Sabbath Observance

Sabbath Observance

S.P. Letter to the Editor. New Harmony Gazette, 1:10 (Nov. 20, 1825): 76. Commenting on Sabbath Day laws, S.P. concludes, “I see no interest that is served by legislative interference to enforce the observance of the Sabbath, (thus shackling the consciences of those who observe not set days and forms) but that of men who preach the gospel for hire and sell the light of the spirit for sordid gold; and since the Sabbath law gives the preference to particular sects, I again pronounce it unconstitutional, and sincerely hope at the next sitting of the legislature it will be repealed.”

A Back-Woodsman. Letter to the Editor. New Harmony Gazette, 1:15 (Jan. 4, 1826): 114-15. Calling for the repeal of the Sabbath law, the correspondent contends that so long as “some of our citizens, contrary to their conscience, [are made to] observe the set days of ceremonies of sectarians, for which they have no peculiar reverence,” we remain slaves to the opinions of the majority sect.

George Houston. “On the Observance of Sunday.” The Correspondent, 2:7-8 (Sept. 8-15, 1827): 105-09, 121-27. Houston begins with the following observation: “Of such magnitude, indeed, does superstition regard a strict observance of the Sabbath, that its votaries have openly avowed their determination to oppose the appointment to public office of every person who refuses to subscribe to their puritanical ideas; thus endeavoring, in opposition to our natural rights, to introduce a religious test, to fill a civil office, every way hostile to the spirit as well as to the letter of our free institutions.”

R.D. Editorial. New Harmony Gazette, 3:26 (Apr. 23, 1828): 206-07. The editor begins, “I have read the Bible several times; and I declare, upon my honesty that I do not think either Jesus or Paul would have joined this Sabbath Association. Jesus, if I recollect aright, was charged by the Jews with Sabbath breaking. So far from denying the charge, he defended it; and wisely remarked, “that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.””

 “Corporation of the City of New York vs. Miles Chambers.” The Correspondent, 3:18 (May 24, 1828): 285-88. This article reports the court’s proceedings (arguments, examination of witnesses, opinion of the court, and disposition) in a case involving an alleged violation of New York City’s Sabbath law.

Benjamin Offen. “Sunday Law. An Address.” The Correspondent, 3:21 (June 14, 1828): 328-32. Delivered at Bethel Academy, Elizabeth Street in New York City on June 1, 1828. Offen examines New York City’s Sunday law “in three lights- as a civil ordinance, as a moral ordinance, and as a religious ordinance.”

“United States Mail” and “Reactions.” The Correspondent, 4:23-24, 26 (Dec. 27, 1828; Jan. 3, 17 1829): 380-83, 397-98, 426-29. These articles feature meeting proceedings from Rochester, Lockport, Lewiston, Geneva and Buffalo on the Presbyterians’ attempts to prevent the transportation of the mails and the opening of post offices on Sundays.

“Sunday Mail.” The Correspondent, 5:2 (Jan. 31, 1829): 23-28. This article features the U.S. Senate Committee Report submitted by Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky on the transportation of the mail on the Sabbath, dated January 29, 1829. The report finds that “Should congress in their legislative capacity, adopt the sentiment, it would establish the principle, that the legislature is a proper tribunal to determine what are the laws of God. It would involve a legislative decision in a religious controversy; and on a point in which good citizens may honestly differ in opinion, without disturbing the peace of society, or endangering its liberties. If this principle is once introduced, it will be impossible to define its bounds. Among all the religious persecutions with which almost every page of modern history is stained, no victim ever suffered, but for the violation of what government denominated the laws of God.”[1]

R.D.O. “Liberty of the Citizen.” The Free Enquirer, 1:13 (Jan. 21, 1829): 102-03. Owen reports an “attempt to prevent barbers from carrying on their avocations on the first day of the week [in Cincinnati].”

“Sunday Mail.” The Correspondent, 5:3 (Feb. 7, 1829): 45-47. This article includes the preamble and resolutions adopted during a Sunday mail meeting at Tammany Hall in New York City.

 F.W. “Public Outrage.” The Free Enquirer, 1:49 (Sept. 30, 1829): 391. Wright expresses outrage over the arrest and subsequent fine of Bostonian Joshua Temple for keeping open his shop on the Sabbath.

F.W. “Introductory Remarks.” The Free Enquirer, 1:51 (Oct. 14, 1829): 401-02. Delivered at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, September 25, 1829, after she was prevented from lecturing on Sunday. Wright exclaims “Surely it is time, in this land at least, to leave the conscience free and to secure the rights of individuals and those of the people at large, against the intermeddling of priests and the tyranny of unconstitutional statutes. With the free agency of the clergy no law and no influence interferes. . . . And if the people see good to assemble on their day of leisure for the study of their interests, let none presume to question their liberty!”

“Petition. To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress Assembled.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 1:8 (Dec. 19, 1829): 4. The petitioners representing Jews, Baptists, Tunkers, Quakers, etc. prayed for the suspension of the transportation of the mail on the holy Sabbath, which they identify as the seventh day of the week, commonly called Saturday.

Cornelius C. Blatchly. “Sabbath Mail Concern.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 1:8-9 (Dec. 19-26, 1829). Blatchly simply asks “If the first day is made the Christian Sabbath, are not Jews and seventh day sabbatarians as much imposed on as Presbyterians would be, if congress made the seventh day the Sabbath? . . . . Shall some sects be thus allowed to oppress others whose Sabbath is another day?”

“To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress Assembled.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 1:9 (Dec. 26, 1829): 1. Signed by Abdal Ruhamey “and all other faithful Mussulmen in the United States” request that the mail no longer be transported on their day of worship- Friday. The editor introduces the petition by commenting, “Where this sabbath petitioning will end, we know not. Three days of the seven are already bespoke, besides all the extra feast days and fast days, and holy and thanksgiving days which custom sanctions or pious governors recommend; but we should not be surprised if our red brethren of the forest hold councils on the occasion, and our congressional table groan with sabbath petitions from the Mohawks, Seneccas, the Creeks, the Cherokees, the Sacs and Pawnies, from here south and west to Mexico’s gulf, the Rocky mountains, or even the Pacific ocean.”

“Sunday Mails.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 1:10 (Jan. 2, 1830): 2. Signed by Robert Bogradus, Andrew S. Garr, and Aaron Leggett. The authors make clear they are not opposed to a day of rest from labor but rather efforts to compel others to observe one day a week as a religious Sabbath day. They sum up the principle underlying their opposition by stating “When we see any religious sect endeavoring to effect legislative enactments, to favor their own particular sectarian views of religious duty; to oppose their measures, and disappoint their purpose, is necessary to the support of the principles of our free government, and the preservation of the equal rights of other persons, and other religious sects.”

“Sunday Mails.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 1:10 (Jan. 2, 1830): 4. Extracts from an address delivered at Tammany Hall, Jan. 31, 1829. The speaker declares, “That men who attempt to influence the legislature to pass an act which would “favor their own particular views of religious duty,” and whose measures “are calculated to prepare the way for the establishment of a national religion,” are truly and emphatically, in principle, action, and character, real and rank Tories . . . .”

 “Sunday Mails.” Delaware Free Press, 1:10 (Mar. 6, 1830): 2. Featured are two articles on the “Sunday Mails.” In the first article, Justitia states, “The question now before Congress, touching the running of the mails and opening the post office on Sundays, is one eminently entitled to our most mature consideration; it involves a religious controversy- proposes to establish religion’s preference- and will, if the prayer of the memorialists be granted, determine what is and what is not the law of God. Every true republican, therefore, should use all his influence, and exert every energy to defeat the accomplishment of so dangerous a scheme.” In the second, “An American” exclaims, “When Congress shall dare decide upon what is the law of God in religious matters, then shall priestcraft reign triumphantly.”

