I. Rough Draft of Jefferson’s Resolutions for Disestablishing the Church of England and for Repealing Laws Interfering with Freedom of Worship
[Before 19 November 1776]
That the statutes 1.E.6.c.1. 5 & 6.E.6.c.1. 1.El.c.2. 23.El.c.1. 28.El.c.6. 35.El.c.1. 1.Jac.1.c.4. 3.Jac.1.c.1. 3.Jac.1.c.4. 3.Jac.1.c.21. and the act of ass. 1705.c.6. & so much of all other acts or <ordinances> statutes as <prescribe punishments for the offence of opinions deemed heretical> render criminal the maintaining any opinions in matters of religion or the exercising any mode of worship whatever or as prescribe punishments for the same <; and all acts or statutes> <acts or ordinances made against> ought to be repealed.
Resolved that it is the opn of this Commee that so much of the sd. petitions as prays that the establishment of the Church of England by law in this Commonwealth may be discontinued, and that no pre-eminence may be allowed to any one Religious sect over another, is reasonable; & therefore that the several laws establishing the sd. Church of England, giving peculiar privileges to <the> it’s ministers <thereof>, & levying for the support thereof <the same> contributions on the people independent of their good will ought to be repealed; saving to such incumbents as are now actually seised of Glebe lands, their rights to such Glebe lands during their lives, & to such parishes as have received private donations for the <use of> support of the sd. Church <of England> the perpetual benefit of such donations.
Dft (DLC). Endorsed in TJ’s hand: “Notes & proceedings on discontinuing the Establmt of the Church of Engld.” This Rough Draft of Resolutions in TJ’s hand is undated; its verso and part of its recto are covered by lists of acts of Parliament and of the House of Burgesses respecting religion and morality (see Notes on Acts of Parliament, &c., Document v, below).
These Resolutions were undoubtedly drafted prior to 19 Nov., for on that date the House adopted the following:
“Resolved,… that all and every act or statute, either of the parliament of England or of Great Britain, by whatever title known or distinguished, which renders criminal the maintaining any opinions in matters of religion, forbearing to repair to church, or the exercising any mode of worship whatsoever, or which prescribes punishments for the same, ought to be declared henceforth of no validity or force within this Commonwealth.
“Resolved, That so much of an act of Assembly made in the 4th year of the reign of queen Anne, intituled An act for the effectual suppression of vice, and restraint and punishment of blasphemous, wicked, and dissolute persons, as inflicts certain additional penalties on any person or persons convicted a second time of any of the offences described in the first clause of the said act, ought to be repealed.
“Resolved, That so much of the petitions of the several dissenters from the Church established by law within this Commonwealth, as desires an exemption from all taxes and contributions whatever towards supporting the said church and the ministers thereof, or towards the support of their respective religious societies in any other way than themselves shall voluntarily agree, is reasonable.
“Resolved, That although the maintaining any matters of religion ought not to be restrained, yet that publick assemblies of societies for divine worship ought to be regulated, and that proper provision should be made for continuing the succession of the clergy, and superintending their conduct.
“Resolved, That the several acts of Assembly, making provision for the support of the clergy, ought to be repealed, securing to the present incumbents all arrears of salary, and to the vestries a power of levying for performance of their contracts.
“Resolved, That a reservation ought to be made to the use of the said church, in all time coming, of the tracts of glebe lands already purchased, the churches and chapels already built for the use of the several parishes, and of all plate belonging to or appropriated to the use of the said church, and all arrears of money or tobacco arising from former assessments; and that there should be reserved to such parishes as have received private donations, for the support of the said church and its ministers, the perpetual benefit of such donations” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1776, 1828 edn., p. 63).
The first two of the resolutions immediately above were voided by the resolutions of the House of 30 Nov. (same, p. 76); those voided were in substance, of course, TJ’s Resolutions. The first was later inserted in the Bill by amendment, but the second was lost for good (see notes to Bill, printed as Document ii, below). The Act of 1705 provided extreme penalties for the offense of denying “the being of a God or the holy Trinity or … the christian religion to be true, or the holy Scriptures of Old and New Testament to be of divine authority” or asserting that “there are more Gods than one” (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends iii, 168–9). It is worth noting that, while the sixth of the resolutions adopted on 19 Nov. includes a part of TJ’s phraseology, there is an important difference in the two. Inasmuch as glebe lands and other forms of property were vested in the Church by virtue of public levies, TJ made an exception between glebe lands and private donations; the former were to be enjoyed during life and the latter perpetually. The above resolutions and the Act as adopted protected the Church and its ministers in all forms of property from whatever source “in all time coming.” The economic base of a part of these “desperate contests” was also apparent in a petition submitted by members of the established Church and introduced 8 Nov. 1776 (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1776, 1828 edn., p. 47).
1. Among these “Notes & proceedings” is a fragment (TJ Papers, 234: 41880) of a MS which must have been intended by TJ as a preamble to his Resolutions. It reads as follows: “for restoring to the <Inhabitants> Citizens of this Comm’w. the right of maintaining their religious opinions, & of worshipping god in their own way; for releasing them from all legal obligations to frequent churches or other places of worship, <&> for exempting them from contributions for the support of any <church> religious society independant of their good will, <&> for discontinuing the establishment of the church of England by law, & <thereby> taking away the privilege & pre-eminence of one religious sect over another, and thereby <establish [several words illegible] & equal rights among all>.” Another fragment of what must have been an early draft of these Resolutions on disestablishment is to be found in the MS of TJ’s Bill for Establishing a Court of Appeals (TJ Papers, 2: 316 verso). It is heavily crossed out, but the whole is legible. Thus by the fortuitous preservation of the complementary parts of two fragments, it is possible to piece together an important part of the text of TJ’s first notable document on the question of the relationship of Church and State. The second of these fragments reads as follows: “<for discontinuing the establishment of the English church by law, taking away all privilege & pre-eminence of one religious sect over another; & totally and eternally restraining the civil magistrate from all pretensions of interposing his authority or exercise in matters of religion>.”