II. Draft of Bill for Exempting Dissenters from Contributing to the Support of the Church
[30 November 1776]
Whereas1 it is represented by many of the Inhabitants of this Country who dissent from the Church of England as by Law established that they consider the Assessments and Contributions which they have been hitherto obliged to make towards the support and Maintenance of the said Church and its Ministry as grievous and oppressive, and an Infringement of their religious Freedom. For Remedy whereof2 and that equal Liberty as well religious as civil may be universally extended to all the good People of this Common Wealth, Be it Enacted by the General Assembly of the Common Wealth of Virginia and it is hereby Enacted by the Authority of the same that all Dissenters of whatever Denomination from the said Church shall from and after the passing this Act be totally free and exempt from all Levies Taxes and Impositions whatever towards supporting and maintaining the said Church as it now is or may hereafter be established and its Ministers.3 Provided nevertheless and it is hereby farther Enacted by the Authority aforesaid that the Vestries of the several Parishes where the same hath not been already done shall and may and they are hereby authorized and required at such times as they shall appoint to levy and assess on all Tithables within their respective Parishes as well Dissenters as others all such Salaries and Arrears of Salaries as are or may be due to the Ministers or Incumbents of their Parishes for past Services;4 moreover to make such Assessments on all Tithables as will enable the said Vestries to comply with their legal parochial Engagements already entered into and lastly to continue such future Provision for the poor in their respective Parishes as they have hitherto by Law been accustomed to make. And be it farther Enacted by the Authority aforesaid that there shall in all time coming be saved and reserved to the Use of the Church by Law established the several Tracts of Glebe Land already purchased; the Churches and Chapels already built5 for the use of the Parishes; all Books Plate & ornaments belonging or appropriated to the use of the said Church and all arrears of Money or Tobacco arising from former Assessments or otherwise and that there shall moreover be saved and reserved to the use of such Parishes as may have received private Donations for the better support of the said Church and its Ministers the perpetual Benefit and enjoyment of all such Donations.
And whereas great Varieties of Opinions have arisen touching the Propriety of a general Assessment or whether every religious society should be left to voluntary Contributions for the support and maintenance of the several Ministers and Teachers of the Gospel who are of different Persuasions and Denominations, and this Difference of Sentiments cannot now be well accommodated, so that it is thought most prudent to defer this matter to the Discussion and final Determination of a future assembly when the Opinions of the Country in General may be better known. To the End therefore that so important a Subject may in no Sort be prejudged, Be it Enacted by the Authority aforesaid that nothing in this Act contained shall be construed to affect or influence the said Question of a general Assessment or voluntary Contribution in any respect whatever.
Provided always that in the mean time the Members of the Established Church shall not in any Parish be subject to the payment of a greater tax for the support of the said Church & its Minister than they would have been, had the Dissenters not been exempted from paying their accustomed proportion, any Law to the contrary notwithstanding.6
And whereas it is represented that in some Counties Lists of Tithables have been omitted to be taken, For remedy whereof7 be it further enacted, that the Courts of the several Counties, where it may be necessary, shall have Power & they are hereby required so soon as may be convenient to appoint some of their own Members to take the Lists of Tithables throughout their respective Counties.
MS (Vi). Two pages in a clerk’s hand; one page of amendments in Tazewell’s hand; one amendment in George Mason’s hand; and one amendment in Robert Carter Nicholas’ hand.
It is clear that the Bill as introduced 30 Nov. was drawn up by the committee appointed 19 Nov. not in accord with the six resolutions of the latter date (printed in the note to Document i, above), but in accord with the modification of those resolutions adopted 30 Nov. immediately before the present Bill was introduced. Hence it is plausible to conclude that the Bill as here presented had been agreed upon before TJ left the legislature on 29 Nov. A part of TJ’s Resolutions of 19 Nov. (Document i) was, however, introduced into the Bill by way of amendment.
