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...Religion and Morality

James Iredell

Every person in the least conversant in the history of mankind, knows what dreadful mischiefs have been committed by religious persecution...America has set an example to mankind to think more modestly and reasonably; that a man may be of different religious sentiments from their own, without being a bad member of society...I consider the clause under consideration as one of the strongest proofs that could be adduced, that it was the intention of those who formed this system, to establish a general religious liberty in America...I confess the restriction on the power of Congress in this particular has my hearty approbation. They certainly have no authority to interfere in the establishment of any religion whatsoever, and I am astonished that any gentleman should conceive they have...Happily no sect here is superior to another...If any future Congress should pass an act concerning the religion of the country, it would be an act which they are not authorized to pass by the Constitution...The power to make treaties can never be supposed to include a right to establish a foreign religion among ourselves, though it might authorize a toleration of others...But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different form their own...The divine author of our religion never wished for its support by worldly authority...This article is calculated to secure universal religious liberty, by putting all sects on a level, the only way to prevent persecution...This country has already had the honour of setting an example of civil freedom, and I trust it will likewise have the honour of teaching the rest of the world the way to religious freedom also.

North Carolina Convention
July 30, 1788

David Caldwell

Moreover, even those who do not regard religion, acknowledge that the Christian religion is best calculated of all religions to make good members of society, on account of its morality.

North Carolina Convention
July 30, 1788

Benjamin Franklin

...I have so much Faith in the general Government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a Transaction of such momentous Importance to the Welfare of Millions now existing, and to exist in the Posterity of a great Nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenc'd, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior Spirits live, and move, and have their Being.

Federal Gazette
April 8, 1788

George Washington

If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution, framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general Government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution – For you, doubtless, remember that I have often expressed my sentiment, 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.

Letter to the United Baptist
Churches of Virginia
May 1789

Thomas Jefferson

But I have ever thought religion a concern purely between God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to him, and not to the priests...I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives...For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read.

Letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith,
August 6, 1816

Henry Abbott

The exclusion of religious tests is by many thought dangerous and impolitic. They suppose that if there be no religious test required, Pagans, Deists and Mahometans might obtain offices among us, and that the Senate and Representatives might all be Pagans.

North Carolina Convention
July 30, 1788

Tench Cox

To take a proper view of the ground on which we stand, it may be necessary to recollect the manner in which the United States were originally settled and established. - Want of charity in the religious systems of Europe and of justice in their political governments were the principal moving causes, which drove the emigrants of the various countries to the American continent.

“An American Citizen” I
Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia),
September 26, 1787.

Samuel Bryan

(A)ll men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding; and that no man ought, or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry, contrary to, or against his own free will and consent; and that no authority can or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner controul, the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.

“Centinel” II
Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia),
October 24, 1787

...we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion; but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn, why not establish the free exercise of religion, as part of the national compact.

“Federal Farmer” IV
New York.
October 12, 1787

...the omission of a BILL of RIGHTS ascertaining and fundamentally establishing those unalienable and personal rights of men, without the full, free, and secure enjoyment of which there can be no liberty, and over which it is not necessary for good government to have the controul. The principal of which are the rights of conscience...

Dissent of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention
Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia),
December 18, 1787

Robert Whitehill

The rights of conscience shall be held inviolable, and neither the legislative, executive, nor judicial powers of the United States, shall have authority to alter, abrogate, or infringe any part of the constitutions of the several states, which provide for the preservation of liberty in matters of religion.

Pennsylvania Convention Debate
December 12, 1787

Oliver Ellsworth

Civil government has no business to meddle with the private opinions of the people. If I demean myself as a good citizen, I am accountable, not to man, but to God, for the religious opinions which I embrace, and the manner in which I worship the supreme being.

“A Landholder” VII
Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
December 17, 1787

James Winthrop

Attention to religion and good morals is a distinguishing trait in our character.

“Agrippa” XII
Massachusetts Gazette,
January 11, 1788

Pelatiah Webster

Another mighty influence to the noblest principle of action will be the fear of God before their eyes; for while they set in the place of God, to give law, justice, and right to the States, they must be monsters indeed if they do not regard his law, and imitate his character.

The Weaknesses of Brutus Exposed:
“A Citizen of Philadelphia”
November 8, 1787

Luther Martin

...there were some members so unfashionable as to think that a belief of the existence of a Deity, and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the conduct of our rulers, and that in a Christian country it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.

“The Genuine Information” XII
Maryland Gazette (Baltimore)
February 8, 1788

Colonel William Jones

...rulers ought to believe in God or Christ...a person could not be a good man without being a good Christian.

Massachusetts Convention
January 31, 1788

Isaac Backus

...nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the holy scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ...And let the history of all nations be searched, form that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world.

Massachusetts Convention
February 4, 1788

James Madison

In a free government, the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.

“The Federalist” LI
Independent Journal (New York),
February 6, 1788

James Winthrop

Uniformity in legislation is of no more importance that in religion; Yet the framers of this new constitution did not even think it necessary that the president should believe, that there is a God, although they require an oath of him. It would be easy to shew the propriety of a general declaration upon the subject.

“Agrippa” XVIII
Massachusetts Gazette (Boston),
February 5, 1788

William Williams

When the clause in the 6th article, which provides that “no religious test should ever be required as a qualification to any office or trust, &c” came under consideration...still more wished something of the kind should have been inserted, but with a reverse sense, so far as to require an explicit acknowledgement of the being of a God, his perfections and his providence, and to have been prefixed to and stand as, the first introductory words of the Constitution...

American Mercury (Hartford, Conn.),
February 11, 1788

John Leland

No religious test is required as a Qualification to fill any office under the United States,...& if the Manners of People are so far Corrupted, that they cannot live by republican principles, it is Very Dangerous leaving religious Liberty at their Marcy...

Orange County, Virginia
February 28, 1788

Simeon Baldwin

Liberty was the darling object of the first settlers of this country. Animated with the hope of enjoying those civil and religious rights, which Heaven designed for the virtuous, they bade adieu to the joys of a more social life, and...they took possession of the fair territory we now inhabit...By the great distance of this country from Europe, Heaven seems to have designed it for the seat of an independent people...

New Haven Connecticut
July 4, 1788

That the people have an equal, natural and unalienable right, freely and peacably to exercise their religion according to the dictates of conscience; and that no religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.

Ratification of the Constitution by the Convention of the State of New York

Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or to infringe the rights of conscience.

Resolutions of the State of New Hampshire
June 21, 1788

That there be no national religion established by law; but that all persons be equally entitled to protection ion their religious liberty.

Resolutions of the State of Maryland
April 28, 1788

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 have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.

Resolutions of the State of Virginia

James Madison

I confess to you, Sir, were uniformity of religion to be introduced by this system, it would, in my opinion, be ineligible; but I have no reason to conclude, that uniformity of Government will produce that of religion. This subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled: The Government has no jurisdiction over it.

Reply to Patrick Henry
June 6, 1788

Edmund Randolph

No part of the Constitution, even if strictly construed, will justify a conclusion, that the General Government can take away, or impair the freedom of religion.

Virginia Convention
June 17, 1788

Zachariah Johnson

The diversity of opinions and variety of sects in the United States, have justly been reckoned a great security with respect to religious liberty. The difficulty of establishing an uniformity of religion in this country is immense.

Virginia Convention
June 25, 1788