care to the guidance of reason only, while daily experience evidences that the very powerful sanctions of revelation superadded, are scarcely sufficient to restrain men from the commission of those offenses against which it is no less the purpose of the Christian than of the municipal system of the country to guard them. But forbearing for the percent any general observations on the tendency of this bill, I shall beg leave to investigative more minutely, and to consider the several parts of it flawed; as they contain principles to which I cannot consent, and which I think in many parts in consistent with themselves. It begins with the assertion, "that almighty God has created the mine free, and that therefore all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitation, tend only beget habits of hypocrisy meanness." Now how far this is true, let the common sense of every man determine. I am born free at first, it is true, from all ideas of right and wrong. As infant in society I am like infant in the state of nature, unacquainted with any distinct sense of religion or any other belief. But surely a proportion as my reason
( 3 )
dawns or my eyes become strong enough to distinguish light from darkness, I lose a state of ignorance and insensibility, I become acquainted with the visible universe, and the impression of a God fast establishes its influence over my mind. I gradually enquire into the nature of all things which surround me, their receptive uses and names. I learn from history the conduct of the race of men and various ages, and especially of that class of them to which I belong, by being born among them. Among other ideas I receive that flowing from the opinion I entertain of there existing a God, of the manner in which the most likely to please and serve him; and in here I discover, if I choose to trace them, the various opinions of the different sects of religion that inhabit to same earth with myself. I examine into that which governed my ancestors. I choose that which I like best and find best adapted to my ideas of right and wrong, which every day shine forth with greater energy on my mind; and having just made the choice, I hold myself answerable to be consistent in living up to it is far as abilities shall permit me. I find that the laws of my country are in unison with those of my religion, the one confirming the other: if the one tells me I must not do murder, or if I do, then I shall suffer for it from the avenger and distributor of all justice; the other informs, that if I do I shall be cut off with ignominy and shame. If by the one I am taught
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to moderate and govern my passions; the other informs me if I suffer the break out into injurious acts, I shall pay in my person or property, or both, a forfeiture suited to my crime.
Thus far the religion and the laws of the land support each other, one confirms the other. If religion goes further, it is, from her greater love to me the she excites me to virtue by rewards, or deters me from the vice by penalties, to take place in a state to which the laws or power of man does not extend. If then I am by such motives, deprived of any part of the freedom intended for me by the God who created me, surely it must be deemed a consequence of his creating and placing me in a country where such are the religion, and such the laws, which implies an inconsistency, that God has intended me to be free, yet placed me in a state where I cannot be so. On the other hand, if all attempts to influence the mine by temporal punishments, or burthens or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of meanness and hypocrisy in the spiritual, surely the laws which contained similar sanctions, lead to similar degradations in the the temporal world; and I know of no situation in which the mind can be said to be free, in the sense of this bill, unless it be that the state of nature with the savages of the wilderness, if any such can be found, who had neither religion nor laws, or any ideas beyond what they received their birth, within only could they be
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be said to be as free, as the almighty is, said ill this bill to have created them. As a child I am not embarrassed with useless ideas, as I can do neither good nor evil. I know nothing of any sanctions or influences to either bu as my strength to do one or the other finds me, for do my guardian powers of religion and of law, this is rational and confident. Should I unfortunately become an idiot and lose my reason, then alone both these guides forsake me. I return to a state of childhood, and society, aware of the consequences of so deplorable a condition, extend, their friendly aid to fence me from the means of doing that evil, of which I am destitute of' the sense. But surely it must be admitted, that to find fault with and oppose the religious systems of my country, to place my opinion against that of the generality, of people I live among, or have read of, must certainly imply a degree of presumption or self-conceit, as great certainly as if I were to set its laws at defiance, because through a depravity of taste or disposition, I was led to consider its conditions as extravagant or ill suited to my ideas of` right, though confirmed through ages, by the wisest and best men of their times.
The assertion, "that the holy author of our religion, who being Lord of body and mind, has not propagated it by coercion, on either, as was in his-almighty power to do," leads me to question what the religion is which the assembly
( 6 )
of Virginia calls our religion. If it be meant for the christian system--surely the holy author of it has by strongest motive constrained men and influenced them to embrace it, telling them that their temporal and eternal and happiness or misery depended on their receiving or rejecting it. If it be meant for natural religion only, then still the holy author of it has not left himself without a. witness in our own breasts, constraining us to reverence his attribute, and of course to be submissive such religion as may be suited to the best sense we have of them. Here then the assembly of Virginia must by all rational men be deemed unacquainted with the nature of religion, for who ever read of any in which the author of it did not endeavour to coerce the mind into an obedience to it. Were it otherwise he would have been as inconsistent as the a assembly of Virginia must be, if they expect virtue will flourish in soil, in which they do not require their citizens to be of any religious denomination whatever, and of course destroy the most powerful seeds of that very virtue it must be supposed their wish to see flourish in the state they represent.
