|The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State|
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Over the years I have been asked many times if I knew of any documented historical evidence showing any references to disunion between church and state (religion and government) , separation of church and state, ending alliances between church and state PRIOR to Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist's in Jan 1802, which contained the famous "wall of separation" phrase.
Some who have asked genuinely wanted to know. Others asked, implying that no such evidence could be found, because Jefferson "invented" the whole separation of church and state with his letter.
I offer the following for consideration:
Argument One: "The phrase 'separation of church and state' is not found in the Constitution"
For discussion of this frequent argument, please see:
"Church/state separation not found in the Constitution?"
Where does one find the words, or idea of a separation of church and state in the Constitution?
The idea is found directly in the unamended constitution, Article VI, Section III
"but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Joseph Story comments:
"The remaining part of the clause declares, that 'no religious test shall ever be required, as a qualification to any office or public trust, under the United States.' This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many respectable persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any test or affirmation. It had a higher object: to cut off forever every pretence of any alliance between church and state in the national government. The framers of the constitution were fully sensible of the dangers from this source, marked out in history of other ages and countries; and not wholly unknown to our own. They knew, that bigotry was unceasingly vigilant in its own stratagems, to secure to itself an exclusive ascendancy over the human mind; and that intolerance was ever ready to arm itself with all the terrors of civil power to exterminate those, who doubted its dogmas, or resisted its infallibility."
Source of Material:
Commentaries on The Constitution of The United States by Joseph Story Vol. III, Page 705-709. De Capo Press Reprints in American Constitutional And Legal History series, Da Capo Press NY 1970 (Joseph Story's Commentaries were originally published in 1833
Indirectly the entire document (unamended constitution) as a whole.
As early as Friday, September 25, 1789, the First Congress was confronted with the separation issue, for the details please see: Representative Thomas Tucker on Church and State, September 1789
The issue remained in the public interest as reflected in public newspapers on several occasions in 1798 through 1800:
March 5, 1798
GENERAL + A U R O R A + ADVERTISER
Monday March 5, 1798
Take notice! Something very like this happened on the 4th of March, 1797. The American constitution has no relation to the Christian religion: Yet Mr. Adams, before taking his oath of office, made a long exordium to this purpose: viz, that, although the constitution makes no distinction in favour of the Christian religion, [Editor's emphasis] yet that he (Mr. Adams) in nominating to public offices would always have a special eye to that point. This truth was thereafter sent to the press.
In July or August last, when the author of the history of 1796 or in plain terms, when Hamilton came to Philadelphia to vindicate his character by a confession of adultery, this identical and most Christian president invited him to a family dinner with Mrs. Adams. Such is his selection of company for the entertainment of his wife! Oh, Johnny! Johnny!
Source of Information:
General Aurora Advertiser, March 5, 1798. MFILM N.S. 12516 HF5862.A9
May 9, 1798
General + Aurora + Advertiser
Wednesday, May 9. 1798
The other papers of this city have chosen to be silent this day, because the President has recommended a fast. We do not follow their example:
Because there is nothing in the constitution giving authority to proclaim fasts .
Because, if any such power can be considered, by implication, as vested by the constitution, it would rather belong to the Legislators.
Because prayer, fasting, and humiliation are matters of religion and conscience, with which government has nothing to do, but which every individual is to attend to at such times, and in such manner, as he shall deem fit.
And Because we consider a connection between state and church affairs as dangerous to religious and political freedom and that, therefore, every approach towards it should be discouraged.
Source of Information:
General Aurora Advertiser, May, 9, 1798, Philadelphia, Penna. MFILM N.S. 12516 HF5862.A9
April 14, 1800
Monday Evening, April 14.
The condition of Church and State in America is such as to fill every considerate mind with the most unhappy sensations. In spite of that vanity and fastidiousness which led the Federal Convention, in founding their government, to preclude any connection, it will appear in the end, even by our own deplorable example, that a strict and indissoluble alliance of religion to government has been ordained in the nature of things. Though formally sundered by Constitution and laws; together they decline and together (it would seem) they are likely to perish. I am not about to trouble myself with reiterating useless declarations on topics which have contributed to heap on me the grossest scurrilities and a succession of the vilest libels; of which it is remarkable that they have become the more [?] as continual experience has more completely sanctioned my opinions. To be hated for an attachment to the church, is, however, rather a prerogative than a subject of complaint; and the abuse of knaves and fools no discreet person can wish to forefend. Ill language is ever the distinguishing attribute of mean and unmanly natures--the coward's courage, and the villains's vindication.
