The New Republic
THEN came the American Revolution, overturning all
the principles of the papacy, and establishing for the enlightenment
of all nations, THE NEW REPUBLIC, -- the first national government
upon the earth that accords with the principles announced
by Jesus Christ for mankind and for civil government.
The American Revolution did not consist in the establishment of a government independent of Great Britain, but in the ideas concerning man and government that were proclaimed and established by it. This Revolution is the expression of two distinct ideas. First, that government is of the people; and, second, that government is of right entirely separate from religion.
The first decided step in this grand revolution was taken when the Declaration of Independence was signed. That immortal document declares: --
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Thus in two sentences was annihilated the despotic doctrine which, springing from the usurped authority of the papacy, to sit in the place of God and to set up and pull down kings, and to bestow kingdoms and empires at its will, had now become venerable, if not absolutely hallowed, by the precedents of a thousand years -- the doctrine of the divine right of kings; and in the place of the old, false, despotic theory of the sovereignty of the government and the subjection of the people, there was declared the self-evident truth, the subjection of government, and the sovereignty of the people.
In declaring the equal and inalienable right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, there is not only declared the sovereignty of the people, but also the entire capability of the people. The declaration, in itself, presupposes that men are men indeed, and that as such they are fully capable of deciding for themselves as to what is best for their happiness, and how they shall pursue it, without the government's being set up as a parent or guardian to deal with them as with children.
In declaring that governments are instituted, by the governed, for certain ends, and that when any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness, it is likewise declared that instead of the people's needing to be cared for by the government, the government must be cared for by the people.
This is confirmed by the national Constitution, which is but the complement of the Declaration. Thus says --
"We, the people of the United States, in order
to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic
tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general
welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our
posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States of America."
And Article IX of Amendments says: --
"The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
And Article X of Amendments says: --
"The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
In declaring the objects of government to be to secure to the people the rights which they already possess in full measure and inalienable degree, and to effect their safety and happiness in the enjoyment of those rights; and in declaring the right of the people, in the event named, to alter or abolish the government which they have, and institute a new one on such principles and in such form as to them seems best; there is likewise declared not only the complete subordination but also the absolute impersonality of government. It is therein declared that the government is but a device, a piece of political machinery, framed and set up by the people, by which they would make themselves secure in the enjoyment of the inalienable rights which they already possess as men, and which they have by virtue of being men in society and not by virtue of government; -- the right which was theirs before government was; which is their own in the essential meaning of the term; and "which they do not hold by any sub-infeudation, but by direct homage and allegiance to the Owner and Lord of all" (Stanley Matthews1), their Creator, who has endowed them with those rights. And in thus declaring the impersonality of government, there is wholly uprooted every vestige of any character of paternity in the government.
In declaring the equality of all men in the possession of these inalienable rights, there is likewise declared the strongest possible safeguard of the people. For this being the declaration of the people, each one of the people stands thereby pledged to the support of the principle thus declared. Therefore, each individual is pledged, in the exercise of his own inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so to act as not to interfere with any other person in the free and perfect exercise of his inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Any person who so acts as to restrict or interfere with the free exercise of any other person's right to life, or liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, denies the principle, to the maintenance of which he is pledged, and does in effect subvert the government. For, rights being equal, if one may so act, every other one may do so; and thus no man's right is recognized, government is gone, and only anarchy remains. Therefore, by every interest, personal as well as general, private as well as public, every individual among the people is pledged in the enjoyment of his right to life, or liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, so to conduct himself as not to interfere in the least degree with the equal right of every other one to the free and full exercise of his enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "For the rights of man, as man, must be understood in a sense that can admit of no single exception; for to allege an exception is the same thing as to deny the principle. We reject, therefore, with scorn, any profession of respect to the principle which, in fact, comes to us clogged and contradicted by a petition for an exception. . . . To profess the principle and then to plead for an exception, let the plea be what it may, is to deny the principle, and it is to utter a treason against humanity. The rights of man must everywhere all the world over be recognized and respected." -- Isaac Taylor.2
The Declaration of Independence, therefore, announces the perfect principle of civil government. If the principle thus announced were perfectly conformed to by all, then the government would be a perfect civil government. It is but the principle of self-government -- government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And to the extent to which this principle is exemplified among the people, to the extent to which the individual governs himself, just to that extent and no further will prevail the true idea of the Declaration, and the republic which it created.
Such is the first grand idea of the American Revolution. And it is the scriptural idea, the idea of Jesus Christ and of God. Let this be demonstrated.
The Declaration holds that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Now the Creator of all men is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and "is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also." And as he "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts xvii, 26), "there is no respect of persons with God." Rom. ii, 11. Nor is this the doctrine of the later scripture only; it is the doctrine of all the Book. The most ancient writings in the Book have these words: "If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb, make him?" Job xxx, 13- 15. And, "The Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger." "The stranger that dwelleth with you, shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself." Deut. x, 17-19; Lev. xix, 34.
All men are indeed created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
As to civil government, the Scripture commands, "Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's;" and Christ himself paid tribute to Caesar, "thus recognizing the rightfulness of civil government to be." But more than this, it is plainly declared, "The powers that be are ordained of God." Rom. xiii, 1. This scripture has long been used to sustain the papal fable of the divine right of kings, but such use was always only a perversion. It is proper and interesting to have a scriptural answer to the question. How then are the powers that be ordained of God? And to this question, the Scriptures do give a clear answer.
