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greatly depends upon having an enlightened population, who are capable of appreciating the advantages they enjoy; for despotism is more strongly supported by ignorance, than by armed thousands.
The law of the United States says: " All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. No man shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent. No human authority ought in any case whatever to control or interfere with the rights of conscience—and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious societies, or modes of worship."'
This law ought to be written in letters of gold on a pillar of marble. It should be recollected that the inhabitants of the United States were the first, and are still the only people, who have thus had the wisdom and courage to proclaim the legal equality of all religions.
Some of the States did not at first adopt so complete a system of toleration; but they have now all agreed to it. The State of Virginia formerly granted certain privileges to those professing the faith of the Church of England; and it was in order to suppress this injustice, that Jefferson wrote his famous paper upon Religious Toleration.
"Our rulers," says he, "cau have authority only over such natural rights as we have submitted to them. The Rights of Conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of Government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others; but it does me no injury for my neighbour to say, there are twenty Gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma upon him. Constraint may make him worse, by making him a hypocrite; but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them.
"Reason and free Inquiry are the only effectual agents against Error. Give a loose to them, and they will support the true Religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, and to the test of investigation. They are the natural enemies of Error, and of Error only. Had not the Roman Government permitted free Inquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free Inquiry been indulged at the sera of the Reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be constrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged.
"Were the Government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our body would be in such keeping, as our souls are now. Thus in France, the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food. Government is just as infallible too, when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition, for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the Government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The Government was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. The vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established on the basis of Reason, than it would be, if the Government were to step in, and make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and Experiment have been indulged, and Error has fled before them. It is Error alone which needs the support of Government. Truth can stand by itself.
"Subject opinion to coercion, and whom will you make your Inquisitors? Fallible Men : men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity desirable? No more than of face or stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then; and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter.
"Difference of opinion is advantageous in Religion. The several sects perform the office of a '* censor morum" over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; and yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.
"Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people; that these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion; that ours is but one of that thousand; that if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority, we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free inquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it, when we refuse it ourselves?"*
In consequence of this paper the Virginians altered their law. "We are well aware," says the Toleration Act, "that Almighty God has made
* Notes on Virginia.