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Chapter Fifty-Five. The impact of the Revolution on church and state

Robert M. Calhoon

Subject History

Place Northern America » United States of America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence, church and state

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405116749.2003.00058.x


Church-State relations in the American Revolution differed from state to state and region to region; at the same time, unifying forces within American religious life and more divisive tendencies implicit in American religious individualism cut across state and regional lines – paradoxically unifying the polity and attenuating the links between churches and politics. The ambiguous language of the First Amendment to the Constitution, conjoining a ban on established churches with the protection of the free exercise of religion, reflected that complex heritage. In the five southern colonies and in several New York counties, patriot regimes disestablished the Anglican Church; in Connecticut and Massachusetts they allowed the Congregational Church to retain its legal establishment; in the rest of the revolutionary states they protected freedom of conscience while largely restricting office-holding to Protestants. Although the Virginia Declaration of Rights guaranteed freedom of conscience and the legislature substantially disestablished the Anglican Church in 1776, the “Bill for Exempting Dissenters from Contributing to the Support of the Church” left open the possibility of a general assessment of taxpayers for the support of Christian instruction. Assessment bills in 1779 and 1784 would have allowed individuals to designate their own churches as the recipients of their payments and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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