Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 October 2021
Massachusetts was the last of the original thirteen American states to disestablish religion. Its 1780 constitution guaranteed freedom and equality to all peaceable private religions but also retained a “mild and equitable establishment” featuring (1) ceremonial public religious language, symbols, rituals, and oaths, (2) moral instruction in state schools, and 3) state collection of tithes and required religious worship. Lead draftsman John Adams crafted this approach as a political compromise between hardline establishmentarians and radical separationists in his day. But this view also reflected his belief that too little religious freedom is a recipe for hypocrisy and impiety, while too much religious freedom is an invitation to depravity and license. After 1780, this compromise fell apart as religious pluralism and political division over religion grew in the state. Amendments of 1821 and 1833 outlawed religious test oaths, mandatory worship, and state tithe collections, but the state retained its ceremonial and moral establishments.