To them that the statements which I have so often had occasion to give of the decline or rather absence of religion so far from having partaken of exaggeration, actually fell short of that extant which truth authorized. I subjoin a letter from my friend. The pathos of its lamentations which the very nature of the subject was so well calculated to inspire, bespeaks the ardenoy of youth. But the picture from the hand of an ancient gentleman--though not one far declined into the vale of years.
"You will oblige me, by forwarding the Religious Tract, published by Humphreys written by that "Champion of Religion," the Bishop of Rochester. I know not what work it is; but this I know, it is worthy of attention, and shameful to be ignorant of it, if it proceed from the pen of
Dr. Horsley--Good God! Sir, how it shocks me when I view in this state [Virginia] the condition of our churches; those I mean, which (at present) belong to the Episcopal Church. They are a disgrace to any country from the ruinous state they are in, and on the society to which they belong, they fix a degree of impiousness. The walls are all decaying and falling down!
Rudis indigestaque moles
The tombstones dislodged and thrown down; hogs rooting into the very graves, and the bones of our ancestors will in a few years be exposed to the beasts of the fields and lie in common on the earth with those that never had the ceremony of scripture: the windows are all broken, the doors open every day which are never entered on a Sunday, and when hogs and cattle seek a shelter from the weather, they find it in the aisles and pews of our churches--Our Pastors in general badly paid and no encouragement held out for a succession of able ministers to explain to our people the duties of christians and the advantages of christianity. So much for the support and furtherance of our religion when no general assessment is imposted! But here, for Jacobinism is triumphant and unless a different temper shall soon shew itself, it will trample under foot all order, law, property, government, as it has religion; and on the ruins of these social blessing, inaugurate the demon "anarchy." From these cures I with you all exemption and am with the greatest esteem, dear sir, yours ," &c. &c.
Source of Information:
The Gazette of the United States, April 14, 1800 January 1, 1800 to December 31, 1800 MFILM N.S. 10953 AP2.05
September 9, 1800
General + Aurora + Advertiser
Tuesday, September 9, 1800
We have thrown some light on the combinations of hypocritical professors of religion, with artful and ambitious politicians in the New-England states; and shown how men of such character as Tracy have been in the face of every private and personal motive, and against every wise moral and true policy promoted to duties, for which he was neither competent nor fit. We shall turn our attention to the same subject southward; after a few important observations.
The British government among many other proofs of its great sanctity and bendonations has granted to a society in England, a considerable sum of money. This society is declared to be established for propagating the gospel in foreign parts, and worth and pious men have belonged to it. Certainly the institution, like all others of moral purpose has been abused, and its funds and its missionaries have been frequently employed in the service of the devil instead of God.
The government of England though the influence of the clergy of their established church, and the donatiors which they make, have the power of recommending persons for the mission and of allowances for missionaries already in foreign parts; and LARGE SUMS on this account are remitted to various parts of the world!
By this means they obtain more then the [?] object of promoting Christianity; they secure adherants and emissaries, bound by gratitude and interests to promote their views.
It is not to be supposed that America could be neglected on so interesting a dispensation of [?]! An English Bishop, one of the tutors of Mr. Pitt, has been sent out to Canada, with the title of my lord bishop of Quebc. There was already a bishop at that place, but he was a Roman
Catholic bishop; and tho' the pious British military could send a regiment of English Protestants to be the body gueards of his Holiness the Pope; their tender concern for the poor people of canada, could not be satisfied in suffering a Roman catholic bishop to retain his dignity in that colony. The son of the mother church was obliged to relinquish his title to the lawn sleeves of that church of which George III is the head!
