Nuance of Language – by James Madison.


Freedom, not Consent.

When drafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 – George Mason put in a sentence regarding the free and secular Government that James Madison improved in a small, but very important way.

The original called for: “the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.”

Madison rewrote this to: “All men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of religion”

And his argument was this:

Toleration implies those who tolerate: superiors who grant freedom to others. But who can be trusted to pass such judgments, even if the judgment is to live and let live?

[..] No one could be said to allow men to worship as they wished; they worshipped as they wished because it was their right as men. Madison’s language shifted the ground of religious liberty from a tolerant society or state, to human nature, and lifted the Declaration of Rights from an event in Virginia history to a landmark of world intellectual history.

Well done.


9 thoughts on “Nuance of Language – by James Madison.

    • Hi Yuma!
      Thanks for commenting – and I think you’re right.. throughout history the potential of using religion for political purposes is just too effective – to let it be. It is separated for a while, but then gets muddled into things, over and over..

  1. I love Madison. Brilliant man, and yet his presidency wasn’t brilliant. Not even Madison was perfect. But I would love to have dinner with him and pick his brain. And I bet his wife was a hoot!

    • Oh yes – that would’ve made some great conversation! And his work on the Federalist Papers is immense – even if he and Hamilton had very different agendas it seems.
      Not sure what Madison would’ve thought about our times with the last decade and Citizen United though…

  2. Well said, well said. And speaking of “nuance of language” and James Madison, it’s so apropos that I mention my online name MadJamison was purposely created by twisting James Madison’s name around!

  3. When pondering such ideas it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of the emphasis of particular words in their timely context. The word toleration probably had a bit of a different emphasis at that time and we must also consider that worldwide religions were not on that platform as yet. He most likely was thinking of the different denominations of Christian sects and not Buddhism or Hinduism. However, I believe that as Americans his words should still have a modern impact for us and learn to appreciate the best aspects of each new religion as it is introduced to us.
    How does that sound ?

    • Interesting input, and a different perspective!

      In the post the emphasis was intended to be more on the difference between stating an inherent freedom for folks, vs. stating that the government is “allowing” things. I think the point Madison wanted to make was that it is not the place of government to judge on this matter – but something that preceeds the construction of the state. As a natural given.

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