Tag Archives: James Madison

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation: Does It Support Union of Church and State or Separation of Church and State?

Click here to go to an online copy of the Proclamation
The Proclamation is also pasted in the Endnote

Jerald Finney
Copyright © November 24, 2022

This brief article will address the question: “What does George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation have to say about the relationship of church and state?”

The Proclamation does not:

  1. mention “Church;”
  2. state that church and state should be united in any way; or
  3. explicitly state that church and state should be separate.

I will now go to the Proclamation. My comments are in red.

The Proclamation:

  1. mentions Almighty God;
  2. refers to the “providence of Almighty God.” The Bible makes clear that God is almighty.
  3. states that it is the “duty of all nations to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”

President Washington stated several conclusions here. All are consistent with the Word of God. It is clear from God’s Word that, for the good of man, he wishes all nations to proceed under him, both Jew and Gentile, with distinctions that should be recognized and followed.

The Old Testament deals much with nations and human government. At first, all nations were Gentile. There was no theocracy—God directly over civil government and religion with both working lockstep for the same purposes. Later God covenented with Israel to be  a theocracy, the only theocracy, other than the church, that God ever ordained.

During the time between the fall and the flood, God forbade human government (control of man by man; man taking vengeance for evil doing by men). As a result, since the imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth,” “the earth was corrupt” and “filled with violence.” God’s only remedy was judgment, the judgment of the flood.

God ordained the nations and human government providing for the rule of man by man under God at the flood. He ordained civil government for the temporal earthly purposes of providing a direct control over evil-doers and rewarding those who do good. At first all nations were Gentile.

Later, God called out a nation unto himself, the nation Israel, when he made his covenant with Abraham who was to be the father of Israel.  Israel was to be a theocracy. God has never covenanted with any other nation to be a theocracy with the political and religious combined, working together for the same goals, each doing its part, but both directly under God, according to covenant he he made with Israel through Moses. That covenant dealt with both man’s relationship to God (the first table of the law) and man’s relationship to man (the second table). God later made additional covenants with Israel.

God did not give the law to Gentile nations, as the Old and New Testaments make clear. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:14-15).

None of God’s covenants with Israel apply to Gentile nations. Gentile nations were and are to continue under the covenants  God made with Adam (recorded in Genesis 3:14-19) and Noah (see, Genesis 8:21-9:27).

For much more detail, see The Biblical Doctrine of Government.

America is a Gentile nation. Christian revisionists attempt the impossible: application of the history, covenants, promises, principles, etc. for Israel to America (and other Gentile nations). They want to “Judaize” America and the church. History clearly proves that all unions of church and state have resulted in corruption of the “church,” corruption of the state, and corruption of the people. Of course, God has always had a remnant who stood against the church/state establisment even under penalty of death. Many of our founding fathers understood and proclaimed this.

  1. states, “whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

God’s Word makes clear that all individuals, families, and nations should give such thanks to him for many reasons. However, the God-given purpose of all governments (individual, family, human, and church) is to glorify God, not happiness, no matter the situation, whether safe or unsafe. Christ wishes that his children might have his joy, not happiness, fulfilled in them (see, e.g., John 17:13). King David prayed, after committing his great sins of adultery and murder, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit” (Psalms 51:12). Since God has afforded safety, his children should be thankful and use the occasion for doing his will in all things.

  1. personally recommends and assigns Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”

Notice that President Washington mentions “civil and religious liberty.” One can have both civil and religious liberty only when they have the religious freedom and soul liberty provided by the First Amendment and now by corresponding provisions in all the state constitutions. Massachusetts became the last state to do away with forced establishment in 1833. Both federal and state laws give temporal earthly liberty to the born again believer, who – no matter the state of his temporal earthly liberty – has eternal spiritual liberty “wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Galatians 5:1).

The federal and state laws which provide for civil and religious liberty protect everyone from temporal earthly persecution by the state for their “religious” beliefs; one is free to worship the true God, a false god or gods,  or no god. One cannot have civil and religious liberty when union of church and state are mandated. Without Christ’s liberty, one is a slave; with it, one is free even if the state does not provide for civil liberty.  “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

President Washington—as did James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and many other Founding Fathers—believed in separation of church and state, as history proves. They did not believe in “Judaizing” America, something that can only be simulated and justified by a false interpretation of Scripture and propped up by historical revisionism. For documented proof of the beliefs of the founders, see The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus/Christian Revisionism on Trial, especially Section II Christian History of the First Amendment. The index of the free online PDF version, or the printed book will guide you quickly to pages covering particular persons, places, events, etc.

  1. concludes: “and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Amen. Notice that he said, “To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion.” He did not say, “To force men to practice any religion, including that of any Protestant, Baptist, Quaker, Catholic, Jewish etc. denomination or sect. That precludes union of church and state. As history proves, all such unions have always forced, under severe penalty for disobedience – imprisonment, death, banishment, torture, etc. – all citizens to bow down to the official church/state union. Again, for emphasis, all such unions always resulted in the corruption of the people (who bowed down to the unified religion and state), the state, and the official state “church.” See what Jefferson, Madison, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, John Leland and others involved in the colonial spiritual warfare said on this matter in the book cited above and also in God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (go to the index of the PDF or printed version to find pages for particular persons).

So there you have it. President Washington in his Thanksgiving Proclamation – as did Jefferson, Madison, Backus, Leland, Williams – supported separation of church and state. He, as he proclaimed, along with other founding fathers, also believed in and union of God and state. This is Biblical. God and church are not the same. God ordained the church long after he ordained civil government. He ordained Gentile human government to deal with termporal earthly matters. He ordained the church with jurisdiction over eternal heavenly matters. Combining the two violates Bible principles. See, God Betrayed for comprehensive explanation.

Christian revisionists cite Washington’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, and other historical speeches and documents, out of the context of complete historical facts in their effort to convince Americans, and especially American “Christians,” that church and state should combine. Because of their inability to correctly believe Scripture, they cannot understand the difference between separation of church and state and separation of God and state. Because they believe it is alright to lie to those who do not share their views, they revise Scripture and history. Like their Catholic and Protestant forefathers, their goal is to “Judaize” American civil government and the church. They say, ad nauseum, “Separation of church and state is not found in the constitution.” I fell for that line and their other soundbites as I began to read and hear Christian revisionists after my salvation in 1980. Over the years, God revealed the truth to me. I had a choice. Go with truth or go with lies. Read the whole story in The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus/Christian Revisionism on Trial/A Case of Premeditated Murder/Christian Revisionism on Trial/The Christian History of the First Amendment (Available in free PDR, softback, online version).


Endnote

Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

 

Analysis of “Virginia’s Founding Highlights of its Religious History – American Minute with Bill Federer”

Click here to go to homepage with links to all analyses of “An American Minute by Bill Federer” Challenged

To gain a comprehensive understanding of this spiritual warfare between Calvinists, Anglicans, and other advocates of union of church and state (church establishment) and historic Baptists, I especially recommend: The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus.

Analysis of “Virginia’s Founding & Highlights of its Religious History – American Minute with Bill Federer”

Jerald Finney
October 31, 2022

Bill Federer’s American Minute article, “Virginia’s Founding & Highlights of its Religious History – American Minute with Bill Federer” mentions a few selected facts from the religious history of Virginia but leaves out more important facts which more correctly explain the whole picture of that history. However, even those few selected facts do not point toward a correct understanding of the road to the First Amendment, religious freedom, and soul liberty in America. Click here to go to Federer’s articleEndnote [i] (click to go to the Endnote) is a summary of the article. Although far from comprehensive on the colonial history of Virginia as related to the issues of the relationship of church and state and the road to the First Amendment, the article did point out a few important facts concerning those matters.

This article now presents a comprehensive history of the struggle for religious freedom and soul liberty in Virginia colony into the early republic. See, The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus pp. 185-218; see also, To Virginia.

The Battle for Religious Freedom in Virginia

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.” Endnote [ii].

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. Endnote [iii].

“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.” Endnote [iv].

Virginia “was founded by members of the Church of England and none others were tolerated in its jurisdiction.” Endnote [v]. The Episcopal church, the Church of England, in Virginia was established from the founding of Jamestown in 1607.

“It was known, also, as the ‘Established Church,’ because it was made, by legal enactment, the church of the State and was supported by taxation. Not only so, but it was designed to be the established church, to the exclusion of all others. Rigid laws, with severe penalties affixed, were passed, having for their object the exclusion of all Dissenters from the colony, and the compelling of conformity to the established, or State, religion. Even after the Revolution of 1688, which placed William and Mary upon the throne of England and secured the passage of the ‘Act of Toleration’ the following year, the ‘General Court of the Colony’ of Virginia construed that act to suit themselves, and withheld its benefits from Dissenters … until they were compelled to yield to the force of circumstances.” Endnote [vi].

Christian revisionists Peter Marshall and David Manuel who favored the Calvinism of the New England Congregationalists, wrote, amidst many historical revisions, the truth that Jamestown was a disaster and that the people who settled the colony were motivated by greed and not the love of the Lord. Endnote [vii]. Although undoubtedly there probably were some godly ministers, much of the clergy of the Anglican church in Virginia prior to the Revolution had loose morals, were mainly concerned about their financial security, and were lacking in biblical and spiritual knowledge. The clergy of that church fought to keep their establishment to the bitter end. By far their most consistent and determined opponents were the Baptists. A publication of a law firm that encourages churches to become corporate 501(c)(3) religious organizations led off with an article laughingly entitled (to one who knows the real facts about the settlement) “Jamestown, Where America Became a Christian Nation.” Endnote [viii]. The author, unnamed, states some truth in the article but also gives a totally distorted view of the early history of Jamestown and fails to mention the depravity of the people who originally settled there. Neither Marshall and Manuel nor the author of the aforementioned article make mention that the theology behind the settlement was ecclesiocratic and against religious liberty: the “Articles, Instructions, and Orders” from the homeland said that the “‘true word’ must be ‘according to the doctrine, rights, and religion now professed and established within our regime in England.’” Endnote [ix].

The Church of England was stronger in Virginia than in any colony. In Virginia, the established Anglican church was controlled by the state, unlike in New England where the established church controlled the state. From the beginning of the colony, the “company knew not how to control the members composing the colony but by religion and law.” Endnote [x]. The original “Lawes Divine, Moral and Martial” which were decreed in 1612, were severe. Speaking impiously of the Trinity or of God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, blaspheming God, incorrigibly cursing, a third failure to attend religious services, and a third “Sabbath-breaking,” were punishable by death. Other spiritual offenses were punished by whipping and other penalties. Endnote [xi].

Upon appeal to England, these laws were repealed. The laws enacted in support of the Anglican establishment were less severe. Still, the Anglican church was established (and this establishment continued until the revolution with one short interruption), nonattendance at church services was the subject of fines, the payment of tithes were mandatory, every parson was entitled to the glebe—a piece of land—parish churches were built by taxes, and ministers were required to “conform themselves in all things according to the canons of the Church of England.”

“Puritan clergy were banished for failing to conform to Anglican services; Quakers [and Baptists] were fined, imprisoned, and banished. Catholics were disqualified from public office, and any priest who ventured to enter the colony was subject to instant expulsion. Penalties were imposed on those who having scruples against infant baptism, neglected to present their children for that purpose.” Endnote [xii].

A 1643 law forbade anyone to teach or preach religion, publicly or privately, who was not a minister of the Church of England, and instructed governor and council to expel all nonconformists from the colony. Endnote [xiii]. In 1643, three Congregationalist ministers from Boston were forced to leave the colony. Also in 1643, “Sir William Berkeley, Royal Governor of Virginia, strove, by whippings and brandings, to make the inhabitants of that colony conform to the Established church, and thus drove out the Baptists and Quakers, who found a refuge in … North Carolina.” Quakers first came to Virginia in “1659-60, and … the utmost degree of persecution was exercised towards them.” “During the period of the Commonwealth in England, there had been a kind of interregnum as to both Church and State in Virginia; but in 1661, the supremacy of the Church of England was again fully established.” Only ministers of the Church of England were permitted to preach, and only ministers of that church could “celebrate the rites of matrimony,” and only “according to the ceremony prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer.” Endnote [xiv].

Although some Presbyterians settled in Virginia from 1670 to 1680, the number & influence of Presbyterians in Virginia was small until the mid-1700s. In the mid-1700s an influential body of Presbyterians settled in Hanover County as a result of a 1738 agreement between the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia and Virginia governor William Gooch which allowed “emigrants to occupy the frontier portions of Virginia and enjoy the benefits of the Act of Toleration.” Endnote [xv].

The first non-Anglican minister to receive a license under the Act of Toleration passed by the British Parliament in 1689, which instructed liberty of conscience for all but Papists, was Francis Makemie, a Presbyterian minister in Accomac County. By 1725, no more than five conventicles, “three small meetings of Quakers and two of Presbyterians,” were licensed, and these in poorer counties who were unable to pay the established minister enough to stay. In 1725, a similar license was granted to “certain parties (doubtless Presbyterians)” in Richmond County. Endnote [xvi].

