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Forces of Secularity in the Modern World

Volume 1


Stephen Strehle

Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.

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Chapter Six: Mr. Jefferson

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Mr. Jefferson


The modern doctrine of church/state separation developed out of concerns over the temporal powers of the papacy. In the fifteenth century, the Conciliar Movement was successful at the Council of Constance in diminishing the authority of the pope through establishing the independent rights of the state and its people. In the sixteenth century, Protestant Reformers called for the separation of the church from the state, believing that the church had lost much of its original purity and fundamental spiritual mission in the Middle Ages by seeking the dominion of this world and using the coercive measures of temporal power to obtain it. The Reformers wanted to separate church and state for the sake of the church. They thought of the state as corrupting the church but were much less willing to reverse the equation and speak of the church corrupting the state or society. They never thought of the state existing outside the will of God, independent of a special metaphysical commission, or free to lead its citizens in secular autonomy, divorced from religious concern.

This secular view of life was a product of the Enlightenment. Deism arose at the time and rejected the biblical concept of the world’s dependence upon God. The Bible summoned its people to depend upon God for their “daily bread” as representing the ultimate force behind the sun, the rain, and the abundance of life (Dt 11:11–17; Ps 65:9–13; Mt 5:45, 6:11, 25–33), but Deism tended to conceive of the world in a much different manner—much like a Cartesian machine ← 179 | 180 → of interrelated parts that ran upon its own principles or natural laws, rejecting the biblical concept of God’s general providential care or special miraculous intervention in life. This secular view of the world and its forces was extended to human beings, who received the same autonomy from their Maker as the rest of creation and no longer needed divine grace or revelation to lead their lives. Human beings possessed a self-sufficient capacity to lead a moral life and discover through their God-given reason whatever transcendent, metaphysical, and ethical principles that were necessary for their society, without requiring an intimate knowledge of the divine nature or receiving special illumination from the heavens.1 Morality was discovered through the eternal principles of nature, or reduced to the simple calculating sum of utilitarianism, making it independent of special revelation and abasing revealed religion as unnecessary for society to function.2 Deism believed that their people were able to know the will of God apart from the knowledge of God and deemed all theological discussions as speculative, divisive, and unnecessary. Only a Deist like Thomas Jefferson could say, “…it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god,” or, “religion is a matter that lies solely between a man & his God”—as if one’s conception of the ideal had no relation to one’s conduct in society or political point of view. Deism enabled human beings to live outside of God within their separate sphere of power, proceeding to the antithesis of the church’s radical dependence upon God for revelation and grace, creating a secular world of absolute autonomy, and laying the foundation for the complete separation of the church and state.

French culture led the way toward secularization in the modern world with its war upon the Judeo-Christian tradition in the French Revolution and the establishment of the secular état as the new “voice of God.” The country followed their philosophes in blaming the church and its priests as the fundamental source of past transgressions in the Ancien Régime and demanded that the citizens leave their religious communities behind for a process of cultural régénération and accept a new laïque identity within la grande famille française. The law of 1905 made secularity official by establishing “the Separation of Churches and State,” claiming that religion had no role to fulfill in the future of the culture; the future belonged to the état and laïcité. Many Europeans found France’s treatment of the church severe, but the basic trend of modern western culture proceeded in the same general direction.3 The state became the “absolute power on earth,”4 assuming the dominant role in the affections of the people by separating, subjugating, and assimilating the former role of the church in education, morality, philanthropy, health care, and ever-increasing areas of life.5 ← 180 | 181 →


The spirit of the French Enlightenment and subsequent culture centered much of its devotion on the life and teachings of one man. Many of the other great figures of the Enlightenment like Diderot and d’Alembert afforded their unique contribution to the times, but they often deferred to this one man as if serving his legacy.6 Toward the end of his life, the Parisians crowned a bust of him and celebrated the man with godlike accolades.7 His life and work seemed to embody all that was fashionable among the social elite of the day—the cynicism, the satire, and the wit—the love of toleration and the hatred of the church.8 He led his people down the path of irreverence, demeaning the Christian piety of simple peasants, encouraging impious blasphemy among those who were capable of mastering the art of cynicism, and extolling the power of human reason to establish its divine truth. His prominence only grew throughout his life, beginning with the success of his first tragedy in 1718. Thereafter he adopted the enigmatic name of Voltaire and developed along with it an enormous ego and reputation, which grew to become the leading philosophe of human prowess and reached God-like immortality upon the occasion of his death. His influence upon the French Revolution and its Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) was immortalized when his body was exhumed and enshrined as the first and foremost deity in the Panthéon of leading Enlightenment figures. The apotheosis was accompanied with a cavalcade of “military and civil organizations carrying banners and flags, a model of the Bastille, busts of Rousseau and Mirabeau, a statue of Voltaire surrounded by pyramids bearing the titles of his works, and a golden casket containing the seventy volumes of the edition published by Beaumarchais at Kehl.”9

Voltaire and the French had a pretext within the many transgressions of their church to develop this extreme and blasphemous aversion to the religion. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes haunted the liberal sensibilities of the philosophes during the era and brought considerable justification for those who wished to turn against the church and heap aspersions upon it.10 The hatred of this policy and others like it seemed to well up in Voltaire from his youth, forming a deep-seated resentment toward the faith; but what drove him over the edge and shocked him into action was a particular event, the unjust execution of a kind and benevolent man from Toulouse. His name was Jean Calas. He was a Protestant cloth merchant and was accused by his fellow citizens of murdering his son for converting to Catholicism, even though all the evidence pointed to an apparent suicide. Voltaire successfully helped to overturn the verdict in the Council of State and clear the name of the father and his family, even if no one could change the initial wrongdoing. Out of the experience, he wrote the widely distributed and esteemed Treatise ← 181 | 182 → upon Toleration (1763), which recounts the episode in detail at the beginning of the work and proceeds to develop a broad theory of religious “toleration” on the subject, filled with much anti-Christian venom.11

The work launches into a particular tirade when it comes to sectarian religious fanaticism. Any religion that divides the human race against itself is wicked and false. He thinks that all religions contain the same basic concept of God, and whatever differences arise in the course of time are the product of the non-essential speculations of dogmatic theologians. There is no reason why Jews, Muslims, and the many sects of Christianity cannot live in harmony under a general theism or deism and a basic code of ethics, which is the most important matter in religion, not doctrine.12 Religion is essential in creating social order and providing moral orientation through its belief in the ultimate judgment, but it deteriorates into a destructive force when its theologians engage in sectarian disputes over non-essential matters of faith. Ethics unites us together under one God, while doctrine divides us into warring factions.13

Of course, Voltaire’s own beliefs are much in harmony with what he wants all others to believe in order to obtain coalescence. True religion is confined in his works to a belief in the goodness of one, true God, the unity of the human race through acts of kindness, and the expectation of divine judgment, which discriminates between the good and the bad.14 Religion consists of heartfelt reverence and basic acts of justice, not trips to a holy land or an altar, where mystical graces descend from the utterance of magical formulas.15 True religion is based upon a most rational belief in the order and design of the cosmos and does not require a childlike act of faith in mythical stories, miraculous events, and the contradictory doctrines of biblical revelation. Faith is based on the power of the human intellect and its ability to discover what is revealed for all to see in nature.16 No grace or special revelation is needed.

The Bible received much criticism in Voltaire’s later writings when it was safer for him to vent his wrath against the entire Christian faith and its sources. He believes that the miraculous nature of the biblical account drives many honest scholars to atheism, who simply find it incredible to believe in talking serpents and donkeys, or prophets eating excrement and marrying prostitutes.17 The OT is described as a mingle-mangle of teachings that withstand all purity, charity, and reason.18 The NT is described as a mishmash of inept reason, outright lies, and contradiction in “almost every fact,” and its stories are considered juvenile, superstitious, and fanatical.19 The Bible is a book of wickedness and inferior literary style, leading Voltaire to deprecate its authors by expressing the typical anti-Semitic epithets of the Enlightenment. The Jewish people are denigrated as a cruel and barbarous enemy of the whole human race, much inferior ← 182 | 183 → to other people in cultural, artistic, and scientific achievement.20 The only Jewish or biblical figure who is spared the tirade is Jesus of Nazareth, and he receives a favorable review through Voltaire’s reduction of his message to liberal toleration and rejection of many other elements in the church’s account.21 His portrait of the historical Jesus is set in contrast with the account of the canonical Gospels, which were written after the fall of Jerusalem and used Platonic categories to turn the simple carpenter from Nazareth into the eternal Son of God.22

The severe criticism of the Bible is a by-product of Voltaire’s contempt for what the Christian faith represented in his society. The Church of France had supplied its enemies with many reasons to hate it—Dominican Inquisitions, the massacre of Huguenots, Jesuit and Jansenist polemics, and all the rest. During the last year of l’Ancien Régime (1789), the French government employed 178 censors to control publications and make sure all of them were compatible with sound faith, public order, and good morality. Voltaire himself had some of his works censored for unsound theological opinions and spent eleven months in the Bastille.23 No wonder that Voltaire could describe Christians as “the most intolerant of all men.”24 Their religion should be the most tolerant of all others, considering the words and deeds of its benevolent founder, but instead of following his example it became much the opposite—“a virulent infection, a terrifying madness, a bloodthirsty monster.”25 Voltaire sees the history of Christianity as filled with little more than “fraud,” “errors,” and “disgusting stupidity,” and so “every sensible man…must hold the Christian sect in horror.”26 In his Sermon des Cinquante (1762), he declares war upon l’infâme. He wishes to “terminate and destroy the idol from top to bottom.”27 This solution is summarized in his famous cry écrazer l’infâme (crush the filth), which he incessantly repeats throughout his later works. The self-professed man of tolerance is now willing to have certain enlightened despots develop a final solution and destroy the infamous religion as a necessary step in creating a better world.28

Throughout his analysis, Voltaire never seems to blame the despots for their own policies. He was too much of a sycophant to go after the main source of oppression and become a martyr for the cause of liberty. He only supported democracy late in his life, when it was safe to do so, and his career was insured.29 Instead, Voltaire prefers to blame the Christian religion and its clergy as responsible for most of the bloodshed spilled over the last six centuries in Europe.30 He wants national independence from the Christian religion in general and the political impotence of the clergy in particular. He wants the priestly aristocracy removed from any place of authority in the state. They prey upon the superstitions of the multitude and fill the king’s ear with their ambitious plans and petty sectarian disputes, causing continual turmoil within the land. It is the fault of the clergy, not the king, that intolerance continues to fill the land.31 ← 183 | 184 →

In spite of the best efforts of American clerics, the influence of Voltaire migrated to the New World and “corrupted” their constituency with its religious and anti-religious attitudes. The popular newspapers and magazines of the day showed a widespread interest in his controversial ideas. Tobias Small and Thomas Franklin produced an English edition of Voltaire’s works somewhere between 1761 and 1769, making the entire corpus accessible to a wider range of American readers. Libraries contained many of his works, and interest in those works quadrupled by the end of the century if one simply tallies the many catalogue announcements of the day.32 Voltaire and the French Enlightenment were becoming a major force throughout the colonies and helping to change the ideological commitments of the people. In fact, the influence was so powerful that many of the leading figures or “Founding Fathers” identified as much with the French attitude toward religion as they did with the religion of their forefathers, who migrated to the land. Some remained openly Christian (Patrick Henry and Alexander Hamilton), some attended church but were non-communicants (George Washington and John Marshall), others embraced the religion of the Enlightenment (John Adams and Benjamin Franklin), and still others went all the way, accepting the new religion of reason and using it to assault the Christian faith (Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson).33 Most were guarded about their religious beliefs in public, too clever as politicians to alienate voters or launch a direct attack on their constituency’s most sensitive subject. Thomas Paine, the irrepressible gadfly of the American and French Revolution, was the great exception. He chose to publish the politically incorrect Age of Reason against the advice of friends and suffered the political fallout for his indiscretion. In the work, Paine conducts a Voltairean tirade against the Judeo-Christian tradition and calls the Bible a “book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy.”34

