James Madison Regarding Religious Duty and Religious Liberty

James Madison Concerning Rights of Conscience or Religious Liberty

James Madison Concerning Rights of Conscience or Religious Liberty (Click to enlarge)

“The moral sense is the first excellence of a well organized man” ~Thomas Jefferson to John Adams 1823

PREFACE:

It isn’t really that hard to understand the Founders and their intent. I grew up among a people “Primitive Christians” who hold the same sentiments as the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers were far from being Anti-Christian, atheists or deists. they were Christians and greatly promoted True Christianity in all they did and said on the subject, they were very religious and very right in their beliefs. Understanding the great depth of their religious beliefs isn’t that complicated to someone who grew up around it.

To begin with, government should never support any religion by taxes. Men who are in the ministry are or should be called by the Lord, Jesus is the Head of the Church, it is by him and only him that men should be lifted up. If the Lord is behind a man’s ministry, the Lord will lay it on peoples hearts to support that minister with their tithes and offerings. The Lord doesn’t need the governments help to support his ministers. nor his people, all the earth belongs to the Lord.

Among the people I grew up with, ministers are not voted for by the people, the people & ministry are not responsible for choosing ministers, God is. If a man feels that he is called to the ministry, he starts preaching, if the Lord has anointed him to be a pastor, teacher, etc., the gift will make room for itself and he will gain as the Holy Ghost reveals the gift to the Saints and members will be added to his church. If the man i.e. minister becomes abusive or if he becomes corrupt, just as the Holy Ghost led people to his church or ministry, again the Holy Ghost will lead them away and to where the Lord would have each individual member, (or lively stones of Christ’s Church as called in scripture), to be, under what ever minister. If the “gift” does not bear fruit, then the “gift” was obviously never a gift and therefore it doesn’t make room for the man. I’ve known a number of men who tried numerous times to start churches, who never had more than a hand-full of people, whose “churches” failed just as many times as they started them. Only the Lord can add to the ministry, and only the Lord can add to his people, or as God gives to his son Christ Jesus.

Our Founding Fathers also expected all school children to learn from the Bible, not only the history found there, but also how to be virtuous, how to act, how to reason, they expected them to be taught the principles of Christ not only at home, but in the public schools and universities. This is why so many of them put so much emphasis on society in America being moral and virtuous, they knew the more corruption, and the greater the lack of integrity among the people, the more numerous the laws and regulations needed to keep society from falling apart and turning on each other like beasts and devouring one another.

The more laws, rules and regulations you need to enforce decent behavior, the less freedom and liberty there will be, to enjoy life and pursue happiness. It’s just that simple.

Paul said in Philippians 1:12-19 “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”

Paul is saying even though Christ is not always preached out of pure motives, nor in truth. He, Paul rejoiced in all, because just by Christ being preached it transforms men, society, etc., and works to the salvation of some who would never have been saved if they had not been exposed to the partial truth preached by others. The name of Christ Jesus ‘higher than all other names’ has the power to change hearts, lives, and destinies. Reminds me of the old hymn, “There’s power in the name of the Lord”.

The Principles of the Bible and more specifically those taught by Jesus were of great value and of great importance to the Founding Fathers. Everything they did in the founding of the United States was based on what they learned from history, what they had experienced at the time they lived and most importantly what they learned from the Bible. There was not a house in colonial America that did not have a well-worn Bible in it. Everything that had been happening in Europe in the last number of centuries led up to the Founding of this great country, the founding of America was the culmination of one of the greatest movements of God that had ever occurred in history. It was also by this education that they expected to end slavery.

Introductory quotes by some of the other Founding Fathers

“To obtain Religious, as well as Civil Liberty, I entered zealously into the Revolution. God grant that this Religious Liberty may be preserved in these States to the end of time.” ~ Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832)

John Adams said in a letter to his wife Abigail dated November 5, 1775, he discourses on the relations of religion to patriotism as follows: “Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty but it is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. A true patriot must be a religious man. I have been led to think . . . that he who neglects his duty to his Maker may well be expected to be deficient and insincere in his duties towards the public. Even suppose him to possess a large share of what is called honor and public spirit, yet do not these men, by their bad example, by a loose immoral conduct, corrupt the minds of youth and vitiate the morals of the age and thus injure the public more than they can compensate by intrepidity, generosity and honor.”

John Adams view of the Christian religion as a factor in political education appears in one of the last entries in his diary: “One great advantage of the Christian religion is, that it brings the great principle of the law of nature and nations—Love your neighbor as yourself, and do to others as you would that others should do to you—to the knowledge, belief, and veneration of the whole people. . . No other institution for education, no kind of political discipline, could diffuse this kind of necessary information, so universally. . . . The duties and rights of the man and the citizen are thus taught from early infancy to every creature.”

