The Religious Clause in the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution

One of these days I hope to do some research and write something about the making of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776.  Most neo-progressive historians like to tout it as the most democratic of all the revolutionary-era state constitutions.  And they are right.  The original PA Constitution had a one-house legislature that was not “checked” by a second (upper) house or an executive branch.  The people ruled.

Yet we also must remember that “democracy” meant something slightly different in the 18th century than it does today.  We see this in the PA Constitution’s clause that requires public officials to believe in the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments.  This clause obviously limited who could, and who could not, hold office in the commonwealth.

As Jon Rowe points out over at American Creation blog, this clause angered Philadelphia Jews who petitioned the council of censors because the constitution did not give Jews the right to hold public office.  Jews, of course, did not believe in the inspiration of the New Testament.

Rowe reminds us that the 1790 PA constitution was more inclusive, requiring office holders to believe in “the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments.”