American Minute with Bill Federer
Thomas Jefferson on Jesus, Religious Freedom, Rights of Conscience, Government, Indians, Islam, & more
Thomas Jefferson was born APRIL 13, 1743.

He was baptized in the Anglican Church.

His father died when he was 14 years old.

In 1760, he began attending the College of William and Mary, where he was educated by Anglican ministers and professors.
On January 1, 1772, Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton on the Wayles estate, the service being presided over by a pair of Anglican priests.

Martha helped raise money for the state's militia during the Revolution.

Their six children were baptized in the Anglican Church.

Sadly, five died before Jefferson, being buried with Anglican religious services.

As Virginia was an established Anglican Colony, Jefferson could never have held public office there unless he had been a faithful Anglican, as officeholders had to take the Oath of Supremacy.
In the Continental Congress, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, 1776, which refers to God four times:

  • Laws of Nature and of Nature's God;
  • All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;
  • Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World;
  • Firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.

Nearly three-quarters of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence were "Low Church" Anglicans.
In 1785, after the Revolutionary War, the Anglican Church in America became the Episcopal Church, of which Jefferson was a member.

He was a regular donor to St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Henry S. Randall, author of The Life of Thomas Jefferson (NY: Derby & Jackson, 1858), was the only biographer who interviewed Jefferson's immediate family personally.

He wrote:

"Jefferson ... attended church with as much regularity as most of the members of the congregation—sometimes going alone on horse-back, when his family remained at home ...

He generally attended the Episcopal Church, and when he did so, always carried his prayer-book and joined in the responses and prayers of the congregation ...

He contributed freely to the erection of Christian churches, gave money to Bible societies and other religious objects, and was a liberal and regular contributor to the support of the clergy."
On May 24, 1774, Thomas Jefferson drafted a Virginia Resolution calling for a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer to be observed the day British ships blockaded Boston's harbor.

Jefferson became a friend of the Baptist dissenters, taking a public stand for religious freedom.

He helped to disestablish the Episcopal Church as Virginia's official state denomination.
In 1777, Jefferson organized the independent Calvinistical Reformed Church, which met in the Charlottesville Courthouse.

That same year, fellow church member Col. John Harvie introduced Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom in the Virginia Legislature.
The Boston newspaper Christian Watchman printed on July 14, 1826 an unverified story that Jefferson dined with Baptist Pastor Andrew Tribble:

"ANDREW TRIBBLE was the Pastor of a small Baptist Church, which held its monthly meetings at a short distance from Mr. JEFFERSON'S house, eight or ten years before the American Revolution.

Mr. JEFFERSON attended the meetings of the church for several months in succession, and after one of them, asked Elder TRIBBLE to go home and dine with him, with which he complied.

Mr. TRIBBLE asked Mr. JEFFERSON how he was pleased with their church government?

Mr. JEFFERSON replied, that it had struck him with great force, and had interested him much; that he considered it the only form of pure democracy that then existed in the world, and had concluded that it would be the best plan of Government for the American Colonies."

Thomas F. Curtis wrote in The Progress of Baptist Principles in the Last Hundred Years (Charleston, S.C.: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1856):

"A gentleman ... in North Carolina ... knowing that the venerable Mrs. (Dolley) Madison had some recollections on the subject, asked her in regard to them. She expressed a distinct remembrance of Mr. Jefferson speaking on the subject, and always declaring that it was a Baptist church from which these views were gathered."

President Calvin Coolidge stated at the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1926:

"This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his 'best ideas of democracy' had been secured at church meetings."
Jefferson was
Governor of Virginia, 1779-1781.

As Governor, he signed a Proclamation in 1779 appointing a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer:

"Whereas ... Congress ... hath thought proper ... to recommend to the several States ... humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God ...

that he hath ... been a shield to our troops in the hour of danger, pointed their swords to victory ...

and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the Gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.
... Resolved ... to appoint ... a day of public and solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God ...

that he would grant to H is church, the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his Holy Spirit on all Ministers of the Gospel;

that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth ...

and finally, that he would establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue ...

Given under my hand and the seal of the commonwealth, at Williamsburg, this 11th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1779, and in the fourth of the commonwealth. -THOMAS JEFFERSON"
Jefferson's wife,
Martha, died in 1782, and was buried with an Anglican service.

In grief over her death, Jefferson burned their personal letters and closed himself in his room for three weeks, only coming out to ride horseback through his estate.

His daughter, Martha 'Patsy' Jefferson, described how he wept for hours:

"In those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion ... a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief ... the violence of his emotion ... to this day I do not describe to myself."
Trying to help, Congress asked Jefferson in 1784 to be the U.S. ambassador to France.

France was going through a deistic period of "French infidelity" prior to the bloody French Revolution and Reign of Terror.

After this time, Jefferson entertained more liberal "deist-Christian" leaning views, through in later life he was described simply as a "liberal Episcopalian."