Of all the rest, Thomas Jefferson came the closest to adopting the anti- Christian sentiments of Voltaire and Paine, even though he was more discreet about expressing it during his public career. Some like the Federalists detected his Voltairean disaffection with Christianity, calling him an anti-Christ and a Francophile during political campaigns, but found it difficult to make their suspicions resonate with the voters.35 Jefferson was much too cagey for them. He preferred to remain silent about his religious opinions for the most part and offer some equivocations to please the public whenever necessary, but there is no doubt about the fundamental veracity of the charge once one considers the total weight of his writings. The only question concerns the exact form, time, or setting in which these ideas came to enter his life in an age where historical records were scanty, and footnotes were few and far between. Some point to William Small, who served as Jefferson’s mentor at William and Mary, quickened his interest in ← 184 | 185 → the Enlightenment, and “probably fixed the destinies of my life,” although we know little about his influence beyond these vague generalities.36 Others mention his tenure in France as a minister plenipotentiary from 1784 to 1789, where he experienced first hand the “misery of kings, priests, and nobles.”37 Still, others speak of his respect for Voltaire, pointing to the extensive use of Voltaire’s works in the Commonplace Book.38 But whatever the source or sources, the culture provided plenty of opportunities to learn the new ideology of the philosophes from the pervasive influence of French culture, and Jefferson gravitated in its direction.

Viscount Bolingbroke

Perhaps, the clearest and earliest indication of its influence and importance is found in Jefferson’s literary notebook (1765/66). Here he makes continuous use of the Philosophical Works of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751), as providing a direct inspiration for his own enlightened, philosophical orientation. Bolingbroke served as a member of the Tories in the English Parliament, beginning in 1700, and later became a secretary of state during the reign of Queen Anne. In 1714, he fell out of favor with the government when the Whigs gained power and spent the next decade as a political exile in France—a country he grew to admire and love as a young man in the late 1690s during the first of his many visits to the center of the Enlightenment. During his stay there, he developed a friendship with major figures of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Levesque de Rouilley, his mentor, and became an important conduit between cultures, conveying French ideas to the English-speaking world, and vice versa.39

Thomas Jefferson was one of the many exposed to the ideas of the English Deists/French philosophes through the writings of Bolingbroke. In the first part of his early notebook, the Philosophical Works of Bolingbroke provides “the largest section from any single author—54 excerpts and over 10,000 words.”40 The excerpts display the impact of Bolingbroke on Jefferson, especially in awakening him to the skeptical, rational, and natural religion of the Enlightenment.41 Many of these excerpts focus on Bolingbroke’s disdain for the Judeo-Christian tradition, revealing Jefferson’s animus and proclivity toward a hostile analysis of the faith at a very early age.

In the account, the anthropocentric nature of the tradition is emphasized and chastened as an unenlightened, unscientific way of thinking. Bolingbroke contends that human beings are not the sole purpose of the creation or the end of divine activity in this world. In fact, there are inhabitants on other planets in the ← 185 | 186 → universe, and these places are populated with a myriad of creatures superior to us and our limited capabilities.42 No people are more anthropocentric and display more human arrogance than the Jews. They speak of themselves as the chosen people of God, elected to receive the one unique revelation from on high, as if God remained unknown to other nations and only worked in their “little corner of the world.”43 This hubris might not matter in and of itself, but it works to the detriment of others when people like the Jews see divine providence working for their own benefit; it made the Jewish people particularly cruel and unjust in their treatment of the non-elect, blinding their hearts and minds to their own imperfections.44 In fact, “no people was less fit than the Israelites to be chosen for this great trust on every account.”45 They were an avaricious people, who lived for materialistic “appetites and passions,”46 lacking any fear of ultimate judgment and any real motive to enhance genuine piety here on earth.47 They were so occupied with laying up their treasures on earth that they failed to develop a concept of immortality until Hellenistic times and its influences, revealing an ignorance that characterizes their Scripture in general48 and making the so-called pagans more enlightened and better equipped to accept the Messiah than these fanatics.49

The Jewish people receive much of this vitriol because their culture produced the fundamental source of divine revelation for the church—the true enemy of Bolingbroke, Jefferson, and the sons of the Enlightenment. The animosity toward the church leads to the defamation of Hebraic culture and its greatest literary achievement—the Old and New Testament. According to Bolingbroke’s (Jefferson’s) account, the Hebrew Torah displays little knowledge of the true God and contains “palpable falsehoods” on “almost every page.”50 Its stories are simply fantastic and incredible, defying all rational belief in this modern era.51 Certainly, Moses’ account of creation must be considered absurd by any person possessing a modicum of education and acquaintance with the Copernican system of modern astronomy.52 His narration is incredulous, and his concept of law even worse, “more ineffectual than any other law, perhaps, that can be quoted.”53 The laws of nature contradict the Mosaic economy at important junctures and utterly repudiate the bigoted admonitions of Deuteronomy 13 to slay idolaters,54 making it impossible to equate the God of nature with the God of the Old or New Testament.55 The God of Moses is “partial, unjust, and cruel; delights in blood, commands assassinations, massacres, and even exterminations of people”; and the God of Paul “elects some of his creatures to salvation, and predestines others to damnation, even in the womb of their mothers.”56 Jesus tried to rescue the world from this Jewish nightmare,57 but his “gospel is one thing [and] the gospel of Paul, and all those who have grafted after him on the same stock, is another.”58 Paul perverted the teachings of Jesus, turning him into a mystical divine Savior, who satisfies the ← 186 | 187 → angry Jewish God through blood atonement and redeems us from original sin by an act of divine grace. This God of cheap grace still acts with the same injustice as the God of the OT.59

The true God of nature never dispenses with justice in seeking the salvation of the sinner, preferring “the repentance of the offender” as the means of atonement to the bloodthirsty need for vengeance through an ignominious spectacle like crucifixion.60 The theology of nature uses “right reason” and stays within the boundary of proper ethical discourse.61 It rejects Pauline flights of mysticism as corrupting the original message of Jesus. Pauline theology resulted from the process of Hellenization as the Christian faith moved away from Palestinian soil and injected the theological and speculative mysticism of Platonic philosophy into the faith.62

Bolingbroke displays his virulent displeasure with Platonism at this point, rejecting it as a philosophical system and considering it an instrument through which Paul, Augustine, the Cambridge School, and all those who tried to synthesize it with Christianity eventually corrupted the faith.63 Imagination should never “leave the sensible objects” of this world and climb a “mystic ladder…to a region of pure intellect.”64 One should never create abstract forms, take mystical flights of fancy, and substitute them for the concrete voice of nature.65 What is inspirational about the Bible really comes outside of it through the true exercise of reason in its submission to the natural law. In true Christianity, God submits revelation to the sound judgment of our rational faculties.66 The exercise of right reason provides us with a more reliable source of finding God than submitting ourselves to religious authorities and their blind speculations outside of nature.67 It is better to use a posteriori reasoning and appeal to the “miracles” all around us than trust in the testimonies of others concerning fantastic events that offer no empirical or existential verification.68

With this exhortation, Jefferson finds much wisdom and becomes a faithful disciple of Bolingbroke and the religious thought of the Enlightenment. His writings provide a continuous testimony to the same type of religious expression found in the work of Bolingbroke and other sons of the like-minded French spirit.69 His works include similar remarks that deprecate the Jewish people and their faith, find inspiration within the teaching of the historical Jesus, lament the Platonism in Paul and the church, reduce religion to morality, and extol the ability of reason to discover God in nature and lead a moral life. If there is any significant difference, it involves the place of politics and the means of implementing the message, not the basic nature of their religious convictions. Both Bolingbroke and Jefferson exhibit a kindred spirit in opposing the Judeo-Christian tradition and wanting to promote a more rational religion in its place, based on the evidence of nature. The only significant difference concerns the political means of achieving the goal and ← 187 | 188 → leaves Jefferson looking and finding inspiration from other sources. Bolingbroke appears to respect the place of the church in the Erastian world of British society, while Jefferson wants to use political power to create a new and enlightened order. Jefferson wants to change the religion of America by erecting a wall against the participation of the church in society and substitute his own faith as the wave of the future, placing him squarely within the more extreme and virulent measures of Voltaire and his disciples.

Religious Opinions

Most of Jefferson’s religious beliefs function within the basic parameters of enlightened religion with its emphasis upon reason, morality, and ecumenicity. He grew up in the Episcopalian Church, but never subscribed to any one group and calls himself at various points in his career a “Deist,” “Theist,” “Unitarian,” “Epicurian,” “real Christian,” “rational Christian,” et cetera.70 As a Deist, he rejects theology as speculative and irrational and dislikes sectarian dogma most of all, which he identifies with the narrow-minded views of Presbyterians, Puritans, and the rest of Calvin’s disciples. He prefers a less definitive view of God than Calvin offers in his Institutes, and so reserves most of his “dogmatic” statements for the rational analysis of moral, social, and political life, dividing a knowledge of the divine will from theological speculations about the divine essence.71 He wants religion to emphasize the rational and moral instincts of all humankind, not the speculative constructs of Reformed theologians and their many creeds. Reason is the “umpire of the truth.” It is the seat of divine revelation.72 In a letter to Peter Carr, he encourages his nephew to examine the claims of the Bible in a critical manner and develop his conclusions about its stories, apart from any theological prejudice.73 Christianity has enslaved the minds of its constituency for two thousand years with its ridiculous stories, stifling dogmas, and “incomprehensible Trinitarian arithmetic.”74 It is time for western society to free itself from this bondage and find the God who is available for all of us to see in nature.

