John Carroll, "To John Fenno of the Gazette of the United States," June 10, 1789
EVERY friend to the rights of conscience, equal liberty and diffusive happiness, must have felt pain on seeing the attempt made by one of your correspondents, in the Gazette of the United States No. 8, May the 9th, to revive an odious system of religious intolerance.—The author may not have been fully sensible of the tendency of his publication, because he speaks of preserving universal toleration. Perhaps he is one of those who think it consistent with justice to exclude certain citizens from the honors and emoluments of society, merely on account of their religious opinions, provided they be not restrained by racks and forfeitures from the exercise of that worship which their consciences approve.—If such be his views, in vain then have Americans associated into one great national union, under the express condition of not being shackled by religious tests; and under a firm persuasion that they were to retain when associated, every natural right not expressly surrendered.
It is pretended that they, who are the objects of an intended exclusion from certain offices of honor and advantage, have forfeited by an act, or treason against the Untied States, the common rights of nature, or the stipulated rights of the political society, of which they form a part? This the author has not presumed to assert. Their blood flowed as freely (in proportion to their numbers) to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens: They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men, in recommending and promoting that government, from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order and civil and religious liberty. What character shall we then give to a system of policy, for the express purpose of divesting of rights legally acquired [,] those citizens, who are not only unoffending, but whose conduct has been highly meritorious?
These observations refer to the general tendency of the publication, which I now proceed to consider more particularly. Is it true as the author states, that our forefathers abandoned their native home; renounced its honors and comforts, and buried themselves in the immense forests of this new world, for the sake of that religion which he recommends preferable to any other? Was not the religion which the emigrants to the four Southern States brought with them to America, the pre-eminent and favored religion of the country which they left? Did the Roman Catholics who first came to Maryland, leave their native soil for the sake of preserving the Protestant church? Was this the motive of the peaceable Quakers in the settlement of Pennsylvania? Did the first inhabitants of the Jerseys and New York, quit Europe for fear of being compelled to renounce their Protestant tenets? Can it be even truly affirmed that this motive operated on all, or a majority of those who began to settle and improve the four eastern States? Or even if they really were influenced by a desire of preserving their religion, what will ensue from the fact, but that one denomination of Protestants fought a retreat from the persecution of another? Will history justify the assertion that they left their native homes for the sake of the Protestant religion, understanding it in a comprehensive sense as distinguished from every other?
This leading fact being so much mistated, no wonder that the author should go on bewildering himself more and more. He asserts that the religion which he recommends, laid the foundation of this new and great empire; and therefore contends it is entitled to pre-eminence and distinguished favor. Might I not say with equal truth, that the religion which he recommends exerted her powers to crush this empire in its birth, and still is laboring to prevent its growth? For, can we so soon forget, or now help seeing, that the bitterest enemies of our national prosperity possess the same religion as prevails generally in the United States? What inference will a philosophic mind derive from this view, but that religion is out of the question? That it is ridiculous to say, THE PROTESTANT RELGION IS THE IMPORTANT BULWARK OF OUR CONSTITUTION? That the establishment of the American empire was not the work of this or that religion, but arose from a generous exertion of all her citizens to redress their wrongs, to assert their rights, and lay its foundation on the soundest principles of justice and equal liberty?
When he ascribed so many valuable effects to his cherished religion, as that she was the nurse of arts and sciences, could he not reflect, that Homer and Virgil, Demosthenes and Cicero, Thucydides and Livy, Phidias and Apelles flourished long before this nurse of arts and sciences had an existence? Was he so inconsiderate as not to attend to the consequences, favorable to Polytheism, which flow from his reasoning? Or did he forget that the Emperor Julian, the subtle and inveterate enemy of christianity, applied this very same argument to the defence of Heathenish superstition? The recollection of that circumstance may induce him to suspect the weight of his observation, and perhaps to doubt of the fact, which he assumed for its basis.
But he tells us that Britain owes to her religion her present distinguished greatness: a gentle invitation to America to pursue the same political maxims, in heaping exclusive favors on one, and depressing all other religions!
But does Britain owe indeed the perfection and extent of her manufactures, and the enormous wealth of many individuals to the cause assigned by this author? Can he so soon put it out of his mind, that the patient industry so natural to English artificers, and the long monopoly of our trade, and that of their dependencies, by increasing the demand and competition among her artizans, contributed principally to the perfection of the manufactures of Britian? And that the plunder of Indian provinces poured into her lap the immense fortunes which murder and rapacity accumulated in those fertile climes? God forbid that religion should be instrumental in raising such greatness!
When the author proceeds to say, that the clergy of that religion, which operated such wonders in Britain, boldly and zealously stepped forth and bravely stood our distinguished sentinels to bring about the late glorious revolution, I am almost determined to follow him no further: He is leading me on too tender ground, on which I chuse not to venture. The clergy of that religion behaved, I believe, as any other clergy would have done in similar circumstances: But the voice of America will not contradict me, when I assert that they discovered no greater zeal for the revolution, than the ministry of any other denomination whatever.
When men comprehend not, or refuse to admit the luminous principles on which the rights of conscience and liberty of religion depend, they are industrious to find out pretences for intolerance. If they cannot discover them in the actions, they strain to cull them out of the tenets of the religion which they wish to exclude from a free participation of equal rights. Thus this author attributes to his religion the merit of being the most favorable to freedom, and affirms that not only morality but liberty likewise must expire, if his clergy should ever be contemned or neglected: all which conveys a refined insinuation, that liberty cannot consist with, or be cherished by any other religious institution; and which therefore he would give us to understand, it is not safe to countenance in a free government.
I am anxious to guard against the impression intended by such insinuations; not merely for the sake of any one profession, but from an earnest regard to preserve inviolate for ever, in our new empire, the great principle of religious freedom. The constitutions of some of the States continue still to intrench on the sacred rights of conscience; and men who have bled, and opened their purses as freely in the cause of liberty and independence, as any other citizens, are most unjustly excluded from the advantages which they contributed to establish. But if bigotry and narrow prejudice have prevented hitherto the cure of these evils, be it the duty of every lover of peace and justice to extend them no further. Let the author who has opened this field for discussion, be aware of slyly imputing to any set of men, principles or consequences, which they disavow. He perhaps may meet with retaliation. He may be told and referred to Lord Lyttleton, as zealous a Protestant as any man of his days, for information, that the principles of non-reistence seemed the principles of that religion which we are not told is most favorable to freedom; and that its opponents had gone too far in the other extreme!R
He may be told farther, that a Reverend Prelate of Ireland, the Bishop of Bloyne, has lately attempted to prove, that the Protestant Episcopal Church is best fitted to unite with the civil constitution of a mixed monarchy, while Presbyterianism is only congenial with republicanism. Must America then yielding to these fanciful systems, confine her distinguishing favors to the followers of Calvin, and keep a jealous eye on all others? Ought she not rather to treat with contempt these idle, and generally speaking interested speculations, refuted by reason, history, and daily experience, and rest the preservation of her liberalities and her government on the attachment of mankind to their political happiness, to the security of their persons and their property, which is independent of religious doctrines, and not restrained by any?