The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Article VI, Section III

The No Religious Test Ban Clause (Separation clause)
Part IV

The historical record continued:
The Connecticut State Ratifying Convention and The Massachusetts State Ratifying Convention

Researched and edited by Jim Allison


JANUARY 9, 1788

CONNECTICUT STATE RATIFYING CONVENTION

OLIVER WOLCOTT I do not see the necessity of such a test as some gentlemen wish for. The Constitution enjoins an oath upon all the officers of the United States. This is a direct appeal to that God who is the Avenger of Perjury. Such an appeal to Him is a full acknowledgment of His being and providence. An acknowledgment of these great truths is all that the gentlemen contend for. For myself, 1 should be contest either with or without that clause in the Constitution which excludes test laws. Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country that 1 do not believe that thee United States would ever he disposed to establish one religious sect and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such testwould be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, 1 cannot think it altogether superfluous to add a clause which secures us from the possibility of such oppression. 1 shall only add that I give my assent to this Constitution and am happy to see the states in a fair way to adopt a system which will protect their rights and promote their welfare. [Connecticut Courant, 14 January]"

Source of Information:

The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. III. Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wis, 1978, pp 557-558.


JANUARY 10, 1788

An Antifederalist writer warned in a Boston newspaper on January 10, 1788, that since God was absent from the Constitution, Americans would suffer the fate that the prophet Samuel foretold to Saul: "because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) pp 34-35.


JANUARY 11, 1788

In the new Constitution, all contracts are left as they were in the old. This appears to me proper, as we cannot, if we were desirous, destroy all the debt of the United States. We have other powers to consult on this subject. Nor would it have been well to have any new engagements on the subject. The want of power to establish religious tests is a grievance in the minds of some. In addition to the very many and conclusive arguments against religious tests, I am fully convinced of the expediency of inserting the exclusive clause, lest in future time by construction such right may be supposed to exist, and, under the influence of the enthusiasm which has impelled men to the greatest absurdities, we may in future hang witches or establish such tests as would disgrace human nature. but what will become of the states who refuse their assent and are in the present confederation? I answer, we have all broken that covenant; and it is now prostrate in the dust and no state can charge another with breaking these covenants as they have by common consent dissolved it. I have to apologize for troubling you; but, can any the least benefit be derived by new arguments or old ones placed in different lights, I have a consciousness you will pardon me.

Source of Information: Letter from Samuel Holden Parsons to William Cushing, Middletown , January 11, 1788. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. III. Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wis, 1978, pp 573.


JANUARY 13, 1788

In the list of the signers of the protest of the minority of the Convention against the Federal Constitution, we find six (and three of them the only speakers against it in the Convention)' whose names are upon record as the friends of paper money, and the advocates for the late unjust test law of Pennsylvania, which for near ten years excluded the Quakers, Mennonists, Moravians, and several other sects scrupulous against war, from a representation in our government.

In the Minutes of the second session of the Ninth General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. we find in the 212th page the following persons among the yeas, who voted for die emission of paper money, which has, by its depreciation, so much injured the trade and manufactures of the state, and which, by impairing its funds, has weakened the strength of our government, and thereby destroyed the hopes and support of the public creditors. The persons are William Findley, John Smilie, Robert Whitehill, Adam Orlh, Nicholas Lutz, Abraham Lincoln.

In the 502d page of the same book, we find a report declaring the Quakers, Moravians, etc. who, from conscientious scruples, decline taking part in the war, to be "enemies to liberty and the rights of mankind--British subjects, aliens and cowards--who had no share in the declaration of independence, in the formation of our constitution, or in establishing them by arms"; which report is agreed to, as appears in the list of the yeas, by the same William. Findley, John Smilie, Robert Whitehill, Adam Orth, Nicholar Lulz, Abraham Lincoln.

These men certainly are not in earnest when they talk and write of liberty and of the sacred rights of conscience. Their conduct contradicts all their speeches and publications; and, if they were truly sensible of their folly and wickedness in opposing the new government instead of trying to excite a civil war (in which they will bear no more part than they did in the late war with Great Britain), they ought rather to acknowledge, with gratitude, the lenity of their fellow citizens in permitting them to live among us with impunity after thus transgressing and violating the gear principles of liberty, government and conscience.

Source of Information:

Article written by "A Citizen of Philadelphia," published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, January 23, 1788. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. II. Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wis, 1976, pp 658.


