An interesting and important event in American history was recalled on October 4, 1958, when the Leland-Madison Monumental Park was dedicated near Orange,. Virginia. The site of the park marks the place where Elder John Leland and James Madison met to discuss their differences pertaining to the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. This was in 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 following is quoted from an article in a Washington newspaper by Dr. Joseph M. Dawson:
“Authorities agree that Leland was a key man in obtaining Virginia's ratification of the Federal Constitution. Without Virginia's favorable action, in all probability the Constitution would never have been ratified.
“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 Ketockton 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.
“In the meantime Leland, on behalf of the Baptists, had written George Washington, saying, "when the Constitution first made its appearance in Virginia, we, as a society, feared that the liberty of conscience, dearer to us than property or life, was not sufficiently secured under the regal government mobs, fines, bonds and prisons were our frequent repast.”
“Although Washington belonged to the Established Church of Virginia, he sympathized deeply, as evidenced by his reply: “If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution formed by the conventions where I had the honor to preside might possibly endanger the rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would have never placed my signature to it; and if I now could conceive that the general Government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution.” – 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.”
There is little mention in secular history of the part our religious fore-fathers took in securing this freedom for us, but we should be most grateful that in the purpose of God, He gave us men of courage to fight for and secure our priceless heritage. – J. D. W.
Signs of the Times
Volume 121, No. 12 - December 1953