Thursday, December 31, 2009

Finally, To The Blogosphere; James Madison's Notes On The Bible Part II


It is an understatement that the general public has never seen many early writings of James Madison. Indeed, their importance is magnified, by the lack of visibility they are given. However, the underlying influence to JM happens to be the same influence of our founding. Many of his personal letters to and from his family, and most notably to his best friend William Bradford, after 1775, are lost. R. C. Weightman, who collaborated with William C. Rives; the first Madison biographer, explains "some of JM's letters to Bradford were probably dated at the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1787" but they haven't been found. In reality, James Madison destroyed most of his private correspondence he thought not important. The remainder of his private letters were scattered to his friends and family.

Whatever the reason he destroyed his private correspondence, this blog has sufficiently shown, prior to the 19th Century, James Madison was a Calvinist. Several of his letters from 1773 to 1775 appear similar in style to any Calvinist clergyman; sometimes with more zeal (emphasis mine).

For instance, this letter in 1773 could have been written by a Genevan legislator in the 16th Century:

"[B]ut I find them [book reviews] loose in their principles[,] encourage[r]s of free inquiry even such as destroys the most essential Truths, Enemies to serious religion..." [bold face mine]

-To William Bradford, Dec. 1, 1773. The Papers of James Madison, Vol. I. 16 Mar 1751 - 16 Dec. 1779. Edited by William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. 1962, by the University of Chicago Press.

*[Editors Note] Students' notes taken between 1772 and 1775 on Witherspoon's "Moral Philosophy, Rhetoric and Eloquence" lectures, now preserved in the Princeton University Library, include warnings against reading ephemeral works dangerous to sound religion and morality.

Madison is refering to writers who promote Heterodox Christianity, of which he veheminately attacked. JM understood the difference between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:

"At the same time his ingenious and plausible defence of parliamentary authority carries in it such defects and misrepresentations, as confirm me in political orthodoxy—after the same manner as the specious arguments of Infidels have established the faith of inquiring Christians. [bold face mine]

-To William Bradford Jr., July 1, 1774.

Did JM mean some Christians were being influenced by infidels? What kind of heterodoxy was he refering to? Here, the Orthodox Bradford reassures his friend about the importance of Orthodoxy:

"I went yesterday to hear our classmate McCorkle predicate: & I assure you his sermon was very orthodox: The point he chiefly Laboured to prove was "that the Laws of God were superior in wisdom to the Laws of men"; & I think his arguments on this part were in a gr[e]at measure unanswerable; the rest had a great deal of chronology but very little instruction in it." [bold face mine]

-To James Madison, Oct 17, 1774.

It appears Bradford is assuring JM that their friend, McCorkle, remained orthodox, or else why write this if JM wasn't orthodox?

This next quote highlites the Calvinism he learned at Princeton:

"Little did I ever expect to hear that Jeremiah's Doctrine that "the heart of man is deceitful above all things & desperately wicked"[Jer 17:9] was exemplified in the celebrated Dr Franklin, & if the suspicions against him be well founded it certainly is remarkably exemplified. Indeed it appears to me that the bare suspicion of his guilt amounts very nearly to a proof of its reality."

-To William Bradford, June 19th, 1775.

The Total Depravity of man was adhered to by almost every Founding Father, excepting unitarian Clergyman, who had the audacity to claim their virtue could meet God's standards; at this very day, an unbelievable, and hopeless act of arrogance.

JM had a "Commonplace Book" many Founding Fathers kept, including Bradford. This quote in that book is interesting as JM condemns himself. His use of the word "Sinners" and "faults" appear to describe a personal rather than professional depravity:

"I know a Man, reputed moderate, just & devout, who is a Mortal Enemy to Auricular confession. And why? Is he conscious of some extraordinary & atrocious Qualities? or does he desire to appear much better than he really is? People who pretend to Religion cannot help confessing in general that they are Sinners; but they conceal or disown all Particulars. Why should I be so unwilling to confess even my Particular faults to men? Since they have the same faults or Equivalent. They may well admire my Sincerity or (if you will) my Impudence; but they cannot be surprized at my Wickedness. I am Humble before God, but confident before Men."

-Commonplace Book, 1759-1772.

After JM added his words to the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, John Calvin's Pre-destination Theology was still evident in a letter to JM.

