“The Edmunds Resolution” The American Sentinel 4, 39, pp. 306, 307.

October 23, 1889

THE SENTINEL has said considerable during the past year about the proposed amendment to the national Constitution establishing instruction in the principles of the Christian religion in all the public schools in the nation. The last few numbers have contained an argument made by one of the editors of the SENTINEL before the Committee on Education and Labor in opposition to that resolution. When the next Congress shall assemble, there will be a powerful effort made to secure the introduction of a resolution embodying the doctrines proposed in that, but in what shape the matter will be presented, it is of course impossible in advance to tell. The forces are being rallied, the different views are being brought together as much as possible, and the people cannot be too wide-awake nor too diligently engaged in the study of the subject, nor can there be too prompt action in opposing the movement. The Blair resolution is not the only one that is advocated. There is another called the “Edmunds Resolution,” so called because it was framed and presented by Senator Edmunds, of Vermont.

The history of the Edmunds resolution is this, to begin at the beginning of the subject: April 19, 1870, Hon. S. S. Burdette, of Missouri, proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution upon this subject, reading as follows:—

“SECTION 1. No State or municipal corporation within any State of the United States shall levy or collect any tax for the support or aid of any sectarian, denominational, or religious school or educational establishment; nor shall the legislature of any State, or the corporate authorities of any municipality within any State, appropriate any money or make any donation from the public fund or property of such State or municipality for the support or aid of any sectarian, religious, or denominational schools or educational establishments.

“SEC. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

It will be seen at a glance that this only prohibits State aid to denominational or religious schools or establishments. It does not prohibit sectarian, religious, or denominational instruction in the public schools. It thus missed the mark so widely that it seems not to have been taken any notice of after its introduction.

It was not long, however, before another step was taken. December 19, 1871, Hon. William M. Stewart, United States senator from Nevada, proposed an amendment to the national Constitution, reading as follows:—

“SECTION. 1. There shall be maintained in each State and Territory a system of free common schools, but neither the United States nor any State, Territory, county, or municipal corporation, shall aid in the support of any schools wherein the peculiar tenets of any denomination are taught.

“SEC. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This proposition seems to have excited some public discussion. It was strongly disapproved by many on the ground that such a measure was “both unnecessary and misleading”—unnecessary because no danger could arise in any State from such action; and mischievous because it would only tend to provoke a controversy which was uncalled for. Nothing seems to have come of Mr. Stewart’s proposition except the discussion referred to.

Nothing more was done for four years. Then, however, December 14, 1875, Hon. James G. Blaine, then a member of the House of Representatives, proposed an amendment, as follows:


“No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, nor shall any money so raised or land so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”

August 4, 1876, Mr. Blaine’s resolution was reported back from the Judiciary Committee with two slight additions, one, of the words “or denomination” following the word “sect” in the second clause, and the other a sentence at the end, saying, “This article shall not vest, enlarge, or diminish legislative power in Congress.”

It will be seen that Mr. Blaine’s resolution goes a step further than either of the ones which preceded it, in that it embodies in its first clause the substance of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, prohibiting any State making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. As for the rest of his resolution, it is in substance the same as the other two, simply saying that no public money raised by taxation or derived from public funds for the support of public schools should ever be under the control of any religious sect or divided amongst religious sects or denominations. It does not prohibit the teaching of religion in the public schools, nor does it prohibit the use of public money for the support of religious teaching in the public schools. Therefore, as for any real value in that resolution, there was none except in its first clause.

Yet, it was adopted by the House of Representatives after brief debate, by vote of 180 yeas to 7 nays, with 98 not voting. The resolution then went to the Senate, and, August 7, was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, with several substitutes which had been offered for it. Two days later, August 9, Senator Edmunds, of the Judiciary Committee, reported back the joint resolution with an amendment which was in fact a substitute, reading as follows:—


“No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under any State. No public property, and no public revenue of, nor any loan of credit by or under, the authority of the United States, or any State, Territory, district, or municipal corporation, shall be appropriated to, or made, or used for, the support of any school, educational or other institution, under the control of any religious, or anti-religious, organization, or wherein the particular creed or tenets of any religious or anti-religious sect, organization, or denomination, shall be taught. And so such particular creed or tenet shall be read or taught in any school or institution supported in whole or in part by such revenue or loan of credit; and no such appropriation or loan of credit shall be made to any religious or anti-religious sect, organization, or denomination, or promote its interests or tenets. This article shall not be construed to prohibit the reading of the Bible in any school or institution; and it shall not have the effect to impair rights of property already vested.

“SEC. 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to provide for the prevention or punishment of violations of this article.”

August 11 this substitute was accepted for the House resolution by a vote of 27 to 15. August 14 the substitute was brought to vote upon its adoption. The vote stood 28 yeas to 16 nays. But as it requires a majority of two-thirds to adopt such a resolution, and as the vote fell two short of being two-thirds, the resolution was lost. This is the Edmunds amendment, and this is its history. And that was the last effort to amend the Constitution until May 25, 1888, when Senator Blair introduced his. And, as stated at the beginning, the Edmunds amendment is being advocated for introduction at the next Congress as well as the Blair amendment.

We have not space here to discuss the merit of the Edmunds resolution; we can only say now that it is an excellent illustration of how not to to [sic.] say it, and leave the fuller discussion of it until our next.

A. T. J.

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