Presbyterian families from Pennsylvania and Maryland began to move to remote parts of Virginia on the western frontier in 1738. The Presbyterian Synod of Pennsylvania wrote Governor Gooch of Virginia asking for religious freedom for those Presbyterians. Governor Gooch, knowing these people “to be firm, enterprising, hardy, brave, good citizens and soldiers,” and desiring “to form a complete line of defense against the savage inroads,” welcomed them. “At so great a distance from the older settlements, he anticipated no danger to the established church.” The conditions of settlement were that they “were not only to settle in the frontier counties as a buffer between the Churchmen and the Indians, but they had to swear allegiance to ‘His Magesty’s person and government,’” pay the taxes levied in support of the Established Church, and never by word or deed seek to injure the said church…. “Houses for public worship could not be occupied without permission from the civil authorities, and each application for a house of worship was heard on its own merits.” “[Those early Presbyterians] did not break their promise nor violate their oaths.” Up to the Revolution, “they never demanded anything more than their rights under the Act of Toleration, and … not until the Revolution was accomplished, and Virginia had thrown off allegiance to Great Britain, did they (the Presbyterians) strike hands with the Baptists in the effort to pull down the Establishments.” However, with the fury of the French and Indian War, which broke out in 1755, Presbyterians east of the Blue Ridge occupied houses of worship without license or molestation. Endnote [xvii].

Different bodies of Baptists came to Virginia during the colonial period. The “Regular Baptists,” like the Presbyterians, “applied for license and took the prescribed oaths.” As for the “Separate Baptists,” the “body spread so rapidly throughout the State from 1755 to the … Revolution,” and “did not recognize the right of any civil power to regulate preaching or places of meeting.” They were the “most active in evangelizing Virginia and most severely persecuted, and … had the largest share of the work of pulling down the ‘Establishment’ and securing religious liberty for all.” “While yielding a ready obedience to the civil authorities in all civil affairs, in matters of religion they recognized no lord but Christ. They were truly apostolic in refusing to obey man rather than God.” Endnote [xviii].

Conditions were favorable for the rapid growth of Baptist principles. “First, the distress of the colonists, consequent upon the French and Indian wars, inclined them towards religion.” Secondly, the distressed people could find no solace or comfort in the immoral established clergy.

“The great success and rapid increase of the Baptists in Virginia must be ascribed primarily to the power of God working with them. Yet it cannot be denied but that there were subordinate and cooperating causes; one of which, and the main one, was the loose and immoral deportment of the Established clergy, by which the people were left almost destitute of even the shadow of true religion. ‘Tis true, they had some outward forms of worship, but the essential principles of Christianity were not only not understood among them, but by many never heard of. Some of the cardinal precepts of morality were discarded, and actions plainly forbidden by the New Testament were often proclaimed by the clergy as harmless and innocent, or, at worst, foibles of but little account. Having no discipline, every man followed the bent of his own inclination. It was not uncommon for the rectors of parishes to be men of the lowest morals. The Baptist preachers were, in almost every respect, the reverse of the Established clergy.’” Endnote [xix].

Their own authorities prove the bad character and actions of the established clergy. Many of that clergy came to Virginia “to retrieve either lost fortune or lost character….” “Many of them had been addicted to the race-field, the card-table, the theatre—nay, more, to drunken revel, etc….” “They could babble in a pulpit, roar in a tavern, exact from their parishioners, and rather by their dissoluteness destroy than feed the flock.” Endnote [xx].

The Baptists grew stronger and more numerous in Virginia. Robert Nordin, when he arrived from England in 1714, established the first Baptist church in Virginia. By 1755, there were six Baptist churches in Virginia. Endnote [xxi]. 1758 to 1769 was a period of slow but persistent growth in the face of a determined popular hostility. The early opposition to the Baptists came from the lower classes and was based upon prejudice.

The Virginia expansion was intimately tied up with the ministry of Colonel Samuel Harris. Harris—who served at various times as churchwarden, sheriff, justice of the peace, colonel of the county, and captain and commissary of Fort Mayo and its military garrison—was the first person of prominence to join the Separates in Virginia and was just one of many examples of the power of this movement. He was saved at a house meeting after hearing a sermon preached by a Separate Baptist from North Carolina. He resigned from his official positions and narrowed his business interests almost to the vanishing point in order to preach. He began to preach throughout Virginia, and many were converted because of his ministry. Endnote [xxii].

Harris was a fearless preacher. “The excellence of his preaching lay chiefly in ‘addressing the heart,’ and Semple holds that ‘perhaps even Whitefield did not surpass him in this.’” Endnote [xxiii]. He had the assistance of several North Carolina itinerant evangelists planting the earliest Separate churches in south central Virginia. In 1760, Daniel Marshall and Philip Mulkey with seventy-four charter members, eleven of whom were Negroes, started the Dan River Church. Other churches were soon constituted from the Dan River Church. Endnote [xxiv].

Wherever the Baptist itinerants preached, great crowds came to hear them. Many were converted in Virginia, and many Baptist churches were started. In 1770, there were only two Separate churches north of the James River, four south of it. The General Association of Separate Baptists of Virginia was held in May 1771 in Orange County with twelve churches represented, and three not represented.

By 1772, the Separate Churches outnumbered those of the Regular churches. In that year, as many as forty thousand Virginians may have heard the gospel. By 1773, thirty-four churches were represented at the General Association meeting, and they reported a combined membership of 3,195. By May 1774, when Baptist expansion and Baptist persecution were at high tide, the Southern District in Virginia had twenty-seven churches with 2,033 members and the Northern District had twenty-four churches with 1,921 members. By the end of 1774, there was at least one Separate Baptist church in twenty-eight of the sixty counties of Virginia. During the Revolution, Baptist growth continued, but at a much slower pace. Endnote [xxv].

From 1768 through 1774, the Baptists were persecuted severely. “Baptist preachers were whipped, arrested, fined, imprisoned on bread and water, although the authorities sanctimoniously denied that punishment was for ‘preaching’; the crime they said, was ‘breach of the peace.’” Endnote [xxvi]. The first instance of actual imprisonment was on June 4, 1768, when John Waller, Lewis Craig, James Childs, James Reed, and William Marsh were arrested at Craig’s meetinghouse in Spotsylvania and charged with disturbing the peace. The magistrates offered to release them if they would promise to preach no more for a year and a day. They refused and were jailed. Many more were jailed and otherwise persecuted until 1774. Endnote [xxvii].

  • “[The persecutors] seemed sometimes to strive to treat the Baptists and their worship with as much rudeness and indecency as was possible. They often insulted the preacher in time of service, and would ride into the water and make sport when they administered baptism. They frequently fabricated and spread the most groundless reports, which were injurious to the characters of the Baptists. When any Baptist fell into any improper conduct, it was always exaggerated to the utmost extent.” Endnote [xxviii].
  • “The enemy, not contented with ridicule and defamation, manifested their abhorrence to the Baptists in another way. By a law then in force in Virginia, all were under obligation to go to church several times a year; the failure subjected them to fine. [Little action against members of the Established church was taken under this law, but] as soon as the ‘New Lights’ were absent, they were presented by grand jury, and fined…. [Others were imprisoned for preaching without a license.] ‘When persecutors found religion could not be stopped … by ridicule, defamation, and abusive language, the resolution was to take a different step and see what they could do; and the preachers in different places were apprehended by magisterial authority, some of whom were imprisoned and some escaped. Before this step was taken, the parson of the parish was consulted [and he advised that] the ‘New Lights’ ought to be taken up and imprisoned, as necessary for the peace and harmony of the old church….’” Endnote [xxix].
  • “[An Episcopalian wrote,] No dissenters in Virginia experienced, for a time, harsher treatment than did the Baptists. They were beaten and imprisoned, and cruelty taxed its ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance.” Endnote [xxx].

Because of the persecutions and oppressions, Baptists began to petition the House of Burgesses for relief. Their first petition in 1770 requesting that Baptist ministers “not be compelled to bear arms or attend musters” was rejected. Other petitions from Baptists in several counties were submitted in 1772 requesting that they “be treated with the same indulgence, in religious matters, as Quakers, Presbyterians, and other Protestant dissenters enjoy.” The petitions continued until 1775. Endnote [xxxi]. The Presbyterians petitioned also, but for the right to incorporate so that they could receive and hold gifts of land and slaves for the support of their ministers. One of the Presbyterian petitions was improperly hailed as proof “that the Presbyterians anticipated the Baptists in their memorials asking for religious liberty.” An examination of that petition reveals that it “contemplate[d] nothing more than securing for Presbyterians and others in Virginia the same privileges and liberties which they enjoyed in England under the Act of Toleration,” and contained no “attack upon the Establishment, or any sign of hostility to it.” Endnote [xxxii].

During this time, James Madison wrote to his old college friend, Bradford of Philadelphia, in a letter dated January 24, 1774. He expressed his belief that if

“uninterrupted harmony had prevailed throughout the continent [in matters of established religion as practiced in Virginia] it is clear to me that slavery and subjection might and would have been gradually insinuated among us. Union of religious sentiments begets a surprising confidence, and ecclesiastical establishments tend to greatly ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitates the execution of mischievous projects…. Poverty and luxury prevail among all sorts; pride, ignorance, and knavery among the priesthood, and vice and wickedness among the laity. This is bad enough; but it is not the worst I have to tell you. That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some, and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such purposes. There are at this time in the adjacent country not less than five or six well-meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear, talk, or think of anything relative to this matter; for I have squabbled and scolded, abused and ridiculed, so long about it to little purpose, that I am without common patience…. So I must beg you to pity me, and pray for liberty of conscience to all.” Endnote [xxxiii].

[In another letter to Bradford dated April 1, 1774, Madison wrote that he doubted that anything would be done to help the dissenters in the Assembly meeting beginning May 1, 1774.] He spoke of “the incredible and extravagant stories [which were] told in the House of the monstrous effects of the enthusiasm prevalent among the sectaries, and so greedily swallowed by their enemies…. And the bad name they still have with those who pretend too much contempt to examine into their principles and conduct, and are too much devoted to ecclesiastical establishment to hear of the toleration of the dissentients…. The liberal, catholic, and equitable way of thinking, as to the rights of conscience, which is one of the characteristics of a free people, and so strongly marks the people of your province, is little known among the zealous adherents to our hierarchy…. [Although we have some persons of generous principles in the legislature] the clergy are a numerous and powerful body, have great influence at home by reason of their connection with and dependence on the bishops and crown, and will naturally employ all their arts and interest to depress their rising adversaries; for such they must consider dissentients, who rob them of the good will of the people, and may in time endanger their livings and security. … Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind, and unfits if for every enterprise, every expanded prospect.” Endnote [xxxiv].

1775 closed the period of “Intolerance, Toleration, and Persecution.”

“The colony is involved in trouble with the mother country. Virginia has denounced the ‘Boston Port Bill,’ and made common cause with Massachusetts. The First Continental Congress has already met in Philadelphia. Patrick Henry has electrified the country by his memorable speech in the popular Convention which met March, 1775…. The Battles of Lexington and Concord have been fought (April 19), and Virginia has taken steps to enroll companies of volunteers in every county. The war of the Revolution is on, and the times call for union and harmony among all classes. Hence, there is no more persecution of Baptists. There are no more imprisonments in 1775, and that obnoxious Toleration Bill is indefinitely postponed. The same ruling class that admitted the Presbyterians to Virginia and to the benefits of the Act of Toleration, on condition that they occupied the frontier counties, and thus protected them against Indian raids, are now inclined to tolerate, not only the Presbyterians, but the Baptists also, with all their ‘pernicious doctrines,’ if only they will help in the struggle with Great Britain. The Baptists will help, and not a Tory will be found among them. But they will strike for something more and something dearer to them than civil liberty—for freedom of conscience, for ‘just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.’” Endnote [xxxv].

The Baptists were ready to push for religious freedom and abolition of the establishment. In their Association meeting on the fourth Saturday of May 1775, “they were to a man favorable to any revolution by which they could obtain freedom of religion. They had known from experience that mere toleration was not a sufficient check, having been imprisoned at a time when that law was considered by many as being in force.” “The Revolutionary War opened up possibilities to overthrow the entire system of persecution…. [Baptists] were everywhere the friends of liberty…. There was not a tory among the Baptists of America.” Endnote [xxxvi]. They received the highest praise for their patriotic endeavors. Endnote [xxxvii].

The Baptists decided to circulate petitions throughout the state calling for abolition of the church establishment and freedom of religion, and also to appoint commissioners to present their address for military resistance to British oppression and “offering the services of their young men as soldiers and asking only that, so far as the army was concerned, their ministers might enjoy like privileges with the clergy of the Established church” to the State Convention which was the House of Burgess under a new name and in a different character. The Convention, still controlled by “the same class that had, a few years before made concessions to the … Presbyterians on condition that they settle on the western counties forming a line of defense against the Indians, resolved to allow those dissenters in the military who so desired to attend divine worship administered by dissenting preachers. This first step towards placing all Virginia clergy on an equal footing, came as a result of the need for the numerical strength of the Baptists in what was considered by the establishment in 1775 a “struggle for their rights ‘in the union’ [with England].” The Convention maintained their “faith and true allegiance to His Majesty, George the Third, [their] only lawful and rightful King.” “It would have been very impolitic, even if their petitions had been ready, to have sprung the question of disestablishment upon [the Convention] before they had committed themselves to the cause of independence.” Endnote [xxxviii].

Virginia adopted a new constitution in 1776. The Convention of 1776 was, by its act, made the “House of Delegates” of the first General Assembly under the new constitution. Twenty-nine new members in this meeting were not in the 1775 Convention. “[W]hen there was anything near a division among the other inhabitants in a county, the Baptists, together with their influence, gave a caste to the scale, by which means many a worthy and useful member was lodged in the House of Assembly and answered a valuable purpose there.” Endnote [xxxix]. Among those favorable to Baptist causes was James Madison. On May 12, the Congress met in Philadelphia “and instructed the colonies to organize independent governments of their own. The war was on.” On May 15, the Convention resolved to declare the “colonies free and independent states” and that a committee be appointed to prepare Declaration of Rights and a plan of government which would “maintain peace and order” and “secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.” Endnote [xl].