A law was passed in that British province also prohibiting American clergymen from holding livings or parishes in Canada. This no doubt was mere benevolence, as no man could be adequate to the duty in Canada who was not ordained in England. This is sound orthodox English doctrine!
By the same role of analogy no doubt it was deemed incumbent to send a number of English clergymen to preach the gospel among us poor deluded Americans. We find that this has been done with exactly the same view in the United States as in Canada, for the greatest body of Roman Catholics in any state being in that of Maryland, we find three -fourths of the protestant episcopal clergymen in that state are Englishmen.
The liberality of our habits before the contamination of the late infamous alien law, might have tolerated these [?] according to their moral and civil deportment; but we find these gentlemen active secretly and openly in our politics. The good sense of the country, however, is sufficient to [?] the partial effect which such attempts may produce, but the evil lies deeper. There is reason to believe that this MISSIONARY FUND is employed to corrupt needy clergymen of native birth. We need not designate any particular person: but certainly having actual the knowledge wich Mr. Adams has long known and declared, that the British government had a strong party here; and having the authority of Mr. Jenkinson, well known and declared by Mr. Adams, Oliver Wolcott, &c. That a party was formed in America devoted to Britain; knowing, that although in the ordinary course of nature the pensions to American loyalists would decrease, but finding that they encrease annually, it would be utter stupidity to shut our eyes against the evidence that coincided with all these monstrous facts.
If we see a clergyman of the English Episcopal Church a loud declaimer in favor of monarchy.
If we see such a clergyman particularly loud, ardent, and enthusiastic in favor of the British monarchy.
If we see such a clergyman uniformly hostile to republican government, and inveterate even to malice and slander against republican characters.
If we see such a clergyman the constant inmate, supporter, advocate, and friend of an avowed British subject and enemy of our form of government.
If we see such a clergyman closetted where Liston, the British minister is closetted.
And, it we hear him declare at a public table that America must have a monarch.
Is it uncharitable to suppose this man is leagued with the enemies of our government' is it unfair to suspect him of corruption?
If the man has caused the Church to be deserted by his violence against more then one public character, who has differed from him on religious opinions.
If he has reduced himself to need by this zeal, and ssuddenlyarousing himself, renews the evil course and prostitution of his function, which had reduced him to penury--are we to attribute this renewed zeal to the meek and lowly charity of the Gospel or to temptations of the known corrupter?
These propositions and questions we shall leave to the consideration of those who think upon events that pass in review before us; we shall turn our attention to another part of the subject.
Toleration in religion, complete and perfect, was not known, except among the Hindus, in any part of the earth before our revolution. In Pennsylvania, a few years before our revolution, the greatest degree of toleration existed; but even here, in this city of bbrotherhood the writer of this article, knows that there was a sspecies ofpersecution attached to the profession of the Roman Catholic creed; Papist was a term of reproach as constant as Democrat or jacobin in the mouth of a good federalist two years ago! Our happy revolution placed all religions and all men upon an equality. In the state of Virginia before the war, a Quaker on going into that state a third time was liable to the punishment of death! A Roman Catholic clergyman dared not to go even once within its boundary to exercise an office of charity! Our revolution has obliterated these impious institutions, the New-England states alone supprt intolerance. In Virginia, Mr. Jefferson has been the author and mover of those laws which put down the national church there and abolished tythes. This is a sin for which those who deal in tythes will never forgive him; this is Mr. Jefferson's crime in their eyes, although on his own estate he has provided for, maintain and frequently attends divine service, with a clergyman whose substance was before this law derived from tythes. The Roman Catholics are now building a Church in Norfolk, Virginia, and the same sect are now building a fourth church in this city equal to any in the union.
From this happy state of toleration the furious for the British government would bring us back to our former condition, to divide and trample on us. Under the influence which Liston held, and the strong party devoted to him, we indeed endangered, & if as it is said, Mr, Adams declared, Hamilton had raised his 12,000 men, with the aid of the 75,000 party men, which were blindly voted by Congress in the moment of infatuation; there is little doubt but we might have not only a monarch but an established church, and the sects of religion divided against each other as in Ireland and India, to destroy themselves in order that they might be strongly governed.
The delusion is past.
