Debates in Congress
to the Constitution
August 20, 1789
Annals of Cong. 757 et seq. (J. Gales ed., 1834)
the debate below, the House of Representatives continued
its consideration of the Religion Clauses and the wisdom
of including an exception for those "religiously scrupulous"
from being compelled to bear arms.
general, this exception was strongly supported and favored,
and the reasons for its final omission are not clear.
Religious Institutions Group
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House resumed the consideration of the report of the Committee
of the whole on the subject of amendment to the constitution.
Ames's proposition was taken up. Five or six other members
introduced propositions on the same point, and the whole
were, by mutual
laid on the table. After which, the House proceeded to the
third amendment, and agreed to the same.
motion of Mr. Ames, the fourth amendment was altered so
as to read "Congress shall make no law establishing religion,
or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe
the rights of conscience." This being adopted,
first proposition was agreed to.
Scott objected to the clause in the sixth amendment, "No
person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear
arms." He observed that if this becomes part of the constitution,
such persons can neither be called upon for their services,
nor can an equivalent be demanded; it is also attended with
still further difficulties, for a militia can never be depended
upon. This would lead to the violation of another article
in the constitution, which secures to the people the right
of keeping arms, and in this case recourse must be had to
a standing army. I conceive it, said he, to be a legislative
right altogether. There are many sects I know, who are religiously
scrupulous in this respect; I do not mean to deprive them
of any indulgence the law affords; my design is to guard
against those who are of no religion. It has been urged
that religion is on the decline; if so, the argument is
more strong in my favor, for when the time comes that religion
shall be discarded, the generality of persons will have
recourse to these pretexts to get excused from bearing arms.
Boudinot thought the provision in the clause, or something
similar to it, was necessary. Can any dependence, said he,
be placed in men who are conscientious in this respect?
or what justice can there be in compelling them to bear
arms, when, according to their religious principles, they
would rather die than use them? He adverted to several instances
of oppression on this point, that occurred during the war.
In forming a militia, an effectual defence ought to be calculated,
and no characters of this religious description ought to
be compelled to take up arms. I hope that in establishing
this Government, we may show the world that proper care
is taken that the Government may not interfere with the
religious sentiments of any person. Now, by striking out
the clause, people may be led to believe that there is an
intention in the General Government to compel all its citizens
to bear arms.
further desultory conversation arose, and it was agreed
to insert the words "in person" to the end of the clause;
after which, it was adopted, as was the fourth, fifth, sixth,
seventh, and eighth clauses of the fourth proposition; then
the fifth, sixth, and seventh propositions were agreed to,
and the House adjourned.
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