In 1876, the anti-Catholic Senator James G. Blaine of Maine introduced an amendment to the Constitution that would prevent States from establishing an official religion, especially Catholicism. Blaine regularly expressed hatred toward the South and was notorious for his “bloody shirt” tirades in Congress. His proposed amendment failed to muster sufficient votes after a Senator from Kentucky explained free government to Blaine.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Not Knowing What Free Government Was
“[Proposed] Article XVI: No STATE shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under any State.”
Mr. Randolph, of New Jersey said: “The amendment proposed by the Judiciary Committee is an altogether different affair from that the people have asked for or the press discussed. It opens, if adopted, many grave questions . . . I can take no part in any such legislation, save to attempt to prevent it.”
Mr. Kernan, of New York said: “I ask the attention of Senators to the leading principle or idea which the wise men who framed the Constitution of the United States followed in framing it. The framers . . . believed . . . that it was wiser and better that the people of the several States should reserve to themselves and exercise all those powers of government which related to home rights, if I may use that term, to the internal affairs of the State, to the regulating of domestic relations . . . in a word, that the people of each State should have the exclusive power to manage their local and internal affairs as they thought best for their own happiness and prosperity.
I think all experience shows how wise this was and is. I will answer frankly that I believe that the matter of educating children may be wisely left to the people of each State. [This amendment] in my judgment, instead of allaying strife and dissention, it will increase them and bring evil to our schools, to our institutions, and to the people of our country.
Mr. Whyte, of Maryland said: “[T]he first amendment to the Constitution prevents the establishment of religion by congressional enactment; it prohibits the interference of Congress with the free exercise thereof, and leaves the whole power for the propagation of [religion] with the States exclusively . . .”
Mr. Stevenson, of Kentucky said: “While I impugn no man’s motives here, a religious discussion, appealing to passions which do not in my judgment belong to a deliberative body . . . seems to be out of taste, and to be accompanied by no practical good. Friend as he was of religious freedom, [Jefferson] would never have consented that the States which brought the Constitution into existence, upon whose sovereignty this instrument rests . . . should be degraded and that the government of the United States, a government of limited authority, a mere agent of the States with proscribed powers, should undertake to take possession of their schools and of their religion; and had the speech of the honorable Senator . . . been uttered before Mr. Jefferson, he would have told him that he did not know what free government was.
No sir; this power is not in the Federal Government. Kentucky does not want New England and other States to dictate to her what her schools shall be or what her taxes shall be, and least of all what her religion shall be . . . But when you undertake to bring to the Federal Government the power of making the States hewers of wood and drawers of water you destroy the whole foundation-stone upon which this government was reared and upon which only it can be preserved.”
(Appleton’s Annual Cyclopedia, 1876, US Congress, D. Appleton & Company, 1881, pp.176-180)