After all, it is morality, not dogma, that comprises the real essence of true religious affection.75 All human beings are endowed by their Creator with a basic sense of what is right and wrong, whether they serve the divine will as “a plowman [or] a professor.”76 These “moral instincts” are related more to the affections of the heart than the specific rational acuity of each and every individual.77 In fact, all religions agree on the same essential morality, which God has implanted in each and every one of us. It is metaphysical speculation and ritualistic practices, along with a host of other trivial matters that divide religious people into warring sects ← 188 | 189 → and cause division among the human race.78 While society needs religion to provide a sufficient basis for its moral laws, there is no need to endure the many acts of religious uniformity in society and much to speak against the continued practice of inculcating a specific profession of faith. The salvation of society and its people is found through a gospel of works, not faith.79

In following this emphasis, Jefferson finds in Jesus of Nazareth the greatest of all moral teachers. All religions might follow the same moral code, but the teachings of Jesus represent “the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man,” “more pure than those of the most correct philosophers.”80 Jesus reformed a religion that was rotten to the core. More than any other faith, Judaism was enslaved to an authoritarian priesthood, a depraved historical record, the materialistic pleasures of this life, and “many idle ceremonies, mummeries, and observances, of no effect towards producing the social utilities which constitute the essence of virtue.”81 He particularly opposed the monstrous view of a “cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust” God, which the Jewish people inherited from Moses and their forefathers, as well as their anti-social attitudes toward other nations as the “chosen people” of God. Jesus rejected the ethnocentric nature of their religion and extended his gospel of “universal philanthropy” to all humankind, “gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, [and] peace.”82 This emphasis upon universal love and moral goodness is what Jefferson finds most appealing in the life of Jesus, not other parts of the biblical story or the church’s own account of him. Jefferson refers to himself as a “real Christian” in this context, since he follows the moral teachings of the historical Jesus and not the corrupted version of the later church.83 Those who wrote about Jesus in Scripture were illiterate and uneducated, and composed unreliable accounts long after his life and ministry were over. They disfigured the simple beauty of his instruction through Greek metaphysical categories, transforming him into a mythical divine being and miraculous wonder-worker.84

Jefferson decides at this point to launch a quest for the historical Jesus, hoping to rid the gospel account of all its later ecclesiastical corruptions and find “the diamond in the dunghill.” These aspirations sound high-minded and academic at first glance in its attempt to obtain scientific results in the midst of dogmatic prejudice, but his research largely becomes a testimony to the same a priori prejudices of the orthodox church and the early liberal efforts in the field. Whatever offends his religious sensibilities is eliminated from the account, and the remaining image of Jesus sounds more like an eighteenth-century philosophe, rejecting scholastic views of God and reducing religion to morality, than any real Jew living in the first century.85 He proposes to cut out all the “Platonising” elements of the later Greek church, which turned the simple carpenter into a metaphysical ideal,86 but falls into the same trap ← 189 | 190 → by projecting his own modern ideals upon Jesus and incurring the same criticism he levels against the Hellenistic church. He uses Jesus as a receptacle for his own ideas, recreating a first-century Jew in his own enlightened image.87

Like the philosophes and the later liberals of Germany, Jefferson bases much of his analysis upon a certain understanding of science that was prevalent at the time. Jefferson uses this scientific understanding to reject the possibility of God intervening in history, although he offers no real historical analysis to justify his conclusion. All miraculous narratives are expunged from the text as contradicting “our experience of the laws of nature.”88 Jefferson simply cuts and pastes and creates an image of a simple, moral teacher worthy of esteem among his peers. His first attempt is found in a modest syllabus of the “genuine” ethical teachings of Jesus, which he composed over “an evening or two” during his tenure as president and entitled “The Philosophy of Jesus” (1804).89 Later on, after his retirement to Monticello, he sat down and revised his earlier effort creating a much larger version, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 1819), which emphasizes the ethical teachings in Luke and Matthew.90 He points to Joseph Priestly’s writings, especially his “Corruptions of Christianity and Early Opinions of Jesus,” which he read “over and over,” as a special source of inspiration in his work and means of gaining academic credence.91 The Unitarian theologian certainly creates a similar picture of the historical Jesus as a mere man. Priestly says that the person of Jesus was transformed by the Alexandrian school of theology into the divine Logos of Platonism,92 and claims his message of repentance and obedience was changed by Augustine into a doctrine of grace.93 Jefferson follows the same basic understanding of Jesus and the process of Hellenization in his account, except in regard to the question of miracles. Priestly still holds to the resurrection and the rest of Christ’s miracles as recorded in the Gospels,94 whereas Jefferson rejects them as scientifically impossible and removes them from the text.

The admiration for the teachings of Jesus is contraposed by his disdain for the orthodox portrait of him. He rejects the divine incarnation, the virgin birth, the vicarious atonement for sin, and the resurrection from the dead.95 He hopes that “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.”96 Along with the miracles, he mocks the special doctrines of the church, especially the Trinity, which he compares to the “hocus- pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads.”97 These and all the other “creeds, formulas, [and] dogmas” of the church pervert the simple Jesus of history and transform him into the Christ of faith.98 The process started with the Apostle Paul, “the first corrupter of the doctrine of Jesus,” and only increased in the later church with its hierarchical structure, sacramental powers, and ← 190 | 191 → wicked priesthood.99 It is this development that constitutes the “real anti-Christ” and should incur the wrath of all true followers of Jesus and his teachings.100

Jefferson reserves most of his venom for the clergy as the leaders of the apostasy and sponsors of great evil in society. In a Freudian slip, he refers to them as “priests” throughout his works, regardless of their denomination, revealing his deep-seated French resentment toward them.101 His special wrath is exercised against the “priests” of New England, who propagate the Calvinist faith, the most bigoted of all religions, and support the Federalist opposition to his civil policies.102 The solution is to eliminate them from the state, and so he proposes legislation at several points in his career to exclude the clergy from holding public office.

The clergy are excluded, because, if admitted into the legislature at all, the probability is that they would form it’s majority. For they are dispersed through every county in the state, they have influence with the people, and great opportunities of persuading them to elect them into the legislature. This body, tho shattered, is still formidable, still forms a corps, and is still actuated by the esprit de corps. The nature of that spirit has been severely felt by mankind, and has filled the history of ten or twelve centuries with too many atrocities not to merit a proscription from meddling with government.103

James Madison, John Leland, Noah Webster, and many others criticize the proposal as a basic violation of civil rights, which causes him to back down for a time. Jefferson offers some equivocations to please their legitimate concerns and then returns to the agenda, adding new proposals that would eliminate the clergy from school boards and censor political sermons from the pulpit.104

Jefferson also hopes to undermine the power of the clergy and the Christian faith by creating a public school system that would exclude religious instruction.105 In his Notes on Virginia, he proposes to take the Bible out of “the hands of children” and replace it with “the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history.”106 Like all sons of the Enlightenment, he hopes to exalt a secular view of history, which finds its cultural roots in the Graeco-Roman world and eliminates from the consciousness of the citizens whatever positive influence developed out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. His new view of history treats religious groups as creating schisms among the human race and spilling “oceans of human blood” over the pettiest doctrinal issues.107 The new history dismisses any vital “enlightened” concerns to the religious struggles of the past and refuses to consider that many of these struggles were fought over the sacred canon of modern ideals like liberty, equality, and democracy—ideals that Jefferson shares with many of these religious combatants. Jefferson only identifies religious zeal with unjust persecution. He has no idea where the ideals of liberty developed in his own country, claiming ← 191 | 192 → at certain times that the North continues to suppress the spirit of liberty and rights of humankind, which first arose in the South!108 Like Voltaire, he tends to identify all of Christendom with one specific expression of faith within a certain provincial struggle of his. In Jefferson’s case, the Puritans are considered the most intolerant of all religious sects because of the early persecution of Quaker missionaries and the rejection of Jefferson’s political agenda, but any positive aspect of the religion is dismissed through the negative stereotype. Jefferson considers the forefathers of Massachusetts and their descendants as nothing but bigots, and his history of the march toward freedom has nothing else to say about them.109

Public Education

To inculcate the new view of history, Jefferson hopes that the public will fund a government-sponsored educational program. Jefferson is hailed in many circles as the “father of public education” in America and deserves much credit for his attempt to educate all citizens, but it is clear that much of his concept of education is devoted to instilling a catechism.110 Of course, there are many inspiring words that speak much to the contrary: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,”111 it is unconscionable “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves,”112 et alia; and Jefferson is truly devoted to protecting civil liberties and promoting freedom of speech in the classroom for the most part. But when it comes to inculcating his own agenda the noble sentiments are set aside by practical necessity to serve the greater good—the greater good in this instance being a democracy, or at least Jefferson’s version of it. Jefferson certainly understands that people need to receive instruction in a democracy if they are expected to make informed decisions.113 The aristocratic governor of Virginia, William Berkeley, maintained his power for so many years by refusing to educate his people through the press and proper schooling.114 The need for education presents itself wherever the people are empowered to rule over their own affairs. “Wherever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.… Whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”115 However, the problem with Jefferson’s proposal is that its specific motivation tends to color the curriculum with his own philosophy of life. He truly wants to provide a forum for free discussion and inquiry, but he also wants an educational system to counteract the Federalist and Christian influence from the North and instill his own political/religious ideology as a form of catechism.116 For example, he makes the following statement to a member of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia. ← 192 | 193 →

In most public seminaries text-books are prescribed to each of the several schools, as the norma docendi in that school; and this is generally done by authority of the trustees. I should not propose this generally in our University, because I believe none of us are so much at the heights of science in the several branches, as to undertake this, and therefore that it will be better left to the professors until occasion of interference shall be given. But there is one branch in which we are the best judges, in which heresies may be taught, of so interesting a character to our State and the United States, as to make it a duty in us to lay down the principles which are to be taught. It is that of government. Mr. Gilmer being withdrawn, we know not who his successor may be. He may be a Richmond lawyer, or one of that school of quondam federalism, now consolidation. It is our duty to guard against such principles being disseminated among our youth, and the diffusion of that poison, by a previous prescription of the texts to be followed in their discourses.117

Of course, he claims within this rationale that the agenda will cover only a part of the curriculum, but in his mind it covers an essential reason for launching the school in the first place; and as he knows all-too-well, this and other aspects of his agenda will tend to make their way into other areas of the curriculum in a more surreptitious manner.

The interest in using education is displayed right from the start of his time in public service. In October of 1776, he became a member of the committee to revise the legal code of Virginia and proposed three bills to encourage the growth of education in the Commonwealth: The Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge (no. 79), The Bill for Amending the Constitution of the College of William and Mary (no. 80), and The Bill for Establishing a Public Library (no. 81). The first bill was the “most important” and sought to subdivide all Virginia counties into wards, with each ward providing elementary education to all “free children” for three years at the public’s expense. Reading, writing, and arithmetic would serve as the fundamental courses of instruction, and the history of western culture would provide sufficient examples of moral exhortation, rather than turning to the message of Scripture for answers. After the completion of this level, the better pupils would be eligible for more advanced subjects in secondary schools, and the best of these students would be sent to the university and receive training for roles of leadership in the state.118 However, the bill was attacked from a number of quarters, including Presbyterian ministers concerned about the place of religion in society, Methodist ministers believing that Sunday School could teach literacy just as well, and taxpayers who preferred charity to a coercive measure that would tax the rich to support the children of another.119 A less effective measure was passed a couple of decades later in 1796, which left its implementation to the discretion of local court officials and provided only for primary education. Since these officials were unlikely to increase the tax burden for themselves and their rich cronies, Jefferson’s dream was “completely defeated,” leaving its fulfillment to another time and place.120 ← 193 | 194 →

Jefferson’s Bill no. 80 was designed to “secularize” the College of William and Mary by reducing Anglican control over its board and faculty.121 The college was chartered in 1693 with the expressed purpose of producing “complete gentlemen and good Christians.” The faculty consisted of ministers for the most part and was appointed by the church and its bishops to serve the interests of the ecclesiastical establishment.122 Jefferson wanted to change the basic purpose of the school by ending its association with the church, eliminating the school of theology, purging it of Tory influences, replacing the governing board, and making the administration responsible to the legislature, not the kingdom of England or its church. In the place of the divinity school, he proposed a professor of “history, civil and ecclesiastical” and a professor of “moral philosophy,” who could serve as Jefferson’s Trojan horse in the curriculum to inculcate his religious principles.123 Of course, the proposal upset the religious establishment and was defeated by the legislature in 1779, but what Jefferson could not secure through the normal democratic process he did through his executive powers the same year as a visitor to the college and governor of the state. He converted the Indian mission into the study of cultural anthropology, added “the law of Nature & Nations, & Fine Arts to the duties of the Moral professor,” and eliminated the two professors of divinity, substituting “others of law and police, of medicine, anatomy, and chemistry, and of modern languages” in their stead.124 With these and other measures in place, the fundamental direction of the school changed over the course of time into much the opposite, serving now the ideology of Jefferson rather than that of the church. After visiting the college in 1811, Bishop William Meade made the following observation.

