Religion and the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution: A Short Series, Part 4


Rev. George Duffield

For earlier installments in this series click here.

On September 25, 1776, after the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention crafted a bill of rights and were nearly completed with a frame of government, it received this letter from two Philadelphia Presbyterian ministers:

A letter from the Rev. Messrs. Duffield and Marshall, praying that the clergy of this state may be exempted from the burthen of civil offices, and setting forth their reasons for such an exemption, was read, and ordered to lie on the table for consideration.

I am assuming the first person listed as George Duffield, the pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church (Pine Street) in Philadelphia.  He would later serve alongside Anglican/Episcopalian William White as a chaplain to the Continental Congress. (William Duffield represented Cumberland County at the convention, but he was not a clergyman).  The reference to “Marshall” is probably William Marshall, Duffield’s associate pastor at Pine Street.

I wish I knew the “reasons” why Duffield and Marshall asked for an exemption.  The best I can do is speculate in light of other state constitutions that forbade clergy from holding public office.  I wrote about some of these constitutions here and here.

It is interesting to note that Duffield and Marshall saw participation in “civil offices” as a “burthen” (burden) to their calling as ministers of the Gospel.  In other words, political activity got in the way of their religious duties to the church and they did not want this to happen.  Apparently the members of the convention disagreed or at least didn’t think such an amendment was important.

In the end, the proposal was never considered again and the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 did not forbid clergy from civil officers.