Noah's ARKives

(Archive - Week of February 11, 2006)

Thomas Jefferson, our third president

NOAH'S NOTE:
We now have elected 43 Presidents of the United States. Many could be called great leaders and a few not so great. Our nation would not be the same without Thomas Jefferson. Please continue to read about the life and achievement of this great man. 

Thomas Jefferson, Third President
March 4 , 1801 – March 3 , 1809

Vice President
Aaron Burr; George Clinton
Preceded by
John Adams
Succeeded by
James Madison
Born
April 13, 1743 Shadwell, Virginia
Died
July 4 , 1826, Charlottesville, Virginia
Political party
Democratic-Republican
Spouse
Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 NS . – July 4, 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801–1809), author of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), and one of the most influential Founders of the United States. He was the eponym of Jeffersonian democracy. Along with Alexander Hamilton he was a founder of the First Party System by which Americans ruled themselves 1792-1820. Major events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the Embargo Act of 1807, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806).

A political philosopher who promoted classical liberalism, republicanism, and the separation of church and state, he was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786); which was the basis of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He was also the founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, which dominated American politics for over a quarter-century. Jefferson also served as the second Governor of Virginia (1779–1781), first United States Secretary of State (1789–1795), and second Vice President (1797–1801).

In addition to his political career, Jefferson was also an agriculturalist, horticulturist, architect, etymologist, archaeologist, mathematician, cryptographer, surveyor, paleontologist, author, lawyer, inventor, violinist, and the founder of the University of Virginia. Many people consider Jefferson to be among the most brilliant men ever to occupy the Presidency. President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962, saying, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Early life and education
Jefferson was born on April 2, 1743 according to the Julian calendar ("old style") used at the time, but under the Gregorian calendar ("new style") adopted during his lifetime, he was born on April 13.

Jefferson was born into a prosperous Virginia family. His father was Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor who owned a plantation in Albemarle County called Shadwell. His mother was Jane Randolph – a cousin of Peyton Randolph. Both parents were from families that had been settled in Virginia for several generations.

Painting of Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805)

In 1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by William Douglas, a Scottish reverend. In 1757, when Jefferson was 14 years old, his father died. Jefferson inherited about 5,000 acres (20 km²) of land and dozens of slaves, out of which he created his home which would eventually be known as Monticello.

After his father's death, he was taught at the school of the learned James Maury, a reverend, from 1758 to 1760. The school was in Fredericksburg parish, twelve miles from Shadwell, and Jefferson boarded with Maury's family. There he received a classical education and studied history and natural science. At the age of nine, Jefferson began studying the classical languages of Latin and Greek as well as French.

Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg at the age of 16 and spent two years there, from 1760 to 1762. There Jefferson studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under professor William Small, who introduced the enthusiastic Jefferson to the writings of British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Sir Issac Newton. At William and Mary, he reportedly studied 15 hours a day, perfected French, carried his Greek grammar book wherever he went, practiced the violin, and favored Tacitus and Homer.

In college, Jefferson was a member of the secret Flat Hat Club, now the namesake of the college's daily student newspaper. After graduating in 1762 with highest honors, Jefferson studied law with his friend and mentor, George Wythe, and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.

In 1772 he married a widow, Martha Wayles Skelton (1748-82). They had six children: Martha Washington (1772-1836), Jane Randolph (1774-1775), unnamed son (1777-1777), Mary Wayles (1778-1804), Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781), and Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1785). Martha Wayles Skelton died September 6, 1782, and Thomas Jefferson never remarried.

In 1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" led to several academic reforms at his alma mater , including an elective system of study--the first in an American university. In 1779, at Jefferson's behest, William and Mary appointed George Wythe to be the first Professor of Law in an America university. Furthermore, as Governor, he oversaw the transfer of the state capitol from Williamsburg to Richmond in 1780. In 1783, Jefferson was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by William and Mary. As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson continued to advocate educational reforms at that college including the nation's first elective system of course study and student-policed honor code. Dissatisfied with the rate of changes he wanted to push through, he would go on later in life to become the "father" and founder of the first university at which higher education was completely separate from religious doctrine, the University of Virginia.

