The Rise of Church-State Alliances: Imperial Edicts & Church Councils: 306-565

A Note on my Sources

The Council of Elvira in 306

Emperor Constantine and the Church

Arianist Emperors and Emperor Julian the Apostate

Emperor Theodosius the Great and the Church

Pulcheria, Theodosius the Younger and the Church

Emperor Marcian, Pope Leo and the Council of Chalcedon

Emperor Leo and the Monophysites

The Age of Emperor Justinian

A Timeline of Temple Destruction

Primary and Secondary Sources

Church Council Sources


TOC: The Rise of Church-State Alliances: Imperial Edicts & Church Councils: 306-565

TOC: The Rise of Protestant Alliances of Church and State

The Constitution and the Commandments

The Classical Temple Architecture of Washington, DC

A History of Religious Tests: 312 to 1961

American Founders on Church-State Alliances

The Bible and the Quran: A Scriptural Comparison

Religion and Women's Suffrage

Religious Tradition and Interracial Marriages

Slavery and the Churches

Gays & Social Conservatism as a Coercive Tool of the State

Einstein's Religion

The Changing Religious Identification of America

Moral Hypocrisy in the Bible Belt

Ring Species, Evolution and why Intelligent Design isn't science.

Who am I : Why this project? : Contact me


Court Holdings on Church and State

Historical Revisionism: On David Barton's Christian Nation

Biblical Archeology Review Special: Captivity, Exodus, and Conquest

Sexual Orientation in Nature

The Biological Basis of Morality by Edward O. Wilson


Buy High Quality PolarTech 200 Fleece Headwear From the Author

The Slaves of Jefferson and Washington and the 1782 Virginia Law of Manumission

Christian Reconstructionist David Barton claims the law prevented them from freeing them.

In an email regarding my website, I was challenged to refute a claim by the "Christian nation" propagandist David Barton. It regarded Jefferson, Washington and their continued keeping of slaves throughout their lives.

After I said it was ridiculous to claim that Washington and Jefferson couldn't free slaves the writer demanded of me to support my claims:

"Prove this with primary sources. Prove that state law didn't make it especially difficult to provide emancipation for slaves. Prove that George Washington didn't inherit slaves. Prove that it was easy within Virginia law to free slaves. You talk about not quoting correctly within time lines, but yet you don't know this? Prove that George Washington had another way of freeing slaves without selling them. Prove that George Washington didn't care if he split up slaves families. ....... As for Jefferson, prove that it was easy for him to free slaves within his state law. Prove the majority of Founders upheld slavery."

First of all, I don't disagree with the poster that Washington inherited slaves and that he tried to keep the families together. Even the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian sought to keep slave families intact; it was the Christian Emperor Constantine that allowed families to be split up, including the sale of babies. Only a stony heart can miss the important need for slaves to have family cohesion. What else did they have?

The Barton "cut and paste" was a paragraph from this article at his Wallbuilders website. The paragraph goes like this:

"As Jefferson and Washington sought to liberalize the State's slavery laws to make it easier to free slaves,the State Legislature went inexactly the opposite direction, passing laws making it more difficult to free slaves. (As one example, Washington was able to circumvent State laws by freeing his slaves in his will at his death in 1799; by the time of Jefferson's death in 1826, State laws had so stiffened that it had become virtually impossible for Jefferson to use the same means.)"

I guess it was something I said about the founders not going far enough for liberty and equality with slaves and women that riled the writer. The writer belongs to that glassy eyed segment of society that sees the founders as pure saints of liberty. But as any reasoning person knows, slavery and keeping the vote from women went directly against the principles of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. These views reflected the traditions of racism and sexism still alive in this so-called age of enlightenment. Bigotry, religious, racial and gender based did not end with the constitutional ban on religious tests for oaths of office or the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Tradition and prejudice were too deep and needed jolt after jolt, decade after decade, in order to awake society to its new legal ethic. That is the beauty of the Supreme Court's authority under the US Constitution. It has the authority to take the constitution seriously, over tradition, in making its rulings. At times we have seen justices cite tradition but no tradition can hold the power of the law unless it complies with the principles of the Constitution. We have to be careful in how we address "case law". (The Supreme Court justice who authored the hailed "lemon test" for first amendment issues suspended it for "tradition" in a later ruling.) Even before the 14th Amendment was passed, the 6th Article of the original US Constitution forbade the constitutions, legislatures and judiciaries of the several states to make any law contrary to the US Constitution. For most of a century, arrogant narrow minded state leaders ignored this just as they did a similar clause in the Articles of Confederation. Not only was the Supreme Law clause ignored, section 3 of the 6th Article banning religious tests for oaths of office was ignored. New Hampshire required those in government to be Protestant until 1877 when it finally complied with the 14th Amendment by removing the Protestant requirement. From the time it was chartered as a European entity until 1961, Maryland's constitution required government officials to profess a belief in God. Wisely, favoring the constitution's clear mandate over tradition's strictures, it was ruled a violation of the constitution by the US Supreme Court.

