American Legal History

The Church of England was firmly established in South Carolina from the very beginning starting with the era when the colony was ruled by the proprietary government. The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669) announced that the Church of England was the “only true and orthodox and . . . national religion . . . of Carolina.” This applied to both North and South Carolina as they did not split up until the early 18th Century.

  • Any reader who needs this introduction at all probably needs to understand a little more than that they "split up" in the early 18th century. A couple of sentences concerning the Barbadian roots of the South Carolina coastal settlement would be helpful.

Additionally, the parliament had the duty of maintaining the church with funds and building the church in the colony. The Church of England remained established in South Carolina until the Constitution of 1778 which replaced Anglicanism with Christianity as the officially recognized religion. Finally in 1790, the state no longer officially endorsed a specific religion and declared that “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed within this state to all mankind.” Although this Constitutional provision came with a few caveats (religion could not be used as an excuse for licentiousness or for disrupting the peace and safety of the state), it officially marked the end of the established church in South Carolina.

The fall of the established church in South Carolina, like in most other states, could potentially be attributed to the rise of enlightenment thinking and a trend toward religious tolerance.

  • Well, it could at any rate be related to the disestablishments elsewhere in the independent republics. The argument you're trying to set up would make more sense if it were put in the context of the surrounding discussions, including most importantly the one in Virginia.

Although this probably was a factor, it does not tell the whole story of disestablishment. Another key driving force behind this trend toward disestablishmentarianism was the colony's desire for sustained economic development. South Carolina in the 17th and 18th Centuries was still a fairly wild and developing place. The economy was in its infancy and needed stability to ensure steady growth. An established church and the religiously divided population that such an institution amplifies, seem at odds with stable economic growth. Consequently over the course of the 18th Century, there have been several pushes in the general direction of disestablishment and unity. Several of these pushes were not driven by the idea that religious freedom was seen as a fundamental right and ideal in itself, but because disestablishment was a pragmatic way of ensuring that there will be sustained economic development. This article illustrates several instances where the economic ramifications of the established Church are considered.

  • "Are considered" means "were mentioned," as we see below. This raises analytic problems. You wind up having to argue that the Enlightenment isn't "the cause" of disestablishment because some people made some appeals to other arguments sometimes. Using the recitations in a statute to explain what the statute is about has some limitations, isolated quotation from the pamphlet rhetoric has others. At length, in a monograph, one can build up a sufficient reservoir of material taken from the pamphlet literature to establish the major points of view present in a dialogue, as for example John Reid did for two decades in his Constitutional History of the American Revolution.

  • In truth, of course, not only is the proof troublesome, but the proposition being contended for is poorly selected. No one said anything was "the whole story" of disestablishment, much less that the "whole story" could be told without inter-colonial and inter-social comparison, deep background, and a broader chronological focus. But no one who thinks that broad intellectual changes occurring in the period from 1650 to 1850 altered the relation of politics and religion in the English-speaking world is going to be much affected by the recitations in a backwater statute, either. So when you're done working out your instances, the analysis will be the same as it was before: if we are writing broadly about the roots of disestablishment in the first British Empire and its progeny, this is merely a too-small incident to contain "the whole story," and if we are writing about this particular situation, a broad question is not the one our sources can shed light on.

1704 Act Requiring Assembly Members to Conform to the Church of England

On May 6th 1704, an “Act for the more effectual Preservation of the Government” was ratified in Open Assembly in the Province of Carolina. The Act cites religious differences in the Assembly as the cause of animosities, contentions, and obstructions of public business. For this reason, the Act required that all members of the Common House of Assembly be followers of the Church of England and regularly partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Not only must a member prove that he is a regularly communing member of the Church of England, but he must take an Oath swearing to work toward the good and welfare of the Church.

