Baptists and Religious Liberty
Here is some brief background information:
Baptists enjoyed amazing growth in New England in 18th century. From 96 churches in 1740 they grew to 457 churches in 1780. The Congregational Churches (The Standing Order) were the established churches in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in the state of Connecticut. This meant that Baptists were faced with serious political and economic hardships, including taxation to support the established clergy. They were subject to jail when they refused to pay. In 1768, the Warren Association formed a Grievance Committee, and Isaac Backus was the key person. He worked with Legislatures and Courts to achieve relief for Baptists; among them being Congress in Philadelphia in 1774, Legislature (General Court) in Boston, and the courts in Massachusetts. In 1790, he was a delegate to the Massachusetts state Constitutional Convention to ratify the proposed new federal constitution. He supported Jefferson’s views on Church and State. Tomorrow we will begin with a plea presented to the Continental Congress in 1774.
What were the results? After 1780 a system of Church Incorporation in Massachusetts allowed churches to be free of taxation. Most of the churches incorporated after 1788. Connecticut disestablished in 1818; Massachusetts not until 1833. Backus didn’t live to see the end result but Leland did.
To mention briefly some primary sources.
An appeal to the public for religious liberty against the oppressions of the present day (Boston: 1773)
The Diary of Isaac Backus ed. William G. McLoughlin (Providence: Brown University Press, 1979) 3 vols.
Robert A. Baker, A Baptist Sourcebook (Nashville: Broadman, 1966)
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland (New York, 1845)
A.T. Foss and E. Mathews, Facts for Baptist Churches (Utica: American Baptist Free Mission Society, 1850)
H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage, (Nashville: Broadman, 1990)