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Exhibition Join In: Voluntary Assocations in America

Laws Enacted in the Second Sitting of the Seventh General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [. . .]. An Act Incorporating the Presbyterian Congregation of Newtown in the County of Bucks. [Philadelphia]: Hall and Sellers, [1783]. Law Library of Congress (112.00.00)

Incorporating Churches

Churches also drew on available tools for making associations. During the first decades of independence, many church communities, such as the Presbyterian Congregation of Newtown, Pennsylvania sought formal incorporation from state authorities. This gave the church rights similar to those of private business corporations, public utilities, and voluntary associations, among which for example was the ability to own and convey property. Typically, churches asked the state legislature to approve an act of incorporation, which stated the churches’ trustees, purpose, rights, and requirements in detail. In the 1790s, some states enacted general incorporation laws for religious organizations so that churches could organize without a special act by the legislature.