Source of Information:
General Aurora Advertiser, September 9, 1800. Jan. 1, 1800 -Dec. 31, 1800 MFILM N.S. 12516 HF582.A9
This then brings us to the Danbury Baptist Association and Thomas Jefferson
Argument Two: Jefferson's "separation of church and state" letter was hastily written and does not accurately represent Jefferson's view of church and state.
A discussion of this argument can be found in: "Jefferson's letter hastily written?"
Argument Three: Thomas Jefferson actually said that the wall of separation between church and state was "one directional."
A discussion of this argument can be found in: Wall of separation "one-directional"?
Yet another frequent argument: Jefferson's Danbury letter was written merely to assure Connecticut Baptists that the Constitution did not permit the establishment of a national denomination.
A discussion of this argument can be found in:Context of Danbury Letter
The next aargument Jefferson's Danbury letter was written to address the Danbury Baptists' fears that the First Amendment might be misinterpreted.
A discussion of this argument can be found in: The context of the Danbury letter (2).
Daniel L. Dreisbach discloses some Background on the probable origins of Jefferson's "Wall of Separation" phrase:
James Burgh (1714-1775)
A radical Whig Commonwealth man who was "one of Britain's foremost spokesman for political reform" whose writings influenced political thought in revolutionary America.(80)
Burgh brought to his writings a dissenter's zeal for religious toleration and a distrust of established churches. Indeed, his antipathy toward ecclesiastical establishments was a logical extension of his staunch defense of religious toleration.(89) Burgh thought religion was a matter between God and one's conscience; and he contended that two citizens with different religious views are "both equally fit for being employed, in the service of our country." (90) He alerted his audience to the potential crippling influences of established churches. Danger existed, he warned, in "a church's getting too much power into her hands, and turning religion into a mere state-engine."(91) Therefore, in his work Crito (1766, 1767), Burgh proposed building "an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil."(92) He dismissed the conventional argument that the public administration of the church was necessary to preserve its salutary influence in society.
"I will fairly tell you what will be the consequences of your setting up such a mixed-mungrel-spiritual-temporal-secular-ecclesiastical establishment. You will make the dispensers of religion despicable and odious to all men of sense, and will destroy the spirituality, in which consists the: whole value, of religion. . . .
Shew yourselves superior to all these follies and knaveries. Put into the hands of the people the clerical emoluments; and let them give them to whom they will; choosing their public teachers, and maintaining them decently, but moderately, as becomes their spiritual character. We have in our times a proof from the conduct of some among us, in respect of the appointment of their public administrators of religion, that such a scheme will answer all the necessary purposes, and prevent infinite corruption;--ecclesiastical corruption; the most odious of all corruption.
Build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil. Do not send a graceless officer, reeking from the anus of his trull, to the performance of a holy rite of religion, as a test for his holding the command of a regiment. To profane, in such a manner, a religion, which you pretend to reverence, is an impiety sufficient to bring down upon your heads, the roof of the sacred building you thus defile."(93) Burgh concluded that entanglements between religion and the civil state lead to the very corruption that establishmentarians argued was countered by an ecclesiastical establishment.
