aided financially by acts signed by James Madison. The other two
were the Bible Societies of Baltimore and Massachusetts.
An Act for the relief of the Baltimore and Massachusetts Bible
Societies,signed on April 20,1816, was a single act granting the requests
of both societies. The Massachusetts Society was granted a drawback,
which is a refund of import duties paid on goods that are exported
within a certain amount of time from the date they were imported.
The following excerpt from the act shows that this society was subject
to the same laws as any other merchant, and was required to furnish
proof that the Bibles they exported had arrived in a foreign port.
And be it further enacted,That the Comptroller of the Treasury
be, and he is hereby, authorized to direct a debenture to be
issued to the Massachusetts Bible Society, for a drawback of
duties upon an invoice of Bibles exported from the port of
Boston, on board the brigantine Panther, in the year one
thousand eight hundred and fifteen: Provided, however,That
the said Society shall produce satisfactory evidence to the
said comptroller, as the law directs, that the invoice aforesaid
has been landed in some foreign port or place.21
The act does not indicate the specific reason for the remission of
duties on a set of printing plates to the Baltimore Society, but, like all
such acts, it was for an individual incident. Each of these acts was for
one invoice, and specified the boat, year, port, and goods that the act
applied to. They were just like any of the many similar acts passed for
all types of merchants for a variety of reasons. They were not general
laws enacted to permanently aid any religious organization.
When Congress was petitioned to enact a general law exempting
Bible societies from import duties, the request was denied. In April
1816, the same month that An Act for the relief of the Baltimore and
Massachusetts Bible Societies was passed, a memorial from the
Philadelphia Bible Society was rejected.
This memorial requested
that all Bible societies be exempt from import duties on all Bibles. The
CONGRESS AND THE BIBLE
21. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America,vol. 6,
(Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846), 162.
22. The Debates and Proceedings of the Congress of the United States of America, vol. 29,
14th Cong., 1st Sess., (WashingtonD.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1854), 298.
Committee on Finance, to whom this memorial was referred, report-
ed to the Senate that the request should not be granted because it
would be unfair to other Bible importers, and would deter American
printers from printing Bibles because they would be unable to sell
them as cheaply as the Bible societies.
As a “Plan B,” the Philadelphia Bible Society, which apparently
anticipated that the Senate would reject this petition, presented anoth-
er, less extensive petition to the House of Representatives at the same
time. This one made it through Congress, but the bill was not signed
by Madison, as will be explained in Chapter Nine.
According to Chief Justice Burger, delivering the
opinion of the court, Walz v. Tax Commission of the
City of New York, 1970: “As early as 1813 the 12th
Congress refunded import duties paid by religious
societies on the importation of religious articles.”
The following was Burger’s footnote for this: “See 6
Stat. 116 (1813), relating to plates for printing
Bibles. See also 6 Stat. 346 (1826) relating to church
vestments, furniture, and paintings; 6 Stat. 162
(1816), Bible plates; 6 Stat. 600 (1834), and 6 Stat.
675 (1836), church bells.”
The 1813 and 1816 acts in Chief Justice Burger’s footnote are, of
course, the acts for the Philadelphia, and Baltimore and Massachusetts
The 1826 act relating to church vestments, furniture, and paint-
ings was one of a number of acts for the relief of Bishop Benedict
Joseph Flaget of Kentucky. Bishop Flaget had a big problem on his
hands in the 1820s. Wealthy people in Italy and France, including the
King of France, wouldn’t stop sending him stuff. Flaget was founding
a college and many Catholics in Europe wanted to help him. In 1824,
they began sending him all sorts of expensive items. Most of these
donations consisted of furniture, paintings, and equipment for the
college. Some included items for Flaget’s church and residence. The
LIARS FOR JESUS
23. Walter Lowrie and Walter S. Franklin, eds., American State Papers: Finance, vol. 3,
(Washington D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834), 115.
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problem was that Flaget couldn’t afford to pay the import duties on
these donations, and neither he nor Congress wanted to offend the
donors, particularly the King of France, by not accepting them. In
1826, a year and a half after referring Flaget’s first memorial to the
Ways and Means Committee, Congress decided to waive the duties on
the items that were then sitting at the New York customs house.
Donations continued to arrive, so several more acts were passed over
the next six years. When the objection was raised in 1832 that it was
unfair to allow this only for Flaget, Congress started allowing other
churches to receive similar donations from Europe duty-free. The
justification for this was that the import duties on these items were
protective tariffs, the purpose of which are to make imports more
expensive to protect American manufacturers. Because the items
received by churches as donations were not items that the churches
were likely to buy for themselves if they didn’t happen to receive
them as donations, charging an import duty on them wasn’t protect-
The 1834 act regarding church bells in Justice Burger’s footnote
was for church bells received as a donation from Europe.