Jefferson himself thought whites superior to blacks and supported freedom with repatriation to Africa. This is how Liberia came into existence through the eventual founding in 1821 of The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America. It was a fairly strong movement for many years prior to the The American Colonization Society's founding.

Washington and Jefferson owned slaves till they died. I know they had mixed feelings on the issue but they did not walk the talk and actually free their own slaves. Jefferson had around 187 slaves and freed seven by the time of his death. If he could free seven it stands to reason that he could free others. He did not. The laws of 1826 don't mean anything when we are talking of liberty viewpoints beginning during the revolution and ratification periods. The Declaration of Independence was penned 50 years prior to 1826 and Jefferson owned slaves for the entire time so citing 1826 laws of the year he died is a deceptive tactic. Barton tells us that while Jefferson and Washington were trying to liberalize the state's slavery laws, the legislature went in the opposite direction. HELLO? This is a intentional falsehood if Barton actually researches these issues. Believing his own fairy tale version of American history has skewered his honesty. The first thing I addressed was his claim that Virginia State Law made it especially difficult to free slaves. Its what Barton omits that is telling.


These were tough times right before the treaty that ended the revolutionary war but they still did not free their slaves when they had the chance. And they could have, beginning with the enactment of Virginia's 1782 Manumission law which survived intact for 24 years before it was radically tightened. Before Washing died in 1799, he had17 years to free any slave he wished. It stated:

"That all slaves so set free, not being in the judgment of the court, of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty-one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate" (From Hening, The Statutes at Large, XI, 39; passed and in effect, May 1782)


"Over the course of his lifetime, he freed only seven slaves - two before he died and five in his will. All were slaves who had learned a trade on his plantation." ..."He justified this by saying it would be cruel to free slaves who had no training to survive in the white world. Jefferson also seemed to feel strongly that mixing of blacks and whites was wrong, and that if slaves were emancipated, they should be shipped out of Virginia." ..."He would have always agreed with the sentiment for freeing slaves,Taylor said. ``But we would like to have seen him put his money where his mouth is."

When you consider the period from the time Jefferson first attacked slavery and his death fifty years later, he did not walk the talk but made excuses. Attacking the institution of slavery in the Declaration of Independence, the slavery clauses were removed from it by the demands of the representatives of the southern slave holding interests. These special interest groups were like Protestants in history that demanded religious freedom but denied it to others. Jefferson capitalized some words to send a message to the King and the Parliament:

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be sought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people for whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people,with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of another."

Jefferson had 50 years to walk the talk but failed to do so. A great window of opportunity had opened from 1782 to 1806 but next to nothing was done by Jefferson; thousands of other slaves were freed by their masters. Where was Tom? James Sidbury wrote on page 34 in his book, From Plough shares Into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel's Virginia, 1730-1810, which deals with the Manumission Law of 1782, "The Manumission law of 1782 was the most impressive benefit that Virginians of African American descent acquired through the revolution, a benefit effectively revoked in 1806. The 1782 law repealed the prohibition on private acts of manumission by allowing slave owners to free their slaves by will or deed."

The fact is that Jefferson did not really try to free his slaves when he could between 1782 and 1806. Washington could have, too. While some slaves might have preferred being a slave of Jefferson's over the unsure life of a free black, its unreasonable to think they all wished to stay slaves. He had 187 slaves when he died. Its not that easy to say the founders didn't believe in slavery because their actions tell a different story. Some did; some did not.

