James Madison’s ‘Memorial and Remonstrance’



By Dr. Kate Carté Engel / 10.18.2017
Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies
Southern Methodist University

Annotated Document

To the Honorable the General Assembly of the  Commonwealth of Virginia                            

Memorial and Remonstrance

The bicameral legislative body of the Commonwealth of VirginiaThe state of Virginia.

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”,

Patrick Henry

On December 3rd, 1784, Patrick Henry introduced a bill to the General Assembly advocating for a provision for religious teachers so they could fully devote their time to preventing further moral decay of the society. Madison persuaded the General Assembly to postpone action on the bill in order to allow time for the text to be printed for consideration by the people.

and conceiving 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 declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill, 

This is the preamble to the memorial. Madison claims that the bill will be a “dangerous abuse of power” if the people allow it to become law. Although he is making an argument against established religion, he addresses the memorial to the “faithful members” of Virginia. In order to remonstrate against the bill, he states that he is going to list the reasons why they should oppose the 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.”

This is a quote from Article XVI of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776.

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 man, 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. 

The right to religious liberty is unalienable because of man’s nature as free and created. It is a divine duty that must be individually discharged.

This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in 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 Governour 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 Soverign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.

A man has rights as a citizen of civil society and duties as a subject under God. These duties were his before this or any polity was instituted. Moral duties supersede political obedience and religion governs citizenship. Individual religious rights are not alienated upon entering civil society and the realm of religious observance is out of its jurisdiction.

 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.

This outlines the majoritarian paradox. Madison feared oppression by unfettered majority rule, which he later writes about in Federalist No. 10.

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 derivativeand limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily it is limited with regard to the constituents.

If religion is beyond the political community, it is more so beyond the legislature. Therefore, there is a double limitation on its jurisdiction. As human beings are God’s creatures, the legislature is civil society’s creature.

The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of 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 or an authority derived from them, are slaves

Madison describes the theories of checks and balances and of limited government.  If the General Assembly passes the bill, they are tyrants abusing power, and if the people allow it to pass then they are subjecting themselves to that power and will become 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 free men of American did not wait till usurpedpower 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. 

Madison draws a parallel to the Revolution and points out that they did not wait for all their rights to be infringed upon before they revolted, but rather at the first signal of oppression. Similarly, he claims they need to resist any breach in principle of religious liberty.

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 sects 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?

If the legislature is given power to establish Christianity, then it also has the power to establish a particular denomination, which would exclude all dissenters. And if Americans pay taxes to a religious establishment then they could just as easily be forced to pay taxes to another establishment that they may not support. This would set a dangerous precedent.

4. Because the Bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensable, 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.”

The first quotation is from Article I of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. The second quotation is from Article XVI of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776.

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 offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, 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. 

The natural equality of men is an internal condition of all law. This does not necessarily call for equal treatment under the law, but for the law to be capable of equal application. This is an outline of the contract theory of rights. The abuse of the right of religion is not subject to human punishment. No one should receive special privileges or be subjected to special penalties for religious reasons.

 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-eminences over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.

An example of the right of religion.Quakers and Menonists: neither of these groups has ordained ministers.

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 unhallowedperversion of the means of salvation.

The civil polity is neither equipped nor suited to govern religion.

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 inspite 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 piousconfidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of itsAuthor; 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.

The strength and support of a religion comes from God and people, not from a state of establishment. It is a contradiction to say that religion needs to be established to survive because it shows that Americans do not have the trust that God can help the religion flourish on its own.

7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiasticalestablishments, 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 lustre; 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?

The debate regarding religious establishment has resulted in more bad than good. The Church has neglected her true purpose – “maintaining purity and efficacy of Religion” – because of it. Teachers of Christianity believe the Church was at her purest and best when the government did not interfere with religious matters.

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 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 the 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.

Civil Government: state (Virginia’s) government.  Federal religious establishment is not necessary for citizens to still support the Civil Government where they live – they don’t depend on one another.

Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure and 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.