“In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to illuminate our understandings 1 In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance ? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this ; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests ; our projects will be confounded ; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Dear Friends, Your reflections on our situation, compared with that of many nations of Europe, are very sensible and just. Let me add, that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.Benjamin Franklin When asked in France what was the secret of statesmanship, he replied: “He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.” About his religion he wrote to Dr. Stiles, President of Yale, as follows: “You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to Him is doing good to His other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.—As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think His system of morals and His religion, as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is like to see.”

“The fundamentals of Christianity as found in the gospels are 1. Faith, 2. Repentance. That faith is every [where ?] explained to be a belief that Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised. Repentance was to be proved sincerely by good works. The advantages accruing to mankind from our Saviour’s mission are these.

  1. The knowledge of one god only.
  2. A clear knowledge of their duty, or system of morality, delivered on such authority as to give it sanction.
  3. The outward forms of religious worship wanted to be purged of that farcical pomp & nonsense with which they were loaded.
  4. An inducement to a pious life, by revealing clearly a future existence in bliss, & that it was to be the reward of the virtuous.

The Epistles were written to persons already Christians. A person might be a Christian then before they were written. Consequently the fundamentals of Christianity were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the gospels. ” Written by Thomas Jefferson in his ‘Notes on Religion‘ See more of Jefferson’s religious views here. And for his treatise on ‘Morality in Government’ go here.

In a Letter from John Quincy Adams to John Adams

Dated: Washington, 27th April, 1837

John Quincy Adams made the following statement: “I am encouraged to infer a widely spread attachment to the principles by which they [the Founding Fathers] were actuated, and which they maintained with the well redeemed pledge of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. If, at one of the most trying periods of that conflict, in March, 1779, you find Mr. Adams complaining of the dangers which beset the cause, and the difficulties which it had to encounter from the weakness, the selfishness, flattery, vanity, and corruption of the times, yet confiding without the admission of a doubt in the ultimate success of the cause itself,—may we not take it, in these times when the cause has succeeded, and the nation, formed by the labors and sufferings of those days, has enjoyed such a career of prosperity as was never before by Divine Providence allotted to man; may we not take it as an admonition, that the adherence to those principles of our fathers has been among the principal causes of that prosperity? Should we not proceed a step further, and inquire whether that half-century of unexampled prosperity might not have been still more resplendent with glory, but for our own aberrations from those principles, the contemplation of which had fired the soul of the writer of the inclosed letter with visions of an approaching kingdom of the just, to result from the success of that Revolution? In reviewing its history and our own, while we remember with exultation and gratitude the triumphant issue of the cause, and the favors of heaven by which it has been followed, is there not remaining an augury, both retrospective and prospective, upon ourselves? That kingdom of the just, which had floated in the virtuous visions of John Adams, while he was toiling for his country’s independence,—that kingdom of our Father in Heaven, for which His Son taught us to approach Him in daily prayer,—has it yet come; and if not, have our advances towards it been as pure, as virtuous, as self-denying, as were those of our fathers in the days of their trial of adversity? And if we lay these questions in seriousness to our souls, are we not bound to interrogate them still further?—to cross-examine them if they answer with too confident assurance of their own righteousness, and ask them whether of late, and even now, we are not stationary, or more than stationary, moving backwards, from that progress towards the kingdom of the just, which was among the anticipated fruits of our Revolutionary warfare? The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. If it has never been considered in that light, it is because its compass has not been perceived.

Patrick Henry regarding Our Patriotic Duty as Christians (Click to enlarge)

Patrick Henry regarding Our Patriotic Duty as Christians (Click to enlarge)

Background:

There were two measures put before the Virginia House of Delegates to which Patrick Henry lent his support, which James Madison opposed, they were, the incorporation of the protestant Episcopal church, and what is called “a general assessment.” These measures have been frequently stated, in conversation, as proofs of a leaning on the part of Mr. Henry toward an established church, and that, too, the aristocratic church of England. To test the justness of this charge, the journals of the house of delegates have been examined, and this is the result of the evidence which they furnish: on the 17th of November, 1784, Mr. Matthews reported from the committee of the whole house, on the state of the commonwealth, the following resolution:

“Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that acts ought to pass for the incorporation of all societies of the Christian religion, which may apply for the same.”

The ayes and noes having been called for, on the passage of this resolution, were, ayes sixty-two, noes twenty-three; Mr. Henry being with the majority.

The principle being thus established in relation to all religious societies, which should desire a legal existence for the benefit of acquiring and holding property to the use of their respective churches, leave was given, on the same day, to bring in a bill to incorporate the clergy of the protestant Episcopal church, which had brought itself within that principle by having applied for an act of incorporation; and Mr. Henry was one, but not the chairman, [The chairman was Mr. Carter H. Harrison; the rest of the committee were Mr. Henry, Mr. Thomas Smith, Mr. William Anderson, and Mr. Tazewell] of the committee appointed to bring in that bill. How a measure which holds out to all religious societies, equally, the same benefit, can be charged with partiality, because accepted by one only, it is not very easy to discern. It would seem, to an ordinary mind, that, on the same principle, the Christian religion itself might be charged with partiality, since its offers, though made to all, are accepted but by few; and it is very certain, that if Mr. Henry is to be suspected of a bias toward an established church, on account of this vote, the charge will reach some of the foremost and best established republicans in the state, whose names stand recorded with Mr. Henry’s on this occasion, and who hold to this day the undiminished confidence of their countrymen.

The other measure, the general assessment, proceeded from a number of petitions from different counties of the commonwealth, which prayed, that as all persons enjoyed the benefits of religion, all might be required to contribute to the expense of supporting some form of worship or other. The committee, to whom these petitions were referred, reported a bill whose preamble sets forth the grounds of the proceeding, and furnishes a conclusive refutation of the charge of partiality to any particular form of religion. The bill is entitled, “A bill, establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion;” and its preamble is in the following words:— “Whereas the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing such citizens as, from their circumstances and want of education, cannot otherwise attain such knowledge; and it is judged such provision may be made by the legislature, without counteracting the liberal principle heretofore adopted and intended to be preserved, by abolishing all distinctions of pre-eminence amongst the different societies or communities of Christians.” The provisions of the bill are in the strictest conformity with the principles announced in the close of the preamble; the persons subject to taxes are required, at the time of giving in a list of their titheables, to declare to what particular religious society they choose to appropriate the sums assessed upon them, respectively; and, in the event of their failing or declining to specify any appropriation, the sums thus circumstanced are directed to be paid to the treasurer, and applied by the general assembly to the encouragement of seminaries of learning, in the counties where such sums shall arise. If there be any evidence of a leaning toward any particular religious sect in this bill, or any indication of a desire for an established church, the author of these sketches has not been able to discover them. Mr. Henry was a sincere believer in the Christian religion, and had a strong desire for the successful propagation of the gospel, but there was no tincture of bigotry or intolerance in his sentiments; nor have I been able to learn that he had a punctilious preference for any particular form of worship. His faith regarded the vital spirit of the gospel, and busied itself not at all with external ceremonies or controverted tenets.

Both these bills, “for incorporating the protestant Episcopal church,” and “establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion,” were reported after Mr. Henry had ceased to be a member of the house; but the resolutions on which they were founded were adopted while he continued a member, and had his warmest support. The first bill passed into a law; the last was rejected by a small majority, on the third reading.

MEMORIAL AND REMONSTRANCE AGAINST RELIGIOUS ASSESSMENTS.(fn. 1)

To The Honorable The General Assembly

OF

The Commonwealth Of Virginia.
A Memorial And Remonstrance.

Written By James Madison

1 Corinthians 10:29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another [man’s] conscience?

We, the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” and conceiving but that the same, if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State, to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,

1: Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”‘ The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable; because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also ; because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true, that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

2: Because if religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited : it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power may be invariably maintained ; but more especially, that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves, nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.

3: Because, it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of [the] noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much, soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

4: Because, the bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If “all men are by nature equally free and independent,”‘ all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an “equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of conscience” * Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to men, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens; so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions. Are the Quakers and Menonists the only sects who think a compulsive support of their religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? Can their piety alone be entrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others, with extraordinary privileges, by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations, to believe that they either covet pre-eminencies over their fellow citizens, or that they will be seduced by them, from the common opposition to the measure.

5: Because the bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious truth ; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: The second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.

6: Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself ; for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them ; and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence, and the ordinary care of Providence: Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence, and the patronage of its Author ; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies, to trust it to its own merits.

7: Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries, has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest luster; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive state in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks; many of them predict its downfall. On which side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?

8: Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government, how can its legal establishment be said to be necessary to civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure & perpetuate it, needs them not. Such a government will be best supported by protecting every citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.

