I. Motivation for the Final Thrust for the First Amendment-the Convictions of Dissenters, mainly the Baptists; the thrust for the growth of the Baptists Came from the Great Awakening


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.




Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 2, 2018


Although the final expression of religious freedom that would be incorporated into the Constitution came from Virginia, the final motivation came because of the convictions of the dissenters, mainly the Baptists, and the thrust for their growth and influence came from the Great Awakening.

  • “[T]he early Baptists of Virginia, … while they could not boast of great wealth, or culture, or refinement, they possessed some things of more real value, and which the Commonwealth greatly needed. In the first place they had religion—genuine religion; not a sham, nor an empty form, but the old time religion of the heart. Then they had a personal worth or character, that character which always follows from having genuine religion. And then, again, those early Baptists had an unquenchable love of liberty. The truth of the New Testament makes men free indeed, and it inspires them with a love of freedom, not for themselves only, but for all men. And it was because they possessed these traits that they resisted the temptations of the General Incorporation and General Assessment, and stood their ground amid the general desertion. They resolved to continue to fight.”[1]

The conflict in Virginia originally involved the Anglicans and Presbyterians, neither of which originally believed in either religious freedom or separation of church and state. Religious freedom and separation are owed mainly to the Baptists who believed in both. What Jefferson and Madison wrote about and did for religious freedom resulted from their observance of the conflict among Christians and is not to be found in the pages of philosophers of the Enlightenment.[2]

  • “The Presbyterians [in Virginia] won religious liberty for themselves against the opposition of the Episcopalians. Next the Baptists won religious liberty for themselves against the opposition of the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians. By 1775 about three quarters of the people of Virginia were outside the Church of England, but many of the most influential Virginians were inside. When the war started, there were ninety-five Anglican parishes in Virginia. The war killed off at least a quarter of them. Nowhere in the colonies was Tory sentiment stronger than among the Anglican clergy of Virginia, and they found themselves at the gravest of odds with their flocks.”[3]

Endnotes

[1] Charles F. James, Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia (Harrisonburg, VA.: Sprinkle Publications, 2007; First Published Lynchburg, VA.: J. P. Bell Company, 1900), Appendix A, pp. 207-208.

[2] See, e.g., Marnell, pp. 89-90.

[3] Ibid., p. 93.

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