Even from the beginning, the Act received critical treatment from some. The Act was called absurd, specious, and ridiculous. The main worries seemed to be economic in nature. It was argued that the Act would create obstructions to public business (“Whether the hardships it would put upon more than two thirds of the People of Carolina, would not certainly cause greater Animosities and Obstructions to Public Business”). Other fears included: a) that other colonies might retaliate with similar Acts (“it might . . . prompt and animate ill designing men by such like Methods to procure somewhat of the same nature in our Foreign Plantations”);

  • I don't think you've understood what they are saying here correctly. Look again.

b) that such an act would drive away many and discourage settlement (“such a treatment of Protestant Dissenters . . . would drive away many and keep back more from adventuring to transport themselves [to Carolina]”); and c) negatively affect trade in the colony (“hinder the exportation of many English Manufactures, prove a great Discouragement to trade and lessening of Her Majesty’s Customs”).

The primary concerns had little to do with citizen’s rights being violated and more to do with the practical effects the Act would cause to the colony as a whole. The colony needed people to populate its lands and cultivate the area so as to increase trade. If this Act drove out people and discouraged new settlers from entering South Carolina, the colony would suffer. They realized, for the purposes of developing the land and being a trading partner, it did not matter whether the person was a dissenter (i.e. dissenter from the Anglican church) or a member of the Church of England. They were in wild, rugged, sparsely populated, North America and they did not want legislation that would make the area even more devoid of people. Additionally, they realized that such an Act would just exacerbate tensions between dissenters and Anglicans. The animosity created would hinder trade and Anglican interests in other colonies might be threatened if similar Acts against the Anglicans were passed in retaliation. Luckily, this law did not stay on the books for very long as Queen Anne repealed it within a few years of its passage in the Assembly of South Carolina.

  • Actually you mean the Privy Council nullified it for reasons of constitutional repugnance, I think. You might want to catch up with whatever parts of the Privy Council process are available without going to the Public Records Office, in some secondary source or reprint, but you probably should also try to see if the relevant series from the PC2 collection (which is where the report of counsel recommending to the Privy Council will be found in the PRO) is online.

Encouraging French Protestant Settlements

In 1761, an Act was passed which was intended to encourage foreign Protestants (non-Anglicans) to settle in South Carolina. Although, Anglicanism was still the established church in South Carolina, the colony wanted as many settlers as it could get, even if they were non-Anglicans. By explicitly endorsing policies that benefited non-Anglicans and spending money to encourage their settlement, the colony was putting their economic interest ahead of their desire to preserve the Church of England as the established church.

Letters arranging the logistics of certain settlement agreements cite various economic benefits surrounding additional settlers. One letter that related to potential settlers from the South of France stated that with “their knowledge in the culture of silk and vines, it is hoped they may be particularly useful to the Colonies and to the Public.” Another letter cites the reason for the encouraged settlement of French Protestants as a “method of peopling the new governments with useful and industrious inhabitants.” The Assembly of South Carolina was even willing to spend 500 sterling in establishing the French Protestant settlement in order to “make them useful to the Colony.” A useful populous which will cultivate and develop the land and economy is more important than ensuring an Anglican population. The larger the non-Anglican population, the more unlikely that an established Anglican church would survive. To the extent that the earlier leaders in South Carolina accepted this proposition, they made choices that were pro-development at the expense of the long run preservation of the state-sanctioned church.

  • Maybe, but it's not disestablishment either. The source is indicative of a desire by real estate developers to have tenants regardless of religion. You might find that in New York every year from roughly 1629 on. Mightn't you want to compare this to other situations in other neighboring republics?

In fact, towards the end of the establishment era, dissenters increasingly relied on the fact that the dissenter inhabitants greatly outnumbered the Anglican inhabitants when condemning the established church. In 1777, there were 20 Anglican churches and 79 dissenter churches. See Tennent’s Speech page 59. This huge population disparity between the Church of England and the Dissenters amplified the inequality of the religious burden and made the established Church even more unsustainable.

