James Madison on Religion & Teachers of Christianity

James Madison ReligionToday in our faith and religion series on America’s Founding Fathers, we take a look at James Madison, the 4th President of the United States, who is widely recognized as being the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison was a strong advocate of limited federal power, and a vigorous defender of the separation between Church and State. An Episcopalian, Madison always took a reasonable and measured approach to the subject of religion. Whether or not he might be described as a “deist” is open to debate, and, in the end, an inconsequential point. His bona fides as a Progressive Christian are unimpeachable.

The following passage is from James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance” (1785), where he forcefully and systematically argues his opposition to “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” which was introduced to Virginia’s General Assembly. A few months later the General Assembly passed Thomas Jefferson’s “The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.”

[This bill should be opposed] Because experience has shown us that instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, ecclesiastical establishments have had a contrary operation. For almost fifteen centuries the legal establishment of Christianity has been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places we find pride and indolence among the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; and (in both) superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

Ask the “Teachers of Christianity” in what period did their religion appear with greatest luster, and those of every group point to the ages prior to its incorporation with civil policy. But if you propose a restoration of this primitive state, in which Christianity’s teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict Christianity’s downfall. So, on which side should their testimony most be believed: when it is for or when it is against their personal interests?1

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To read the original “Memorial and Remonstrance” in its entirety, go to James Madison’s Opposition.


Read the next article in our Founding Fathers series: George Washington & Spiritual Tyranny.

  1. The above passage from James Madison was lightly edited to make it easier to read by the modern reader. []