Infidelity, indeed, was then rife in the State, and the College of William and Mary was regarded as the hotbed of French politics and religion. I can truly say, that then, and for some years after, in every educated young man of Virginia whom I met, I expected to find a skeptic, if not an avowed unbeliever. I left Williamsburg, as may well be imagined, with sad feelings of discouragement.…

The grain of mustard-seed that was planted at Williamsburg, about the middle of the century, had taken root there and sprung up and spread its branches over the whole state,—the stock still enlarging and strengthening itself there, and the roots shooting deeper into the soil. At the end of the century the College of William and Mary was regarded as the hotbed of infidelity and of the wild politics of France.125

Later in 1816, Jefferson supported the state of New Hampshire in its attempt to arrest Dartmouth College, a private Congregationalist institution, away from the board of trustees, although the United States Supreme Court decided otherwise.126

Jefferson’s most famous and successful project in education was the University of Virginia, one of the first public institutions of higher education in the ← 194 | 195 → country.127 Jefferson affords a number of exhortations about the importance of free inquiry at the school in January of 1819,128 but there is no doubt that its curriculum, textbooks, and faculty must submit to his basic philosophical orientation—a framework that is evident from the very outset of the planning stage. The school finds its initial justification not so much in the love of learning or the advancement of knowledge,129 but in Jefferson’s concern over the influence of the Federalist opposition in northern schools. The school finds its calling in counteracting the nefarious influence of the Federalists in education and promoting the Republican principles of Jefferson, especially in the law school, hoping to stack the state and federal legislatures with a team of his disciples.130 The fulfillment of the dream is insured in the course of its development by Jefferson and the Board of Visitors, insisting that the law professor share the correct political vision and prescribing specific texts for the classroom, including Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, Sidney’s Discourses on Government, The Federalist Papers, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and Madison’s Virginia Report of 1799–1800, touching on the Alien and Sedition Laws.131 Jefferson speaks of his desire for liberty to reign at the school and leaves the choice of books to individual professors in most instances, but when it comes to risking the Jeffersonian program of liberty itself, he was less willing to take any chances. Censorship was always a viable option if circumstances allowed the opposition a forum to undermine the basic mission. In one infamous episode, Jefferson urged an editor to publish an abridged edition of David Hume’s History of Great Britain, the “manual of every student” in the country, because it was laden with Tory ideas and needed to be “republicanized.”132

At the University of Virginia, the program of censorship was exercised with a special vengeance against the church and its many denominations. The private correspondence of Jefferson speaks in a direct and forthright manner about his dream of witnessing a “quiet euthanasia” upon the fanatical beliefs of the church as a means of restoring a religion of “peace, reason, and morality” in the country, and his plans of using public education in fulfilling the dream.133 At the University of Virginia, the dream came to fruition under the guise of advocating liberty and non-discrimination through policies that really favored the religious agenda of Jefferson in the end at the expense of the church and its participation in the school. His ultimate design was to eliminate the Christian faith and replace it with his own, and this is exactly what he proceeded to do at the university with the power of the state and its tax dollars providing a considerable source of income. In the name of constitutional freedom, Jefferson freed his university of Christian influence by refusing to appoint a divinity professor or teach “theology, apologetics, and Scripture” against the customary practice of the time.134 In the name of secularity, he prevented ministers and religious services from obtaining access to the centers of power on campus, only agreeing after ← 195 | 196 → considerable pressure to make sectarian instruction available outside of his famous serpentine wall for those who wanted it.135 In the absence of the Christian faith, Jefferson commissioned the professor of ethics to teach “the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all the relations of morality and the laws and obligations those infer”—all the religion he deemed necessary to believe. Religious instruction was made a part of the curriculum but only in a surreptitious manner to represent Jefferson’s own proclivities, which accent the “most interesting duties” of “every human being” and neglect theological discussions as divisive.136 The liberal/deist point of view was couched as if representing everybody and placed under a category other than “religion.” Of course, Jefferson refused to acknowledge the specific or sectarian religious nature of the instruction, but as a master of the name game he could hide his hypocrisy under different labels like “ethics” and advocate church/state separation all at the same time.137 The Presbyterians recognized the underlying danger that Jefferson’s designs represented to their faith and raised a significant opposition to the plans throughout the Commonwealth. An ally of the school, Joseph Cabell, chastened Jefferson in several letters about the legitimate nature of the Presbyterian complaints, informing him that they only wanted their fair share of a public community if their tax dollars were used as a means of support, but the objections went unheeded for the most part,138 and Jefferson continued his final solution with only a few setbacks. One of the few defeats was the elimination of Thomas Cooper, a virulent anti-Christian and son-in-law of Joseph Priestly, from obtaining a professorship in law and chemistry. Cooper felt that doctrines like “the Trinity and transubstantiation may no longer be entitled to public discussion”—a viewpoint that Jefferson hoped to instill within his students.139 Those who advocated a strict doctrine of church/state separation tended to agree with Jefferson’s policies. James Madison recognized the problem with denying representation to sectarian groups, but he also felt the discrimination was necessary for maintaining the peace at a public university and religion separate from the power of the civil government.140

Church and State

The exact relationship between religion and the government is subject to the same type of equivocation and duplicity throughout his career. All depends on what suits his political or religious purpose at the moment. On the one hand, he wants to reduce religion to morality like most sons of the Enlightenment and then speak of its importance as the foundation of society. In the Declaration of Independence, he claims that God has endowed all of humankind with inalienable rights and the ← 196 | 197 → purpose of government is found in serving that sacred foundation.141 In the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, he speaks in this way, claiming that the statute is based upon the “plan of the Holy author of our religion” to create human beings with a free mind and grant them liberty as a natural right. On the other hand, when religion is understood in terms of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then it suddenly becomes a private matter between “our God and our conscience,” which has no social ramifications whatsoever. He can say that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than on our opinions in physics or geometry,” contradicting the very words of his two famous documents.142 He can treat religion and politics as if they are two different subjects, calling for the complete separation of the two realms and building his famous wall.143

One of Jefferson’s proudest achievements was the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786). It received worldwide acclamation, and his tombstone listed it along with the founding of the University of Virginia and the writing of the Declaration of Independence as the three great achievements of which posterity should remember him.144 The statute disestablished the Anglican Church in Virginia, promoted freedom of religious expression, and eliminated religious tests for public office.145 Patrick Henry, the chief spokesman of the Anglican Church, had opposed the legislation in favor of multiple establishments, which would support the Christian religion as the one, true faith and provide public assistance to support its various denominations in accordance with the discretion of each and every taxpayer. Henry garnered significant support for his proposal from clerics across the church as well as a number of political heavyweights, including Washington, Marshall, and Lee, but Jefferson’s complete disestablishment would prevail through his considerable political and intellectual talents in the end.146 Indeed, it was one of Jefferson’s finest hours. The statute rejected any religion from controlling the government through a litmus test or a priori commitment to its perpetuity. No special privilege or stature would be accorded to any ideology in the ongoing contest for gaining public support.

However, Jefferson’s position becomes more controversial when he tries to expand the program a posteriori by excluding the church from influencing policy or participating in the public arena. This concept of church/state separation finds its most famous expression in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, dated January 1, 1802. The occasion of the letter was a concern on the part of the Northern Baptists that Jefferson was proceeding too far in his desire to separate church and state by refusing to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer, unlike his two predecessors in the office of the presidency.147 Jefferson tries to explain his position by making a distinction between the policies of the federal and local governments, emphasizing the word “congress” in the First ← 197 | 198 → Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This amendment is interpreted as establishing a secular national government, free from any religious concerns or practices, leaving him with a built-in excuse to omit the proclamation of a special religious observance as a federal official. The amendment is interpreted in a broad and legalistic manner as “building a wall of separation between church & state,”148 which includes in his mind a prohibition on the federal government from enacting anything of a religious nature, not just creating a national church. He hopes that his expansive interpretation will “make progress” in the future and encompass the other sectors of government, even if he feels restricted by its precise language in limiting the separation to a specific domain. The wall of separation and its consistent application develop from his concept of religion as a “matter which lies solely between Man & his God.” It is a fundamental presupposition he mentions at the beginning of the letter, right after the greeting, and also shares with some of the Baptist leaders in Virginia as common allies in the struggle. This concept of religion can lead in no other direction than the complete secularization of government in all its sectors, and Jefferson is certainly correct in drawing this conclusion, given the questionable nature of his supposition, which remains a matter of considerable debate within the nation today.149

The wall of separation represents the most indelible legacy of Jefferson’s thoughts and actions upon the relation between church and state, but he is not without contradiction on the issue. He is a good case in point for those who follow the hermeneutical approach of deconstructionism and find writing filled with complexity or ambiguity in meaning; authors involved in numerous contradictions or blind spots;150 and interpreters needing to psychoanalyze their subjects and search for underlying motives that sometimes subvert the outward intent.151 This type of hermeneutical approach will allow the many sides of a person like Jefferson to emerge, without feeling the onus to reconcile the tensions or contradictions. Here are just three ways to look at Jefferson and his view of church/state relations:

One, there is the Jefferson who wishes to forward his religious convictions. This side of Jefferson makes it clear that government cannot exist apart from religion.152 Here religion refers to his concept of universal morality, and not some special theological set of dogmas associated with sectarian expressions of Christianity. Here religion refers to his convictions about an innate or a priori sense of right and wrong that God has implanted in the hearts of all human beings, that Jesus inculcated among his disciples in the most sublime form, and Jefferson finds “necessary for a social being.”153 Religion is a positive good and necessary aspect of society, as long as it exists in abstracto, without making concrete connection with a specific theological dogma in understanding the divine nature, and follows the liberal/deist ← 198 | 199 → penchant in reducing religion to morality—the typical religious conviction of enlightened intelligentsia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Two, there is the political side of Jefferson that must accommodate the will of the people to forward his public career or obtain a larger civil agenda. For example, he helped craft a “Bill for Appointing Days of Public Fasting and Thanksgiving” in the state of Virginia, authorizing magistrates to honor the “Almighty God” in this manner, and even proclaimed one of these days of divine worship while serving as its governor.154 This simple example contains an obvious refutation of the notion that Jefferson championed the absolute secularization of the government throughout his political career. The endorsement of a Puritan-type tradition withstands the possibility of understanding his overt words and actions consistently, as advocating a complete divorce between church and state and interpreting disestablishment to mean the end of religious influence on all levels of the government. The proclamation, along with some other political/religious initiatives, present a problem for those who wish to interpret Jefferson as a strict separationist and provide a uniform interpretation of him on the issue;155 but it could be that Jefferson simply lacks consistency, or presents a duplicitous position on the issue, which must accommodate the affections of the people. Certainly, as a Deist and proponent of an “eternal wall,” he might find it difficult to embrace the Christian practice of giving thanks (eucharisteō) for divine blessing or grace (charis), but as a politician, he might have a motive to steer away from his doctrinaire political/religious conviction and find a need to placate or galvanize his people in serving an ultimate objective, accepting a certain amount of compromise along the way. No one can discern his motives; they are hidden and subject to the interpretive difficulties of all deconstruction or psychoanalysis, but it is only the worst sort of American hagiography that protects the name of Jefferson from unveiling the deeper and sometimes darker motivations of his policies. Only the most naïve citizen accepts the overt sincerity and literal truth of a politician’s words and actions.

