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Memorial and Remonstrance (1785)

[ca. 20 June 1785]

To the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia

A Memorial and Remonstrance

     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 a 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 by 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 considerd as a member of Civil 
Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the 
Universe:  And if a member of 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, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that 
the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.
     2.  Because  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 an authority derived from them, and 
are slaves.
     3.  Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment 
on 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 free men of America did not wait till usurped 
power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entagled 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 the equality which ought to be 
the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, 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 those whose minds 
have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.  If 
this freedom be abused, it is an offence 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 entrusted 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 demoninations 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 Truth; 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 eccelsiastical 
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.  Enquire of 
the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in 
its greatest lustre; 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 the 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 an 
established Clergy convenient auxiliaries.  A just Government 
instituted to secure & 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 
rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of 
     9.  Because the proposed establishment is a departure from the 
generous policy, which, offering an Asylum to the persecuted and 
oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre 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 the last in the career of intolerance.  The 
maganimous sufferer under 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 philanthrophy in their due 
extent, may offer a more certain respose from his Troubles.
     10.  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 dishonoured and depopulated 
flourishing kingdoms.
     11.  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 
split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to 
extinguish Religious disscord, by proscribing all difference 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 assauge the disease.  The American 
Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat 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 our own eyes, we begin to 
contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that 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 chairty," which of late mutually prevailed, 
into animosities and jeolousies, which may not soon be appeased.  
What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public 
quiet be armed with the force of a law?
     12.  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 Levelling 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 defence against the encroachments of error.
     13.  Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts 
obnoxious to go 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 
     14.  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 Assembly."  But 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 
     15.  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 Vriginia, as the basis and foundation of Government," it is 
enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either 
the, we must say, that the Will of the Legislature is the only 
measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this 
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 controul 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 the law the Bill under consideration.  
We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this 
Commonwealth have no such authority:  And that no effort may be 
omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose 
to it, 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, may 
re]dound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the 
liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonweath.

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