American state

part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose

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preference for
the christian part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose
religion a dan- *■ ° ° x
gerous usurpa- ± jt this remonstrance ; earnestly praying, as we

are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of

the universe, by illuminating those to whom it is

addressed, may, on the one hand, turn their councils

from every act which would affront his holy preroga-

tive, or violate the trust committed to them ; and,

on the other, guide them into every measure which

may be worthy of his blessing, redound to their own

praise, and establish more firmly the liberties, the

prosperity, and the happiness of the commonwealth. 1


to the Supreme


Prayer was

answered and

bill defeated.

Two invalu-

able docu-


The incep-

tion of the


Very exten-

sively signed

by Christians.


bill a perma-

nent barrier

against relig-

ious legisla-


Letter to

General La


1 The prayer of these magnanimous and exemplary Christians was

answered ; for the bill "establishing a provision for the teachers of the

Christian religion" was defeated, and Jefferson's " Act for establishing

religious freedom," ante page 132, was passed by the Assembly in its

stead. There are two documents that are invaluable in arriving at a

proper conclusion in reference to the views held by our early statesmen

— the famous "Act for establishing religious freedom," written by

Thomas Jefferson, and the celebrated " Memorial and Remonstrance,"

written by James Madison, and circulated and signed in the remotest

parts of the State.
In reference to the inception of this memorial, he said, forty years

afterwards, in a letter to George Mason : " Your highly distinguished

ancestor, Col. Geo. Mason, Col. Geo. Nicholas also possessing much

public weight, and some others, thought it would be advisable that a

remonstrance against the bill should be prepared for general circulation

and signature, and imposed on me the task of drawing up such a paper.

This draught, having received their sanction, a large number of printed

copies were distributed, and so extensively signed by the people of every

religious denomination, that at the ensuing session the projected measure

was entirely frustrated ; and under the influence of the public sentiment

thus manifested, the celebrated bill 'establishing religious freedom'

enacted a permanent barrier against future attempts on the rights of

conscience, as declared in the great charter prefixed to the Constitu-

tion of the State." " Writings of James Madison," volume iii, page 526.

In a letter to General La Fayette, dated at Montpelier, November,

1826, Madison gave the following account of the controversy :

"In the year 1775, a bill was introduced under the auspices of Mr.

Henry, imposing a general tax for the support of ' teachers of the

Christian religion.' It made a progress, threatening a majority in its

favor. As an expedient to defeat it, we proposed that it should be post-



poned to another session, and printed in the meantime for public con-

sideration. Such an appeal in a case so important and so unforseen

could not be resisted. With a view to arouse the people, it was thought

proper that a memorial should be drawn up, the task being assigned to

me, to be printed and circulated through the State for a general signa-

ture. The experiment succeeded. The memorial was so extensively

signed by the various religious sects, including a considerable portion of

the old hierarchy, that the projected innovation was crushed ; and, un-

der the influence of the popular sentiment thus called forth, the well-

known bill prepared by Mr. Jefferson, for ' establishing religious free-

dom,' passed into a law, as it now stands in our code of statutes."

"Writings of James Madison," volume iii, page 543.

On the importance of consulting the writings of our early statesmen to

obtain correct views of the principles advocated by them, Madison says :

" It has been the misfortune of history, that a personal knowledge

and an impartial judgment of things rarely meet in the historian. The

best history of our country, therefore, must be the fruit of contributors

bequeathed by cotemporary actors and witnesses to successors who will

make an unbiased use of them. And if the abundance and authentic

ity of the materials which still exist in the private as well as public re-

positories among us should descend to hands capable of doing justice to

them, the American history may be expected to contain more truth, and

lessons certainly not less valuable, than those of any country or age."

"Writings of James Madison," volume iii, pages 308, 309.

Both Jefferson and Madison were opposed to the state's having any-

thing whatever to do with regulating religious observances of any kind ;

and the liberal spirit supported them. But as this spirit is supplanted by

self-interests, the intolerance of state-churchism again manifests itself in

reviving the old religious laws, and prosecuting Sabbatarians for Sunday

labor, etc. Jefferson, foreseeing this, desired to have all religious laws

swept from the statute books, not willing to have them remain as a dead

letter, which might at any time be revived by the partisan zealot. In

his "Notes on Virginia," query xvii, Jefferson says :
" Besides, the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers

will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may com-

mence persecution, and better men be his victims. It can never be too

often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal

basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the con-

clusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be

necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will

be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget

themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never

think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles,

therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war,

will remain on 71s long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights

shall revive or expire in a convulsion. ."



signed by


Adoption of




of American


The state

should have

nothing what-

ever to do with


Danger from

the zealot.

