James was a small man, he’d been ill and in delicate health most of his life. The oldest of twelve children, three of his siblings died in infancy. The son of a landowner, he received an education that was the best available, primarily from private tutors.
His studies included the required classical and modern languages, he became especially skilled in Latin. In his day, fluency in Greek and Latin were a requirement for admission to college. Most young men of his day were expected to attend the College of William and Mary, however the area near the college was lowland and the infestation of insects would hardly have been in James’ best interest health wise.
At the age of 18, James enrolled at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, studying Latin, Greek, mathematics, science, geography, rhetoric and philosophy – with an emphasis on speech and debate. His study habits likely were detrimental to his health, but he graduated two years later in 1771.
James was not sure what he would do with his life. He believed his health was not conducive to a life of farming, in fact he doubted he’d live all that long anyway. He remained in New Jersey after graduation and studied Hebrew, becoming quite proficient, and political philosophy. At this time, the Anglican Church was the “official religion” of his home state of Virginia. Some Baptist ministers were jailed and friends said this deeply affected James.
It is not known for sure, but this may be why James stayed to study Hebrew and political philosophy, it might have been the impetus that pushed James Madison to enter political life. His health and stature would never stand for military life, so politics became his life and passion. Upon returning home, James studied law for public policy. It was never his intent to practice law.
James did serve in the county militia as a colonel, second in command to his father, however this was to to his family’s wealth and position. He was soon elected as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention which drafted Virginia’s first constitution. While he supported the Virginia Declaration of Rights, he had argued for stronger protection of religious liberty. In time, Madison and Jefferson helped usher in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.
We often think the tyranny our founders fought against was in England, King George III and Parliament. But tyranny has many faces. My post for “This Day In History” on October 27th was about two men, Quakers, who were hung for their religious beliefs. These men and their families left Europe to escape religious persecution and died in America…from religious persecution.
If you read the Virginia Declaration of Rights I mentioned above, you can see the similarities with our Constitution and Bill of Rights. In fact, most of the states held conventions and drafted constitutions in the years before the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. In just about every case, the drafts were a protection of natural God given rights and a restriction on the overall power of the state. They believed the closer things were to the people, the more liberty they would have.
The whole purpose of the US Constitution was and is to protect rights. No other constitution has lasted as long as ours, even though it has been stretched thin by those seeking power, the republic at least has not suffered a violent end – yet. Historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has first destroyed itself from within. The essential cause of Rome’s decline lay in her people and her morals.”
The protection of our rights was centered around living Godly principles. Certainly the founders understood that there was evil in the world, both within our borders and without. There are numerous quotes by our founders who suggested that our form of government was suitable only for a moral and virtuous people.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and [o]foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” -Matt 22:36-40 NASB
We also have what we call the “Golden Rule”. Certainly those who jailed and killed others for their religious beliefs did not follow these teachings, but they in their mind believed they were doing the right thing.
The founders, especially Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Mason were driven to offer protection of government from government and from other threats to liberty. Where do threats against liberty originate? The big one is government itself, federal, state, and local. Criminals, terrorists, foreign governments, and regimes. How does government protect rights without infringing on that which is to be protected?
The urge is to be proactive, to prevent or stop the infringement of rights before they happen. However, the founders understood that to do that means compromising liberty. “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” ― Benjamin Franklin
Obviously, infringements on our liberty has to be addressed. If it is a foreign invader or terrorists, a criminal or our own government, it must be stopped and the guilty party punished. In a constitutional republic, the minority receives protection from the majority. There are those who believe the constitution only restricts the federal government, that a state or local government can restrict your rights. You as a people can either rise up against the tyranny or move to another state. I do not agree.
There is no way the founders placed state’s rights above personal liberty.
Article IV deals with the powers of the states and their responsibilities. Article IV, Section 2: The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
This of course was clarified in the 14th Amendment. From the first section: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
If we as a people decide to leave the “first principles” upon which the republic was founded, we leave no option for government but to try and control the people. Government by its very nature seeks growth and more power, the very reason the only restrictions in the constitution are on government itself rather than the people.
From the warning labels on products, to seatbelt and helmet laws, to speed limits and licensing and on and on – we have given up our liberty to be protected – from ourselves in most cases. When we willingly exchange our essential liberties in exchange for perceived security we soon learn we have neither liberty nor security…and we deserve neither.
“The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount…If we don’t have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the State.”
― Harry Truman