Other than Rhode Island, Virginia was the first colony to recognize religious liberty “in her organic law, and this she did in Article XVI. of her Bill of Rights, which was adopted on the 12th day of June 1776.” Endnote [xli]. In 1776, petitions from all over Virginia seeking religious freedom and freedom of conscience beset the Virginia state convention. Patrick Henry proposed the provision to section sixteen of the Virginia Bill of Rights, which granted religious tolerance. Endnote [xlii]. On June 12, the House adopted a Declaration of Rights. The 16th Article provided for religious tolerance. However, [o]n motion on the floor by James Madison, the article was amended to provide for religious liberty. In committee, Madison opposed toleration because toleration “belonged to a system where there was an established church, and where it was a thing granted, not of right, but of grace. He feared the power, in the hands of a dominant religion, to construe what ‘may disturb the peace, the happiness, or the safety of society,’ and he ventured to propose a substitute, which was finally adopted.” Endnote [xliii]. He probably moved to change the amendment before the whole house in order to demonstrate his position to the Baptists who were viewing the proceedings. The amendment as passed by the convention read:

“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” Endnote [xliv].

“The adoption of the Bill of Rights marked the beginning of the end of the establishment.” Endnote [xlv].

Where did Madison learn the distinction between religious freedom and religious toleration?

“It had not then begun to be recognized in treatises on religion and morals. He did not learn it from Jeremy Taylor or John Locke, but from his Baptist neighbors, whose wrongs he had witnessed, and who persistently taught that the civil magistrate had nothing to do with matters of religion.” Endnote [xlvi].

Madison studied for the ministry at Princeton University, then the College of New Jersey, under John Witherspoon. When he returned to Virginia, he continued his theological interests and developed a strong concern for freedom of worship.

“At the time of Madison’s return from Princeton, several ‘well-meaning men,’ as he described them, were put in prison for their religious views. Baptists were being fined or imprisoned for holding unauthorized meetings. Dissenters were taxed for the support of the State Church. Preachers had to be licensed. Madison saw at first hand the repetition of the main evils of the Old Country. But he also saw a deep dissatisfaction among the people—the kind of dissatisfaction that would grow and that would serve as a mighty battering ram for religious freedom.” Endnote [xlvii].

It appears that the Baptists were the only denomination of Christians that addressed the 1775 and 1776 conventions on the subject of the rights of conscience. Not until the Revolution in Virginia were the Presbyterians free from the agreement with Governor Gooch. When the Assembly met in October 1776, they were “powerful allies of the Baptists and other dissenters in the war against the Establishment.” Endnote [xlviii].

“From that time down to January 19, 1786, when Jefferson’s ‘Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,’ became the law of the State, the battle for soul liberty was on,” Endnote [xlix]. and the process of disestablishment gathered momentum. The legislature of 1776 repealed the laws punishing heresy and absence from worship and exempted dissenters from paying taxes for support of the Church. Although this bill was a compromise, it sounded the death knell of the Anglican establishment. A later statute removed the law fixing the salaries of clergymen, and the position of the Established church was limited more and more until the Declaratory Act of 1787 ended establishment in Virginia. Endnote [l].

“From 1776 to 1779 the assembly was engaged almost daily in the desperate contests between the contending factions.” Endnote [li]. Whereas only one Baptist petition had been presented to the first Convention in 1776, and that after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the Legislature that assembled on October 7, 1776, was immediately flooded with petitions both for and against establishment. “None of the petitions against establishment were from Baptists as such. However, historians of the times admit that Baptists ‘were not only the first to begin the work, but also the most active in circulating petitions for signatures.’” “Among the signers were some of all denominations of Christians, and many of no denomination. This explains why the Baptist petition or petitions were from dissenters in general, instead of from Baptist dissenters in particular.” Endnote [lii]. The Reverend E. G. Robinson, in his review of Rives’ Life and Times of James Madison, Christian Review of January 1860, said, “The [Presbyterians] argued their petitions on various grounds, and indeed sought for different degrees of religious freedom, while the [Baptists] were undeviating and uncompromising in their demands for a total exemption from every kind of legal restraint or interference in matters of religion.” Endnote [liii]. The Methodists and the established church presented petitions for establishment. Endnote [liv].

The established church did not give up. Thomas Jefferson gave an account of the struggle through which the Legislature, meeting in late 1776, had just passed:

  • “The first republican Legislature, which met in 1776, was crowded with petitions to abolish this spiritual tyranny. These brought on the severest contest in which I have ever been engaged…. The petitions were referred to a Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Country; and, after desperate contests in the committee almost daily from the 11th of October to the 5th of December, we prevailed so far only as to repeal the laws which rendered criminal the maintenance of any religious opinions (other than those of the Episcopalians), the forbearance of repairing to the (Episcopal) church, or the exercise of any (other than the Episcopal) mode of worship; and to suspend only until the next session levies on the members of that church for the salaries of its own incumbents. For, although the majority of our citizens were dissenters, as has been observed, a majority of the legislature were churchmen. Among these, however, were some reasonable and liberal men, who enabled us on some points to obtain feeble majorities. But our opponents carried, in the general resolutions of November the 19th, a declaration that religious assemblies ought to be regulated, and that provision ought to be made for continuing the succession of the clergy and superintending their conduct. And in the bill now passed was inserted an express reservation of the question whether a general assessment should not be established by law on every one to the support of the pastor of his choice; or whether all should be left to voluntary contributions; and on thus question, debated at every session from 1776 to 1779 (some of our dissenting allies, having now secured their particular object, going over to the advocates of a general assessment,) we could only obtain a suspension from session to session until 1779, when the question against a general assessment was finally carried, and the establishment of the Anglican church entirely put down.

 

Endnote [lv].

Legislative meetings from 1776 to December 1779 were presented with memorials both for and against establishment. Endnote [lvi].

When the House met in June 1779, petitions presented to the Assembly showed that the old establishment and its friends were fighting for some sort of compromise based on a general assessment. In 1779, the assembly repealed all laws requiring members of the Episcopal Church to contribute to the support of their own ministry. Endnote [lvii]. In December 1779, a bill passed which “cut the purse strings of the Establishment, so that the clergy could no longer look for support to taxation. But they still retained possession of the rich glebes, and enjoyed a monopoly, almost, of marriage fees.” Endnote [lviii]. It took until 1779 to pass a bill taking away tax support for the clergy because the dissenters, with the exception of the Baptists, “having been relieved from a tax which they felt to be both unjust and degrading, had no objection to a general assessment.” Endnote [lix].

“Jefferson sought to press the advantage, and introduced his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, but Virginia was not quite ready to formalize the separation which had in effect taken place, and the bill was not voted on.” Endnote [lx]. Instead “a bill was introduced which declared that “the Christian Religion shall in all times coming be deemed and held to be the established Religion of this Commonwealth.” This bill required everyone to register with the county clerk stating which church he wished to support. Endnote [lxi].

Although various petitions were presented to the Assembly during the period from 1780 until the end of the Revolution on September 3, 1783, the General Assembly did very little regarding the cause of religious liberty. In 1783 “the project … of incorporating, or establishing as the religion of the State, all the prevailing denominations, and assessing taxes upon the people to support the ministers of all alike, was now warmly advocated by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, and becoming quite popular. To this scheme the Baptists still gave the most determined opposition, and sent up against it the most vigorous remonstrances.” The Baptists also continued to petition for the adoption of the Act to Establish Religious Freedom. Endnote [lxii].

After the Revolution, numerous petitions and memorials were presented to the House of Delegates in 1784 and 1785 by the above-mentioned denominations in support of their positions. Endnote [lxiii]. The Episcopalians sought to recover lost ground. “In the late spring of 1784, a resolution was introduced in the Virginia Assembly seeking official recognition for the Episcopal Church. The resolution was debated for two days, with notable opposition from Baptists and Presbyterians.” Endnote [lxiv]. Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated July 3, 1784, wrote concerning this resolution:

“The Episcopal clergy introduced a notable project for re-establishing their independence of laity. The foundation of it was that the whole body should be legally incorporated, invested with the present property of the Church, made capable of acquiring indefinitely—empowered to make canons and by-laws not contrary to the laws of the land, and incumbents when once chosen by vestries, to be immovable otherwise than by sentence of the Convocation.” Endnote [lxv].

The Baptists continued their uncompromising stand against any vestige of union of church and state. They gave their reasons for their position against a general assessment:

  • “First, it was contrary to their principles and avowed sentiments, the making provision for the support of religion by law; that the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical governments ought to be kept up without blending them together; that Christ Jesus hath given laws for the government of his kingdom and direction of his subjects, and gave instruction concerning collections for the various purposes of religion, and therefore needs not legislative interference.
  • “Secondly, should a legislative body undertake to pass laws for the government of the church, for them to say what doctrines shall be believed, in what mode worship shall be performed, and what the sum collected shall be, what a dreadful precedent it would establish; for when such a right is claimed by a legislature, and given up by the people, by the same rule that they decide in one instance they may in every instance. Religion is like the press; if government limits the press, and says this shall be printed and that shall not, in the event it will destroy the freedom of the press; so when legislatures undertake to pass laws about religion, religion loses its form, and Christianity is reduced to a system of worldly policy.
  • “Thirdly, it has been believed by us that that Almighty Power that instituted religion will support his own cause; that in the course of divine Providence events will be overruled, and the influence of grace on the hearts of the Lord’s people will incline them to afford and contribute what is necessary for the support of religion, and therefore there is no need for compulsory measures.
  • “Fourthly, it would give an opportunity to the party that were numerous (and, of course, possessed the ruling power) to use their influence and exercise their art and cunning, and multiply signers to their own favorite party. And last, the most deserving, the faithful preacher, who in a pointed manner reproved sin and bore testimony against every species of vice and dissipation, would in all possibility, have been profited very little by such a law, while men-pleasers, the gay and the fashionable, who can wink at sin and daub his hearers with untempered mortar, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace, who can lay out his oratory in dealing out smooth things mingled with deception, the wicked, it is clear, would like to have it so; and it follows the irreligious and carnal part of the people would richly reward them for their flattery, and the undeserving go off with the gain.”

Endnote [lxvi].

The Presbyterians took “a sort of middle ground, which caused confusion in their own ranks and compromised them in the estimation of others.” It appears that the Presbyterian clergy advocated a plan of general assessment supporting all denominations who believed in union of church and state, but not those who believed in religious liberty and absolute freedom of conscience. James Madison commented on the position of the Presbyterians:

  • “The laity of the other sects (other than Episcopalian) are generally unanimous [against the general assessment]. So are all the clergy, except the Presbyterian, who seem as ready to set up an establishment which is to take them in as they were to pull down that which shut them out. I do not know a more shameful contrast than might be found between their memorials on the latter and former occasions. Rives, I., 630.” [Quoting a letter to James Monroe, April 12, 1775] Endnote [lxvii].

Thus, “[i]n [these] later stages of disestablishment there was a curious alliance formed between the Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergy with an eye to creating a new line of defense.” Endnote [lxviii]. “In 1784, the Virginia House of Delegates 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 assembly.” Endnote [lxix]. This last action was a result of a resolution offered by the Baptists and adopted by the Legislature. The Baptists, appearing to be losing ground as the only opponents of a general assessment, the majority of the Legislature being churchmen, the only hope of the opponents of the assessment was an appeal to the people. Endnote [lxx].

The bill—which was proposed by Patrick Henry and supported by George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and John Marshall—provided for the establishment a provision for teachers of the Christian religion, in effect providing for the “establishment of Christianity, but without precedence in such an establishment to any particular church.” Endnote [lxxi]. The bill required all persons “to pay a moderate tax or contribution annually for the support of the Christian religion, or of some Christian church, denomination or communion of Christians, or for some form of Christian worship.” Endnote [lxxii].

Leo Pfeffer noted:

  • “the bill was predicated on the legislative determination in its preamble that ‘the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for licensed teachers.’
  • “The preamble is of great significance, because it recognized the widely held belief that religion was not within the competence of civil legislatures. It sought to justify intervention not on any theocratic ground but on what today would be called the ‘police’ or ‘welfare’ power. Government support of religion is required to restrain vice and preserve peace, not to promote God’s kingdom on earth.” Endnote [lxxiii].

Pfeffer does not understand that God has given civil government the choice of whether to honor his principles. The government is to intervene, according to God’s word, to control and restrain certain crimes. Government does not support religion in order to do its job. Government merely makes a choice of whether to honor God and his principles for the purpose of restraining vice and preserving peace.

James Madison, among others, opposed the bill. Mr. Madison had witnessed and opposed the persecution of the Baptists in his own state.

  • “Madison wrote to a friend in 1774: ‘That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some…. This vexes me the worst of anything whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent country not less than five or six well-meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear, talk, or think of anything relative to this matter; for I have squabbled and scolded, abused and ridiculed, so long about it to little purpose, that I am without common patience. So I must beg you to pity me, and pray for liberty of conscience to all.’ I Writings of James Madison (1900) 18, 21.” Endnote [lxxiv].

Mr. Madison prepared his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance,” in which he maintained “that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator,” was not within the cognizance of civil government. The “Memorial” presents fifteen arguments against the assessment bill. Endnote [lxxv]. One historian says of this document, “For elegance of style, strength of reasoning, and purity of principle, it has, perhaps, seldom been equaled, certainly never surpassed, by anything in the English language.” Endnote [lxxvi]. “Dr. George B. Taylor says: ‘It may certainly be called a Baptist document this far, that they only, as a people, held its views, and pressed those views without wavering.’”Endnote [lxxvii]. Dr. E. G. Robinson wrote of the document:

“In a word, the great idea which he [Madison] put forth was identical with that which had always been devoutly cherished by our Baptist fathers, alike in the old world and the new, and which precisely a century and a half before had been perfectly expressed in the celebrated letter of Roger Williams to the people of his settlement, and by him incorporated into the fundamental law of the colony of Rhode Island. By Mr. Madison it was elaborated with arguments and wrought into the generalizations of statesmanship, but the essential idea is precisely the same with the ‘soul liberty’ so earnestly contended for by the Baptists of every age.” Endnote [lxxviii].

