Document Type


Publication Title

Buffalo Law Review



Publication Date



federalism; religion; bill of rights; constitution; congress; free exercise


On August 20, 1789, Massachusetts Federalist Fisher Ames rose to address the House of Representatives in one of his rare contributions to the debate on the Bill of Rights. 1 The day before, sitting as a Committee of the Whole, the House had concluded its brief discussion of the proposed religion amendment to the federal Constitution by agreeing to New Hampshire Representative Samuel Livermore's formula that "Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience." 2 Now, on the 20th, before the House could formally adopt Livermore's language, Representative Ames proposed a different wording. He moved that the amendment be altered to read: "Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience." 3 Without explanation or debate, the House accepted his version and quickly moved on to discuss the rights of citizens to bear arms. By the end of the day, the House had dispatched four of the twelve amend-ments pending before it. 4 In the rush, Ames's contribution to the constitutional lexicon passed all but unremarked.