"That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil and ecclesiastic, who being themselves fallible and uninspired men, have aimed the dominion over the faith of others setting up their own opinions and m modes of thinking as the only- true anti infallible, and
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as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time,"-- seems to extensive assertion; since it implies that through all time the greatest part of world have been governed by a false religions. And is not Virginia, in thus calling the religion of other nations false, falling into error? She condemns that of legislatures fallible and uninspired, setting up their own opinion and mode of thinking as alone true, while the greatest part of mankind she declares have always been groping in the darkness, error and delusion. Nobody condemns more the idea the compelling man by temporal punishments to be of any given belief, nor do I think it practical to make them so, however they may profess it. But this cannot be dreaded in any country where toleration is as extensive as it is in every part of America. Indeed all over the Christian world the rigorous exaction of religious tenets is declining, and the mild spirit of enlightened Christianity becoming more and more diffused; which leads a celebrated writer, Lord Kaimes, to observe, that it may well be considered by us as a singular favor of Providence, that we enjoyed a Christian revelation, the purest and most luminous of all that have been given to men. And a celebrated a historian observing on the manners of the present century in this respect says, "The attacks upon Christianity have only served
( 8 )
more firmly to establish true religion, while they have given a severe check enthusiasm. The consequences been, that all men of sound mind and good morals conform outwardly to the religion of their country, and most of them sincerely believe it to be of divine origin. The debasing system of materialism has been exploded, as alike unfriendly to happiness and to truth; to all that is liberal in the human character, or endearing in human condition: for he who considers this earthly spot as the grave, as well as the only theatre of his existence; instead of his first stage toward the immortality and progressive being, can never view nature with cheerful, or man with a benevolent eye. "That to compel men to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical," may be true in the general; but will any man say it would of been sinful and tyrannical to compelled a man, during the late struggle against Great-Britain, to have contributed money to pay for the establishment of the independency of America, because he should alledge that he did not in his conscience believe that measure would the salutary or useful; surely not; for where a society of people adopt a belief that certain principles of action will be salutary or useful to them, the good order of it requires a small part of that could may differ
( 9 )
from the rest, should acquiesce in the measure adopted for the general good; having it in their power to remove from that state whose decisions or government they may not approve, else anarchy and confusion must prevail. Nor can there be able be a more glaring instance of the truth of this, than the present political state of America presents; where the consent of all the states to any one measure being required, is almost ever the cause inaction injurious delays, they being so rarely found to agree on any one important question; which shows the disadvantages under which that community must labor, where the sentiments of one or of a few can impede the operations the general system. And what applies to the civil, does also to the religious situation in any country; for it must unquestionably be the duty of every man to contribute to the support of some religious society or other of those that prevail in the country he lives in, at least as far as good order of it shall require, however his private opinions may differ from those of the generality as to the belief thereof. Thus prudent parents are careful not to expose to their children their disbelief, if they have any such, of the Christian revelation, supported as is by the public sanction of the community they are to live among. "That forcing many to support this or that preacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of a comfortable living of
( 10 )
giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind," I cannot conceive, because if it be admitted that it is right and proper, that every man should contributed to the support of some one of the prevailing religious systems of his country, it follows, that unless men unite under some form of government for the support of the church and belong to, it cannot exist; and therefore every man having a free choice to make his election of the particular church he chooses to adhere to, has an opportunity of contributing to support of that pastor, whom he, in, common with the body of the church is a member of, has chosen, and if any other pastor he wishes to contribute to the maintenance of, from opinion of his virtue and ability, he has in his power to do so; but it is apparent that if every man singly was to refuse contributing to any pastor but such as should be the object of its own immediate choice, there would be an end to all religious systems; since such uncertain contributions, divided so unequally, never could enable any man to subsist as a preacher, and of course must put a period to a
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profession, which however illiberal it has sometimes been thought fashionable to speak of, it must be acknowledged to have been of great use, as by the dignity, learning and virtue of its members, the progress of vice and immorality has been arrested, or at least retarded in the world; nor is it "withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind," since it is in the power of every church to remove such ministers as mat be found indolent, or unqualified for the important duties of their stations, and surely the body of the congregation collectively are better able to form a proper judgement in this respect than any man singly, whose vices or whims may lead him to dislike a pastor whose virtues or whose firmness he finds inconsistent with his favorite propensities. In a word, what applies to law still is found to apply to religion, if every man were to be his own lawgiver the community must be dissolved, if every man is to be his own pastor or to choose his own independently of any body else, there must be an end to all religious systems, the use of which in all well regulated societies have been acknowledged by the ablest and bst men from time immemorial. To this may be objected the instance of that respectable class of people called quakers, who have no particular pastors appointed
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such by office as those other denominations have, but it is easy to see, that their public friends answer to the same description, and their system however amiable and benevolent it is, contains many doctrines inconsistent with the defence and preservation of society in its present state, such as not bearing arms &c. Which will probably prevent its growth or permanent duration.
