Monday, May 11, 2009

Richard Henry Lee - Government's Relationship to Religion

More from the Library of Congress' American Memory collection. The words are from Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is he who authored the Resolution of Independence calling for the colonies to break away from England.

In many such documents at the Library of Congress we can see the formation of intent for our Constitution (in this case, explaining what the Bill of Rights may have been meant to establish). Nearly 200 Years after this letter was written, Justice Black seemed to find the our Constitution was intended to prohibit any support of religion. What a surprise that would have been to Mr. Lee if he had still been alive.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 22 November 1, 1784 - November 6, 1785
Richard Henry Lee to James Madison

Dear Sir, Trenton November 26. 1784
I received your agreeable letter the day after mine of the 28th instant had been dispatched.(1) I thank you Sir for the very particular and satisfactory information that you have favord me with. It is certainly comfortable to know that the Legislature of our country is engaged in beneficial pursuits---;for I conceive that the Gen. Assessment, and a wise digest of our militia laws are very important concerns: the one to secure our peace, and the other our morals. Refiners may weave as fine a web of reason as they please, but the experience of all times shews Religion to be the guardian of morals---;And he must be a very inattentive observer in our Country, who does not see that avarice is accomplishing the destruction of religion, for want of a legal obligation to contribute something to its support. The declaration of Rights, it seems to me, rather contends against forcing modes of faith and forms of worship, than against compelling contribution for the support of religion in general. I fully agree with the presbyterians, that true freedom embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo as well as the Xn [=Christian] religion. And upon this liberal ground I hope our Assembly will conduct themselves.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers).

No comments: