James Madison

On this date in 1751, James Madison was born in Virginia. The Deist, who became primary author of the secular U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and fourth President of the United States, originally contemplated the ministry as a career. After graduating from Princeton, Madison was appointed a delegate to the Virginia state convention. There he was responsible for the adoption of a freedom of conscience clause in the state constitution. "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect," Madison wrote William Bradford (April 1, 1771). After being elected to the Virginia state legislature, his famous "Memorial and Remonstrance" defeated a bid to force mandatory tithing in 1785. His memorial warned: "it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties." Madison was elected to the first House of Representatives, was Secretary of State under Jefferson, and served two terms as president, from 1809 to 1817. His "Detached Memorabilia," written between 1817 and 1832, revealed his regrets over the appointment of chaplains to the two Houses of Congress. Madison called it "a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles." He equally argued against chaplains in the military, and religious proclamations by the president for thanksgivings, writing that such acts "imply a religious agency." Madison's personal correspondence was free of religion. D. 1836.

“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. . . .

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 opinion.”

—James Madison, "Memorial and Remonstrance," 1785

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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