Clarifying James Madison

To the editor:

The letter in the Feb. 14 issue of The Daily Mining Gazette is one of the most uninformed and nonsensical letters that I’ve ever read in a newspaper. I doubt that the well educated professors at Michigan Technological University would dignify the letter by wasting their time in a refutation of every point the writer made. Since I am a retired professor, I have the time to respond in some way. To refute every point would make this letter too long, so I’ll just comment on the Ten Commandments.

Some people claim that James Madison, the fourth president, known as “The Father of Our Constitution,” made the following statement: “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Actually, this statement appears nowhere in the writings or recorded utterances of James Madison and is completely contradictory to his character as a strong proponent of the separation of church and state.

Some quotes by James Madison to make the point:

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.”

“The number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state.”

Sam Harris in his book, “Letter to a Christian Nation” puts the Ten Commandments in perspective: “If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: ‘Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.’ Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, ….”

And some of this still goes on today.


Bakersfield, Calif.