Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thomas Jefferson, would he be elected president today?

 Thomas Jefferson is hands down the most slandered former president of our country. Jefferson sent a reply to a letter from a community of Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut and re-iterated to them the establishment clause of the first amendment. assuring the Baptists that congress would never interfere with the free exercise of religion, nowadays unethical, unscrupulous lawyers use his letter to attempt to do just that by taking his comments out of context.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson's "separation of church & state letter written to the Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut on January 1, 1802
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which are so good to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, of prohibiting the free excercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all of his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessings of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem."

"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
John F. Kennedy to Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere,
at a White House function, April 29, 1962
"And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."
Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, Monticello, 28 May 1816. Ford 11:533
"I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe."
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787
"Self-love . . . is the sole antagonist of virtue, leading us constantly by our propensities to self-gratification in violation of our moral duties to others." "(If a) people (are) so demoralized and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control, their reformation must be taken up ab incunablis (from the beginning). Their minds (must) be informed by education what is right and what wrong, (must) be encouraged in habits of virtue and deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned indeed, but irremissible. In all cases, (they must) follow truth as the only safe guide and eschew error which bewilders us in one false consequence after another in endless succession. These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government."
In a letter to John Adams in 1819
"He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and it time depraves all its good dispositions." (1785)
"I never ... believed there was one code of morality for a public and another for a private man."
In a letter to Don Valentine de Feronda, 1809

"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world."
Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1820.
"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."
"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government has grown out of too much government."
Senator John Sharp Williams, Thomas Jefferson: His Permamnent Influence on American Institutions, p.49 (1913). Lecture delivered at Columbia University, New York City, 1912.
"To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
"And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."
Letter to John Taylor, May 28, 1816
"The only foundation for useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion." "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought 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."
"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 any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others..."
"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..."
As President, Thomas 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."
In a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, dated March 17, 1814, Thomas 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."
"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."
"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."
Jefferson declared that religion is: "Deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support."
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

"No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms."
Thomas Jefferson, while writing the 1st draft of the Virginia State Constitution.
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

this last quote by the very writer of the first amendment:
Fisher Ames (Author of the First Amendment)
"Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a schoolbook? Its morals are pure, its examples are captivating and noble....In no Book is there so good English, so pure and so elegant, and by teaching all the same they will speak alike, and the Bible will justly remain the standard of language as well as of faith."

1 comment:

Bruce Gourley said...

Why did many conservative Christians who lived during Thomas Jefferson's day, consider him a heretic, infidel, and even an atheist?

The story starts before Jefferson's time.

Roger Williams, first Baptist in America, in the 17th century coined "wall of separation" to describe the proper church/state relationship, a two-way street in which government should not interfere with religious expression and practices, and religion should be completely disestablished from government. Generations of Baptists following fought for church/state separation, and for their efforts were beaten, whipped and jailed by "Christian" colonial church state officials.

Baptists' nearly two-century fight was rewarded, nationally, with the founding of America as a secular nation and the securing of church/state separation in the First Amendment. Thomas Jefferson repeated the Baptists' historical words back to them in the Danbury letter, and Danbury Baptists (and many other Baptists) in return thanked Jefferson for separating church and state.

The reality is that in the early nineteenth century, many Christians other than Baptists despised Jefferson as a heretic, and even an atheist, for his role in founding America as a secular nation.

Many (if not most) historical volumes about Thomas Jefferson at least mention the accusations, from conservative Christians and politicians of theocratic persuasions during Jefferson's lifetime, of the founding father and president being an atheist, heretic and/or infidel.

Charles B. Sanford’s The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson (1984) is one example. He references the hundred or so pamphlets and newspapers that accused Jefferson of being an atheist, infidel and/or heretic, as well as numerous sermons declaring that if elected, Jefferson would ruin religion, overthrow Christianity, and destroy the Bible. Conservative Christians considered him thus throughout his life. Even afterward, in 1830, the Philadelphia public library refused to include books about Jefferson on its shelves because he was considered an infidel and heretic.

Charles Lerche’s 1948 volume, Thomas Jefferson and the Election of 1800, further explores the popular Christian conception of Jefferson as atheist, heretic, and infidel.

For examples of Christian preachers condemning Jefferson as a liberal, atheist, infidel and heretic, see pages 9 and 10 (including footnotes) of Thomas Jefferson and Political Preaching: Two Case Studies of Free Religious Expression in the American Pulpit. Some conservative preachers vilified Jefferson for (among other things) his Virginia Bill (Act) For Establishing Religious Freedom, on which Jefferson allied with the (also heretical and liberal) Baptists to pass in 1786; the Bill served as a model for the religious clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For more information about widespread Christian opposition to Jefferson, go to

Today, many Americans - especially conservative Christians - have forgotten their nation's religious history, or worse, intentionally place their faith in phony history designed to support special civil and government privileges for Christians. In reality, Baptists in colonial America suffered and bled to prevent government privileges to religion, and government favoritism of any one faith over another. In short, Baptists ensured that America was founded as a secular nation.

For more information about Baptists and the historical fight for separation of church and state, go to

Bruce T. Gourley
Executive Director
Baptist History & Heritage Society