In 1826, the year he died, Jefferson donated $200 toward the construction of Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While Jefferson was in France , his Bill finally passed the Virginia Legislature as the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786:

"Almighty God hath created the mind free ...

All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments ... tend only to begat habits of hypocrisy ... and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of religion,

who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in His Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone."

Jefferson would not have allowed sharia "ridda" apostasy laws, which impose the death penalty on those who leave Islam.
In 1789, just as the French Revolution was beginning, Jefferson left Paris and returned to America.

He served as Secretary of State under President Washington, 1790-1793.

Jefferson was Vice-President under President John Adams, 1797-1801.
In 1801, Jefferson was inaugurated the 3rd U.S. President, stating:

"Enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating 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 ...

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."
Jefferson attended the Protestant Sunday church services held in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, publisher of the National Intelligencer, wrote of Jefferson's attendance at church services in the House of Representatives:

"Jefferson during his whole administration was a most regular attendant. The seat he chose the first day sabbath, and the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied, were ever afterwards by the courtesy of the congregation, left for him."

Catherine Mitchill, wife of New York Senator Samuel Latham Mitchill, wrote to her sister of how she accidentally stepped on Jefferson's toe at end of the House Chamber church service, being:

"so prodigiously frighten'd ... that I could not stop to make an apology, but got out of the way as quick as I could."
In his first Annual Message, December 8, 1801, Jefferson stated:

“We devoutly return thanks to the beneficent Being who has been pleased to breathe into them the spirit of conciliation and forgiveness.”

In his second Annual Message, December 15, 1802, he stated:

“Those pleasing circumstances which mark the goodness of that Being from whose favor they flow and ... for His bounty ... still blessed with peace and friendship abroad; law, order, and religion, at home.”
In 1803, Jefferson approved purchasing the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon, doubling the size of the United States. He sent Lewis and Clark to explore it, 1804-1806.
Jefferson's administration negotiated a Treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, December 3, 1803:

"And whereas, the greater part of the said tribe have been baptized and received into the Catholic church to which they are much attached,

the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature.

And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church."
Jefferson compiled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English first in 1804, then again in 1816.

He initially prepared this with the intention of having a book of ethics to help Christianize and civilize the Indians, reasoning that if they were given the entire Bible, they may want to emulate the Old Testament accounts of warfare.
He wrote on the cover page:

"The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth -- extracted from the account of his life and doctrines as given by Matthew, Mark, Luke & John -- being an abridgement of the New Testament for the use of the Indians unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond the level of their comprehensions."
Jefferson wrote to Charles Thomson, Jan. 9, 1816:

"I have made this wee-little book ... which I call The Philosophy of Jesus. It is a paradigm of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time and subject.

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, very different from the Platonists, who call me an infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw."
Franklin Roosevelt said on the 400th Anniversary of the Printing of the English Bible, October 6, 1935:

"Learned as Jefferson was in the best of the ancient philosophers, he turned to the Bible as the source of his higher thinking and reasoning ...

He held that the Bible contained the noblest ethical system the world has known.

His own compilation of the selected portions of this Book, in what is known as Jefferson's Bible, bears evidence of the profound reverence in which he held it."
In 1904, the 57th Congress, in order to restrain unethical behavior among politicians, voted:

"That there be printed ... 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."

Though he owned and studied a Qur'an, Jefferson concluded that the ethics and morals of Jesus were superior to all others, as he wrote to William Canby, Sept. 18, 1813:

"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."
He wrote to Jared Sparks, November 4, 1820:

"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.

Jefferson wrote to Joseph Priestly of Jesus, April 9, 1803:

"His system of morality was the most benevolent and sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the ancient philosophers."

Jefferson wrote to John Adams, July 5, 1814:

"The doctrines that flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child."
Jefferson lived in Virginia, which had the Anglican Church established from 1606 to 1786.

Establishment meant:

  • mandatory membership,
  • mandatory attendance,
  • mandatory taxes to support it, and
  • no one could hold public office unless he was a member.

Other Protestant Christian denominations were considered "dissenters," and Catholics were prohibited from entering the colony, not having a church there till 1795.
With the King of England being the head of the Anglican Church, there were conflicting allegiances for Anglican clergy during the Revolution, with many defending the King, which patriots considered a corruption of the Gospel.

Jefferson wrote in his "Notes on Religion":

"Bishops were always mere tools of the crown."

He wrote to Henry Fry, June 17, 1804:

"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 1813, Jefferson wrote to John Adams:

"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 April 21, 1803, Jefferson wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration:

"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 any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others ..."
He continued, stating of Jesus:

"His system of morals ... if filled up in the style and spirit of the rich fragments He left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man ...

1. He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of His attributes and government.

2. His moral doctrines ... were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers ... gathering all into one family under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.

