John Adams at one time said, we might as well expect a change in the solar system, as to expect they would give up their establishmentThe memorial here referred to was as follows:
"It has been said by a celebrated writer in politics, that but two things were worth contending for, - Religion and Liberty. For the latter we are at present nobly exerting ourselves through all this extensive continent; and surely no one whose bosom feels the patriot glow in behalf of civil liberty, can remain torpid to the more ennobling flame of RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. "
The free exercise of private judgment, and the unalien- able rights of conscience, are of too high a rank and dignity to be subjected to the decrees of councils, or the iin- perfect laws of fallible legislators. The merciful Father of mankind is the alone Lord of conscience. Establishments may be enabled to confer worldly distinctions and secular importance. They may make hypocrites, but cannot create Christians. They have been reared by craft or power, but liberty never flourished perfectly under their control. That liberty, virtue, and public happiness can be supported without them, this flourishing province1 is a glorious testimony; and a view of it would be sufficient to invalidate all the most elaborate arguments ever adduced in support of them. Happy in the enjoyment of these undoubted rights, and conscious of their high import, every lover of mankind must be desirous, as far as opportunity offers, of extending and securing the enjoyment of these inestimable blessings. "
These reflections have arisen from considering the unhappy situation of our brethren, the Baptists, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, for whom we now appear as advocates; and from the important light in which liberty in general is now beheld, we trust our representation will be effectual. The province of the Massachusetts Bay, being settled by persons who fled from civil and religious oppression, it would be natural to imagine them deeply impressed with the value of liberty, and nobly scorning a domination over conscience. But such was the complexion of the times, they fell from the unhappy state of being oppressed, to the more deplorable and ignoble one of becoming oppressors.
"But these things being passed over, we intend to begin with the charter obtained at the happy restoration. This charter grants, 'that there shall be liberty of conscience allowed in the worship of God, to all Christians except Papists, inhabiting or which shall inhabit or be resident within this province or territory;' or in the words of the late Governor Hutchinson, 'We find nothing in the new charter, of an ecclesiastical constitution. Liberty of conscience is granted to all except Papists.' The first General Court that met under this charter, returned their thanks for the following sentiments delivered before them: -' That the magistrate is most properly the officer of human society; that a Christian by non-conformity to this or that imposed way of worship, does not break the terms upon which he is to enjoy the benefits of human society; and that a man has a right to his estate, his liberty, and his family, notwithstanding his non-conformity.' And on this declaration the historian who mentions it, plumes himself, as if the whole future system of an impartial administration was to begin. By laws made during the first charter, such persons only were entitled to vote for civil rulers as were church-members. This might be thought by some to give a shadow of ecclesiastical power; but by the present [charter] ' Every freeholder of thirty pounds sterling per annum, and every other inhabitant who has forty pounds personal estate, are voters for representatives. So that here seems an evident foundation to presume they are only elected for the preservation of civil rights, and the management of temporal concernments. Nevertheless they soon began to assume the power of establishing Congregational worship, and taxed all the inhabitants towards its support; and no Act was passed to exempt other denominations from the year 1692 to 1727, when the Episcopalians were permitted to enjoy their rights. "
The first Act for the relief of the Baptists was in 1728, when their polls only were exempted from taxation, and not their estates; and then only of such as lived within five miles of a Baptist Meeting-house. The next year, 1729, thirty persons were apprehended and confined in Bristol jail; some churchmen, some friends, but most of the Baptist denomination. Roused by these oppressions, the Baptists and Quakers petitioned the General Court; being determined if they could not obtain redress, to apply to his Majesty in council. Wherefore the same year, a law was passed exempting their estates and polls; but clogged however with a limitation, for less than five yeirs. At the expiration of this Act, in 1733, our brethren were obliged again to apply to the General Assembly; upon which a third Act was passed, 1734, exempting Baptists from paying ministerial taxes. This third Act was more clear, accurate and better drawn than any of the former; but for want of a penalty on the returning officer, badly executed, subjecting our brethren to many hardships and oppressions. This Act expired in 1740, and another was made for seven years; but still liable to the same defects. In 1747, the Baptists and friends, wearied with fruitless applications to the assemblies, once more proposed applying at home for relief, when the laws exempting them were reenacted for ten years, the longest space ever granted. "