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The phrase "separation of church and state" does not actually appear anywhere in the Constitution.

There is a problem, however, in that some people draw incorrect conclusions from this fact.

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law
respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of
speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or
prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15,
1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

Letter from the Danbury Baptists:

The address of the Danbury Baptist Association in the State of Connecticut, assembled October
7, 1801.
To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America

Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we
embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your
inauguration , to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in
the United States. And though the mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than
what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe, that none is more

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and
places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or
effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government
extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution
of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident
therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such
has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first
object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the
State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at
the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.
It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense
of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief
Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume
the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Sir, we are sensible that the President of the United States is not the National Legislator and also
sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each State, but our hopes are
strong that the sentiment of our beloved President, which have had such genial effect already,
like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these States--and all the
world--until hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past
services, and see a glow of philanthropy and goodwill shining forth in a course of more than
thirty years, we have reason to believe that America's God has raised you up to fill the Chair of
State out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God
strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called
you--to sustain and support you and your Administration against all the predetermined
opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of
the people.

And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly
Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

Signed in behalf of the Association,

Neh,h Dodge }
Eph'm Robbins } The Committee
Stephen S. Nelson }

*A cite for this letter could read:

Letter of Oct. 7, 1801 from Danbury (CT) Baptist Assoc. to Thomas Jefferson,
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress, Wash. D.C.

President Jefferson's Reply:

Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen s. Nelson

A Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut.

Washington, January 1, 1802

Gentlemen,--The affectionate sentiment of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to
express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest
satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents,
and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them
becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he
owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government
reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the
whole American people which declared that their legislature would "make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of
separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the
nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of
those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural
right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator
of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high
respect and esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802

Many people are surprised to learn that the United States Capitol regularly served as a church
building; a practice that began even before Congress officially moved into the building and
lasted until well after the Civil War. Below is a brief history of the Capitol's use as a church, and
some of the prominent individuals who attended services there.

The cornerstone of the Capitol was laid by President George

Washington in 1793., but it was not until the end of 1800 that
Congress actually moved into the building. According to the
congressional records for late November of 1800, Congress spent
the first few weeks organizing the Capitol rooms, committees,
locations, etc. Then, on December 4, 1800, Congress approved
the use of the Capitol building as a church building. i1

CAPITOL IN 1800 The approval of the Capitol for church was given by both the
House and the Senate, with House approval being given by
Speaker of the House, Theodore Sedgwick, and Senate approval being given by the President of
the Senate, Thomas Jefferson. Interestingly, Jefferson's approval came while he was still
officially the Vice- President but after he had just been elected President.

Significantly, the Capitol building had been used as a church even

for years before it was occupied by Congress. The cornerstone for
the Capitol had been laid on September 18, 1793; two years later
while still under construction, the July 2, 1795, Federal Orrery
newspaper of Boston reported:

City of Washington, June 19. It is with much pleasure that we

discover the rising consequence of our infant city. Public worship
is now regularly administered at the Capitol, every Sunday
morning, at 11 o'clock by the Reverend Mr. Ralph. ii2
The reason for the original use of the Capitol as a church might initially be explained by the fact
that there were no churches in the city at that time. Even a decade later in 1803, U. S. Senator
John Quincy Adams confirmed: "There is no church of any denomination in this city." iii3 The
absence of churches in Washington eventually changed, however. As one Washington citizen
reported: "For several years after the seat of government was fixed at Washington, there were but
two small [wooden] churches. . . . Now, in 1837 there are 22 churches of brick or stone." iv4 Yet,
even after churches began proliferating across the city, religious services still continued at the
Capitol until well after the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Jefferson attended church at the Capitol while he was Vice President v5 and also
throughout his presidency. The first Capitol church service that Jefferson attended
as President was a service preached by Jefferson's friend, the Rev. John Leland, on
January 3, 1802. vi6 Significantly, Jefferson attended that Capitol church service
just two days after he penned his famous letter containing the "wall of separation
between church and state" metaphor.

