Washington Letter to General Committee Representing United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May 1789

Letter from George Washington to the General Committee representing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May 1789.

This letter exhibits the maturity and breadth of George Washington’s views on religious freedom. One of the purposes of this letter was to assure the Baptist leaders of the complete ability of the new constitution to preserve religious rights. In expressing his faith in the Constitution, Washington indicates that as an ardent supporter of the liberty of conscience, he would zealously oppose the Constitution if he thought it would enable the leaders of this government to resurrect the “horrors of spiritual tyranny.” After pledging his support to the cause for religious freedom, he asks the Baptist leaders and their congregations to faithfully support the new government.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension, that the constitution framed in the convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and, if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution. For you doubtless remember, that I have often expressed my sentiments, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.

While I recollect with satisfaction, that the religious society of which you are members have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution, I cannot hesitate to believe, that they will be the faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government. Under this pleasing expectation I rejoice to assure them, that they may rely on my best wishes and endeavours to advance their prosperity.

In the mean time be assured, Gentlemen, that I entertain a proper sense of your fervent supplications to God for my temporal and eternal happiness.

Letter from George Washington to the General Committee of Baptist Churches (May 1789), in 12 Writings of Washington, at 155 (Sparks ed.).