Thomas Jefferson Papers

119. A Bill Permitting Those Who Will Not Take Oaths to Be Otherwise Qualified, 18 June 1779

119. A Bill Permitting Those Who Will Not Take Oaths to Be Otherwise Qualified

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that any person refusing to take an oath, and declaring religious scruples to be the true and only reason of such refusal, if he will use the solemnity and ceremony, and repeat the formulary, observed on similar occasions, by those of the church, or religious society he professeth himself to be a member of, or to join in communion with, shall thereupon be deemed as competent a witness, or to be as duly qualified to execute an office, or perform any other act, to the sanction whereof an oath is or shall be required by law, and shall be subject to the same rules, derive the same advantages, or incur the same penalties or forfeitures, as if he had been sworn. In presentments, indictments, inquisitions, verdicts, examinations, or other forms, the words, “upon their oath,” or “sworn,” may be left out, and instead of them, “in solemn form,” or “charged,” whichever may be adapted to the case, may be inserted; but if the ancient form be adhered to, it shall not be adjudged error.

Report description begins Report of the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in MDCCLXXVI, Richmond, 1784 description ends , p. 83. Text agrees precisely with that of Act as adopted at May 1779 session (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 28). No MS has been found.

On 29 May 1779 TJ obtained leave to introduce this Bill, which he did the same day (see notes to Bill No. 98, above, introduced at the same time, for which a draft in TJ’s hand exists). It was passed by the House on 1 June 1779 and TJ was directed to take it to the Senate along with his Bill Prescribing the Oath of Fidelity. This was TJ’s last legislative activity, for immediately thereafter he was elected governor (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1779, 1827 edn., p. 27, 29). Bill No. 119 was introduced by Madison on 31 Oct. 1785, read twice, and on 14 Dec. postponed to next session; on 1 Nov. 1786 it was brought up again, but no further action on it was taken until it was incorporated in the Act of 1792 “for reducing into one the several acts prescribing the oath of fidelity” (Shepherd, description begins Samuel Shepherd, The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive … (New Series,) Being a Continuation of Hening description ends i, 3–4).

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