Let us read: "In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah king of Judah, came this word unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Thus saith the Lord to me: Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck, and send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah, and command them to say unto their masters, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Thus shall ye say unto your masters: I have made the earth, the man and the beasts that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the very time of his land come, and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand."
In this scripture it is clearly shown that the power of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was ordained of God; nor to Nebuchadnezzar alone, but to his son and his son's son: which is to say that the power of the Babylonian empire, as an imperial power, was ordained of God. Nebuchadnezzar was plainly called by the Lord, "My servant;" and the Lord says, "And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon." He further says that whatever "nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish."
Another instance: In the above scripture it is stated that the power of Babylon should continue through Nebuchadnezzar and his son and to his son's son, and that all nations should serve Babylon until that time, and that then nations and kings should serve themselves of him. Other prophecies show that Babylon was then to be destroyed. Jer. li, 28 says that the king of the Medes, and all his land, with the captains and rulers, should be prepared against Babylon to destroy it. Isa. xxi, 2 shows that Persia (Elam) should accompany Media in the destruction of Babylon. Isa. xlv, 1-4 names Cyrus as the leader of the forces, more than a hundred years before he was born, and one hundred and seventy-four years before the time. And of Cyrus, the prophet said from the Lord, "I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price, nor reward, saith the Lord of hosts." Isa. xlv, 13. But in the conquest of Babylon, Cyrus was only the leader of the forces. The kingdom and rule were given to Darius the Mede; for, said Daniel to Belshazzar, on the night when Babylon fell, "Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." Then the record proceeds: "In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom." Of him we read in Dan. xi, 1, the words of the angel Gabriel to the prophet: "I, in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I, stood to confirm and to strengthen him."
There can be no dispute, therefore, that the power of Babylon, as exercised by Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, and that of Medo-Persia as exercised by Darius and Cyrus and their successors, was ordained of God. It would be easy to follow the same truth onward to the power of Grecia, in Alexander and his successors, and to Rome, as indeed it was Nero who was emperor when this letter was written to the Christians at Rome, in which is this declaration that "the powers that be are ordained of God."
Was then the power exercised by Nebuchadnezzar and his successors unto Nero -- was this power bestowed upon any of these directly, or in a miraculous way?
Did God send a prophet or a priest to anoint any of these rulers to be king or emperor? or did he send a heavenly messenger, as he did to Moses and to Gideon? -- Neither. Nebuchadnezzar was king because he was the son of his father, who had been king. How then did his father become king? In 625 B. C., Babylonia was but one province of the empire of Assyria; Media was another. Both revolted, and at the same time. The king of Assyria gave Nabopollasar command of a large force, and sent him to Babylonia to quell the revolt, while he himself led other forces into Media, to put down the insurrection there. Nabopollasar did his work so well in Babylonia that the king of Assyria rewarded him with the command of that province, with the title of king of Babylon.
Thus Nabopollasar received his power from the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria received his from his father, Asshur-bani-pal; Asshur-bani-pal received his from his father, Esar-haddon; Esar-haddon received his from his father, Sennacherib; Sennacherib received his from his father, Sargon; and Sargon received his from the troops in the field, that is, from the people; for the army of Assyria was not a standing army, as those of modern nations are, but it was the male portion of the nation itself, at war. Thus it was, and thus only, that the power of Nebuchadnezzar and his son and his son's son, was ordained of God. It was simply providential, and was brought about and worked out as is anything and everything else in the realm of the providence of God. It was so, likewise, with all the others. And it has always been so in every case, in every government, that ever was on earth, except only in the nation of Israel.
Yet more than this, except in the nation of Israel, it is not, and never has been, personal sovereigns in themselves that have been referred to in the statement that "the powers that be are ordained of God." It is not the persons that be in power, but the powers that be in the person, that are ordained of God. The inquiry of Rom. xiii, 3, is not, Wilt thou then not be afraid of the person? But it is, "Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?" It is not the person, therefore, but the power that is represented in the person, that is under consideration here. And that person derives his power from the people, as is clearly proved by the scriptural examples and references given.
And this is the American doctrine, -- the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence. In the discussions which brought forth the Declaration and developed the Revolution, the doctrine found expression in the following forceful and eloquent words: "Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was asserted by Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God. Man came into the world and into society at the same instant. There must exist in every earthly society a supreme sovereign, from whose final decision there can be no appeal but directly to heaven. This supreme power is originally and ultimately in the people; and the people never did in fact freely, nor can rightfully, make an unlimited renunciation of this divine right. Kingcraft and priestcraft are a trick to gull the vulgar. The happiness of mankind demands that this grand and ancient alliance should be broken off forever.
"The omniscient and omnipotent Monarch of the universe has, by the grand charter given to the human race, placed the end of government in the good of the whole. The form of government is left to the individuals of each society; its whole superstructure and administration should be conformed to the law of universal reason. There can be no prescription old enough to supersede the law of nature and the grant of God Almighty, who has given all men a right to be free. If every prince since Nimrod had been a tyrant, it would not prove a right to tyrannize. The administrators of legislative and executive authority, when they verge toward tyranny, are to be resisted; if they prove incorrigible, are to be deposed.
"The first principle and great end of government being to provide for the best good of all the people, this can be done only by a supreme legislative and executive, ultimately in the people, or whole community, where God has placed it; but the difficulties attending a universal congress, gave rise to a right of representation. Such a transfer of the power of the whole to a few was necessary; but to bring the powers of all into the hands of one or some few, and to make them hereditary, is the interested work of the weak and the wicked. Nothing but life and liberty are actually hereditable. The grand political problem is to invent the best combination of the powers of legislation and execution! They must exist in the State, just as in the revolution of the planets; one power would fix them to a center, and another carry them off indefinitely; but the first and simple principle is, EQUALITY and THE POWER OF THE WHOLE. . . .
