Papers of John Adams, volume 8

Editorial Note

From Bidé de Chavagnes


According to JA's own account, he did not write Art. III: “The Article respecting Religion. . . was the only Article which I omitted to draw. I could not satisfy my own Judgment with any Article that I thought would be accepted: and farther that Some of the Clergy, or older and graver Persons than myself would be more likely to hit the Taste of the Public” (JA to William D. Williamson, 28 Feb. 1812, MeHi). In a more revealing oral statement, JA elaborated: “I found I could not sketch, consistent with my own sentiments of perfect religious freedom, with any hope of its being adopted by the Convention, so I left it to be battled out in the whole body” (as stated to Josiah Quincy and recorded in the latter's diary entry for 31 May 1820, in Edmund Quincy, Life of Josiah Quincy, Boston, 1867, p. 379). If JA really thought that “Some of the Clergy, or older and graver Persons” could draft a more popular article, however, he was mistaken. Art. III of the Report caused over a week of contentious debate, and was completely rewritten. The final version was one of the least liked parts of the finished document, and Samuel Eliot Morison demonstrated that the article did not secure the required two-thirds vote for ratification in 1780, although it was declared, with the rest of the Constitution, to be ratified (Morison, “The Struggle over the Adoption of the Constitution of Massachusetts, 1780,” MHS, Procs. , 50 (1916–1917): 263353–411). Massachusetts did not end state support of religion until 1833 (Amendment XI).