The government does not need an established religion for it to conduct matters and survive (opposite point six). Madison goes further by saying that governments with established religions are likely to turn into spiritual tyrannies, which will then lead to government interference with individual liberties. A just government should protect religious liberty just as they would protect the rights to life and property.

9. Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy, which, offering Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre 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 Legislative authority.  

Having an official state church will lead to the persecution of groups outside of the established religion.

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 philanthropy in their due extent, may offer a more certain repose from his Troubles. 

Inquisition: referring to 13th century Italy where Pope Gregory IX suppressed nonbelievers; known as an age of torture and brutal persecution.  Comparing an official state church to the Inquisition in that both persecuted faithful believers of other denominations and would turn people away from America.

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 a fresh motive to emigrationby revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonored and depopulated flourishing kingdoms. 

The establishment of a religion will cause people to leave Virginia in search of somewhere with religious liberty.

11. Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among 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 opinion. 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 Theater 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 bounds 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 beappeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?

Laws that meddle with religion encourage strife and violence, as seen in foreign countries previously.

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 countenancesby 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 wouldcircumscribe it with a wall of defense against the encroachmentsof error. 

The Assessment Bill sets up walls between Christianity and areas of darkness, therefore the light of Christianity is unable to spread into and illuminate regions of darkness.

13. Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervatethe 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?

An attempt to enforce a religious assessment is obnoxious, and weakens public support for the rest of society’s laws.

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. 

There is no clear evidence that the majority of people support the Assessment Bill. Actually, most evidence suggests that the majority of citizens are against it.

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 sweet 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 Excecutive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they maydespoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent 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 re]dound to their praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.

The right of freedom of conscience is similar to all other fundamental rights – either it can be taken away by legislature or it can be left untouched.

Brief Biography

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751 in Virginia to a family of prosperous farmers. For most of his life he suffered from poor health and so he did not attend the College of William and Mary like most college-bound Virginians. The lowland climate was prone to mosquitoes and infectious diseases, which his immune system would not have been able to fight off had he contracted one. He lived on a large plantation mansion called Montpelier. Like most large plantation owners in Virginia, Madison owned slaves and he also supported the Three-Fifths Compromise during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Madison did marry, but he never had children of his own.

Madison was a very well educated man – because his parents were wealthy landowners, they could offered to send him to Donald Robertson’s school when he was 12. There he studied arithmetic, geography, algebra, and geometry. He learned Latin and Greek and acquired a reading knowledge of French. Madison attended the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton. He studied Hebrew and Ethics and earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1771. The College of New Jersey was where Madison became well versed in Enlightenment thinking, including the works of John Locke, who was a heavy influence on Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance.” Madison tried to fit two years of coursework into one, over working himself and becoming ill. He returned home once again and began to study law.

Madison was also tutored by Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon in theology. Witherspoon was a leader of the Great Awakening and served as president of the College of New Jersey, which was a Presbyterian college at the time. Witherspoon was also the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. Influenced by Witherspoon, Madison became passionate about religious freedom for dissenters such as Presbyterians. In fact, he worked extensively for the freedom of preachers who had been jailed for dissenting from the established church. Madison even briefly considered entering ministry. He wrote a letter to a college friend in 1773 claiming that the rising stars of his generation had renounced their secular prospects and “publically…declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ.” However, two months later Madison renounced his prospects in ministry and began to study law.

Although Madison was raised Episcopalian and attended St. John’s Episcopal Church while he served as President of the United States, there is not much evidence leading to his personal religious beliefs. In fact, scholars tend to disagree about Madison’s religion based on their own religious beliefs. For example, William C. Rives was Madison’s nineteenth-century biographer and was also a pillar of the church in Virginia. He asserted that on Christianity’s “doctrinal points” Madison was a model of “orthodoxy and penetration.” Madison’s twentieth-century biographer Irving Brant had no affiliation with the church and bluntly pronounced Madison a deist. In 1966 James Smylie, who was a Presbyterian minister and a scholar, claimed that Madison was nothing less than “a lay theologian.”

