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Representative Thomas Tucker on Church and State

Research by Jim Allison
Thomas Tucker of South Carolina made a revealing statement about his beliefs concerning church/state separation toward the end of the first session of the first Congress to meet under the Constitution. Mr. Tucker's comments were occasioned by a proposal from Representative Boudinot of New Jersey to ask the President to proclaim a day of thanksgiving in honor of Congress' completion of it's first session. The following is taken from the Annals of Congress, Vol I, 1789, pp. 914-15 (entry for Friday, September 25).

MR. BOUDINOT a Representative from the State of New Jersey said, he could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all citizens of the United States of joining with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them. With that view he proposed that a joint committee of the house and senate draft a request to the president that he issue a proclamation for a day of thanksgiving....

MR. BURKE, a Representative from South Carolina said he did not like this mimicking of European customs, were they make a mere mockery of thanksgivings. Two parties at war frequently sung TE DEUM for the same event though for one it was a victory, and to the other a defeat.

MR. TUCKER, a Representative from the State of South Carolina, thought the House had no business to interfere in a matter which did not concern them. Why should the president direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do? They may not be inclined to return thanks for a constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness. We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced; but whether this be so or not, it is a business with which Congress have nothing to do, it is a religious matter, and, as such is proscribed to us [emphasis ours].

(Note: Representative Tucker's protestation notwithstanding, Congress did convene a committee to ask for the day of thanksgiving, which we presume was proclaimed by President Washington.)

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