Encouraging Protestants to Unite for Safety against the Blacks and Indians

The existence of a state-sponsored established religion is at odds with the goal of creating and preserving unity among the various Protestant sects inhabiting South Carolina. Unity among the populous seems unlikely when the state is explicitly favoring one group of citizens over another on the basis of religion. Therefore an established church is in tension with a united populous. Unity (among white Protestants at least) was a very important goal for some who felt a serious threat from the rather large Black and Indian populations residing in South Carolina. The risk of violence or rebellion from these groups threatened to disrupt and destroy the developing economy and the societal structure in the region. Business and trade are always threatened when there is a heightened risk of violence. Investment is riskier when the chance of violence is real and when there is uncertainty in the societal structure in which one resides. In 18th Century South Carolina the risks associated with Blacks and Indians and their potential to create violence or societal upheaval was perceived as very serious.

In a sermon urging for unity between Anglicans, Presbyterians and other Protestants, Charles Woodmason points to their “Indian Neighbours” as an “External Enemy” that they all shared in common. Citing “Common Prudence” and “Common Security”, Woodmason urges unity. He also points to the Blacks currently residing in the colony (100,000 now, “and more are daily importing”) and argues that they are an “Internal Enemy” that they all share in common and “We ought to keep a very watchful eye, lest they suprize [sic] us in an Hour when We are not aware.” It appears that Woodmason perceived the Blacks and Indians as a very serious threat to the stability in the region and he, even as an Anglican minister, was willing to put religion aside to unite with other non-Anglicans to address this threat.

Additional evidence tending to show that the threat created by Blacks hastened the incentive to create unity among the Protestants comes from letters surrounding the 1761 Act (discussed supra) that was designed to encourage French Protestant settlements. The Act encouraging settlement by these non-Anglicans was continued because it was felt that more white Protestants in the colony would “check . . . the great employment of negros [sic]by which the safety of the Province may be endangered.” The Anglican government embraced non-Anglican settlers in order address the threat posited to their society from the Black populous. Sadly, racism and a fear of a black insurrection, united the various Protestant sects and this need for unity was in direct tension with maintaining an established church.

  • I think you're missing here the fundamental point that conversation in South Carolina is always like this: maintenance of white supremacy in the only part of North America with an immense black majority is a constant of all South Carolina discourse, whether spoken or unspoken, throughout its colonial and post-colonial history. The classic work for understanding this aspect of the situation is, of course, Peter Wood's Black Majority.

A Speech to the Assembly arguing for Disestablishment

On January 11th, 1777 William Tennent III, a Presbyterian minister, delivered a speech before the Commons House of Assembly in Charleston, South Carolina. The speech was billed as a petition of the dissenters from the Church of England praying for the Constitutional recognition of the equal rights of all religious denominations. Although the Assembly did not take Rev. Tennent’s advice when drafting the Constitution of 1778, it ultimately acquiesced to the trend toward disestablishmentarianism when in 1790 it ultimately got rid of the established church. Rev. Tennent’s speech is useful as a resource which surveys some of the main objections brought against the established church during this time period.

The speech starts with the argument that the established church is an “infringement of religious liberty.” After this rights argument is discussed, Tennent turns to the more pragmatic reasons for discarding the established church in South Carolina. “Religious establishments discourage the opulence and cramp the growth of a free state.” He argues that the established church deters people of every denomination, including those with skills in industry and art, from moving to the state. Wealth and power will be the rewards of the state that has the “freest and most liberal plan” with respect to religious freedom. Therefore, there people at the time felt that the established church was an impediment to economic growth and prosperity.

Additionally, Tennent argues that a disestablished church will lead to “peace and happiness.” He continues, “ It is inequality that excites jealous and dissatisfaction.” He implies that the continued maintanence of the established church where “royal justice [stands] ready to support the claims of injustice. This argument shows an underlying desire for stability and peace. Stability and peace is the key foundation to a healthy thriving economy. How good can the economy be if people are dissatisfied or unhappy? All these factors of jealousy and dissatisfaction, created by the continued existence of the established church, tend to disrupt the peaceful background necessary for economic development.

Tennent’s speech points to the pragmatic and economic realities surrounding the perpetuation of the established church and argues that disestablishment is necessary to keep South Carolina thriving economically.

