Info

or public Trust under the United States'. Otherwise, the Constitution was godless, unless one wants to count the phrase 'in the year of Our Lord 1787' in the final line. Ratification also presented its own problems. How sell the Constitution in places like Connecticut and Massachusetts, which still had established Congregationalism? How assure the rights of minorities across the nation, a place where, as some founders contended, Jews, Turks and Infidels should have the same rights as the most intense and established believers?23

The church historian Philip Schaff classically described the course the new Congress of the assembled and confederated colonies had to take in respect to the religious resolution of the Revolution. Since, he maintained, the sects could not have come together to provide a grounding for the republic - they were in too many ways in competition, jealous of their rights and lacking a single philosophy of government - Congress was 'shut up' to its course.24 This meant being wary of the various states' addresses to religion, while assuring liberty at least on the federal level. The Constitution-writers had not done justice to this theme. Congress, asked to help assure liberties, produced a Bill of Rights, which formed the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. James Madison, a major drafter, was not alone in calling religious liberty 'the first liberty'. Assure this liberty and most ofthe others, such as free speech, freedom of the press, and the like, would be protected.

Leading up to the debates that produced the First Amendment, which represented a truly revolutionary proposal and assurance, was a series of struggles in the thirteen colonies. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and similar states had no difficulty; in these states, disestablishment and religious freedom had long been effected. Connecticut and Massachusetts were still struggling. Among the southern states, Virginia stood out as the most decisive. This was the state of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, another patriot Patrick Henry (the orator whose speech that climaxed with 'Give me liberty or give me death' inspired colonists during the war) and many others. Most of them were members of Anglican parish councils and vestries, though few of them were as devoted to the particulars of their faith as Henry, a Presbyterian, was to his.

Virginians pondered what to do about religious freedom there. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson had drafted a 'Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia', an act that made him so proud that he wanted the fact engraved on his tombstone. He had then argued that 'Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself. But after making bold proposals for the Virginia state constitution, he had left in 1784 to become ambassador to France. James Madison carried on. Washington and Henry were among those who favoured what came to

0 0

Post a comment