Jefferson's say one thing and do another is sort of maddening. He was certainly torn by this issue and could never make a solid stand. From the Library ofCongress exhibit on Jefferson, we read:

"In seeking to establish, what he called "an empire for liberty," Jefferson influenced the country's policies toward Native Americans and the extension of slavery into the West. Despite a life-long interest in Native American culture, President Jefferson advocated policies that would dislocate Native Americans and their way of life. In 1784, Jefferson opposed the extension of slavery into the northwest territory [Ohio, etc], but he later supported its westward extension because he feared that any restriction of slavery could lead to a civil war and an end to the nation. At the end of his presidency,Jefferson looked forward to a United States that spread across the entire continent of North America.

Washington also had fears regarding slavery splitting the nation. But Washington also ignored the opportunities of the liberal and ethical 1782 law. Thousands of slaves were freed but no harm to the nation or the State of Virginia came from it.

From the same page of the Library of Congress exhibit on Jefferson there is a section titled Banon slavery and involuntary servitude in western territories. It states:

"Thomas Jefferson drafted the March 1, 1784,Congressional committee report proposing a ban on slavery and involuntary servitude in the federal territory. The draft ordinance provided "that after the year 1800 of the christian æra, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states,otherwise than in punishment of crimes . . . ." Although the southern states in Congress successfully deleted this paragraph in 1784, a similar prohibition was included in the final ordinance adopted by Congress in 1787.

And again, as they did in 1776, the southern slavers demanded the removal of such language. But did Jefferson free his slaves after the Manumission law of 1782. No. This is such a troubling aspect of a brilliant man. But being a politician, too, like Washington, they had weak backbones on many political issues. They were people who, overly cautious, avoided rocking the boat of the new nation at all costs, including the freedom of slaves. But the Civil War did come and the nation ruptured. They should have gambled in this earlier period, but to be fair, they didn't have crystal balls.

Notice how close Jefferson's law's words are to the language of the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery in 1865. "Amendment 13. Sect. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

John R.McKivigan & Mitchell Snay wrote in their1998 book Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery on page 37; "Virginia's manumission law of 1782 was the most liberal one south of the Mason-Dixon line. It allowed masters to free thousands of slaves, and as result, Virginia's free black population rose dramatically from 3000 in 1780 to 30,000 in 1810 (9). St George Tucker's famous pamphlet, A Dissertation on Slavery with a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of It in the State of Virginia, passionately attacked slavery as contrary to natural law. In each of these examples, however, the limits of antislavery sentiment and action baldly stand out. Jefferson freed but a handful of his slaves and did little to end slavery in Virginia (11)While numerous Virginians did free slave sunder the 1782 manumission law, these individual manumissions did not affect slavery on the whole;Virginia's slave population rose even more dramatically than its free black population,from 250,000 in 1780 to 400,000 in 1810. The Virginia House of Delegates would not even discuss Tucker's plan. Virginia's religious denominations, like its political culture, did indeed contain the seeds of genuine antislavery sentiment. But those denominations,like the wider culture, were less than fertile grounds for the growth of antislavery ideology; they proved to be considerably more hospitable to far more broadly planted and deeply rooted proslavery beliefs."

Barton claims that Washington willed his slaves their freedom to get around the law. What law? Well, the law in Virginia for 17 years before his death allowed him to free his slaves of mentally and physically competent adults at will.

The conditions of manumission changed after 1806 but its nonsense to believe that freedom was impossible for African Americans. More difficult, but not impossible. Being forced to leave the state, many free blacks moved north to places like Massachusetts where slavery was outlawed early. And what were the excuses for not freeing their slaves during the 1782 law's period of legitimacy. These are issues we need to research thoroughly. Barton's writings are no place to get thorough or honest explanations for complex social and cultural situations.

The 1806 manumission law ended the very liberal 1782 law by ordering freed slaves to leave Virginia or forfeit their freedom. "If any slave hereafter emancipated shall remain within this commonwealth more than twelve months after his or her right to freedom shall have accrued, he or she shall forfeit all such right,and may be apprehended and sold by the overseers of the poor of any county or corporation in which he or she shall be found, for the benefit of the poor of such county or corporation." (From Shepherd, Statutes at Large, III,252; passed January 25, 1806; in effect May 1, 1806.)

The 1816 manumission law amended it to allow the slave owner to petition for the freed slaves to remain in Virginia with their families and ties to their community. Most humane slave owners, like Washington,kept families together. The petition reads "I humbly and earnestly request of the legislature of Virginia a confirmation of the bequest of freedom to these servants, with permission to remain in this state where their families and connections are as an additional instance of the favor, of which I have received as many other manifestations in the course of my life, and for which I now give them my last solemn, and dutiful, thanks."