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Charlottesville Lodge No. 90, Charlottesville, VA,

Political career to 1800

Rudolph Evans' statue of Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence preamble to the right

Jefferson practiced law and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1774, he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America which was intended as instructions for the Virginia delegates to a national congress. The pamphlet was a powerful argument of American terms for a settlement with Britain, helped speed the way to independence, and marked Jefferson as one of the most thoughtful patriot spokesmen.

Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and a source of many other contributions to American political and civil culture. The Continental Congress delegated the task of writing the Declaration to a committee that unanimously solicited Jefferson to prepare the draft of the Declaration alone.

During the American Revolution, Jefferson served as governor of Virginia (1779-1781), and afterwards as minister to France (1785–1789). He did not attend the Constitutional Convention. He did generally support the new Constitution, although he thought the document flawed for lack of a Bill of Rights.

After returning from France, Jefferson served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington (1790–1793). After battling inside the cabinet with Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison founded and led the original Republican Party. Jefferson strongly supported France against Britain when war broke out between those powerful nations in 1793. However when the Jay Treaty proved that Washington and Hamilton supported Britain, Jefferson retired to Monticello. He was elected Vice President (1797–1801), writing A Manual of Parliamentary Practice that is still in use.

With a Quasi-War with France underway (that is, an undeclared naval war), the Federalists under John Adams started a navy, built up the army, levied new taxes, readied for war and also enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Jefferson interpreted the Alien and Sedition Acts as an attack on his party more than on dangerous enemy aliens. He and Madison rallied support by anonymously writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that declared that the Constitution only established an agreement between the central government and the states and that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it. Should the federal government assume such powers, its acts under them could be voided by a state. The Resolutions' importance lies in being the first statements of the states' rights theory that led to the later concepts of nullification and interposition.

Working closely with Aaron Burr of New York, Jefferson rallied his party, attacking the new taxes especially, and ran for the Presidency in 1800. Federalists counterattacked Jefferson, a Deist, as an atheist and enemy of Christianity. He tied with Burr for first place in the Electoral College, leaving the House of Representatives (where the Federalists still had some power) to decide the election.

Hamilton convinced his Federalist friends that Jefferson would be much less of a threat than Burr. The issue was resolved by the House, on February 17, 1801, when Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice President.

Presidency

The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States

Jefferson's Presidency, from 1801 to 1809, was the first to start and end in the White House; it was also the first Democratic-Republican Presidency. Jefferson is the only Vice President to later win election and serve two full terms as President of the United States.

Jefferson's term was marked by his belief in agrarianism, individual liberty, and limited government, sparking the development of a distinct American identity defined by republicanism. During this term, Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase and commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jefferson was re-elected in the 1804 election. His second term was dominated by foreign policy concerns, as American neutrality was imperiled by war between Britain and France.

Jefferson was a strict constructionist who compromised on his original principles during his Presidency. He strayed from the principles of keeping a small navy, agrarian economy, strict constructionalism, and a small/weak government. A group called the tertium quids criticised Jefferson for his abandonment of his early principles.

Inauguration

Jefferson is commemorated on the U.S. Nickel

Thomas Jefferson, a powerful advocate of equality and liberty, gave his inaugural address on March 4, 1801 in Washington, DC. The principles of this address can mainly be categorized as unity and strength. At the time of Jefferson's inauguration, the country was very much divided, mainly politically between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.

Events during his Presidency

  • Louisiana Purchase (1803)
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803)
  • Creation of the Orleans Territory (1804)
  • Land Act of 1804
  • Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified (1804)
  • Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806)
  • Creation of the Louisiana Territory (later renamed the Missouri Territory) in 1805
  • Tertium quids create a divide in the Democratic-Republican Party
  • Embargo Act of 1807, an attempt to force respect for U.S. neutrality by ending trade with the belligerents in the Napoleonic War
  • Abolition of the external slave trade in 1808

Cabinet

OFFICE NAME TERM
President Thomas Jefferson 1801–1809
Vice President Aaron Burr 1801–1805
George Clinton 1805–1809
Secretary of State James Madison 1801–1809
Secretary of the Treasury Samuel Dexter 1801
Albert Gallatin 1801–1809
Secretary of War Henry Dearborn 1801–1809
Attorney General Levi Lincoln 1801–1804
Robert Smith 1805
John Breckinridge 1805–1806
Caesar A. Rodney 1807–1809
Postmaster General Joseph Habersham 1801
Gideon Granger 1801–1809
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert 1801
Robert Smith 1801–1810