"The British colonists do not hold their liberties or their lands by so slippery a tenure as the will of the prince. Colonists are men, the common children of the same Creator with their brethren of Great Britain. The colonists are men: the colonists are therefore freeborn; for, by the law of nature, all men are freeborn, white or black. No good reason can be given for enslaving those of any color. Is it right to enslave a man because his color is black, or his hair short and curled like wool, instead of Christian hair? Can any logical inference in favor of slavery be drawn from a flat nose or a long or short face? The riches of the West Indies, or the luxury of the metropolis, should not have weight to break the balance of truth and justice. Liberty is the gift of God, and cannot be annihilated.
"Nor do the political and civil rights of the British colonists rest on a charter from the crown. Old Magna Charta was not the beginning of all things, nor did it rise on the borders of chaos out of the unformed mass. A time may come when Parliament shall declare every American charter void; but the natural, inherent, and inseparable rights of the colonists, as men and as citizens, can never be abolished. . . . The world is at the eve of the highest scene of earthly power and grandeur that has ever yet been displayed to the view of mankind. Who will win the prize, is with God. But human nature must and will be rescued from the general slavery that has so long triumphed over the species." -- James Otis.3
Thus spoke an American "for his country and for the race," bringing to "the conscious intelligence of the people the elemental principles of free government and human rights." Outside of the theocracy of Israel, there never has been a ruler or an executive on earth whose authority was not, primarily or ultimately, expressly or permissively, derived from the people.
It is not particular sovereigns whose power is ordained of God, nor any particular form of government. It is the genius of government itself. The absence of government is anarchy. Anarchy is only governmental confusion. But says the scripture, "God is not the author of confusion." God is the God of order. He has ordained order, and he has put within man himself that idea of government, of self-protection, which is the first law of nature, and which organizes itself into forms of one kind or another, wherever men dwell on the face of the earth. And it is for men themselves to say what shall be the form of government under which they will dwell. One people has one form; another has another. This genius of civil order springs from God; it matters not whether it be exercised through one form of government or through another, the governmental power and order thus exercised is ordained of God. If the people choose to change their form of government, it is still the same power; it is to be respected still, because in its legitimate exercise, it is still ordained of God.
It is demonstrated, therefore, that where the Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, it asserts THE ETERNAL TRUTH OF GOD.
The second grand idea of the American Revolution -- that government is of right entirely separate form religion -- is the logical sequence of the first.
RELIGION is defined as "the recognition of God as an object of worship, love, and obedience." And again, as "man's personal relation of faith and obedience to God." And the first governmental definition of the word in the United States, declared that "religion" is "the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it."
Now governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, can never of right exercise any power not delegated by the governed. But religion pertaining solely to man's relation to God, and the duty which he owes to his Creator, in the nature of things can never be delegated. It is utterly impossible for any person ever, in any degree, to transfer to another any relationship to God or any duty which he owes to his Creator. To attempt to do so would be to deny God and renounce religion, and even then the thing would not be done -- his relationship to God would still abide as firmly as ever.
Logically and rightfully, therefore, the government of the United States disavows any jurisdiction or power in things religious. Religion is not, and never can rightly be made, in any sense a requisite to the governmental authority of the United States, because the supreme law declares that --
"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."4
The government cannot rightly legislate in any sense upon matters of religion, because the supreme law says that --
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."5
By this clause, Congress is forbidden to make any law looking toward any establishment of a national religion, or approving or disapproving any religion already established in any State -- as several of the States had established religious when this amendment was adopted. By it likewise Congress is forbidden to make any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion by any individual in all the land. That is to say that Congress is forbidden to make any law bearing in any way whatever on the subject of religion; for it is impossible to make a law on the subject of religion without interfering with the free exercise of religion. No law can ever be made even in favor of any religion without prohibiting the free exercise of that religion. No man can ever sanction legislation in favor of the religion in which he believes without robbing himself of the free exercise of that religion. Congress, therefore, is absolutely forbidden ever to make any law on the subject of religion in any way whatever.
Consistently with all this, and as the crown of all, religion is not in any sense a requisite to the citizenship of the United States, for again the supreme law declares: --
"The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."6
Thus logically by the Declaration and explicitly by the Constitution, the government of the United States is completely separated from religion. And such is the second grand idea of the American Revolution.
And it is also the scriptural idea, the idea of Jesus Christ, and of God. Let this be demonstrated, and it will be proved that the American system of government is complete and the idea perfect. And demonstrated it can easily be.
To the definition that religion is the recognition of God, as an object of worship, love, and obedience, the scripture responds: "It is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." Rom. xiv, 11, 12.
And, to the statement that religion is man's personal relation of faith and obedience to God, the scripture responds: "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God." Rom. xiv, 22. "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." 2 Cor. v, 10.
No government can ever account to God for any individual. No man nor any set of men can ever have faith for another. No government will ever stand before the judgment-seat of Christ to answer even for itself; much less for the people or for any individual. Therefore, no government can ever of right assume any responsibility in any way in any matter of religion.
