No King But King Jesus!
So read the first political slogan in the United States. Made popular as a battle-cry during the revolutionary war, the slogan is attributed to Matthew Henry, author of the popular Commentaries of the Bible.
Information presented here is taken directly from the Document Collections of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is well past time that we Americans acknowledge the fact that the United States was established as a Christian nation rooted in biblical principles.
Concerns over religious liberty played a central role during the colonization of English North America, and figured prominently in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Controversies centered on the question of religion and politics, and how and when the two should be held separate. Was it acceptable for clergy to be active politically? In a predominantly Christian and Protestant country, should religious tests exclude non-Christians and non-Protestants from holding office? Did freedom of religion mean only freedom from persecution for religious minorities, or did it involve rights for those of all religious beliefs? Should the Constitution contain an acknowledgment of God? What are the lines, and where should they be drawn?
The documents listed here explore the role that religion played during the ratification debates, and provide a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of our founders.
Nine of the thirteen original states had some sort of religious test for officeholders in their constitutions. (See below). At the time, many believed religious oaths to be a guarantee of honorable public service. People took their oaths very seriously, believing that breaking such an oath would incur the wrath of almighty God. A public official who violated their oaths might escape punishment here on earth, but they would ultimately pay a price in the hereafter.
In Article VI of the federal Constitution, among provisions that addressed matters of oaths and allegiance there was a clause that stipulated that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States." For many Americans it was difficult to imagine how, under the proposed federal Constitution, leaders could be virtuous without taking such an oath. The following text selections, taken directly from state constitutions during the Revolutionary Period, serve to illustrate the historical context that existed during the debate over ratification of the Constitution's prohibition of a religious test for officeholding.
Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit: 'I, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.'
That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.
No Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature. . . .
I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.
That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
The representatives shall be . . . of the Protestent religion. . . .
And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, ” I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Diverse, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the protestant religion.”
Any person chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, councillor, senator, or representative, and accepting the trust, shall, before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration: “I . . . do declare that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth; and that I am seized and possessed, in my own right, of the property required by the constitution, as one qualification for the office or place to which I am elected.”
Every member of the house of representatives shall be of the Protestant religion. . . . That no person shall be capable of being elected a senator who is not of the Protestant religion. . . . The President shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless at the time of his election, he . . . shall be of the protestant religion.