Danger from

intolerent laws



Dec. 1 6,




pride in the

Virginia bill

for establish-

ing religious

Letter to

Madison from

Reception of

the act in Eu-

Its transla-

tion and publi-


God has ere- Well aware that Almighty God hath created the

ated the mind 111 • n ■ 1
free. mind free ; that all attempts to influence it by tem-
poral punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacita-

1 " Works of Thomas Jefferson," volume viii, page 454 et seq. ; " Col-

lection of the Laws of Virginia," by W. W. Hening, volume xii, page

84. Jefferson took more pride in this " Act for establishing religious

freedom" than in anything else he ever wrote, except that immortal

document, the Declaration of Independence. The following is a por-

tion of an interesting letter written to his warm friend, James Madison :
"Paris, December 16, 1786.
"... The Virginia act for religious freedom has been received with

infinite approbation in Europe, and promulgated with enthusiasm. I do

not mean by the governments, but by the individuals who compose

them. It has been translated into French and Italian, has been sent to

most of the courts of Europe, and has been the best evidence of the

falsehood of those reports which stated us to be in anarchy. It is

inserted in the new Encyclopedia, and is appearing in most of the publi-

cations respecting America. . . ." " Works of Thomas Jefferson,"

volume ii, pages 55, 56.
Jefferson endeavored to effect this disestablishment a decade before.

Speaking of the General Assembly of 1776, Parton says :

" Petitions for the repeal of statutes oppressive of the conscience of

dissenters came pouring in upon the Assembly from the first day of the

session. These being referred to the Committee of the Whole, led to

the severest and longest struggle of the session. ' Desperate contests,'

as Jefferson records, ' continued almost daily from the eleventh of Octo-

ber to the fifth of December.' lie desired to sweep away the whole

system of restraint and monopoly, and establish perfect liberty of con-

science and opinion, by a simple enactment of half a dozen lines :

" 'No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious

worship, ministry, or place whatsoever ; nor shall be enforced, re-

strained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods ; nor shall other-

wise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief : but all men

shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in

matters of religion ; and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge,

or affect their civil capacities.'
"It required more than nine years of effort on the part of Jefferson,

Madison, and their liberal friends, to bring Virginia to accept this solu-

tion of the religious problem, in its simplicity and completeness." Par-

ton's " Life of Jefferson," page 210.

Efforts made

a decade be-


Jefferson de-

sired to estab-

lish absolute

liberty at once.

No compul-

sion in matters

of religion.
None to suf-

fer on account

of religious be-

All to have

equal privi-


Nine years

required to ef-

fect the pas-

sage of the




tions, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and

meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the

holy Author of our religion, 1 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 as-

sumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up
1 Illustrative of the spirit of liberty during the Revolutionary pe-

riod and definitive of the meaning of the term " religion " in our early

documents, we insert the following comments of Jefferson on the adop-

tion of this part of the preamble, as found in his " Autobiography : ''

"The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which

had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the

latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition ; but, with

some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed ; and a singular

proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be univer-

sal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the

plan of the holy Author of our religion, an amendment was proposed,

by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, " a de-

parture from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy Author of our religion ; "

the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant

to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the few and the

Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every

denomination" See " Works of Thomas Jefferson," volume i, page 45.
Jefferson continued his efforts to rid the statute books of all religious

laws, and the work that he had not the time to do was carried on by

his young friend and co-worker the gallant young colonel, Richard M.

Johnson of Kentucky, who subsequently proved himself to be one of

the ablest champions of the anti-Sunday law cause. When the reform-

ers who were trying to free the slaves were being cast into prison by

means of these laws, Colonel Johnson was weakening the power of the

Sunday statutes by his public work. There have been few other men

who have done so much to call the attention of the public to the real

character of Sunday laws as did Senator, Representative, and Vice-presi-

dent Johnson. His words and his work have not only had an influence

on the course of legislation in this country but they have been adopted

into the common-law decisions of the judges. Like Washington's

maxim, "The government of the United States is not, in any sense,

founded on the Christian religion," Johnson's declaration in reference

to Sunday laws that " our constitution recognizes no other power than

that of persuasion for enforcing religious observances," will stand as

long as the common law itself stands.


burdens tend

to beget hy-


Religion not

to be propa-

gated by coer-


Some legis-

lators assume

dominion over

the faith of


Liberality of

the bill.