As to religion and government, Christ commanded, "Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." To Caesar -- to government -- there is to be rendered only that which is Caesar's; while that which is God's is to be rendered to God alone. Men are not to render to Caesar that which is God's, nor are they to render to God by Caesar that which is God's. That which is Caesar's is to be rendered to him alone. That which is God's is to be rendered to him alone. Now, as religion pertains to man's relations to God, it is to be rendered to God alone. It does not pertain to government; it never can be rendered to government. Christ has forbidden that it should be so rendered. Therefore, the word of Jesus Christ does distinctly and decidedly separate religion from earthly government. Nor is this the only passage of Scripture on this subject. It is the doctrine of the Book. In the former part of this chapter, we have shown by the Scriptures that earthly governments -- the powers that -- are ordained of God. By the scriptures cited, we have seen that the power of Babylonia, as represented by Nebuchadnezzar, and the power of Media and Persia, as represented by Darius and Cyrus, was distinctly declared to be ordained of God. Now it is important to inquire, Unto what was this power ordained? Was there any limit set to it? In short, Was this power which was ordained of God, ordained to be exercised in things pertaining to God, that is, in matters of religion? These questions are clearly answered in the Scriptures.
In the third chapter of Daniel we have the record that Nebuchadnezzar made a great image of gold, set it up in the plain of Dura, and gathered together the princes, the governors, the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to the dedication of the image; and they stood before the image that had been set up. Then a herald from the king cried aloud: "To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up; and whoso falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."
In obedience to this command, all the people bowed down and worshiped before the image, except three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. This disobedience was reported to Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded them to be brought before him, when he asked them if they had disobeyed his order intentionally. He himself then repeated his command to them.
These men knew that they had been made subject to the king of Babylon by the Lord himself. It had not only been prophesied by Isaiah (chap. xxxix), but also by Jeremiah. At the final siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord, through Jeremiah, told the people to submit to the king of Babylon, and that whosoever would do it, it should be well with them; whosoever would not do it, it should be ill with them. Yet these men, knowing all this, made answer to Nebuchadnezzar thus: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
Then the three men were cast into the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated; but suddenly Nebuchadnezzar rose up in haste and astonishment, and said to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" They answered, "True, O king." But he exclaimed, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." The men were called forth. "Then Nebuchadnezzar spake and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God."
Here stand the following facts: First, God gave power to the kingdom of Babylon; second, he suffered his people to be subjected as captives to that power; third, by a wonderful miracle he defended his people from a certain exercise of that power. Did God contradict or oppose himself? -- Far from it. What, then, do these facts show? -- They show conclusively that this was an undue exercise of the power which God had given. By this it is demonstrated that the power of the kingdom of Babylon, although ordained of God, was not ordained unto any such purpose as that for which it was exercised; that though ordained of God, it was not ordained to be exercised in things pertaining to God, or men's rights of religion; and it was written for the instruction of future ages, and for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Another example: Darius, king of Media and Persia, made Daniel prime minister of his dominion. But a number of the presidents and princes, envious of the position given to Daniel, attempted to undermine and displace him. After earnest efforts to find occasion against him in matters pertaining to the kingdom, they were forced to confess that there was neither error nor fault anywhere in his conduct. Then said these men, "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." They therefore assembled together to the king, and told him that all the presidents of the kingdom, and the governors, and the princes, and the captains, had consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a decree that whoever should ask a petition of any god or man, except the king, for thirty days, should be cast into the den of lions. Darius, not suspecting their object, signed the decree.
Daniel knew that the decree had been made, and signed by the king. It was hardly possible for him not to know it, being prime minister. Yet notwithstanding his knowledge of the affair, he went into his chamber, and his windows being open toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed and gave thanks before God, as he did aforetime. He did not even close the windows. He simply paid no attention at all to the decree that had been made, although it forbade his doing as he did, under the penalty of being thrown to the lions.
As was to be expected, the men who had secured the passage of the decree, "found" him praying and making supplications before his God. They went at once to the king, and asked him if he had not signed a decree that every man who should ask a petition of any god or man within thirty days except of the king, should be cast into the den of lions. The king replied that this was true, and that, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, it could not be altered. Then they told him that Daniel did not regard the king, nor the decree that he had signed, but made his petition three times a day.
The king realized in a moment that he had been entrapped; but there was no remedy. Those who were pushing the matter, held before him the law, and said, "know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree or statute which the king establisheth may be changed." Nothing could be done; the decree, being law, must be enforced. Daniel was cast to the lions. In the morning the king came to the den and called to Daniel, and Daniel replied, "O king, live forever; my God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lion's mouths, that they have not hurt me; forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, I have done no hurt."
Thus again God has shown that although the powers that be are ordained of God, they are not ordained to act in things that pertain to men's relationship to God. God declares the man innocent, who disregards or violates the law that interferes with man's relationship to God, or that presumes to dictate in matters of religion.
These cases show plainly that, according to the mind of God, religion and earthly government are to be entirely separated. It follows, therefore, that the Constitution of the United States is in harmony with the will of God as expressed in the Scriptures of truth, upon the subject of religion and the State.
Yet, for reasons which will appear later, there is now an attempt to make it appear that this was the result of forgetfulness, if not rather hostility to the Christian religion. But nothing could be farther from the truth than both of these suggestions. So far from its having been the result of forgetfulness, it was by direct design: and so far from its having resulted from hostility to Christianity, it was out of respect for it and for the rights of men which that religion inculcates.