Supreme Court appointments

Jefferson appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

  • William Johnson - 1804
  • Henry Brockholst Livingston - 1807
  • Thomas Todd - 1807

States admitted to the Union

  • Ohio - 1803

Father of a university

The Rotunda , University of Virginia

After leaving the Presidency, Jefferson continued to be active in public affairs. He also became increasingly obsessed with founding a new institution of higher learning, specifically one free of church influences where one could specialize in many new areas not offered at other universities. A letter to Joseph Priestley, in January 1800, indicated that he had been planning the university for decades before its establishment.

His dream was realized in 1819, with the founding of the University of Virginia. Upon its opening in 1825, it was then the first university to offer a full slate of elective courses to its students. One of the largest construction projects to that time in North America, it was notable for being centered about a library, rather than a church. In fact, no campus chapel was included in his original plans.

Until his death, he invited university students and faculty of the school to his home, Edgar Allan Poe among them.

Jefferson's death

Jefferson died on the Fourth of July, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the same day as John Adams' death. He is buried on his Monticello estate. Jefferson was the first President to be buried in a grave as opposed to a crypt, as both Washington and Adams were. His epitaph, written by him with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more" be inscribed, reads:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom & Father of the University of Virginia

Personal characteristics and views
Appearance and temperament

Gilbert Stuart portrait of Thomas Jefferson seated at his desk (1805)

Jefferson was six feet, two-and-one-half inches (189 cm) in height, large-boned, slender, erect and sinewy. He had angular features, very poor posture, a very ruddy complexion, strawberry blonde hair and hazel-flecked, grey eyes. In later years he was negligent in dress and loose in bearing.

There was grace, nevertheless, in his manners; and his frank and earnest address, his quick sympathy (though he seemed cold to strangers), and his vivacious, desultory, informing talk gave him an engaging charm. Beneath a quiet surface he was fairly aglow with intense convictions and a very emotional temperament. Yet he seems to have acted habitually, in great and little things, on system.

Though it is a biographical tradition that he lacked wit, Don Quixote and the works of Molière seem to have been his favorites; and though the utilitarian wholly crowds romanticism out of his writings, he had enough of that quality in youth to prepare to learn Gaelic in order to translate Ossian, and sent to James Macpherson for the originals.

As President he discontinued the practice of delivering the State of the Union Address in person, instead sending the address to Congress in writing (the practice was eventually revived by Woodrow Wilson); he ended up giving only two public speeches during his Presidency. His reluctance to speak in public is usually attributed to his taciturnity, though some historians believe it was due to a lisp. In addition, he burned all of his letters between himself and his wife at her death, creating the portrait of a man who at times could be very private.

Interests and activities

Monticello

Jefferson was an accomplished architect who was extremely influential in bringing the Neo-Classical style he encountered in France to the United States. He felt that it reflected the ideas of republic and democracy where the prevalent British styles represented the monarchy. Jefferson designed his famous home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia; it included automatic doors, the first swivel chair, and other convenient devices invented by Jefferson. Nearby is the only university ever to have been founded by a President, the University of Virginia, of which the original curriculum and architecture Jefferson designed. Today, Monticello and the University of Virginia are together one of only four man-made World Heritag Sites in the United States of America. Jefferson is also credited with the architectural design of the Virginia State Capitol building, which was modeled after the Maison Carrée at Nîmes in southern France, an ancient Roman temple. Jefferson's buildings helped initiate the ensuing American fashion for Federal style architecture.

Jefferson's interests included archeology, a discipline then in its infancy. He has sometimes been called the "father of archeology" in recognition of his role in developing excavation techniques. When exploring an Indian burial mound on his Virginia estate in 1784, Jefferson avoided the common practice of simply digging downwards until something turned up. Instead, he cut a wedge out of the mound so that he could walk into it, look at the layers of occupation, and draw conclusions from them.

