James Madison, John Witherspoon, and Oliver Cowdery : The First Amendment and the 134th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants
BYU Law Review
J. Reuben Clark Law School
A number of years ago, as I completed an article regarding the history of the framing and ratification of the First Amendment’s religion provision, I noted similarities between the written thought of James Madison and that of the 134th section of the Doctrine & Covenants, which section was largely drafted by Oliver Cowdery. At the time, I hoped I would one day be able to do more research on this topic and compare the views of Madison and Cowdery in greater depth. I am grateful to the organizers of this conference for giving me the opportunity to do so.
This essay is divided into three parts. Part I provides some biographical information regarding Madison and John Witherspoon, including a discussion of the influence of Witherspoon on Madison's thinking regarding the right of religious conscience and an examination of Madison’s efforts to secure the right of religious conscience in the founding era. Part II includes pertinent biographical information regarding Cowdery, followed by an examination of those verses of the 134th section of the Doctrine & Covenants that deal with government and the right of religious conscience. Part III compares the views of Madison and Cowdery and offers some concluding commentary.