JASON LOCKE #22899580


OCTOBER 16, 2011

Early Life ........................................................................................................................................ 4 Education .................................................................................................................................... 5 Early Religious Affluences ......................................................................................................... 5 Ministry in Virginia ........................................................................................................................ 6 John Leland and Religious Liberty ................................................................................................. 8 John Leland and Thomas Jefferson............................................................................................... 10 Thomas Jefferson and Religious liberty ................................................................................... 11 Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists .......................................................................................... 12 James Madison and John Leland .................................................................................................. 13 John Leland and the First Amendment ......................................................................................... 16 John Leland and His Writings Today ........................................................................................... 17 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 19 BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................................... 21


Introduction “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This is how the United States Constitution starts out and contained in this document is how the people were going to govern themselves. This nation was born out of rebellion to a tyrant king and formed upon the principles that people had certain rights and privileges that are to be protected by the established government. The founding fathers realized that to place power in one part of government was to bring about a dictatorship. The government was divided into three branches and each was set up with a checks and balances system to prevent any one body from becoming too powerful.

The Constitution ends with the amendments that have been added since the formation of the document, the first ten amendments are what have been named the Bill of Rights. These are the guarantees from the government that there are certain rights that all people have that are protected under the government. In forming these rights it became apparent that without these guarantee's that the government would not last. James Madison was the framer of the Constitution and one of the chief advocates for these Amendments being added.

Over the years these amendments have stood the test of time and have been subjected to great scrutiny. The first amendment has been one that has been debated and redefined throughout the time that the Constitution has been in effect. It reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the 3

Government for a redress of grievances.” It establishes that the government will make no laws that will establish or provide preference of one religion over another. This was a point that many believed that needed to be addressed concerning the established State churches.

In the fight to secure this right there was a Baptist minister named John Leland that was a great advocate for religious liberty. In history there are many who would point to Thomas Jefferson or even James Madison as being the men that fought for religious liberty but they had great company in this Baptist preacher. If not for this man there might not be this provision in the Constitution.

John Leland was a man of great character and one that many know little about. This paper will explore this man and his life. It will show that John Leland had great influence upon Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It will also show that had it not been for John Leland Americans today would not enjoy the liberties that have been guaranteed under this Constitution.

Early Life

John Leland was born on May 14, 1754 in Grafton, MA to James and Lucy Leland. He is a descendent of the fifth generation of Henry Leland who had emigrated here from England in 1652.1 John was born into a Congregationalist family but there is evidence that his father might not have believed so strongly in the church‟s belief concerning baptism. Leland‟s father, in his youth, actually had convictions that baptism was for the believer and it was to be done by immersion. Leland‟s grandmother warned his father that this could be viewed as heresy. James,


J.T. Smith, “Life and Times of the Rev John Leland,” The Baptist Quarterly (April 1871): 231.


after the birth of his six children, though had even stronger convictions and actually tried to have his children rebaptized, a notion that John Leland strongly objected to.2

Education John‟s education consisted of the typical education of the day. He attended community schools and was a very good student. He was such a proficient student that both the local minister and doctor made a proposition to Leland‟s father that he should enter college and study their respective professions. John wanted to study law and his father wanted him to remain home and help his then declining parents. John was an avid reader but had little access to books. This limited him but this would prove not to hold him back from being a very influential man in society.3

Early Religious Affluences

The early youth of John saw much unrest in the religious life in the American colonies. The Great Awakening had caused a great stir in the religious life of the colonies and even though it was over; the effects could still be felt. At the age of eighteen Leland went through a religious experience.

When I was returning from my frolics or evening diversions, the following words would sound from the skies, „You are not about the work which you have got to do,‟ The last time I heard these sounds, I stood amazed; and turning my eyes up to
Martha Eleam Boland, “Render Unto Caesar: Sources of the Political Thought of John Leland,” (PhD diss., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997), 87. For further on John Leland‟s thoughts see the note 4 of the same dissertation.
3 2

Ibid., 88.


the heavens, it seemed that there was a work of more weight than a mountain, which I had yet to perform.4 Shortly after this experience John came to be influenced by Baptist minister Elhanan Winchester that even though became a Universalist later in life had a profound Baptist influence on the young John Leland. John began to search the scriptures and soon discovered that he was willing to follow God if only He would show him how. John would go on from this point and begin to question his call to preach in spite of what everyone in Grafton was telling him, He believed that the Devil was trying to trick him into not following the will of God.5 John Leland eventually came to reason that this was to be his profession and set off on the track to be one of the most influential pastors of his day. As will be seen this man helped to shape the very foundation of this country by his beliefs in religious liberty. It is in this area more than any other John Leland shaped this country called United States of America.

