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What American History Books Used To Say About Separation of Church and State


Mar 24, 2006
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What American History Books Used To Say About Separation of Church and State

The people, though thus engaged in moulding their political institutions, did not neglect to conform their systems of ecclesiastical government to the new order of things. The Revolution had changed the relation of the religious denominations to the State. In New England, Congregationalism was the established religion, and every citizen was required to aid in the support of some church. In all the southern colonies the Episcopal Church was equally favored, and partially so in New York and New Jersey. Only in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Delaware, were all the Protestant sects on an equality, as to their religious rights. The Episcopal Church was more disorganized than any other. It had hitherto been attached to the diocese of the Bishop of London, but now that authority was not recognized. As yet there was no American bishop, and no means to obtain the consecration of any clergyman to that office, except by English bishops. Accordingly the Reverend Samuel Seabury, of Connecticut, at the request of the Episcopalians of that State, visited England to obtain ordination as a bishop. But the English bishops were prevented by law of Parliament from raising any one to that dignity, who did not take the oaths of allegiance, and acknowledge the King as head of the Church. Seabury then applied to the non-juring bishops of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, by whom he was ordained. Some Episcopalians, however, were not satisfied with an ordination at the hands of the Scottish bishops. 1787.

A convention of delegates, from several States, met and formed a constitution for the " Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." After some revision this constitution was adopted by conventions in the separate States. Titles were changed in order to conform to republicanism; such as "Lord Bishop," and all such as were " descriptive of temporal power and precedency." The Liturgy for the same reason was modified. A friendly letter was addressed to the English bishops, requesting at their hands ordination of American bishops. An Act of Parliament gave the desired authority, and William White, of Philadelphia, Samuel Provost, of New York, and James Madison, of Virginia, were thus ordained. Soon after these ordinations, a General Convention ratified the constitution, and the organization of the Episcopal Church in the United States was complete.

About this time came Thomas Coke, as superintendent or bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He had been an able laborer with Wesley, by whom he was ordained to that office. This sect spread very rapidly, especially in the south; in that section of the country were a great many vacant parishes, which belonged to the Episcopal Church, numbers of whose clergymen left the country during the troubles of the Revolution. At this time the denomination did not number more than ninety preachers, and fifteen thousand members.

The institutions of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches required no change to adapt them to the new order of things.

The Presbyterians took measures to organize their 1788. Church government on a national basis. Four Synods were formed out of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia. A General Assembly, composed of delegates from all the Presbyteries of the land, was authorized to meet t annually.

Soon after the treaty of peace with England, the 1788ss. Pope's Nuncio at Paris made overtures to Congress, through Doctor Franklin, on the subject of appointing a Vicar Apostolic or bishop for the United States. On the ground that the subject was purely spiritual, and therefore beyond its jurisdiction, Congress refused to take any part in the matter. The Pope then appointed as his vicar apostolic, John Carroll, a brother of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton; the same was afterward raised to the dignity of Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

Almost immediately after the Declaration of Independence the Presbytery of Hanover, in Virginia, addressed a memorial to the House of Assembly, in which they petitioned for the separation of church and state. They 1776. preferred that the gospel should be supported by the free gifts of its friends; they asked no aid from the civil power to maintain their own churches, and were unwilling that any denomination should thus be favored. The movement thus commenced was ardently seconded by the Baptists and Quakers, who petitioned the Assembly to the same effect. These petitions were met by countermemorials from the Episcopalians and Methodists, who urged in behalf of the Establishment, that it was a system which " possessed the nature of a vested right, and ought to be maintained inviolate."

The separation of church and state soon became a prominent question in Virginia. Jefferson took an important part in the animated contest, but the most effective was the united influence of those who first opposed the establishment, and who never relaxed their efforts till the churches were declared independent of the civil power, and every colonial law interfering with the religious rights of the people was swept away.

The example thus set by Virginia was not without its influence; the union of church and state was dissolved 1788. in the other States soon after the close of the Revolution, except in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the system was retained many years longer.

--- The history of the United States of America, from the discovery of the continent to the close of the Thirty-sixth Congress; By J. Harris Patton, A. M.; 1867


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