Madison was heavily involved in politics both at the state and federal level, even at a young age. He served as a delegate to the Virginia Convention in 1776 where they passed the Virginia Declaration of Rights declaring that “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.” Madison was responsible for this wording – he proposed a small but profound change in George Mason’s wording of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Rather than guaranteeing mere religious “toleration,” Madison successfully argued that the Virginia Declaration of Rights should be amended to express the right to “free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.” This subtle change recognized that the freedom of conscience was a right that belonged to all citizens, not a privilege that the government could choose to tolerate.

In 1778 Madison was elected to the Virginia Council of State, which was the governmental body that directed state affairs in Virginia during the Revolutionary War. Madison returned to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784, where he convinced the General Assembly to postpone a decision on Patrick Henry’s assessment bill and began to construct “Memorial and Remonstrance.” Madison served as a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and proposed the Virginia Plan, which essentially served as the blueprint for the Constitution. It is because of this contribution that Madison is traditionally regarded as the “Father of the Constitution”.  The Virginia Plan detailed a bicameral national legislature with the lower house directly elected by the people, an executive chosen by the legislature, and an independent judiciary including the Supreme Court.

Having essentially written the document, Madison was one of the largest advocates for the Constitution’s ratification. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Madison wrote the Federalist Papers, which promoted ratification and argued for a strong central government with extensive check and balances. Madison’s Federalist No. 10 cautions against the power of a majority, which is echoed in “Memorial and Remonstrance”.

The Fight for Religious Freedom in Virginia

The fiery minister George Whitefield enthralled crowds during the Great Awakening.

In the mid-eighteenth century thousands of Virginians were enlightened by evangelicals during the Great Awakening and, as a result, converted to become Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. At the start of the Revolutionary War, one-fifth of the population considered themselves to be dissenters from the Church of England. Religious views aside, Patriots considered the dissenters as allies and convinced them to fight against Britain by citing scripture and appealing to their spiritual devotion to God and their duty to fight for Him. However, during the drafting of the Virginia Constitution the alliance took a turn for the worse when Patriots were only willing to grant the dissenters religious toleration. The patriots argued that establishment would not interfere with individual rights and would promote peace, happiness, and virtue. They looked at Virginia’s past as support to why establishment was positive. The Church of England had been established in Virginia for 150 years, and the colony had been much more successful and peaceful than most. The Patriots also argued that the lack of establishment would cause confusion and chaos between the different religious sects, as they would come into conflict over which one was superior.

On the side of the dissenters, Thomas Jefferson argued that an established church was not needed for a religion to flourish. He looked to Pennsylvania as an example of this because the state had many different sects that were all very successful and provided a system of checks and balances to ensure that no sect would gain too much power. Jefferson proposed a state where people could worship freely without suffering civil consequences, such as paying taxes or undergoing persecution from the Church of England. Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Baptists all agreed with Jefferson. In 1776, Hanover County petitioned for a complete separation of church and state, which was debated at the fall 1776 session of the Virginia legislature. They passed a bill that repealed laws that held religious opinions outside of the Church to be criminal, but also said that those religious assemblies must be regulated. The legislators left the issue of provisions supporting the clergy unanswered, and it was debated for the next three years.

In 1779, the legislature disestablished the Church of England to the extent that the clergy could not use taxes as a means of support any longer, but it still did not grant Virginians religious freedom. Instead, they favored Patrick Henry’s idea of “liberal establishment,” which granted religious toleration. In 1784, Henry, the Protestant Episcopal Church, and legislators who supported establishment proposed the General Assessment Bill, which would establish a tax to support teachers of Christianity. This bill is what Madison’s Memorial and Remonstranceeffectively refutes, as the Assembly sided in favor of religious freedom rather than establishment. Madison posed four main arguments as to why there should be neither an established religion nor a tax supporting a religion. He said that religion is a personal experience, so it cannot be forced upon someone by another person, the government, or the Church itself. The right to experience religion for oneself is an unalienable right which cannot be imposed on by the government. The state cannot infringe on personal liberties because its power comes from the people, and it can be easily taken away. Madison also reminded the Assembly that they too were once persecuted by England, so they could not do the same to the citizens of their new country.

