Political Mischief: Smear, Sabotage, and Reform in U.S. Elections

By Bruce L. Felknor | Go to book overview

6
Appeals to Bigotry: Religion, Race, Ethnic Background

All but four of the framers of the U.S. Constitution were Protestants, and many of them were conspicuously devout. 1 Yet every one of them had given much thought to civil disabilities based on religion. They had seen mischief in the established religions of the Old World, and nearly all were determined to avoid it in the New. But it was not unanimous. As Luther Martin of Maryland put it, some members were

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 good 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. ( Farrand 1966, 3:227; Martin's emphasis)

Martin's view was shared by others and was considered. However, the Constitution the framers drew up concluded, "but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The ratification debates revealed popular demand for a Bill of Rights, and the First Congress proposed one in the form of twelve amendments. 2 Ten were promptly ratified, the first of which began, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In and out of the great Convention of 1787, the United States was founded in freedom from domination by any religion and freedom to practice any religion.


BIAS AGAINST THE UNORTHODOX

The reluctance of some of the Founders to countenance infidels or pagans in high public office did not disappear with them. Only their Constitution

-79-

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