From the book
Thomas Jefferson, Freethinker
Born, April 13, 1743. Died. July 4, 1826.
President, March 4, 1801 March 4, 1809.
As a thinker, Thomas Jefferson was probably the greatest of our presidents. He took an interest in science and philosophy as well as in government and politics. He gave more attention to the subject of religion than did any of our other Presidents, and while, like other public men of the past and present, he did not publicly express his views, in his letters to his friends he did so without reserve. Hence, except among his ultra-religious admirers, there has been no controversy over his religious opinions, as there has been in the cases of Washington and Lincoln.
Washington was not speculative. His mind always turned upon practical things. Lincoln often expressed himself in private conversation with his friends, upon whom we are very largely dependent for a knowledge of what his views were.
Jefferson's most voluminous biographer, Henry J. Randall (vol. 3, pp. 553-562), insists upon calling him a "Christian," a word which is subject to many qualifications. Yet Mr. Randall admits that Jefferson disbelieved in all strictly orthodox dogmas, and was a Unitarian. Unitarians, like Deists, were considered to be as much "Infidels" in Jefferson's day as an Atheist is now. But in his own day, Jefferson could scarcely have claimed to be a Unitarian, since in the first half of the 19th Century that Church was supernaturalistic and far from being as broad as it is at the present time.
Jefferson himself defined the word "Christian" as he wanted it applied to himself, in these words: "I am a Christian in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other." (Morse's Jefferson, American Statesmen Series, p. 304.)
Morse also says:
|"Jefferson's religious opinions, both during his life time and
since his death, have given rise to much controversy. His opponents constantly
charged him with 'Infidelity'; his friends as vigorously denied the charge.
The discussion annoyed and irritated him; but he would not aid in establishing
an inquisition of conscience. His grandson says that even his own family
knew no more than the rest of the world concerning his religious opinions.
One cannot but think that, had he been a firm believer in Christianity,
he would probably not have regarded such reticence as justifiable, but
would have felt it his duty to give to the faith the weight of his influence,
which he well knew to be considerable. Nearly all the evidence which has
been collected falls into the same scale, going to show that he was not
a Christian in any strict sense of that word. It is true that the phrase
bears widely different meanings to different persons; but probably the
most liberal admissable interpretations would hardly make it
apply to Jefferson." (Pages 338-340.)
"He compared Christ with Socrates and Epictetus, and says that when he [Christ] died at about 33 years of age, his reason had 'not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of three years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective as a whole; and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, and often unintelligible.' This hardly describes the Christian notion of God's revelation. After such language it was not worth while to add the saving clause, that 'the question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it -- is foreign to the present view!'
"To my mind, it is very clear that Jefferson never believed that Christ was other than a human moralist, having no peculiar inspiration or divine connection, and differing from other moralists only as Shakespeare differs from other dramatists, namely, as greatly their superior in ability and fitness for his function. But those admirers of Jefferson, who themselves believe in the divinity of Christ, will probably refuse to accept this view, though they find themselves without sufficient evidence conclusively to confute it." (Pages 340-341.)
James Parton, one of the standard biographers of Jefferson, says:
|"His religious tone was also that of most healthy English souls before religion became intense and opinionative. The Jeffersons appear to have been of that good-tempered and sensible class who escaped the anguish and narrowness of the Puritan period, equally incapable of fighting a bishop or stoning a Quaker. To such, religion was never a system or a salvation. It was the supreme decency, the highest etiquette, with the addition of bell-ringing and Merry Christmas. That Jefferson was able to attain to a rational and comfortable tone of mind on this distracted subject, without any severe internal conflict, was a happiness he owed to the well-tempered mind of his father, and to the healthy race from which he sprang." (Life of Jefferson, p. 738.)|
Richard Hildreth, the historian, in speaking of Jefferson's religious opinions, says:
|"Jefferson's relations to the religious opinions of his country
were somewhat peculiar. He believed, like Paine, in a personal God and
a future life, but, like him, regarded Christianity, in the supernatural
view of it, as a popular fable, an instrument for deluding, misgoverning
and plundering mankind; and these opinions he entertained, as he did most
others, with little regard to any qualifying considerations, and with an
energy approaching to fanaticism. But he was no more inclined than were
the New England Rationalists to become a martyr to the propagation of unpopular
ideas. That he left to Paine and others of less discretion or more courage
than himself." (History of the United States, vol. 5, p. 458
"Jefferson seems to have considered himself excessively ill-treated by the clergy, who were constantly twitting him with his Infidel opinions." (Ibid, p. 461.)
