During this election cycle, and, indeed, in nearly every election since the Warren court began issuing leftist, anti-religion rulings, we have experienced an outpouring of misinformation about Thomas Jefferson and his supposed atheism, deism, and any number of other alleged '-isms'. Almost always, such efforts have the aim of altering the historical perception of this great man, his straightforward and pure belief in God, and his unwavering support for religion becoming and remaining the foundation of the moral laws upon which the United States of America was built.
The goal of this post is to dispell those false notions and to firmly re-establish Jefferson as a Christian. Another goal is to provide a "shopping" place for everyone interested in setting the record straight about religion and politics on other blogs.
All of these quotes are directly from the book called America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations by William J. Federer, which I highly recommend. It is an 864-page reference book containing over 2,100 quotations from founding fathers, presidents, constitutions, court decisions and more. These quotes are from pp. 322-334.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), author, architect, educator and scientist, was the 3rd President of the United States of America. In 1774, while serving in the Virginia Assembly, he personally introduced a resolution calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer. Thomas Jefferson penned the words of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4th, 1776. Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a committee was appointed to draft a seal for the newly united states which would express the spirit of the nation. Thomas Jefferson proposed:
The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
During the period between 1779-1781, Thomas Jefferson served as the Governor of Virginia, where he decreed a day of:
public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.
In 1781, Thomas Jefferson made this statement in Query XVIII of his Notes on the State of Virginia. Excerpts of these statements are engraved on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be though secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.
In Query XIX of the same, Jefferson wrote:
Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God...whose breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.
In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote at the occasion of the Kentucky Resolution:
No power over the freedom of religion...[is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution.
In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, Jefferson wrote:
I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson stated in his First Inaugural Address:
And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.... Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own federal and republican principles...enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them including honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter; With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens--a wise and frugal government...which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned... And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.
While U.S. President (1801-1809, he chaired the school board for the District of Columbia, where he authored the first plan of education adopted by the city of Washington. This plan used the Bible and Isaac Watts' Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707, as the principal books for teaching reading to students.
On March 23, 1801, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Washington, D.C., to Moses Robinson:
The Christian Religion, when divested of the rags in which they [the clergy] have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind.
On January 1, 1802, Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, calming their fears that Congress was not in the process of choosing any one single Christian denomination to be the "state" denomination, as was the case with the Anglican Church in England and Virginia.
In his letter to the Danbury Baptists, who had experienced severe persecution for their faith, Jefferson borrowed phraseology from the famous Baptist minister Roger Williams who said, "...the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall..." Jefferson's letter included:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State
This personal letter reassured the Baptists that the government's hands were tied from interfering with, or in any way controlling, the affairs or decisions of the churches in America.
Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution, nor was he present at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Neither was he present when the First Amendment and religious freedom were debated in the first session of Congress in 1789, as he was out of the country in France as a U.S. Minister. Due to his not being present to hear all the comments of the Founding Fathers regarding the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson had to rely on second-hand information to learn what had transpired in that first session of Congress. This rendered his letter to the Danbury Baptists (which was written 13 years after the First Amendment) ineligible to be considered a "first-hand" reflection of the intent of the constitutional delegates.
Thomas Jefferson, April 30, 1802, signed the enabling act for Ohio to become a state. It stated that the government in this new state "not be repugnant to the [Northwest] Ordinance":
The Northwest Ordinance--Article III Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.
On April 21, 1803, he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush, (also a signer of the Declaration of Independence):
My views...are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others...
On December 3, 1803, it was recommended by President Thomas Jefferson that Congress pass a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians. Included in this treaty was the annual support to a Catholic missionary priest of $100, to be paid out of the Federal treasury. Later in 1806 and 1807, two similar treaties were made with the Wyandotte and Cherokee tribes.
President Jefferson also extended, three times, a 1787 act of Congress in which special lands were designated:
For the sole use of Christian Indians and the Moravian Brethren missionaries for civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity.
On June 17, 1804, in a letter to Henry Fry, Thomas Jefferson writes:
I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest system of morality that has ever been taught but I hold in the most profound detestation and execration the corruptions of it which have been invented...
In a letter to Abigail Adams, September 11, 1804, Jefferson wrote:
Nothing in the Constitution has given them [the federal judges] a right to decide for the Executive, more than to the Executive to decide for them...But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional, and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the legislature and executive also, in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch .
On March 4, 1805, in his Second Inaugural Address, Jefferson declared:
In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercise suited to it; but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state and church authorities by the several religious societies.
I shall now enter on the duties to which my fellow-citizens have again called me, and shall proceed in the spirit of those principles which they have approved...
I shall need, therefore, all the indulgence I have heretofore experienced...I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessities and comforts of life, who has covered our infancy with His Providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils and prosper their measures, that whatever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship and approbation of all nations.
On March 4, 1805, Jefferson offered A National Prayer for Peace:
Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.
Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.
Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
As President, Jefferson not only signed bills which appropriated financial support for chaplains in Congress and in the armed services, but he also signed the Articles of War, April 10, 1806, in which he:
Earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services.
On January 23, 1808, Jefferson wrote to Samuel Miller:
I consider the government of the U.S. as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the U.S. [10th Amendment]
In a letter to John Adams, dated 1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
In extracting the pure principles which Jesus taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled...there will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.
On September 18, 1813, in a letter to William Canby, Jefferson wrote:
An eloquent preacher of your religious society, Richard Mote, in a discourse of much emotion and pathos, is said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist in heaven, having paused to give his hearers time to stare and to wonder. He added, that in Heaven, God knew no distinctions...
In a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, dated March 17, 1814, Jefferson wrote:
Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.
On September 26, 1814, Jefferson wrote to Miles King:
...Nay, we have heard it said that there is not a Quaker or a Baptist, a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian, a Catholic or a Protestant in heaven; that on entering that gate, we leave those badges of schism behind...Let us not be uneasy about the different roads we may pursue, as believing them the shortest, to that our last abode; but following the guidance of a good conscience, let us be happy in the hope that by these different paths we shall all meet in the end. And that you and I may meet and embrace, is my earnest prayer. And with this assurance I salute you with brotherly esteem and respect.
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote in his own handwriting "a wee book" for his personal study, entitled:
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English with the table of contents reading "A Table of the Texts from the Evangelists employed in this Narrative and the order of their arrangement."
In 1904, the fifty-seventh Congress, in an effort to restrain unethical behavior, voted:
That there be printed and bound, by photolithographic process, with an introduction of not to exceed twenty-five pages, to be prepared by Dr. Cyrus Adler, Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, for the use of Congress, 9,000 copies of Thomas Jefferson's Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, as the same appears in the National Museum; 3,000 copies for the use of the Senate and 6,000 copies for the use of the House.
On September 6, 1819, Jefferson wrote:
The Constitution is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.
On September 28, 1820, Jefferson wrote to William Jarvis:
You see...to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so...and their power [is] the more dangerous, as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots.
On November 4, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Jared Sparks:
I hold the precepts of Jesus as delivered by Himself, to be the most pure, benevolent and sublime which have ever been preached to man...
In 1821, Jefferson wrote to Mr. Hammond:
The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in...the federal judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow) working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States.
On June 12, 1823, in a letter to Justice William Johnson regarding the meaning to the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
On August 30, 1823, in a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson commented on his authorship of the Declaration of Independence:
I know that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiments which had never been expressed before...I pray God that these principles may be eternal, and close the prayer with my affectionate wishes for yourself of long life, health and happiness.
In establishing the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson not only encouraged the teaching of religion, but set aside a place inside the Rotunda for chapel services. Thomas Jefferson also spoke highly of the use, in his home town, of the local courthouse for religious services.
While in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson attended Christ Church, along with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, Francis Hopkins, and Betsy Ross. In Virginia, Jefferson attended Bruton Parish Church (Episcopalian) in Williamsburg, where George and Martha Washington were also members. His own Bible, a well-worn, four-volume set, held preeminence in his personal library. In the catalog he had written, listing all the books in his library, Jefferson wrote this on the title page:
I am for freedom of Religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.
In a letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote regarding his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth:
A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian; that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.
Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus.
The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them.
Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christians.
I have always said, I always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.
1. The doctrines of Jesus are simple and tend to the happiness of man.
2. There is only one God, and He is all perfect.
3. There is a future state of rewards and punishment.
4. To love God with all the heart and thy neighbor as thyself is the sum of all. These are the great points on which to reform the religion of the Jews.
No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advance toward rational Christianity, and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed from His lips, the whole world would at this day been Christian...Had there never been a commentator there never would have been an infidel. I have little doubt that the whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were on the opposite sides of several major political issues, many times resulting in heated debates. John Adams, the 2nd President, was succeeded in office by Thomas Jefferson. So strong were John Adam's feelings against Jefferson at the time, that Adams even left Washington, D.C., to avoid being at Jefferson's Inauguration.
Later in life, however, the two became the best of friends. Their correspondence reveals not only their faith, but their friendship. In a providential coincidence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after they both had signed the Declaration of Independence. Once hardened political opponents, John Adams' last words were:
Thank God, Jefferson lives!
Thomas Jefferson's epitaph, which he wrote himself, is inscribed on his tombstone:
Here lies buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Statutes for Religious Freedom in Virginia, and father of the University of Virginia.
The Jefferson Memorial, on the south banks of Washington D.C.'s Tidal Basin, has inscribed in marble Thomas Jefferson's own words:
Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion.
No men shall...suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.
Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the Book of Life than that these people are to be free.
The precepts of philosophy and of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. [Jesus] pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man, erected his tribunal in the regions of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.
Jefferson declared that religion is:
Deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.
Sources for these quotes are found on pp. 763-768 of America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations by William J. Federer.