3. The precepts of philosophy, and of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

4. He taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state ... and wielded it with efficacy as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct."
Jefferson told Benjamin Waterhouse, June 26, 1822:

"The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

1. That there is one only God, and he all perfect.

2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.

3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion. These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews ...

Now, which of these is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus? ... "
He continued:

"Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian ...

How much wiser are the Quakers, who, agreeing in the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, schismatize about no mysteries, and, keeping within the pale of common sense, suffer no speculative differences of opinion ... to impair the love of their brethren."
Jefferson wrote "Notes on Religion," possibly in October of 1776 for use in speeches to Virginia's House of Delegates regarding the disestablishment of the Episcopal Church (The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford, editor, New York & London, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1904-5, Vol. 2):

"Episcopal government in Religion in England is it's similarity to the political government by a king. No bishop, no king.

This then with us is a plea for government by a presbytery which resembles republican government ...

The Presbyterian spirit is known to be so congenial with friendly liberty, that the patriots after the restoration finding that the humor of people was running too strongly to exalt the prerogative of the crown promoted the dissenting interest as a check and balance, & thus was produced the Toleration Act ..."
Jefferson added in his "Notes on Religion":

"The Gentiles have the law written in their hearts, i.e. the law of nature: to which adding a faith in God's & his attributes that on their repentance he would pardon them, they also would be justified.

This then explains the text 'there is no other name under heaven by which a man may be saved,' i.e. the defects in good works shall not be supplied by a faith in Mahomet Foe, or any other except Christ ..."
Jefferson concluded:

"The fundamentals of Christianity as found in the Gospels are:
1. Faith,
2. Repentance.

That faith is everywhere explained to be a belief that Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised. Repentance was to be proved sincerely by good works ...

The fundamentals of Christianity were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the Gospels ...

What are fundamentals? The Protestants will say those doctrines which are clearly & precisely delivered in the Holy Scriptures ...

If we are Protestants we reject all tradition, & rely on the Scripture alone, for that is the essence & common principle of all the Protestant churches ...

The care of every man's soul belongs to himself.

But what if he neglect the care of it? Well what if he neglect the care of his health or estate, which more nearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he shall not be poor or sick?

Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills."
In his papers at the Library of Congress, is the Lord's Prayer, which Jefferson carefully wrote out as a block of consecutive letters.
In his third Annual Message, October 17, 1803, Jefferson wrote:

“Let us bow with gratitude to that kind Providence.”
In his second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805, Jefferson wrote:

“I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fore fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life: who has covered our infancy with his Providence ... and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications."
After Abigail Adams died in 1818, Jefferson wrote to John Adams, that:

“... it is of some comfort to us both that the term 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 & los t and whom we shall still love and never lose again.”

Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819.
While Jefferson was U.S. Minister to France, 1785-1789, he met with the Muslim Ambassador from Tripoli to negotiate freeing hundreds of captured U.S. sailors held in dungeons.
Jefferson asked what the United States had done to provoke the Barbary attacks.

He recorded the answer, March 28, 1786:

"The ambassador answered us that it was written in their Qur'an, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise."
Jefferson, in 1788, arranged for John Paul Jones to fight for Russia against the Muslim Ottoman navy.
Immediately after being inaugurated the third U.S. President, Jefferson received a demand from the Muslim Pasha of Tripoli for $225,000 as an extortion tribute payment or he would declare war on the United States.
Jefferson refused and sent over the U.S. Navy and Marines in the First Muslim Barbary Pirate Wars.
In his First Annual Message, December 8, 1801, Jefferson stated:

"Tripoli ... of the Barbary States ... permitted itself to (announce) war on our failure to comply ... The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean ...

We are bound with peculiar gratitude to be thankful to Him that our own peace has been preserved through a perilous season."
When the USS Philadelphia was captured by Tripoli in 1803, Jefferson sent in Navy and Marines, led by:

  • Commodore Edward Preble,
  • Consul General William Eaton,
  • Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, and
  • Lieutenant Presely O'Bannon.

The victory is remembered in the Marine hymn line "to the shores of Tripoli."
Echoing Patrick Henry's "give me liberty or give me death" speech, March 23, 1775, Jefferson composed The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, which was passed by the Continental Congress on July 6, 1775:

"A reverence for our great Creator ... must convince all ... that government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind ...

We gratefully acknowledge, as signal instances of the Divine favor towards us, that His Providence would not permit us to be called into this severe controversy, until we were grown up to our present strength ...

We most solemnly, before God and the world, declare ... the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will ... employ for the preservation of our liberties;

being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves."
In 1798, Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions, followed by James Madison writing the Virginia Resolutions, both of which defended States' Rights against unconstitutional usurpation of power by the Federal Government:

"That in cases of an abuse ... where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy ...

Each State has a natural right ... to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits;

that without this right they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them."
John F. Kennedy remarked at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere. April 29, 1962:

"Ladies and gentlemen:
I want to welcome you to the White House ...

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.

Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet."
Inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, are his words:

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."
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