That Jefferson did not want to become a martyr, only places him in the same category as most other men. Paine was the vicarious atonement offered in behalf of heresy in the United States, and though he wore the crown of thorns, received the stripes, and was hanged on the cross of bigotry, orthodoxy was never satisfied. Jefferson was not anxious to be another victim, and why should he? After 140 years, Paine has been vindicated.
Jefferson was justified in resenting the clerical abuse showered upon him because of his "Infidel" opinions. He no doubt wondered why, in a country where Church and state were separate, and where freedom of conscience was incorporated in the Constitution, the clergy of any particular Church or religion should presume to exercise control over a citizen's opinion.
Mr. Randall persists in calling Jefferson a Christian, regardless of the fact that by his own admission he did not believe in the doctrines that distinguish a Christian from other religionists. Mr. Hildreth did not like Jefferson, therefore he made all he could out of his unpopular opinions, that he might discredit him. Mr. Parton, considered Jefferson's liberal views to be a credit to him, and to the English-speaking world. Mr. Morse merely told the truth.
Most important of all is the evidence of Thomas Jefferson's own words as to what he believed. The following quotation, from a letter (Aug. 10, 1787) which he wrote to his young nephew and ward, Peter Carr, sheds much light on Jefferson's religious opinions:
|"Religion. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty and singularity of opinion. Indulge them on any other subject rather than that of religion. On the other hand, shake off all the fears and servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of Reason than of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine, first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then, as you would Livy or Tacitus. For example, in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood for several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, etc. But it is said that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the laws of Nature. You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, Of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended and reversed the laws of Nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven; and, 2, Of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out with pretensions to divinity; ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offense by whipping, and the second by exile, or death in furea.... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you will feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement: if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven; and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness, of the decision." (Parton's Life of Jefferson, pp. 338 339.)|
|"On August 10, 1787, in a letter of advice to his young ward, Peter Carr, he dealt with religion at much length, telling Carr to examine the question independently. He added instructions so colorless that they resemble the charge of a painfully impartial judge to a jury. But in this especial matter labored impartially usually signifies a negative prejudice. At least Jefferson showed that he did not regard Christianity as so established a truth that it was to be asserted dogmatically, and though he so carefully seeks to conceal his own bias, yet one instinctively feels that this letter was not written by a believer. Had he believed, in the proper sense of the word, he would have been unable to place a very young man midway between the two doors of belief and unbelief, setting both wide open, and furnishing no indication as to which led to error." (Life of Jefferson, pp. 45 and 46.)|
Jefferson abhorred intolerance, and regarding it he uses the following strong language:
|"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.... It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion, and whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men, governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? Difference of opinion is advantageous to religion. The several sects perform the office of censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth." (Parton's Life of Jefferson, pp. 211, 212.)|
The following quotations are taken from the Writings of Thomas Jefferson, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, in 1894. Of the trinity he says:
|"It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticism that three are one and one is three, and yet, that the one is not three, and the three are not one.... But this constitutes the craft, the power, and profits of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of fictitious religion, and they would catch no more flies." (vol. 9, pp. 412, 413.)|
Writing to John Adams, on July 5, 1814, he again refers to the same subject:
|"The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticisms of Plato materials with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence." (Ibid, p. 463.)|
For Presbyterianism he had no use, and on November 2, 1822, he wrote the following letter to Dr. Cooper:
|"I had no idea, however, that in Pennsylvania, the cradle of toleration
and freedom of religion, it (fanaticism) could have arisen to the height
you describe. This must be owing to the growth of Presbyterianism. The
blasphemy of the five points of Calvinism, and the impossibility of defending
them, render their advocates impatient of reasoning, irritable,
and prone to denunciation." (Vol. 10, p. 242.)