"That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than out opinions in physic or geometry," is an assertion contradicted by the experience of mankind. Since nothing is more evident, than that proportion as the minds of men have become enlightened by the influences of a pure and free system of religion, their civil rights have become more perfectly enlarged and ascertained. So that the genius of government in all nations has ever borne great affinity to the state of religion therein; being either arbitrary, liberal, or free, in proportion as their spiritual systems were so; and what duration or form the civil rights of any country will assume, where no religion whatever is professed, remains yet to be discovered. And here I would beg leave to quote the sentiments of some very learned men, both of the clergy and laity, on this point; which I think will fully refute the assertion of Virginia, "That our religious sentiments have no more influence on our civil rights then those have which we
( 13 )
entertain in physic or geometry." And first hear what says the celebrated author of the Spirit of Laws on this subject.--"Mr. Bayle has attempted to prove that it was better for a man to be an atheist, than a worshipper of idols; that is, in other words, that it is less dangerous to have no religion at all than to have a bad one. I should like better, says Mr Bayle, to have it said of me, that I did not exist at all than it should be said of me that I existed as a wicked man. This is mere sophism. For it is only supported by the idea of ow little importance it is of to the human race, to believe or not to believe in the existence of a God. From an idea of there being none, would flow that of independence on him; or if that we cannot entertain, of our revolting from him.
"To say that religion is not an influential restraint, because she has not always the power of restraining, is to assert that civil laws cannot restrain, since they often fall short of their object. It is absurd to reason against religion from a collection of the evils she has produced, unless we also reason from the good she has done. If I choose to recount al the evil laws and governments both monarchical and republican have produced in the world, I should speak of things horrible to relate. But
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were it useless for the subject to be without religion, it would still be right that the government or Prince should profess one, and not be be left without the only tie those can be bound by, whom human laws cannot restrain. A prince who loves religion and fears it, its a lion ceding to the hand that soothes, or to the voice that appeases hem,. He that fears religion but hates it, is a fierce animal that gnaws the chain which prevents his falling on the passer by. But he who has no religion of all, is a terrible Tiger, that never thinks itself at liberty but when it tears or devours. The Christian religion is adverse to settle or entire despotism. The mild temper of the gospel oppose itself the despotic rage to with which a prince might disposed to fatiate his fury or exercise his justice; while the mahometan princes are for ever killing or killed. The Christian religion renders those under its influence less timid, and of course less cruel. The prince relying on his people, and the people on their prince. Admirable influence of Christianity! which while she seems to have an eye only to the happiness of another world, best promotes it in the present. Only reflect for a moment a continuous massacres of the Greek and Roman kings and chiefs, and all the depredations committed by them on their cities and people, by Themir and Genghkis Khan, who desolated Asia; and then will
( 15 )
be apparent that we owe to christianity--In government, certain civil political rights; and in war, the law of nations: obligations both for which men can never be enough grateful. This law of nations is the cause why victory now leaves the vanquished in possession of life, of Liberty, of their laws, of their property, and always of their religion, unless where victory is blind to a degree. It may be said that in our days the various nations of Europe are not more disjoined from and independent on each other, than during the despotic and military age of Rome of old the people and the army were, or as it often happened, than the latter was within itself; for armies of the same empire often made war on each other, and towns were given up did it to indiscriminate plunder, as lands were to confiscation and spoil. I have never pretended, conclude this admirable author, to yield the interests of religion to those of policy, but to unite them."
