Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview
[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.
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. . . .
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 . . . may be determined. . . ."The people of the respective counties are indeed requested to signify their opinion . . ." But the representation must be made equal, before the voice either of the Representatives or of the Counties, will be that of the people. . . .
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"5 it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. . . .

Source: Gaillard Hunt (ed.), The Writings of James Madison ( New York, 1901), II, 183- 190.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

I. Brant, James Madison ( Indianapolis and New York, 1941- 1961), II, 343-355.

E. S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers. Religion and the New Nation ( San Francisco, 1987), pp. 39-52.

D. Malone, Jefferson and His Time ( Boston, 1948- 1962), I, 274-280. References for Document 20.


23
Virginia Act for Religious Freedom January 16, 1786

In opposition to the project for state support to all Christian denominations, Jefferson ( 1743-1826) and Madison championed complete religious freedom and were vigorously supported in this by Dissenters, notably Baptists and Presbyterians. Jefferson's bill for religious freedom, drawn up in 1777, was presented to the legislature during his governorship in 1779, but determined opposition delayed approval until

____________________
5
Decl. Rights-title.

-63-

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