"It is not so in the districts where Presbyterianism prevails undividedly. Their ambition and tyranny would tolerate no rival if they had power. Systematical in grasping an ascendancy over all other sects, they aim, like the Jesuits, at engrossing the education of the country, are hostile to every institution they do not direct, and jealous at seeing others begin to attend at all to that object." (Ibid, p. 243.)
Speaking of religious fanaticism in Richmond, the capital of Virginia, he said, in a letter to Dr. Cooper:
|"In our Richmond there is much fanaticism, but chiefly among the
women. They have their night meetings and praying parties, where, attended
by their priests, and sometimes by a hen-pecked husband, they pour forth
the effusions of their love to Jesus in terms as amatory and carnal as
their modesty would permit to a merely earthly lover." (Ibid, p. 242.)
"The Presbyterian clergy are the loudest, the most intolerant of all sects; the most tyrannical and ambitious, ready at the word of the law-giver, if such a word could now be obtained, to put their torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere the flame in which their oracle, Calvin, consumed the poor Servetus, because he could not subscribe to the proposition of Calvin, that magistrates have a right to exterminate all heretics to the Calvinistic creed! They pant to be re-established by law as the holy inquisition which they can now only infuse into public opinion." (Works, 1829 edition, vol. 4, p. 322.)
"His (Calvin's) religion was demonism. If ever man worshiped a false God, he did. The being described in his five points is ... a demon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no God at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious, attributes of Calvin." (Ibid, p. 363.)
"I should as soon undertake to bring the crazy skulls of Bedlam to sound understanding, as inculcate reason into that of an Athanasian." (Ibid, p. 353.)
Speaking of the eucharist, he refers to the orthodox clergy as "cannibal priests." (Ibid, p. 205.)
It is interesting to see the opinion of Jefferson upon the orthodox idea of Jesus:
|"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the
Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with
the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." (Vol.
4, p. 365.)
"If we could believe that he (Jesus) really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods, and the charlatanisms which his biographers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations, and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and the fanatics of the latter, ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind that he was an imposter."
On the same page, he speaks of the gospel story of Jesus as "a ground work of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications." (Ibid. p. 325.)
Jefferson, however, did not regard Jesus as an imposter. He believed that the stories that made him appear to be one were written in after years. He says:
|"Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, of such absurdity, so much untruth and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross, restore to him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some and the roguery of others of his disciples." (Ibid, p. 320.)|
In regard to Jesus's believing himself to be inspired, he said:
|"This belief carried no more personal imputation than the belief of Socrates that he was under the care and admonition of a guardian demon. And how many of our wisest men still believe in the reality of these inspirations while perfectly sane on all other subjects?" (Ibid, p. 327.)|
When the Church was disestablished in New England, Jefferson wrote the following words to John Adams: "I join you, therefore, in sincere congratulations that this den of the priesthood is at length broken up, and that a Protestant Popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character." (Works, vol. 4, p. 301.)
In a letter to Dr. Woods, he said: "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythology."
In a letter to James Smith, Jefferson says: "The hocus pocus phantasm of a God, like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs." (Ibid, p. 360.) Of Paul he said: "Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryrpheus, the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." (Ibid, p. 327.) We might triple these quotations from Jefferson's writings did space permit.
Some may ask, "Did not Jefferson prepare a Bible, known as the 'Jefferson Bible'?" He did, but it consisted of only the moral teachings of Jesus which he admired, and omitted those he disliked. All supernaturalism was eliminated. Early in this century this "Bible" was published by an act of Congress at the government printing office. Some, who knew nothing of its nature, hoped to find evidence that Jefferson was a believer. The clergy, however, knew better, and made a protest against the publication of the book, which they said fostered "Infidelity." It has since been republished.
