During the summer of 2001 my family and I took a trip to Virginia and North Carolina to do family tree research and visit some historic locations. As we were traveling "the Constitution Route" on highway 20 in Virginia, I came across an interesting monument about seven miles east of Orange. On it was the embossed head of John Leland, the influential Baptist preacher and champion of religious liberty. It is believed that the monument marks the location where James Madison and John Leland met to discuss Madison’s candidacy for Virginia delegate to the Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution. At that meeting, Leland pressed Madison concerning his stand on religious freedom and individual rights. Madison promised Leland if he was elected, he would do all in his power to see that religious freedom and individual freedom would be incorporated into the Constitution by amendment. Elder John Leland and hence the Orange Baptists did throw their support behind James Madison who was elected. As expected, he voted in favor of ratification of the Constitution. Then, true to his word, he drafted and introduced twelve amendments to the Constitution. Article III of Madison’s proposed Bill of Rights reads, "Congress shall make no laws establishing articles of Faith, or mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition to the government for redress of grievances." The members of the convention condensed Madison’s proposed third article. In fact, they changed it to the First Amendment which 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."
By David L. Brown, Ph.D.