Who among us feels himself so exalted above his fellows, as to have a right to dictate to them their mode of belief?”

Jacob Hnery Speech

Dec. 6, 1809

Back in  1809 Hugh Mills, a Republican,  had a strong case for overturning the election of Jacob Henry, a Federalist, to North Carolina’s State Aseembly.  

You see, Henry was still a  Jew, even though  he had already served a year in the legislature,  owned 300 acres, a town lot, and several slaves.

Henry was the grandson  of a German rabbi.  Mr. Mills argued that the  North Carolina’s constitution  said: “No person who shall deny the being of God, or the Truth of the Protestant religion or the Divine Authority either of the Old or New Testament… shall be capable of holding any Office or Place of Trust or Profit in the Civil Department within this State.”

Mills said Henry’s legislative seat was “contrary to the freedom and independence of our happy and beloved government.”

In the speech on the left, Henry counterattacked.  The speech the passion of the Revolution, the assertions of equality in the Declaration of Independence, and the role the enlightened played for Jews exercising .. for the first  time in over 1700 years ..  true freedom to be a Jew in a non Jewish country.

Henry’s argument  emphasized America’s guarantee of religious liberty: “All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

Henry argued that his inalienable right of religion over rode all denominational tests for government service.  “Who among us feels himself so exalted above his fellows, as to have a right to dictate to them their mode of belief?” and continued “it requires more than human attributes to pronounce which of the numerous sects prevailing in the world is most acceptible [sic] to the Deity.”

Referring to Jewish respect for ethics and law, Henry wrote “This, then, … is my creed, it was impressed upon my infant mind; it has been the director of my youth, the monitor of my manhood, and will, I trust, be the consolation of my old age.”

Jacob Henry’s house.

As Henry sat down, the entire North Carolina House of Commons stood up, in the kind of mass demonstration against anti-Semitism—and against all forms of injustice—we need in some pockets of America today. Sadly, rather than amending their state constitution, the legislators ruled that a seat in the General Assembly was not what the constitution considered an “Office… of Truth or Profit.”  It was not until 1868, during Reconstruction, that North Carolina overturned its law demanding a Protestant oath for public office.


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