Jefferson admired and recommended Burgh's writings. In 1790 he advised Thomas Mann Randolph, his future son-in-law, that a young man preparing for a legal career should read, among other works, Smith's Wealth of Nations, Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws (with reservations), Locke's "little book on Government," the Federalist, Burgh's Political Disquisitions, and Hume's Political Essays.(94) In 1803, while President, he even "urged" one of Burgh's books on Congress."(95) Given his enthusiasm for Burgh's work, it is plausible that Jefferson's construction of the First Amendment was influenced by Burgh's recommendation for "an impenetrable wall of separation." Jefferson was not the only AAmericanin the founding era who admired Burgh's writings. John Adams wrote that he had "contributed somewhat to make [Political] Disquisitions more known and attended to in several parts of America," and reported that the work was "held in as high estimation by all my friends as they are by me." (96) The Philadelphia publishers of Political Disquisitions (who "published [the treatise in America] on a subscription basis within sixteen months of the English" edition (97) listed over one hundred prominent American "encouragers" or subscribers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Chase, John Dickinson, John Hancock, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, and James Wilson." Oscar and Mary Handlin, the first Twentieth-century authors to "rediscover" Burgh, opined that the Scotsman "was as close to American thought as any European of his time."(99)
For various reasons, Burgh's considerable influence on the founding generation has been relegated to a historical footnote.(100) If, in fact, Jefferson appropriated Burgh's figure of speech in the Danbury letter, the Scotsman's most enduring impact on American political thought may well be the "wall" metaphor." Interestingly, Burgh dedicated the second volume of Crito "To The Good People of BRITAIN of THE TWENTIETH CENTURY," Because he expected the "Twentieth-Century, gentlemen and ladies to be of a more composed way of thinking than my contemporaries."(102) It was only in the last of the twentieth century, since Everson v. Board of Education (1847), that the "wall" metaphor emerged as a popular symbol of church-state relations in the United States. Burgh was perhaps correct to believe that only a "twentieth-century" audience would appreciate his ideas. In the Danbury letter, Jefferson, like Burgh, seems to have looked forward to a day when there would be wide acceptance of his understanding of the rights of conscience.(103)
(80). Carla H. Hay, James Burgh, Spokesman for Reform in Hanoverian, England (Washington, D.O.: University Press of America, 1879), 30, 41-44. Hay argued that Burgh's "tome (Political Disquisitions) quickly secured the status in England and in America of a monumental reference work with the authority of a political classic. An impressive number of America's founding fathers and virtually all the key figures in the English reform movement were indebted to the work." Ibid. 105
(89). Hay, James Burgh, 51. The Real Whigs were early and zealous advocates of religious liberty. Mayer, "The English Radical Whig Origins." 163. For a useful discussion of religious dissenters in England during this era, see Anthony Lincoln, Some Political and Social Ideas of English Dissent, 1763-1800 (Cambridge, England. Cambridge University Press,
(90). [James Burgh], Crito, or Essays on Various Subjects, 2 vols. (London, 1766. 1767), II: 68, as quoted in Kramnick, Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism, , 232.
(91). Crito, I: 7.
(9). Crito, I1: 119
(93). Crito, 11: 117-19.
(94). Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, 30 May 1790, in Life and Selected Writings of Jefferson, 496-97. Nearly a quarter of a century later, Jefferson gave the same advice to Bernard Moore, see letter from Thomas Jefferson to Bernard Moore. 30 August 1814, in Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1. 55.
(95). H. Trevor Colbourn, "Thomas Jefferson's Use of the Past," William and Mary Quarterly July 15 (3rd series, 1958): 65 n. 47; Hay, James Burgh, 43.
(96). Letter from John Adams to James Burgh, 28 December 1774, in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, ed. Charles Francis Adams (Boston, Mass.,Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), IX: 351. See also [Adams], "Novanglus," in
Works of Adams, IV: 21 n. '
(97). Hay, James Burgh, 42. See generally H. Trevor Colbourn. The lamp of Experience. Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press; Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1065).
(98). James Burgh, political Disquisitions: or, An Enquiry into public Errors, Defects, and Abuses 3 vols. (Philadelphia Pa., 1775), 111: "Names of the Encouragers."
(99). Oscar and Mary Handlin, "James Burgh," 57.
(100). Oscar and Mary Handlin suggested that Burgh's influence faded because he was "an unsystematic thinker, was more of a transmitter and popularizer of ideas than a truly original theorist, and was clearly not of the same intellectual stature of Hume, Locke, or Montesquieu. Oscar and Mary Handlin. "James Burgh," 38-39, 55-57.
(101). Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore identified Burgh as "the original source of the metaphor, which Jefferson would use, that captures in a phrase this entire liberal secular view of the relationship between politics and religion--the wall of separation" Kramnick and Moore, The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 82. See also Kramnick, Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism, 232 (Burgh "could well he the source of Jefferson's" metaphor).
(102). Crito. II: dedication, 1, 3. See also Hay, James Burgh, 34; Kramnick, Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism, 228.