Presbyterians and Baptists also provided additional support to Madison’s claim. They argued that there were two spheres in society – temporal and spiritual – and each should be maintained by its respective governing body, the state and church. The Baptists also added that religion could not be determined by a majority ruling in the same way that matters of politics were decided. After the Memorial, the Virginia legislature debated Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom, which was drafted in 1777 and presented to the House in 1779. It called for a complete separation between church and state and would grant religious liberty to all. It was passed on December 17, 1785 by a 65-20 vote. This would set a precedent that the Framers of the Constitution would come back to as they were establishing the relationship between religion and the federal government.

Influences on Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance

Madison was influenced by early American documents, political figures, and ideological principles of the Revolution. He used familiar phrases from previously written documents to strengthen his argument, and many of these influences would have been familiar to the other members of the General Assembly and the citizens of Virginia.

Madison shared similar political views as Thomas Jefferson, who is famous for writing the Declaration of Independence. Madison and Jefferson were both prominent Virginia politicians as well as neighbors. They could relate to each other on a personal level as well as through political ideology. Throughout their political careers they shared similar views on issues of the day, and often collaborated on policy issues. They both believed strongly that the power of the government belonged ultimately to the people who were being governed. They also placed emphasis on the power of the human mind and individual conscience, and as a result believed that the people had individual rights that the government should not interfere with.

Elements of Madison’s argument in the Memorial and Remonstrance are influenced by Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Madison said that the freedom to practice religion is an unalienable right. This is found in the first numbered section of the document, where Madison said that “the Religion 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.” The phrase “unalienable right” was used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and therefore would have been a concept familiar to Madison’s target audience, the men of Virginia’s General Assembly as well as the citizens of Virginia.

Madison was also influenced by the political philosophies and writings of John Locke. Locke was an English philosopher who inspired the European Enlightenment and early American political thought. He believed in the concept of a social contract between citizens and in the importance of toleration, especially religious toleration. Locke’s works are the foundation of liberalism, a political doctrine that values protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual. Locke believed that the government’s role was to protect the people, but also recognized that the government could become a threat to people’s freedom if the government went beyond its role and threatened the individual rights of the people.

Madison and Locke shared the same fundamental views about the relationship between church and state. They both believed that regulating and influencing religion and the practice of religion was not within the government’s scope of power. Locke felt that the jurisdiction of the government was concerned only with “civil goods” such as life, liberty, and property and ought not “in any way to be extended to the salvation of souls.” In other words, the government should not be concerned with the religious practices of the people because it was not related to the government’s role of promoting and protecting people’s lives and personal property. Madison said in the Memorial that government interference in religious matters leads to chaos and violence, which can be seen in other countries who had established religion at the time. He says that the right of freedom of conscience is similar to all other fundamental rights, either it can be taken away by legislature or it can be left untouched, and it should be untouched because the government should not have authority to interfere with the natural rights of its citizens.

Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance is heavily influenced by John Locke’s Letter on Toleration, which was written in 1685. Madison’s Memorial borrows phrases almost in exact form from Locke’s letter. Madison denied to “the Civil Magistrate” any power over religion because “Religious truth” and “the means of salvation” are beyond the concerns of the state. Locke said that “the magistrate ought not to forbid the holding or teaching of any speculative opinions in any church, because they have no bearing on the civil rights of his subjects.” Madison’s fellow delegates in the General Assembly would have been familiar with this letter, because its core ideas were incorporated into other early American documents from the Revolution. Locke’s Letter on Toleration is also the document where the famous phrase “life, liberty, and property” came from. It was later modified to read “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and was incorporated into the Declaration of Independence.

Madison used these many influences to create a document that is celebrated as a comprehensive list of arguments against religious establishment in the newly formed United States. The idea of disestablishment would later be included in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits the formation of an established church and guarantees religious freedom.

Comments

comments