Three, there is the Jefferson who develops a Voltairean-type of animosity toward the Judeo-Christian tradition and wants to perform a “quiet euthanasia.” The strict doctrine of separation certainly has a pretext in this motive and appears throughout his life, beginning with his literary notebook or Commonplace Book.156 However, the doctrine and hatred only seem to escalate later on in his life during and after the presidential campaign of 1800 because of the clerical assault upon his French ideals, exploding into the public domain and serving as a pretext for his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. At this time, he makes it clear that politics have no place in the pulpit since Federalist ministers are criticizing him; that religion is a private matter, since he does not want to confirm their suspicions about him.157 He is now able to understand disestablishment in the broadest sense ← 199 | 200 → and practice it with literal obedience as President of the United States, contradicting his previous policies in Virginia, accenting the strict doctrine of separation on the federal level, and hoping to see its application to the states in the near future. The first draft of his letter implies a general disapproval of ongoing religious practices in the respective northern states by preferring “voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect,” and is only stricken for political reasons.158 The final draft leaves the broad statement intact that religion is a “matter that lies solely between Man & his God,” making all forms of religion irrelevant to all levels of the government.

The attempt of Jefferson to diminish the role of the church and create a secular government is an important aspect of his legacy, but it only represents one side of his multifaceted and complicated career. By emphasizing this side, there is no attempt in this work to provide an overall portrait of the man and his career, or even present a fair and balanced view of his overall position on church/state relations. Certainly, Baptists, Quakers, and other persecuted groups would want to speak of the considerable debt that they and all lovers of freedom owe to Jefferson as a great champion of religious liberty and a powerful advocate of their cause against ecclesiastical establishments. In emphasizing the secular side of Jefferson, there is no intention to dismiss the positive contributions of his legacy regarding religious toleration, which all sides of the present debate have come to admire. In emphasizing the darker side of his relation to the church, the Jefferson Memorial remains secure within the pantheon of religious/political devotion in America, which also must recognize the frailties of its founders and a side of their beliefs and attitudes that remain muted within the plethora of hagiography often surrounding them. There is no understanding of Jefferson and his famous wall without placing it within his context and relationship to the church and state, which included the anti-Semitic/anti-Christian attitudes of the Enlightenment and a clear attempt to marginate the Judeo-Christian tradition through political means.


1. Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as Creation, reprint of 1730 edition (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1978), 14, 35, 38, 58ff., 104–105, 125; Arnold Ages, “The Dark Side of the French Enlightenment,” Toronto Journal of Theology 15/2 (1999): 139; d’Alembert, “Discours Preliminaire des Editeurs,” in Encyclopédie de Diderot et d’Alembert [Paris, 1751–1772] (F. M. Ricci, 1970– ), 13.xxvi ; Daniel Brewer, The Enlightenment Past: Reconstructing Eighteenth-Century French Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 36–37. This chapter represents a revised version of a previous artcle entitled ← 200 | 201 → “Jefferson’s Opposition to the Judeo–Christian Tradition” in Peter Lang’s series Major Concepts in Politics and Political Theory (Vol. 29), and is published with their permission.

2. Abbé Yvon, “Athées,” in Encyclopédia, A, 13.230–31; Diderot, Oeuvres Complètes (Nendeln: Kraus Reprint Ltd. 1966), 15.253–54; Kingsley Martin, The Rise of French Liberal Thought (New York University Press, 1954), 177–91; Charles A. Gliozzo, “The Philosophes and Religion: Intellectual Origins of the Dechristianization Movement in the French Revolution,” Church History 40/3 (1971): 283; Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: Knopf, 1967–69) 2.459. E.g., Helvétius, De l’Esprit, Guy Besse (intro. et notes) (Paris: Éditions Sociales, 1959), 115–16. Science was proceeding toward moral neutrality. Gay, The Enlightenment, 2.163.

3. See Stephen Strehle, The Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2014), chaps. 3–5; Ian Bartrum, “Religion and the Restatements,” Brooklyn Law Review 79/2 (2014): 579; David Martin, The Religious and the Secular: Studies in Secularization (New York: Shocken Books, 1969), 98–99.

4. George Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, in Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins (ed.) (Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1977), 108.

5. Charles Taylor, “Western Secularity,” in Rethinking Secularity, 34; Philip S. Gorski, “Historicizing the Secularization Debate: Church, State, and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ca. 1300 to 1700,” American Sociological Review, 65 (2000): 139–40. See also Robert Bellah’s Beyond Belief; Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy; Steve Bruce’s Religion in the Modern World; Jose Casanova’s Public Religions in the Modern World; Auguste Compte’s Cours de philosophie positive; Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life; Marcel Gauchet’s The Disenchantment of the World; Thomas Luckman’s Das Problem der Religion in der modernen Gesellschaft; Talcott Parson’s The Evolution of Societies; Herbert Spencer’s The Principles of Sociology; Bryan Wilson’s Religion in Secular Society.

6. A. J. Ayer, Voltaire (New York: Random House, 1986), 171–72. Diderot was most famous for his Encyclopédia, which he began in 1746. He was a strident critic of Christianity and was imprisoned in the Chateau Vincennes for unorthodox and subversive opinions on religion and morality. P. France, Diderot (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 7–9, 35–36. Early in his career he followed the mechanistic view of Descartes and sounded much like a Deist, accepting the teleological and moral arguments for the existence of God in Philosophical Thoughts. Later on, beginning with Letter on the Blind (1747), he questioned the veracity of these theistic proofs. At that time, he began to follow another aspect of current science, which imputed to matter its own “spontaneous generation.” He also thought it possible that the perfection we see today is the result of a long process, where defective animals become extinct and the best equipped remain. Pensées Philosophiques (1746), in Oeuvres Complètes de Diderot 1.132–36 (xviii–xxi); Lettre sur les Aveugles (1749), in Oeuvres Complètes, 1.308–309 [Diderot’s Selected Writings, L. G. Crocker (ed.), D. Coltman (trans.) (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1966), 4–6, 14, 20, 22]; A. Vartanian, “From Deist to Atheist: Diderot’s Philosophical Orientation, 1746–1749,” in Diderot Studies (Syracuse, NY: University Press, 1949), 47–50, 54, 58–60; P. France, Diderot (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 59, 67. Diderot serves as a good example of the propensity of Deism to proceed toward atheism or complete autonomy from God. ← 201 | 202 →

7. Daniel Mornet, Les Origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française 1715–1787 (Paris: Librairie A. Colin, 1967), 225–26; R. O. Rockwood, “The Legend of Voltaire and the Cult of the Revolution, 1791,” in Ideas in History, Richard Herr and Harold T. Parker (eds.) (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1965), 111; Peter Gay, Voltaire’s Politics: The Poet as a Realist (New York: Vintage Books, 1965), 334–35.

8. Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 243, 310; Rockwood, “The Legend of Voltaire,” 113.

9. M-M. H. Barr, Voltaire in America 1744–1800 (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins Press, 1941), 55; Rockwood, “The Legend of Voltaire,” 132; Gliozzo, “The Philosophes and Religion,” 275.

10. Jürgen von Stackelberg, “1685 et l’idée de la tolérance,” Francia 14 (1986) 230. Pierre Bayle wrote one of the first negative reactions to the revocation. He wrote two pamphlets in 1686: “Ce que c’est que la France toute Catholique sous le règne de Louis le Grand” and “Commentaire philosophique sur ces paroles de Jésus-Christ: ‘contrain-les d’entrer.’” Ibid., 230–31; Geoffrey Adams, “Myths and Misconceptions: The Philosophe View of the Huguenots in the Age of Louis XV,” Historical Reflections 1/1 (1974): 65–66.

11. Traité sur la Tolérance, in Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1877–85), 25.18–26; The Works of Voltaire (Paris: E. R. DuMont, 1901), 4.118–34; Barr, Voltaire in America, 119; Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003), 295–96. Hereafter the French edition of Voltaire’s work is designated OCV and the English edition WV.

12. OCV 20.494–95 (WV 12.154–56); OCV 24.439; OCV 25.32 (WV 4.145). Theological disputes are “the most terrible scourge of the world.” Atheism is a monstrous evil, but there is nothing worse than the fanaticism of meaningless, speculative dogma. Voltaire enjoys mocking doctrines like the Trinity, transubstantiation, supralapsarianism, et al. OCV 17.359–61 (WV 4.20–23); OCV 17.475–76 (WV 6.126); OCV 20.467 (WV 14.36–37); OCV 18.412–13 (WV 8.153–54); Ayer, Voltaire, 136–38; Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 268.

13. OCV 19.549 (WV 11.29); OCV 18.413 (WV 8.154–55); Ronald I. Boss, “The Development of Social Religion: A Contradiction of French Free Thought,” Journal of the History of Ideas 34/4 (1973): 582–84. Voltaire sees the necessity of religion in society, unlike some radicals who want religion expunged entirely. Ibid., 586–89; OCV 21.573. Voltaire’s famous quip speaks to the importance of religion in society. “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” His basic tendency is to reduce religion to morality. He accepts the fact that those who espouse a different religion from the prince might be treated as second class. OCV 25.33 (WV 4.147–48).

14. OCV 24.453. The basic rule of thumb is the fewer the dogmas the better. OCV 25.102 (WV 4.269). He expresses the typical doubts of a Deist concerning the belief in an afterlife and divine judgment. Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 266–67.

15. OCV 20.507–508 (WV 14.82–83).

16. OCV 17.476 (WV 6.126); OCV 18.105 (WV 9.87–88); OCV 19.155–56 (WV 8.326–27).

17. OCV 17.476 (WV 6.127); OCV 20.355 (WV 13.84–85). Voltaire does not find God embodied in history or performing miracles, but he rejects those who categorically dismiss the possibility of the supernatural in the name of science. OCV 20.77ff. (WV 11.272ff.); Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 266. ← 202 | 203 →

18. OCV 24.439ff.

19. OCV 24.449–50; OCV 20.186–87 (WV 12.146–48).

20. OCV 20.517–18 (WV 14.102); Ayer, Voltaire, 70–71, 97.

21. OCV 20.521 (WV 14.104).

22. OCV 20.523 (WV 14.108), OCV 24.451; Ayer Voltaire, 132; Zagorin, Religious Toleration, 297.

23. Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 70–78.

24. OCV 20.517ff., 521 (WV 14.100ff., 104).

25. Gay, Voltaire, Voltaire’s Politics, 271–72.

26. OCV 26.298; Ayer, Voltaire, 99.

27. OCV 24.252.

28. Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 170, 239, 244–46, 252; Ayer, Voltaire, 27; Gliozzo, “The Philosophes and Religion,” 275 (n.12). There is some controversy over the precise interpretation of the phrase écrazer l’infâme, but the apparent meaning is to extirpate Christianity. He says in his Notebooks (324) that if Frederick of Prussia, his patron, was more daring he could have destroyed the religion.

29. Ibid., 89, 225–26; Ayer, Voltaire, 27–28.

30. OCV 20.272 (WV 12.303); Stackelberg, “1685 et l’idée de la tolerance,” 236–39.

31. OCV 20.195 (WV 12.155–56); Rockwood, “The Legend of Voltaire,” 116; Stackelberg, “1685 et l’idée de la tolérance,” 239; Gay, Voltaire’s Politics, 108, 269, 354, 355, 455. He finds Jesuits a most depraved lot. They cause civil wars wherever they go, and he favors a government policy to disband them. OCV 25.35, 96–97 (WV 4.151, 158).