“Sunday Mail Question.” The Free Enquirer, 2:22 (Mar. 27, 1830): 169-72. Features the Report on Sunday Mails issued by Richard M. Johnson, chairman of the House Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads, followed by Rep. William McCreery’s Adverse Report.[2]

“Richard M. Johnson.” And “Sunday Mails.” Delaware Free Press, 2:9 (Feb. 26, 1831): 1. Included here is a letter from Representative Johnson in reply to a remonstrance against stopping the mails on Sunday, submitted by the citizens of Pittsburgh, and a resolution from the Illinois state Senate also opposing the stopping of the mails on Sunday.

“Sunday Mails.” Delaware Free Press, 2:11-12 (Mar. 12-19, 1831). An extract of an article written by Judge Hopkinson, from the American Quarterly Review, reprinted from the Philadelphia Crisis with commentary. Hopkinson remarks, “These good people who prescribe to others how they shall keep the Sabbath . . . . would deem themselves and their dearest rights to be outraged beyond endurance, if any such attempts were made to direct and control their opinions and conduct. . . . But it never occurs to them, that they are exercising the same tyranny over the freedom of opinion and the rights of conscience, when they would prohibit others from doing what they truly and conscientiously believe to be innocent and useful.”

Your Fellow Citizen. “To the Liberals of All Parties.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 2:32 (Mar. 26, 1831): 1. Referring to New York City’s Sabbath day law, the author asks, “Shall we, who made such a gorgeous display in celebration of French regeneration, still allow a most outrageous inroad on our liberties to remain . . . . Tell it not to Paris, nor let it be known at Brussels, that the boasted freemen of New York, who congratulate others on their exertions for liberty, still allow in silence their own liberties to be invaded by their streets being chained up one day in seven for the supposed benefit of some sects, while for others who keep sacred the seventh day, no chains dare be put up; thus, in defiance of our constitution, giving a “preference” to some religious creeds.”

“Sabbath Mails and Sabbath Carriages.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 2:41 (May 28, 1831): 1. The editors highlight the hypocrisy of those who oppose the carrying of the mails on Sunday but not the employment of grooms, footmen, and carriage horses to transport churchgoers. The editorial concludes by asking, “Can we avoid the conclusion, that the whole mail-stopping scheme is but a deep laid plan to strengthen ecclesiastical influence, and connect temporal things with spiritual?”

“Sunday Mails.” Liberal Advocate, 2:3:5 (Mar. 24, 1832): 40. Reprinted from the Planter’s Gazette (Montgomery, Al.); a petition from the Alabama Baptist Association opposing the suspension of the transportation of the mails on Sunday.

On this page is a report concerning Rochester city council’s attempts to adopt a Sabbath day law. Liberal Advocate, 4:1:8 (July 26, 1834): 61.

“Connecticut “Blue Laws” Revived.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 6:25 (Jan. 31, 1835): 1. This article reports the arrest of Joseph C. Dean in Connecticut for fishing on the Sabbath.

A reprinting of a letter from J.C. Dean Jr. to the editor of the Herald of Reason. Ohio Watchman, 1:3 (Mar. 28, 1835): 4. Dean reports on the conditions of Litchfield jail where he was imprisoned for fishing on a Sunday.

“Petition to Abolish the Sabbath Law.” Cleveland Liberalist, 1:7 (Oct. 29, 1836): 56. A petition submitted to the legislature of Ohio.

Samuel Underhill. “Remarks on “Kingbury on the Sabbath.” Cleveland Liberalist, 1:14 (Dec. 17, 1836): 110-11. Underhill remarks, “You seem to forget that our rights are equal, and that the feelings of Jews, Pagans and Mahometans, their rights, and even those of the Infidel are deemed equally precious and are equally entitled to protection with your own. I like to see people live up to their faith, be it what it may, so long as it interferes not with their neighbors’ equally sacred rights.”

Godfrey Higgins. “Horae sabbaticae: Or, an Attempt to Correct Certain Superstitious and Vulgar Errors Respecting the Sabbath.” The Boston Investigator, 431- 436 (June 26- July 31, 1839). Godfrey provides numerous arguments, from Christian authorities, to prove that the Sabbath is a human institution.