The Bible not once speaks out against the institution of slavery so churches had permission right from their holy writ. It regulates it with rules in the Pentateuch of the Old Testament. It even discriminates against women slaves, men going free after 6 years, women being slaves for life. In the New Testament the excuse used by the churches is separation of Caesar and God. And it says to slaves,just as it does to wives, to obey your master or husband as they obey Christ. Women are told to keep quiet in church and can't be teachers of the Gospel. Nothing about the immorality and injustice of slavery is suggested in the self-declared Word of God. And like other ancient southern and southwestern Asian cultures, men of the Old Testament sold their daughters into slavery.

Look more carefully at the rights of slaves compared to the rights of citizens. Those translations that use "servant" are clearly obfuscating. And look at the way the death of a slave is handled. There is no equality under the law, no eye for an eye for the slave in 99% of cases. From the Old Testament's support and regulation of slavery to the Council of Elvira to European slave masters, slaves have been denied their human worth and society's respect of their self dignity and determination. For the longest time, casual killing of a slave was not a serious crime. The Canons of Elvira are indeed sinister and lack basic humanity. Very similar to the Old Testament, Canon 5 states:

"If a woman beats her servant and causes death within three days, she shall undergo seven years' penance if the injury was inflicted on purpose and five years' if it was accidental. She shall not receive communion during this penance unless she becomes ill. If so, she may receive communion."As you can see, right from the start of the Christianization of Europe, slaves were treated as subhuman.

When we saw black servants in the deep south's slavery period, they were slaves with few rights. Reflecting the bigotry of the times, the lighter skinned slaves could become household slaves instead of working in the fields. The original Constitution, like the Bible, considered them property. Slaves were addressed with real estate laws whenever part of business deals.

From The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice: Its Distinctive Features shown by Its Statutes, Judicial Decisions, and Illustrative Facts.

"The great majority of slaves, male and female, labor on plantations, under the charge of these overseers. The house servants, as already seen by the statute of Louisiana, are under absolute subjection to every member of the family. Slaves hired out,waiters at hotels, &c., are, in this particular, in no better condition. Almost every where, they are controlled by others, in addition to the direct control of their owners.

From Review of Eva Sheppard Wolf's Race and Liberty in the New Nation: Emancipation in Virginia from the Revolution to Nat Turner's Rebellion

"Whatever the motivation of Virginia's manumitters, white Virginians found themselves bedeviled by the racial implications of emancipation. Wolf covers more familiar ground in examining the racial logic of Jefferson's desire to couple emancipation with deportation and St. George Tucker's glacially gradual plan for abolition. The author's central point is that the growth of the free black population in Virginia had a blowback effect; as the free black population increased and as the Tidewater economy declined, fears of "social disorder" emerged (p. 113). The revolutionary violence of St. Domingue and the exposure of Gabriel's plot against Richmond further fanned the flames of fear. Free blacks and the manumission law itself became targets, indeed scapegoats, of reaction. In 1806 the Virginia legislature averted by a mere two votes a total prohibition of manumission, instead opting for the Jeffersonian formula of linking any further emancipations to exile. Virginia's twenty-four-year experiment with, by their own historical standards, liberal manumission law came to an end." "The two concluding chapters of Wolf's study make clear that it was not the plight of people like Samuel Johnson that a developing cohort of antislavery politicians had in mind when, during the late 1820s, they began to question the role of slavery in Virginia. Rather, eastern elites themselves introduced slavery into the debate over a new state constitution in 1829 in order to counter western impatience with the disproportionate political power of the Tidewater. Easterners feared western efforts to expand the franchise by eliminating property holding requirements, so that far more white men in the west could vote. They also feared plans to reapportion the legislature to reflect white populations, which would have deprived the eastern regions of Virginia of the population advantage gained from its large number of slaves. Wolf indicates that conservatives beat back the call for electoral reform by raising the specter of abolition and by asserting that the egalitarian rhetoric of westerners, taken to its logical ends, would enfranchise free blacks, as well as women. Thus, according to Wolf, the defense of slavery forced eastern conservatives to refashion the ideals of the American Revolution as dedicated to the preservation of property rather than the extension of liberty. The two-fold effect of this ideological retrenchment was to blunt the western constitutional agenda and to inspire amongst many westerners an incipient free-soil philosophy that made them even more hostile to slaveholder interests."