Jefferson had no use for the priesthood. Writing from Paris he said: "If anybody thinks that kings, nobles and priests, are good conservators of the public happiness, send him here (Paris). It is the best school in the Universe to cure him of his folly. He will see here with his own eyes that these descriptions of men are an abandoned confederacy against the happiness of the mass of the people."
That Jefferson was often denounced by the clergy and others for his anti-religious views is well known. The Rev. John S. C. Abbott, the clerical historian, referring to Jefferson's part in the establishment of the University of Virginia, says:
|"He devoted much attention to the establishment of the University at Charlottesville. Having no religious faith which he was willing to avow, he was not willing that any religious faith whatever should be taught in the University as a part of its course of instruction. This establishment, in a Christian land, of an institution for the education of youth, where the relation existing between man and his maker was entirely ignored, raised a general cry of disapproval throughout the whole country. It left a stigma upon the reputation of Mr. Jefferson, in the minds of Christian people, which can never be effaced." (Lives of the Presidents, p. 142.)|
The Rev. Dr. Wilson, in his famous sermon on "The Religion of the Presidents," says:
|"I believe the influence of his example and name has done more for the extension of Infidelity than that of any other man. Since his death, and the publication of Randolph (his works, edited by his grandson), there remains not a shadow of doubt of his Infidel principles. If any man thinks there is, let him look at the book itself. I do not recommend the purchase of it to any man, for it is one of the most wicked and dangerous books extant."|
The New American Encyclopedia, in the edition of 1874, says: "He carried the rule of subjecting everything to the test of abstract reason into matters of religion, venerating the character of Christ, but refusing belief in his divine mission."
Benson J. Lossing, in his Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (p. 183), says: "In religion he was a Freethinker; in morals, pure and unspotted."
Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University, says: "It cannot be necessary to adopt any train of reasoning to show that a man who disbelieves the inspiration and divine authority of the scripture -- who not only denies the divinity of our Savour, but reduces him to the grade of an uneducated, ignorant and erring man -- who calls the God of Abraham (The Jehovah of the Bible) a cruel and remorseless being, cannot be a Christian." George Bancroft, in his History of the United States (vol. 5, p. 323), states: "He was not only a hater of priestcraft and superstition and bigotry and intolerance; he was thought to be indifferent to religion."
The New York Observer, a Presbyterian journal, gave Jefferson's works, when they were first published, the following notice: "Mr. Jefferson, it is well known, was never suspected of being very friendly to the orthodox religion, but these volumes prove not only that he was a disbeliever, but a scoffer of the very lowest class."
The Chicago Tribune once said: "A question has been raised as to Thomas Jefferson's religious views. There need be no question, for he has settled that himself. He was an Infidel, or, as he chose to term it, a Materialist. By his own account he was as heterodox as Colonel Ingersoll, and in some respects more so."
Tucker, in his biography of Jefferson, says: "It is very certain that he did not believe at all in the divine origin of Christianity, and of course not in the inspiration of the Scriptures; even of the New Testament."
During the eight years that Thomas Jefferson was President, he refused to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation.  In a letter to the Rev. Mr. Miller, he gave his reasons for refusing:
|"I consider the Government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution of the United States from meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.... But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and praying. That is, I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from.... Every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents."|
Jefferson denied that Christianity was a part of the common law, either of England or of the United States. He went into the subject historically, and gave the following scholarly account of how by fraud, this statement had gained currency:
|"In quare impedit, in Common Bench (Year Book), 34th year
Henry VI, folio 38 (anno 1458), the defendant, Bishop of Lincoln, pleads
that the church of the plaintiff became void by the death of the incumbent;
that the plaintiff and I. S., each pretending a right, presented two
several clerks; that the church being thus rendered litigious, he was not
obliged, by the ecclesiastical law, to admit either, until an inquisition
de jure patronatus, in the ecclesiastical court; that, by the same
law, this inquisition was to be at the suit of either claimant, and was
not ex officio to be instituted by the Bishop, and at his proper costs;
that neither party had desired such an inquisition; that six months passed;
whereupon it belonged to him of right to present as on a lapse, which he
had done. The plaintiff demurred.