U. S. Rep. Manasseh Cutler, who also attended church at the Capitol, recorded in
his own diary that "He [Jefferson] and his family have constantly attended public
worship in the Hall." vii7 Mary Bayard Smith, another attendee at the Capitol
services, confirmed: "Mr. Jefferson, during his whole administration, was a most
regular attendant." viii8 She noted that Jefferson even had a designated seat at the
Capitol church: "The seat he chose the first Sabbath, and the adjoining one
(which his private secretary occupied), were ever afterwards by the courtesy of
the congregation, left for him and his secretary." ix9 Jefferson was so committed
to those services that he would not even allow inclement weather to dissuade him; as Rep. Cutler
noted: "It was very rainy, but his [Jefferson's] ardent zeal brought him through the rain and on
horseback to the Hall." x10 Other diary entries confirm Jefferson's attendance in spite of bad
weather. xi11

In addition to Mary Bayard Smith and Congressman Manasseh Cutler, others kept diaries of the
weekly Capitol church services "" including Congressman Abijah Bigelow and statesman John
Quincy Adams. (Adams served in Washington first as a Senator, then a President, and then as a
Representative; and his extensive diaries describe the numerous church services he attended at
the Capitol across a span of decades.) Typical of Adams' diary entries while a U. S.

Senator under President Jefferson were these:

Attended public service at the Capitol where Mr. Rattoon, an Episcopalian

clergyman from Baltimore, preached a sermon. xii12

[R]eligious service is usually performed on Sundays at the Treasury office and

at the Capitol. I went both forenoon and afternoon to the Treasury. xiii13
Jefferson was not the only President to attend church at the Capitol. His successor,
James Madison, also attended church at the Capitol. xiv14 However, there was a
difference in the way the two arrived for services. Observers noted that Jefferson
arrived at church on horseback xv15 (it was 1.6 miles from the White House to the
Capitol). However, Madison arrived for church in a coach and four. In fact, British
diplomat Augustus Foster, who attended services at the Capitol, gave an eloquent
description of President Madison arriving at the Capitol for church in a carriage drawn by four
white horses.

From Jefferson through Abraham Lincoln, many presidents attended church at the Capitol; and it
was common practice for Members of Congress to attend those services. For example, in his
diary entry of January 9, 1803, Congressman Cutler noted: "Attended in the morning at the
Capitol. . . . Very full assembly. Many of the Members present." xvi16 The church was often full
"so crowded, in fact, one attendee reported that since "the floor of the House offered insufficient
space, the platform behind the Speaker's chair, and every spot where a chair could be wedged in"
was filled. xvii17 U. S. Representative John Quincy Adams (although noting that occasionally the
"House was full, but not crowded" xviii18) also commented numerous times on the overly-
crowded conditions at the Capitol church. In his diary entry for February 28, 1841, he noted: "I
rode with my wife, Elizabeth C. Adams, and Mary, to the Capitol, where the Hall of the House
of Representatives was so excessively crowded that it was with extreme difficulty that we were
enabled to obtain seats." xix19 Why did so many Members attend Divine service in the Hall of the
House? Adams explained why he attended: "I consider it as one of my public duties- as a
representative of the people- to give my attendance every Sunday morning when Divine service
is performed in the Hall." xx20

Interestingly, the Marine Band participated in the early Capitol church

services. According to Margaret Bayard Smith, who regularly attended
services at the Capitol, the band, clad in their scarlet uniforms, made a
"dazzling appearance" as they played from the gallery, providing instrumental
accompaniment for the singing. xxi21 The band, however, seemed too
ostentatious for the services and "the attendance of the marine-band was soon
discontinued." xxii22

From 1800 to 1801, the services were held in the north wing; from 1801 to 1804, they were held
in the "oven" in the south wing, and then from 1804 to 1807, they were again held in the north
wing. From 1807 to 1857, services were held in what is now Statuary Hall. By 1857 when the
House moved into its new home in the extension, some 2,000 persons a week were attending
services in the Hall of the House. xxiii23 Significantly, even though the U. S. Congress began
meeting in the extension on Wednesday, December 16, 1857, the first official use of the House
Chamber had occurred three days earlier, when "on December 13, 1857, the Rev. Dr. George
Cummins preached before a crowd of 2,000 worshipers in the first public use of the chamber.
Soon thereafter, the committee recommended that the House convene in the new Hall on
Wednesday, December 16, 1857." xxiv24 However, regardless of the part of the building in which
the church met, the rostrum of the Speaker of the House was used as the preacher's pulpit; and
Congress purchased the hymnals used in the service.
The church services in the Hall of the House were interdenominational, overseen by the
chaplains appointed by the House and Senate; sermons were preached by the chaplains on a
rotating basis, or by visiting ministers approved by the Speaker of the House. As Margaret
Bayard Smith, confirmed: "Not only the chaplains, but the most distinguished clergymen who
visited the city, preached in the Capitol" xxv25 and "clergymen, who during the session of
Congress visited the city, were invited by the chaplains to preach." xxvi26

