Oaths Affirmations and Religious Tests

Charles Pinckney
Charles Pinckney, delegate from South Carolina

The New York Public Library.  www.nypl.org

Oaths, Affirmations and Religious Tests

"…...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States."

- Charles Pinckney in James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention

The convention resumed debate on admitting new states, and specifically on Morris' motion to require the consent of a state before creating a new state within its boundaries. Morris' motion, somewhat amended, eventually passed 8 ay, NJ, DE and MD no.

The Convention agreed to Article XIX,the provision for the legislature to call a Convention for amending the Constitution upon application of 2/3 of the State legislatures,without opposition.

The delegates then took up Article XXI, requiring oaths from Federal and State officers to support the Constitution."Or affirmation" was added after "oath".Charles Pinckney (SC) moved to add "but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States." It carried, NC no, MD divided.

In a day when Mormons, Catholics, Quakers, Baptists, Jews and others are routinely elected or appointed to national and state office, we may overlook what the Convention did today. By permitting Federal and state officers to swear or affirm the oath to support the Constitution, the Convention opened the way to Federal and State office for those whose religious beliefs precluded them from taking the oath.

The Convention then went even further, and banned any form of religious test, somewhat to the dismay of Roger Sherman and over the objections of North Carolina. They did this at a time when the most liberal of state Constitutions, that of Pennsylvania, required members of its legislature to declare: "I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of Good and Punisher of the Wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration."

NEXT >>>
Friday, August 31, 1787
Ratification Debate Continued
HOME The 225th Anniversary of the Constitution Convention

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

143 S. 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Phone:

(215) 965-2305

Contact Us