Danbury Baptist Association to Thomas Jefferson, Separation of Church and State

Aug 04, 11 Danbury Baptist Association to Thomas Jefferson, Separation of Church and State

My Notes

To the right is an image of the letter from the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut to Thomas Jefferson. Below is the text which is much easier to read.

The Association starts their letter with admiration toward the newly inaugurated President. Their letter may be “less courtly and pompous” than others but they express that, “none is more sincere.”

The Association jumps right into the point of why they are writing. They are “uniformly on the side of religious liberty.”

They make some great statements on the limitation of government in regard to religious liberty:

  • “Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals”
  • “No man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions”
  • “The legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor”

In Thomas Jefferson’s letter of reply to the Danbury Baptist’s, he affirms these ideas. Jefferson wants “to restore to man all his natural rights.”

The Baptist Association is concerned that the “constitution of government is not specific” in regard to religion. They are happy for the religious liberty they enjoy and the feel this is due to the fact that “Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation”, namely, the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The Association’s worry is that “those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men.” And that someone in power would “assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”

Jefferson’s letter of reply points out that the First Amendment builds a “wall of separation between Church & State.” He reassures the Baptists that the federal government will “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Read both letters and then leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on Separation of Church and State.

Danbury Baptist Association Letter to Thomas Jefferson

Letter from the Danbury Baptists:

The address of the Danbury Baptist Association in the State of Connecticut, assembled October 7, 1801.
To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America

Sir,
Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your inauguration , to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in the Unite States. And though the mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe, that none is more sincere.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Sir, we are sensible that the President of the United States is not the National Legislator and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each State, but our hopes are strong that the sentiment of our beloved President, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these States–and all the world–until hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and goodwill shining forth in a course of more than thirty years, we have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the Chair of State out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you–to sustain and support you and your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.

And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

Signed in behalf of the Association,

Neh,h Dodge }
Eph’m Robbins } The Committee
Stephen S. Nelson }

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1 Comment

  1. John Smith /

    I love your blog…I will visit it often now that I’ve found it. As to the issue of church/state separation, I think the Baptists played into Jefferson’s hands.

    He seemed to have already believed in church/state separation for his own reasons and purposefully left out further religious protections. I think with all of the infighting between denominations he wanted to be rid of the whole thing.

    The Baptists seemed content to only want to live in peace and not be bothered by politics. They never foresaw the attack on our founding faith that we are experiencing today, and they could never have envisioned the decline of morality and the advancement of secularism to the point that it is today.

    First, it’s important to note that this letter and church/state separation is in the context of Christianity; not islam, or hinduism or buddhism or any other “ism”. After all, hindus don’t have churches, only Christians do!

    Second, Jefferson obviously was assuring them that the government wasn’t going to dictate to them how they should worship the God of the Bible. Again, the context is Christianity. We have to also understand that this is in the context of a people who have left England where the Church of England decided HOW you were to worship God. This is what concerned the Baptists in regard to the new Constitution.

    Third, we know that Jefferson was trying to avoid this theocratic mentality because in a letter to Benjamin Rush he rebukes the intentions of two denominations, the Episcopalians and Congregationalists. They were seeking to vie for position as the denomination of choice over all others:

    “[T]he clause of the Constitution which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes and they believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly.” — Jefferson, Writings, Vol. III, p. 441, to Benjamin Rush on September 23, 1800.

    It is clear that Jefferson was trying to avoid further denominational infighting and positioning and was assuring the Baptists that government would never be a usurper of Christian conscience.

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