Ministry in Virginia

John left Grafton as an itinerant minister in October 1775 for an eight month stay in Virginia. Upon his return to Grafton he married Sally Divine in September 1776; they immediately packed their belongings and moved to Virginia. It was here that he got his

John Leland, Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, Including Some Events of His Life (Religion in America, 1), ed. L.F. Greene (Ayer Co Pub, 1969), 11. Hereafter this reference will be refered to as Writings. There are multiple copies of this book that have different reference page numbers. For this paper I have chosen to use a copy that has been scanned into Columbia University and can be downloaded from the following website:


Writings, 17.


ordination into the Baptist movement but not as by the laying on of hands as was the custom.6 This put John at odds with many of the churches and was not fellowshipped much at the beginning. In 1778, however he was reordained as is the custom of the laying on of hands and open confession and was brought into a friendly relationship with his fellow Baptists. Leland being part of the south became part of the Separate Baptist. His convictions were that there were emotional displays brought about by his preaching and these were normal.7

It was also in Virginia that John first saw the problem with an established State Church. As the Baptist grew in number they threatened the established Anglican Church. The Baptists did not purchase the required dissenting licenses that were needed to preach, snubbing the Acts of Toleration of 1689. This stance led many Baptist ministers to be jailed and fined.8 In 1784, several Baptist associations formed a committee to draft resolutions that could be presented to the Legislature to vote in favor of religious liberty. John took an active role in the committee. He even accompanied Reuben Ford to the legislature to ask the legislator to repeal the Act of Incorporation. 9 His views and his dealings on this committee would eventually lead him to being influential in the ratification of the Constitution.10


Ibid., 19. Ibid., 25 Martha Boland, Render Unto Caesar, 95. Ibid. Ibid., 97.






John Leland and Religious Liberty

Influence in the ratification of the Constitution gave Leland the most notoriety in the colonies and especially in Virginia. Leland was a man that believed that the foundation of every man's belief was that he should be able to express those beliefs as he saw fit. Leland became a man that was set on establishing religious freedom everywhere. Leland saw any intrusion of the government into the affairs of man when it came to religion as an attack upon basic rights. Leland despised toleration; for toleration was not true freedom but merely an acknowledgement that one‟s beliefs were wrong but would be tolerated. Leland believed all had the right to worship as his conscience dictated.11 Leland made the following statement concerning toleration, “The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have pre-eminence above the rest, to grant indulgences; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans, and Christians.”12 This was a radical idea but one that is applicable in today‟s standard of living. The idea is that every religion should be protected by the government. No one religion should ever receive preferential treatment over another. The idea of Religious liberty is founded upon the notion that just as Christianity should be protected so should the rights of the pagans. Leland advocated that there is no fear in the idea of liberty.

Rosemary Kugler, “Elder John Leland: Evangelical Minister and Republican Rhetorcian”, (Masters Thesis, Rice University, 1992), 75.


John Leland, “The Virginia Chronical” Writings, 118.


John Leland‟s work entitled The Rights of Conscience Inalienable was a pamphlet he wrote on this subject where he asks the question of whether or not the rights of conscience are they alienable or inalienable? In other words John Leland was asking if the rights of conscience could be transferred in their ownership or not. For Leland this could not be so for several reasons. First, he reasoned that one day man will stand before his creator and give an account of his actions and beliefs. In that case one must be free to choose how one will worship his creator based upon conscience. He reasoned that if civil government is able to answer for individual citizens then they may choose for individuals the form of and style of worship that one is to perform.13

Second, he reasoned that a person should be free to choose his own doctrine that best demonstrates for him how he should or should not practice religion. To be forced to believe something, that one has become convicted is wrong, is to violate ones conscience.14 The idea that anyone should be forced to believe that infants should be baptized because the established church dictates it is at it‟s core flawed. Leland believed that everyone had the right to choose for themselves how they would believe. He even went as far as allowing not believing at all in God or believing in two god‟s or perhaps twenty god‟s to share the same protections that one who does believe in the God of the Bible.

Third, Leland saw religion as a matter between God and individuals. The civil authority has no way to control how one does or does not worship the God of the Bible. The idea is that


John Leland, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable” Writings, 181. Ibid.



conscience is not subject to any civil authority any more that a civil government can pay the debt that man owes to God for the death of His Son.15

The interesting thing about this argument is that Leland was not just advocating for his own belief system but that every person has the right to believe what they want. He made the argument that government could not and should not dictate moral conscience to anyone. Leland was advocating that truth had nothing to fear in liberty. He challenged civil government to not be afraid of differing opinions. He stated, “whenever men fly to the law or sword to protect their system of religion, and force it upon others, it is evident that they have something in their system that will not bear the light, and stand upon the basis of truth”16 Leland‟s position has been that true religious liberty must be granted to everyone. His reasoning has been outlined and he truly believed that truth had nothing to fear from a difference of opinion. Leland advocated that all religions would be granted the exercise of freedom and this is exactly the premise of that which the First Amendment is founded upon.