32. Barr, Voltaire in America, 12, 17ff., 32–59.

33. Alf J. Mapp, The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America’s Founders Really Believed (Laham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 61–63, 66–67, 72, 83, 95, 106–9; Darren Staloff, “Deism and the Founders,” in Faith and the Founders of the American Republic, Daniel Dreisbach and Mark David Hall (eds.) (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 18–30. Hereafter the last reference is designated FFAR. Only a tiny minority of the leaders of the Revolution were militant Deists. Franklin was a militant Deist, materialist, determinist, and anti-Christian in his youth, but he became more tolerant as he matured and even overturned many of his previous convictions, embracing free will, divine providence, and the immortality of the soul. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he promoted a type of “civil religion” by speaking of the special divine providence in “our Favour,” exhorting the members to offer thanksgiving and chastening them for impiety. Benjamin Franklin, “Motion for Prayers in the Convention” (June 28, 1787), in Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1987), 1138–39; Daniel Dreisbach, “The Bible and the Political Culture of the American Founding,” in FFAR, 158–59.

34. He starts out his work by proclaiming, “My own mind is my own church.” Through the powers of human reason, we all can discover the majesty of God in creation, the eternal laws of nature, and all that is necessary for us to lead productive lives. There is no need to rely upon written texts of old. In fact, the Bible is filled with stories of rapine and murder, including the “horrid assassination of whole nations.” It inspires “the most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the great miseries that have afflicted the human race.” He calls the Jews “a nation of ruffians and cut-throats,” their patriarchs “monsters and ← 203 | 204 → imposters,” the Apostle Paul a “fool,” and Christians “infidels to God.” The wicked deeds of these wicked men are what the Bible offers us, and beyond this, there is little else other than stupidity. No enlightened mind could possibly believe in its mythological and miraculous stories, or its mystical doctrines, such as the Trinity and the divine incarnation, which defy all logic. The Complete Religious and Theological Works of Thomas Paine (New York: Peter Eckler, 1954), 1:5ff., 18–19, 29–31, 43, 39, 60, 67, 91, 103–4, 159, 166, 173, 176, 185, 249, 261–62, 355–56, 378, 398, 415–16.

35. John Thayer, A Discourse, Delivered, at the Roman Catholic Church in Boston (Boston, MA: Samuel Hall, 1789), 9ff.; Timothy Dwight, The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis (New Haven, CT: Thomas and Samuel Green, 1798), reprinted in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, Ellis Sandoz (ed.) (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Press, 1991), 1381–85; David Osgood, “Some facts evincive of the atheistical, anarchical, and in other respects, immoral principles of the French Republicans, …” (Boston, MA: Samuel Hall, 1798); Alden Bradford, Two Sermons (Wiscasset: Henry Hoskins and John W. Scott, 1798), 19; Noble E. Cunningham, “Election of 1800,” in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–1968, Arthur M. Schlesinger (ed.) (New York: Celesea House, 1971); The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett (ed.) (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1974), 21.402–404; 24.405; Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 274–77; Henry W. Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1960), 3, 46; Robert M. Healey, Jefferson on Religion in Public Education (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1962), 164; Carles Ellis Dickson, “Jeremiads in the New American Republic: The Case of National Fasts in John Adams Administration,” The New England Quarterly 60/2 (1987): 201; Charles B. Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” in Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia, Garrett Ward Sheldon and Daniel Dreisbach (eds.) (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2000), 61; Daniel Dreisbach, “Mr. Jefferson, a Mammoth Cheese, and the ‘Wall of Separation Between Church and State’: A Bicentennial Commemoration,” Journal of Church and State 43/4 (2001): 733–36; Thomas E. Buckley, “The Political Theology of Thomas Jefferson,” in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: Its Evolution and Consequences in American History, Merrill Peterson and Robert Vaughan (eds.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 75. Hamilton made religion a central issue in the 1800 campaign, warning the voters of Jefferson’s relationship to the French Revolution and its “atheism.” The Federalists preferred the British model of an evolving society, while the Republicans looked to the radical revolution of France in the political and religious realm.

36. Jefferson, “Autobiography,” in The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford (ed.) (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 1.4; Jennings L. Wagoner, Jefferson and Education (Charlottesville, VA: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2004), 21; Mapp, The Faiths of Our Fathers, 4; Allen Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence: Origin, Philosophy and Theology (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), 19; Douglas Wilson, “Jefferson and Bolingbroke: Some Notes on the Question of Influence,” in Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia, 110; Edwin S. Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), ← 204 | 205 → 16–17. Small came to Virginia from Scotland and was the only member of the college who was not an Anglican clergyman. Hereafter the Ford edition of Jefferson is designated F.

37. “To George Wythe” (Aug. 13, 1786) F 5.153–54. Jefferson’s hate for the clergy grew in Paris, even if it had antecedents in his earlier training. His letters from France are filled with venom toward them. Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State: Writings on Religion and Secularism, L. Brenner (ed.) (Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade, 2004), 100–106.

38. The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson, Gilbert Chinard (intro. and notes) (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1926), 10, 328 (849), 334–43 (852–61); Barr, Voltaire in America, 116. The Commonplace Book is designated as CB hereafter. It is hard to assess the direct influence of Voltaire upon his attitudes. Jefferson considers Voltaire a genius, which testifies to some direct knowledge, but the basic influence probably developed through the many secondary sources of the pervasive, Voltairean culture. Notes on Virginia (1782) F 3.459–61. Cf. CB 48–49, 58.

39. Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 14–15, 265; David G. James, The Life of Reason: Hobbes, Locke, Bolingbroke (London, Toronto, and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1949), 177, 193.

40. “Jefferson’s Literary Commonplace Book,” in Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Douglas L. Wilson (ed.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 5, 8. Hereafter referred to as LCB. See Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar of God, 22–23; Wilson, “Jefferson and Bolingbroke,” 109–11. The excerpts make up almost 40 percent of the material. John Adams told Jefferson that he “read [Bolingbroke] through more than five times in his life.” Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle, 262.

41. LCB 11.

42. LCB 29 [16], 43–44 [46]; Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, Philosophical Works 1754-77 (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1977), 2.154–55, 4.316–20; Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, 23. Hereafter Philosophical Works is designated PW. In the footnotes, LBC is mentioned first and then the reference Jefferson is making in PW. If PW stands alone, it means the idea comes from Bolingbroke and is not cited by LBC.

43. LCB 30–31 [20]; PW 2.220–21, 230–32; 5.333.

44. PW 5.357–59.

45. PW 2.232.

46. PW 5.359.

47. PW 5.356.

48. LCB 40–41 [37]; PW 4.153–54.

49. LCB 31–32 [20–21]; PW 2.232–34, 237–38. Jewish people often followed the concepts and customs (e.g., circumcision) around them. LBC 23 [1], 24 [4]; PW 1.135.

50. LCB 55 [58]; PW 5.367. Jefferson and the Founding Fathers supported the full civil rights of Jews, but his antipathy toward Judaism reflected the Voltairean type of anti-Semitism that will lead to modern bigotry and atrocities against this people. See Strehle, The Dark Side, passim; Letters of Certain Jews to Monsieur de Voltaire, Philip Lefanu (trans.) (Dublin: William Watson, 1777), 61, 64; “To Benjamin Rush” (Aug. 21, 1803) L 10.384–85; “To John Adams” (Oct. 13, 1813) L 13.389; “To Charles Thompson” (Jan. 9, 1816) L 14.386; To Ezra Stiles” (June 25, 1819) L 15.203; “To William Short” (Aug. 4, 1820) L 15.260–61; David Dalin, “Jews, Judaism, and the American Founding, in FFAR, 66–76; ← 205 | 206 → Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America (New York: Random House, 2008), 75. L stands for The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb (ed.) (Washington, DC: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905).

51. LCB 53, 55 [58]; PW 5.332–70.

52. LCB 55 [58]; PW 5.370; Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, 22.

53. PW 5.361.

54. LCB 40 [36]; PW 4.148; Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration, 28–29.

55. PW 2.221.

56. LBC 50 [56]; PW 5.217.

57. Bolingbroke does not trust the New Testament canon. It is a later and capricious act of the church (LCB 36–38 [31–33]; PW 3.37–39), and the Gospel accounts are filled with contradictions (LCB 33 [23], 41–42 [40]; PW 2.262; 4.257–59). The ethics of Jesus are not so complete or coherent as some philosophers (LCB 35 [28]; PW 2.305–306), but Bolingbroke can still think of Jesus as the Messiah, Savior, and messenger of God. The original message of Jesus was consonant with reason and the system of nature, even if the church corrupted it (PW 2.328, 332). He even seems to think at one point that the miracles of Jesus established the veracity of the message and speaks of his coming again to reward and punish us in accordance with our faithfulness (PW 2.328–29), although his basic posture is skepticism when it comes to miraculous accounts due to insufficient proof or a violation of natural law (LCB 25 [6]; PW 1.155; Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration, 23, 32–33).

58. PW 2.328; James, The Life of Reason, 257–58.

59. Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration, 27–28, 34–35.

60. LCB 42–43 [44]; PW 4.268–71.

61. PW 5.216.

62. PW 2.332–33; James, The Life of Reason, 244.

63. James, The Life of Reason, 241; Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle, 84.

64. PW 2.359.

65. James, The Life of Reason, 241–47.

66. PW 2.222–23, 248–49, 256; 4.147–48.

67. Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle, 86–87. Bolingbroke follows the voluntaristic tradition of the late medieval period, which sees God’s will establishing the law and not the eternal essence. The commands of God do not express the divine nature, but simply represent a capricious act of the will toward us. In concert with this view, Bolingbroke often speaks of a qualitative distinction between God and human beings, in which the two have nothing in common. Ibid., 85–86; James, The Life of Reason, 253–56; e.g., PW 4.307. And yet, he can turn around and submit religion to rational demonstrations, as if the world and its moral code partake of some absolute truth, as if the world is a revelation of God’s just ways, not a capricious act of irrationality and immorality. LCB 28 [14–15]; PW 1.30–31. Such contradictions cause many detractors to deprecate his philosophical abilities as more driven by temper tantrums against opponents than sober philosophical discourse. David James finds his work arrogant, contradictory, and unfair, “animated by as much hatred of religion as of the speculative intelligence.” The Life of Reason, 207, 234, 240.

68. LCB 34 [26–27]; PW 2.279–82. ← 206 | 207 →

69. Paul Conkin, Merrill Peterson, and Douglas Wilson have developed the same fundamental conclusion after reviewing the material in Bolingbroke and Jefferson. Wilson, “Jefferson and Bolingbroke,” 109–10, 115–16; Paul Conkin, “The Religious Pilgrimage of Thomas Jefferson,” in Jeffersonian Legacies, Peter Onuf (ed.) (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia, 1993), 23–25.

70. Mapp, Faiths of Our Fathers, 15; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 26, 136; “To William Short” (Oct. 31, 1819), F 12.140; “To Doctor Benjamin Rush” (Sept. 23, 1800), F 9.148; “To Charles Thomson” (Jan. 9, 1816) F 11.498. Jefferson considers materialism (Epicureanism) compatible with religion. In his Commonplace Book, he provides an excerpt from Tertullian that speaks of the corporeal nature of God and the soul. CB 374 (904). Early in his life, he seems to think that consciousness ceases with death and prefers the Stoic attitude in the face of its horror, citing the counsel of Cicero. CB 328–30 (849–50); LCB 17, 56, 58–59 [60–62, 67–68, 71–72]; “To John Adams” (March 14, 1820) L 15.240–41; “To Thomas Cooper” (Aug. 14, 1820) L 15.266–67; “To Judge Augustus B. Woodward” (March 24, 1824) L 16.18–19; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 80–81. His belief system was far from orthodox, but he was baptized, married, and buried in the Anglican Church, and attended church services regularly throughout his life. Thomas Buckley, “Religion and the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson,” in Religion and the American Presidency: George Washington to George W. Bush with Commentary and Primary Sources, Gastón Espinosa (ed.) (New York: Columbia Press, 2009), 89–90; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 61–62.

71. “To Doctor Benjamin Waterhouse” (June 26, 1822) L 15.385; “To Ezra Styles, Esq.” (June 25, 1819) L 15.203–204; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 72; Buckley, “The Political Theology of Thomas Jefferson,” 90; Cushing Strout, “Jeffersonian Religious Liberty and American Pluralism,” in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, 201; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 38, 162; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 134, 144. In his Commonplace Book, he cites a reference from Voltaire about Calvin burning Michael Servetus at the stake. This excerpt points to a negative image and prejudice toward Calvinism that Jefferson learned and preferred at a young age. CB 339 (859).

72. “To Peter Carr” (Aug. 10, 1787) F 5.323; “To John Adams” (Oct. 13, 1813) L 13.391–392; “To Miles King” (Sept. 26, 1814) L 14. 197; J. Judd Owen, “The Struggle Between Religion and Nonreligion,”American Political Science Review 101/3 (2007) 497; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 66–67, 70. Like the philosophes, he provides only vague cosmological and teleological proofs for God’s existence. “To John Adams” (April 18, 1816) L 14.468–69; “To John Adams” (April 11, 1823) L 16.427; Robert M. Healey, “Jefferson on Judaism and the Jews,” American Jewish History 78/4 (1984) 363.

73. Ibid., 325–26.

74. “To John Adams” (Jan. 22, 1821) F 12.198; “To Timothy Pickering, Esq.” (Feb. 27, 1821) L 15.323.

75. Owen, “The Struggle Between Religion and Nonreligion,” 500.

76. “To Peter Carr” (Aug. 10, 1787) F 5.323; Adrienne Koch, The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1957), 16.

77. Ibid.; “To Thomas Law, Esq.” (June 13, 1814) L 14.142–44; “To John Adams” (Oct. 14, 1816) L 15.76; Bernard Mayo, Myths and Men: Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas ← 207 | 208 → Jefferson (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1959), 66; William B. Huntley, “Jefferson’s Public and Private Religion,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 79/3 (1980) 296; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 76–78; Buckley, “The Political Theology of Thomas Jefferson,” 87. Morality is an a priori, “self-evident” part of “our constitution.” (This conviction clearly inspired the edited version of the Declaration of Independence concerning its self-evident truths, which is attributed to Franklin.) Jefferson’s position is similar to what one reads in the writings of Frances Hutcheson, Thomas Reid, Lord Kames and other members of the Scottish Enlightenment. Jefferson uses Lord Kames’ work extensively in his Commonplace Book. CB 16–18, 96–135, 167 (559–68, 694); Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 32, 34, 137; Jayne, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, 66–68. In a letter to Thomas Law, Jefferson refers to Kames’ “Principles of Natural Religion” and concurs with its position that “a man owes no duty to which he is not urged by some impulsive feeling.” “To Thomas Law” (June 13, 1814) L 14.144. See Henry Home, Lord Kames, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (Edinburgh: A. Kincaid and A. Donaldson, 1751), 60, 69; Principles of Equity (Edinburgh: A. Kincaid and J. Bell, 1767), 30–31.

78. “To James Fishback” (Sept. 27, 1809) L 12.315–16 (along with Jefferson’s missing composition draft in Jefferson and Madison on Separation, 195).

79. “To Thomas Parker” (May 15, 1819), in Jefferson and Madison on Separation, 273. Jefferson rejects the emphasis of Jesus upon repentance and forgiveness. He rejects any doctrine of cheap grace and emphasizes the necessity of doing good works as a means of reward. He is more of a materialist than Jesus, but later in life he entertains the possibility of an afterlife when he reaches the time of his own death. “To William Short” (April 13, 1820) L 15.244; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 31–34; “Jefferson on Judaism and the Jews,” 369; Mapp, The Faiths of Our Fathers, 20; Owen, “The Struggle Between Religion and Nonreligion,” 498–99.

80. “To Benjamin Rush” (April 21, 1803) F 9.462, “To William Canby” (Sept. 18, 1813) L 13.377–378; Koch, The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, 32; Huntley, “Jefferson’s Public and Private Religion,” 295.

81. “To William Short” (Aug. 4, 1820) F 15.257; Healey, “Jefferson on Judaism and the Jews,” 363, 366.

82. “To Joseph Priestly” (April 9, 1803) F 9.458–59; “To Edward Dowse, Esq.” L 10.376–377; “To Doctor Benjamin Rush” (April 21, 1803) L 10.382–85; “To William Short” (Aug. 4, 1820) L 15.260; Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 45, 54ff.; Healey, “Jefferson on Judaism and the Jews,” 365.

83. “To Charles Thomson” (Jan. 9, 1816) F 11.498; “To Benjamin Rush” (April 21, 1803) L 10.380.

84. Jefferson and Madison on Separation, 166–70.

85. Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 118.

86. “To John Adams” (Oct. 13, 1813) L 13.390; “To John Adams” (July 15, 1814) F 11.397–98; “To Charles Thomson” (Jan. 19, 1816) F 11.498–99; “To F. A. van der Kemp” (April 25, 1816) L 15.2–3; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 118.

87. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1968), 309, 319. ← 208 | 209 →

88. “To Peter Carr” (Aug. 10, 1787) F 5.324–25; “To William Short” (Aug. 4, 1820) F 15.257; Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 57. In more recent times, the Third Quest for the historical Jesus has developed more objective criteria. John P. Meier, a leading figure in the quest, says that miraculous narratives go back to the time of Jesus. There are too many independent, first-century sources that speak of Jesus as a miracle worker to discount these narratives as later additions. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 2.619, 622.

89. “To Charles Thomson” (Jan. 9, 1816) F 11.498; “To Francis van der Kemp” (April 25, 1816) L 15.2–3.

90. Jefferson and Madison on Separation, 257, 277–331; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 63–65; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 126, 130–31; Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 65; Mapp, The Faiths of Our Fathers, 16. See Foote’s discussion on pp. 61–67 for the evolution of the work. It consists of clippings from the four canonical Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, and English, arranged in parallel columns. It was published later on as “Jefferson’s Bible”—a Bible that omits the OT and letters of Paul.

91. “To John Adams” (Aug. 22, 1813) F 11.333–34; “To William Short” (Oct. 31, 1819) F 12.141–42; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 112.

92. The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestly (New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1972), 5.14, 16–19, 25–30, 87; 18.9, 17, 19, 25–27. Priestly says that the Apostles and the early Jewish Christians (Ebionites and Nazarenes) did not revere Jesus as divine. Justin Martyr was the first to personify Jesus as the Logos of John 1.

93. Ibid., 2.386, 408–409.

94. Ibid., 2.109, 130–39; 5.103–106.

95. “To William Short” (Oct. 31, 1819) F 12.142; “To Ezra Styles, Esq.” (June 25, 1819) L 15.203–204; Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 57–59.

96. Mapp, The Faiths of Our Fathers, 19.

97. “To James Smith” (Dec. 28, 1822) L 15.408–409; “To John Adams” (Aug. 22, 1813) F 11.326–29.

98. George H. Knoles, “The Religious Ideas of Thomas Jefferson,” in Thomas Jefferson: A Profile, Merrill D. Peterson (ed.) (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), 253.

99. “To William Short” (April 13, 1820) L 15.245.

100. “To Samuel Kercheval [William Baldwin]” (Jan. 19, 1810) L 12.345, 356.

101. Mapp, The Faiths of Our Fathers, 11; “To Benjamin Rush” (April 21, 1803) F 9.457.

102. Jefferson and Madison on Separation, 240–41, 368–69; “To Doctor Benjamin Waterhouse” (June 26, 1822) L 15.384–85. Calvin “was indeed an atheist, which I can never be, or rather his religion was daemonism.” “To John Adams” (April 11, 1823) L 15.425.

103. Ibid., 75 [“To Marquis de Chastellux” (Sept. 2, 1785)]. It is worth noting that the early Puritans of New England also barred the clergy from holding public office, even if their motives were much different. Lambert, The Founding Fathers, 82–83.

104. Ibid.; “To P. H. Wendover” (March 13, 1815) L 14.282–83; Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1994), 70–72; Hamburger, The Separation of Church and State, 81–88, 135; David N. Mager, The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 165; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 136–37, 227–28. He rejects his former ← 209 | 210 → position of excluding the clergy from office in the face of mounting criticism but then reinstates it in his Bill for Establishing a System of Public Education (1817). “To Jeremiah Moor” (Aug. 14, 1800) F 9.142–43.

105. Leonard W. Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties: The Darker Side (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 9.

106. Notes on Virginia (1782) F 4.62; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 35.

107. “To Rev. Thomas Whittemore” (June 5, 1822) L 15.373–74; “To James Fishback” (Sept. 27, 1809) L 12.315–16 (along with Jefferson’s missing composition draft).

108. E.g., Autobiography (1743–1790) F 1.156.

109. Notes on Virginia (1782) F 4.74–75; “To Marquis de Lafayette” (May 14, 1817) F 12.62; “To John Adams” (May 5, 1817) L 15.108–109.

110. “To Governor Wilson C. Nicholas” (April 2, 1816) L 14.454; Caleb P. Patterson, The Constitutional Principles of Thomas Jefferson (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1967), 173–76.

111. “To Doctor Benjamin Rush” (Sept. 23, 1800) F 9.148.

112. Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom (1786). While he is often portrayed in the hagiography of American history as a defender of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, a more sober account cannot affirm this portrait so simply. John Quincy Adams, after reading Jefferson’s Autobiography, wondered whether the hero of the story had forgotten about his “double dealing character” and “deep duplicity.” Leonard Levy lists a number of hypocritical practices that marked Jefferson’s career. He did not always support the cause of liberty. For example, he sought to prosecute Aaron Burr, based on mere rumor and suspicion after the courts had exonerated him; he supported a bill of attainder, which would convict a suspect without trial, against Josiah Phillips, an alleged Tory outlaw. Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 18, 35, 49–51, 59, 70–71, 158; Constitutional Opinions: Aspects of the Bill of Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 111, 167, 174–90.

113. “To P. S. DuPont de Nemours” (April 24, 1816) F 11.523–24; “To George Wythe” (Aug. 13, 1786) F 5.153; Edward J. Power, Main Currents in the History of Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), 560; Patterson, The Constitutional Principles, 174–75.

114. Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 18.

115. “To Richard Price” (Jan. 8, 1789), in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd (ed.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), 14.420. Hereafter this edition is designated B.

116. Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 195–96.

117. “To ______” (Feb. 3, 1825) L 16.103–104.

118. Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 33–38; Robert O. Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation of the Opposition to Jefferson’s Educational Proposals in the Commonwealth of Virginia” (Ph.D. dissertation, Washington, DC: The American University, 1974), 37–44; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 186–87; Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 18.

119. Ibid., 10–12; Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 197ff.

120. Ibid., 42.

121. Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 50.

122. Ibid., 145.

123. A Bill for Amending the Constitution of the College of William and Mary, B 2.539; Levy, Jefferson and Civil Liberties, 9–11; Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 51–52. ← 210 | 211 →

124. Autobiography (1743–1790) F 1.78; Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 10–11; Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 53–54, 148; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 40.

125. Bishop Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia (Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1857), 1.29, 175; Thomas Thompson, “Perceptions of a ‘Deist Church’ in Early National Virginia,” in Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia, 43–49. Presbyterians reacted to Jefferson’s policies at William and Mary by establishing Transylvania Seminary in Kentucky.

126. Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 166–67.

127. The University of North Carolina was the first state-supported school. Kentucky and Georgia also had public universities before Virginia. James B. Conant, Thomas Jefferson and the Development of American Public Education (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963), 27; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 123.

128. Conant, Jefferson and the Development of American Education, 26; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 105.