The celebrated Dr. Franklin, enumerating to those who would wish remove to America the blessings enjoyed there, says, atheism is unknown there; infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country, without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an atheist or an infidel. The learned a bishop of Chester, Dr. Porteus, on this subject observes, That to the Christian religion is a way in that scarceany traces of
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barbarity remain among us; in domestic society, the ease and happiness of each individual, even the very lowest, is properly attended to; that weakness of sex, tenderness of age, and humility of condition, instead of provoking insult, generally attract pity and protection; that civil liberty is in the country where it is professed more firmly rooted, more equally diffused, more securely enjoyed; that justice is most of uprightly and impartially administered; that the meanness of the people are as much under the protection of the laws as the most rich and powerful; that the rage of universal empire is considerably abated, and the frequency, duration and cruelty of wars greatly diminished; the civil, commotions more rarely happen, are attended commonly with fewer circumstances of inhumanity and horror, and have oftener proved favorable than fatal to liberty. Compare all these amazing improvements in social happiness, since the introduction of Christianity, with the precepts and doctrines of that religion; consider their natural tendency to produce what actually is been produced, and then say whether we can hesitate one moment in ascribing these effects to the gospel, as their sole, or at least principal cause? What puts this matter almost beyond a doubt is, that in those countries were the Christian revelation is yet unknown, the civil blessings enjoyed by Christianity are equally
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unknown. The mysteries of their ancestors have descended to them with their superstitions, and bear a daily living testimony to the benevolence of our religion. And is no less remarkable, that the degree of perfection in which these advantages are enjoyed by any nation, is in general pretty nearly proportion to the degree of purity in which the doctrines of the gospel their professed and taught. Thus, for example (to produce only one instance out of a multitude) in those kingdoms, where there is no Christianity, there is no liberty. We're superstition hath almost totally destroyed the simplicity of the Christian revelation, there too is liberty much check obscured and repressed(?). Where some of those corruptions are thrown off their some brighter gleams of Liberty appear. Where the national religion approaches nearest to the native purity of the gospel, there too civil liberties shines forth in its full lustre, and is carried to a degree of perfection, beyond which human weakness will not, perhaps, suffer it to be advanced.
The celebrated Dr. Blair on this subject, adds, "The religious knowledge has a direct tendency to improve the social intercourse of men, and to assist them in co-operating for the common good. That is the great instrument of civilizing the multitude, and forming them to union. It tames the fiercest of
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their passion and softens the rudeness of their manners. There is much reason to doubt whether any regular society ever subsisted, or could subsist, in the world, destitute of all religious ideas and principles. They who, in early times attempted to bring the wandering and scattered tribes of men from the woods, and to unite them in cities and communities, always found it necessary to begin with some institution of religion. The wisest legislators of old, through the whole progress of their systems of government, considered religion as essential to civil polity. The doctrine of Christianity is most adverse to all tyranny and oppression, but highly favorable to the interests of good government among men. It represents the spirit of licentiousness and sedition. It inculcates the duty of subordination to lawful superiors. It forwards all useful and ornamental improvements in society. Experience shows, that in proportion as it defuses its light, learning flourishes, and liberal arts are cultivated and advanced. Just conceptions of religion promote a free and manly spirit, they naturally inspired version to slavery of every kind and promote a taste for liberty and laws. Despotic governments have generally taken the firmest root among nations that were blinded by the mahometan or pagan darkness, were the throne of violence has been supported by ignorance and false religion; but that the influence
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of religion is not only a subsidiary to the improvement but necessary to the preservation of society, it is the basis on which it rests, religious principle is what gives men the surest hold on one another. The last great pledge of veracity, an oath, without which no society could subsist, derives its whole authority from an established reverence of God, to whom is is a solemn appeal. Banish religious principle and you loosen all the bonds which connect mankind together , you shake the fundamental pillar of mutual confidence and trust, you render the security arising from laws in a great measure void and ineffectual. Politicians may lay down what plans they please for advancing public prosperity, but in truth it is the prevalency of such principles of religion and virtue which forms the strength and glory of the nation, when the there totally wanting no measures contrived by human wisdom can supply the defect." Thus far of quotations. More might be added from almost all quarters, but there are enough to prove that religion has a very powerful influence on a civil-rights, nor could I have expected this to been questioned at this time above all others, when she is engaged in eager contest against slavery exercised on the fable tribes of Africa. Witness the efforts of that respected body of men called Quakers, on this head, who daily live to see and to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the extension of freedom to their fellow creatures.