The 1836 church bell act remitted the import duties on a set of
bells because the bells weren’t being imported. They had been sent to
England by a church in Philadelphia to be repaired and were only
CONGRESS AND THE BIBLE
— CHAPTER TWO —
The Northwest Ordinance
In his books The Myth of Separationand Original Intent,David
Barton, using one sentence from the Northwest Ordinance, and a
number of misquotes from early state constitutions, leads his audi-
ence to the erroneous conclusion that the founders of our country
not only intended, but required, that religion be included in public
Barton’s claim, like similar claims found in many other religious
right American history books, is based on the following sentence from
the ordinance’s Article III.
Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good
government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the
means of education shall forever be encouraged.1
Although mentioning in his earlier book, The Myth of Separation,
that the Northwest Ordinance was initially passed by the Continental
Congress, Barton omits this in Original Intent, the later book in
which he refined many of the lies from The Myth of Separation. In
Original Intent he attributes the ordinance entirely to the framers of
the First Amendment, concluding from this that the men who wrote
the First Amendment didn’t consider promoting religion in public
schools to be a violation of that amendment.
1.Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America,vol. 1,
(Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1845), 52.
In Original Intent, , Barton begins his Northwest
Ordinance story with the following statement:
“Perhaps the most conclusive historical demonstration
of the fact that the Foundersnever intended the fed-
eral Constitution to establish today’s religion-free
public arena is seen in their creation and passage of
the ‘Northwest Ordinance.’ That Ordinance (a federal
law which legal texts consider as one of the four foun-
dational, or ‘organic’ laws) set forth the requirements
of statehood for prospective territories. It received
House approval on July 21, 1789; Senate approval on
August 4, 1789 (this was the same Congress which
was simultaneously framing the religion clauses of the
First Amendment); and was signed into law by
President George Washington on August 7, 1789.
Article III of that Ordinance is the only section to
address either religion or public education, and in it,
the Founders couple them, declaring:
Religion, morality, and knowledge, being nec-
essary to good government and the happiness
of mankind, schools and the means of educa-
tion shall forever be encouraged.
The Framers of the Ordinance—and thus the Framers
of the First Amendment—believed that schools and
educational systems were a proper means to encour-
age the ‘religion, morality, and knowledge’ which they
deemed so ‘necessary to good government and the
happiness of mankind.’”
In The Myth of Separation,Barton claims: “A strong
declaration that the First Amendment was never
intended to separate Christianity from public affairs
came in the form of legislation approved by the same
Congress which created the First Amendment. That
legislation, originally entitled ‘An Ordinance for the
LIARS FOR JESUS
Government of the Territory of the United States,
North-west of the River Ohio’ and later shortened to
the ‘Northwest Ordinance,’ provided the procedure
and requirements whereby territories could attain
statehood in the newly United States.”
Also from The Myth of Separation: “Since the same
Congress which prohibited the federal government
from the ‘establishment of religion’ also requiredthat
religion be included in schools, the Framers obviously
did not view a federal requirement to teach religion in
schools as a violation of the First Amendment.”
The 1789 dates on which the ordinance was approved by the
House and the Senate and signed by George Washington are correct.
In Original Intent,Barton just leaves out that the 1789 Congress was
merely reenacting an ordinance passed over two years earlier by the
Continental Congress to give it force under the new Constitution. Of
the twenty-eight senators and over sixty representatives in the 1789
Congress, only six, four senators and two representatives, were pres-
ent when the Continental Congress passed the ordinance in 1787. It
was not framed by the same Congress that was “simultaneously fram-
ing the religion clauses of the First Amendment.”
Before getting to the rest of Barton’s lie, it’s important to under-
stand how the religious wording ended up in Article III of the ordi-
nance in the first place, and why the Congress of 1789 would not have
seen it as conflicting with the First Amendment.
Article III was the work of a Massachusetts man named Manasseh
Cutler. Dr. Cutler, a minister and former army chaplain, was also one
of the directors of the Ohio Company of Associates, a land speculat-
ing company comprised mainly of former army officers. In the sum-
mer of 1787, the Ohio Company was negotiating with the Continental
Congress to buy a large amount of land in the Northwest Territory.
To pay off the large public c debt from the Revolutionary War,
Congress asked those states with sparsely populated western lands to
cede these lands to the United States. The ceded lands would then be
sold by Congress to reduce the debt. Most of the Northwest Territory
was ceded by Virginia, but it also contained the smaller cessions of
THE NORTHWEST ORDINANCE
Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In 1785, two years before the Northwest Ordinance, Congress
passed the first ordinance for the disposal of land in the territory.
One problem with this earlier ordinance, however, was that few peo-
ple could afford the large tracts it required them to buy. Land spec-
ulating companies began negotiating with Congress to buy large
tracts at a low price. These tracts could then be divided into smaller
lots and resold at a profit. This was the plan of the Ohio Company
when they sent Manasseh Cutler to meet with the Continental
Congress in July 1787.
The Ohio Company knew they had the upper hand in these nego-
tiations, and would not make a move towards purchasing the land
until Congress adopted a new ordinance that better suited their plans.
The result was the Northwest Ordinance.
