What was the government in the United States before the U.S. Constitution was written?
It was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, ratified by the States, MARCH 1, 1781.
Signed by such statesmen as John Hancock and Samuel Adams, it was an attempt to loosely knit the thirteen States together, leaving most of the authority under each individual State’s Constitution.
Lincoln referred to The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in his First Inaugural Address:
“Union…thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation.”
The Articles declared:
“Whereas the delegates of the United States of America in Congress assembled did on the fifteenth day of November in the Year of Our Lord 1777, and in the second year of the independence of America agree on certain Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States…
The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force…or attacks made upon them…on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense.”
The Articles end with the line:
“It has 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.”
The Articles of Confederation were ratified by the States.
Virginia was the first to ratify.
1776, CONSTITUTION OF VIRGINIA, “BILL OF RIGHTS, SECTION 16: That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
South Carolina was the 2nd to ratify.
1778, CONSTITUTION OF SOUTH CAROLINA, “PREAMBLE. We, the people of the State of South Carolina…grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution… ARTICLE 3…Senate and House… shall… choose…a governor and commander-in-chief, a lieutenant-governor…and a privy council, all of the Protestant religion… ARTICLE 12. No person shall be eligible to a seat in the said Senate unless he be of the Protestant religion… 13…No person shall be eligible to sit in the House of Representatives unless he be of the Protestant religion… 38. All persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed…the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State…shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges… And that whenever fifteen or more male persons, not under twenty-one years of age, professing the Christian Protestant religion, and agreeing to unite themselves in a society for the purposes of religious worship, they shall…be constituted a Church…That every society of Christians…so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles…(See Locke’s Constitution, Article 97-100): 1. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments. 2. That God is publicly to be worshipped. 3. That the Christian religion is the true religion 4. That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of Divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice. 5. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth…No person shall officiate as minister of any established Church…until the minister…shall have made and subscribed to the following declaration, over and above the aforesaid five articles, viz: That he is determined by God’s grace out of the Holy Scriptures, to instruct the people committed to his charge, and to teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation but that which he shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved from the Scripture; That he will use both public and private admonitions, as well to the sick as to the whole within his cure, as need shall require and occasion shall be given, and that he will be diligent in prayers, and in reading of the same; That he will be diligent to frame and fashion his own self and his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both himself and them, as much as in him lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.
New York was the 3rd to ratify.
1777, CONSTITUTION OF NEW YORK: “Whereas the Delegates of the United American States…solemnly… declare, in the words following; viz: ‘…Laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence…’ 7…Every person who now is a freeman…on or before the fourteenth day of October, in the Year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five…shall be entitled to vote… 38. This convention doth further…declare, that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed, within this State, to all mankind: Provided, That the liberty of conscience, hereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness.”
Rhode Island was the 4th to ratify.
1663 CHARTER OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS (served as the State’s Constitution till 1842) “That they, pursuing…religious intentions, of Godly edifying themselves, and one another, in the Holy Christian faith and worship…Together with the gaining over and conversion of the poor ignorant Indian natives, in those parts of America, to the sincere profession and obedience of the same faith and worship…by the good Providence of God, from whom the Plantations have taken their name…there may, in due time, by the blessing of God upon their endeavors, be laid a sure foundation of happiness to all America…that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernements; and that true piety rightly grounded upon Gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security…to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loving subjects; and to preserve unto them that liberty, in the true Christian faith and worship of God…and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colony cannot, in their private opinions, conform to the…ceremonies of the Church of England…our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony…shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion…not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness…that they may be in the better capacity to defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties against all the enemies of the Christian faith…and…by their good life and orderly conversations, they may win and invite the native Indians of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God, and Savior of mankind.”
Connecticut was the 5th to ratify.
1662 CHARTER OF CONNECTICUT (served as the State’s Constitution till 1818) “Our said people inhabitants there, may be so religiously, peaceably and civilly governed, as their good life and orderly conversation may win and invite the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true GOD, and the Savior of Mankind, and the Christian Faith, which…is the only and principal End of this Plantation.”
Georgia was the 6th to ratify.
1777, CONSTITUTION OF GEORGIA, “ARTICLE 6: The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county…and they shall be of the Protestant religion… ARTICLE 14. Every person entitled to vote shall take the following oath…’I, A B. do voluntarily and solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I do owe true allegiance to this State, and will support the constitution thereof; So Help Me God.'”
New Hampshire was the 7th to ratify.