(103). See Joseph F. Costanzo, "Thomas Jefferson, Religious Education and Public Law," Journal of Public Law 8 ( 1959): 98 ("Years before all the states cancelled their church establishments and decades before the Supreme Court would make the First Amendment meaning Of religious liberty operative upon the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, Jefferson is looking forward to the day when state governments would follow the example of the federal Constitution and guarantee by law equality of religious freedom.").
Source of Information:
"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, pp 486-490 [Published four times a year by the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies of Baylor University.]
Letter written by the Danbury Baptist Association to President Thomas Jefferson
October 7, 1801
Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your Election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyd in our collective capacity, since your Inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief Majestracy in the United States: And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompious than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, Sir to believe, that none are more sincere.
Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty--That Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals--That no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious Opinions--That the legitimate Power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who worlts ill to his neighbors: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our antient charter together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, and such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those, who seek after power & gain under the pretense of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men--should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dare not assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.
Sir, we are sensible that the President of the [U]nited States, is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the Laws of each State; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved President, which have had such genial affect already, like the radiant beams of the Sun, will shine and prevail through all these States and all the world till Hierarchy and Tyranny be destroyed from the Earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that America's God has raised you up to fill the chair of State out of that good will which he bears to the Millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence & the voice of the people have cald you to sustain and support you in your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth & importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.
And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.
Signed in behalf of the Association.
Ephram Robbins The Committee
Stephen S. Nelson
Letter from Nehh Dodge, Ephram Robbins & Stephen S. Nelson, Committee Members of the Danbury Association, to Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States (Oct.7, 1801) A note Jefferson had written on the side of second page reads: "Address Baptist Association of Danbury Conn. recd Dec. 30, 1801." The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress), Series 1, Box 87, August 30, 1801 - October 15, 1802; Presidential Papers Microfilm, Thomas Jefferson Papers (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress) Series 1, Reel 24, June 26, 1801 - November 14, 1802*
Source of Information:
"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, pp 460-461
Jefferson's Original Draft of His Reply to the Danbury Baptist:
To Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem & approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and, in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties. The discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to, none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers off government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American People which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; thus building a wall of eternal *(232) separation between church and state. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even occasional performances of devotion, prescribed indeed legally were an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect. ](14) adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience. I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem..
(14) In the manuscript of this letter, a line is drawn around the sentence bracketed in the transcription above and the following comment in the same hand is written in the left margin: "This paragraph was omitted on the suggestion that it might give uneasiness to some of our republican friends in the eastern states where the proclamation of thanksgivings etc (?) By their excutive is an antient habit & is respected.
*(232) See footnote at the very end of this section.
Source of Information:
"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, pp 462
Jefferson wrote his original draft and sent copies of that response to two members of his cabinet, Postmaster General Gideon Granger and Attorney General Levi Lincoln.
He was seeking advice, both legal and personal by writing the two men. Aside from the Attorney General being able to offer legal advice he was also a Massachusetts Republican. Gideon Granger was a Connecticut Republican.
While no copy of the letter sent to Gideon Granger has ever been found thus far, it is safe to assume that it probably matched the letter sent to Lincoln.
Each package would have included a copy of the response Jefferson had written to the Danbury Baptist Association, along with a note stating what he wanted from them.
The note to Levi Lincoln follows:
To Levi Lincoln Jan 1, 1802
Averse to recieve [sic] addresses, yet unable to prevent them, I have generally endeavored to turn them to some account, by making them the occasion, by way of answer, of sowing useful Truths & principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets. the Baptist address now inclosed admits of a condemnation of the alliance between church and state, under the authority of the Constitution. it furnishes an occasion too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did. the address to be sure does not point at this, and it's introduction is awkward. but I foresee no opportunity of doing it more pertinently, I know it will give great offence to the New England clergy: but the advocate for religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them. will you be so good as to examine the answer and suggest any alterations which might prevent an ill effect, or promote a good one, among the People? you understand the temper of those in the North, and can weaken it therefore to their stomach[e?]s: it is at present seasoned to the Southern taste only. I would ask the favor of you to return it with the address in the course of the day or eventing. health Affection
Source of Information:
Letter to Levi Lincoln from Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 1, 1802. The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition. Collected and Edited by Paul Leicester Ford, Volume X, G. P. Putnam's Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, (1905) pp 346-47
It is unknown which man responded back to Jefferson first. The following is the reply written by Gideon Granger to Jefferson on this matter:
G. Granger presents his compliments to The Presidt. and assures him he has carefully & attentively perused the inclosed Address & Answer -- The answer will undoubtedly give great Offence to the established Clergy of New England while it will delight the Dissenters as they are called. It is but a declaration of Truths which are in fact [held / felt ?] by a great Majority of New England, & publicly acknowledged by near half of the People of Connecticut. It may however occasion [?] a temporary Spasm among the Established Religionists yet his mind approves of it, because it will germinate among the People, and in time fix their political Tenets, He cannot therefore wish a Sentence changed, or a Sentiment expressed equivocally -- A more fortunate time can never be expected.
