« PreviousContinue »
addressed the savages, and was received with great respect by them.
But this journey to Fort Schuyler diverted Mr. Madison from his original purpose of making a trip through New England. However, he was now a professional politician, and hoped to turn this change in his course even to better account. Besides enjoying the society of this esteemed friend of America, he desired to utilize this opportunity of deliberately urging upon him the necessity of France using her efforts to adjust the warlike dispute between this country and her troublesome friend, Spain.
The Legislature was already in session when Mr. Madison reached Richmond. He was now the leader in the Church contest, but not from sentiments averse to religion. He was a friend to the Christian religion, as will be shown in the proper place. But he believed that it needed no governmental support, and that it would be more in accord with its character, as well as with the spirit of republican institutions, to separate it from political interests, and entrust it to the free choice and devotion of the people. It is undoubtedly true that the Church loses strength in losing the support of the State, like all other things left to the vol- . untary patronage of men. According to an axiom of general experience but two things are regarded as always reliable, “death and taxes.” Robbed of the prop of law, the Church, perhaps, loses some of its moral force over the evil-disposed. Still it is entirely within the domain of doubt as to whether genuine religion could be advanced by State props, or any kind of external obligations. Real religion draws its support from within, from a government and an authority not of the world.
Its real use here is to prop governments, to qualify them with justice, equity, and righteousness, and give to men integrity, virtue, and right-living. Through the hearts and lives of their citizens all governments may be richly endowed by it. But true religion and Christianity can not be ennobled by Legislatures, or become ennoblers of men by mere engraftment on legal codes. Religion builds from within outward. It creates good governments, and is the only thing which can do so, but it is not itself their creature. It is, indeed, the only source of virtue and righteous power behind any throne, or within any life.
The bill proposed in the Legislature for restoring the Church to much of its former authority in politics, by a general assessment for the support of the clergy, towards the close of the winter of 1784, was laid over for final consideration at the session in the following fall. This result was reached through the efforts of Mr. Madison, and was in fact the death of the unwise and selfish measure. For, during the vacation, the bill was thoroughly discussed among the people, and many members who had voted for its passage were not returned, others of different views being substituted for them. This condition of the case was reached largely by a remonstrance fully setting forth the whole matter, written by Mr. Madison, and circulated throughout the State. When the Legislature convened, so numerous and respectable were the petitions, and so great was the evidence of a change among the people on the subject, that there was no longer any thought of making the bill a law. At this opportune moment Mr. Madison introduced to the Legislature Mr. Jefferson's bill in the work of the revision of 1779, for religious liberty in the State, and it was at once made a law. And thus ended this famous struggle on behalf of the Church of England in Virginia, and for this end no man worked so persistently or effectively as did Mr. Madison. This matter, of course, acquired much of its importance from the fact that Virginia alone of all the colonies had supported a Church establishment by general taxation, and that, too, to the exclusion of all but what was then the aristocratic and ungodly Church of England.
Here may be mentioned finally another important matter for which but one man deserved more favorable notice than Mr. Madison. Before the war of the Revolution, Washington had taken some steps looking to the improvement of the upper parts of the James and Potomac Rivers, hoping in this way to be able to bring the trade of the western settlements through Virginia. When he had returned to Mount Vernon after the war, he again gave his attention to this enterprise, and Mr. Madison, early imbued with the same views, became his leading representative in the Legislature. During the fall and winter of 1784, he successfully carried through that body all the bills necessary for organizing and putting in motion the whole work, including the improvement of the Potomac and the James, and a canal from Elizabeth River to Albemarle Sound.
In the completion of this grand scheme on paper Washington's name had been all-powerful, no doubt; but the Virginia Legislature at that time was filled with fine men, men able and ready to lead in any worthy cause. But all this work amounted to very little. The men of that period did not live to execute the grand schemes they had planned. The ambition
of other generations ran in different directions. With the generation to which Mr. Madison belonged in the “Old Dominion,” to a great extent, passed away the race of men who believed in providing comforts, advantages, and improvements for the benefit of their
Mr. Madison's correspondence now began to be very considerable, and even at this date he rarely stooped to gossip, and then it was of a decidedly mild character. He wrote usually with much minuteness, and always clearly and with dignity. At this early period, too affairs of the State and the country mainly occupied his pen. Still to Mr. Jefferson, during his stay in Europe, especially to Mazzei, and sometimes to others, he wrote occasionally on agriculture, science, natural history, and books.
. MR. MADISON IN THE VIRGINIA LEGISLATURE – CONVEN.
TION AT ANNAPOLIS.
R. MADISON'S vacations between sessions of the
Legislature were usually passed at his father's, in Orange County, in the study of law, in reading natural history, and in writing to his friends.
In the spring of 1785, while enjoying one of these occasions, William and Mary College conferred upon him the distinction of LL. D. Although this mark of respect might have been merited by him even at that time of life, Mr. Madison never was a lawyer in any practical sense of the term, nor did he ever pretend to a very profound knowledge of the laws and polity of nations in their intricate applications.
The ease with which American colleges confer such honors, especially in law and divinity, is a stigma on their own escutcheons, a libel on their pretensions, and a discount on long years of toil and profound attainments.
One of the most serious and important matters which fell to the attention of the Congress after the establishment of peace was that of foreign commerce. Most public men felt a great interest in this subject, but the main obstacle in the way of its solution was the want of power in the Congress to act decisively, and the utter impossibility of the States harmonizing on a plan.