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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
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1253. CHURCH (Anglican in Virginia ), Disestablishment of.—
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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1253. CHURCH (Anglican in Virginia ), Disestablishment of.—

The first settlers
of Virginia were Englishmen, loyal subjects
to their king and church, and the grant to Sir Walter Raleigh contained an express
proviso that their laws “should not be against
the true Christian faith, now professed in the
Church of England”. As soon as the state of
the colony admitted, it was divided into parishes,
in each of which was established a minister
of the Anglican church, endowed with
a fixed salary, in tobacco, a glebe house and
land with the other necessary appendages. To
meet these expenses, all the inhabitants of the
parishes were assessed, whether they were or
not, members of the established church. Towards
Quakers who came here, they were
most cruelly intolerant, driving them from the
colony by the severest penalties. In process
of time, however, other sectarisms were
introduced, chiefly of the Presbyterian family;
and the established clergy, secure for life
in their glebes and salaries, adding to these,
generally, the emoluments of a classical
school, found employment enough, in their
farms and school-rooms, for the rest of the
week, and devoted Sunday only to the edification
of their flock, by service, and a sermon
at their parish church. Their other pastoral
functions were little attended to. Against this
inactivity, the zeal and industry of sectarian
preachers had an open and undisputed field;
and by the time of the Revolution, a majority
of the inhabitants had become dissenters from
the established church, but were still obliged
to pay contributions to support the pastors
of the minority. This unrighteous compulsion,
to maintain teachers of what they
deemed religious errors, was grievously felt
during the regal government, and without a
hope of relief. But the first republican legislature,
which met in '76, was crowded with
petitions to abolish this spiritual tyranny.
These brought on the severest contests in
which I have ever been engaged. Our great
opponents were Mr. Pendleton and Robert
Carter Nicholas; honest men, but zealous
churchmen. The petitions were referred to
the “committee of the Whole House on the
State of the Country”; [73] and, after desperate
contests in that committee, almost daily
from the 11th of October to the 5th of December,
we prevailed so far only, as to repeal the
laws which rendered criminal the maintenance
of any religious opinions, the forbearance
of repairing to church, or the exercise
of any mode of worship; and further, to exempt
dissenters from contributions to the support
of the established church; and to suspend,
only until the next session, levies on the members
of that church for the salaries of their
own incumbents. For although the majority
of our citizens were dissenters, as has been
observed, a majority of the legislature were
churchmen. Among these, however, were
some reasonable and liberal men, who enabled
us, on some points, to obtain feeble majorities.
But our opponents carried, in the general resolutions
of the committee of Nov. 19, a declaration
that religious assemblies ought to be
regulated, and that provision ought to be
made for continuing the succession of the
clergy, and superintending their conduct.
And, in the bill, now passed, [74] was inserted
an express reservation of the question,
whether a general assessment should not be
established by law, on every one, to the support
of the pastor of his choice; or whether all
should be left to voluntary contributions; and
on this question, debated at every session,
from '76 to '79 (some of our dissenting allies,
having now secured their particular object,
going over to the advocates of a general
assessment), we could only obtain a suspension
from session to session until '79, when
the question against a general assessment was
finally carried, and the establishment of the
Anglican church entirely put down. In justice
to the two honest but zealous opponents,
who have been named, I must add, that although,
from their natural temperaments, they
were more disposed generally to acquiesce in
things as they are, than to risk innovations,
yet whenever the public will had once decided,
none were more faithful or exact in their
obedience to it.—
Autobiography. Washington ed. i, 38. Ford ed., i, 52.


A note in the Ford edition says these petitions
were referred to the “Committee of Religion” of
which Jefferson was a member. This committee
was subsequently discharged of this question, and it
was referred to the “Committee of the Whole House
upon the State of the Country”.—Editor.


Entitled; “An Act for exempting the different societies
of dissenters from contributing to the support
and maintenance of the church as by law esta blished,
and its ministers, and for other purposes therein
mentioned.” Passed by the House of Delegates, December
5th. Concurred in by the Senate, December
9th. Re-enacted January 1, 1778. It is printed in A Collection of Public Acts of Virginia, Richmond,
1785, p. 39.—NOTE, Ford ed.