*Letter from Gideon Granger discovered by Daniel L Dreisbach.
Letter from Gideon Granger to Thomas Jefferson, December 1801, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress), Series 1, Box 89, December 2, 1801-January 1, 1802, Presidential papers Microfilm, Thomas Jefferson papers (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress), Series 1, Reel 25, November 15, 1801-March 31, 1802*
Source of Information:
"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, pp 467.
Levi Lincoln responded back as follows:
The president of the U. States
Sir, I have carefully considered the subject you did me the honor of submiting to my attention. The people of the five N England Governments (unless Rhode Island is an exception) have always been in the habit of observing fasts and thanksgivings in performance; of proclamations from their respective Executives, this custom is venerable being handed down from our ancestors. The Republicans of those States generally have a respect for it. They regreted [?] very much the late conduct of the legislature of Rhode Island on this subject. I think the religious sentiment expressed in your proposed answer of importance to be communicated, but that it would be best to have it so guarded, as to be incapable of having it construed into an implied censure of the usages of any of the States. Perhaps the following alteration after the words "but subject here" would be sufficient, vis [?], only to the voluntary regulations & discipline of each, respective sect, as mere religious exercises, and to the particular situations, usages & recommendations of the several States, in point of time & local circumstances. with the highest esteem & ·. respect.
yours, Levi Lincoln
*Letter from Levi Lincoln to Thomas Jefferson, 1 January 1802, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress), Series 1, Box 89, December 2, 1801 - January 1, 1802; Presidential Papers Microfilm, Thomas Jefferson Papers (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress) Series 1, Reel 25, November 15, 1801 - March 31, 1802*
Source of Information:
"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, pp 466-467
Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists as published by Andrew Lipscomb and Albert Bergh in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol., 16, pp. 281-282.
January 1, 1802
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for is faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.
The original letter meant to be sent to the Danbury Baptist Association that Jefferson had submitted to Granger and Lincoln contained the following words which he did not include in the letter he finally sent to the Danbury Baptist Association.
Based on Lincoln's advice, Jefferson excised, "Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion and the executive authorized only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even occasional performances of devotion, presented indeed legally where an executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises, only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect." Explaining his decision for the deletion, Jefferson wrote in the margin of the original draft, "This paragraph was omitted on the suggestion that it might give uneasiness to some of our republican friends in the Eastern states where the proclamation of Thanksgiving, etc., by their executive is ancient habit and is respected."
Source of information:
"Mr. Rehnquist's Misplaced Metaphor," by Robert Alley, article appearing in Liberty, A Magazine of Religious Freedom, Vol. 92, No. 1, Jan. Feb. 1997 pages 19-20
One final bit of information:
* (231) Letter from the Danbury Association, supra note 210. We are reminded that James Madison anticipated just the problem the Danbury Baptists experienced, knowing, as he did, that it was at the state level that violations of rights were most likely to occur. Thus did he attempt, unsuccessfully, to pass a bill applying the Religion Clauses to state laws. Id.; see supra notes 198-200 and accompanying text.
