Today in history: prelude to the First Amendment

Monday, June 13, 2011

The roots of the First Amendment were beginning to take hold 232 years ago today, notes scholar and author Joseph C. Morton.

In a commentary published by the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Ill., Morton says that on June 13, 1779, Thomas Jefferson completed a draft of what would eventually become a bill to protect religious freedom in Virginia. Although Jefferson is widely known for writing the Declaration of Independence and serving as the third U.S. president, his “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” ultimately shaped the development of the First Amendment, Morton says.

“Thus it can be said, with some legitimacy,” Morton writes, “that the three ‘Fathers’ of the landmark First Amendment were three aristocratic, slave-owning Virginians: Mason for his 1776 ‘Declaration of Rights’; Jefferson for ‘A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom;’ and James Madison Jr., who both guided Jefferson’s historic bill through the Virginia legislature in 1786 and the Bill of Rights through Congress in 1791.”

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