General James Oglethorpe (1696–1785) conceived a plan to provide a refuge for persecuted Protestants of Europe. On June 9, 1732, he was granted a charter by George II to establish a new colony. Oglethorpe named his colony Georgia. He was motivated primarily from strong Christian principles, which are evident in his denouncement of slavery. In London, in 1734, he praised Georgia for its anti-slavery policy:
“Slavery, the misfortune, if not the dishonor, of other plantations, is absolutely proscribed. Let avarice defend it as it will, there is an honest reluctance in humanity against buying and selling, and regarding those of our species as our wealth and possessions. . . . The name of slavery is here unheard, and every inhabitant is free from unchosen masters and oppression. . . . Slavery is against the gospel as well as the fundamental law of England. We refused, as trustees, to make a law permitting such a horrid crime.”
But, Oglethorpe’s words were not heeded. The “horrid crime” of slavery was soon introduced to Georgia. In 1750 the law prohibiting slavery was repealed and Georgia became a slave-worked plantation colony like its neighbor, South Carolina.
In keeping with the original charter which gave the colonists of Georgia “a liberty of conscience” to worship God, the 1777 Constitution retains its essential religious character. Article VI states that “The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county . . . and they shall be of the Protestant religion.” Article LVI declares that “All persons whatever shall have the free exercise of their religion; provided it be not repugnant to the peace and safety of the State.” Like many of the state constitutions, the Georgia constitution prohibited clergymen from holding seats in the legislature.