Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Contributions to Original Intent

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Oxford University Press, May 4, 2000 - Religion - 320 pages
How did the constitutional framers envision the role of religion in American public life? Did they think that the government had the right to advance or support religion and religious activities? Or did they believe that the two realms should remain forever separate? Throughout American history, scholars, Supreme Court justices, and members of the American public have debated these questions. The debate continues to have significance in the present day, especially in regard to public schools, government aid to sectarian education, and the use of public property for religious symbols. In this book, Derek Hamilton Davis offers the first comprehensive examination of the role of religion in the proceedings, theories, ideas, and goals of the Continental Congress. Those who argue that the United States was founded as a "Christian Nation" have made much of the religiosity of the founders, particularly as it was manifested in the ritual invocations of a clearly Christian God as well as in the adoption of practices such as government-sanctioned days of fasting and thanksgiving, prayers and preaching before legislative bodies, and the appointments of chaplains to the Army. Davis looks at the fifteen-year experience of the Continental Congress (1774-1789) and arrives at a contrary conclusion: namely, that the revolutionaries did not seek to entrench religion in the federal state. Congress's religious activities, he shows, expressed a genuine but often unreflective popular piety. Indeed, the whole point of the revolution was to distinguish society, the people in its sovereign majesty, from its government. A religious people would jealously guard its own sovereignty and the sovereignty of God by preventing republican rulers from pretending to any authority over religion. The idea that a modern nation could be premised on expressly theological foundations, Davis argues, was utterly antithetical to the thinking of most revolutionaries.

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Original Intent as a Basis for Constitutional Interpretation
The Political Status of Religion in the Founding Era
Religion and the American Revolution
A Summary View of Politics and Religion in the Continental Congress
Chaplaincies and Days of Religious Observance under the Continental Congress
Religious Dimensions of the Declaration of Independence
Religion and Federalism during the Confederation Period
A National Seal and a National? Bible
The Continental Congress and Religious Liberty
Virtue and the Continental Congress
The Continental Congress Original Intent and Modern Constitutional Adjudication
Appendix A
Appendix B


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Page 162 - AND WHEREAS, It hath pleased the Great Governor of the world to incline the hearts of the Legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.
Page 58 - Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master states of the world r— that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under such a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation, or body of men, can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia.
Page 15 - They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted, and on this very account would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted; for why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?
Page 57 - When your lordships look at the papers transmitted us from America, when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own.
Page 49 - But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
Page 42 - There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.

About the author (2000)

Derek Hamilton-Davis is Director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Relations at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Church-State Studies. He is also the Editor of Journal of Church and State.

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