1784, NEW HAMPSHIRE CONSTITUTION, “PART 1, ARTICLE 6: “As morality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles will give the best and greatest security to government…the people of this state…empower the legislature to…make adequate provision…for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality…Every denomination of Christians demeaning themselves quietly, and as good subjects of the state, shall be equally under the protection of the law… PART 2-THE FORM OF GOVERNMENT, SENATE: That no person shall be capable of being elected a senator who is not of the Protestant religion… HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES…Every member of the house of representatives…shall be of the Protestant religion… EXECUTIVE POWER-PRESIDENT. The President shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless…he shall be of the Protestant religion.”
Pennsylvania was the 8th to ratify.
1776, CONSTITUTION OF PENNSYLVANIA: “Government ought to…enable the individuals…to enjoy their natural rights, and the other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed upon man… A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS 2. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences…Nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of a God, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right… FRAME OF GOVERNMENT, SECTION 10. Each member, before he takes his seat, shall make…the following declaration, viz: I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and the Punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration. And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required… SECTION 45. Laws for the encouragement of virtue, and prevention of vice and immorality, shall be made and constantly kept in force…All religious societies…shall be encouraged.”
Massachusetts was the 9th to ratify.
1780, CONSTITUTION OF MASSACHUSETTS: “We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in affording us, in the course of His Providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably…of forming a new constitution of civil government… PART THE FIRST-A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, ARTICLE 2. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the Universe… ARTICLE 3…Civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the Public worship of God… The people of this commonwealth… authorize…the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality…And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law… PART THE SECOND-THE FRAME OF GOVERNMENT, CHAPTER 2, EXECUTIVE POWER, SECTION 1, THE GOVERNOR, ARTICLE 2: The governor shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless…he shall declare himself to be of the Christian religion… CHAPTER 6, OATHS…ARTICLE 1. “Any person chosen governor, lieutenant governor, counselor, senator or representative, and accepting the trust, shall…make…the following declaration, viz.- ‘I, A. B., do declare, that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth.'”
North Carolina was the 10th to ratify.
1776, CONSTITUTION OF NORTH CAROLINA, “DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, ARTICLE 19. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. FORM OF GOVERNMENT, ARTICLE 32. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the Divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office… ARTICLE 34. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious Church or denomination in this State, in preference to any other.”
New Jersey was the 11th to ratify.
1776, CONSTITUTION OF NEW JERSEY, “ARTICLE 18: That no person shall ever…be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience… ARTICLE 19…No Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right…but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect, who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government…shall be capable of being elected into any office.”
Delaware was the 12th to ratify.
1776, CONSTITUTION OF DELAWARE, “ARTICLE 22. Every… member of either house…before taking his seat…shall…make…the following declaration, to wit: ‘I…do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.’ ARTICLE 29. There shall be no establishment of any religious sect in this State in preference to another… DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, ARTICLE 2. That all Men have a natural and unalienable Right to worship Almighty God according to the Dictates of their own Consciences… ARTICLE 3. That all Persons professing the Christian Religion ought forever to enjoy equal Rights and Privileges in this State.”
Maryland was the 13th to ratify.
1776, CONSTITUTION OF MARYLAND, “ARTICLE 33: It is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons, professing the Christian religion, are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty…yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the Christian religion; leaving to each individual the power of appointing the payment…to the support of…his own denomination… ARTICLE 35. That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office…than such oath of…fidelity to this State…and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion. ARTICLE 55. That every person, appointed to any office…shall…take the following oath; to wit: ‘I, A. B., do swear, that I do not hold myself bound in allegiance to the King of Great Britain, and that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland;’ and shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion.”
Vermont was its own republic in 1777, till it became the 14th State in 1791, approved by President George Washington.
1777, CONSTITUTION OF VERMONT: “Whereas, all government ought…to enable the individuals…to enjoy their natural rights, and the other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed upon man… CHAPTER 1, A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS: 3. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship ALMIGHTY GOD, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding, regulated by the word of GOD…Nor can any man who professes the Protestant religion, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right…nevertheless, every sect or denomination of people ought to observe the Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, and keep up, and support, some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed Will of GOD… CHAPTER 2, PLAN OR FRAME OF GOVERNMENT, SECTION 9: And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make…the following declaration, viz. ‘I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration, and own and profess the Protestant religion.’ And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
Still time to order Bill Federer’s latest book: Prayers & Presidents – Inspiring Faith from Leaders of the Past Invite Bill Federer to speak: 1-888-USA-WORD [email protected] www.AmericanMinute.com