An Essay that was to be presented at the 2014, VA GOP, Advance, on solving America’s Constitutional Crisis by restoring Subsidiarity
©2014 by Mike Church
he First Amendment owes its existence to Patrick Henry, not James Madison. It was Henry’s 1784 bill in the VA Assembly to tax land owners, derisively called a “tithe”, to create a fund to operate religious schooling that spurred Madison to author, with a huge assist from Jefferson the now famous “Remonstrance of Religious Liberty” which led to the drafting of Jefferson’s prized, legislative possesion: The Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty. Because of the two men’s stature and the diminished reputation of Henry which Jefferson is also at least partly responsible for, few have ever questioned whether this act which heavily influenced the 1st Amendment, was a net positive? Most readers perfunctorily conclude the answer is a resounding “yes!” and to answer otherwise brands one as some kind of liberty apostate, a non libertam fideum, but that doesn’t answer the question. When viewed through the lens of what this act produced compared to what was produced prior to its ubiquitous installation, I believe the answer is the opposite of the one expected from “an originalist” as I am usually called. First let’s get the history of this epoch in proper order.
“I flatter myself that with this statute we have in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human kind.” – James Madison
In late spring of 1799, as he neared death’s inescapable grasp, Patrick Henry wrote to his children apprising them of his final will and testament. Contained in the items left behind by the greatest orator the Old Dominion has ever called “native son” was this paragraph. “This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.” Previously he had written to his daughter, literally casting about for an explanation to what Henry viewed as a calumny upon his character. “Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and, indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.” But Henry’s lack of a publicly recorded apostolate is not evidence of a lack of effort, the most forceful effort he made was in 1784 with his “General Assessment”, as we shall see.
Madison’s now famous, 1785 Remonstrance on Religious Liberty” is quoted by “liberals” and “conservatives” alike as THE act that set the revolution in rapid motion towards its “separation of Church & State” that has now become political dogma, as if almighty God had handed down the words of his own rejection to James Madison. To wit:
“We, the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration a bill printed by order of the last session of the General Assembly, entitled ‘A bill for establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion,’ and conceiving that the same, if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound, as faithful members of a free State, to remonstrate against the said bill—Because we hold it for a “fundamental and undeniable truth,” that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The religion, then, of every man, must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”
Madison, boasted of his and Jefferson’s victory in a letter written to Jefferson one week after the Religious Liberty Bill’s passing on January 16, 1786.
“I flatter myself that with this statute we have in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human kind.” Jefferson replied: “It is honorable for us to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his own opinions.” So what was it that Madison & Jefferson were spiking Bibles in the end-zone over? What had Henry proposed that was so dastardly? Had Henry advocated something so sinister as to enact a Virginia form of sharia law, eminating from Richmond? Hardly.
Henry’s “Assessment,” when viewed today, might sound radical but placed in the context of the moment, when just 8 years prior, on 17 March, 1776, the Continental Congress had declared.
Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees, duly impressed with a solemn sense of God’s superintending providence, and of their duty devoutly to rely in all their lawful enterprizes of his aid and direction–do earnestly recommend, that FRIDAY, the seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said Colonies as a day of HUMILIATION, FASTING, and PRAYER; that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere, repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness. – Proclamation of Congress, March, 1776
Henry’s apostolate had survived Jefferson’s 1779 attempt to institute the “separation of Church and State” via his religious liberty act. Henry was the most popular politician in all of Virginia at the time of his Assessment act and he had been well appraised of the squalid conditions many clergy were operating under. As we shall see, Henry, who is now correctly known as the author of Virginia’s religious Liberty Clause in her Constitution’s 1776, Bill of Rights, was on solid ground in acting to assist the clergy, uniformly.
Whereas the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society, which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing such citizens, as from their circumstances and want of education, cannot otherwise attain such knowledge; and it is judged that such provision may be made by the Legislature, without counteracting the liberal principle heretofore adopted and intended to be preserved by abolishing all distinctions of pre-eminence amongst the different societies or communities of Christians;
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That for the support of Christian teachers,—per centum on the amount, or—in the pound on the sum payable for tax on the property within this Commonwealth, is hereby assessed
In 1874, nearly 90 years to the day of the defeat of Henry’s act and the rapid rise of “religious liberty” the National Reform Alliance met for the 4th annual time to try and fashion an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prevent another unjust, horrific, Civil War (and deal with what they viewed as a Constitutional Crisis). These folks met under the banner of the NRA and warned their countrymen that without a religion amendment to the federal constitution, resembling Jefferson and Madison’s but with the opposite effect, the following would occur. See if the following “demands” made by the “liberals” of 1874 sound eerily similar to the liberals of 1974 and 2014.
“To these considerations I might add that the Christian law of marriage and divorce underlies our legislation on the social relations; that the names of God and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are guarded against blasphemy by our laws; that the oath, usually in some Christian form, is employed in all our courts of justice, and in all departments of the Government. These facts prove that the American Government was founded by the people as the organ through which the nation might enforce Christian morality in all its borders; might call on its God in the day of peril or distress, and give him thanks in the hour of prosperity, and might teach the name and the fear of God to its future citizens.
But there is not one of these Christian features of our civil institutions that is not the object of persistent and determined assault at this hour. The following “Demands of Liberalism” are the programme of the Liberal leagues now forming in many parts of the country:
1. We demand that churches and other ecclesiastical property shall no longer be exempt from just taxation.
2. We demand that the employment of chaplains in Congress, in State Legislatures, in the navy and militia, and in prisons, asylums, and all other institutions supported by public money, shall be discontinued….
