Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview

promote the interests of Christianity. It is the settled conviction of the committee that the only method of avoiding these consequences, with their attendant train of evils, is to adhere strictly to the spirit of the constitution, which regards the General Government in no other light than that of a civil institution, wholly destitute of religious authority.

What other nations call religious toleration, we call religious rights. They are not exercised in virtue of governmental indulgence, but as rights, of which government cannot deprive any portion of citizens, however small. Despotic power may invade those rights, but justice still confirms them. Let the National Legislature once perform an act which involves the decision of a religious controversy, and it will have passed its legitimate bounds. The precedent will then be established, and the foundation laid for that usurpation of the divine prerogative in this country, which has been the desolating scourge to the fairest portions of the old world. Our constitution recognises no other power than that of persuasion for enforcing religious observances. Let the professors of Christianity recommend their religion by deeds of benevolence; by Christian meekness; by lives of temperance and holiness. . . . Government will find its legitimate object in protecting them. . . .

The petitioners do not complain of any infringement upon their own rights. They enjoy all that Christians ought to ask at the hand of any Government -- protection from all molestation in the exercise of their religious sentiments.

Source: American State Papers ( Washington, D.C., 1832- 1861), Class VII ( Post Office Department), pp. 211-212.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

J. R. Bodo, The Protestant Clergy and Public Issues 1812-1848 ( Princeton, 1954), pp. 39- 43.

A. M. Schlesinger, The Age of Jackson ( Boston, 1945), pp. 136-140.

A. P. Stokes, Church and State in the United States ( New York, 1950), II, 12-20.


80
Massachusetts Constitutional Amendment November 11, 1833 (ratification date)

With disestablishment of Congregationalism in Connecticut in 1818, Massachusetts remained the last state to uphold a religious Establishment. Even in Massachusetts concessions to other denominations had so diluted the older Congregational state church system that its defenders claimed that its primary purpose was not to support a favored religious body, but to maintain the common Christianity. Opposition, led by Baptists and Jeffersonians, steadily grew, but attempts to separate religion from the state were unsuccessful after the Revolution and again in the constitutional revision of 1820. However, the Unitarian schism weakened conservative forces, and in 1833 voters overwhelmingly ap-

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