John Leland and Thomas Jefferson

It seems odd that the friendship of these two men would have developed. Jefferson was a man influenced heavily by the enlightenment and science and a staunch deist. John Leland was an avid Baptist yet these two men found common ground on the issue of religious liberty.


Ibid. Ibid., 185



Thomas Jefferson was a man that wholeheartedly believed that men should be free to worship and practice religion as they saw fit.

Thomas Jefferson and Religious liberty

There is no greater writing of Jefferson than the Bill for the Establishment of Religious Freedom, 1779. It is in this bill that Jefferson addressees the idea that all religions need to be free to practice as they deem necessary. Jefferson held the opinion that religious practice was a private matter and had no basis of being regulated by civil government. Jefferson held that “the care of every man‟s soul belongs to himself; no one can prescribe the faith of another; god himself cannot save a man against his will; and any form of spiritual compulsion is doomed to inevitable failure.”17

Jefferson was advocating that the civil government could not play a role in the private matters of one‟s conscience. This is a position that Leland held as well. The idea that a government could somehow dictate conscience to an individual was a concept that Jefferson saw as doomed to failure. Jefferson as well asserted that to compel someone to support, by monetary contribution, opinions that one does not hold as an act of tyranny.18 For Jefferson the idea that government could somehow dictate conscience was foreign to him. Jefferson‟s greatest argument comes in the statement,

Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time., 1st University of Virginia Press ed., vol. 1) of Jefferson the Virginian (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005), 275.


Martha Boland, Render Unto Caesar, 30.


“truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”19 It is here that Jefferson makes the claim that truth can stand on its own and does not need the help of support from the civil government. This too is a position that he shared with Leland. They both agreed that the truth would always win out over anything that it was facing. Even though both men agreed upon this principle for each it was a different truth they believed to be strong enough to stand. For Leland it was the belief in God and for Jefferson it was in science.

Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists The election of 1800 that brought Jefferson into the White House was one of great controversy and one that caused many to believe would be the end of all religion. Jefferson was an Anti-Federalist and his long time friend John Adams was a Federalist. Federalists believed in a strong central government and were seen as promoting Christian ideals. Anti-Federalists on the other hand were seen as being irreligious and advocates that religion should be abolished.20 Many believed that with Jefferson becoming President their way of religion was over. One group however did not believe this and that was the Baptists from Danbury, CT. They actually wrote to Jefferson in 1801 congratulating him on his win and welcomed his presence to the Presidency.21 For them they now had an advocate for religious freedom and believed to have a very powerful ally against the Connecticut legislature‟s support of a state religion.

Thomas Jefferson, Basic Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Philip S. Foner (Garden City, NY: Halcyon House, 1950), 48 in Martha Boland, Render Unto Caesar, 30. Thomas S. Kidd, God of Liberty: a Religious History of the American Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 230.
21 20




Jefferson responded with the following statement

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions. I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.22 Jefferson was advocating that there is no mixture between civil law and ecleastical law. The two are separate and should remain so. This shows that Jefferson believed that actions could be governed but opinions and beliefs could not. He was not calling for the removal of Church from State affairs but the exact opposite that the State should remain out of the affairs of the Church. As will be seen later in this paper this is where this belief has been misconstrued and made into something that it should have never become.

James Madison and John Leland

James Madison is seen as the father of the Constitution. He was instrumental in getting it ratified and set up as the United States new government. James Madison‟s encounter with John Leland came when he was attempting to be elected to the Virginia Convention. Madison was trying to be a delegate to the convention that was to vote for ratification of the Constitution. Leland was instrumental in seeing to it that Madison got the delegation. The establishment clause that calls for the separation of the Church and State was not developed until 1791 several years

Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Danbury Baptist Association,” Stephen and Jay Gould, (accessed October 01, 2011).



after Leland‟s influence to get Madison elected to the Congress that would propose the Bill of Rights and ultimately the idea of religious liberty.

