Term Paper: James Madison at His Inaugural, Washington Irving

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James Madison

At his inaugural, Washington Irving described the 4th President of the United States, James Madison, as "but a withered little apple-John, however, this small, wizened man was known as the Father of the Constitution, and was a staunch advocate for separation of state and church (James).

Born in 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia, Madison graduated in 1771 from College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. As a student of history, government, and law, he participated in the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776 and as a member of the Virginia Assembly (James). Madison served in the Continental Congress and participated in frequent debates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (James). Together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing the Federalist essays, which earned him the title of "Father of the Constitution," although he claimed that the document was "the work of many heads and many hands" (James). He also participated in framing the Bill of Rights and enacting the first revenue legislation. Due to Madison's opposition to Hamilton's financial proposals which he believed would give too much wealth and power to northern financiers, came the development of the Republican (Jeffersonian) Party (James).

Under Thomas Jefferson's administration, Madison became Secretary of State in 1801, serving both terms, and was chosen by Jefferson as the presidential candidate (Madison). As president, Madison was forced to comply with the foreign policy that he had helped to shape as Secretary of State. Macon's Bill No. 2 dissolved the Embargo Act of 1807 and provided that if either Britain or France removed American trade restrictions, the President could re-impose the trade embargo on the other (Madison).

Madison accepted Napoleon's statement as a bona fide revocation of trade, and reinstated the trade embargo with Great Britain, an act that, together with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun's war hawk activities, led to the declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812 (Madison).

The War of 1812 was the main event of Madison's presidency. Discontent by New England merchants and industrialists, already disaffected by the various embargoes, grew until the Hartford Convention, where many talked of sedition rather than continuing the war (Madison). As the fighting grew worse, even Madison's friends and war promoters grew discouraged, however in late 1813 and 1814, victories replaced gloom, until September 1814 when the British invaded Washington and burned the White House (Madison). The war ended in stalemate with the Treaty of Ghent.

Madison did not tolerate any official ties between church and state. In 1811, when presented with a bill officially incorporating an Episcopal church in Washington, D.C., he vetoed it with a message to Congress explaining that it "exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions" (Boston). He further said, it "violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that 'Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment'" (Boston). According to the bill, the church would be provide care to the poor and education to their children, and although no public funds were earmarked for these charitable projects (Boston). Madison viewed the legislative action as a "foot-in-the-door" for such federal aid to religion, telling Congress that the measure was "altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity," and that the bill could "be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty" (Boston). Many scholars believe that Madison's veto message of "An Act Incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church, dated February 21, 1811, should be required reading for politicians today (Boston).

Far too few people today acknowledge what a crucial role Madison played in the formation of the nation and one of its central governing tenets - the separation of church and state (Boston).

Rob Boston in the March 2001 issue of Church & State, explains that one reason for Madison's low profile is due to his close association with Thomas Jefferson, who not only was regarded as a genius and cast a physically imposing shadow, but also popularized the familiar metaphor of the "wall of separation between church and state" (Boston). Therefore, Jefferson's name is most often linked to historical record relating to church and state, while Madison's, often more important contributions, are often obscured (Boston).

In fact, Madison was one of the first thinkers in colonial America who understood why church and state must be separated. His advocacy for this concept, Boston notes, grew from his own personal experiences in Virginia, where "Anglicanism was the officially established creed and any attempt to spread another religion in public could lead to a jail term" (Boston). When, in 1774,-word came that several Baptist preachers were in jail because of public preaching, Madison wrote to his friend William Bradford in Philadelphia about the situation, saying:

That diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal Infamy the Clergy can furnish their quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of any thing whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close Gaol [jail] for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox.

I have neither the patience to hear talk or think any thing relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us"

Boston).

According to church-state scholar Robert Alley, this incident was a pivotal point in the young Madison's life, for he had recently graduated and was unsure what to do with his life (Boston). In fact, due to frequent illnesses that left him frail and undersized, Madison was unsure how much longer he would live, but learning about the imprisonment of the preachers gave him a cause and seemed to re-energize him (Boston). Alley writes, "It is the general opinion, I think, of the scholars who have written about Madison that that was a key point in Madison's life...The thing that drove him to get involved in politics was seeing those men in jail in Culpeper County" (Boston).

It was not long before Madison had the opportunity to translate his anger and frustration into action. In 1776, as a member of the Revolutionary Convention in Virginia, he sought to "disestablish" the Church of England in that state and secure passage of an amendment that guaranteed religious liberty to everyone (Boston). Although the attempt at disestablishment failed, his ideas on religious freedoms were included in an "Article on Religion" that was adopted by the Convention, which held that religion can be "directed only by reason and conviction, not force or violence," and guaranteed to every citizen "the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience" (Boston).

Boston explains that Madison was responsible for a huge leap forward in thinking, for at the Revolutionary Convention, delegate George Mason proposed an amendment guaranteeing "toleration" of all faiths, however Madison felt this did not go far enough and so sought to expand religious liberty rights beyond toleration and argued for the "free exercise" of religion (Boston). This concept later resurfaced in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. So, although his attempt at disestablishing the state church had failed, he had planted a crucial seed (Boston). Three years later, Jefferson made another attempt at disestablishing the Anglican Church in Virginia and securing passage of a religious freedom bill, but he too failed (Boston). However, seven years later, after the Revolution, Madison pushed both measures through (Boston).

It was during this time that Madison wrote what is considered one of the greatest American documents on religious freedom, "The Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," which still stands today as a powerful indictment of church-state union (Boston). His appeal was written in response to a drive led by Patrick Henry in the Virginia Assembly to use tax funds to pay for "teachers of the Christian religion" (Boston). Madison's "Remonstrance" lists fifteen reasons why state-supported religion is not a good idea. His document was aimed primarily at Christian clergy and supporters throughout the state, and was designed to convince Virginians that any state supported religion would actually harm, not help, religious faith (Boston). His writing is direct and forceful, as he boldly states that religion is a duty owed only to the Creator and so "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" (Boston).

In another passage he states, "The bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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