Madison Against Virginia’s Establishment of the Episcopal Church, 1786

Madison Against Virginia’s Establishment of the Episcopal Church, 1786

This petition was written by James Madison on behalf of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia. The petition, written in 1786, requests that the House of Delegates repeal an act passed in 1784 that incorporated the Protestant Episcopal Church. The act, supported by Madison as a strategic movement to ward off the Religious Assessments Bill, contained twelve provisions. Of concern to many is a part of the act enabling the church clergymen to regulate all spiritual concerns of the church. Many perceived this as drawing an elicit connection between the church and the state. Thus, the petition which follows called for the repeal of the act by arguing that the legislature had no “jurisdiction” to invade the autonomy of the church over its own internal affairs. The repeal was finally accomplished January 10, 1787.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group




We the subscribers members of the protestant episcopal Church claim the attention of our honourable Body to our objections to the law passed at the last Session of Assembly for incorporating the protestant Episcopal church; and we remonstrate against the said law —

Because the law admits the power of the Legislative Body to interfere in matters of Religion which we think is not included in their jurisdiction.

Because the law was passed on the petition of some of the Clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church without any application from the other members of that Church on whom the law is to operate, and we conceive it to be highly improper that the Legislature should regard as the sense of the whole Church the opinion of a few interested members who were in most instances originally imposed on the people without their consent & who were not authorized by even the smallest part of this community to make such a proposition.

Because the law constitutes the Clergy members of a convention who are to legislate for the laity contrary to their fundamental right of chusing their own Legislators.

Because by that law the most obnoxious & unworthy Clergyman cannot be removed from a parish except by the determination of a body, one half of whom the people have no confidence in & who will always have the same interest with the minister whose conduct they are to judge of.

Because — by that law power is given to the convention to regulate matters of faith & the obsequious vestries are to engage to change their opinions as often as the convention shall alter theirs.

Because a system so absurd and servile will drive the members of the Episcopal Church over to the Sects where there will be more consistency & liberty.

We therefore hope that the wisdom & impartiality of the present assembly will incline them to repeal a law so pregnant with mischief & injustice.

James Madison, Church Establishment (1786), reprinted in 2 The Writings of James Madison, 1783-1787, at 212 (Gaillard Hunt ed., 1901).