Analysis of The Memorial and Remonstrance by James Madison

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About this sample


Words: 1495 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: May 14, 2021

Words: 1495|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: May 14, 2021


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Structure of Madison's Argument
  3. Defending Religious Freedom
  4. Protecting Minority Rights
  5. Rhetorical Strength
  6. Conclusion


In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed a general tax on Virginians to support teachers of Christianity for the benefit of the common good. In response, James Madison wrote the Memorial and Remonstrance in 1785. In the document, Madison argued against the tax proclaiming it was a “dangerous abuse of power” because it violated a man’s individual unalienable rights. Further, he proposed a subordination of the secular to the divine and argued that religious freedom was not given up upon entering Civil Society. In other words, people were first subjects to God and then to Civil Society, and since Civil Society could not regulate a person’s religious views, neither could the government. Therefore, any attempt to do so was a usurpation of liberties by the legislature. Madison began the document by addressing the General Assembly and titling the piece. Immediately, it was obvious Madison planned to do two things; memorial and remonstrance. The remonstrance was the protest against the tax bill and the memorial was the reasons backing it up. In this way, the document appeared like the Declaration of Independence in the sense that both documents laid out a logical progression of arguments to support an overarching conclusion. As a result, Madison’s claim was already effectively structured to prove its own validity.

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The Structure of Madison's Argument

Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance" followed a carefully structured approach that enhanced the persuasiveness of his arguments. By titling the document as both a "Memorial" and a "Remonstrance," he signaled his intent to present both a protest against the tax bill and the reasoning behind it, mirroring the logical progression of arguments in the Declaration of Independence.

The preamble to Madison's document set the stage for his protest by acknowledging the postponement of the tax bill and asserting that its enactment would constitute a "dangerous abuse of power." Addressing Virginians as "We the subscribers," Madison portrayed himself as a representative of the entire population, emphasizing the broad support for his position. This strategic choice strengthened his arguments by highlighting that he spoke on behalf of the people.

Defending Religious Freedom

At the heart of Madison's argument was a robust defense of religious freedom, grounded in several key principles. He initially invoked the Virginia Declaration of Rights, asserting that religion should be guided by "reason and conviction" rather than coerced through "force or violence." By drawing a connection between Virginia's laws and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, Madison established a common foundation that resonated with his audience.

Madison further contended that religious freedom was not merely a right but an "unalienable right." He argued that individuals were born free and possessed the inherent right to govern their own minds. Coercing religious beliefs through taxation, he contended, would undermine genuine faith by substituting compulsion for conviction.

Beyond this, Madison asserted that a person's duty to God took precedence over their duty to Civil Society, both chronologically and in terms of significance. He emphasized that individuals believed in God before pledging allegiance to society, with their duties to God superseding their roles as citizens. "In order of time" suggested a primordial connection to a natural state of freedom, while "degree of obligation" could be understood as the weightiness of moral responsibility. Either interpretation reinforced Madison's assertion that government had no authority to dictate an individual's religious beliefs.

Protecting Minority Rights

Madison also emphasized the vital importance of protecting minority rights within a democratic society. He cautioned against the potential consequences of unchecked government authority, including the exclusion of other religious sects or the imposition of conformity. Madison's concern for minority rights underscored the need to consider the rights of all citizens, even in majority decisions.

He aptly noted that allowing the tax bill to pass could set a dangerous precedent, making it more challenging to limit government power in the future. Madison argued that it was easier to prevent an abuse of power than to rectify it once it had taken root. His plea to safeguard minority rights remained a prescient warning against the potential tyranny of the majority.

Rhetorical Strength

Madison's argument gained further fortification through his adept use of rhetoric. He consistently employed the term "every man" to underscore the individualistic nature of religion. Additionally, he strategically used terms like "fundamental," "undeniable," and "unalienable" interchangeably, reinforcing the idea that religious freedom was an integral and unquestionable right.

Madison's argument resonated with the prevailing belief in a Creator among Americans of his time. However, it is essential to note that his assumption of faith might not hold true for individuals who do not share this belief. Nevertheless, within the historical context, Madison's argument was compelling and persuasive.


James Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance" stands as a timeless defense of religious freedom and a testament to his unwavering commitment to individual liberties. His meticulously structured argument, drawing from established principles and employing persuasive rhetoric, effectively challenged the proposed tax bill's legitimacy. Madison's legacy is evident in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, where he continued to champion religious liberty. His words serve as a poignant reminder of the importance of protecting individual rights and minority voices within a democratic society.

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In an era where religious freedom remains a critical topic of discussion, Madison's impassioned defense continues to inspire and guide those who advocate for the principles of liberty and justice.


  1. Madison, J. (1785). Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. Library of Congress.
  2. Lienesch, M. (2004). In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial, and the Making of the Antievolution Movement. University of North Carolina Press.
  3. Dreisbach, D. (2002). Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State. New York University Press.
  4. Dreisbach, D. (2011). The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding. Liberty Fund.
  5. Gaustad, E. S. (1999). Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation. HarperOne.
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Analysis Of The Memorial And Remonstrance By James Madison. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
“Analysis Of The Memorial And Remonstrance By James Madison.” GradesFixer, 14 May 2021,
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