William K. Griffin. “A Speech.” The Boston Investigator, 614 (Feb. 22, 1843): 1. A speech delivered in his own defense, on an indictment of Sabbath-breaking, before a Circuit Court in Kentucky. In addition to arguing that the Sabbatical law violated the establishment clause of the first amendment, Griffin asks, “Can it be said that we enjoy that sacred republican liberty, when we are compelled to remain fifty-two days in every year of our lives, screwed up in a state of penal quiescence; and that, too, for no other conceivable motive but to preserve the sanctity of a religious institution? And how grievously is our ‘pursuit of happiness’ obstructed, when for sixteen waking hours, all employment of a profitable or amusing character is prohibited.”

A Sceptic. “Sabbath Breaking.” The Boston Investigator, 678-79 (May 15-22, 1844). Noting the numerous attempts throughout the states to enact Sabbath laws, the author argues that “in this land of liberty every man has a right to entertain whatever opinions he deems reasonable; by which we must also understand that he has a right to act in conformity to those opinions, except when such actions would be a crime in its proper sense.”

Orson S. Murray. “The Sabbath.” The Regenerator, 25 (June 15, 1844): 98-99. Murray exclaims that the Sabbath “is a day for gluttony and lounging. For extravagance of dress, decoration and display. For smothering thought and suppressing speech. For the promotion of creedism and caste. For filling the world with fear and torment, with hatred and maliciousness, with anything but knowledge and good will. For exalting useless forms and senseless ceremonies, over moral excellence and practical goodness.”

“Persecution Among the Green Hills of Vermont. In Jail for Working Sunday.” The Regenerator, 38 (Sept. 8, 1845): 152. Reprinted from the Herald of Freedom. This article features a letter from jail written by Plymon Seaver chronicling his arrest and imprisonment for laboring on the Sabbath. The article includes the complaint, arrest warrant, and mittimus filed against Seaver.

“To Darius Pride, Esq., (One of the Justices of the Peace within and for the County of Orange, Vermont.).” The Boston Investigator, 747 (Sept. 17, 1845): 2. Outraged by the prosecution and imprisonment of Plymon Seaver for Sabbath-breaking, the author writes, “Oh! shame! shame! a thousand times, to such weak, conservative traitors to humanity! To sit calmly down, as an official menial of despotism, and thus violate the self-evident rights of a brother! To compel him to a religion of love and peace by deeds of hatred and violence,- and to achieve this by a most deadly violation of the common duties of a brother, and of a man! Is there any degradation as galling as this?”

“The Sabbath.” The Boston Investigator, 748 (Sept. 24, 1845): 2. Concerning the Sabbath, the editor writes, “We would not abandon the institution of the Sabbath. Neither would we compel the people by law to observe it in a certain prescribed manner. Public opinion should regulate its observance, and penal statutes should have nothing to do with it. If men choose to preach or to do any other kind of work on that day, we would not interfere with them; but society should not, as it now does, compel men to pay a tax to support a class of men who do the chief of their labor on the Sabbath.”

“Plymon Seaver.” The Boston Investigator, 748 (Sept. 24, 1845): 3. Features a letter from Plymon Seaver in which he reports “The prison was my wearisome home for twenty-nine days. It did not serve to make a Sabbatarian of me by thus denying me of all the sweetest pleasures of life. Every day’s experience confirmed me more and more in the truth of the position I had previously taken. . . . Since I came out, I have pursued the same course in respect to the Sabbath as before. I have labored two or three whole Sundays, right in the face and eyes of popular prejudices, and absurd superstitions. . . . I am not the man to knuckle to such tyranny and usurpation.”[3]

Horace Seaver. “The Sabbath.” The Regenerator, 42 (Nov. 3, 1845):166. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator. Seaver asserts that to set aside a day of rest from labor promotes the happiness of society and adds, “We would not abandon the institution of the Sabbath. Neither would we compel the people by law to observe it in a certain prescribed manner. Public opinion should regulate its observance, and penal statutes should have nothing to do with it.” To which Murray responds, “The Sabbath enforced by public opinion, would be the Sabbath still- a promoter of ignorance- a source of corruption . . . . The Sabbath is only a piece of religion. It never was anything else . . . . I object to it as an object of worship, in all its forms, follies, and frivolities.”