Its protec-

tion meant to

be universal.


meant to com-

prehend all —

believers or

unbelievers of

the Bible.





delvor 6 to'im- their own opinions and modes of thinking as the

SpfnionTon only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to

impose them on others, hath established and main-

tained false religions over the greatest part of the

in wishing" world, and through all time ; that to compel a man
money for the r . . ... r r «
propagation of to furnish contributions of money ior the propaga-
opinions, ty- . . . . , . , , . . . , .
rannicai. tions of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and
Even forcing tyrannical • that even the forcing him to support this
one to support J ' o i j.
teachers of his or tnat teacher of his own religious persuasion, is
own belief, de- "*»"•- o i
rightfuiub. of depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving

ertv his contributions to the particular pastor whose mor-

als he would make his pattern, and whose powers he

feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is with-

drawing from the ministry those temporal rewards,

which proceeding from an approbation of their per-

sonal conduct, are an additional incitement to

earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of

Civiirights mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence
have no de- ° *•
pendenceon on our re lia-ious opinions, more than our opinions in
religious opin- £> X ' i
physics or geometry ; that, therefore, the proscribing
any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by
Any civil in- laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the
capaotation » ° l A » "
on account of ffi ces f trust and emolument, unless he profess or
religion is a ' *â– 
natTrIfright.° f 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
itaisocor- natural ri^ht ; that it tends also to corrupt the prin-
rupts the rehg- °
ion it is meant c i p l es f that very religion it is meant to encourage,
to encourage. •T J o o
by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors 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 ;

Theintm- that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his pow-

sion of civil t m . .
power into the ers into the field of opinion and to restrain the pro-

field of opin-

ion destroys fession or propagation of principles, on the supposi-
religious lib- r r fc> f f r sr
ert y- tion 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 Time
. r enough to in-
enouch for the rightful purposes of civil government, terferewhen
fa t> r r fc> principles
for its officers to interfere when principles break out break out into
1 A overt actions.
into overt actions against peace and good order ;
and, finally, that truth is great, and will prevail if left Truth win
presail against
to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antag- error if left to
11 ° herself.
onist to error, and has nothing to fear from the con-

flict, 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 sup-

port any religious worship, place, or ministry whatso-

ever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or No man

. shall be mo-
burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise lestcd or bur-

dened in body

suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; or goods on
° A account of re-
but that all men shall be free to profess, and by Hgious bdiet

argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of . A A , , me . n

o ' L shall lie free to
religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, maintain tbeir
o ' ' opinions in
enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. mattersofre-
o ' 1 ligion.
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 the 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 th 'e^tura ! i ght3

hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, "? h d ts of man "

and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal Any act to
J * L the contrary
the present or to narrow its operation, such act will ^^"pse-
i i ' mer.t of nat-
be an infringement of natural ricrht. ural nght-



July 13, 1787.

No orderly

person shall

ever be mo-

lested on ac-

count of his



Adopted in the Continental Congress, July 13, 17S7.
No person demeaning himself in a peaceable and

orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of

his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the

said territory.



morality, and

knowledge be-

ing a necessity,


shall foreverbe


Religion, morality, and knowledge being neces-

sary to good government and the happiness of man-

kind, schools and the means of education shall forever

be encouraged. 2

Adoption of


Articles to

forever remain




1 " While the Constitutional Convention was in session at Philadelphia,

the Continental Congress, sitting under the Articles of Confederation,

passed an ordinance July 13, 1787, 'for the government of the territory

of the United States northwest of the river Ohio.' This territory was

ceded by Virginia to the United States, and embraced the present States

of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The same ordi-

nance was afterwards extended to Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

This ordinance provides for full religious liberty on the one hand, and

for the cultivation of religion, morality, and education, as essential

conditions of national prosperity." Schaff's " Church and State in the

United States" (Ed. 1888), page 119. The articles above were among

those which were to " forever remain unalterable." See " Charters

and Constitutions of the United States," volume ii, page 431.

2 It is maintained that the word " religion " in this article has refer-

ence specifically to the "Christian religion," and that provision is here

made for the teaching of " Christian principles" in the public schools.

No such idea, however, is contained in the article. The word "religion "

as used in our early state documents, was a generic term, and had refer-

ence to all systems of belief in a superior power. A similar question

arose about a year previous to the adoption of this ordinance, in the

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