Martin on America’s Founding: Jefferson and Madison

William Martin has written a series of short articles for Opposing Views countering claims that America is a Christian nation.

In his article on Jefferson and Madison, Martin recounts the story of Jefferson’s Bill to Establish Religious Freedom. Jefferson argued, among other things, that people should not be forced to support religion and there should be no religious test for public office. Jeffersons’ bill failed in Virginia in 1779, Martin notes, but passed in 1786.

And here’s what Martin has to say about Madison:

Madison was not concerned solely with oppression. Government support of religion, he insisted, would lead inevitably to the corruption and weakening of religion itself. Fifteen centuries of governmental entanglement with Christianity had made clear that neither institution benefited from the relationship. He noted that ecclesiastical establishments “have [in some instances] been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people…. A just government… will be best supported by… neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.”

If the claim that America is a Christian nation reduces to the claim that most Americans have adhered to the Christian religion, then the claim is trivial. If the claim is that America was founded to promote Christianity, then the claim is false.

One thought on “Martin on America’s Founding: Jefferson and Madison”

  1. Great blog! Just a few points I’d love to hear your take on:

    I think there have been from the start certain Christian elements in the Founding of the US–and these have grown over time (especially within the government).

    While many new Objectivists ignore these factors, or treat them lightly–which in some cases they deserve to be, as they were not fundamental to the Founding–I think it’s important to acknowledge the Christian element.

    The main reason is that it is there, but it also allows you to explain the growing influence of Christianity (especially after the second Great Awakening) and its effect on the politics of America (a host of insane regulations, especially in the American south).

    Anyway, will have to start coming here more. Just started a couple blogs of my own–Systemically Important and The Nearby Pen–so I’m trying to get back in the mix of things. And get others coming to the sites.


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