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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 499

V. COMMENTARIES
to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the usage
of the Church of England, written [within] six months after their
admission to office, under the penalty of £500 and disability to hold
the office. And by another statute of the same reign, no person was
capable of being elected to any office relating to the government of
any city or corporation unless, within a twelvemonth before, he had
received the Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England.
The pretense for making these severe laws, by which all but church-
men were made incapable of any office civil or military, was to ex-
clude the Papists; but the real design was to exclude the Protestant
dissenters. From this account of test laws, there arises an unfavorable
presumption against them. But if we consider the nature of them
and the effects which they are calculated to produce, we shall find that
they are useless, tyrannical, and peculiarly unfit for the people of
this country.
A religious test is an act to be done, or profession to be made,
relating to religion (such as partaking of the Sacrament according
to certain rites and forms, or declaring one's belief of certain doc-
trines), for the purpose of determining whether his religious opinions
are such that he is admissible to a public office. A test in favor of
any one denomination of Christians would be to the last degree absurd
in the United States. If it were in favor of either Congregationalists,
Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, or Quakers, it would incapaci-
tate more than three-fourths of the American citizens for any public
office; and thus degrade them from the rank of freemen. There needs
no argument to prove that the majority of our citizens would never
submit to this indignity.
If any test act were to be made, perhaps the least exceptionable
would be one requiring all persons appointed to office to declare, at
the time of their admission, their belief in the being of a God and in
the divine authority of the Scriptures. In favor of such a test, it
may be said that one who believed these great truths will not be so
likely to violate his obligations to his country, as one who disbelieves
them; we may have greater confidence in his integrity. But I answer:
his making a declaration of such a belief is no security at all. For
suppose him to be an unprincipled man, who believes neither the
Word nor the being of a God, and to be governed merely by selfish
motives, how easy is it for him to dissemble? How easy is it for him
to make a public declaration of his belief in the creed which the law
prescribes; and excuse himself by calling it a mere formality? This
is the case with the test laws and creeds in England. The most
abandoned characters partake of the Sacrament in order to qualify
themselves for public employments. The clergy are obliged by law
499


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