James Madison

Scholarly analysis and quotes that demonstrate that our founding fathers were more likely Religious Deists than traditional Christians

“We may never completely solve the mystery of his illness and apparent recovery. But through all of his adult life, from languishing youth to venerated sage, there runs at least one connecting thread – an intense interest in religion.” (Mapp, P. 43) Implies God but not Christianity

“Madison´s initial aversion to Enlightenment writings challenging religious orthodoxy yielded by degrees to a growing acceptance of Deism.” (Mapp, P. 47)

“Not only was an intense interest in religion an unbroken thread running through his life; a perpetual strand of that thread was his devotion to religious liberty.” (Mapp, P. 47)

“Madison advocated an even more rigid separation of church and state than Jefferson called for. In 1811, Madison warned that an act of Congress incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church in Alexandria in the DC could open the door to a dangerous union of civil and religious authority. He saw this danger as particularly great because the church planned to resume the colonial responsibility of Anglican churches in Virginia to dispense charity to the needy and provide education for the poor. “(Mapp, P. 51)

“He even questioned whether “the appointment of chaplains in the two houses of Congress was consistent with the pure principle of religious freedom. Later he declared unequivocally: “The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.” (Mapp, P. 51) Anti-public prayer, not conservative Christianity.

“Yet after Madison returned to Virginia, his religious beliefs clearly moved in a Deistic direction. An orthodox opponent of Deism who knew the disposition of the Madison family attributed the young squire´s change to “political associations with those infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day.” (Holmes, P. 50)

“In the 1850s, an Episcopal bishop who knew the Madison family and every clergyman who had ministered to it wrote down what he remembered and had been told about President Madison´s religion: Mr. Madison was sent to Princeton College – perhaps through fear of the skeptical principles then so prevalent at William and Mary. During his stay at Princeton a great revival took place, and it was believed that he partook of its spirit. On his return home he conducted family worship in his father´s house. He soon after offered for the Legislature, and it was objected to him, by his opponents that he was better suited to the pulpit than to the legislative hall. His religious feeling, however, seems to have been short-lived. His political associations with those of infidel principles, of who where were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to the general suspicion of it.” (Holmes, P. 91)

“I was never at Mr. Madison´s but once and then our conversation took such a turn – though not designed on my part – as to call forth some expressions and arguments which left the impression on my mind that his creed was not strictly regulated by the Bible.” (Holmes, P. 92)

“Almost immediately he witnessed the persecution and jailing of religious dissenters in adjacent Culpepper County by the Established Church - his church. At the age of 22, he came down firmly on the side of religious freedom, arguing that only liberty of conscience could guarantee civil and political liberty.” (Holmes, P. 93)

“As a result, American historians know relatively little about the 4th President´s private views on religion. Any investigator who wishes to get beyond Madison´s reticence must look not only at what he did and did not do, but also at what he said and did not say, in the area of religion.” (Holmes, P. 94)

“During the Presidency, Madison held the President´s Pew at St. John´s Episcopal Church, adjacent to the White House…..But the evidence is unclear about how frequently the Madison´s attended church. What is known is that Madison was never confirmed, though his wife, Dolly, and his mother, Nelly Conway Madison, were.” (Holmes, P. 94)

“Despite Madison´s reticence, contemporaries gained some sense of his private religious views. At a White House dinner in 1815, he purposely seated the Boston gentleman-scholar George Ticknor between himself and Dolly. A …..leading layman in the emerging Unitarian movement, Ticknor reported the contents of the conversation: he talked of religious sects and parties, and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity (Unitarianism) stood with us….He pretty distinctly intimated to me his (high) regards for Unitarian principles.” (Holmes, P. 95

““Liberal Christianity” – about which Madison inquired of his guest – was the name New England Unitarians such as John and Abigail Adams first used to describe their movement.” (Holmes, P. 95)

“Unless more material is discovered, only snippets of Madison´s private religious views remain. In 1825, for example, he exchanged letters with the Reverend Frederick Beasley, an Episcopal clergyman who was provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Beasley sent Madison a tract he had published on proofs for “the being and attributes of God.” Madison´s impressive response, which uses the phrase “Nature´s God”, not only displays his sympathy with Beasley´s theism but also declares that “The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good is so essential to the moral order of the World and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources.” He omits any references, however, to Jesus, to the Bible, to the Judeo-Christian tradition, or to the church. Thus Madison´s letter seems more the response of a Deist man than that of an orthodox Christian.” (Holmes, P. 96)

“In 1835, a cousin wrote to Dolly Madison and apologized for a disagreement she had had with Madison about keeping the Sabbath. “I hope my beloved Mr. Madison was not displeased at my reference to his opinions on the Sabbath.” Sarah Coles Stevenson wrote. “They were to me new, and so adverse to my own, that I confess they startled me…pray do not mention it to him again if it displeases him. I would not incur his censure for any consideration.” (Holmes, P. 96)

“Mrs. Stevenson, wife of an ambassador to Great Britain, was an active Episcopalian at a time when Virginia Episcopalian kept a strict Lord´s Day, or Sabbath. In conversation, Madison had apparently shocked her with his more lenient views about what activities were permissible on Sunday. Because this disagreement occurred only one year before Madison´s death, it would appear to reaffirm his essentially Deistic form of Anglicanism.” (Holmes, P. 97)

“Bishop William Meade held a tough-minded view of other people´s religion. He possessed no sympathy whatsoever for Deism. If he was correct that James Madison returned to a more traditional view of Christianity, that development would be unsurprising. Old age is often the time when people return “home” by embracing the faith in which they were raised. Yet Meade´s testimony is the single indication historians have that Madison returned to the orthodoxy of his childhood and college years. In “the entire Retirement corpus of Madison´s writings…” the senior associate editor of the James Madison Papers reports, “what there was did not indicate in any way that Madison at the end of his life returned to the orthodox piety of his youth.” Except for the account of Meade (who also argued for the religious orthodoxy of George Washington in the same book), the pattern of Madison´s religious associations and the comments of contemporaries clearly categorize the 4th president of the US as a moderate Deist.” (Holmes, P. 97)

“Like so many other founding fathers, James Madison seems to have ended up in the camp affirming the existence of a Deistic God.” (Holmes, P. 98)

“Madison maintained a similarly low religious profile during his presidency. He opposed, for example, executive proclamations that used religious language. When circumstances forced him to issue one…..he kept the language as neutral and nonsectarian as possible. His belief that citizens should voluntarily support religion led him to oppose the appointment of chaplains for Congress and for the army and the navy.” (Holmes, P. 93-94)

“George Washington, for example, lived in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia during the period when these states had Episcopal bishops, but he was never confirmed. James Madison of Montpelier never arranged for confirmation, though his cousin and namesake James Madison of William & Mary held the office of bishop of Virginia during 22 years of President Madison´s life… If confirmation had been available when Madison returned to Montpelier from Princeton in 1772, he might have sought it, for he was then a believing Christian. But by the 1790s, when the future president´s cousin was available to confirm Virginians, Madison had been aligned with the Deists for 20 years. It was too late for him to express beliefs that he did not hold.” (Holmes, P. 136)

“What early influences brought Madison to such an intense and consistent lifetime interest? His father was a vestryman of the Anglican Church, but the role was not comparable to that of a Methodist steward, a Presbyterian elder, or a Baptist deacon. In colonial days, vestrymen were charged with community responsibilities in addition to those strictly related to the church. For instance, the administration of the poor laws (regulations for the indigent) was one of their tasks. Because of the important civic functions of the vestry, christened but unconfirmed Anglicans were sometimes appointed to it. Therefore, the mere fact that Madison´s father was a vestryman is not prima facie evidence that he was more religious than the general run of the men in his time. Nevertheless, the family was at least conventionally religious.” (Mapp, P. 43)

“Sometimes Madison praised the influence of religion, and sometimes he decried ecclesiastical threats to liberty; but he never underestimated the importance of religion…..Madison´s unwavering insistence on religion´s eternal importance bolstered the faith of many.” (Mapp, P. 51) Importance of religion but not necessarily Christianity.

“Whatever may have been the private sentiments of Mr. Madison on the subject of religion, he was never known to declare any hostility to it. He always treated it with respect, attended public worship in his neighborhood, invited ministers of religion to his house, (and) had family prayers on such occasions, though he did not kneel himself at prayers.” (Holmes, P. 91)

“Once he embarked on his legal and political career, Madison rarely wrote or spoke publicly about religious subjects.” (Holmes, P. 93) He saw how Jefferson was treated and thought better of it.

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