It is impossible for it to have been in any way a matter of forgetfulness, because the Constitution speaks expressly upon the subject. Yet, though the Constitution had been wholly silent on the question, the fact could not be justly attributed to forgetfulness or carelessness; because the work of the Convention was not the adoption of the Constitution. After the Convention had finished its labors, that which they had done was submitted for approval to the thirteen States, every one of which was most vigilantly wakeful to detect every possible defect in it; and as we shall presently see, this point was discussed by the States when the proposed Constitution came before them for approval.
And that the Constitution was made as it is, in this matter entirely out of respect to religion and to Christianity in particular, is susceptible of the strongest proof. In fact, Christian churches were the chief factors in the movement. We have already shown that the Constitution is the complement of the Declaration of Independence; and that this phase of the Constitution is but the logical sequence of the Declaration. Nor is this all; it is the direct fruit of the Declaration. The history of this matter is worth reviving.
June 12, 1776, a convention of the Colonial House of Burgesses of Virginia, adopted a Declaration of Rights, composed of sixteen sections, every one of which, in substance, afterward found a place in the Declaration of Independence and the national Constitution. The sixteenth section reads as follows: --
"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 are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other."7
This was followed, July 4, by the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The Declaration of Independence had no sooner been published abroad, than the Presbytery to Hanover in Virginia, at its very first meeting, openly took its stand in the recognition of the new and independent nation, and addressed to the Virginia House of Assembly the following memorial: --
"To the Honorable, the General Assembly of Virginia: The memorial of the Presbytery of Hanover humbly represents: That your memorialists are governed by the same sentiments which have inspired the United States of America, and are determined that nothing in our power and influence shall be wanting to give success to their common cause. We would also represent that dissenters from the Church of England in this country have ever been desirous to conduct themselves as peaceable members of the civil government, for which reason they have hitherto submitted to various ecclesiastic burdens and restrictions that are inconsistent with equal liberty. But now when the many and grievous oppressions of our mother country have laid this continent under the necessity of casting off the yoke of tyranny, and of forming independent governments upon equitable and liberal foundations, we flatter ourselves that we shall be freed from all the incumbrances which a spirit of domination, prejudice, or bigotry has interwoven with most other political systems. This we are the more strongly encouraged to expect by the Declaration of Rights, so universally applauded for that dignity, firmness, and precision with which it delineates and asserts the privileges of society, and the prerogatives of human nature; and which we embrace as the Magna Charta of our commonwealth, that can never be violated without endangering the grand superstructure it was designed to sustain. Therefore, we rely upon this Declaration as well as the justice of our honorable legislature, to secure us the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of our own consciences: and we should fall short in our duty to ourselves, and the many and numerous congregations under our care, were we, upon this occasion, to neglect laying before you a statement of the religious grievances under which we have hitherto labored, that they may no longer be continued in our present form of government.
"It is well known that in the frontier counties, which are justly supposed to contain a fifth part of the inhabitants of Virginia, the dissenters have borne the heavy burdens of purchasing glebes, building churches, and supporting the established clergy, where there are very few Episcopalians, either to assist in bearing the expense, or to reap the advantage; and that throughout other parts of the country there are also many thousands of Zealous friends and defenders of our State, who, besides the invidious and disadvantageous restrictions to which they have been subjected, annually pay large taxes to support an establishment from which their consciences and principles oblige them to dissent; all which are confessedly so many violations of their natural rights, and, in their consequences, a restraint upon freedom of inquiry and private judgment.
"In this enlightened age, and in a land where all of every denomination are united in the most strenuous efforts to be free, we hope and expect that our representatives will cheerfully concur in removing every species of religious as well as civil bondage. Certain it is, that every argument for civil liberty gains additional strength when applied to liberty in the concerns of religion; and there is no argument in favor of establishing the Christian religion but may be pleaded, with equal propriety, for establishing the tenets of Mohammed by those who believe the Alcoran; or, if this be not true, it is at least impossible for the magistrate to adjudge the right of preference among the various sects that profess the Christian faith, without erecting a claim to infallibility, which would lead us back to the Church of Rome.
"We beg leave farther to represent, that religious establishments are highly injurious to the temporal interests of any community. Without insisting upon the ambition and the arbitrary practices of those who are favored by government or the intriguing, seditious spirit which is commonly excited by this, as well as by every other kind of oppression, such establishments greatly retard population, and, consequently, the progress of arts, sciences, and manufactures. Witness the rapid growth and improvement of the Northern provinces compared with this. No one can deny that the more early settlements and the many superior advantages of our country, would have invited multitudes of artificers, mechanics, and other useful members of society, to fix their habitation among us, who have either remained in their place of nativity, or preferred worse civil governments, and a more barren soil, where they might enjoy the rights of conscience more fully than they had a prospect of doing in this; from which we infer that Virginia might have now been the capital of America, and a match for the British arms, without depending on others for the necessaries of war, had it not been prevented by her religious establishment.
"Neither can it be made to appear that the gospel needs any such civil aid. We rather conceive that, when our blessed Saviour declares his kingdom is not of this world, he renounces all dependence upon State power; and as his weapons are spiritual, and were only designed to have influence on the judgment and heart of men, we are persuaded that if mankind were left in quiet possession of their inalienable religious privileges, Christianity, as in the days of the apostles, would continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity by its own native excellence, and under the all-disposing providence of God.
"We would also humbly represent, that the only proper objects of civil government are the happiness and protection of men in the present state of existence, the security of the life, liberty, and property of the citizens, and to restrain the vicious and encourage the virtuous by wholesome laws, equally extending to every individual; but that the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can only be directed by reason and conviction, and is nowhere cognizable but at the tribunal of the universal Judge.
