James Madison, was not a Baptist preacher. He was raised an Episcopalian, and there is no indication that his doctrinal position was ever changed. He became the fourth President of the United States, and some call him the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison began his rise to the Presidency from Virginia.
On this day in 1776, Virginia adopted their state’s Declaration of Rights. Its original form read: “Religion, or the duty we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, and not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, unless, under the color of religion, any man disturb the peace, the happiness or safety of society and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity for each other.”
James Madison saw a problem in the statement, and with his powerful influence, he had the word “toleration” removed and replaced. The approved statement then read: “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion…”
How did Madison learn the difference between “toleration” and full “free exercise?” It is said that he learned them from witnessing the persecution, and hearing the preaching, of the Virginia Baptists in Orange and Culpepper counties.