Jefferson was also an avid wine lover and noted gourmet. During his years in France (1784-1789) he took extensive trips through French and other European wine regions and sent the best back home. He is noted for the bold pronouncement: "We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good." While there were extensive vineyards planted at Monticello, a significant portion were of the European wine grape Vitis vinifera and did not survive the many vine diseases native to the Americas.

After the British burned Washington and The Library of Congress in August 1814, Jefferson offered his own collection to the nation. In January 1815, Congress accepted his offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library.

The range of his interests is remarkable. For many years he was President of the American Philosophical Society.

He said in a letter to Colonel Carrington : "I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments." However, Jefferson believed anarchism to be "inconsistent with any great degree of population." ( Letter to James Madison, 30 Jan 1787 ). Hence, he did advocate government for the American expanse provided that it exists by "consent of the governed."

Political philosophy

In his May 28, 1818 letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah , Jefferson expresses his faith in humankind and views on the nature of democracy

Jefferson's vision for America was that of an agricultural nation of yeoman farmers minding their own affairs. It stood in contrast to the vision of Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned a nation of commerce and manufacturing. Jefferson was a great believer in the uniqueness and the potential of America and can be seen as the father of American exceptionalism Jefferson was influenced heavily by the ideas of many European Enlightenment thinkers. His political principles were heavily influenced by John Locke (particularly relating to the principles of inalienable rights and popular sovereignty) and Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

Jefferson believed that each individual has "certain inalienable rights." That is, these rights exist with or without government; man cannot create or take them away. It is the right of "liberty" on which Jefferson is most notable for expounding. He defines it by saying "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law', because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." ( Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819 ) Hence, for Jefferson, though government cannot create a right to liberty, it can indeed violate it. And, the limit of an individual's rightful liberty is not what law says it is, but is simply a matter of stopping short of prohibiting other individuals from having the same liberty. A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty. Jefferson said that "a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine." As a result of his concern of pure democracy endangering individual rights, he advocated a republic where individual liberty is protected from democratic rule by a Constitution.

Jefferson believed that individuals have an innate sense of morality that prescribes right from wrong when dealing with other individuals --that whether they choose to restrain themselves or not, they have an innate sense of the natural rights of others. He even believed that moral sense to be reliable enough that an anarchist society could function well, provided that it was reasonably small. On several occasions he expressed admiration for the governmentless society of the native American Indians:

In the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Jeffersonian Democracy

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale in 1800

Jeffersonian democracy describes the Jeffersonian vision. It is characterized by the following key elements:

  • Representative democracy is the best form of government and representative government is the best form of democracy to prevent the tyranny by the majority.
  • Checks and balances between the separate branches of government are the best way to prevent political tyranny by the executive or the representatives in a legislature. This is a Madisonian argument Jefferson accepted.
  • wall of separation between church and state is the best method to keep priests and superstitions out of the government. Later theorists noted that it helped make religion more voluntary and more effective.
  • The government must protect the freedoms of individuals. This is a classic statement of republicanism.
  • Freedom of speech and the press is the best method to prevent or reverse tyranny by the government.
  • Whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to the purposes of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety or of effectually securing against the danger of maladministration, a majority of the community has the indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public well-being. Abraham Lincoln, one of Jefferson's most devoted followers, believed in this principle. But he argued in 1861 that applied to the entire national majority, and could not be used by a regional minority.

Jefferson's dedication to "consent of the governed" was so thorough that he believed that individuals could not be morally bound by the actions of preceding generations. This included debts as well as law. He said that "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation." He even calculated what he believed to be the proper cycle of legal revolution: "Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it is to be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right." He arrived at 19 years through calculations with expectancy of life tables with taking into account what he believed to be the age of "maturity" when an individual is able to reason for himself ( Letter to James Madison, 6 September 1789 ). He also advocated that the National Debt should be eliminated. However, he did not believe that living individuals had a moral obligation to repay the debts of previous generations. He said that repaying such debts was "a question of generosity and not of right" ( Letter to James Madison, 6 Sep 1789).

