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Fake Quotations: Madison and Government’s Basis

Posted by sbh on Saturday, 15 August 2009

Did James Madison write:

Religion is the basis and foundation of government

in his Memorial and Remonstrance?

No.  It’s a fake made by taking “the basis and foundation of government” from a title Madison was citing, the word religion from a few lines before it, and inserting the word is from a section in between.

Here is the passage as it appeared originally (the quoted words are in bold):

SECTION 15, Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider the “Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.

Although it would have been technically correct to quote it in this form: “… religion … is … the basis and foundation of government …” in that all these words are actually found in the source, that still would have been a fake quotation, as it does not in any way reflect the sense of the original. It’s particularly worth noting that the word religion comes from one quoted passage, while the words the basis and foundation of government are from a title.  The words in the title refer to various individual rights of which the free exercise of religion is one.  The document in question is usually referred to as The Virginia Bill of Rights.  Madison is indeed arguing that freedom of religion is a basic right; he is by no means asserting that “religion is the basis and foundation of government,” which would be quite a different thing.

The quotation turns up in David Barton’s Myth of Separation and in Federer’s America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations. As both authors are familiar with Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance it is hard to how their use of it in this form could be an honest mistake.


Did Madison ever say that religion is the foundation of government? (Jim Allison)

Memorial and Remonstrance on the Religious Rights of Man (James Madison, 1824 edition at Google Books)

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