  • But it's also about other matters, and takes other points of view. Rather than consider how to interpret the thought of the author of one document, you quote that document selectively in order to show that it contains material for which you are filtering. But even if that constituted responsible interpretation of the document itself, which it doesn't, it wouldn't constitute evidence for the proposition it's supposed to support, because without some idea how the ideas you show him expressing are related to the rest of what he has to say, we can't tell whether their expression is perfunctory or intensely important to his own intentions, to take only two polar possibilities among many.


Throughout the history of the established church in South Carolina, many critics have pointed to the pragmatic and economic consequences of maintaining such an institution. An established church amplifies the religious divide in the population and acts as a deterrent to potential settlers. It stirs up jealousy and dissatisfaction and fragments a population making them vulnerable to attacks by outside forces (in this case, Blacks and Indians).

  • Are you going to go the whole distance without ever asking what makes Christian black people "outsiders"? Isn't the problem that disunion of any kind among owners raises the danger that slaves will not accept social death and radical deprivation peacefully? Is that really an argument for religious toleration, or simply an argument for the cardinal importance of racial subordination regardless of religion?

This article is not intended to be interpreted as an argument that economic concerns were the sole force in disestablishing the church or that values such as the right to religious freedom did not play an important role in the matter. Rather, the article is intended to show that the colonists’ desire for economic growth was at times in tension with the maintenance of an established church and that economic development was one factor that ultimately led to the disestablishment.

  • The weakest possible form of the thesis, and it still won't be carried by the evidence adduced. You showed nothing about what was a factor leading to disestablishment: you showed that some rhetoric was present in a few documents bearing (in some cases) only tangentially on disestablishment. Rather than attempt in revision to nail down that argument, it seems to me, you should devote yourself instead to turning your materials in the direction of a question or two that they can resolve. In this connection, comparison with other disestablishments in the post-Independence Southern Colonies might be useful, as I've mentioned above.

See below for attachments of the sources used in this article.

-- JosephForderer - 01 Dec 2009

  • [[[1].pdf][1704_Act_regarding_Oaths_of_office[1].pdf]]: Document contains criticisms of the Act of 1704


Webs Webs

Attachments Attachments

  Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
else 1704_Act_regarding_Oaths_of_office.docx props, move 4569.0 K 12 Nov 2009 - 16:50 JosephForderer This is a 1704 Act regarding required Oaths of Office followed by a critique of the Act.
pdf 1704_Act_regarding_Oaths_of_office[1].pdf props, move 2862.2 K 30 Nov 2009 - 23:54 JosephForderer Document contains criticisms of the Act of 1704
pdf Church_Act_1706_1708.pdf props, move 327.3 K 12 Nov 2009 - 16:52 JosephForderer This is the Church Act of 1706 which essentially establishes the Anglican Church in the Province.
pdf Documents_relating_to_the_French_Protestants_in_1760s.pdf props, move 428.7 K 18 Nov 2009 - 20:53 JosephForderer S.C. Urges the settlement of French Protestants
pdf S.C._Constitution_of_1790.pdf props, move 1071.1 K 18 Nov 2009 - 20:35 JosephForderer Complete Dissestablishment with the Constitution of 1790. See Article VIII
pdf SC_Constitution_of_1788.pdf props, move 757.2 K 12 Nov 2009 - 16:58 JosephForderer Constitution changing the established church from Anglican to Christian (see Art. XXXVII)
pdf State_Convention_on_Adoption_of_the_Federal_Constitution.pdf props, move 151.1 K 18 Nov 2009 - 21:04 JosephForderer Some hesitancy is asserted over the Federal Constitution's "too great latitude allowed in religion"
else William_Tennents_Speech_before_the_Assembly.docx props, move 1738.9 K 12 Nov 2009 - 16:53 JosephForderer A Speech before the Assembly arguing for disestablishment
pdf William_Tennents_Speech_before_the_Assembly[1].pdf props, move 1524.7 K 01 Dec 2009 - 00:03 JosephForderer  
pdf Woodmason_Sermon_urging_Unity.pdf props, move 73.7 K 18 Nov 2009 - 20:53 JosephForderer Sermon urging unity among Protestants
r8 - 07 Sep 2011 - 00:16:54 - IanSullivan
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