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Oliver Ellsworth
Christian Statesman


Maybe you've seen the article that should go here. Send us the link Or send us the book or journal article and we'll plagiarize it like all our other pages.

Here's what it says:

  • Oliver Ellsworth was a Christian who opposed oath-taking (as many in the Quaker and Anabaptist tradition do).
  • Because of his opposition to denominational test oaths, Secularists claim he supported a secular America
  • Ellsworth would have died if he could have seen what the ACLU has done to America

Until you send us this article, readers of this page will have to be content with the following dialogue on American OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Discussion Board.

Subject:    Re: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention - Ellsworth
From:    KEVIN4VFT
To:    Separation of Church/State?
Date:    8/7/99

In article <19990803124634.24127.00006426@ng-fw1.aol.com>, hypatiasm@aol.com (Hypatia SM) writes:

>Oliver Ellsworth
>Image: Independence National Historical Park

>"In the fierce debate over the "no religious test" clause itself,

There was surprisingly little debate.

The problem was a fear that whatever specific test was enumerated, greater offense would result. It was felt that it would be impossible to please all the clergy of the various denominations. It was passed over in virtual silence, with most members of the Convention assured that atheists would not be elected anyway.

>secular view of politics is best foundin the lengthy defense of Article 6
>published under the name "A Landholder" on Decemeber 17, 1787, for the
>Connecticut Courant and widely reprinted in bearby states. The author was no
>ordinary Connecticut farmer, however; he was Oliver Ellsworth, recently a
>delegate to the federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, who would
>soon be a member of the frist U. S. Congress and eventually, for a brief
>time, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Seeking to persuade the
>connecticut ratifying convention to approve the Constitution, Ellsworth
>provides a veritable lectureon the relationship of religion and politics,
>especially of 'systems of relgious error adopted in times of ignorance.' He
>excoriates the English Test Acts for seeking to exclude first Catholics and
>Protestant dissenters from the political realm.

And most of the opposition to a religious test was from fanatic Christian "protestant dissenters." But NOBODY believed that an oath could be taken by an atheist, and an oath was required, even over Ellsworth's objections.

Ellsworth and others were primarily opposed to tests which forced an office holder to be a communicant of a specific denomination.

>From his detailed account of
>these acts, he suggests, "there arises an unfavorable presumption against
>them." Even more significant, "they are useless, tyrannical and peculiarly
>unfit for the people of this country."
>A religious test would be absurd in America, Ellsworth argues; there are too
>many denominations.

See? The religious test concerns denominations of Christianity, not Christians vs. atheists.

>To favor one religious sect with public office would
>incapacitate the many others "and tus degrade them from the rank of freemen."

The fear expressed here (and widely held) was that an Episcopalian government would exclude Presbyterians from public office, not that a Christian nation would exclude atheists.

George Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol.5,
Chapter 9: The Constitutions of the Several States of America, 1776-1783
p.119 - p.120
For more than two centuries the humbler Protestant sects had sent up the cry to heaven for freedom to worship God. To the panting for this freedom half the American states owed their existence, and all but one or two their increase in free population. The immense majority of the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies were Protestant dissenters; and, from end to end of their continent, from the rivers of Maine and the hills of New Hampshire to the mountain valleys of Tennessee and the borders of Georgia, one voice called to the other, that there should be no connection of the church with the state, no establishment of any one form of religion by the civil power; that "all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings." With this great idea the colonies had travailed for a century and a half; and now, not as revolutionary, not as destructive, but simply as giving utterance to the thought of the nation, the states stood up in succession, in the presence of one another and before God and the world, to bear their witness in favor of restoring independence to conscience and the mind.

p.122 - p.123
Where particular churches had received gifts or inheritances, their right to them was respected. In Maryland and South Carolina, the churches, lands, and property that had belonged to the church of England were secured to that church in its new form; in Virginia, where the church of England had been established as a public institution, the disposition of its globes was assumed by the legislature; and, as all denominations had contributed to their acquisition, they came to be considered as the property of the state. Tithes were nowhere continued; and the rule prevailed that "no man could be compelled to maintain any ministry contrary to his own free will and consent." . . . In 1778, the test oath and the partaking of the communion according to the forms of the Episcopal church ceased to be required as conditions for holding office.

The separation of the church and the state by the establishment of religious equality was followed by the wonderful result that it was approved of everywhere, always, and by all. The old Anglican church, which became known as the Protestant Episcopal, wished to preserve its endowments and might complain of their impairment; but it preferred ever after to take care of itself, and was glad to share in that equality which dispelled the dread of episcopal tyranny, and left it free to perfect its organization according to its own desires. The Roman Catholic eagerly accepted in America his place as an equal with Protestants, and found contentment and hope in his new relations. The rigid Presbyterians in America supported religions freedom; true to the spirit of the great English dissenter who hated all laws
To stretch the conscience, and to bind
The native freedom of the mind.