Jefferson's very strong defense of States' Rights, especially in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, set the tone for hostility to expansion of federal powers down to 1860. However, some of his foreign policies did in fact strengthen the government. Most important was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when he used the implied powers to annex a huge foreign territory and all its French and Indian inhabitants. His enforcement of the Embargo Act, while it failed in terms of foreign policy, demonstrated that the federal government could intervene with great force at the local level, in controlling trade.

Religious views

During the Revolution, Jefferson played a leading role in implementing the separation of church and state in Virginia. In Virginia, prior to the American Revolution, the Anglican Church was government sanctioned and funded, and its doctrine was made mandatory for Christians. As he wrote in his Notes on Virginia, a law was in effect in Virginia that "if a person brought up a Christian denies the being of a God, or the Trinity …he is punishable on the first offense by incapacity to hold any office …; on the second by a disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy …, and by three year' imprisonment." Prospective officer-holders, presumably including Jefferson, were required to swear that they did not believe in transubstantiation, a measure intended to exclude Roman Catholics from office. In 1779, toward the end of the Revolution, Jefferson drafted "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," and he regarded passage of this bill as a high achievement. However, the dis-establishment of the official church did not come easily, and Jefferson described the debates as "…the severest contests in which I have ever been engaged," because even though a majority of Virginia's citizens were dissenting Christians, Anglican churchmen controlled a majority of the legislature.

For Jefferson, separation of church and state was not an abstract right, but a necessary reform of a religious "Tyranny" of one Christian sect over many other Christians. He also regarded separation as being a very personal freedom, and for example he noted that individual members of a given congregation should not be compelled by law to support financially their own parish church.

The Declaration of Independence incorporates concepts from Deism
On matters of religion, Jefferson was sometimes accused by his political opponents of being an atheist; however, he is generally regarded as a believer in Deism, a philosophy shared by many other notable intellectuals of his time. Jefferson repeatedly stated his belief in a creator, and in the United States Declaration of Independence uses the terms "Creator", "Nature's God", and "Divine Providence". Jefferson believed, furthermore, it was this Creator that endowed humanity with a number of inalienable rights, such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". His experience in France just before the Revolution made him deeply suspicious of (Catholic) priests and bishops as a force for reaction and ignorance.

Jefferson was raised in the Church of England, at a time when it was the established church in Virginia and only denomination funded by Virginia tax money. Before the American Revolution, Jefferson was a vestryman in his local church, a lay position that was part of political office at the time. Jefferson later expressed general agreement with his friend Joseph Priestley's Unitarianism.

Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, but he had high esteem for Jesus' moral teachings, which he viewed as the "principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform [prior Jewish] moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice & philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state." (Letter to Joseph Priestley, April 9, 1803.)

Like most deists, Jefferson did not believe in miracles. He labored on an edited version of the Gospels, removing references to the miracles of Jesus and material he considered preternatural, leaving only Jesus' moral philosophy, of which he approved. This compilation was published after his death and became known as the Jefferson Bible .

"It [the Jefferson Bible ] is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." (wrote this in a letter to Charles Thomson Jan 9, 1816.)

From 1784 to 1786, Jefferson and James Madison worked together to oppose Patrick Henry's attempts to again assess taxes in Virginia to support churches. Instead, in 1786, the Virginia General Assembly passed Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom , which he had first submitted in 1779, and was one of only three accomplishments he put in his own epitaph. Virginia thereby became the first state to disestablish religion.

Jefferson also supported what he called a "wall of separation between Church and State", which he believed was a principle expressed within the First Amendment (see Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1802, and Letter to Virginia Baptists, 1808).

"Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. "We have solved ... the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries." — as quoted in the Letter to the Virginia Baptists (1808). This is his second use of the term "wall of separation," here quoting his own use in the Danbury Baptist letter. This wording was cited several times by the Supreme Court in its interpretation of the Establishment Clause: Reynolds (98 U.S. at 164, 1879); Everson (330 U.S. at 59, 1947); McCollum (333 U.S. at 232, 1948).

He further developed his thoughts in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779), quoted from Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: Writings (1984).

