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Resolution Respecting a Baptist Petition

  • Resolution Respecting a Baptist Petition, August 16, 1775
This draft resolution written by Patrick Henry allowed for dissenting preachers to hold services for Virginia soldiers.
Related documents:
  • Prince Edward County Petition
    Petition of 160 inhabitants of Prince Edward County, September 24, 1776
  • Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
    Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786
  • Patrick Henry Portrait
    Patrick Henry, oil painting
  • Bill of Rights
    The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, December 15, 1791
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Resolution Respecting a Baptist Petition, August 16, 1775

The first shots of the Revolutionary War occurred on April 19, 1775, when British troops marched to capture patriot leaders and weapons. The British met armed opposition from colonists in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord and there the first blood of the Revolutionary War was spilled. In June 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned George Washington to organize and lead a Continental army, and on July 2, 1776, Congress officially broke from Great Britain. They adopted the formal Declaration of Independence two days later.

As Virginia and the other colonies raised militias for their defense, Baptist leaders petitioned the third Virginia Revolutionary Convention, which met in Richmond from July 17 to August 26, 1775. The petitioners requested permission for Baptist ministers to preach to soldiers who did not wish to attend religious services conducted by the paid chaplains, who were all members of the Church of England. Patrick Henry drafted this resolution to allow “dissenting clergymen” to conduct religious services for soldiers. Thus, this resolution is significant as an early step along the path that Virginia took during the American Revolution that led to greater support for the concept of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

For Educators

Questions

1. Who were the "dissenting clergymen"?

2. What denomination were the regular chaplains?

Further Discussion

1. How do this resolution and the petition from Prince Edward County on October 11, 1776, to the House of Delegates foreshadow the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom?

Links

Video: Quirks of Old Documents: Spelling, Tildes, Ampersands, and the Long S

This Day in Virginia: August 16

Suggested Reading

Thomas E. Buckley, S.J. Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia, 1776–1787. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977.

Bland, Henretta. "Patrick Henry and the Fight for Religious Freedom." Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine 119 (November 1985): 780–785.

Resolved that it be an instruction to the Commanding officers of the Regiments or Troops to be raised to permit Dissenting Clergymen to Celebrate divine Worship & to preach to the Soldiers or exhort from time to time as the various operations of the military Service may admit for the ease of such scrupulous Consciences as may not chuse to Attend divine worship as celebrated by the Chaplain