One must keep in mind that although the document advocated freedom of conscience, something for which Baptists had long struggled, the tone was that of deistic or humanistic arguments based upon reason and natural law. As pointed out supra, Jefferson and Madison and other deistic separatists “were interested in leaving the mind free to follow its own rational direction.” A trust in man’s reason without consideration of principles in the word of God is a leaven which eventually totally pollutes. Tragically, the pietistic arguments of Isaac Backus never prevailed in America. America never fully proceeded upon the lessons taught by the Bible, and implemented by Roger Williams, John Clarke, and the other founders of Rhode Island.

Some excerpts from Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance” follow:

  • “Because we hold it for a fundamental and unalienable truth, ‘that religion, or the duty which we owe to the Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence,’ the religion, then of every man, must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. The right is, in its nature, an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is unalienable, also, because what is here a right towards man, is a duty towards the Creator…. The duty is precedent both in order and time, and in degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe…. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of religion, no man’s rights is abridged by the institution of civil society; and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance….
  • “Because if religion be exempt from the authority of society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the legislative body. The latter are but the creatures and viceregents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited…. The preservation of a free government requires, not merely that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power, be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great barrier which defends the rights of the people. The rulers, who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are tyrants. The people who submit to it, are governed by laws made neither by themselves, nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.
  • “Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties, we hold this prudent jealousy to be first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late revolution…. Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions, may establish, with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects; that the same authority, which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property, for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment, in all cases whatsoever?
  • “Because the bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law; and which is more indispensable, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached…. Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and observe the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those, whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man. To God, therefore, and not to man, must account of it be rendered….
  • “Because the bill implies, either that the civil magistrate is a competent judge of religious truths, or that he may employ religion as an engine of civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension, falsified by the extraordinary opinion of rulers, in all ages, and throughout the world; the second, an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
  • “Because the establishment proposed by the bill, is not requisite for the support of the Christian religion itself; for every page of it disavows a dependence on the power of the world; it is a contradiction to fact, for it is known that this religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them; and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence: nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy: it is, moreover, to weaken in those, who profess this religion, a pious confidence in its innate excellence, and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those, who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its faculties, to trust it to its own merits.
  • “Because experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. Inquire of the teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest luster; those of every sect point to the ages prior to its incorporation with civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive state, in which its teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall….
  • “Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of civil government…. If religion be not within the cognizance of civil government, how can its legal establishment be said to be necessary for civil government? What influences, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In some instances, they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in more instances, have they been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the publick liberty, may have found on established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government instituted to secure and perpetuate it needs them not. Such a government will be best supported by protecting every citizen in the enjoyment of his religion, with the same equal hand which protects his person and property; by neither invading the equal hand which protects his person and property; by neither invading the equal rights of any sect, nor suffering any sect to invade those of another.
  • “Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy, which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion, promised a luster to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens…. [The proposed bill] is a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of citizens, all of those whose opinions in religion do not bend to those of the legislative authority. Distant as it may be, in its present form, from the inquisition, it differs from it only in degree; the one is the first step, the other the last, in the career of intolerance….
  • “Because it will have a tendency to banish our citizens…. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord, by proscribing all differences in religious opinion….
  • “Because the policy of the bill is adverse to the light of Christianity. The first wish of those, who ought to enjoy this precious gift, ought to be, that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those, who have as yet received it, with the number still remaining under the dominion of false religions, and how small is the former? Does the policy of the bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of truth, from coming into the regions of it; and countenances, by example, the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them….
  • “Because, finally, ‘the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of his conscience,’ is held by the same tenure with all our other rights…. Either then we must say, that the will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plentitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: either we must say, that they may control the freedom of the press; may abolish the trial by jury; may swallow up the executive and judiciary powers of the State; nay, that they have no authority our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary assembly; or we must say that they have no authority to enact into a law, the bill under consideration. We the subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority; and that no effort may be omitted on our part, against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it 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 prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them; and on the other guide them into every measure which may be worthy of His blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the property, and the happiness of the Commonwealth.”

Endnote [lxxix].

Madison, who led the opposition, was able to obtain a postponement of consideration of the bill from December 1784 to November 1785. Before adjourning, the legislature passed a bill which incorporated the Protestant Episcopal Church,

“deemed necessary in order to regulate the status of that church in view of the severance of its subordination to the Church of England that had resulted from the Revolution. The bill gave the Episcopal ministers title to the churches, glebes, and other property, and prescribed the method of electing vestrymen.

“Even Madison voted for the incorporation bill, though reluctantly and only in order to stave off passage of the assessment bill. Nonetheless, the incorporation bill aroused a good deal of opposition.” Endnote [lxxx].

The people were against the assessment bill, and the Presbyterians reversed their position, opposed the bill, and for the first time, on August 10, 1785, the whole Presbyterian body supported Jefferson’s “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” “although that bill had been before the Legislature since June 1779.” The Baptists asked all counties which had not yet prepared a petition to do so and agreed to prepare a remonstrance and petition against the assessment. Thus the Presbyterians and Baptists stood together, but for different motives. Mr. Madison’s opinion was that the Presbyterians were “moved by either a fear of their laity or a jealousy of the Episcopalians. The mutual hatred of these sects has been much inflamed by the late act incorporating the latter…. Writings of Madison, I., 175.” Endnote [lxxxi].

Patrick Henry, the leading proponent of the assessment bill was elected governor, “depriving the bill of its ablest legislative leader.” The Memorial and Remonstrance had received wide distribution. At the next session, the General Assembly was flooded with petitions and memorials from all parts of the State, overwhelmingly against the bill. The bill was defeated by three votes.

On January 16, 1786, the Virginia Act for Religious Liberty, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was passed instead. That bill provided for religious liberty and freedom of conscience. It stated:

  • “I. Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord of both 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 assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such, endeavoring to impose them on others hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;
  •    that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, … that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than [on] our opinions in physics or geometry;
  • that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or 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 natural right; …
  • 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, 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 enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt [open, or public] acts against peace and good order;
  • and, finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is proper and sufficient antagonist to error and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors [cease] to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
  • “II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
  • “III. 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 powers equal to her own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet, as we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural right of mankind, and that if any act shall hereafter be passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural rights.”

Endnote [lxxxii].

The act included three factors: church, state, and individual. It protected the individual from loss at the hands of the state incursion into his church affiliation, and implicitly banned church establishment. “It did not attempt to define the relations between Church and State except in terms of the individual.” Endnote [lxxxiii].

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the above bill, never swerved from his devotion to the complete independence of church and state. He wrote:

  • “The care of every man’s soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well, what if he neglect the care of his health or estate, which more clearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he shall not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.” Endnote [lxxxiv].
  • “But our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God….
  • “Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” Endnote [lxxxv].

According to Biblical principles, the bill was right about some things and wrong about others. It was right about its position on freedom of conscience from interference by civil and ecclesiastical governments, about compelling contributions to opinions to which one is opposed, about forcing any contributions to any pastor whatsoever, and about its assertion “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.”

However, the act was wrong in four ways. First, it was wrong in not recognizing that the word of God is the source of all ultimate truth. Second, it was wrong in not recognizing that God desires all nations to be under Him, and that judgment is the ultimate fate of all nations which do not glorify Him. Third, it was wrong in not recognizing that the only way to determine what acts against peace and good order against one’s fellow man is through God-given conscience and the study of the word of God as led by the Holy Spirit. Fourth, the act was also wrong when it asserted “that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is proper and sufficient antagonist to error and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, [for] errors [cease] to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.” As mankind has proven over and over, truth never prevails. Ultimately, mankind always reverts to satanic principles instead of truth, which is of God. Not recognizing this accelerates the ultimate deterioration and judgment of a nation.

The Baptists continued their struggle to remove all vestiges of the establishment until 1802 when the glebes were sold and all religious societies were placed on equal footing before the law. The glebes were tracts of land and buildings built thereon for the accommodation of the minister and his family, all at the expense of the people within the parish. The Baptists fought to have the act incorporating the Episcopal church repealed. Reuben Ford and John Leland attended the first 1787 assembly meeting as agents in behalf of the Baptist General Committee. Endnote [lxxxvi]. On August 10, 1787, the act incorporating the Episcopal church was repealed, and until 2001—when Jerry Falwell and trustees of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, who were joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the Virginia Constitutional provision forbidding the incorporation of churches in federal district court—no church in Virginia could be incorporated. Endnote [lxxxvii].

“The Baptists continued to memorialize the Legislature … and in 1799 that body passed an act entitled ‘An Act to Repeal Certain Acts, and to Declare the Construction of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution Concerning Religion,’ which act declared that no religious establishment had legally existed since the Commonwealth took the place of the regal government, repealed all laws giving to the Protestant Episcopal church any special privileges, and declared that ‘the act establishing religious freedom’ contains the true construction of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution; but no order was given for the sale of the glebes.” Endnote [lxxxviii].

As the Anglican establishment in Virginia yielded to pressure from Baptists [and to a much lesser extent Presbyterians] so that religious liberty was established in that state, “[t]he same pressure, reinforced by the conditions of frontier living, ended the Anglican establishment in the Carolinas and Georgia…. [T]he conditions which made establishment possible never existed in the states admitted after Vermont, nor in the territories with the exception of unique Utah.” Endnote [lxxxix].

By the time the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, “three states, Rhode Island, New York, and Virginia granted full religious freedom. Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland demanded in different degrees adherence to Christianity. New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia demanded Protestantism.”[xc]


Endnotes

Endnote [i] Summary of Federer’s article. I will make a few comments in red.

  1. 1n 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to settle Roanoke Island Virginia according to a grant which he quotes part of. I would note the important part of that grant for purposes of the state/church theology of England which was to go with the colony: “Ordinances … agreeable to … the laws … of England, and also so as they be not against the true Christian faith.” He points out what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiobraphy: “The first settlersof Virginia were Englishmen, loyal subjects to their King and Church, and the grant to Sir Walter Raleigh contained an express proviso that their laws ‘should not be against the true Christian faith, now professed in the Church of England.'”

He points out that the colony was abandoned and that Sir Walter Raleigh personally lost 40,000 pounds on the venture.

  1. More than two decades later, the Virginia Company was formed, and King James I granted to the Virginia Company the First Charter of Virginia, April 10, 1606 and quotes part of that charter:

“For the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God.”

Of course, in context, the Christian Religion to be propagated and the “true Knowledge and Worship of God” spoken of was that of the Church of England.

  1. On April 26, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport arrived with 105 settlers on 3 ships. The “First Landing” was at Cape Henry, named from Prince Henry of Wales, the eldest son of King James I. Their first act was to erect a wooden cross and commence a prayer meeting led by Rev. Robert Hunt.
  2. They ascended the James River, named for King James I, and settled Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.
  3. Meanwhile King Henry IV of France sent Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec City, capital of Canada in 1608.
  4. Captain John Smith was of Jamestown’s leaders. Federer includes some information about him, including military exploits including that he was captured and held as prisoner by the Turks, etc.
  5. Smith was captured by Chief Powhatan in December 1607. Pocahontas interceded on his behalf and he was not killed. Federer then tells more about Pocahontas, that she was baptized, and married tobacco planter John Rolfe. People in England thought that smoking tobacco would make one healthy since the Indians smoked “peace pipes,” and were healthy. This caused a great demand for tobacco.
  6. On May 23, 1609, King James granted a Second Charter of Virginia. He quotes part of that charter: “The principal Effect which we can expect … is the Conversion and reduction of the people in those parts unto the true worship of Godand the Christian Religion … It shall be necessary for all such our loving Subjects … to live together, in the Fear and true Worship of Almighty God, Christian Peace, and civil Quietness, with each other.”
  7. The colony would have been abandoned in 1610 except for the arrival of more settlers and supplies.
  8. The Third Charter of Virginia,March 12, 1611, stated: “Our loving Subjects … for the Propagation of Christian Religion, and Reclaiming of People barbarous, to Civility and Humanity, We have … granted unto them … the first Colony in Virginia.”
  9. In May of 1611, the London Company sent Sir Thomas Dale to Virginia. He founded Henricus, the colony’s second settlement, named after James’ eldest son, Prince Henry
  10. In 1619, Henricus became the location of the first English hospital in American and the first chartered college in the English colonies initially designed to educate Powhatan children. It was destroyed in 1622 in an Indian uprising in which Indians killed 347 men, women, and children, one full quarter of Virginia’s population. An Indian convert to Christianity saved the town by warning Richard Pace. Federer gives more facts about the massacre.
  11. The colony suffered droughts, famines, starvation, diseases, and attacks. Between 1608 and 1624, of the 6,000 settlers that came to Jamestown, only 3,400 survived.
  12. In 1624, King James I revoked the Virginia Company charter and ruled directly over Virginia.

The Church of England was established from 1606 till 1786. Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defined “establishment” of religion as:

“The episcopal form of religion, so called in England.”

Webster’s 1828 dictionary was written to comport with the English language of the time of the writing of the Bible and also to conform, in many matters, to the Anglican establishment in England. “Establisment” of religion is any combination of religion and state.