"A question was, How far the ecclesiastical law was to be respected in this matter by the common law court. And Prisot, chapter 5, in the course of his argument uses this expression: 'A tiel leis qu'ils de seint eglise ont en ancien scripture, covient a nous a donner credence' (To such laws as those of holy church had in ancient writing, it is proper for us to give credence).
"Finch mistakes this in the following manner: 'To such laws of the church as have warrant in Holy Scripture, our law giveth credence' and cites the above case, and the words of Prisot in the margin. Finch's law, book 1, chapter 3, published in 1613. Here we find 'ancien scripture' (ancient writing) converted into 'Holy Scripture,' whereas it can only mean the ancient written laws of the church.
"With such a license, we might reverse the sixth commandment into 'Thou shalt not omit murder.' It would be the more extraordinary in this case, when the mistranslation was to effect the adoption of the whole code of the Jewish and Christian laws into the texts of our statutes, to convert religious offenses into temporal crimes, to make the breach of every religious precept a subject of indictment.
"It cannot mean the Scriptures -- First, because the term 'ancien scripture' must then be understood as meaning the Old Testament in contradiction to the New, and to the exclusion of that; which would be absurd and contrary to the wish of those who cite this passage to prove that the scriptures, or Christianity, is a part of the common law. Second, because Prisot says: 'Ceo (est) common ley sur quel touts manners leis sont fondes' (It is common law, on which all manners of law are founded). Now it is true that the ecclesiastical law, so far as admitted in England, derives its authority from the common law. But it would not be true that the Scriptures so derive their authority."
Jefferson produces a long list of authorities who have made the claim that Christianity is a part of the common law, but shows that all of them hang on the same hook -- the perverted expression of Prisot. Then he deals with the question historically:
|"Authorities for what is common law may, therefore, be as well cited, as for any part of the lex scripta; and there is no better instance of the necessity of holding judges and writers to a declaration of their authorities than the present, where we detect them endeavoring to make law where they found none, and to submit to us, at one stroke, a whole system, no particle of which has its foundation in the common law, or has received the 'esto' of the legislator. For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered, from time to time, by proper legislative authority, from that time to the date of the Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that of the statute law, or lex scripta. This settlement took place about the middle of the Fifth Century, but Christianity was not introduced until the Seventh Century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was a space of about 200 years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it. If it ever, therefore, was adopted into the common law, it must have been between the introduction of Christianity and the date of the Magna Charta. But of the laws of that period we have a tolerable collection by Lambard and Wilkins, probably not perfect; but neither very defective; and if any one chooses to build a doctrine of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alternations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it, but none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law. Another cogent proof of this truth is drawn from the silence of certain writers on the common law. Bracton gives us a very complete and scientific treatise of the whole body of the common law. He wrote this about the close of the reign of Henry III, a few years after the date of the Magna Charta. We consider this book as the more valuable, as it was written about the time which divides the common and statute law, and therefore gives us the former in its ultimate state. Bracton, too, was an ecclesiastic, and would certainly not have failed to inform us of the adoption of Christianity as a part of the common law, had any such adoption ever taken place. But no word of his, which intimates any thing like it, has ever been cited."|
After citing other authorities to the same effect, Jefferson adds: "It was reserved for Fitch, 500 years after, in the time of Charles II, by a falsification of a phrase in the Year Book, to open this new doctrine, and for his successors to join full-mouthed in the cry, and give to the fiction the sound of fact."
