Was Thomas Jefferson a Christian?
There has long been a debate as to whether Jefferson was a Christian. He fully realized that he was very hesitant to talk about religion. He himself said "...the subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle." (1813 May 31. Letter Of Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush).
In this 21st century we need to remember that in Jefferson’s time the United States was being born out of an ancient kingdom that had an Official State Church. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were two of the principal midwives of the new republic, Anyone in Britain who did not profess submission to the State Church was called a “nonconformist” and was the subject of considerable discrimination. Jefferson’s focus was to eliminate this kind of discrimination in the United States.
"I must ever believe that religion substantially good which produces an honest life, and we have been authorized by One whom you and I equally respect, to judge of the tree by its fruit. Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone. I inquire after no man's, and trouble none with mine; nor is it given to us in this life to know whether your or mine, our friends or our foes, are exactly the right." (1814 September 26. Jefferson to Miles King).
By Jefferson’s time there were many churches and groups who all believed that they were right and others were wrong. He knew that they all had to be partly wrong. Today there are many more divergent Christian groups than in Jefferson’s time.
We should let Jefferson speak for himself:
"To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other." (1803 April 21. Letter Of Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush).
"I too have made a wee little book, from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. a more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel… (1816 January 9. Letter Of Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson).
"But let them [members of the parliament of Great Britain] not think to exclude us from going to other markets, to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, nor to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”
"A Summary View of the Rights of British America"
"For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . ."
"The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it. . . ."
Thomas Jefferson “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Query 18:5,6
© David J Keyser, 2014, 2015