Nathan Dane, a delegate from Massachusetts, has been credited
with drafting the ordinance, but there is little doubt that Dr. Cutler
arrived in New York with the provisions required by his company
already written in some form. On his way to New York, Cutler met
with two other founders of the Ohio Company, General Rufus Putnam
in Boston and General Samuel Holden Parsons in Connecticut, to
decide on the conditions their company would require. This, along
with the fact that parts of the ordinance were borrowed from the laws
of Massachusetts, explains how the committee was able to draft the
ordinance literally overnight.
Cutler had his first meeting with what he referred to in his jour-
nal as “the committee”on the morning of Monday, July 9, 1787. This
meeting was actually only with Edward Carrington and Nathan Dane,
two of the five members of the committee originally appointed. The
other three were not in New York when Cutler arrived. Two of them,
James Madison and Rufus King, were in Philadelphia at the
Constitutional Convention. It wasn’t until later on that first day that
Richard Henry Lee, John Kean, and Melancton Smith were appointed
to replace the three absent members. By the next morning, the com-
mittee had finished drafting the ordinance and submitted a copy to
Dr. Cutler for his approval. Within a matter of hours, Dr. Cutler
returned it to the committee with a few additional provisions,
including the education provision that became part of Article III.
Cutler knew the Ohio Company had Congress over a barrel.
LIARS FOR JESUS
Congress was so broke in 1787 that they had to choose between mak-
ing the payments due on the foreign debt to France or those due to
Holland. That year, they decided to default on the loan to France and
use all their resources to pay Holland. Repaying Holland was a prior-
ity for two reasons. First, Holland was in a position to lend the United
States more money in the near future, while France was not. Second,
the Dutch were likely to start seizing American ships if they weren’t
paid. Cutler didn’t even stick around for the ordinance to be voted on.
He left New York for Philadelphia that evening, confident that his pro-
visions would be added and the ordinance would be passed. Cutler was-
n’t even concerned that the ordinance needed seven votes to pass, and
out the eight states present in Congress, half were southern states. He
knew that the necessity of selling the land would outweigh any objec-
tions, even to the provision prohibiting slavery in the territory.
Nathan Dane, however, wasn’t quite as confident as Dr. Cutler
about the anti-slavery provision. When the ordinance was read for the
first time on July 11, this provision was left out. Dane wanted to be
sure that the rest of the ordinance would be favorably received before
bringing up the slavery issue. By the next day, when the ordinance
was read for the second time, this provision had been restored. The
following day, Friday, July 13, only four days after Cutler’s arrival in
New York, the ordinance was read for the third time and enacted.
After the ordinance was passed, the Ohio Company continued to
put pressure on Congress, threatening to back out of the deal if other
demands were not met. The following is from a letter written by Dr.
Cutler and Major Winthrop Sargent to the Board of Treasury while
negotiating the contract for their land purchase.
If these terms are admitted we shall be ready to conclude the
Contract. If not we shall have to regret, for a numerous Class
of our Associates, that the Certificates they received as
Specie, at the risque of their lives and fortunes, in support of
the Common cause, must, for a considerable time longer,
wait the tedious and precarious issue of public events;
(altho’ they are willing to surrender their right in them on
terms advantageous to the public;) and that the United
States may lose an opportunity of securing in the most effec-
tual manner, as well as improving the value of their western
THE NORTHWEST ORDINANCE
lands, whilst they establish a powerful barrier, against the
irruptions of the Indians, or any attempts of the British power,
to interrupt the security of the adjoining States.
There was only one provision that Dr. Cutler assented to compro-
mise on. Although the Continental Congress could not levy taxes, each
state was responsible for its share of the public debt and government
expenses, paid by taxes levied by the state legislatures. The Northwest
Ordinance made the future states in the territory responsible for their
share of the country’s debts and expenses, and gave the temporary
legislatures the power to levy taxes for this purpose. Dr. Cutler con-
sidered this to be taxation without representation, and proposed that
no such taxes be levied in a new state until that state was represent-
ed in Congress. The compromise was that the temporary legislatures
could levy taxes, but would also elect a non-voting delegate to Congress.
There is no question that the Northwest Ordinance provisions
regardingreligion, education, and slavery were written and insisted
on by Dr. Cutler. A number of nineteenth century articles about the
history of the ordinance refer to a note written in the margin of the
Ohio Company’s copy crediting Cutler with these provisions.
From an 1887 article in the New Englander and Yale Review:
There is, indeed, at this moment, in the hands of Dr. Cutler’s
descendants a printed copy of the ordinance of 1787, with a
memorandum in the margin, stating that Mr. Dane asked Dr.
Cutler to suggest such provisions as he deemed advisable,
and that at his instance was inserted what relates to religion,
education, and slavery.
From an 1895 article in The New England Magazine:
There has been found, too, among the papers of the Ohio
Company, a copy of the ordinance of 1787, with a pencil
LIARS FOR JESUS
2. Roscoe R.. Hill, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789,vol. 33, (Washington
D.C.: Government Printing Office,1936), 428-429.
3. Rev. A. P. Peabody, D.D., “Manasseh Cutler,” New Englander and Yale Review,Vol. 46, No.
205, April 1887, 326-327.
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