1. The page of amendments in Tazewell’s hand, referred to above, is headed: “Amendments proposed to the Bill for exempting the different Societies of Dissenters …,” and the first amendment listed on this page is prefaced by this remark: “The following to preceed the Preamble of the Bill.” Then follows the text of the amendment as enacted into law (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 164). This text is, except for one alteration, the same as that referred to above as being in George Mason’s hand. It reads in Mason’s text as follows: “Whereas several oppressive Acts of Parliament respecting Religion have been formerly enacted, and Doubts have arisen and may hereafter arise whether the same are in Force within this Common-Wealth or not, for Prevention whereof Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Common Wealth of Virginia, and it is hereby enacted by the Authority of the same, 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, shall henceforth be of no Validity or Force within this Common-Wealth.” On the Mason amendment are written in Tazewell’s hand the following words at the top and bottom respectively: “To stand before the Preamble” and “agreed.” The deletion was apparently made before the amendment was offered; for the text as given in Tazewell’s list of amendments reads as follows: “… all and every Act or Statute by whatever Title known … .” After Tazewell had copied the amendment thus, the words “or Statute” were deleted, and the words “of Parliament” substituted therefor; the Act as adopted reads accordingly. It will be noted that this amendment preserves some of the phraseology and much of the substance of TJ’s Resolutions of 19 Nov. (Document i, above).
2. Tazewell’s list of amendments reads as follows: “Strike out from the Beginning of the Bill to the word whereof in the 8th Line and insert And whereas there are within this Commonwealth great Numbers of Dissenters from the Church established by Law, who have been heretofore taxed for it’s Support, and it is contrary to the principles of Reason and Justice that any should be compelled to contribute to the Maintenance of a Church with which their Consciences will not permit them to join, and from which they can therefore receive no Benefit; for remedy whereof.” This amendment, which reflects more exactly the sentiments and words of the dissenting petitions than does the Bill as introduced, was agreed to and enacted into law (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 165).
3. The words “as it now is or may hereafter be established” are interlined and no doubt represent an amendment, since the number of the line (“17”) is written in the margin, a designation occurring only in places where amendments are indicated; however, the amendment is not listed among those detailed by Tazewell. It may have been one offered by the Senate on 9 Dec. (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. 89).
4. The Act reads: “for services to the first day of January next.”
5. The following words are to be found in the Act at this point and may be one of the amendments offered by the Senate: “and such as were begun or contracted for before the passing of this act” (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 165).
6. The foregoing paragraph is underscored in the MS of the Bill and preceded by “2d clause.” The Tazewell list of amendments reads as follows: “Page 2. Strike out the second clause & insert And whereas see Treasurer’s Amendmt. No. 3.” The amendment in Robert Carter Nicholas’ hand is headed by the figure “3” and its text coincides with that of the Act at this point: “And Whereas by the Exemptions allowed Dissenters it may be too burthensome in some Parishes to the Members of the established Church if they are still compel’d to support the Clergy by certain fixed Salaries & it is judged best <for the present> that this should be done for the present by voluntary <subscriptions> Contributions; Be it therefore enacted by the Authority aforesaid that so much of an Act of the General Assembly made in the 22d. Year of the Reign of King George the second entitled ‘An Act for the Support of the Clergy & for the regular collecting & paying the Parish Levies or any other Act as provides Salaries for the Ministers & authorizes the Vestries to levy the same, except in the Cases before directed,’ shall be & the same is hereby suspended until the End of the next Session of Assembly.” The words “or any other Act” are interlined and are in the hand of Tazewell.
7. The words following this point are underscored in the MS and several additional paragraphs substituted therefor in the Act as adopted. These additional paragraphs provide for the method of listing tithables, wheeled carriages subject to tax, and penalties for failure to carry out the terms of the Act (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 166–7). This amendment was probably offered in the House, for the Tazewell amendments read at this point:
“Line 25. Strike out the words as soon as may be convenient & insert at the first or second Court after passing this Act.” This minor amendment was, with appropriate changes, probably incorporated in the larger one.