JANUARY 23, 1788

MASS. STATE RATIFYING CONVENTION

MR. PARSONS, It has been objected that the Constitution provides no religious test oath, and we may have in power unprincipled men, atheists and pagans. No man can wish more ardently than I do that all our public offices may be filled by men who fear God and hate wickeness; but it must remain with the electors to give the government this security. An oath will not do it. Will an unprincipled man be entangled by an oath? Will an atheist or a pagan dread the vengeance of the Christian's God, a being, in his opinion, the creature of fancy and credulity? It is s solecism in expression. No man is so illiberal as to wish the confining places of honor or profit to any one sect or Christians; but what security is it to government, that every public officer shall swear that he is a Christian? For what will then be called Christianity? One man will declare that the Christian religion is only an illumination of natural religion, and that he is a Christian; another Christian will assert that all men must be happy hereafter in spite of themselves; a third Christian reverses the image, and declares that, let a man do all he can, he will certainly be punished in another world; and, a fourth will tell us that, if a man use any force for the common defence, he violates every principle of Christianity. Sir, the only evidence we can have of the sincerity of a Man's religion is a good life; and I trust that such evidence will be required of every candidate by every elector. That man who acts an honest part to his neighbor, will, most probably, conduct honorbly towards the public.

Source of Information:

Debates of the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution--The Debates of the Several State Conventions. By Jonathan Elliot, J B Lippincott Company 1888, page 90.


JANUARY 28, 1788

MASS. STATE RATIFYING CONVENTION

Dr. JARVIS. In the conversation on Thursday, on the sixth article which provides that "no religious testshall ever be required as a qualification to any office," &c., several gentlemen urged that it was a departure from the principles of our forefathers, who came here for the preservation of their religion; and that it would admit deists, atheists, &c., into the general government; and, people being apt to imitate the examples of the court, these principles would be disseminated, and, of course, a corruption of morals ensue. Gentlemen on the other side applauded the liberality of the clause, and represented, in striking colors, the impropriety, and almost impiety, of the requisition of a test, as Practised in Great Britain and elsewhere. In this conversation, the following is the substance of the observations of the ?????

Rev. Mr. SHUTE. Mr. President, to object to the latter part of the paragraph under consideration, which excludes a religious test, is, I am sensible, very popular; for the most of men, somehow, are rigidly tenacious of their own sentiments in religion, and disposed to impose them upon others as the standard of truth. If, in my sentiments upon the point in view, I should differ from some in this honorable body, I only wish from them the exercise of that candor, with which true religion is adapted to inspire the honest and well-disposed mind.

To establish a religious test as a qualification for offices in the proposed federal Constitution, it appears to me, sir, would be attended with injurious consequences to some individuals, and with no advantage to the whole.

By the injurious consequences to individuals, I mean, that some, who, in every other respect, are qualified to fill some important post in government, will be excluded by their not being able to stand the religious test; which I take to be a privation of part of their civil rights.

Nor is there to me, any conceivable advantage, sir, that would result to the whole from such a test. Unprincipled and dishonest men will not hesitate to subscribe to any thing that may open the way for their advancement, and put them into a situation the better to execute their base and iniquitous designs. Honest men alone, therefore, however well qualified to serve the public, would be excluded by it, and their country be deprived of the benefit of their abilities. In this great and extensive empire, there is, and will be, a great variety of' sentiments in religion among its inhabitants. Upon the plan of a religious test, the question, I think, must be, Who shall be excluded from national trusts? Whatever answer bigotry may suggest, the dictates of candor and equity, I conceive, will be, None.

Far from limiting my charity and confidence to men of my own-denomination in religion, I suppose, and I believe, sir, that there are worthy characters among men of every denomination -- among the Quakers, the Baptists, the Church of England, the Papists; and even among those who have no other guide, in the way to virtue and heaven, than the dictates of natural religion.

I must therefore think, sir, that the proposed plan of government, in this particular, is wisely constructed; that, as all have an equal claim to the blessings of the government under which they live, and which they support, so none should be excluded from them for being of any particular denomination in religion.

The presumption Is, that the eyes of the people will be upon the faithful in the land; and, from a regard to their own safety, they will choose for their rulers men of known abilities, of known probity, of good moral characters. The: apostle Peter tells us that God is no respecter of persons, but, in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. And I know of no reason why men of such a character, in a community of whatever denomination in religion, caeteris paribus, with other suitable qualifications, should not be acceptable to the people, and why they may not be employed by them with safety and advantage in tire important offices of government. The exclusion of a religious test in the proposed Constitution, therefore, clearly appears to me, sir, to be in favor of its adoption.

Col. JONES (of Bristol) thought, that the rulers ought to believe in God or Christ, and that, however a test may be prostituted in England, yet he thought, if our public men were to be of those who had a good standing in the church, it would be happy for the United States, and that a person could not be a good man without being a good Christian ????? give his negative to it.

Col. JONES said, that one of his principle objections was, the omission of a religious test.

