North Carolina Fears a Pagan Congress

North Carolinians were not alone in fearing the consolidationist tendencies under the proposed Constitution, and held out for amendments rather than taking someone’s word. It was made very clear that religious tests and political office did not include Muslims or Hindu’s, nor were pagans desired in the halls of government. North Carolina’s proposed amendment of a two-thirds majority to determine if a State was in rebellion would have perplexed a president 70-some years later.

Bernhard Thuersam,


North Carolina Fears a Pagan Congress

“The anti-federalist plan as introduced by [Willie] Jones, which was a refusal to ratify [the Constitution] until certain amendments were added, appears in the records when the committee of the whole reported to the convention. While the discussion of this motion [to ratify] was in progress, Willie Jones stated that Jefferson wished nine States to ratify the Constitution to preserve the union, but he wanted the other four to reject it to make certain that the amendments would be added.

Jones said it would probably take about eighteen months to have the amendments ratified, but he had “rather be eighteen years out of the Union than adopt it in its present form.”  The North Carolina anti-federalists felt that, since their proposed amendments were so similar to those of Virginia, they would have the support of that State in urging their acceptance, and in North Carolina’s favorable reception when it wished to enter the union.

The last clause of the Constitution which occasioned debate in the committee was the one prohibiting religious tests for public offices. The delegate who opened the discussion was Henry Abbott, a Baptist elder from Anson [county] who voted with the federalists . . . [who] said that some persons were afraid that, should the Constitution be put into effect, they would be deprived of the privilege of worshipping God according to their consciences, which would be denying them a benefit they enjoyed under the existing [Articles of Confederation].

He said he wished to know what religion would be established. For his part, he was against any exclusive establishment, but if there were any he preferred the Episcopal. Many thought that the prohibition of religious tests was dangerous and impolitic. They supposed that if there were no religious test required, pagans, deists and Mahometans might obtain office, and that the senators and representatives might be all pagans.

It is well to note the additional amendments desired by the North Carolina anti-federalists, for they relate to the special interests of that State. In order to safeguard independent action, one amendment proposed that Congress should not declare any State to be in rebellion without the consent of at least two-thirds of all the members present in both houses. Another, showing the fear of commercial interests, provided that Congress should authorize no company of merchants with exclusive privileges.

(Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina, Louise Irby Trenholme, Columbia University Press, 1932, pp. 178-184)


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