Religion in the American Revolution and Founding

  Colonial Establishment State Establishment Disestablishment Tax Support Tests
New Hampshire Protestant by town1 Protestant by town2 18193 Yes4 Yes5
Massachusetts Protestant by town6 Protestant7 18338 Yes9 Yes10
Rhode Island None11 None12 N/A No13 No
Connecticut Congregational/ Anglican14 Christian by town15 181816 Yes17 No51,53
New York Protestant by town18,19 None 177720 Yes Yes21
New Jersey None22 None 177623 No52 Yes24
Pennsylvania None25 None 177626 No 1776-86
Maryland Free/Anglican27,28 None 177629 Yes30 Yes31(1961)
Delaware None32 None 177633 No Yes34
Virginia Anglican35 None 1776, 178536 No37 No
North Carolina Anglican38 None 177639 Yes Yes40
South Carolina Anglican41 Protestant42 179043 Yes Yes44
Georgia Free/Anglican45 None 177746 Yes47 Yes48

States banning clergy holding office:  North Carolina (1776), New York (1777), South Carolina (1778), Delaware (1792), Maryland (1799), Georgia (1799), Mississippi (1817)49, Tennessee (1796), and Kentucky (1799)50


Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America: A History (New York: MacMillan, 1902)

Thomas J. Curry, The First Freedoms: Church and State in America to the Passage of the First Amendment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986)

Edwin S. Gaustad, “Religious Tests, Constitutions and ‘Christian Nation,’” in Religion in a Revolutionary Age

Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, Religion in a Revolutionary Age (USA: The University Press of Virginia, 1994)

Leonard Levy, The Establishment Clause:  Religion and the First Amendment (New York:  MacMillan, 1986)

Mark Douglas McGarvie, One Nation Under Law:  America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State (Dekalb, Illinois:  Northern Illinois University Press, 2004)

Steven K. Green, The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth Century America

Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002)

Chris Beneke, Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2006)

1. “Any Protestant group that won a town election could become the establishment.” Levy, p. 23 “Quakers, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Baptists who attended their own churches were exempt from supporting the local established church, which, because of the Congregational dominance in town after town, was Congregationalist.” Levy p. 23.

2. “The New Hampshire Establishment, which lasted until 1819, had been perpetuated by the state constitution of 1784.” Levy p. 38.

3. See Footnote 2. Difference of opinion as to whether or not New Hampshire had an establishment. See Curry, p. 106.

4. “The colonial religious establishments were more than legal niceties. For many years they provided the only forms of public religious practice available to colonists in America. Through 1760, at least half the churches in the British mainland colonies were those that were sanctioned or mandated by law. They served well-defined areas and they utilized governmental coercive power to collect taxes to pay their ministers and maintain their buildings. Such patterns typified religious settings in nine of the thirteen colonies – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.” Hoffman and Albert p. 4.

5. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, South Carolina: “These three along with North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, also required profession of ‘the Christian religion’ as a requirement for state office.” Albert and Hoffman p. 188-189.

6. “The General Court’s act…provided for an establishment of religion on a town basis by simply requiring every town to maintain an ‘able, learned and orthodox’ minister, to be chosen by the voters of the town and supported by a tax levied on all tax payers” Levy, p. 15.

7. The State Constitution of Massachusetts (1780) created a multiple establishment of all Protestant churches and allowed taxpayers to choose the church that would receive their compulsory support. See Levy, p. 26-27.

8. “On November 11, 1983, the voters…ratified an amendment to the state constitution by which religion was disengaged as an engine of the state.” Levy p. 38.

9. Dissenters “paid taxes for the salaries of the establishment minister and could avoid paying these taxes only by filling a certificate as to their dissenting status.” Hamburger, p. 84.

10. See footnote 5.

11. “…Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware – used the law to uphold Christianity in general terms.” Hoffman and Albert p. 4.

12. “Rhode Island…did not adopt a state constitution and therefore had no provision on the subject” Levy, p. 25.

13. “These colonies as well as the remaining four that lacked any kind of establishment – Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware…” Hoffman and Albert p. 4.