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And here I cannot help thinking of him, who so long struggled, wrote a labored in their service, the pious Anthony Benezet, whose memory well deserves to be had in everlasting remembrance, but all the friends and lovers of the human race.
--------Gentle shade! much happier thou
Enlarg'd from clay, perhaps dost now behold
The Springs, the causes, and the just effects
Of nature working by her gen'ral rules!
If spirits such as thee can look on earth
And see the follies of what once you were.
That the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being a called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess to renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right, does not appear, since it seems as equitable that a man should be called upon to declare his belief in the general religious sentiments of his country, as is pacified in this state of Pennsylvania before he takes his seat in the legislature, as that he should be bound to declared his allegiance to the government, or his adherence to the civil constitution of it; the people having an unquestionable a right to require such security, for their religious as for the civil rights. Nor does it follow, that this tends "to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to
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it," any more than man can be said to be bribed to maintain the constitution inviolate, who promises so to do on his taking his seat in the legislature, such being the known terms or compact on which all men submit to be elected, and it being of the natural right of the people to elect their representatives, and to qualify them for their service under such oaths or declarations. As they shall deem proper for the public safety.
And here I could not help drawing a constrast of the conduct of the different states in the union in this respect, and examining the several laws and constitutions, to form an estimate of the care they have severally taken of the interests of religion therein, connected as these are with the very existence of good government and order, as we have already considered more at large under another head.
And here I found that in the following states christianity is absolutely acknowledged and established, viz. In Massachusetts, New-Jersey [New Jersey never did have an established religion], Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North-Carolina, South-Carolina and Georgia.
In Massachusetts, with power to levy a tax on all subjects of the state to for the support of public worship, though no one church to be established to the prejudice of others, all governors, councellors, Senators or representatives, before they proceed to execute the duties of their place of office, to acknowledge their faith in the truth of the christian religion.
Maryland, with similar powers and qualifications.
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In Georgia. Its representatives to be of the protestant religion, and to have power to compel the support of teachers of religion, provided that no man shall pay but to the clergy of his own persuasion.
South-Carolina. The Protestant declared the established religion. Incorporations to be granted to all Christian Protestants. No person to disturb or molest any religious Assembly, or use any reproached full, reviling or abusive language against any church in the state. The representatives of the state to be of the Protestant religion.
North-Carolina. No person who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old and New Testament, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with freedom and safety of the state, to be capable holding any office or place of trust or profit in its civil Department.
Delaware. All persons professing the Christian religion to be entitled to equal rights and privileges, unless under color of religion any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or safety of society. The representatives of the state, or any person be appointed to any office or place of trust to declare his or their belief in the Trinity, and to acknowledge the books of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.
Pennsylvania. No man who acknowledges the being of a God, can be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen on account of his religious sentiments; but he cannot be a member
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of its legislature unless he declares his belief in one God, the creator of the governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked, and an acknowledgement that scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by divine inspiration. This is the only religious test ever to be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this state.
New-Jersey all persons professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect, and who may demean themselves peaceably under the government are capable of being elected into any office of trust or profit, or of being appointed members of the legislature. In all other respects general toleration.
Rhode-island, Connecticut and New Hampshire. I do not find anything said on the subject of religion in their respective constitutions, but believe the laws therein have established the Christian as the prevailing one. .
New-York. Equal privileges to all the religious denominations of people, provided not exercised an axe of losses in this licentiousness, or in practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state. By the clause respecting the ministers of the gospel, it appears they are proscribed the legislature, being by their professions dedicated to the service of God and the cure of souls. Which is the only instance to which I find God or the Gospel mentioned in the Constitution of this state. It cannot therefore be said that Christian religion is established therein.
Virginia. Till now silent on this subject, has, by
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its late act, authorized any religion when ever to be introduced, and by argument to be maintained among them, though it compels not attendance upon any.
What strange contrariety in opinions appear here among citizens professedly of one body; while Virginia passes a law apparently absolving all men from the necessity of contributing to the support of any religion whatever, I hear of North-Carolina passing an act to clear the roads to the churches and public and places of public worship. Thus what one considers as of no consequence, the other views as an object of national importance. And while the ideas of the states are thus divided on the subject of religion, and its usefulness to society, need we wonder that they should be divided on objects of a lesser magnitude.