The issue that most troubled Leland and other Virginia Baptists was if there were any protections in the new Constitution that would prohibit Congress or the Federal Government from establishing a new National Church. Madison reluctantly agreed to submit his candidacy for being part of the delegates from Virginia that would vote on ratification. Madison had decided that he would not campaign for the election even though there were those that urged him to do so. 23 Madison changed his mind when he was told that the Baptists had great reservation over the ratification. The reservation was that the religious liberty or rights were not protected in this new government or at least they were told. Madison was running against Col. Thomas Barbour who had convinced the Baptists there was no protection against a national religion being established. Madison received several letters that had caused him to return to Orange County Virginia to campaign and clear up any misunderstandings.24 The main arguments that Leland had to the Constitution were contained in a letter that was intended for Barbour but was also included in a letter that was sent to Madison. The three most important points in the letter were point one, eight, and ten: 1st There is no Bill of Right, whenever a Number of men enter into a state of Society, a Number of individual Rights must be given up to Society, but there

Mark S Scarberry, “John Leland and James Madison: Religious Influence On the Ratification of the Constitution and On the Proposal of the Bill of Rights,” Penn State Law Review 113, no. 3 (2/11/2009): 759-760.



The contents of all those letters cannot be discussed here for further on these letters see Ibid., 761-764.


should be a memorial of those not surrendered, otherwise every natural and domestic Right becomes alienable, which raises Tyranny at once, and this is as necessary in one Form of Government as in another 8th We have no assurance that the liberty of the press will be allowed under this Constitution. 10th What is clearest of all-Religious liberty, is not sufficiently secured. No religious test is Required as a qualification to fill any office under the United States, but if the Majority of Congress with the President favour one system more than another, they may oblige all others to pay to the Support of their System as much as they please, and if Oppression does not ensue, it will be owing to the Mildness of Administration and not to any Constitutional defense, and if the Manners of People are so far Corrupted, that they cannot live by Republican principles it is Very Dangerous leaving Religious liberty at their Mercy.25 This was the main points that Leland had against ratification of the Constitution and what led Madison to return to Virginia and address these issues. The question is whether Madison ever met with Leland. There is no record anywhere that any such meeting occurred even though it was highly recommended that Madison do so. It is likely that the meeting did occur even though there are those that believe it did not. One person is Robert Alley who recounts that the omission of Madison as to meeting with Leland is very strong cause to believe that it did not occur. Most historians today believe that this meeting did occur26 and this writer tends to agree with them based upon the outcome of the election. The reason for this is really one of circumstantial evidence; Madison knew that in order to change the mind‟s of the Baptists he would need to change the mind of their leader John Leland. Madison won the nomination so it would stand to reason that Madison was successful in changing Leland‟s mind.


Letter of John Leland to Thomas Barbour in Mark Scarberry, John Leland and James Madison, 765. For further on this see notes in Mark Scarberry, John Leland and James Madison, 767-768.



John Leland and the First Amendment The first Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” John Leland was a huge proponent of the idea of religious liberty which the First Amendment makes provision for. Leland stood behind the idea that an established church (one sanctioned by the government) was a weak church not a strong one. Leland supported the Baptists of Connecticut for their position against the government support of the Congregational church.27 It is just one year later that the Danbury Baptist write to Jefferson concerning this very topic and ask that he address it with the State of Connecticut government.

Leland was a man that fought his whole life to promote the religious liberty that can be found in the First Amendment. His dealings with Madison may have been the catalyst that made it possible for him to rejoice that every man was guaranteed the liberty of religion no matter what that religion is. The amendment calls for a wall to be established that would separate the State from interference in Church affairs but it did not mean that the Church should stay out of civil affairs. If this was the case then Leland would never have run for public office. Leland in the Yankee Spy praised the Federal Constitution when he wrote, “a novelty in the world: partly confederate, and partly consolidate-partly directly elective, and partly elective one or two

Daniel Dreisbach, Mark David Hall and Jeffry H. Morrison, eds., The Forgotten Founders On Religion and Public Life (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 71. Even though Leland is not mentioned here as being in support he would have stood fro the principles being applied here and that were contained in the Constitution.



removes from the people.” 28 Leland was instrumental in providing a way for all religions to be recognized, even those that were against his personal beliefs. He along with Madison and Jefferson forged the idea that encompasses the First Amendment.

John Leland and His Writings Today There are those that believe that the Constitution has evolved over the years into what it is today. This historian believes this to be false because that would imply the founding fathers intentions are not applicable for today‟s society, that somehow the United States has evolved past the principles on which we were founded. When one looks at the idea of religious liberty one must take in the full scope of exactly what that entails. In order for liberty to reign one must be willing to accept that the protections guaranteed to one religious group will apply to all religious groups. The idea of equal protection under the law means that the Jewish religion has protective rights just like the Christians do. John Leland believed that this was the best course of action to take rather than an established church and toleration for others. What would our society be if the State Religion were to be Catholic? Would Protestants be comfortable with this? It is something that is worth pondering. This author believes that the writings of Leland have much to say to our society today. As a country the United States needs to remember that this country‟s founding principle in the Constitution is religious liberty. Today it seems though many have forgotten this all important fact. The minority seems to be able to keep religion out of public affairs.