"Therefore we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves; neither can we approve of them when granted to others. This, indeed, would be giving exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges to one set of men, without any special public services, to the common reproach and injury of every other denomination. And for the reason recited, we are induced earnestly to entreat that all laws now in force in this commonwealth, which countenance religious domination, may be speedily repealed; that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship; exempted from all taxes for the support of any church whatsoever, farther than what may be agreeable to their own private choice or voluntary obligation. This being done, all partial and invidious distinction will be abolished, to the great honor and interest of the State, and every one be left to stand or fall according to his merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to the others.
"That the great Sovereign of the universe may inspire you with unanimity, wisdom, and resolution, and bring you to a just determination on all the important concerns before you, is the fervent prayer of your memorialists."8
The Presbytery of Hanover was immediately joined in the good work by the Baptists and the Quakers, who sent up petitions to the same purpose. The Episcopalian was the established church of Virginia, and had been ever since the planting of the colony. The Episcopalians and the Methodists sent up counter-memorials, pleading for a continuance of the system of established religion. Two members of the assembly, Messrs. Pendleton and Nicolas, championed the establishment, and Jefferson, as ever, espoused the cause of liberty and right. After nearly two months of what Jefferson pronounced the severest contest in which he was ever engaged, the cause of freedom prevailed, and December 6, 1776, the Assembly passed a law repealing all the colonial laws and penalties prejudicial to dissenters, releasing them from any further compulsory contributions to the Episcopal Church, and discontinuing the State support of the Episcopal clergy after January 1, 1777.
A motion was then made to levy a general tax for the support of all denominations, but it was postponed till a future Assembly. To the next Assembly petitions were sent strongly pleading for the general assessment. But the Presbytery of Hanover, still strongly supported by the Baptists and the Quakers, was again on hand with a memorial, in which it referred to the points previously presented, and then proceeded as follows:--
"We would also humbly represent, that the only proper objects of civil government are the happiness and protection of men in the present state of existence, the security of the life, liberty, and property of the citizens, and to restrain the vicious and to encourage the virtuous by wholesome laws, equally extending to every individual; but that the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can only be directed by reason and conviction, and is nowhere cognizable but at the tribunal of the universal Judge.
"To illustrate and confirm these assertions, we beg leave to observe, that to judge for ourselves, and to engage in the exercise of religion agreeably to the dictates of our own consciences, is an inalienable right, which, upon the principles on which the gospel was first propagated, and the Reformation from popery carried on, can never be transferred to another. Neither does the church of Christ stand in need of a general assessment for its support; and most certain we are that it would be of no advantage, but an injury to the society to which we belong; and as every good Christian believes that Christ has ordained a complete system of laws for the government of his kingdom, so were are persuaded that by his providence he will support it to its final consummation. In the fixed belief of this principle, that the kingdom of Christ and the concerns of religion are beyond the limits of civil control, we should act a dishonest, inconsistent part, were we to receive any emoluments from human establishments for the support of the gospel.
"These things being considered, we hope that we shall be excused for remonstrating against a general assessment for any religious purpose. As the maxims have long been approved, that every servant is to obey his master, and that the hireling is accountable for his conduct to him from whom he receives his wages; in like manner, if the legislature has any rightful authority over the ministers of the gospel in the exercise of their sacred office, and if it is their duty to levy a maintenance for them as such, then it will follow that they may revive the old establishment in its former extent, or ordain a new one for any sect they may think proper; they are invested with a power not only to determine, but it is incumbent on them to declare who shall preach, what they shall preach, to whom, when, and in what places they shall preach; or to impose any regulations and restrictions upon religious societies that they may judge expedient. These consequences are so plain as not to be denied, and they are so entirely subversive of religious liberty, that if they should take place in Virginia, we should be reduced to the melancholy necessity of saying with the apostles in like cases, `Judges ye whether it is best to obey God or men,' and also of acting as they acted.
"Therefore, as it is contrary to our principles and interest, and, as we think, subversive of religious liberty, we do again most earnestly entreat that our legislature would never extend any assessment for religious purposes to us or to the congregations under our care."9
In 1779 they defeated the bill, which had been ordered to a third reading. But in the first Assembly after the war was over, in 1784, it was brought up again, this time with Patrick Henry as its leading advocate. It was entitled "A Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion." James Madison stood with Jefferson. As the bill was about to pass, they succeeded in carrying a motion to postpone it till the next session, but in the meantime, to have it printed and generally circulated. As soon as this had been accomplished, Madison wrote, also for general circulation and signature, a Memorial and Remonstrance, to be presented to the next Assembly, in opposition to the bill. This document reads as follows:--
"We, the subscribers, citizens of the said commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration a bill printed by order of the last session of General Assembly, entitled, `A Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,' and conceiving that the same, if finally armed with the sanctions of law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said bill --
"1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth `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.' The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated in their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is unalienable, also, because what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society. Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the universe: and if a member of civil society who enters into any subordinate association must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular civil society do it with a saving of his allegiance to the universal Sovereign. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of religion no man's right is abridged by the institution of civil society and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists by which any question which may divide a society can be ultimately determined than the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass upon the rights of the minority.
"2. Because, if religion be exempt from the authority of the society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the legislative body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited. It is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments: more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free government requires not merely that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained, but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great barrier which defends the rights of the people. The rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by any authority derived from them, and are slaves.
