Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
II Corinthians 3:17
One of my prized possessions is a framed picture of the Leland-Madison Memorial. The picture hangs in my church office. The memorial is maintained under the direction of the Goshen Baptist Association near Orange, Virginia. It commemorates a little known and under-appreciated meeting between James Madison and John Leland in the year 1788. The constitution, as it was drawn up by the Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, did not contain a guarantee of religious liberties and free speech. Elder Leland, and those he represented, opposed the ratification by Virginia unless such provisions were included. This was a large and influential group of citizens, and it was not likely that the Constitution would be ratified without their support.
The Rev. John Leland, though a native of Massachusetts, owes his place in history to his activities in Virginia from the time he went to Culpepper in 1775 to his return to Massachusetts in 1791. In that 16-year period, he proved to be a statesman as well as a flaming evangelist. Elected to the Virginia Assembly, he collaborated with Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Mason in behalf of religious liberty. He also baptized more than 700 converts in the region between the Catoctin Mountains and the York River. He was affectionately called Parson. While Leland enjoyed the friendship of the leaders mentioned above, he opposed Madison’s election to the Virginia Ratification Assembly because Madison’s document lacked a Bill of Rights. At a picnic near Orange, the two men composed their differences and agreed on an amendment. Then Leland pledged his support, with the result that Madison was seated and Virginia ratified the Federal Constitution as amended.
The first amendment to the Constitution, referred to above, reads as follows:
“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 peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Virtually every private and public liberty, that we as Americans enjoy and hold as unique, comes to us in a direct line from the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of religion, conscience and speech along with a free press, the right to assemble and petition the government (even peacefully protest) are derived from this historically unique clause of our beloved constitution. Yet there is little mention in secular history of the part our religious fore-fathers took in securing first amendment freedoms for us, but we should be grateful that in the purpose of God, He gave us men of courage to fight for and secure our priceless heritage.