Establishment also meant that settlers had to take the “oath of supremacy.” The Second Charter of Virginia, 1609, stated:

“None be permitted to pass in any voyage … into the said country, but such as first shall have taken the Oath of Supremacy.”

The Oath of Supremacy, 1535, stated:

“I declare … that the King’s Highness is the only Supreme Governor of this Realm … in all Spiritual or Ecclesiastical things.”

Church attendance was mandatory. The Virginia House of Burgesses passed an ordinance in 1623:

“To see that the Sabbath was not profaned by working or any employments, or journeying from place to place.”

On March 5, 1624, Virginia’s legislature passed the ordinance: “Whosoever shall absent himself from Divine service any Sunday without an allowable excuse shall forfeit a pound of tobacco …”

That there be an uniformity in our Church as near as may be to the Canons in England … and that all persons yield ready obedience unto them under pain of censure.”

  1. In 1699, the Virginia Assembly adopted the statues of monarchs William and Mary allowing for limited toleration of some Protestant dissenters.

James Madison wrote to Robert Walsh, March 2, 1819:

“The English Church was originally the established religion …

Of other sects there were but few adherents, except the Presbyterians who predominated on the west side of the Blue Mountains …”

Madison continued:

“A little time previous to the Revolutionary struggle, the Baptists sprang up, and made very rapid progress …

At present the population is divided, with small exceptions, among the Protestant Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Baptists and the Methodists.”

Federer then offers some quotes from Justice Hugo Black, writing in Engel v. Vitale, 1962:

“As late as the time of the Revolutionary War, there were established Churches in at least eight of the thirteen former colonies …

The successful Revolution against English political domination was shortly followed by intense opposition … in Virginia where the minority religious groups such as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Quakers and Baptists had gained such strength …”

“In 1785-1786, those opposed to the established Church … obtained the enactment of the famous ‘Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty’ by which all religious groups were placed on an equal footing.”

The “Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty,” drafted by Jefferson, prevented the government from infringing on the rights of conscience, January 16, 1786:

“Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint;

that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments … are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion,

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, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone …”

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical …

that … laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust … unless he … renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges … to which … he has a natural right …

that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction;

that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion … 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 …

that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself …”

“that no man shall be … molested … on account of his religious opinions or belief;

but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”

  1. Federer then points out how that Jefferson’s view that no man should be molested “on account of his religious opinions, would have pitted him against mandatory CRT teaching, LGBTQ grooming, anti-bullying or hate crime laws, etc. What about how it would affect the issue of the relationship of church and state, establishment of religion?
  2. The Virginia Declaration of Rights,Article 16, ratified June 12, 1776, stated:

“That Religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other.”

  1. Only a small number of Catholics settled in the Anglican Colony of Virginia because Virginia’s 1609 Charter denied Catholics the right to settle there. That changed with Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, 1776, and Jefferson’s Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty, 1786, followed by the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, 1789, and bill of Rights, 1791. The first Catholic Church in Virginia was erected in 1795. The first Jewish synagogue in Virginia was in 1820. Federer asserts that it is one of the oldest colonial Jewish congregations in America along with others in New York, Philadelphia, Newport, Savannah, and Charleston. I believe this is error. I believe at least one Jewish synagogue was founded in Rhode Island in the colonial period, in the 1600s. Also, 1820 was not the colonial period.
  2. Virginian George Washingtonwrote November 27, 1783:

“Acknowledge … our infinite obligations to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for rescuing our country from the brink of destruction; I cannot fail … to ascribe all the honor of our late success to the same glorious Being … The establishment of civil and religious liberty was the motive which induced me to the field … It now remains to be my earnest … prayer, that the Citizens of the United States would make a wise and virtuous use of the blessings placed before them.”

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

[iii] See, e.g., William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from the Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy, (Garden City New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1964), pp. 89-90.

[iv] Ibid., p. 93.

[v] John T.  Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume I, (Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.: Bogard Press), p. 381.

[vi] James, pp. 10-11.

[vii] Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), pp. 80—105.

[viii] “Jamestown: Where America Became a Christian Nation,” Legal Alert (Monthly Newsletter of the Christian Law Association), April 2007, p. 1.

[ix] Marshall and Manuel, pp. 80-105; see Clarkson for this excerpt from “Articles, Instructions, and Orders” from the homeland.

[x] Ibid., p. 17.

[xi] See Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom, (Boston: The Beacon  Press, 1953) p. 69 for the text of this law.

[xii] Ibid.; see also James, pp. 17-20 for a more comprehensive overview of the laws of Virginia which provided for religious persecution and the established church.

[xiii] William A. Lumpkin, Baptist History in the South, (Shelbyville, Tennessee: Bible and Literature Missionary Foundation) p. 105.

[xiv] James, pp. 17-20.

[xv] Ibid., pp. 11-12.

[xvi] Ibid., pp. 20-22.

[xvii] Ibid., pp. 22-25, citing Foote, “Sketches of Virginia,” pp. 99, 160-162, 307, 308.

[xviii] Ibid., pp. 12-14, 26.

[xix] Ibid., pp. 26-27, citing Robert B. Semple, “History of the Baptists of Virginia,” 1810, p. 25.

[xx][xx] Ibid., pp. 27-28, citing Foote, p. 38 quoting from the Bishop of London; Bishop Meade, “Old Parishes and Families of Virginia” (Vol. I, 118, 385, etc.; Dr. Hawks, “History of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia,” p. 65.).

[xxi] James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America, (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004) pp. 140-142.

[xxii] Lumpkin, pp. 48-49.

[xxiii] Ibid., p. 90, citing A. B. Semple, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists of Virginia (Richmond: Pitt & Dickinson, 1894), p. 380.

[xxiv] Ibid., pp. 90-98.

[xxv] Ibid., pp. 90-103.

[xxvi] Pfeffer, p. 95. citing Edward F. Humphrey, Nationalism and Religion in America (Boston: Chipman Law Publishing Co., 1924), p. 370.

[xxvii] James, pp. 29-30. Included is a listing of some of those jailed and otherwise persecuted. See also Beller, America in Crimson Red, pp. 230-250; Lumpkin, pp. 105-120; Grady, What Hath God Wrought, Appendix A, pp. 593-598 citing Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia, (Galatin, Tenn.: Church History Research and Archives, 1987), pp. 516-520 (lists many Baptists and the persecutions they endured in Virginia; persecutions such as being jailed for preaching, civil suit, being annoyed by men drinking and playing cards, being jerked off stage and head beaten against the ground, hands being slashed, beaten with bludgeons, being shot with a shotgun, ousted as a justice for preaching, being brutally beaten by a mob, severely beaten with a stick, etc.).

[xxviii] James, p. 30, citing Semple, p. 19.

[xxix] Ibid., pp. 30-31, citing William Fristoe, “History of the Ketocton Baptist Association,” p. 69.

[xxx] Ibid., citing Dr. Hawks, “History of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia,” p. 121.

[xxxi] Ibid., pp. 31-35.

[xxxii] Ibid., pp. 42-47.

[xxxiii] Lenni Brenner, editor, Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State (Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc, 2004), pp. 11-12; James, p. 36.

[xxxiv] Brenner, pp. 12-13; James, pp. 35-38, citing Rives Life and Times of Madison, Vol. I, pp. 43, 53; Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), pp. 299-301.

[xxxv] James, pp. 47-48. See also Christian, Volume I, pp. 381-384.

[xxxvi] Christian, Volume I, p. 386-387.

[xxxvii] Ibid., pp. 390-391.

[xxxviii] James, pp. 49-57.

[xxxix] Ibid., p. 58.

[xl] Ibid., pp. 58-62.

[xli] Ibid., p. 10.

[xlii] Marnell, pp. 94-95; James, pp. 62-65.

[xliii] See Leni Brenner, editor, Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State, ((Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc. 2004), pp. 21-22 for George Mason’s Article, Madison’s Amendment to Mason’s Article, The  Proposal of Committee of Virginia’s Revolutionary Convention, Madison’s Amendment to the Committee’s Article, and the Article as Passed); James, pp. 62-65.

[xliv] James, pp. 62-64; Pfeffer, p. 96.

[xlv] Pfeffer, p. 96.

[xlvi] James, p. 63 quoting Dr. John Long.

[xlvii] Norman Cousins, In God We Trust, ((Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), p. 296.

[xlviii] James, pp. 66-67.

[xlix] Ibid., p. 10.

[l] Marnell, pp. 94-95; Pfeffer, p. 96.

[li] Pfeffer, p. 97.

[lii] James, p. 74. See pp. 68-74 for the petitions against establishment.

[liii] Ibid., p. 82.

[liv] Ibid., pp. 75-78. The petitions of the Methodists and the established church are quoted and the author comments on the petition of the established church.

[lv] Ibid., pp. 80-81; See also Pfeffer, p. 96.

[lvi] James, pp. 84-91 quotes those memorials.

[lvii] Pfeffer, p. 97.

[lviii] James, p. 95.

[lix] Ibid., pp. 96-98.

[lx] Pfeffer, p. 97.

[lxi] Ibid., citing R. Freeman Butts, The American Tradition in Religion and Education (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), pp. 53-56.

[lxii] James, pp. 112-121 citing Dr. R. B. C. Howell, “Early Baptists of Virginia” for the quotation which is on p. 120.

[lxiii] Ibid., pp. 122-133.

[lxiv] Cousins, p. 301.

[lxv] Ibid., p. 302; Brenner, pp. 60-61.

[lxvi] James, pp. 132-133, citing William Fristoe, “History of the Ketocton Association.”

[lxvii] Ibid., p. 130; Cousins, p. 306.

[lxviii] Marnell, p. 95.

[lxix] Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 163 (1879); see James, p. 129 where the preamble to the bill is quoted.

[lxx] James, p. 135.

[lxxi] Marnell, pp. 95, 96.

[lxxii] Pfeffer, p. 98, citing N. J. Eckenrode, The Separation of Church and State in Virginia (Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1910), p. 86. Pfeffer notes in Chapter 4 fn. 102 that the text of the bill is printed as an appendix to Justice Rutledge’s dissent in Everson, 330 U.S. 1.

[lxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxiv] Everson, 330 U.S. fn. 9 at 11; 67 S. Ct. at 509.

[lxxv] Pfeffer, p. 101. Pfeffer states that “[i]t is important to note the emphasis the ‘Memorial’ places on ideological factors.” His comments following that quote ignore the references to our “creator,” and the “Governor of the Universe.”

[lxxvi] James, p. 135, quoting Semple.

[lxxvii] Ibid., p. 135, quoting Dr. George B. Taylor, Memorial Series, No. IV., page 19.

[lxxviii] Ibid., p. 135.

[lxxix] James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, June 20, 1785, cited in Beller, America in Crimson Red, pp. 512-515; Cousins, pp. 308-314; may also be viewed online.

[lxxx] Pfeffer, p. 99, citing Eckenrode, p. 100.

[lxxxi] Brenner, p. 74 (letter dated August 20, 1785); James, pp. 134-139. Madison’s quote was from a letter to Mr. Jefferson.

[lxxxii] Cited in Cousins, pp. 125-127; see also, for an edited version, Living American Documents, Selected and edited by Isidore Starr, Lewis Paul Todd, and Merle Curti, (New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Burlingame: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961), pp. 67-69.

[lxxxiii] Marnell, pp. 96-97.

[lxxxiv] Pfeffer, p. 94, citing Saul K. Padover, The Complete Jefferson (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943), p. 943. Keep in mind that although Pfeffer’s quotes of Jefferson and others often spoke of God and His sovereignty and freedom of conscience, Pfeffer passes over God as though he had not been mentioned.

[lxxxv] Pfeffer, citing Joseph L. Blau, Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949), pp. 78-79.

[lxxxvi] James, pp. 142-146.

[lxxxvii] See Falwell v. Miller, 203 F. Supp. 2d 624 (W.D. Va. 2002).

[lxxxviii] James, pp. 142-145.

[lxxxix] Marnell, p. 130.

[xc] Ibid., p. 98.

XI. The Fight against the Assessment Bill Continues; The Virginia Act for Religious Liberty, Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, Passes instead; Thomas Jefferson’s Unswerving Position on Religious Liberty, All Vestiges of the Establishment Removed


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Copyright © March 5, 2018


Virginia Bill For Religious Freedom -Passed in 1786. Click above image to go to the online PDF.

The people were against the assessment bill, and the Presbyterians reversed their position, opposed the bill, and for the first time, on August 10, 1785, the whole Presbyterian body supported Jefferson’s “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” “although that bill had been before the Legislature since June 1779.” The Baptists asked all counties which had not yet prepared a petition to do so and agreed to prepare a remonstrance and petition against the assessment. Thus the Presbyterians and Baptists stood together, but for different motives. Mr. Madison’s opinion was that the Presbyterians were “moved by either a fear of their laity or a jealousy of the Episcopalians. The mutual hatred of these sects has been much inflamed by the late act incorporating the latter…. Writings of Madison, I., 175.”[1]

Patrick Henry, the leading proponent of the assessment bill was elected governor, “depriving the bill of its ablest legislative leader.” The Memorial and Remonstrance had received wide distribution. At the next session, the General Assembly was flooded with petitions and memorials from all parts of the State, overwhelmingly against the bill. The bill was defeated by three votes.

