Rev. Daniel Shute: On Religious Tests, 1788


Reverend Daniel Shute defends the proposed U.S. Constitution and specifically its prohibition of religious tests—Massachusetts Ratification Debates, 31 January 1788

Rev. Mr Shute: Mr. President—To object to the latter part of the paragraph under consideration, which excludes a religious test, is, I am sensible, very popular; for the most of men, some how, are rigidly tenacious on their own sentiments in religion, and disposed to impose them upon others at the standard of truth. If in my sentiments, upon the point in view, I should differ from some in this honourable body, I only wish from the exercise of that candour, with which true religion is adapted to inspire the honest and well-disposed mind.

To establish a religious test as a qualification for offices in the proposed Federal Constitution, appears to me, sir, would be attended with injurious consequences to some individuals, and with no advantage to the whole.

By the injurious consequences to individuals, I mean, that some, who in every other respect, are qualified to fill some important post in government, will be excluded by their not being able to stand the religious test—which I take to be a privation of part of their civil rights.

Nor is there to me any conceivable advantage, sir, that would result in the whole from such a test. Unprincipled and dishonest men will not hesitate to subscribe to any thing, that may open the way for their advancement, and put them into a situation the better to execute their base and iniquitous designs. Honest men alone, therefore, however well qualified to serve the publick, would be excluded by it, and their country be deprived of the benefit of their abilities.

In this great and extensive empire, there is and will be a great variety of sentiments in religion among its inhabitants. Upon the plan of a religious test, the question I think must be, who shall be excluded from national trusts? Whatever answer bigotry may suggest, the dictates of candour and equity, I conceive, will be none.

Far from limiting my charity and confidence to men of my own denomination in religion, I suppose, and I believe, sir, that there are worthy characters among men of every other denomination—among the Quakers—the Baptists—the Church of England—the Papists—and even among those who have no other guide, in the way to virtue and heaven, than the dictates of natural religion.

I must therefore think, sir, that the proposed plan of government, in this particular, is wisely constructed: That as all have an equal claim to the blessings of the government under which they live, and which they support, so none should be excluded from them for being of any particular denomination in religion.

The presumption is, that the eyes of the people will be upon the faithful in the land, and from a regard to their own safety, will chuse for their rulers, men of known abilities—of known probity—of good moral characters. The apostle Peter tells us, that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him—And I know of no reason, why men of such a character, in a community, of whatever denomination in religion, ceteris paribus, with other suitable qualifications, should not be acceptable to the people, and why they may not be employed, by them, with safety and advantage in the important offices of government.—The exclusion of a religious test in the proposed Constitution, therefore, clearly appears to me, sir, to be in favour of its adoption.

Editor’s Note: Reverend Daniel Shute was a Harvard graduate and Congregationalist minister in Hingham, Massachusetts, and served as a delegate to the Massachusetts Ratification convention in 1788.

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