In addition to the non-denominational service held in the Hall of the House, several individual
churches (such as Capitol Hill Presbyterian, the Unitarian Church of Washington, First
Congregational Church, First Presbyterian Church, etc.) met in the Capitol each week for their
own services; there could be up to four different church services at the Capitol each Sunday.


The Library of Congress provides an account of one of those churches that met weekly at the
Capitol: "Charles Boynton (1806-1883) was in 1867 Chaplain of the House of Representatives
and organizing pastor of the First Congregational Church in Washington, which was trying at
that time to build its own sanctuary. In the meantime, the church, as Boynton informed potential
donors, was holding services- at the Hall of Representatives' where- the audience is the largest
in town. . . . nearly 2000 assembled every Sabbath' for services, making the congregation in the
House the largest Protestant Sabbath audience then in the United States.' The First
Congregational Church met in the House from 1865 to 1868." xxvii27

With so many services occurring, the Hall of the House was not the
only location in the Capitol where church services were conducted.
John Quincy Adams, in his February 2, 1806, diary entry, describes
an overflow service held in the Supreme Court Chamber, xxviii28 and
Congressman Manasseh Cutler describes a similar service in 1804.
xxix29 (At that time, the Supreme Court Chamber was located on the OLD SUPREME COURT CHAMBER
first floor of the Capitol.) Services were also held in the Senate
Chamber as well as on the first floor of the south wing.

Church In The Capitol Milestones

* 1806. On January 12, 1806, Dorothy Ripley (1767-1832) became the first woman to preach
before the House. One female attendee had noted: "Preachers of every sect and denomination of
Christians were there admitted- Catholics, Unitarians, Quakers, with every intervening diversity
of sect. Even women were allowed to display their pulpit eloquence in this national Hall." xxx30
In attendance at that service were President Thomas Jefferson and Vice President Aaron Burr.
Ripley conducted the lengthy service in a fervent, evangelical, camp-meeting style.

* 1826. On January 8, 1826, Bishop John England (1786-1842) of Charleston,

South Carolina (Bishop over North and South Carolina and Georgia) became the
first Catholic to preach in the House of Representatives. Of that service, President
John Quincy Adams (a regular attendee of church services in the Capitol) noted:
Walked to the Capitol and heard the Bishop of Charleston, [John] England -" an
Irishman. He read a few prayers and then delivered an extemporaneous discourse
JOHN ENGLAND of nearly two hours' duration. . . . He closed by reading an admirable prayer. He

came and spoke to me after the service and said he would call and take leave of me tomorrow.
The house was overflowing, and it was with great difficulty that I obtained a seat. xxxi31

* 1827. In January 1827, Harriet Livermore (1788-1868) became the second

woman to preach in the House of Representatives. (Three of her immediate
family members: " her father, grandfather, and uncle" had been Members of
Congress. Her grandfather, Samuel Livermore, was a Member of the first
federal Congress and a framer of the Bill of Rights; her uncle was a Member
under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; her father was a
Member under President James Monroe.) The service in which she preached
was not only attended by President John Quincy Adams but was also filled
with Members of Congress as well as the inquisitive from the city. As HARRIET LIVERMORE

Margaret Bayard Smith noted, "curiosity rather than piety attracted throngs on such occasions."
xxxii32 Livermore spoke for an hour and a half, resulting in mixed reactions; some praised her
and were even moved to tears by her preaching, some dismissed her. Harriet Livermore preached
in the Capitol on four different occasions, each attended by a different President.