Horace Seaver. “The Sabbath.” The Regenerator, 57 (June 1, 1846): 69-70. In an article reprinted from the Boston Investigator, editor Seaver states, “When we said we were in favor of the Sabbath, we meant that we approved of it simply as a day of rest from business- not to be observed by force of law, in a certain proscribed manner, but according to the disposition of each member of the community. To which Murray replies, “The Sabbath [Seaver] calls for would be no Sabbath at all, divested of what is objectionable in the Sabbath existing. As well might he attempt to mark out a church, a military system, or any other institution for human enslavement, and then say of it, “as we have defined its observance, it is a most benevolent institution, and we are strongly in favor of it.”

Alpha. “Fowler and the Sabbath. Advancing Backwards.” The Regenerator, 58, 60 (June 15, July 13 1846): 82-83, 120-21. The author examines two seemingly contradictory essays by Orson Fowler on the question of the Sabbath, entitled “No Sabbath according to Phrenology” and “The Sabbath Proved, by Phrenology, to be an Ordinance of Nature.”

“C.C. Burleigh in Prison.” The Regenerator, 80 (April 19, 1847): 19. Reprinted from the Pioneer and Herald of Freedom, this short article reports Burleigh’s imprisonment twice within a few weeks for selling books “devoted to the reforms of the day” on the Sabbath.

“Anti-Sabbath Convention.” The Boston Investigator, 871 (Feb. 2, 1848): 4. Reprinted from The Liberator and signed by William Lloyd Garrison, James Mott, Lucretia Mott et al. This call for an Anti-Sabbath Convention declares “That all penal laws respecting the religious observance of any day as the Sabbath are despotic and Anti-Christian and ought to be immediately abrogated. That the interference of the State, in matters of religious faith and outward observances, is not only unwarrantable, but an usurpation not to be tolerated.”[4]

“The Sabbath and Sabbath Laws.” The Regenerator, 101 (Feb. 21, 1848): 354. The article tells of the arrest and ultimate fine of omnibus drivers for “working at common labor on Sunday.”

W.J. Boden. “The Sabbath.” The Boston Investigator, 878 (Apr. 5, 1848): 1. Boden asks “Why should we, professed republicans, constantly prating about religious liberty and equal rights, by penalties enforce the observance of any religious ceremonies, the observance or non-observance of which does not interfere at all with the rights and happiness of others?”

“Anti-Sabbath Convention.” The Boston Investigator, 879 (Apr. 12, 1848): 4. This article reports twenty resolutions offered by William Lloyd Garrison and adopted during an anti-Sabbath convention convened in Boston. Most notably, the attendees resolved to “recommend to all the friends of religious liberty throughout the country, the presentation of petitions to the next Legislature, in every State in which such laws exist, praying for their immediate repeal, and protesting against their enactment, as an unhallowed union of Church and State.”

“Atrocious Outrage.” The Regenerator, 125 (Mar. 15, 1849): 330. Featured under this title is a letter from Henry C. Wright to Garrison, reprinted from The Liberator, which invites readers to attend the Anti-Sabbath Convention and expresses outrage over the arrest of newsboys for selling newspapers on Sunday.

 “The Church and the Press.” Age of Reason, 4:4 (Feb. 15, 1850): 56-59. Eckler reports that 15,000 people congregated in front of city hall to oppose efforts to prevent the publication and distribution of newspapers on Sundays and reprints a series of resolutions read by Michael Madden on behalf of the newsboys of New York including a resolution thanking New York papers for freely publicizing the meeting and thereby enabling the newsboys to “maintain our constitutionally guaranteed rights, against fanaticism, intolerance and bigotry which know no law but that of despotism, and are controlled by no principle but that of hypocrisy and selfishness.”

