- "Pure Religion of the Gospel…Together with Civil Liberty": A Study of the Religion Clauses of the Northwest Ordinance and Church-State in Revolutionary America.
Wiewora, Nathaniel Hamilton, Hadden, Sally, Koschnik, Albrecht, Childs, Matt, Department of History, Florida State University
The Ordinance of 1787 provided the method for territories of the Old Northwest to become states. It set out a three-stage process that territories would pass through in order to acquire full rights of statehood. Furthermore, it contained six Articles of Compact between Congress on behalf of the extant states and the states to be created out of the territory. These articles provided guarantees of fundamental rights and liberties for the future states, including religious practice and belief....
Show moreThe Ordinance of 1787 provided the method for territories of the Old Northwest to become states. It set out a three-stage process that territories would pass through in order to acquire full rights of statehood. Furthermore, it contained six Articles of Compact between Congress on behalf of the extant states and the states to be created out of the territory. These articles provided guarantees of fundamental rights and liberties for the future states, including religious practice and belief. The first article provided that "no person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory." Article Three stated that, "religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." This study uncovers how ideas on government, law, and religion led to the drafting of the religion clauses of the Northwest Ordinance. Scholars have spent little time examining the philosophical underpinnings of the statements on religion contained in the Northwest Ordinance. This study demonstrates that these statements were not mere afterthoughts, but were thick and complex statements on how the state and the church should be related. The legislative history of the Northwest Ordinance indicates that the language for the religion clauses appeared just before the document's passage, but it also seems that the drafters drew upon a deep well of theological and philosophical beliefs and applied them to a specific political and economic context. The theological ideas included Puritan and evangelical ideas like millennarianism, free will, true virtue, and covenant. Philosophical views included both Enlightenment philosophy and civic republicanism. Part of the exploration of this question occurs within the context of the debate of church and state relations in Revolutionary Virginia and Massachusetts. This is necessary for a number of reasons. First, it narrows the scope of the study without sacrificing important historical developments. A study of this sort that does not limit itself geographically can quickly become unmanageable. To include the developments in the negotiation over church and state in all thirteen colonies would be to ask for an unwieldy study that would not necessarily reach significantly different conclusions from a more limited one. The struggle over church and state in the Virginia and Massachusetts contexts represented the most important and illustrative developments. The state governments of Virginia and Massachusetts and their representatives played influential roles in the drafting of the Northwest Ordinance. Thus, considering these developments will provide a helpful understanding of the ideological antecedents of the religion clauses of the Northwest Ordinance. Virginia and Massachusetts served as microcosmic representations for the church-state debate in the Revolutionary period. It is both within this indirect and broader microcosmic connection, as well as more direct connections to the Northwest Ordinance itself that the importance of the Massachusetts and Virginia debates are derived. Virginia reached a liberal principle of religious liberty before most of the other states and thus became an example for the other states of how the fusion of Protestant dissension and Christian voluntarism could lead to antiestablishment thought and a liberal expression of religious toleration. Opponents of establishment in many of the other states cited Virginia's thinkers in their own constitutional moves toward disestablishment. Virginia shared a direct connection with the Northwest Ordinance in two ways. First, the Virginia Legislature had to cede all of her land claims to the Northwest Territory before the Continental Congress could create a territorial policy for the Northwest. Virginia gentry also drafted portions of or served on several of the key committees in the legislative history of the Northwest Ordinance. Virginian Thomas Jefferson composed the Ordinance of 1784, the first national expression of territorial policy for the Northwest. His Ordinance provided a basis for the development of the Northwest Ordinance. Virginian James Monroe proposed changes to Jefferson's Ordinance, helping to draft key sections of the Northwest Ordinance. Monroe's ideas included how many states should be created out of the Northwest Territory and under what conditions these states should enter the Union. Monroe embraced a New England style of territorial development, urging that the Northwest Territory should be settled by townships and in an organized fashion. One of the significant reasons Monroe embraced this style of territorialism was because of the Ohio Company and the large number of New England Revolutionary War veterans who made up the Company's membership rolls and wanted to settle the Northwest Territory under principles consonant with their own particular New England beliefs. The importance of the teaching of natural religion was cited by both opponents and supporters of establishment in revolutionary Massachusetts. Supporters of limited establishment, in the guise of Article Three of the proposed 1780 constitution, argued that the governmental support of religion had social utilitarian importance. Supporters of Article Three argued that the teaching of the doctrine of a future state of rewards or punishment inculcated virtue into the Massachusetts citizenry. Opponents of Article Three, like the anonymous New Light writer Philanthropos, opposed the teaching of fundamental Calvinist principles, like the doctrine of future states, because they saw the teaching of these principles by the government as antithetical to notions of the inviolability of individual conscience. Opponents of Article Three supported the right of individual conscience to such an extent that on at least one occasion, opponents practiced civil disobedience in the closing of the courts in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. The leader of the civil disobedient group, the Berkshire Consitutionalists, was Thomas Allen. As noted above, Allen practiced a rigid Calvinist orthodoxy. He was a member of the New Divinity movement that believed in the importance of retaining strict theological principles, while still allowing for a socially active form of Christianity. This social activism stemmed from interpretations of the nature of true virtue that originated in the mind of Jonathan Edwards. Consistent Calvinists embraced these Edwardsean notions and extended them to causes like abolition or disestablishment. The Reverend Thomas Allen embraced New Divinity ideas and helped to influence the church-state debate in Massachusetts. The church-state debate in Massachusetts also had a direct link to the drafting of the religion clauses of the Northwest Ordinance in two other ways. Manasseh Cutler, land agent for the Ohio Company, hailed from Massachusetts. He, more than probably anyone else, influenced the text of the Ordinance and the timing of its passage. As described above, Cutler's biography linked several of the key arguments made for the territorial policy articulated in the Northwest Ordinance. Finally, it seems that the authors of the Northwest Ordinance's Articles of Compact culled the Massachusetts Constitution 1780 for the specific language of the Ordinance's religion clauses. Thus, a greater understanding of the Revolutionary Massachusetts church-state narrative, along with the story of church-state relations as they developed in Virginia, yields some of the intentions of the framers of the Northwest Ordinance's religion clauses. The final portion of this study is shorter and much more speculative. The study contemplates the Ordinance's influence upon the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights vis-à-vis the religion clauses of each document. Many members of the Continental Congress were also members of the Constitutional Convention. Members of the Confederation Congress corresponded heavily with members of the Constitutional Convention and vice versa. Thus, it is hard to imagine that each body did not know what the other was doing. Furthermore, the First Congress readopted the Northwest Ordinance just days before debating what would become the First Amendment. So, it can be assumed that the Northwest Ordinance is constitutional and that it also served as an example and influence in the drafting of the Bill of Rights. This area of study is much more speculative in nature and ultimately the discussion in this thesis is more suggestive of future directions of study. It raises questions about the constitutional effect of the Northwest Ordinance with respect to the issue of church and state and broader issues of religion and politics in the Revolutionary Period.
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