4.. We demand that all religious services now sustained by the government shall be abolished; and especially that the use of the Bible in the public schools, whether ostensibly as a text-book or avowedly as a book of religious worship, shall be prohibited.
5. We demand that the appointment, by the President of the United States or by the Governors of the various States, of all religious festivals and fasts shall wholly cease.
6. We demand that the judicial oath in the courts and in all other departments of the government shall be abolished, and that simple affirmation under the pains and penalties of perjury shall be established in its stead.
7. We demand that all laws directly or indirectly enforcing the observance of Sunday as the Sabbath shall be repealed.
8. We demand that all laws looking to the enforcement of “Christian” morality shall be abrogated, and that all laws shall be conformed to the requirements of natural morality, equal rights, and impartial liberty.
9. We demand that not only in the Constitution of the United States and of the several States, but also in the practical administration of the same, no privilege or advantage shall be conceded to Christianity or any other special religion; that our entire political system shall be founded and administered on a purely secular basis; and that whatever changes shall prove necessary to this end shall be consistently, unflinchingly, and promptly made.
The observation I would offer after reading these “demands” is that once democratic government was unmoored from it’s subsidiarity to The Christian God, the assault on the moral institutions and traditions that had made the separation possible was inevitable. That this separation now produces a creeping enmity towards those that stand with the True Faith and in opposition was inevitable. To that point, the NRA’s REV. T. P. STEVENSON reacted to what you just read as the the threat which siounds like last year, last decade and last century’s threat too doesn’t it?
“The intelligent and consistent infidels who make these demands are not the whole army now moving to the assault on our Christian institutions. Every open violator of the Sabbath is to be counted in their ranks. Every railroad corporation that runs its trains on the Sabbath is a part of their forces. Every Sunday paper is an organ of this crusade on our Christian institutions. Every man who opposes the Bible in the schools is enlisted under the same banner. Let no one say, There is no danger of their success. They are succeeding. Our Sabbath laws and laws against blasphemy are fast becoming a dead letter on our statute books. Our divorce legislation, in many States, is a reproach to the Christian name. In St. Louis and other places the Bible has been already excluded from the schools. The legality of the resolution of the Cincinnati School Board, prohibiting prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, has recently been affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State. They are succeeding everywhere, and where are Christian people aroused and united to withstand them? Is there not need of a standard around which we may rally the friends of our Christian institutions? of some wise, comprehensive, efficacious measure in the advocacy of which we may combine all Christian people and inspire them with the enthusiasm which foretokens success? Such a measure, we propose It is the only movement to-day which directly antagonizes the infidel assaults on the Christian features of our government.“
And what did their proposed Amendment say? It altered the preamble to the Constitution and called for a permanent committee to be formed to continue exploring changes to the Constitution to reclaim what had been lost. That is, a mere 90 years since ratfiifcation, “liberals” had already been alarmingly successful at using the religious “neutrality” of the government against the Christian peoples Madison and Jefferson had mistakenly believed it would protect.
Now let’s wrap all this up together. Tradition held for over 80 years after Henry’s death in 1799 that George Mason was the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights Clause #16 on religious liberty.
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
We cannot completely appreciate Henry’s efforts here for the clergy and of his apostolate in general unless we establish that he was the author of Clause 16. According to Edmund Randolph who served on the Bill of Rights committee, it was Henry who wrote the religious liberty clause, which was edited by Madison & George Mason.
“The fifteenth, recommending an adherence and frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, and the sixteenth, unfettering the exercise of religion were proposed by Mr. Henry.” – Edmund Randolph
Regardless of the author, the effect of the clause was to begin, but not complete, the removal of an admission of subsidiarity or structure of power in government with the Almighty and his law as the highest authority and the laws of men coming next. This ladies and genetlemen then is where the fissure in our social fabric began: at the beginning or more precisely, at the Founding. This brings me to the point of this talk, now that we know the history of how the “separation of church and state” began in Virginia, I propose that Virginia can lead the way in bringing it to an end. That brings us back to the NRA convention of 1874 and their proposed amendment. Here is that amendment as proposed then defeated in Congress that year.
“We, the people of the United States, [humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government,] and in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and [secure the inalienable rights and blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves, our posterity, and all the people,] do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Virginia Constitution of 1776, amended in 1829, which is still in effect today, contains the same preamble it did in 1776. Let’s insert the NRA clause in the VA Constitution and see how it sounds.
“A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the good people of Virginia [humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government,] in the exercise of their sovereign powers, which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.” – Proposed change to the VA Constitution
This is the point of my titular theme with an homage to Wm. F Buckley’s “God And Man At Yale.” VA, led the way to independence, Her Constitution, the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Old Dominion’s “Sic Semper Tyrannis” can lead the way again, and be the first to restore the subsidiarity to Almighty God to our governments. Bringing together, for all the world to see “God and Man, at Richmond”, another generation of Virginian’s attempts to solve a Constitutional Crisis.
1. Jefferson proudly had this accomplishment placed on his memoral obelisk. “Here was buried. Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & Father of the University of Virginia”
2. Henry from MS, see Red Hill archives “Henry’s Will”
3. Wirt, William Henry, “Sketches in The Life of Patrick Henry”, p. 402
4. Madison to Jefferson, 22 January, 1786
5. Jefferson to Madison, 16 December, 1786
7. See e.g. Religion and State Constitution Making, Carter, John W.
8. Proceedings of the National Convention to Secure the Religious Amendment of The U.S. Constitution
10. For a complete discussion of this see: Report of the Virginia State Library, Volumes 5-7, pp 43-44