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Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Religion
Overview of Living the Revolution
Resource Menu: Religion
Text 1. Online Exhibition
Text 2. Jefferson/Madison
» Reading Guide
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Text 3. Adams/Jefferson
Text 4. American Bible Society
Text 5. Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church
Text 6. Rev. Peter Cartwright
Text 7. Richard Allen
Text 8. Background
RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
2.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on Religious Freedom
- Jefferson, Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1779
- Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1785
  Thomas Jefferson
  James Madison

Standards in the canon of American history, these two documents defined "religious freedom" for the new republic, rejecting the notion that the state could legislate about religious matters in an even-handed way. After the Revolution, Virginia considered a "General Assessment" bill to levy a religion tax in support of Christian denominations chosen by each citizen, in effect establishing Christianity as the state religion. Jefferson and Madison vociferously opposed the bill, arguing that only full separation of church and state could guarantee religious liberty. In 1786 the Virginia Assembly passed Jefferson's bill, and three years later Madison would encorporate it in the First Amendment of his proposed Bill of Rights.

Although these texts are widely known, it is valuable to read them again in this section. That Jefferson and Madison would need to construct such fervent argumentation for positions we now take for granted reveals the import of setting a clear definition of religious freedom. 7 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  What rights and restrictions would Jefferson and Madison include in their definition of religious freedom?
  ·  Why is religious freedom necessary to the functioning of a civil society?
  ·  Why do both men insist that religious freedom is a natural right?
  ·  How is Christianity presented in Madison's argument? in Jefferson's?
  ·  To both men, why would a religion tax be an affront to God?
  ·  What rhetorical techniques do they use in their proposals? How do they predict and answer their opponents' views?
  ·  To what extent would evangelical leaders agree with Jefferson and Madison?
  ·  What identifies these documents as secular statements?

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How was religious freedom defined in the new republic?
  •  How did rationalists and evangelicals differ on the place of religion in a republic? How did they agree?
  •  How did diverse religious communities contribute to a shared national identity?
  •  How could church-state separation co-exist with the conviction that religion is critical to a nation's strength?

Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Predicaments | Religion | Politics | Expansion | Equality

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