Madison's response to Smith is lost, but Smith tells us that Madison rejected moral liberty in favor of John Calvin's(Scripture's) pre-determined will, promoted by Jonathan Edwards and John Knox:

"I have read over your theoretical objections against the doctrine of moral liberty; for practically you seem to be one of its disciples.1 I remember the manner in which you have formerly expressed yourself upon that intricate subject..It was with a view to avoid the objections with which you press me, that I made a distinction betwixt desire, & volition; & supposed that the latter solely regards our actions, & not merely the objects themselves that excite desires the immediate motives of volition...But only that they have such an influence as to prevent any necessary & irresistible effect of their antagonists. The mechanism of the idea is the objection which I make to your illustration of a motive deficient by 1/3 of the force necessary to produce an action--which then would not be commensurate to the effect, & would require some supplement to make up the deficiency. Altho we are not able to explain the idea of moral liberty, & that innate of mind that is involved in it, so as to be exempt from all questioning & doubt, yet we have as clear a sentiment of nature to appeal to, as in the case of colour.4"

-Smith to Madison, September 15, 1778. The Papers of Madison, Vol. 1, William Hutchinson, 1970.

Footnotes:
1. JM's reply to Smith's letter of Nov. 1771-August 1778 (q.v.) is lost, but at least part of what he must have written is implicit, & occasionally explicit, in the present answer.
4. From Smith's rebuttal it would appear that JM had countered Smith's distinction between desire and volition by advancing a staple argument of the opponents of freedom of the will to the effect that desire and volition are both conditioned by a chain of antecedent forces necessarily determing any given choice [PRE-DETERMINED ACTIONS DETERMINE CHOICE]. Another important thread of JM's argument seems to have been an effort to confound Smith's derivation of moral liberty from the multitude of desires, passions, interests, etc., which press upon human beings. JM apparently tried to show by a specific percentage analysis of the contending motives that even the interplay of forces from which Smith derived moral liberty might well be a part of the great chain of events (predeterming) every course of action.

Madison quoted John Calvin as late Feb. 1788:

"It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

As Author, David W. Hall explains, Madison sounds not unlike John Calvin:

"If we were all like angels, blameless and freely able to exercise perfect control, we would not need rules or regulations. Why, then, do we have so many laws and statutes? Because of man's wickedness, for he is constantly overflowing with evil; this is why a remedy is required."
-Sermons on Galatians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 313.
Emphasis Added.

How could JM move from a seemingly orthodox position until 1788, and call the "Great Spirit" of the Indians the "Father of us all?" From his years at Princeton, he knew without a shadow of a doubt, no other belief system could have any purity without Christ; refering to his "The best and purest religion" quote of 1833. Anyway you slice it, there was a change, which begs the question, why did he destroy his personal letters, at a time when he was less orthodox? Could it be he departed from his earlier faith, and didn't want posterity to see how he used to believe? With JM's knowledge of orthodoxy, and Seminary training, he knew precisely what infidelity was, as his early letters support.

No doubt we would all be very surprised to see those lost letters JM destroyed.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Jonathan Rowe said...

According to Bishop Meade Madison stopped being "orthodox" right after college in the early 1770s, after he meant the "infidel" Jefferson and was converted to Jefferson's "infidel" theology.

As you know, in JM's notes for the Mem. & Remon., as a good unitarian, he questions the trinity and infallibility of the Bible as non-negotiable tenets of "Christianity."

Our Founding Truth said...

Bishop Meade has written insightful information on the framers from Virginia. However, Madison's own words is the standard for seekers, such as us, of his, and the other framers, religious sentiments.

All that I see Bishop Meade said referred to his thoughts entering the ministry, as well as political associations that may have questioned his beliefs. That's fair. You could say the same thing for: Mason, Lee, Henry, et al.

"His religious feeling, however, seems to have been short-lived. His political associations with those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to the general suspicion of it."

-Old Churches, Vol II

Madison's notes for the Memorial and Remonstrance appear to me the context for a Judge's authority.

Madison's own minister, and one of his best friends, intimated he was orthodox:

"I give the following, received from the Rev. Dr. Balmaine, who married his near relative, and by whom Mr. Madison himself was married.."

Other clergy thought Madison was a Christian, " At his death, some years after this, his minister—the Rev. Mr. Jones—and some of his neighbours openly expressed their conviction, that, from his conversation and bearing during the latter years of his life, he must be considered as receiving the Christian system to be divine."

Another contemporary, "Mr. Philip Williams, of Winchester, Virginia.. a zealous Episcopalian" thought he was a Christian.

It's interesting these allusions pertain to his later years, in which Madison's words appear heterodox. What did Rev's. Balmaine and Jones believe?