He calls attention to the fact that the first judicial declaration of this claim was made by Sir Matthew Hale, in 1662, in Justification for hanging Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, two old women, for witchcraft. In conclusion, he says:
|"In truth, the alliance between Church and state in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy, and even bolder than they are; for instead of being contented with the surreptitious introduction of these four chapters of Exodus, they have taken the whole leap, and declared at once that the whole Bible and Testament, in a lump, make a part of the common law of the land; the first judicial declaration of which was by this Sir Matthew Hale."|
The foregoing is an appendix to Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court of Virginia, from 1730 to 1740 and from 1768 to 1772, by Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to Edward Everett, written in 1824, Jefferson says:
|"I do not remember the occasion which led me to take up this subject, while a practitioner of the law. But I know I went into it with all the research in which a very copious law library enabled me to indulge; and I fear not for the accuracy of my quotations. The doctrine might be disproved by many other and different topics of reasoning; but having satisfied myself of the origin of the forgery, and found how, like a rolling snowball, it had gathered volume, I leave its further pursuit to those who need further proof." (Jefferson's Works, vol. VII, p. 383.)|
We have later data, however, than these of Jefferson. Some years ago, in England, a Mr. Bowman made a will leaving 10,000 pounds to the National Secular Society. The heirs contested the will on the plea that the N.S.S. was an anti-Christian organization and therefore contrary to the law of the land. The old "common law" plea was used. The case went through all the courts of England, and was finally decided in the House of Lords. There the will was sustained, the House of Lords holding that the statement that "Christianity is a part of the law of the land is more rhetoric than fact."
That the question has been a mooted one is apparent by the fact that two State supreme courts in the United States have decided that this common law is a part of the law of the United States -- Arkansas, in 1850 and Missouri, in 1854; while the supreme courts of Ohio and California have declared that it is not.
When Thomas Paine was marooned in France, Jefferson generously offered him passage in a federal man-of-war. This greatly offended the clergy. Paine visited the President at the White House, and often walked arm in arm with him on the street. In a letter to Francis Eppes, Jefferson said: "You ask my opinion of Lord Bolingbroke and Thomas Paine. They were alike in making bitter enemies of the priests and Pharisees of their day. Both were honest men; both advocates for human liberty."
The great sorrow of Jefferson's life was the death of Mrs. Jefferson, which occurred in 1782. When the wife of his old friend, John Adams, passed away in 1818, he wrote the following letter to Adams:
|"The public papers, my dear friend, announce the fatal event, of which your letter of October 20 had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that, for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicines. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, though mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain; but that it is of some comfort to us both that the time is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction."|
Jefferson, like Paine, believed in a God, and hoped for happiness beyond this life, though of the two men, Paine was the more religious. As Jefferson approached old age, Dr. William Ellery Channing, the noted Unitarian divine, was attaining distinction. Jefferson admired him and said, in 1822:
|"I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience neither to kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of the only true God is reviving; and I trust there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."|
Yet, in contradistinction to Spiritualism, Jefferson called himself a Materialist. In a letter to John Adams, written a short time before he died, he said:
|"On the basis of sensation, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of matter or magnetism or loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of motion called thinking shall show how he could endow the sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and by that will put matter into motion, then the Materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the mind. To talk of immaterial existences, is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise. But I believe that I am supported in my creed of Materialism by the Lockes, the Tracys, and the Stewarts."|
Jefferson was a model husband and father. He was a temperance advocate, like Madison, drinking but little wine and no strong spirits. He was an advocate of peace. His object in the enactment of the embargo of 1807 was, to use his own words, "to introduce between nations another umpire than arms." Like Washington, Jefferson supported the Church in his own neighborhood, thinking it of value as a social institution, as, for this reason only, many men support the Church today. But above all, he was the champion of education and the founder of the University of Virginia. His mind was sanguine, as Parton says, within nine days of his death, when he wrote with a trembling hand:
|"All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind have not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God."|
Once when he thought the parish clergyman was in the room he said, "I have no objection to see him as a good and kind neighbor," but he did not want to see him in his professional capacity. At 20 minutes until one, on the afternoon, of July 4, 1826, he breathed his last. In the evening of the same day, his old friend and co-worker, John Adams, passed away in Quincy, Mass. The great achievements of Jefferson's life are engraved on his tombstone:
|"HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA."|
1. Presidents Jackson and Taylor also refused to issue Thanksgiving proclamations. (Return to reference.)