Roger Williams and James Madison

In the Hall of Fame in the nation’s Capitol stands a statue of a man representing the State of Rhode Island. His name is Roger Williams.
Now who was Roger Williams, and what was his claim to fame? Roger Williams was born in London, England in the early part of the 17th Century. He was a priest in the Church of England. He had an inquiring mind and was an outspoken liberal and a critic of the State Church of England. He emigrated to the Massachusetts Colony as a young man and soon was at odds with the General Court that governed both the civil and religious life of the colony.
Roger Williams advocated the Boston Church be separated from the State Church and that Church and State be separated. He told the people he had crossed 3000 miles of stormy seas searching for a place where people might worship God as they saw fit, that he had broken forever with state-controlled churches, and since he had come this far to find “soul freedom” he did not intend to compromise.
Roger Williams moved from Boston to Salem, then to Plymouth, and back to Salem again where he was placed on probation for a year by the General Court. Not allowed to preach, Roger Williams remained quietly at home, but his many friends came to his house for religious discussions. The General Court heard about these meetings and brought him to trial.
The Court read a list of errors he had committed and asked him if they were true. “Yes,” said Roger Williams, “they are true.” Would he recant and bow to the authority of the Court? No, he would not, said Roger Williams. The Governor read the sentence: “Mr. Williams shall depart out of the jurisdiction within six weeks.”
Exiled. Banished. But since his wife was about to have a baby, he was told he could stay until the baby was born and winter was over. The baby came and they named her “Freeborn.”
Again people began to gather at Roger Williams’ home. This time the General Court decided to put a stop to Roger Williams’ religious activities once and for all. They sent a Captain and 14 soldiers to arrest him.
When the soldiers arrived at the Williams homestead, Roger Williams was gone beyond the reach of the General Court. He had gone to the tents of Massasoit, the old Indian Chief, where he spent the winter.
From his Indian refuge, he moved on to found the city of Providence, a city of refuge for all dissenters, a city with gates open wide to all who wanted to worship God in their own way, the first city in the New World to grant true religious freedom to all of its citizens. One man, Roger Williams, wrote another glowing chapter in the history of One Nation Under God.
Roger Williams died in 1683, but his ideas of religious freedom lived on. Ninety-four years later a young man of 25 assisted Thomas Jefferson in the drafting and adoption of the Constitution of the New State of Virginia following the Declaration of Independence. He insisted, along with Jefferson, that the right of religious freedom be incorporated in the Virginia Constitution.
This was the first of the Thirteen States to write this important freedom into its Constitution, although Rhode Island had practiced religious freedom since it was founded by Roger Williams.
Now who was this young Virginian that helped bring this liberal doctrine to Virginia? His name was James Madison, and much was to be heard about this talented young Virginian in later years as Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson for 8 years, then for 8 years as the 4th President of the United States. Earlier, James Madison had served as Secretary of the Constitutional Convention, for which he has often been called the Father of the Constitution.
Madison was tiny, hardly 5 feet tall, weighing about 100 pounds. He was frail and in delicate health, but he was a giant in intellect. It was James Madison, as a member of the first Congress under the new Constitution who proposed a resolution that contained twelve amendments to the Constitution. His resolution was approved by the House and Senate, and within two years, two thirds of the States had ratified 10 of the 12 amendments. So Madison’s amendments, called The Bill of Rights, were incorporated in the Constitution of the United States.
One historian said, “Madison was convinced that freedom under the law must include liberty of religion as well as in government.” This idea is clearly indicated in the first sentence of the first Amendment of the Constitution. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In these few words James Madison wrote another brilliant chapter in the history of One Nation Under God.

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