University of Wisconsin–Madison

Religion and Ratification

Concerns over religious liberty played an important role in the colonization of English North America. Religious concerns also figured prominently in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Many controversies centered on questions of religion and politics—how and when the two should be separated. Was it acceptable for clergy to be active politically? In a predominantly Christian and Protestant country, should religious tests exclude non-Christians and non-Protestants from federal offices? Did freedom of religion mean only freedom from persecution for religious minorities, or did it entail rights for those of all religious beliefs? Should the Constitution itself contain an acknowledgment of God, or was this unnecessary in a plan of government based on reason?

The collections below explore the role religion played in the ratification debates using primary sources taken from The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution.