Having remained 3 or 4 years with Mr. Robertson, he prosecuted his studies for a year or two under the Revd Thos. Martin the Parish Minister of the Established Church, (of England as then called) who lived with his father as a private Tutor.
In the year 1769, by the advice of Mr. Martin, and his brother Alexander, both of whom had been educated at Nassau Hall, N.J. --- he was sent to that college,of which Doct. Witherspoon was then President, in preference to William & Mary,the climate of which was unhealthy for person going from a mountainous region. He there went thro't he ordinary course of studies, and in autumn of 1771, received a Diploma of B. of Arts. His health being at the time too infirm for a journey home, he passed the ensuing winter in Princeton, employing his time in miscellaneous studies; but not without a reference to the profession of the Law; He availed himself of this opportunity of acquireing a slight knowledge of the Hebrew, which was not among the College Studies.
Notwithstanding the enthusiasm which contributed to render them obnoxious to sober opinion as well as to the laws then in force, against Preachers dissenting from the Established Religion, he spared no exertion to save them from imprisonment & to promote their release from itOn his return to Virginia he continued for several years in very feeble health, but without neglecting a course of reading, which mingled miscellaneous subjects with the studies intended to quality him for the Bar, for a practice at which however he never formed any absolute determination.
On the commencement of the dispute with Great Britain, he entered with the prevailing zeal into the American Cause; being under very early and strong impressions in favour of Liberty both Civil & Religious. His devotion to the latter found a particular occasion for its exercise in the persecution instituted in his County as elsewhere against the preachers belonging to the sect of Baptist then beginning to spread thro' the Country. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm which contributed to render them obnoxious to sober opinion as well as to the laws then in force, against Preachers dissenting from the Established Religion, he spared no exertion to save them from imprisonment & to promote their release from it. This interposition tho' a mere duty prescribed by his conscience, obtained for him a lasting place in the favour of that particular sect. Happily it was not long before the fruits of Independence and of the spirit & principles which led to it, included a complete establishment of the Rights of Conscience, without any distinctions of sects or individuals.
In the spring of 1776 he was initiated into the political career by a County election to the convention, which formed the original Constitution of the State with the Declaration of Rights prefixed to it; and which on the 16th day of May unanimously instructed her deputies in Congress to propose thefinal separation from G. Britain,a declared by thatBody on the 4th of July following. Being young & in the midst of distinguished and experienced members of the Convention he did not enter into the debates; tho' occasionally suggested amendments; the most material of which was a change of the terms in which the freedom of Conscience was expressed in the proposed Declaration of Rights.This important and meritorious instrument was drawn by Geo. Mason, who hadinadvertently adopted the word toleration in the article on that subject. The change suggested and accepted, substituted a phraseology which - declared the freedom of conscience to be a natural and absolute right.
[As President] He disapproved also of the of Chaplains to Congress paid out of the public Treasury - as a violation of Principle. He thought the only legitimate and becoming mode would be that of voluntary contribution from the members.
See also the ground on which he recommended, in compliance with multiplied applications, the Procalmation of a day for Religious Service; the ground being a voluntary concurrence of those who approved a general union on such an occasion, for which the mere intimation of a day would be sufficient. See the danger of mingling political & even party views with Such a proclamation in the Remarks of Hamilton on the Proclamation drafted for Genl Washington by Edmund Randolph.