9: Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy, which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a luster to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the Bill of sudden degeneracy? Instead of holding forth an asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be, in its present form, from the Inquisition it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions, must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthrophy in their due extent may offer a more certain repose from his troubles.

10: Because, it will have a like tendency to banish our Citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd [add (something) to what has already been added] a fresh motive to emigration, by revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonoured and depopulated flourishing kingdoms.

11: Because, it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion, has produced amongst its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinions. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs, that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bonds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed that ” Christian forbearance, ‘ love and charity,” which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jealousies, which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?

12: Because, the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift, ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances, by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it, with a wall of defence, against the encroachments of error.

13: Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? and what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority.

14: Because a measure of such singular magnitude and delicacy ought not to be imposed, without the clearest evidence that it is called for by a majority of citizens: and no satisfactory method is yet proposed by which the voice of the majority in this case may be determined, or its influence secured. “The people of the respective counties are indeed requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of the Bill to the next Session of Assembly.” But the representation must be made equal, before the voice either of the Representatives or of the Counties, will be that of the people. Our hope is that neither of the former will, after due consideration, espouse the dangerous principle of the Bill. Should the event disappoint us, it will still leave us in full confidence, that a fair appeal to the latter will reverse the sentence against our liberties.

15: Because, finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the “basis and foundation of Government,”‘ it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either then, we must say, that the will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: Either we must say, that they may controul the freedom of the press, may abolish the trial by jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independant and hereditary assembly: or we must say, that they have no authority to enact into law the Bill under consideration. We the subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them : and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity, and the Happiness of the Commonwealth.

James Madison concerning State Rights vs Federal (Click to enlarge)

James Madison concerning State Powers vs Federal in the Constitution (Click to enlarge)

Footnotes: (1) By a vote of ayes 48, noes 38, the third reading of the engrossed bill to establish a provision for the teachers of the Christian religion was postponed December 24, 1784, to the fourth Thursday in the next November. Among those voting against the postponement were Benjamin Harrison, Joseph Jones, John Marshall, Philip Barbour, Richard Bland Lee, Richard Henry Lee, and Henry Tazewell. Washington also favored the bill. It was printed for distribution among the voters in order that their sentiments towards it might be ascertained. Among its opponents were Wilson Cary Nicholas and George Nicholas. A copy of the bill is found among the Washington MSS. The copy of the Remonstrance used here is one of the broadsides printed by the Phenix Press of Alexandria, now in the Virginia Historical Society, with a number of signatures appended to it. It has been collated with the notes in Madison’s hand found among the Madison MSS.

“My brother informs me that he conversed with you on the propriety of remonstrating against certain measures of the last session of Assembly and that you seemed to think it would be best that the counties opposed to the measure should be silent. I fear this would be construed into an assent especially to the law for establishing a certain provision for the clergy : for as the Assembly only postponed the passing of it that they might know whether it was disagreeable to the people I think they may justly conclude that all are for it who do not say to the contrary. A majority of the counties are in favor of the measure undecipherable] a great majority of the people against it, but if this majority should not appear by petition the fact will be denied. Another reason why all should petition is that some will certainly do it and those who support the bills will insist that those who petition are all the opposition. Would it not add greatly to the weight of the petition if they all hold the same language? by discovering an exact uniformity of sentiment in a majority of the country it would certainly deter the majority of the assembly from proceeding. All my expectations are from their fears, and not their justice. … If you think with me that it will be proper to say something to the Assembly, will you commit it to paper. I risk this because I know you are most capable of doing it properly and because it will be most likely to be generally adopted. I can get it sent to Amherst Buckingham Albemarle, Fluvanna, Augusta, Botetourt, Rock Bridge and Rockingham and have no doubt that Bedford and the counties Southward of it will readily join in the measure. I will also send it to Frederick and Berkeley and if it goes from your county to P’arquieur Culpeper and Loudoun it will be adopted by the most populous part of the country.”— George Nicholas to Madison, Charlottesville, April 22″d 1785, Mad. MSS.

“I found that no alteration could be made to the remonstrance without injury and immediately had it copied and sent to the counties I mentioned in a former letter.”—Nicholas to Madison, Sweet Springs, July 24, 1785, Mad. MSS. ‘Decl. Rights, Art: 16. [Note in the original.]

Sources: The Writings of James Madison: 1783-1787 By James Madison
The life of Patrick Henry By William Wirt

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One thought on “James Madison Regarding Religious Duty and Religious Liberty

  1. Pingback: THE MEANING OF THE REVOLUTION and CONTROVERSY OF INDEPENDENCE | The Patriot Brotherhood From Sea to Shining Sea

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