 Gilbert Vale. “The Manner of Keeping the Sabbath and Sunday Laws.” The Regenerator, 144 (Oct. 1850): 241-2. Vale states, “We approve of it [the Sabbath] as a political Institution, as a day of rest and rational enjoyment for the poor; and we would have everything done to promote that rest and that enjoyment. We would too, let everyone keep it in his own way, provided that his liberty did not interfere with the equal liberty of every other man, to keep the Sabbath after his own conscientious manner.”

 “Sunday Law, Petition to the Legislature of the State of New-York.” Independent Beacon, 1:18 (Apr. 1850): 576-79. In commenting upon the petition, Vale recalls the arrest of some Germans attending a Sunday dance at a boarding house and remarks, “It is time to abolish these stupid Sunday Laws, and to administer an equal justice. No partiality. No billiards or grog for the rich on a Sunday, and a prison for the rustic poor just landed, and ignorant of our language and customs.”

“The Sabbath.” The Boston Investigator, 1171-78 (Nov. 2-Dec. 21, 1853). Through this series, the editor identifies what he believes to be the evils of the present observance of the Sabbath, including, the lack of toleration of any activity other than the attendance of religious services, the belief that attending a religious service satisfies one’s moral obligations for the week to come, universal hypocrisy, and the resort to private vice for amusement. The editor ends the series by proposing the establishment of a Sabbath Lyceum.

“A Decision Against the Sunday Law.” The Boston Investigator, 1420 (Aug. 14, 1858). Extract from a decision of the California Supreme Court, authored by Judge Burnett, declaring the state’s Sunday law unconstitutional.[5]

“Religious Persecution of Wm. Coates.” The Boston Investigator, 1438 (Dec. 15, 1858): 1. The article reports how a portion of the household goods of William Coates, a citizen of Boonton, New Jersey, were sold by a constable to satisfy an execution for fine and costs under a charge of laboring on the Sabbath.

“Agitation of the Sunday Question.” The Boston Investigator, 1473 (Aug. 17, 1859): 131. Reprinted from the N.Y. Sunday Atlas. The article reports that more than fifteen thousand “quiet and orderly citizens” gathered in Philadelphia in support of “carrying the Sunday question to the ballot boxes, with a view of compelling the next Legislature of the State to wipe from the statute books all laws relating to the observance of Sunday as a religious institution.”

“The Anti-Sabbatarian Movement.” The Boston Investigator, 1480 (Oct. 5, 1859): 187. Reprinted from the New York Herald. The article features a number of resolutions adopted by a gathering of two to three thousand Americans and Germans opposed to New York’s Sunday laws, held at the Volks Garten. The meeting was organized by The American Society for Promoting Civil and Religious Liberty and the German Association for Resisting all Arbitrary Sunday and Prohibitory Laws.

“Sunday Laws.” The Boston Investigator, 1508 (Apr. 18, 1860): 412. Reprinted from the New York Herald; features an anti-Sunday law petition submitted to the New York legislature, signed by a thousand people. The article mentions that a similar petition, with several thousand German signatures, was also forwarded to the New York legislature.


[1] Also published in The Free Enquirer, 1:4 (Nov. 19, 1828): 30-31.

[2] Also published in “Congressional. House of Representatives. Report.” Delaware Free Press, 1:12 (Mar. 20, 1830): 1-2; William McCreery. “Congressional. House of Representatives.” Delaware Free Press, 1:13 (Mar. 27, 1830): 1-2; and “Sunday Mails.” The Working Man’s Advocate, 1:21 (Mar. 20, 1830): 1-2.

[3] Also published in “Plymon Seaver.” The Regenerator, 40 (Oct. 6, 1845): 158-59.

[4] Also published in “Anti-Sabbath Convention.” The Regenerator, 105-07 (May 1-June 1, 1848): 2-3, 22-23, 33-34

[5] See, Ex Parte Newman, 9 Cal. 502 (1858).