On January 16, 1786, the Virginia Act for Religious Liberty, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was passed instead. That bill provided for religious liberty and freedom of conscience. Click here to see the entire PDF of the Bill. It stated, in part:

  • “I. Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord of both 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 assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such, endeavoring to impose them on others hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;
  • that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, … that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than [on] our opinions in physics or geometry;
  • that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or 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 natural right; …
  • 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, 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 enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt [open, or public] acts against peace and good order; …
  • “II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
  • “III. 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 powers equal to her own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet, as we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural right of mankind, and that if any act shall hereafter be passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural rights.”[2]

The act included three factors: church, state, and individual. It protected the individual from loss at the hands of the state incursion into his church affiliation, and implicitly banned church establishment. “It did not attempt to define the relations between Church and State except in terms of the individual.”[3]

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the above bill, never swerved from his devotion to the complete independence of church and state. He wrote:

  • “The care of every man’s soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well, what if he neglect the care of his health or estate, which more clearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he shall not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.”[4]
  • “But our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God….
  • “Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”[5]

The Baptists continued their struggle to remove all vestiges of the establishment until 1802 when the glebes were sold and all religious societies were placed on equal footing before the law. The glebes were tracts of land and buildings built thereon for the accommodation of the minister and his family, all at the expense of the people within the parish. The Baptists fought to have the act incorporating the Episcopal church repealed. Reuben Ford and John Leland attended the first 1787 assembly meeting as agents in behalf of the Baptist General Committee.[6] On August 10, 1787, the act incorporating the Episcopal church was repealed, and until 2001—when Jerry Falwell and trustees of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, who were joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the Virginia Constitutional provision forbidding the incorporation of churches in federal district court—no church in Virginia could be incorporated.[7]

“The Baptists continued to memorialize the Legislature … and in 1799 that body passed an act entitled ‘An Act to Repeal Certain Acts, and to Declare the Construction of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution Concerning Religion,’ which act declared that no religious establishment had legally existed since the Commonwealth took the place of the regal government, repealed all laws giving to the Protestant Episcopal church any special privileges, and declared that ‘the act establishing religious freedom’ contains the true construction of the Bill of Rights and of the Constitution; but no order was given for the sale of the glebes.”[8]

As the Anglican establishment in Virginia yielded to pressure from Baptists [and to a much lesser extent Presbyterians] so that religious liberty was established in that state, “[t]he same pressure, reinforced by the conditions of frontier living, ended the Anglican establishment in the Carolinas and Georgia…. [T]he conditions which made establishment possible never existed in the states admitted after Vermont, nor in the territories with the exception of unique Utah.”[9]

By the time the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, “three states, Rhode Island, New York, and Virginia granted full religious freedom. Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland demanded in different degrees adherence to Christianity. New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia demanded Protestantism.”[10]


Endnotes

[1] Lenni Brenner, editor, Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State (Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc, 2004), p. 74 (letter dated August 20, 1785); 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), p p. 134-139. Madison’s quote was from a letter to Mr. Jefferson.

[2] Cited in Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), pp. 125-127; see also, for an edited version, Living American Documents, Selected and edited by Isidore Starr, Lewis Paul Todd, and Merle Curti, (New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Burlingame: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961), pp. 67-69.

[3] William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), pp. 96-97.

[4] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 94, citing Saul K. Padover, The Complete Jefferson (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943), p. 943. Keep in mind that although Pfeffer’s quotes of Jefferson and others often spoke of God and His sovereignty and freedom of conscience, Pfeffer passes over God as though he had not been mentioned.

[5] Pfeffer, citing Joseph L. Blau, Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949), pp. 78-79.

[6] James, pp. 142-146.

[7] See Falwell v. Miller, 203 F. Supp. 2d 624 (W.D. Va. 2002).

[8] James, pp. 142-145.

[9] Marnell, p. 130.

[10] Ibid., p. 98.

VII. The Revival Dies; Separate Churches Die; Baptist Denomination Grows; Formation of the Warren Association in 1770 To Obtain Religious Liberty; Isaac Backus’s Efforts; An Appeal to the Public

 


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VIII. Backus Presents Appeal for Religious Liberty at Continental Congress; Debate in the Newspapers; Warren Association Activities; Backus Urges Religious Liberty in New Massachusetts Constitution; John Adams Works against Religious Liberty

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


The revival died out almost as fast as it had appeared. Conversions became rare. People turned their attention to politics and controversy. The Separate churches and groups either died, or found their way into the Baptist camp. The Baptist denomination experienced an unprecedented growth. In 1740 no more than six Calvinistic Baptist churches existed in New England; but by 1800 there were more than 325 Baptist churches, most of them Calvinistic.[1]

The Warren Association, an association of Baptist churches, was formed in 1770. The main goal was to obtain religious liberty. This marked an important movement in the history of New England. An advertisement to all Baptists in New England was published requesting them to bring in exact accounts of their cases of persecution to the first annual meeting on September 11, 1770. The establishment feared the association and countered by dealing deceitfully with it and spreading lies about the association.[2]

Isaac Backus was the key member of the grievance committee of the Warren Association in September 1771. “[He soon] became the principal spokesman for the Baptists in their efforts to disestablish the Puritan churches. As such he did more than any other man to formulate and publicize the evangelical position on Church and State which was ultimately to prevail throughout America.”[3]

“An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppression of the Present Day” was the most important of the 37 tracts which Backus published during his lifetime and was central to the whole movement for separation of church and state in America. “It remains the best exposition of the 18th century pietistic concept of separation.”[4] In that tract, Backus argued, among other things:

  • “Basic to the Baptist position was the belief that all direct connections between the state and institutionalized religion must be broken in order that America might become a truly Christian country. Backus, like Jefferson and Madison, believed that ‘Truth is great and will prevail’—but by ‘Truth’ he meant the revealed doctrines of grace. His fundamental assumption was that ‘God has appointed two different kinds of government in the world which are different in their nature and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.’ The two had been ‘confounded together’ by the Emperor Constantine and the Papacy and had ultimately been brought to New England by the Puritans ‘who had not taken up the cross so as to separate from the national church before they came away.’ A ‘Brief view of how civil and ecclesiastical affairs are blended together among us [in 1773] to the depriving of many of God’s people of that liberty of conscience which he [God] has given us’ utilized also the long–forgotten arguments of Roger Williams to defend the doctrines of separation.”[5]

Amidst persecutions of Baptists for failing to pay ministerial taxes, the association met on September 1773 and voted to refrain from giving any more certificates for tax exemption to pay the established minister. Backus listed the reasons why they would no longer obey “a law requiring annual certificates to the other denomination.” “Jefferson in his preamble to the Religious Liberty Act of Virginia and Madison in his famous Remonstrance of 1785 utilized essentially deistic arguments based upon reason and natural law. Backus’s arguments were pure pietism[:]”[6]

  • [To get a certificate] “implies an acknowledgement that religious rulers had a right to set one sect over another, which they did not have.” 2. Civil rulers have no right to impose religious taxes. 3. Such practice emboldens the “actors to assume God’s prerogative.” 4. For the church, which is presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, to place her trust and love upon others for temporal support is playing the harlot. 5. “[B]y the law of Christ every man is not only allowed but also required to judge for himself concerning the circumstantials as well as the essentials of religion, and to act according to the full persuasion of his own mind.” The practice tends to envy, hypocrisy, and confusion, and the ruin of civil society.[7]

An Appeal to the Public was pietistic America’s declaration of spiritual independence. Like Jefferson’s Declaration three years later, it contained a legal brief against a long train of abuses, a theoretical defense of principle, and a moral argument for civil disobedience.”[8] No answer was ever given to “An Appeal to the Public” which was published in Boston. The collection of taxes for support of the established religion continued with confiscation of property and imprisonments occurring.[9]


Endnotes

[1] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 20.

[2] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 154-156; pp. 408-409 of A History of New England… gives more on the formation of the Warren Association.

[3] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 109.

[4] Ibid., p. 123. The entire contents of the tract are in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 303-343.

[5] Ibid., pp. 123-124.

[6] Ibid., p. 126.

[7] Backus, Volume 2, p. 178, citing “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty.”

[8] McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, p. 127.

[9] Backus, Volume 2, pp. 178-182. Christian, Volume I, p. 388.

II. The Continuing Fight for a Religious Freedom Amendment; The First Amendment Is Adopted and Approved


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I. Convention to Amend Articles of Confederation; Constitution Drafted; John Leland’s Influence on James Madison; Constitution Ratified by the States

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Conclusion to Lessons on Religious Liberty in America

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 5, 2018


James Madisons first act, after the First Congress was organized, in 1789, was to propose, on June 8, certain amendments, including what is now the First Amendment. His purpose was to “conciliate and to make all reasonable concessions to the doubting and distrustful”—to those, the Baptists, who were concerned about the issue of religious liberty. “Of all the denominations in Virginia, [the Baptists] were the only ones that had expressed any dissatisfaction with the Constitution on that point, or that had taken any action into looking to an amendment.” The Baptists of Virginia had also corresponded with Baptists of other states to “secure cooperation in the matter of obtaining” a religious liberty amendment. No other denomination asked for this change.[1] A general committee of Baptist churches from Virginia presented an address to President Washington, dated August 8, 1789, expressing concern that “liberty of conscience was not sufficiently secured,” perhaps because “on account of the usage we received in Virginia, under the regal government, when mobs, bonds, fines and prisons, were [their] frequent repast.”[2] President Washington assured them that he would not have signed the Constitution if he had had the slightest apprehension that it “might endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society.”[3]

Some Baptists and others did not see the need for a religious freedom amendment. Indeed, the First Amendment may not have been necessary to guarantee separation of church and state. Isaac Backus was elected as a delegate to the Massachusetts convention of January, 1788, which considered the issue of ratification of the new Constitution. He spoke at the convention.

  • “On February 4, [Backus] spoke of ‘the great advantage of having religious tests and hereditary nobility excluded from our government.’ These two items in the Constitution seemed to him a guarantee against any establishment of religion and against the formation of any aristocracy. ‘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 be established without any religious test.’ He said ‘Popery,’ but he probably feared, as many Baptists did, that some form of Calvinism of the Presbyterian or Consociational variety was more likely. His interpretation of this article helps to explain why the Baptists [of Massachusetts] made no effort to fight for an amendment on freedom of religion along with the others which the convention sent to Congress.”[4]

Even Madison, who proposed and fought for the First Amendment, did not believe that it was necessary for the security of religion. He wrote in his Journal on June 12, 1788:

  • “… Is a bill of rights a security for Religion? … If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one to oppress and persecute the rest. Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment—I believe it to be so in the other states…. But the United States abounds in such a variety of sects, that it is a strong security against religious persecution, and it is sufficient to authorize a conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest.”[5]

Others were against a bill of rights. “James Wilson argued that ‘all is reserved in a general government which is not given,’ and that since the power to legislate on religion or speech or press was not given to the Federal government, the government did not possess it, and there was therefore no need for an express prohibition.”[6] “Alexander Hamilton argued that a bill of rights, not only was unnecessary, but would be dangerous, since it might create the inference that a power to deal with the reserved subject was in fact conferred.”[7]

The amendment was adopted on September 25, 1789, and was approved by the required number of states in 1791.

“No more fitting conclusion can be had … than to quote the language of the Father of his country. The days of persecution, of blood and of martyrdom were passed. Civil and soul liberty, the inalienable rights of man, enlargement, benevolent operations, educational advantages, and worldwide missionary endeavor, all had been made possible by the struggles of the past. The Baptists consulted George Washington to assist in the securing freedom of conscience. He replied:

  • “I have often expressed my sentiments, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience. While I recognize with satisfaction, that the religious society of which you are members have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution, I cannot hesitate to believe, faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government. Under this pleasing expectation, I rejoice to assure them, that they may rely on my best wishes and endeavors to advance their prosperity.”[8]

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), p. 167.

[2] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 340.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), pp. 198-199.

[5] Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), pp. 314-315.

[6] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 112.

[7] Ibid., citing Federalist Papers, Modern Library ed., 1937, p. 559.

[8] John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume I, (Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.: Bogard Press, 1922), pp. 392-393, citing Sparks, Writings of George Washington, SII, 155. Boston, 1855.

X. Alliance Between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians; Bill for Provisions for Teachers of Christian Religion; Madison’s Opposition to the Bill and His Famous Memorial and Remonstrance


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IX. The Battle for Religious Liberty Continues, 1784-1785; Baptists Uncompromising in Their Stand for Religious Liberty; Presbyterians Take a Middle Ground to Which Madison Takes Issue

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XI. The Fight against the Assessment Bill Continues; The Virginia Act for Religious Liberty, Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, Passes instead; Thomas Jefferson’s Unswerving Position on Religious Liberty, All Vestiges of the Establishment Removed

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 3, 2018


James Madison

Thus, “[i]n [these] later stages of disestablishment there was a curious alliance formed between the Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergy with an eye to creating a new line of defense.”[1] “In 1784, the Virginia House of Delegates 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 assembly.”[2] This last action was a result of a resolution offered by the Baptists and adopted by the Legislature. The Baptists, appearing to be losing ground as the only opponents of a general assessment, the majority of the Legislature being churchmen, the only hope of the opponents of the assessment was an appeal to the people.[3]

The bill—which was proposed by Patrick Henry and supported by George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and John Marshall—provided for the establishment a provision for teachers of the Christian religion, in effect providing for the “establishment of Christianity, but without precedence in such an establishment to any particular church.”[4] The bill required all persons

“to pay a moderate tax or contribution annually for the support of the Christian religion, or of some Christian church, denomination or communion of Christians, or for some form of Christian worship.”[5]

Leo Pfeffer noted:

  • “the bill was predicated on the legislative determination in its preamble that ‘the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for licensed teachers.’
  • “The preamble is of great significance, because it recognized the widely held belief that religion was not within the competence of civil legislatures. It sought to justify intervention not on any theocratic ground but on what today would be called the ‘police’ or ‘welfare’ power. Government support of religion is required to restrain vice and preserve peace, not to promote God’s kingdom on earth.” [6]

Pfeffer does not understand that God has given civil government the choice of whether to honor his principles. The government is to intervene, according to God’s word, to control and restrain certain crimes. Government does not support religion in order to do its job. Government merely makes a choice of whether to honor God and his principles for the purpose of restraining vice and preserving peace.

