Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview

Source: Francis Newton Thorpe (ed.), The Federal and State Constitutions ( Washington, D.C., 1909), III, 1889-1890.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

J. C. Meyer, Church and State in Massachusetts from 1740 to 1833 ( Cleveland, 1930), pp. 90-132.

S. E. Morison, "The Struggle over the Adoption of the Constitution of Massachusetts, 1780", Massachusetts Historical Society, Proceedings, Vol. L ( 1917), pp. 353-412.

A. Nevins, The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789 ( New York, 1924), pp. 172-184.


22
Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments [Virginia] 1785

The revolutionary assault on the privileged position of Virginia Anglicanism, though successful in winning concessions, began a long battle in state politics. Though a minority in the state, Anglicans enjoyed social and economic prominence and constituted a majority in the General Assembly. Many prominent Virginians, though opponents of religious injustice, were reluctant to sever entirely the church-state connection. In the 1780s this sentiment focused on plans for indiscriminative governmental support to all Christian denominations. General assessment bills, differing in detail, provided that sheriffs should collect taxes for the support of the denomination designated by the taxpayer. The bill before the legislature in 1784 stipulated that where the citizen failed to designate, the assessment would be used for education. Promoted by Patrick Henry, the measure also won favor with John Marshall and Washington. It passed preliminary votes in the Assembly, but James Madison ( 1751- 1836), a determined opponent, prevented final consideration until autumn 1785. His memorial and remonstrance, distributed widely during the summer of 1785, contributed to the defeat of the bill, leaving the way open for Jefferson's statute for religious freedom. (The memorial has figured prominently in modern discussion of the constitutionality of nonpreferential government aid to religion. See especially Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Tp. et al., 330 U.S. 1.) The memorial is addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We, the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill . . . entitled "A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion," and conceiving that the same . . . will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound . . . to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,

-59-

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