"[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

During his Presidency, Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and thanksgiving. Moreover, his private letters indicate he was skeptical of too much interference by clergy in matters of civil government. His letters contain the following observations: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government" (Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813), and, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own" (Letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814). "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government" (Letter to Roger C. Weightman June 24, 1826). Jeffersons harshest comments however, seemed to have been directed toward the spiritual descendants of John Calvin. In a letter to William Short, April 13, 1820, Jefferson made the following remarks:"The serious enemies are the priests of the different religious sects, to whose spells on the human mind it's improvement is ominous. Their pulpits are now resounding with denunciations against the appointment of Dr. Cooper whom they charge as Monarchist in opposition to their tritheism. Hostile as these sects are in every other point, to one another, they unite in maintaining their mystical theology against those who believe there is one God only. The Presbyterian clergy are the loudest. The most intolerant of all sects, the most tyrannical, and ambitious; ready at the word of the lawgiver, if such a word could be now obtained, to put the torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere, the flames in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus ...".

Jefferson's desire to erect a "wall of separation" did not include a desire to inhibit the personal religious lives of public officials. Jefferson himself attended certain public Christian services during his Presidency. He also had friends who were clergy, and he supported some churches financially. Moreover, he personally believed, as did Deist John Locke, that human rights were endowed by a God: "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 a gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever" ( Notes on the State of Virginia , 1781-1785 Query 18). Though not religious himself, he viewed religious opinions in others, including public officials, as a purely personal matter with which the state should not interfere:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State" (Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT, January 1, 1802).

Jefferson and slavery

Jefferson's personal records show he owned 187 slaves, some of whom were inherited from his wife at her death. Some find it hypocritical that he both owned slaves and yet was publicly outspoken in his belief that slavery was immoral. Many of his slaves were considered property that was held as a lien for his many accumulated debts.

His ambivalence regarding slavery can be seen, for example, in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson wrote, in which he condemned the British crown for sponsoring the importation of slavery to the colonies, charging that the crown "has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere..." This language was dropped from the Declaration at the request of delegates from South Carolina and Georgia. In 1769, as a member of the Virginia state legislature, Jefferson proposed for that body to emancipate slaves in Virginia, but he was unsuccessful. In 1778, the legislature passed a bill he proposed to ban further importation of slaves into Virginia; although this did not bring complete emancipation, in his words, it "stopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication."

The Sally Hemings controversy

A subject of considerable controversy since Jefferson's own time was whether Jefferson was the father of any of the children of his slaves.

Two major, mutually contradictory studies were released in the early 2000s. A study by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation states that "it is very unlikely that Randolph Jefferson or any Jefferson other than Thomas Jefferson was the father of her children," while a study by an independent Scholars Commmission concludes that the Jefferson paternity thesis is not persuasive.

David N. Mayer, a member of the Scholars Commission, says in his own writings that there is "the possibility that Jefferson's brother Randolph or one of Randolph Jefferson's five sons could have fathered one or more of Sally Hemings' children." He also states that, "Indeed, eight of these 25 Jefferson males lived within 20 miles (a half-day's ride) of Monticello—including Thomas Jefferson's younger brother, Randolph Jefferson, and Randolph's five sons, who ranged in age from about 17 to 26 at the time of Eston's birth." All of these men could have passed down the Y chromosome used as "proof". Professor Mayer's independent report also suggests that the Foundation report is flawed by biases and faulty assumptions (including the assumption that only one man fathered all of Sally Hemings' children).

Significantly, everyone who has researched the issue -- regardless which side they take on the Jefferson-Hemings paternity question -- agree that there is no evidence supporting the original allegation, published by Thomas Callender in 1802, that Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings' first child in France prior to 1790. All the documentary evidence shows that Hemings' first child, Harriet, was born in 1795 -- years after the mythical child "Tom" that Callender alleged.

Monuments and memorials

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC

On April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth, the Jefferson Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The memorial combines a low neo-classical saucer dome with a portico. The interior includes a 19 foot statue of Jefferson and engravings of passages from his writings. Most prominent are the words which are inscribed around the monument near the roof: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Jefferson is one of four US Presidents (along with George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) engraved on Mount Rushmore, near Keystone, South Dakota.

Jefferson's portrait appears on the U.S. $2 bill, nickel, and the $100 Series EE Savings Bond.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church (Unitarian Universalist) is located in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

Noah@SemperFidelisNoah.com

 


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