Virginia Baptists wrote to George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson to express their concerns. Without Baptist support, Virginia would not pass the new Constitution, killing its chances for adoption. So Madison asked John Leland, a leading Virginian pastor, to give him in writing the specific grievances of Baptists. Leland replied with ten objections. Madison then “struck a deal” with Virginian Baptists promising, in exchange for their support, to present their objections as amendments to the Constitution. Baptists gave their support, Virginia voted to ratify the Constitution, and the Constitution became the supreme law of the United States. Immediately after ratification, Madison presented ten amendments to the Constitution (derived from Leland’s ten objections), and they are now known as the Bill of Rights.
So who is most responsible for the American guarantee for religious liberty? Historians from Joseph Dawson to Leon McBeth answer, “John Leland and the Baptists” (Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, p. 283). Sometime during the cookouts, the ballgames, and the fireworks, let us remember to thank God for the legacy of our Baptist forefathers.
Happy Fourth of July!