"3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much, soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish, with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only, of his property, for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
"4. Because the bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensable in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. `If all men are by nature equally free and independent,' all men are to be considered as entering into society on equal conditions: as relinquishing no more, and therefore, retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all, are they to be considered as retaining an `equal title to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.' Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe, the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to them whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man. To god, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. As the bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle by granting to others peculiar exemptions. Are the Quakers and Menonists the only sects who think a compulsive support of their religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? Can their piety alone be intrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations to believe that they either covet pre-eminences over their fellow-citizens, or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.
"5. Because the bill implies either that the civil magistrate is a competent judge of religious truths, or that he may employ religion as an engine of civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension, falsified by the contradictory opinions of rulers in all ages and throughout the world; the second, an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
"6. Because the establishment proposed by the bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world. It is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them; and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a religion not invented by human policy must have pre-existed and been supported before it was established by human policy. It is, moreover, to weaken in those who profess this religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
"7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both superstition, bigotry, and persecution. Inquire of the teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest luster; those of every sect point to the ages prior to its incorporation with civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive state, in which its teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks; -- many of them predict its downfall. On which side ought their testimony to have greatest weight; -- when for, or when against, their interest?
"8. Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of civil government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of civil government only as it is a means of supporting religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If religion be not within the cognizance of civil government, how can its legal establishment be necessary to civil government? What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found in established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not. Such a government will be best supported by protecting every citizen in the enjoyment of his religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal right of any sect, nor suffering any sect to invade those of another.
"Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion, promised a luster to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the bill, of sudden degeneracy! Instead of holding forth an asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of citizens all those whose opinions in religion do not bend to those of the legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other is the last, in the carrier of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer of this cruel scourge in foreign regions must view the bill as a beacon on our coast warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthropy, in their due extent, may offer a more certain repose from his troubles.
"Because it will have a like tendency to banish our citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd a fresh motive to emigration by revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonored and depopulated flourishing kingdoms.
"Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the Old World in consequence of vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord by proscribing all differences in religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American theater has exhibited proofs that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of religious freedom, we know no name which will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first-fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the bill has transformed `that Christian forbearance, love, and charity,' which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jealousies, which may not be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of law?
"Because the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false religions, and how small is the former? Does the policy of the bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the region of it, and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of leveling, as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of truth, the bill, with an ignoble and unchristian timidity, would circumscribe it with a wall of defense against the encroachments of error.
"Because attempts to enforce, by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the government on its general authority?
"Because a measure of such singular magnitude and delicacy ought not to be imposed without the clearest evidence that it is called for by a majority of citizens; and no satisfactory method is yet proposed by which the voice of the majority in this case may be determined, or its influence secured. `The people of the respective counties are, indeed, requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of the bill, to the next session of the Assembly.' But the representation must be made equal before the voice either of the representatives or of the counties will be that of the people. Our hope is, that neither of the former will, after due consideration, espouse the dangerous principle of the bill. Should the event disappoint us, it will still leave us in full confidence that a fair appeal to the latter will reverse the sentence against our liberties.
"Because finally, `The equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion, according to the dictates of conscience,' is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the declaration of those rights 'which pertain to the good people of Virginia as the basis and foundation of government,' it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather with studied emphasis. Either, then, we must say that the will of the legislature is the only measure of their authority, and that in the plenitude of that authority they may sweep away all our fundamental rights, or that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred. Either we must say that they may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the trial by jury, may swallow up the executive and judiciary powers of the State; nay, that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary assembly, or we must say that they have no authority to enact into a law the bill under consideration.
"We the subscribers, say that the General Assembly of this commonwealth have no such authority. And in order that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to ti this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may, on the one hand, turn their councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them; and, on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his blessing, redound to their own praise, and establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity, and the happiness of the commonwealth."10
This incomparable remonstrance was so generally signed that the bill for a general assessment was not only defeated, but in its place there was passed, December 26, 1785, "An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom," written by Thomas Jefferson, and reading as follows: --
"Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagations of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow-citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt actions against peace and good order; and, finally, that truth is great, and prevail will if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
"Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
"And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with the powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable, would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right."12
Now during this very time events were shaping and plans were being laid for the formation of a federal government for the American Union, to take the place of the helpless Confederation of States, and it is not too much to say that to James Madison, more than to any other single individual, except perhaps George Washington, is due the credit of bringing it all to a happy issue. And these contests in Virginia, by which there had been severed the illicit and corrupting connection between religion and the State, had awakened the public mind and prepared the way for the formation of a Constitution which would pledge the nation to a complete separation from all connection with religion in any way. Accordingly, the Constitution, as originally proposed by the convention, declared on this point that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Yet this was not allowed by the people of the States to be enough. One of the objections that was urged oftenest and strongest was that it did not make the freedom of religion secure enough.