*(232) When Thomas Jefferson responded to the Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, they were being severely persecuted because they were not a part of the Congregationalist establishment in that state. Jefferson sought to use his reply to enunciate his own principles on the subject of religious freedom and non-establishment. On December 30, 1801, he wrote his first draft of a letter that was to be sent two days later. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, supra note 207, at 510. In the original, Jefferson included a single word which he deleted with pen strokes prior to writing the final draft. As first devised by Jefferson, the wording was "thus building a wall of eternal separation between church and State." Id. Careful reading of the original manuscript in the Library of Congress leaves no doubt as to that word. Whatever prompted the President to strike that word, it is clear that as he first phrased his assessment of the First Amendment, the word "eternal" came to mind. This strongly suggests that separation of church and state was never simply a political solution for Jefferson, but a fundamental principle to which he was dedicated. While it certainly can be argued that Jefferson struck the word because he decided he did not mean it, a more plausible explanation is that he saw the word as an intrusive adjective that deflected from the effect of the crisp phrase "wall of separation." All we can say with certainty is that when he first devised the phrase, the word "eternal" flowed naturally in the context for him. To my knowledge no one has previously deciphered the word "eternal." Jefferson did, in fact, use the word in one of his most remembered phrases swearing "eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush (Sept. 23, 1800), in A JEFFERSON PROFILE, supra note 55, at 120.
Source of Information:
"Public Education and the Public Good", Robert Alley. William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Summer 1995. Footnotes bottom of page 314
January, 25, 28, 1802
In late January 1802, both the (Boston) Independent Chronicle and the Salem Register published the full text of both the Baptists address and Jefferson's response.(104) The Independent Chronicle also reprinted this commentary from the Salem Register:
The Danbury Baptist Association has addressed the President of the United States, and have confirmed from his lips, their favorite truth -- that "religion is a matter which lies solely between a man and his God." This Christian sect, by attaching itself strongly to the present administration, has gained great success in every part of the Union. The accessions to it are unprecedented in any denomination which has spread itself in America." (105)
(104). (Boston) Independent Chronicle. 25 January 1802, 2-3; Salem Register 28 January 1802, 1.
(105). (Boston) Independent Chronicle, 28 January 1802, 2, reprinted from Salem Register, 25 January 1802, 3.
Source of Information:
"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, pp 491
First Official Recognition of "Wall of Separation"
The word "religion" is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is, what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed?
Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the Colonies and States to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining I heretical opinions. The controversy upon this general subject was animated in many of the States, but seemed at last to culminate in Virginia. In 1784, the House of Delegates of that State having under consideration "A bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion," postponed it until the next session, and directed that the bill should be published and distributed, and that the People be requested "to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill at the next session of the Assembly."
This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a "Memorial and Remonstrance," which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated that religion, "or the duty we owe the Creator", was not within the cognizance of civil government. At the next session the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, "for establishing religious freedom," drafted by Mr. Jefferson was passed. In the preamble of this Act, religious freedom is defined; and after a recital "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," it is declared "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." In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the Church and what to the State.
In a little more than a year after the passage of this statute the convention met which prepared the Constitution of the United States. Of this convention Mr. Jefferson was not a member, he being then absent as minister to France. As soon as he saw the draft of the Constitution proposed for adoption, he, in a letter to a friend, expressed his disappointment at the absence of an express declaration insuring the freedom of religion, but was willing to accept it as it was, trusting that the good sense and honest intentions of the people would bring about the necessary alterations. Five of the States, while adopting the Constitution, proposed amendments. Three, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia, included in one form or another a declaration of religious freedom in the changes they desired to have made, as did also North Carolina, where the convention at first declined to ratify the Constitution until the proposed amendments were acted upon. Accordingly, at the first session of the first Congress the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religions freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, took occasion to say: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the Government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the Supreme will of the Nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see, with sincere satisfaction, the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties." Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.
Reynolds V. United States, 98 U.s. 145 in Error to the Supreme Court of The Territory of Utah. Motion Submitted February 13, 1878; Decided February 18, 1878; Argued November 14, 15, 1878; Redecided January 4, 1879
Additional References And Comments
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part I
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part II
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part III
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part IV
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part V
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part VI
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part VII
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part VIII
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part IX
The Constitution and Separation of Church and State Part X