14. The official establishment in Connecticut was the Congregational church, but Anglicans enjoyed the same rights and tax support as the standing order. See Levy, p. 20-22 “The basic law governing Connecticut’s establishment … required the collection of taxes from everyone, even in towns without a settled minister.” The taxes went to benefit Congregational churches originally, but in 1727 taxes paid by Anglicans were authorized to be rebated to their own ministers. Levy, p. 20-21.

15. Towns would vote for the established church and pay taxes to support that church. However, Christians who could prove they were members of other churches could have their taxes support the church they attended. Non-Christians and the un-churched had to pay taxes to support the local establishment. See Levy, p. 41-43.

16. “A constitutional convention of 1818…disestablished church and state by providing that no one could be compelled to support any religious society, yet allowed any religious society to tax itself and privately collect the assessment from each member.” Levy, p. 44.

17. Dissenters “paid taxes for the salaries of the establishment minister and could avoid paying these taxes only by filling a certificate as to their dissenting status.” Hamburger, p. 84.

18. “Under the ‘Duke’s Laws’ every township was obliged publicly to support some Protestant church and a minister.” Levy, p. 10.

19. “Legislatures in South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, and New York enacted their first establishment laws between 1693 and 1710, and they refined and tightened them through the 1720s. Only in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut did lawmakers build on old establishments.” Hoffman and Albert p. 5.

20. State Constitution forbade establishment of religion. See Levy, p. 25-26.

21. New York: “The only official representation of the Church was in requiring from all office holders the test oath prescribed by parliament.” Cobb p. 337.

22. See footnote 11.

23. See footnote 20 (concerning New York).

24. See footnote 5.

25. See footnote 11.

26. See footnote 20.

27. “Maryland began with religious freedom, under Roman Catholic auspices, and was afterward dragooned into establishing the Church of England.” Cobb, p. 71.

28. See footnote 19.

29. See footnote 20.

30. “‘Yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax, for the support pf the Christian religion; leaving to each individual the power of appointing the payment of the money, collected from him, to the support of any particular place of worship or minister.’” Levy, p. 47.

31. Office holders had to declare a belief in Christianity, Gaustad, p. 219.

32. See footnote 11.

33. See footnote 20.

34. “Moreover, some states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, never had any kind of establishment of religion yet did impose religious tests for office.” Levy p. 64.

35. See footnote 19.

36. The Virginia constitution did not establish religion, and the decision was solidified in 1785 after a long debate.

37. “During the Revolution, moreover, some southern states, such as Virginia, abandoned tax support for Episcopalian ministers…” Hamburger, p. 91.

38. See footnote 19.

39. See footnote 20.

40. See footnote 5.

41. See footnote 19.

42. “Article XXXVIII of the South Carolina constitution of 1778…blueprinted a ‘general establishment’ … of the ‘Christian Protestant religion.’” Levy, p. 50.

43. “In 1790 South Carolina adopted a new constitution which omitted the previous provisions for an establishment of religion and guaranteed the free exercise of religion.” Levy, p. 51.

44. See footnote 5.

45. “The charter of Georgia declared liberty of worship, but on its abrogation the Church of England was established by royal edict and legislative enactment, a few years before the Revolution.” Cobb, p. 71.

46. “‘All persons whatever shall have the free exercise of their religion;…and shall not, unless by consent, support any teacher or teachers except of their own profession.’” This resulted in a tax law to support one’s own religion, and it is “not clear whether this measure ever went into operation” See Levy, p. 48-49.

47. See footnote 36.

48. “In Georgia the constitution of 1777 briefly declared freedom of conscience, but required that ‘all members of the legislature shall be of the Protestant religion.’” Cobb p. 507.

49. McGarvie, pp. 203-204.

50. To avoid returning to the status quo regarding religion in ante bellum America, Tennessee banned clergy from holding office. Hoffman and Albert p. 223.

51. Hooker “Had no sympathy for the theocratic ideal.” Cobb p. 240.

52. New Jersey Constitution pg. 25 Levy.

53. “Happily in Connecticut, Ellsworth concluded, we have no such laws.” Gaustad pg. 230. is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

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