Madison Speech to Virginia Assembly Regarding Religious Freedom, June 12, 1788

Madison Speech to Virginia Assembly Regarding Religious Freedom,

June 12, 1788

This speech came by way of response to numerous objections voiced by Mr. Henry in the Virginia Convention. Of significance here are Madison’s thoughts on the proposed Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, as it pertains to the security of religious freedom. The theory on religious sects in this speech is quite similar to that regarding factions in The Federalist No. 10. Madison explains that multiplicity of religious sects, which is fostered by the establishment and free exercise clauses, acts as the best security for preserving religious freedom. Furthermore, because the United States as a whole has a much broader spectrum of religious sects than any one state, the federal government is best suited to preserve religious freedom.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group



Mr. Chairman, pardon me for making a few remarks on what fell from the honorable gentleman last up [Henry]. I am sorry to follow the example of gentlemen in deviating from the rule of the house. — But as they have taken the utmost latitude in their objections, it is necessary that those who favor the government should answer them. But I wish as soon as possible to take up the subject regularly. I will therefore take the liberty to answer some observations which have been irregularly made, though they might be more properly answered when we come to discuss those parts of the constitution to which they respectively refer.

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The honorable member has introduced the subject of religion. Religion is not guarded — there is no bill of rights declaring that religion should be secure. Is a bill of rights a security for religion? Would the bill of rights, in this state, exempt the people from paying for the support of one particular sect, if such sect were exclusively established by law? If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest. Fortunately for this commonwealth, a majority of the people are decidedly against any exclusive establishment — I believe it to be so in the other states. There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it, would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom. It is better that this security should be depended upon from the general legislature, than from one particular state. A particular state might concur in one religious project. But the United States abound in such a variety of sects, that it is a strong security against religious persecution, and it is sufficient to authorise a conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest.

James Madison, Speeches in the Virginia Convention (June 12, 1788), in 5 The Writings of James Madison, 1787-1790, at 174 (Gaillard Hunt ed., 1904).