129. Of course, Jefferson speaks much to the contrary. Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 9.

130. “To James Madison” (Feb. 17, 1826) F 12.456; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 125, 137; Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 148–50.

131. “From the Minutes of the Board of Visitors” (March 4, 1825), in Thomas Jefferson, Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1984), 479; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 87, 137–38; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 199–201. Every candidate for the law chair was regarded as a “strict constructionist, states’ rights advocate of the old Dominion school: Thomas Cooper, Francis Walker Gilmer, Henry St. George Tucker, Philip P. Barbour, Peter Carr, William Wirt, and John Taylor Lomax.” Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 153.

132. The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Adrienne Koch and William Peden (eds.) (New York: The Modern Library, 1944), 725–26; Levy Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 144–45.

133. “To William Short” (Oct. 31, 1819) F 12.142; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 157–58, 161ff., 204–5.

134. “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia” (Aug. 4, 1818), in Writings, 467; “To Dr. Thomas Cooper” (Oct. 7, 1814) L 14.200; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 139–40.

135. “To Doctor Thomas Cooper” (Nov. 2, 1822) L 15.405; “From the Minutes of the Board of Visitors” (Oct. 7, 1822), in Writings, 477–78; Mayer, The Constitutional Thought, 166; Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 139–40; Levy, The Establishment Clause, 74–75; Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 12; Garrett Ward Sheldon, “Liberalism, Classicism, and Christianity in Jefferson’s Political Thought,” in Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson’s Virginia, 100; Robert Cord, “Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Nonabsolute’ Wall of Separation Between Church and State,” in Religion and Political Culture, 179.

136. “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia” (Aug. 4, 1818) and “From the Minutes of the Board of Visitors, University of Virginia” (Oct. 7, 1822), in Writings, 467, 477–78; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 170–72, 205–9, 216ff.; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 163; Sanford, “The Religious Beliefs of Thomas Jefferson,” 79.

137. Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 17, 209, 225–26, 253; Levy, The Establishment Clause, 73.

138. Early History of the University of Virginia as Contained in the Letters of Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell, Nathaniel F. Cabell (ed.) (Richmond, VA: J. W. Randolph, 1856), 215–16 ← 211 | 212 → (letter 122, “J. C. C. to T. J.”); 230–231 (letter 130, “J. C. C. to T. J.”); Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 114; Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 179.

139. Virginia Evangelical and Literary Magazine, John H. Rice (ed.) (Richmond, VA: Franklin Press, 1820), 3/1 (Jan. 1820), 49; 3/2 (Feb. 1820), 63ff., 72 (“Review” of the Memoirs of Joseph Priestly, containing “observations on his writings,” by Thomas Cooper); 3/6 (June 1820), 265–70 (“Instructors of Youth. On the Choice of Instructors of Youth”); Wagoner, Jefferson and Education, 102–3, 140–41; Healey, Jefferson on Religion, 231ff.; Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 174ff.; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 175–76.

140. “To Edward Everett” (March 19, 1823) in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1865), 3.307.

141. Koch, The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, 133–34, 137–38; Evans, The Theme is Freedom, 35; David Barton, Original Intent: The Courts, The Constitution, and Religion (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 1997), 319ff.

142. Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (1786); “To Richard Rush” (May 31, 1813) F 11.292; “To Mrs. M. Harrison Smith” (Aug. 6, 1816) L 15.60. One of the reasons that he is so adverse to making his own religion public is his sense of personal persecution.

143. Ibid.; “Second Inaugural Address” (March 4, 1805), in Writings, 519–20; Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 109.

144. “To James Madison” (Dec. 16, 1786) L 6.10–11; “Epitaph” [1826], in Writings, 706. Jefferson’s statute was proposed in 1779, but did not become law until 1786. In many ways, it was the culmination of a legislative process with a number of struggles and actors along the way. For example, the Bill of Nov. 1776 already replaced the requirement of church attendance and tithing; but the Anglican Church remained established and the matter of a general assessment to support religion was still an open question. Daniel Dreisbach, “Church-State Debate in the Virginia Legislature: From the Declaration of Rights to the Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom,” in Religion and Political Culture, 142–43, 148.

145. Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, 25–29. Again, Jefferson says, “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty, or no gods.” Notes on Virginia (1782) F 4.78. In its narrowest meaning and in concert with the statute, it means that there is no harm in holding any theological opinion; problems develop with the statement only when the meaning is expanded to deprecate religion or one’s theology as irrelevant to one’s actions or corporate life. Only a Deist could make this kind of ridiculous comment. Jefferson tried in the first draft to establish his own religious sensibilities by submitting future religious expression to the judgment of “reason alone,” but the surreptitious attempt was deleted from the final draft. “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd (ed.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), 2.545; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar of God, 63–64; Buckley, “The Political Theology of Thomas Jefferson,” 86.

146. Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 55–59; Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 5; The Establishment Clause, 61–62; Woodburn, “An Historical Investigation,” 131.

147. “To Mssrs. Nehemiah Dodge and Others, a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in the State of Connecticut” (Jan. 1, 102), in Writings, 510; “To the Attorney General (Levi Lincoln)” (Jan. 1, 1802) L 10.305; Daniel Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State (New York and London: New York University Press, 2002), 17, 41ff., 46, 48, 56, 185; Dreisbach, “Mr. Jefferson, a Mammoth Cheese, …,” 738; ← 212 | 213 → Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 159–62; Levy, Jefferson & Civil Liberties, 7. He drops a specific reference to his refusal to make the proclamation in an earlier draft, lest he offend his Republican constituency up North by going too far. He also strikes out the adjective “eternal” in front of the term “separation,” as well as references to the role of the federal government as “merely temporal” and secular. His practice in regard to fast days is marked by political pragmatism. Autobiography (1743–1790) F 1.12; Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall, 58, 59. His northern constituency is less radical than Jefferson in regard to church/state relations. Isaac Backus, the leader of Baptists in the North, does not advocate the severe, Jeffersonian position of John Lelland and some Virginia Baptists on public religion. Backus never accepted the Deism and anti-clericalism that divorced religion from public life, and even accepted the privileged status of Protestant Christianity. He never “opposed the fact that the Westminster Confession of Faith was mandatory for all Massachusetts school children, nor did he object to laws against ‘profanity, blasphemy, gambling, theater-going, and desecration of the Sabbath, which [he] accepted as within the domain of the government in its preservation of a Christian society.’” Owen, “The Struggle Between Religion and Nonreligion,” 500; William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent 1630–1883: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 2.103; Isaac Backus, A Door Opened to Christian Liberty (Boston, 1783), in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, McLoughlin (ed.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 436–38; A History of New England with Particular Reference to the Baptists (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1969), 2.321; Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation, 49, 53; Joe Cocker, Isaac Backus and John Leland: Baptist Contributions to Religious Liberty in the Founding Era, in FFAR, 319–20, 324–27; Gaustad, Sworn on the Altar, 107; Stephen Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity: The Sacred Roots of American and British Government (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2009), 259–60; The Writings of John Leland, L. F. Greene (ed.) (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1969), 118–19, 122, 182, 184, 354, 441, 446, 475, 564. A couple of days after writing the letter, Jefferson attended a service in the House of Representatives, where Leland spoke of the president as wiser than Solomon. Hamburger says that the dissenters did not endorse a separation of church and state. They led the fight against establishment but saw religion as the moral fabric of society. Even strict separationists were forced to back down on this specific point. The Baptists ignored Jefferson’s letter, and no Baptist organization advocated church/state separation. Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 19–20, 29, 65–78, 92, 177.

148. The concept of a wall antedates Jefferson. It is used by some notable authors: Richard Hooker, Menno Simons, Roger Williams, and James Burgh. The specific source matters little in understanding Jefferson’s concept, but a good guess is James Burgh (1714–1775), a dissenting Scottish schoolmaster, whom Jefferson read and admired. Burgh thought of religion as a private matter and used the metaphor extensively in his works. Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall, 71–81; Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 56–57, 63. Separatist groups spoke of a wall to protect the church from worldly influence. Burgh was concerned with the power of established churches. James Burgh, Crito, or Essays on Various Subjects (London, 1766–67), 1.7; 2.116–19. ← 213 | 214 →

149. His severe position develops early on, as we can see in his Commonplace Book. The excerpts reject that Christianity played a role in the common law tradition of England. He cites the work “Houard in his Coutumes Anglo-Normandes, I.87,” which speaks of the “alliance between church and state” as a fraud of the clergy and refers to their falsification of Alfred’s laws with “four surreptitious chapters of Exodus [20–23].” The Bible and its Decalogue are not part of the common law. CB 351ff. (873–79), 362–63 (879); Ethan Bercot, “Forgetting to Weight: The Use of History in the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause,” Georgetown Law Journal 102/3 (2014): 847; Buckley, “The Political Theology of Thomas Jefferson,” 101.

150. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (trans.) (Baltimore, MD and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), xxxi–xxxii, xxxvii–xxxviii, 145, 239, 255.

151. Derrida, Limited Inc, Samuel Weber (trans.) (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1990), 58, 133, 149.

152. E.g., “To De Witt Clinton” (May 24, 1807) F 9.63. Of course, this statement is contradicted elsewhere. He tells his nephew Peter Carr that it is possible to find “incitement to virtue” without belief in God. Religion only provides “additional incitement.” “To Peter Carr” (Aug. 10, 1787) F 4.431–32.

153. “To John Adams” (May 5, 1817) L 15.109; Buckley, “Religion and the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson,” 88–89.

154. Autobiography, L 1.9–10; “Resolution of the House of Burgesses Designating a Day of Fasting and Prayer,” in Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1.105–106; “Bill for Appointing Days of Public Fasting and Thanksgiving,” in Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2.556; “Proclamation Appointing a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer,” in Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 3.177–79; Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall, 58–59; “Mr. Jefferson, a Mammoth Cheese, …,” 738–39; “Religion and Legal Reforms in Revolutionary Virginia,” 199–202; Cord, “Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Nonabsolute’ Wall,” 173. He also sponsored a “Bill for Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers,” punishing those who labor or employ labor on Sunday with a fine of ten shillings per offense. Even as president, he provided assistance for a Presbyterian school among the Cherokee. He also approved of a treaty that provided “support of a priest” ministering to the Kaskaska tribe and 300 dollars to erect a church.

155. Daniel Dreisbach supplies the best attempt at a uniform interpretation of his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, although he admits to some tension within his position. He says the letter is advocating federalism. Jefferson understands the First Amendment as leaving religion to the states. The letter allows for a broad interpretation but only on the federal level. Dreisbach also points to his policies in Virginia to show that disestablishment does not imply strict separation—at least on the state level. Thomas Jefferson and the Wall, 54, 63–65, 192–94; “Mr. Jefferson, a Mammoth Cheese, …,” 739–40; “Religion and Legal Reforms in Revolutionary Virginia,” 201–2. At the very least, one can say that Jefferson has enough integrity not to abuse the First Amendment and pretend that it calls for a strict separation on the federal and state level, even if he wishes the country would proceed in this direction.

156. See n.149. ← 214 | 215 →

157. Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 111–12, 144ff.; Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall, 28–29; Thompson, “Perceptions of a ‘Deist Church’,” 46; Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 109ff., 121–22. See nn.103–104. Some Republicans like Tunis Wortman and Abraham Bishop joined Jefferson in wanting to silence the Federalist clergy. Tunis Wortman, “A Solemn Address to Christians and Patriots” [New York, 1800], in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era 1730–1805, E. Sandoz (ed.) (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Press, 1991), 1481–85; Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, 261–62.

158. Dreisbach, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall, 34, 44–45. ← 215 | 216 →