* 1865. On February 12, 1865, Henry Highland Garnet (1815-

1882) became the first African American to speak in Congress.
Two weeks earlier, on January 31, 1865, Congress had passed
the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, and Garnet was
invited to preach a sermon in Congress to commemorate that
event. In his sermon, Garnet described his beginnings: 'I was
born among the cherished institutions of slavery. My earliest
recollections of parents, friends, and the home of my childhood
are clouded with its wrongs. The first sight that met my eyes
was my Christian mother enslaved." xxxiii33 His family escaped to the North; he became a
minister, abolitionist, temperance leader, and political activist. He recruited black regiments
during the Civil War and served as chaplain to the black troops of New York. In 1864, he
became the pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C. (where he
served at the time of this sermon). He later became president of Avery College and was made
Minister to Liberia by President Ulysses S. Grant.
(For more information on this topic please see "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic: Religion and
the Federal Government (Part 2)" on the Library of Congress website.)


i[1] Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1853), p. 797,
Sixth Congress, December 4, 1800.

ii[2] Federal Orrery, Boston, July 2, 1795, p. 2.

iii[3] John Quincy Adams, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Philadelphia: J. B.
Lippincott and Company, 1874), Vol. I, p. 268, October 30, 1803.

iv[4] Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard), The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Galliard Hunt,
editor (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), p. 16.

v[5] Bishop Claggett's (Episcopal Bishop of Maryland) letter of February 18, 1801, reveals that, as vice- President,
Jefferson went to church services in the House. Available in the Maryland Diocesan Archives.

vi[6] William Parker Cutler and Julia Perkins Cutler, Life, Journal, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler
(Cincinnati: Colin Robert Clarke & Co., 1888), Vol. II, p. 66, letter to Joseph Torrey, January 4, 1802. Cutler meant
that Jefferson attended church on January 3, 1802, for the first time as President. Bishop Claggett's letter of February
18, 1801, already revealed that as Vice-President, Jefferson went to church services in the House.

vii[7] Cutler and Cutler, Life, Journal, and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 119, in a letter to Dr. Joseph Torrey on
January 3, 1803; see also his entry of December 12, 1802 (Vol. II, p. 113).

viii[8] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 13.

ix[9] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 13.

x[10] Cutler and Cutler, Life, Journal, and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 119, in a letter to Dr. Joseph Torrey on
January 3, 1803; see also his entry of December 26, 1802 (Vol. II, p. 114).

xi[11] Cutler and Cutler, Life, Journal, and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 114, December 26, 1802.

xii[12] John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. I, p. 268, October 30, 1803.

xiii[13] John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. I, p. 265, October 23, 1803.

xiv[14] Abijah Bigelow to Hannah Bigleow, December 28, 1812. "Letters of Abijah Bigleow, Member of Congress,
to his Wife," Proceedings, 1810-1815, American Antiquarian Society (1930), p. 168.

xv[15] See, for example, Cutler and Cutler, Life, Journal, and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 119, from a letter to Dr.
Joseph Torrey on January 3, 1803.
xvi[16] Cutler and Cutler, Life, Journal, and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 116, January 9, 1803.

xvii[17] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 14.

xviii[18] See, for example, John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. VII, pp. 437-438, February 17, 1828; Vol. XI, pp.
160-161, May 22, 1842; and others.

xix[19] John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. X, p. 434, February 28, 1841.

xx[20] John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. XI, p. 169, June 5, 1842.

xxi[21] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 14.

xxii[22] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 16.

xxiii[23] James Hutson (Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress), Religion and the Founding of
the American Republic (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1998), p. 91.

xxiv[24] William C. Allen (Architectural Historian of the Capitol), A History of the United States Capitol, A
Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 2001), p. 271.

xxv[25] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 14.

xxvi[26] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 15.

xxvii[27] Fundraising brochure, Charles B. Boynton. Washington, D.C.: November 1, 1867, Rare Book and Special
Collections Division, Library of Congress; available at Library of Congress at

xxviii[28] Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, p. 90.

xxix[29] From the Library of Congress, at

xxx[30] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 15.

xxxi[31] John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. VII, p. 102, January 8, 1826.

xxxii[32] Smith, The First Forty Years, p. 15.

xxxiii[33] Henry Highland Garnet, Memorial Discourse (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1865), p. 73.