Jefferson, Madison, and Adams: Conversations on Religious Liberty


The writings and speeches of Founding Fathers are often mined for statements to reflect their thinking or views (or those of the miner) on an important issue. Yet, it is in the context of “conversations” among the Founders that a much richer sense of their understanding can be found. In this talk, John Ragosta considers what can be gleaned from three early “conversations” on religious liberty: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s discussion of the necessity of a bill of rights; the exchange of political attacks and arguments concerning religion in the 1800 presidential campaign between Jefferson and John Adams; and, the retirement correspondence between the renewed friends, Adams and Jefferson.

John Ragosta is a historian, lawyer, and beekeeper who lives in Charlottesville. He is a 2013-14 resident fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. His most recent book, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, published by the University of Virginia Press in April, defends Jefferson’s uncompromising advocacy for a separation of church and state and examines Jefferson’s views on religious freedom. Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped to Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty was Ragosta’s first book, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press. Ragosta has taught history at the University of Virginia,  Hamilton College, and Randolph College and law at the University of Virginia and George Washington University. Ragosta has degrees in early American history, law, and physics-chemistry.

This talk was delivered Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at Charlottesville City Council Chambers.