If it be wrong for the civil magistrate to intruder his powers into the field of opinion, it must certainly be so for the Assembly of Virginia to pass this Act; which, under the specious appearance of establishing religious freedom, in fact tends to remove the necessity of any religion what ever among the people. And no man can think that of any importance, to the maintenance and support of which the state he lives neither requires him in any manner whatever to contribute, nor encourages him in any shape to engage in. Hence the institution of the Sabbath will become disused, churches sink into decay, and every ordinance of religion, no longer under the protection of government be speedily abolished. Men will
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have a right to profess, and by argument to maintain, any opinions in matters of religion, however inconsistent they may be with the laws of the country or the genius of its polity, provided only they break not out into overt acts; in which case alone the officers of government are to interfere, and how long such interference to be of the avail in a country where the morals and manners of the people are gradually sapped by irreligion, or by false ones, it is not difficult to foresee. Let us contemplate for a moment a people under the influence at every vice, which can be contrived to escape the verge of human laws, and what a dismal society it appears. And who can tell how soon men may make it into the Legislature, where no test of religion whenever required, whose profligate dispositions may lead them step-by-step to repeal laws which stand in the way of their favored crimes, under an idea that God, having created the mind of man free, he thence has a right to do in all things as may seem good in his own eyes-- an extension of freedom at which the human mind must shudder. For although we've seen what is the progression of man from a state of nature to one of society and civilization, yet who shall inform us what it may be his condition returning from all the elegances of the social to the rudeness of the savage state. Then it would be discovered how weak alas! truth is, when a engage in the conflict with error; that error supported, as truth would be opposed, by the malignity of spirits neither under the fear of God or man. Her rays I fear would soon be lost under the cloud of passion, and her value would then only be acknowledged to have at least deserved encouragement from government, when government itself should be sunk into her ruins. Has Virginia any public schools under the care of its legislature? If so, what will be the religion taught therein? That no man is compelled to be of any, surely cannot be. What will become the validity of oaths, of the marriage ties, all depending on religious sanctions, in a country where men may be professedly an atheist, and yet not exclude from the government of it.
Here again I would ask, what is religion which Virginia calls "our religion?" Is it that no man is compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or minister whatsoever. Surely that must be a strange religion which operates like, suicide on itself; and if a house divided against itself cannot stand, the religion of Assembly of Virginia must soon be a non- entity; and will not her morals and laws be affected by this? Was this not often acknowledged in the late or, when too many fasts were proclaimed, and liberty and independency and all civil blessings
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asked through the mediation of that same savior of the world; of whom we are now told, that his name was not suffered to stand in this bill. From whence may, I think, be fairly established this deduction-- that His was not the religion of the Assembly of Virginia meant should be [one word] theirs; and yet how astonishing this, considering how useful an one it has proved to the human race, and how directly its lessons have been pointed to promote the dearest and best interests if men.
With what an awe must every reflecting mind be seized, who considers for a moment the present unhappy and distracted state of America. Its commerce subject to the restrictions of all, and the pirates of some of the powers of the earth; its citizens liable to be seized and placed in all the Moorish captivity; its federal government, like some untimely ruin, tottering beneath its own weight; the separate states torn by intestine divisions, and schemes for establishing new ones within the old, its national debt increasing, and aggravated by a losing balance of trade. In the midst of all this gathering storm, Virginia sees with indifference its temples closing, its solemn assemblies for public worship unattended, and religion, that strong and elevating cement of social happiness, subject to the rude attacks of fanaticism or enthusiasm, from what quarter foever they blow. But we will not dwell on this gloomy view, but look forward to more animating prospects, and to the accomplishment of that prophecy which every good man must anticipate with joy, and with to have seen compleated in his own time. When there shall be one Lord over all earth, and his name one; when that name shall be great from the rising to the setting sun; when there shall be nothing to hurt nor destroy in all the holy mountain of God, but judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field: the desert shal rejoice and blossom as the rose, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the water cover the sea.
See barbarous nations at they gate attend,
Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend;
See hey bright altars throng's with the prostrate kings,
And heap'd with products of Sabaean springs.
--------The light himself shall shine
Reveal'd, and God's eternal day be thine!
The seas shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,
rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
But fix'd his word, his saving power remians;
Thy realm for ever laffs, th own Messiah reigns!
F I N I S
SOURCE OF INFORMATION:
Attributed to John Swanwick (1740-1798) Early American Imprints, 1st Series, #20017, Microfiche E173 .E37, 1981, #20017 (Microfilms room, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia)