John Leland and James Madison: Religious Influence on the Ratification of the Constitution and on the Proposal of the Bill of Rights
69 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2008 Last revised: 7 Apr 2009
Date Written: April 2009
Itinerant Baptist preacher John Leland (and Baptists generally) strongly influenced James Madison's elections to the Virginia ratifying convention and to the First Congress, with possibly substantial effects on American history. New insights include evidence making it seem nearly certain Madison had a key letter concerning Leland in hand at a critical time and evidence showing that George Eve's famous defense of Madison at a Baptist church meeting was in pivotal Culpeper County, rather than Orange County. The paper also notes Leland's relationship with Thomas Jefferson; Leland's consistent advocacy of religious liberty for all persons; his criticism of slavery; and the unusual accessibility of his straightforward and humorous prose. Leland deserves more attention, especially now that his works are very easily accessible on Google Books. As L.H. Butterfield (an editor of the papers of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams) put it, Leland "was as courageous and resourceful a champion of the rights of conscience as America has produced." Leland (in Philip Hamburger's phrase, "Jefferson's friend and ally, the irrepressible John Leland") is worth getting to know.
Keywords: madison, bill of rights, constitution, ratification, Virginia, First Congress, religion, baptist, elections, establishment of religion, freedom of religion, amendments, separation of church and state, Jefferson, Leland, itinerant, preacher
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