James Madison

On this date in 1751, James Madison Jr. was born near Port Conway, Va., to James and Nelly Conway Madison. A deist, he became the primary author of the secular U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and fourth U.S. president. Baptized Anglican, he 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 on April 1, 1771.

After being elected to the Virginia Legislature, his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance” defeated a bid to force mandatory tithing in 1785. His memorial warned that “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 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, writing that such acts “imply a religious agency.” 

He married Dolley Payne Todd, a widow and 17 years his junior, in 1794, helping raise her son Payne. In 1826, after Jefferson’s death, Madison was appointed as rector of the University of Virginia. He retained the position as college chancellor for 10 years until his death in 1836.

Freedom From Religion Foundation