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Jensen, Merrill (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut
3 (1978)

V. Commentaries on the Constitution, 13 November 1787-7 January 1788,   pp. 456-534


Page 498

CONNECTICUT/17 DEC.
sequences which will probably follow from rejecting it. If any ob-
jections are made against it, let us obtain full information on the
subject and then weigh these objections in the balance of cool im-
partial reason. Let us see, if they be not wholly groundless. But, if
upon the whole, they appear to have some weight, let us consider
well whether they be so important that we ought on account of them
to reject the whole Constitution. Perfection is not the lot of human
institutions; that which has the most excellencies and fewest faults is
the best that we can expect.
Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for
information, have objected against that clause in the Constitution
which provides that 'no religious Test shall ever be required as a
qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But,
my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecu-
tion and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We
are almost the only people in the world who have the full enjoyment
of this important right of human nature. In our country, every man
has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to
his own conscience. If he be a good and peaceable citizen, he is liable
to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments;
or, in other words, he is not subject to persecution.
But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different.
Systems of religious error have been adopted in times of ignorance.
It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates to
maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish,
and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to
keep them in error but to prohibit their altering their religious
opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way, persecution became
general throughout Europe. It was the universal opinion that one
religion must be established by law, and that all who differed in their
religious opinions must suffer the vengeance of persecution. In pur-
suance of this opinion, when popery was abolished in England, and the
Church of England was established in its stead, severe penalties were
inflicted upon all who dissented from the Established Church. In
the time of the civil wars, in the reign of Charles I, the Presbyterians
got the upper hand and inflicted legal penalties upon all who differed
from them in their sentiments respecting religious doctrines and dis-
cipline. When Charles II was restored, the Church of England was
likewise restored, and the Presbyterians and other dissenters were laid
under legal penalties and incapacities. It was in this reign that a
religious test was established as a qualification for office; that is, a law
was made requiring all officers civil and military (among other things)
498


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