James Madison, among others, opposed the bill. Mr. Madison had witnessed and opposed the persecution of the Baptists in his own state.

  • “Madison wrote to a friend in 1774: ‘That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some…. This vexes me the worst of anything whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent country not less than five or six well-meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear, talk, or think of anything relative to this matter; for I have squabbled and scolded, abused and ridiculed, so long about it to little purpose, that I am without common patience. So I must beg you to pity me, and pray for liberty of conscience to all.’ I Writings of James Madison (1900) 18, 21.”[7]

Mr. Madison prepared his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance,” in which he maintained “that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator,” was not within the cognizance of civil government. The “Memorial” presents fifteen arguments against the assessment bill.[8] One historian says of this document, “For elegance of style, strength of reasoning, and purity of principle, it has, perhaps, seldom been equaled, certainly never surpassed, by anything in the English language.”[9] “Dr. George B. Taylor says: ‘It may certainly be called a Baptist document this far, that they only, as a people, held its views, and pressed those views without wavering.’”[10] Dr. E. G. Robinson wrote of the document:

  • “In a word, the great idea which he [Madison] put forth was identical with that which had always been devoutly cherished by our Baptist fathers, alike in the old world and the new, and which precisely a century and a half before had been perfectly expressed in the celebrated letter of Roger Williams to the people of his settlement, and by him incorporated into the fundamental law of the colony of Rhode Island. By Mr. Madison it was elaborated with arguments and wrought into the generalizations of statesmanship, but the essential idea is precisely the same with the ‘soul liberty’ so earnestly contended for by the Baptists of every age.”[11]

One must keep in mind that although the document advocated freedom of conscience, something for which Baptists had long struggled, the tone was that of deistic or humanistic arguments based upon reason and natural law. As pointed out supra, Jefferson and Madison and other deistic separatists “were interested in leaving the mind free to follow its own rational direction.” A trust in man’s reason without consideration of principles in the word of God is a leaven which eventually totally pollutes. Tragically, the pietistic arguments of Isaac Backus never prevailed in America. America never fully proceeded upon the lessons taught by the Bible, and implemented by Roger Williams, John Clarke, and the other founders of Rhode Island.

Click here to go to PDF of James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance. Here are just a few excerpts:

  • “Because we hold it for a fundamental and unalienable truth, ‘that religion, or the duty which we owe to the Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence,’ the religion, then of every man, must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. … [H]e must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe…. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of religion, no man’s rights is abridged by the institution of civil society; and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance….
  • “… Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions, may establish, with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects; that the same authority, which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property, for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment, in all cases whatsoever?
  • “Because the establishment proposed by the bill, is not requisite for the support of the Christian religion itself; for every page of it disavows a dependence on the power of the world; it is a contradiction to fact, for it is known that this religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them; ….
  • “Because experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. Inquire of the teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest luster; those of every sect point to the ages prior to its incorporation with civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive state, in which its teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall….
  • “… [The proposed bill] is a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of citizens, ….
  • “Because it will have a tendency to banish our citizens…. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord, by proscribing all differences in religious opinion….
  • “Because the policy of the bill is adverse to the light of Christianity….
  • “Because, finally, ‘the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of his conscience,’ is held by the same tenure with all our other rights….”[12]

Madison, who led the opposition, was able to obtain a postponement of consideration of the bill from December 1784 to November 1785. Before adjourning, the legislature passed a bill which incorporated the Protestant Episcopal Church “deemed necessary in order to regulate the status of that church in view of the severance of its subordination to the Church of England that had resulted from the Revolution. The bill gave the Episcopal ministers title to the churches, glebes, and other property, and prescribed the method of electing vestrymen. Even Madison voted for the incorporation bill, though reluctantly and only in order to stave off passage of the assessment bill. Nonetheless, the incorporation bill aroused a good deal of opposition.”[13]


Endnotes

[1] William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p. 95.

[2] Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 163 (1879); see James, p. 129 where the preamble to the bill is quoted.

[3] 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), p. 135.

[4] Marnell, pp. 95, 96.

[5] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 98, citing N. J. Eckenrode, The Separation of Church and State in Virginia (Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1910), p. 86. Pfeffer notes in Chapter 4 fn. 102 that the text of the bill is printed as an appendix to Justice Rutledge’s dissent in Everson, 330 U.S. 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S.1, fn. 9 at 11; 67 S. Ct. at 509 (1947).

[8] Pfeffer, p. 101. Pfeffer states that “[i]t is important to note the emphasis the ‘Memorial’ places on ideological factors.” His comments following that quote ignore the references to our “creator,” and the “Governor of the Universe.”

[9] James, p. 135, quoting Semple.

[10] Ibid., p. 135, quoting Dr. George B. Taylor, Memorial Series, No. IV., page 19.

[11] Ibid., p. 135.

[12] James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, June 20, 1785.

[13] Pfeffer, p. 99, citing Eckenrode, p. 100.

VII. Virginia Adopts a New Constitution; Recognizes Religious Liberty (as opposed to Religious Tolerance); Patrick Henry for Religious Tolerance; James Madison for Religious Liberty


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VI. The Period of Intolerance and Persecution in Virginia Ends in 1775 with the Beginning of the Revolution; The Baptists Push for Religious Freedom

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VIII. Virginia Baptists Alone in Seeking Freedom of Conscience; The Battle for Soul Liberty in Virginia; Jefferson Fights for Religious Liberty

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 3, 2018


The Virginia Declaration of Rights is a document drafted in 1776 to proclaim the inherent rights of men, including the right to reform or abolish “inadequate” government. It influenced a number of later documents, including the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and the United States Bill of Rights (1789). The Declaration was adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, Virginia on June 12, 1776 as a separate document from the Constitution of Virginia which was later adopted on June 29, 1776. In 1830, the Declaration of Rights was incorporated within the Virginia State Constitution as Article I, but even before that Virginia’s Declaration of Rights stated that it was ‘”the basis and foundation of government” in Virginia. A slightly updated version may still be seen in Virginia’s Constitution, making it legally in effect to this day.

Virginia adopted a new constitution in 1776. The Convention of 1776 was, by its act, made the “House of Delegates” of the first General Assembly under the new constitution. Twenty-nine new members in this meeting were not in the 1775 Convention. “[W]hen there was anything near a division among the other inhabitants in a county, the Baptists, together with their influence, gave a caste to the scale, by which means many a worthy and useful member was lodged in the House of Assembly and answered a valuable purpose there.”[1] Among those favorable to Baptist causes was James Madison. On May 12, the Congress met in Philadelphia “and instructed the colonies to organize independent governments of their own. The war was on.” On May 15, the Convention resolved to declare the “colonies free and independent states” and that a committee be appointed to prepare Declaration of Rights and a plan of government which would “maintain peace and order” and “secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.”[2]

Other than Rhode Island, Virginia was the first colony to recognize religious liberty “in her organic law, and this she did in Article XVI. of her Bill of Rights, which was adopted on the 12th day of June 1776.”[3] In 1776, petitions from all over Virginia seeking religious freedom and freedom of conscience beset the Virginia state convention. Patrick Henry proposed the provision to section sixteen of the Virginia Bill of Rights, which granted religious tolerance.[4] On June 12, the House adopted a Declaration of Rights. The 16th Article provided for religious tolerance. However, [o]n motion on the floor by James Madison, the article was amended to provide for religious liberty. See [5] for short explanation of where Madison learned the distinction between religious toleration and religious liberty. In committee, Madison opposed toleration because toleration “belonged to a system where there was an established church, and where it was a thing granted, not of right, but of grace. He feared the power, in the hands of a dominant religion, to construe what ‘may disturb the peace, the happiness, or the safety of society,’ and he ventured to propose a substitute, which was finally adopted.”[6] He probably moved to change the amendment before the whole house in order to demonstrate his position to the Baptists who were viewing the proceedings. The amendment as passed by the convention read:

  • “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”[7]

“The adoption of the Bill of Rights marked the beginning of the end of the establishment.”[8]


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), p. 58.

[2] Ibid., pp. 58-62.

[3] Ibid., p. 10.

[4] William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), pp. 94-95; James, pp. 62-65.

[5] Where did Madison learn the distinction between religious freedom and religious toleration? “It had not then begun to be recognized in treatises on religion and morals. He did not learn it from Jeremy Taylor or John Locke, but from his Baptist neighbors, whose wrongs he had witnessed, and who persistently taught that the civil magistrate had nothing to do with matters of religion.” (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), p.  63 quoting Dr. John Long.)[5]

Madison studied for the ministry at Princeton University, then the College of New Jersey, under John Witherspoon. When he returned to Virginia, he continued his theological interests and developed a strong concern for freedom of worship.

“At the time of Madison’s return from Princeton, several ‘well-meaning men,’ as he described them, were put in prison for their religious views. Baptists were being fined or imprisoned for holding unauthorized meetings. Dissenters were taxed for the support of the State Church. Preachers had to be licensed. Madison saw at first hand the repetition of the main evils of the Old Country. But he also saw a deep dissatisfaction among the people—the kind of dissatisfaction that would grow and that would serve as a mighty battering ram for religious freedom.” (Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), p. 296.)

[6] See Lenni Brenner, editor, Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State (Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc, 2004), pp. 21-22 for George Mason’s Article, Madison’s Amendment to Mason’s Article, The  Proposal of Committee of Virginia’s Revolutionary Convention, Madison’s Amendment to the Committee’s Article, and the Article as Passed); James, pp. 62-65.

[7] James, pp. 62-64; Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 96.

[8] Pfeffer, p. 96.

VI. The Period of Intolerance and Persecution in Virginia Ends in 1775 with the Beginning of the Revolution; The Baptists Push for Religious Freedom


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V. Virginia Persecution of Baptists from 1768-1774; Baptist Petitions; James Madison on Religious Establishment and Persecution

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VII. Virginia Adopts a New Constitution; Recognizes Religious Liberty (as opposed to Religious Tolerance); Patrick Henry for Religious Tolerance; James Madison for Religious Liberty 

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 2, 2018


1775 closed the period of “Intolerance, Toleration, and Persecution.”

  • “The colony is involved in trouble with the mother country. Virginia has denounced the ‘Boston Port Bill,’ and made common cause with Massachusetts. The First Continental Congress has already met in Philadelphia. Patrick Henry has electrified the country by his memorable speech in the popular Convention which met March, 1775…. The Battles of Lexington and Concord have been fought (April 19), and Virginia has taken steps to enroll companies of volunteers in every county. The war of the Revolution is on, and the times call for union and harmony among all classes. Hence, there is no more persecution of Baptists. There are no more imprisonments in 1775, and that obnoxious Toleration Bill is indefinitely postponed. The same ruling class that admitted the Presbyterians to Virginia and to the benefits of the Act of Toleration, on condition that they occupied the frontier counties, and thus protected them against Indian raids, are now inclined to tolerate, not only the Presbyterians, but the Baptists also, with all their ‘pernicious doctrines,’ if only they will help in the struggle with Great Britain. The Baptists will help, and not a Tory will be found among them. But they will strike for something more and something dearer to them than civil liberty—for freedom of conscience, for ‘just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.’”[1]

The Baptists were ready to push for religious freedom and abolition of the establishment. In their Association meeting on the fourth Saturday of May 1775, “they were to a man favorable to any revolution by which they could obtain freedom of religion. They had known from experience that mere toleration was not a sufficient check, having been imprisoned at a time when that law was considered by many as being in force.” “The Revolutionary War opened up possibilities to overthrow the entire system of persecution…. [Baptists] were everywhere the friends of liberty…. There was not a tory among the Baptists of America.”[2] They received the highest praise for their patriotic endeavors.[3]

The Baptists decided to circulate petitions throughout the state calling for abolition of the church establishment and freedom of religion, and also to appoint commissioners to present their address for military resistance to British oppression and “offering the services of their young men as soldiers and asking only that, so far as the army was concerned, their ministers might enjoy like privileges with the clergy of the Established church” to the State Convention which was the House of Burgess under a new name and in a different character. The Convention, still controlled by “the same class that had, a few years before made concessions to the … Presbyterians on condition that they settle on the western counties forming a line of defense against the Indians, resolved to allow those dissenters in the military who so desired to attend divine worship administered by dissenting preachers. This first step towards placing all Virginia clergy on an equal footing, came as a result of the need for the numerical strength of the Baptists in what was considered by the establishment in 1775 a “struggle for their rights ‘in the union’ [with England].” The Convention maintained their “faith and true allegiance to His Majesty, George the Third, [their] only lawful and rightful King.” “It would have been very impolitic, even if their petitions had been ready, to have sprung the question of disestablishment upon [the Convention] before they had committed themselves to the cause of independence.”[4]


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), pp. 47-48. See also John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume I, (Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.: Bogard Press, 1922), p p. 381-384.

[2] Christian, Volume I, p. 386-387.

[3] Ibid., pp. 390-391.

[4] James, pp. 49-57.