In the Virginia Convention for the ratification of the Constitution, Madison said: --
"There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom. It is better that this security should be depended upon from the general legislature, than from one particular State. A particular State might concur in one religious project."13
In the Massachusetts Convention, there was objection made to the clause prohibiting a religious test, that "there is no provision that men in power should have any religion; a papist or an infidel is as eligible as Christians." To this a minister replied, "No conceivable advantage to the whole will result from a test." Another said, "It would be happy for the United States if our public men were to be of those who have a good standing in the church." Again, a minister replied, "Human tribunals for the consciences of men are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God. A religious test, as a qualification for office, would have been a great blemish."14 And Elder Isaac Backus, the Baptist minister, whose "Church History of New England" we have quoted in this book, said: --
"Mr. President, I have said very little to this honorable convention; but I now beg leave to offer a few thoughts upon some points in the Constitution proposed to us, and I shall begin with the exclusion of any religious test. Many appear to be much concerned about it; but nothing is more evident, both in reason and 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. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice when he adopted the profession of Christianity as an engine of State policy. And let the history of all nations be searched from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests has been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world. And I rejoice to see so many gentlemen who are now giving in their rights of conscience in this great and important matter. Some serious minds discover a concern lest if all religious test should be excluded, the Congress would hereafter establish popery, or some other tyrannical way of worship. But it is most certain that no such way of worship can be established without any religious test."51
New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, and North Carolina, all proposed amendments more fully to secure religious rights. The first Congress under the Constitution met March 4, 1789, and in September of the same year the first Amendment was adopted, declaring that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." And in 1797 the treaty with Tripoli was framed by an ex-Congregational clergyman, signed by President Washington, and approved by the Senate of the United States, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
This completed the testimony of the supreme law of the land, expressive of the will of the American people that the government of the United States is, and of right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT OF ALL ECCLESIASTICAL OR RELIGIOUS CONNECTION, INTERFERENCE, OR CONTROL. And the proof is abundant and absolutely conclusive, that it was all intentional, and that it was altogether out of respect for Christianity and the inalienable rights of men.
Much has been said -- none too much -- of the wisdom of our fathers who set to the world this glorious example. Yet in this particular thing it would be an impeachment of their common sense to suppose they could have done otherwise. They had before them the history of the world, pagan, papal, and Protestant, from the cross of Christ to the Declaration of Independence, and, with the exception of the feeble example of toleration in Holland, and of religious freedom in Rhode Island, all the way it was one uninterrupted course of suffering and torture of the innocent; of oppression, riot, bloodshed, and anarchy by the guilty; and all as the result of the alliance of religion and the State.
The simplest process of deduction would teach them that it could not be altogether an experiment to try the total system of government without such a union, to be worse than all so far had proved with such union.
Our fathers were indeed wise, and it was that sort of wisdom that is the most profitable and the rarest -- the wisdom of common sense. From all that was before them they could see that the State dominating religion and using religion for State purposes, is the pagan idea of government; that religion dominating the State and using the civil power for religious purposes, is the papal idea of government; that both these ideas had been followed in the history of Protestantism; therefore they decided to steer clear of both, and by a clear-cut and distinct separation of religion and the State, establish the government of the United States upon THE CHRISTIAN IDEA.
Accordingly we can no more fittingly close this chapter than by quoting the noble tribute paid by the historian of the United States Constitution, to the principles of that grandest symbol of human government, and "most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."
"In the earliest States known to history, government and religion were one and indivisible. Each State had its special deity, and often these protectors, one after another, might be overthrown in battle, never to rise again. The Peloponnesian War grew out of a strife about an oracle. Rome, as it sometimes adopted into citizenship those whom it vanquished, introduced, in like manner, and with good logic for that day, the worship of their gods.
"No one thought of vindicating religion for the conscience of the individual, till a voice in Judea, breaking day for the greatest epoch in the life of humanity, by establishing a pure, spiritual, and universal religion for all mankind, enjoined to render to Cesar only that which is Cesar's. The rule was upheld during the infancy of the gospel for all men. No sooner was this religion adopted by the chief of the Roman empire, than it was shorn of its character of universality, and enthralled by an unholy connection with the unholy State; and so it continued till the new nation, -- the least defiled with barren scoffings of the eighteenth century, the most general believer in Christianity of any people of that age, the chief heir of the Reformation in its purest forms, -- when it came to establish a government for the United States, refused to treat faith as a matter to be regulated by a corporate body, or having a headship in a monarch or a State.
"Vindicating the right of individuality even in religion, and in religion above all, the new nation dared to set the example of accepting in its relations to God the principle first divinely ordained of God in Judea. It left the management of temporal things to the temporal power; but the American Constitution, in harmony with the people of the several States, withheld from the Federal government the power to invade the home of reason, the citadel of conscience, the sanctuary of the soul; and not from indifference, but that the infinite Spirit of eternal truth might move in its freedom and purity and power."16
Thus with "perfect individuality extended to conscience," the Constitution of the United States as it is, stands as the sole monument of all history representing the principle which Christ established for earthly government. And under it, in liberty, civil and religious, in enlightenment, and in progress, this nation has deservedly stood as the beacon light of the world, for more than a hundred years.
1 [Page 665] In Argument in Cincinnati Case, Minor et al. Bible in the Public Schools," p. 241.
2 [Page 666] Quoted by Stanley Matthews, Id., p. 242.
3 [Page 673] Quoted in Bancroft's "History of the United States," Vol. iii, chap. vii, par. 14-12.
4 [Page 675] Constitution, Article vi.
5 [Page 675] Id., First Amendment.
6 [Page 676] "Treaty with Tripoli," Article ii.
7 [Page 682] Charters and Constitutions, Virginia.
8 [Page 685] Baird's "Religion in America," book iii, chap. iii, par. 9-16.
9 [Page 687] Id., par. 21-23.
10 [Page 692] Blackly's "American State Papers," pp. 27-38.
12 [Page 694] Id., pp. 23-26.
13 [Page 695] Id., pp. 44.
14 [Page 695] Bancroft's "History of the Formation of the Constitution," book iv, chap.iii, par. 17.
15 [Page 696] Blakely's "American State Papers," pp. 45.
16 [Page 698] "History of the Formation of the Constitution," book v. chap. 1, par. 10, 11.