The Last American Establishment: Massachusetts, 1780-1833
Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan Den Hartog, eds., Religious Dissent and Disestablishment: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2019), 399-424 (with Justin Latterell)
26 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2020
Date Written: 2019
This chapter surveys the arguments for and against religious establishment and religious freedom that informed the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and the subsequent amendments of 1821 and 1833. Most preachers, politicians, and citizens during this period agreed that religion was an essential source of morality, and that the Constitution should respect and encourage diverse religious beliefs and practices, at least among Protestants. But controversial issues including religious test oaths, church membership rules, and the use of taxes to support Congregationalist Churches created sharp political divisions. In 1833, the Eleventh Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution moved away from religious establishment. It made church membership and funding entirely voluntary; granted all religious societies the right to hire their own clergy, to build their own churches, and to manage their own membership rolls; promised equal protection of the law to believers of all sects and non-believers, alike; and ensured that individual members of those sects could exit without incurring liability for contracts subsequently made by the other members of that sect.
Keywords: Law, Religion, Law and Religion, History, Massachusetts, Constitution, religious liberty, liberty of conscience, Puritanism, Congregationalism, John Adams, establishment of religion, religious test oaths, tithes, moral establishment, covenant, disestablishment of religion
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