>What, then of a general test, reserving public office to those who proclaim
>the simple belief in God and the divine authority of the Scriptures?
>Ellsworth rejects this as well, for an unprincipled man could easily
>dissemble [lie]
>and proclaim such beliefs simply to qualify for public office.

So why do we ask witnesses in court to swear (or affirm) to tell the truth? They might just be lying when they say they will tell the truth, so why bother? Well, there are good reasons for doing so, and Ellsworth is wrong on this point. There is no evidence that a majority of the Convention agreed with him on the lack of a need for a general oath of office.

>At this
>point, Ellsworth moves from his practical arguments against religious tests
>to his main theoretical concern:
>    To come to the true principle.... The business of civil government is to
>    protect the citizen in his rights....civil government has no business to
>    meddle with the private opinions of the people.... I am accountable not to
>    man, but to God, for the religious opinions which I embrace.... ATest law is
>    ... the offspring of error and the spirit of persecution. Legislatures have
>    no right to set up an inquisition and examine into the
>    private opinions of men.

Is it an "inquisition" when the government asks, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" Ellsworth was wrong.

But the point is, he was still trying to make the government MORE Christian, not less. He was trying to remove hypocrisy. He was attempting to follow the Bible, as he understood it.

[T]he primary objects of government, are peace, order, and prosperity of society. . . . To the promotion of these objects, particularly in a republican government, good morals are essential. Institutions for the promotion of good morals are therefore objects of legislative provision and support and among these . . . religious institutions are eminently useful and important.
Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
The Connecticut Courant (Hartford), June 7, 1802, p. 3, from "A Report of the Committee . . . to the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut" by Oliver Ellsworth.

Notice the similarity of his thoughts with those of the Northwest Ordinance:

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

John Hancock:

Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend to you every measure for their support and encouragement. . . . [N]ot only the freedom but the very existence of the republics . . . depend much upon the public institutions of religion.
Independent Chronicle (Boston), November 2, 1780, last page. See also Abram English Brown, John Hancock, His Book (Boston: Lee & Shepherd, 1898), p. 269.

Abraham Baldwin:

When the minds of the people in general are viciously disposed and unprincipled, and their conduct disorderly, a free government will be attended with greater confusions and evils more horrid than the wild, uncultivated state of nature. It can only be happy when the public principle and opinions are properly directed and their manners regulated. This is an influence beyond the reach of laws and punishments and can be claimed only by religion and education. It should therefore be among the first objects of those who wish well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles of religion and morality.
Chas. C. Jones, Biographical Sketches of the Delegates from Georgia to the Continental Congress, (Boston & NY: Houghton, Miflin and Co., 1891) pp. 6-7


[T]o promote true religion is the best and most effectual way of making a virtuous and regular people. Love to God and love to man is the substance of religion; when these prevail, civil laws will have little to do. . . . The magistrate (or ruling party of any society) ought to encourage piety . . . [and] make it an object of public esteem.
Witherspoon, Works, (1815) vol VII, pp. 118-119, "Jurisprudence," Lecture XIV.

Those who are vested with civil authority ought . . . to promote religion and good morals among all under their government.
Op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 265, fromhis "Sermon Delivered at Public Thanksgiving After Peace."

Henry Laurens

I had the honor of being one among many who framed that Constitution. . . . In order effectually to accomplish these great ends, it is incumbent upon us to begin wisely and to proceed in the fear of God; and it is especially the duty of those who bear rule to promote and encourage piety [religion] and virtue and to discourage every degree of vice and immorality.
Laurens, Papers vol. XI, p. 200, in a letter to Oliver Hart and Elharan Winchester on March 30, 1776

Finally, John Jay, endorsing religion as he did in the Federalist Papers:

[It is] the duty of all wise, free, and virtuous governments to countenance and encourage virtue and religion.
Speeches of the . . . Governors . . . of New York, p. 66
Governor Jay on Nov. 4, 1800

Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth administered the oath of office in the Hall of the House of Representatives in Federal Hall before a joint session of Congress to John Adams, March 4, 1797. He did not force Adams not to invoke God (thus making those who do not believe in God feel like "second class citizens" [to quote the modern Supreme Court]) nor prohibit Adams from swearing on a Bible. Adams then began his inaugural address by saying,

When it was first perceived, in early times, that no middle course for America remained between unlimited submission to a foreign legislature and a total independence of its claims, men of reflection were less apprehensive of danger from the formidable power of fleets and armies they must determine to resist than from those contests and dissensions which would certainly arise concerning the forms of government to be instituted over the whole and over the parts of this extensive country. Relying, however, on the purity of their intentions, the justice of their cause, and the integrity and intelligence of the people, under an overruling Providence which had so signally protected this country from the first, the representatives of this nation, then consisting of little more than half its present number, not only broke to pieces the chains which were forging and the rod of iron that was lifted up, but frankly cut asunder the ties which had bound them, and launched into an ocean of uncertainty.

None of this supports the belief that the Founding Fathers severed all ties between religion and government.

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