V. Virginia Persecution of Baptists from 1768-1774; Baptist Petitions; James Madison on Religious Establishment and Persecution


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IV. Baptists in Virginia Colony; The Bad Character of the Anglican Clergy; Colonel Sam Harris and Other Baptist Preachers; The Separate and Regular Baptists

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VI. The Period of Intolerance and Persecution in Virginia Ends in 1775 with the Beginning of the Revolution; The Baptists Push for Religious Freedom

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © March 2, 2018


From 1768 through 1774, the Baptists were persecuted severely. “Baptist preachers were whipped, arrested, fined, imprisoned on bread and water, although the authorities sanctimoniously denied that punishment was for ‘preaching’; the crime they said, was ‘breach of the peace.’”[1] The first instance of actual imprisonment was on June 4, 1768, when John Waller, Lewis Craig, James Childs, James Reed, and William Marsh were arrested at Craig’s meetinghouse in Spotsylvania and charged with disturbing the peace. The magistrates offered to release them if they would promise to preach no more for a year and a day. They refused and were jailed. Many more were jailed and otherwise persecuted until 1774.[2]

  • “[The persecutors] seemed sometimes to strive to treat the Baptists and their worship with as much rudeness and indecency as was possible. They often insulted the preacher in time of service, and would ride into the water and make sport when they administered baptism. They frequently fabricated and spread the most groundless reports, which were injurious to the characters of the Baptists. When any Baptist fell into any improper conduct, it was always exaggerated to the utmost extent.”[3]
  • “The enemy, not contented with ridicule and defamation, manifested their abhorrence to the Baptists in another way. By a law then in force in Virginia, all were under obligation to go to church several times a year; the failure subjected them to fine. [Little action against members of the Established church was taken under this law, but] as soon as the ‘New Lights’ were absent, they were presented by grand jury, and fined…. [Others were imprisoned for preaching without a license.] ‘When persecutors found religion could not be stopped … by ridicule, defamation, and abusive language, the resolution was to take a different step and see what they could do; and the preachers in different places were apprehended by magisterial authority, some of whom were imprisoned and some escaped. Before this step was taken, the parson of the parish was consulted [and he advised that] the ‘New Lights’ ought to be taken up and imprisoned, as necessary for the peace and harmony of the old church….’”[4]
  • “[An Episcopalian wrote,] No dissenters in Virginia experienced, for a time, harsher treatment than did the Baptists. They were beaten and imprisoned, and cruelty taxed its ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance.”[5]

Because of the persecutions and oppressions, Baptists began to petition the House of Burgesses for relief. Their first petition in 1770 requesting that Baptist ministers “not be compelled to bear arms or attend musters” was rejected. Other petitions from Baptists in several counties were submitted in 1772 requesting that they “be treated with the same indulgence, in religious matters, as Quakers, Presbyterians, and other Protestant dissenters enjoy.” The petitions continued until 1775.[6] The Presbyterians petitioned also, but for the right to incorporate so that they could receive and hold gifts of land and slaves for the support of their ministers. One of the Presbyterian petitions was improperly hailed as proof “that the Presbyterians anticipated the Baptists in their memorials asking for religious liberty.” An examination of that petition reveals that it “contemplate[d] nothing more than securing for Presbyterians and others in Virginia the same privileges and liberties which they enjoyed in England under the Act of Toleration,” and contained no “attack upon the Establishment, or any sign of hostility to it.”[7]

During this time, James Madison wrote to his old college friend, Bradford of Philadelphia, in a letter dated January 24, 1774. He expressed his belief that if

  • “uninterrupted harmony had prevailed throughout the continent [in matters of established religion as practiced in Virginia] it is clear to me that slavery and subjection might and would have been gradually insinuated among us. Union of religious sentiments begets a surprising confidence, and ecclesiastical establishments tend to greatly ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitates the execution of mischievous projects…. Poverty and luxury prevail among all sorts; pride, ignorance, and knavery among the priesthood, and vice and wickedness among the laity. This is bad enough; but it is not the worst I have to tell you. That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some, and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such purposes. There are at this time in the adjacent country not less than five or six well-meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments, which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear, talk, or think of anything relative to this matter; for I have squabbled and scolded, abused and ridiculed, so long about it to little purpose, that I am without common patience…. So I must beg you to pity me, and pray for liberty of conscience to all.”[8]
  • [In another letter to Bradford dated April 1, 1774, Madison wrote that he doubted that anything would be done to help the dissenters in the Assembly meeting beginning May 1, 1774.] He spoke of “the incredible and extravagant stories [which were] told in the House of the monstrous effects of the enthusiasm prevalent among the sectaries, and so greedily swallowed by their enemies…. And the bad name they still have with those who pretend too much contempt to examine into their principles and conduct, and are too much devoted to ecclesiastical establishment to hear of the toleration of the dissentients…. The liberal, catholic, and equitable way of thinking, as to the rights of conscience, which is one of the characteristics of a free people, and so strongly marks the people of your province, is little known among the zealous adherents to our hierarchy…. [Although we have some persons of generous principles in the legislature] the clergy are a numerous and powerful body, have great influence at home by reason of their connection with and dependence on the bishops and crown, and will naturally employ all their arts and interest to depress their rising adversaries; for such they must consider dissentients, who rob them of the good will of the people, and may in time endanger their livings and security.
  • “… Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind, and unfits if for every enterprise, every expanded prospect.”[9]

Endnotes

[1] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 95 citing Edward F. Humphrey, Nationalism and Religion in America (Boston: Chipman Law Publishing Co., 1924), p. 370.

[2] 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), pp. 29-30. Included is a listing of some of those jailed and otherwise persecuted. See also James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), pp. 230-250; William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), pp. 105-120; William P. Grady, What Hath God Wrought: A Biblical Interpretation of American History (Knoxville, Tennessee: Grady Publications, Inc., 1999), Appendix A, pp. 593-598 citing Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia, (Galatin, Tenn.: Church History Research and Archives, 1987), pp. 516-520 (lists many Baptists and the persecutions they endured in Virginia; persecutions such as being jailed for preaching, civil suit, being annoyed by men drinking and playing cards, being jerked off stage and head beaten against the ground, hands being slashed, beaten with bludgeons, being shot with a shotgun, ousted as a justice for preaching, being brutally beaten by a mob, severely beaten with a stick, etc.).

[3] James, p. 30, citing Semple, p. 19.

[4] Ibid., pp. 30-31, citing William Fristoe, “History of the Ketocton Baptist Association,” p. 69.

[5] Ibid., citing Dr. Hawks, “History of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia,” p. 121.

[6] Ibid., pp. 31-35.

[7] Ibid., pp. 42-47.

[8] Lenni Brenner, editor, Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State (Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books, Inc, 2004), pp. 11-12; James, p. 36.

[9] Brenner, pp. 12-13; James, pp. 35-38, citing Rives Life and Times of Madison, Vol. I, pp. 43, 53; Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), pp. 299-301.

VIII. Backus Presents Appeal for Religious Liberty at Continental Congress; Debate in the Newspapers; Warren Association Activities; Backus Urges Religious Liberty in New Massachusetts Constitution; John Adams Works against Religious Liberty


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VII. The Revival Dies; Separate Churches Die; Baptist Denomination Grows; Formation of the Warren Association in 1770 To Obtain Religious Liberty; Isaac Backus’s Efforts; An Appeal to the Public

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IX. The Baptists Fight in the Courts; Reject Backus’s Advice; Backus Changes His Focus to Baptist Doctrines; Connecticut Continues To Persecute Dissidents; Connecticut Rejects Forced Establishment in 1818

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Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


Attempts to gain religious freedom continued. The Warren Association sent Isaac Backus to the Continental Congress in 1774 where he met with an Association of other Baptist churches from several adjacent colonies which had elected a large committee to assist. They presented their appeal for religious liberty. John Adams and Samuel Adams, neither of whom was a friend to separation of church and state, falsely asserted that Massachusetts had only a “very slender” establishment, hardly to be called an establishment, that the General Court was clear of blame and always there to hear complaints and grant reasonable help.[1] While Mr. Backus was gone, the lie was spread that he had gone to Philadelphia to break the union of the colonies.

All the time these happenings were going on, the issues were being debated in the newspapers. The Warren Association continued to publish to the public instances of persecution as well as to actively seek religious liberty from the government. The Warren Association presented a memorial on July 19, 1775, requesting religious liberty and pointing out the inconsistency of rebelling against England for taxing without representation while doing the same thing in the colonies. Ultimately, nothing came of this. In 1777, Mr. Backus prepared an address, which was supported by a large number from various denominations, urging religious liberty to the Assembly which had been empowered to frame a new Constitution which was accomplished in 1780. The Third Article of the new constitution “excluded all subordination of one religious sect to another,” but imprisonment, and confiscation of property from men who refused to acknowledge such subordination continued.[2]

In 1778, Mr. Backus wrote “Government and Liberty Described and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed.” He quoted Charles Chauncy:

  • “We are in principle against all civil establishments in religion. It does not appear to us that God has entrusted the State with a right to make religious establishments…. We claim no right to desire the interposition of the State to establish that mode of worship, [church] government, or discipline we apprehend is most agreeable to the mind of Christ. We desire no other liberty than to be left unrestrained in the exercise of our principles in so far as we are good members of society.” This, said Backus, was all that Baptists asked. [3]
  • “Perhaps as a result of this tract, the General Assembly tried to conciliate the Baptists by appointing a Baptist minister to deliver the election sermon in May 1779. That minister, in his sermon, remained faithful to the principle of separation.”[4]

Massachusetts began efforts to adopt a new constitution in 1777. The proposed constitution was defeated, but a new effort which began in 1779 proved successful. John Adams worked against the Baptist position at the convention. Mr. Backus, although not a delegate, went to Boston to stand for Baptist principles during the constitutional convention. He lobbied, wrote newspaper articles, published new tracts, and informed his brethren of what was going on.[5]

Mr. Backus worked at the convention for a Bill of Rights. The first basic rights he listed were:

  • “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, among which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and persuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
  • “As God is the only worthy object of all religious worship, and nothing can be true religion but a voluntary obedience unto his revealed will, of which each rational soul has an equal right to judge for itself; every person has an unalienable right to act in all religious affairs according to the full persuasion of his own mind, where others are not injured thereby. And civil rulers are so far from having any right to empower any person or persons to judge for others in such affairs, and to enforce their judgments with the sword, that their power ought to be exerted to protect all persons and societies, within their jurisdiction, from being injured or interrupted in the free enjoyment of his right, under any pretence whatsoever.”[6]

Backus’ position, although seeking the same end, was from a different point of view than that of George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

“Three years earlier George Mason, with Jefferson’s approval and Madison’s amendments, had written a statement on religious freedom into the Bill of Rights in the Virginia Constitution:

  • ‘That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.’
  • “Backus’s tone was that of a New Light pietist; Mason’s that of an Enlightened latitudinarian. The Virginians spoke of the ‘Creator,’ Backus spoke of ‘God.’ Mason stressed reason and duty, Backus stressed ‘religious worship.’ Backus referred directly to God’s ‘revealed will’ and to the ‘soul.’ Mason omitted any reference to them.
  • “The difference was obvious and fundamental. The Virginia separationists were interested in leaving the mind free to follow its own rational direction. The Massachusetts pietists believed that separation was necessary in order to leave the ‘rational soul’ free to find ‘true religion’ as expressed in the Bible, ‘the revealed will’ of God. Implicit in both statements was a belief in God, in natural law, in man’s ability to find them. But the deistic separationists of Virginia trusted entirely to man’s reason and free will. The pietists insisted that only through the supernatural grace of God would men find the Truth that is in Jesus Christ. Though both views were individualistic, the deist was anthropocentric, the pietist theocentric.”[7]

The humanistic view of Mason, Jefferson, and Madison that man, through his reason could successfully address all his problems, and the humanistic goal of the “happiness of man” were inherent in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the two greatest governing documents of all time, although blended with Biblical principles. Neither the name of Jesus nor the goal of “the glory of God” was in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.[8]

The Warren Association, on September 13, 1780, published a remonstrance, authored by Mr. Backus, against Article Three of the proposed constitution. The remonstrance stated, among other things, that the provision therein requiring the majority of each parish “the exclusive right of covenanting for the rest with religious teachers,” thereby granting a power no man has a right to; and further stating that “the Legislature, by this Article, are empowered to compel both civil and religious societies to make what they shall judge to be suitable provision for religious teachers in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”[9] However, support for ministry could only be through voluntary support, not coercion that denied freedom of conscience. Backus and other Baptists “did not object to the view that Massachusetts should remain a Christian commonwealth; piety, religion, and morality could only be maintained with the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality” were “generally diffused throughout the community.[10]

  • “Jefferson, Mason, and Madison, designing the creation of a secular state, not only opposed all such practices but also objected to the use of chaplains in the Congress and armed forces, the authorization by the state of certain days of fasting, thanksgiving, and prayer; and the compulsory religious services in state universities. Jefferson explicitly stated that America was not and ought not to be a Christian country…. Backus never qualified his belief in a Christian commonwealth. He consistently argued for ‘a sweet harmony between’ Church and State. ‘It is readily granted,’ he wrote in 1784, ‘that piety, religion, and morality are essentially necessary for the good order of civil society.’”[11]

Endnotes

[1] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 200-202, and fn. 1, p. 201.

[2] Ibid., pp. 203-204, 219-220, 225-229, 228-229.

[3] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 140. The entire tract is reproduced in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 345-365.

[4] Ibid., 141.

[5] Ibid., p. 142.

[6] Ibid., pp. 142-144.

[7] Ibid., pp. 142-144.

[8] Again, the Constitution is the greatest governing document ever conceived by a nation, but the Biblical principle of “leaven”—bad doctrine always corrupts the good—has proven again, by the national experience, to be true. To understand and address a problem, one must be willing to face all the facts head on.

[9] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 2, pp. 229-230.

[10] McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, pp. 148-149.

[11] Ibid., pp. 149-150.