Rev. Mr. PAYSON. Mr. President, after what has been observed, relating to a religious test, by gentlemen of acknowledged abilities, I did not expect that it would again be mentioned, as all objection to the proposed Constitution, that such a test was not required as a qualification for office. Such were the abilities and integrity of the gentlemen who constructed the Constitution, as not to admit of the presumption, that they would have betrayed so much vanity as to attempt to erect bulwarks and barriers to the throne of God. Relying on the candor of this Convention, I shall take the liberty to express my sentiments on the nature of a religious test, and shall endeavor to do it in such propositions as will meet the approbation of every mind.

The great object of religion being God supreme, and the seat of religion in man being the heart or conscience, i. e., the reason God has given us, employed on our moral actions, in their most important consequences, as related to the tribunal of God, hence I infer that God alone is the God of the conscience, and, consequently, attempts to erect human tribunals for the consciences of men are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God. Upon these principles, had there been a religious test as a qualification for office, it would, in my opinion, have been a great blemish upon the instrument

Source of Information:

Debates of the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution--The Debates of the Several State Conventions. By Jonathan Elliot, J B Lippincott Company 1888, pages 117-120.


JANUARY 28, 1788

Whenever one man makes a charge against another, reason and justice require that he should be able to support the charge. In some late publications, I have offered my sentiments on the new Constitution, have adduced some arguments in favor of it, and answered objections against it. I did not wish to enter into a controversy with any man. But I am unwilling to have accusations publicly thrown out against me without an opportunity to answer them. In the late Convention, when a religious test was the subject of debate, you took the liberty of saying, that the Landholder (in treating the same subject)) had missed the point; that he had raised up a man of straw and kicked it over again. Now, sir, I wish this matter may be fairly cleared up. I wish to know, what is the real point? Who and what the real man is? Or in other words, what a religious test is? I certainly have a right to expect that you will answer these questions and let me know wherein 1 am in the wrong. Perhaps you may show that my ideas on the subject are erroneous. In order to sho this, it would not be amiss to offer a few reasons and arguments. You doubtless had such as were convincing at least to yourself, though you happen to omit them at the time of thee debate. If you will show that I am in the wrong, 1 will candidly acknowledge my mistake. If on the contrary, you should be unable to prove your assertions, the public will judge whether you or I have missed the point and which of us has committed the crime of of making a man of straw.

Not doubting but you will have the candor to come to an explanation on this subject, I am, sir, your humble servant.

Source of Information:

A letter written by The Landholder (Oliver Ellsworth) to William Williams and published in the American Mercury, January 28, 1788. It was also published in the Connecticut Courat on February 4, 1788. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. III. Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wis, 1978, pp 587-588).


Amos Singletary, another delegate to the Massachusetts ratification convention, was upset at the Constitution's not requiring men in power to be religious "and though he hoped to see Christians [in office], yet by the Constitution, a papist, or an infidel was as eligible as they."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) pp 32


JANUARY 31, 1788

A NEW test. Humbly proposed to those who wish for a test in the new Constitution.

I swear, in the name of the all-seeing DEITY, that I will henceforth be a slave to no sect or party of men. That I will espouse no principles either in religion or politics but such as I believe true, and that I will submit myself only to reasonable authority.

I likewise solemnly declare that I consider myself as a citizen of the intellectual world and a subject of its Almighty Lawgiver and Judge. That by Him .I am placed upon an honorable theater of action to sustain, in the sight of mortal and IMMORTAL beings, that character and part which He shall assign me, in order to my being trained up for perfection and immortality-and shall, from this time forth, devote my life to the service of GOD, my country, and mankind.

So help me God!

Source of Information:

"A New Test," article in the New Haven Gazette, January 31, 1788. By March 6, 1788 it had been reprinted three times in Massachusetts, twice in New York and once in Rhode island. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. III. Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wis, 1978, pp 588.


FEBRUARY 4, 1788

MASS. STATE RATIFYING CONVENTION

Major LUSK...passed to the article dispensing with the qualification of a religious test, and concluded by saying, that he shuddered at the idea that Roman Catholics, Papists, and Pagans might be introduced into office, and the popery and the inquisition may be established in America.

Rev. Mr. BACKUS. Mr. President, I have said very little in this honorable Convention; but I now beg leave to offer a few thoughts upon some points in the Constitution proposed to us, and I shall begin with the exclusion of' any religious test. Many appear to be much concerned about it; but nothing is more evident, both in reason and the Holy Scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and, therefore, no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our God Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of' Christianity, as an engine of state policy. And let the history of all nations be searched from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the: greatest engine of tyranny in the world. And I rejoice to see so many gentlemen, who are now giving in their rights of conscience in this great and important matter. Some serious minds discover a concern lest, if all religious tests should be excluded, the Congress would hereafter establish Popery, or some other tyrannical way of worship. But it is most certain that no such way of worship can he established without any religious test.

Source of Information:

Debates of the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the adoption of the Federal Constitution--The Debates of the Several State Conventions. By Jonathan Elliot, J B Lippincott Company 1888, pages 148-149.


Continue to Part V: The Virginians