Isaac Backus

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Isaac Backus
Isaac Backus.jpg
BornJanuary 9, 1724
Yantic, Connecticut
DiedNovember 20, 1806

Isaac Backus (January 9, 1724 – November 20, 1806) was a leading Baptist preacher during the era of the American Revolution who campaigned against state-established churches in New England.

Born in the village of Yantic, now part of the town of Norwich, Connecticut, Backus was influenced by the Great Awakening and the works of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. He was converted in 1741. For five years, he was a member of a Separatist Congregationalist church. In 1746, he became a preacher. He was ordained in 1748.[1] Backus became a Baptist in 1751 when he became pastor of the Middleborough Baptist Church in Middleborough, Massachusetts.

In 1764, Isaac Backus joined John Brown, Nicholas Brown, William Ellery, Stephen Hopkins, James Manning, Ezra Stiles, Samuel Stillman, Morgan Edwards and several others as an original fellow or trustee for the chartering of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the original name for Brown University), the first Baptist school of higher learning.[2]

American Revolutionary Period[edit]

Considered a leading orator of the "pulpit of the American Revolution", Backus published a sermon in 1773 that articulated his desire for religious liberty and a separation of church and state. Called An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day, in it Backus stated: "Now who can hear Christ declare, that his kingdom is, not of this world, and yet believe that this blending of church and state together can be pleasing to him?"[3]

In 1778, he authored a historically important work entitled Government and Liberty Described and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed of which a copy is held by the John Carter Brown Library at Brown.[4]

During the Ratification Debate[edit]

Backus served as a delegate from Middleborough to the Massachusetts ratifying convention, which ratified the United States Constitution in 1788. In a speech during the convention, Backus praised the constitution for its prohibition of religious tests for federal office holders:

Many appear to be much concerned about it [prohibition of religious tests], but nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the holy scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of Christianity, as an engine of state policy. And let the history of all nations be searched, from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world.[5]

In the same speech Backus also praised the constitution for giving the federal government the power to tax and eventually (after twenty years) regulate or abolish the slave trade.

He voted in favor of ratification.[6]


  1. ^ McLoughlin, William G., Soul Liberty: The Baptists' Struggle in New England, 1630-1833, Hanover: Brown University Press, 1991, p. 250-251.
  2. ^ McLoughlin, William G., Soul Liberty: The Baptists' Struggle in New England, 1630-1833, Hanover: Brown University Press, 1991, p. 250-251.
  3. ^ Isaac Backus, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day, 1773,
  4. ^ Religion and the Founding of the American Republics, Library of Congress, July 23, 2010,
  5. ^ The documentary history of the ratification of the constitution (PDF). VI. Jensen, Merrill., Kaminski, John P., Saladino, Gaspare J. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press. 2000. pp. 1421–1422. ISBN 0870201530. OCLC 1365137. Archived from the original on 2018.
  6. ^ Kaminski, John P.; et al. (2009). The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution Digital Edition. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allison, William Henry. "Isaac Backus." Dictionary of American Biography. Vol I., p. 471. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928, 1943.
  • Backus, Isaac. A History of New England with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists. 2nd ed, with notes by David Weston. 2 vols. Newton, Massachusetts: Backus Historical Society, 1871.
  • The Diary of Isaac Backus. William G. McLoughlin, ed. 3 vol. Providence: Brown University Press, 1979.
  • Grenz, Stanley J. "Church and State: The Legacy of Isaac Backus." Center Journal 2 (Spring 1983): 73-94.
  • "Isaac Backus: Eighteenth Century Light on the Contemporary School Prayer Issue." Perspectives in Religious Studies 13 (Winter, 1986): 35-45.
  • "Isaac Backus and Religious Liberty." Foundations 22 (October/December 1979): 352-360.
  • Isaac Backus, Puritan and Baptist: His Place in History, His Thought, and Their Implications for Modern Baptist Theology. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983.
  • Hovey, Alvah. A Memoir of the Life and Times of the Rev. Isaac Backus, A.M. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1859.
  • Little, David. "American Civil Religion and the Rise of Pluralism." Union Seminary Quarterly Review 38 (3-4, 1984): 401-413.
  • Maston, T.B. Isaac Backus: Pioneer of Religious Liberty. London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1962.
  • McLoughlin, William G. "Isaac Backus and the Separation of Church and State in America." American Historical Review 73 (June, 1968): 1392-1413.
  • The Papers of Isaac Backus, 1630-1806. Leigh Johnsen, ed. 15 microfilm reels. Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest Information and Learning, 2003.
  • Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism: Pamphlets, 1754-1789. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968.
  • Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967.

External links[edit]