Leland, Yankee Spy, Writings, 219


Leland never feared that which he viewed as false because he always believed that truth would win out in the end. Christians today seem to believe that truth needs to have the weight of law behind it. Now do not misunderstand this author for he believes that there is a time and place for the moral majority to speak up and be heard, sometimes though he wonders if anyone cares to listen to it. Leland fought his whole life to show that religious liberty rather than civil government was the answer. He argued, as does this author, that it is better to have the government out of the affairs of the Church.

Leland today would be praised by many but others there would be an outcry that his ideas open up the Church to all forms of heathens and religious cults that do not believe as the Church does to cast their beliefs. In the 1960‟s the presidential candidate John Kennedy came under heavy scrutiny because he was Catholic and there were those in this country that believed that if he won the election America would become Catholic and serve the Pope. Kennedy won and this did not occur. Leland would have defended Kennedy if he had been alive during that time. Citing that to have a Catholic President was better than to have any one religion see preferential treatment. Those that hold the idea that religious liberty opens the path for people to believe and follow their conscience as a true problem are left with the oppression. They have a government that decides for them what is right to follow and are told how to believe.

Leland was a person that believed that morality and belief was only possible through true conversion.29 Today many should follow this pattern and remember that morality cannot be legislated. There seems to be those that advocate the best way to get morality to the general


Rosemary Kugler, Elder John Leland Minister, 129.


populace is by making a law about an issue. Recently this author had an occasion to teach on the subject of abortion and to explore the proper Christian response to those that do not hold to these ideals. The subject of Roe vs. Wade came up and this author believes that this was a bad decision back then and believes that Leland would have never advocated for the government to get involved with this issue.

Conclusion John Leland was just a simple Baptist minister that in the course of history many would not even recognize his name. The fact is though that he was a very influential man in the fight for religious liberty. Leland was willing to speak up for all religions and secure the rights of every man. He was a man that commanded attention as can be seen in his dealings with James Madison. Madison‟s friends saw Leland as the man that needed to be convinced in order to get the passage and ratification of the Constitution. Leland was willing to side with Jefferson even though he was a deist. Leland saw that Jefferson was an advocate for religious liberty and was willing to set his personal beliefs aside to further this cause helping to get Jefferson elected President.

A closer look at his writings one will soon discover that he was a man of great passion and one of strong conviction. Leland always believed that truth would win out over the lies. He feared nothing from the people that did not believe as he did. Leland fought for these principles all his life and it is for these reasons this man is a great American. Without the help of Leland the Bill of rights might not have been part of the Constitution. Leland believed that without these the government might one day prefer one religion over another.


Today Leland‟s writings should be remembered not just for their content but for the reason they were penned. Religious liberty is more than a concept that should be followed it is a principle that must always be protected. To be a great American one must be willing to allow for the free expression of thoughts and ideas. These rights need to be protected for all people and not just those that believe the same. Leland fought for those rights and if we are not careful they will be taken away from us.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Boland, Martha Eleam “Render Unto Caesar: Sources of the Political Thought of John Leland,” PhD diss., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997 Dreisbach, Daniel, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, eds. The Forgotten Founders On Religion and Public Life. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009. Jefferson, Thomas. "Letter to Danbury Baptist Association." Stephen and Jay Gould. (accessed October 01, 2011). _______________ Basic Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Philip S. Foner. Garden City, NY: Halcyon House, 1950.

Kidd, Thomas S. God of Liberty: a Religious History of the American Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Kugler, Rosemary “Elder John Leland: Evangelical Minister and Republican Rhetorcian”, Master‟s Thesis, Rice University, 1992.

Leland, John. Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, Including Some Events of His Life (Religion in America, 1). Edited by L.F. Greene. Ayer Co Pub, 1969. Malone, Dumas. Jefferson and His Time. 1st University of Virginia Press ed. Vol. 1) of Jefferson the Virginian. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

Scarberry, Mark S. "John Leland and James Madison: Religious Influence On the Ratification of the Constitution and On the Proposal of the Bill of Rights." Penn State Law Review 113, no. 3 (2/11/2009). 733-800. Smith, J.T. "Life and Times of the Rev John Leland." The Baptist Quarterly (April 1871): 231.



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