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Six Historic Americans|
Thomas Jefferson [Freethinker]
by Remsburg, John E.
|Had Jefferson's works been edited by some pious churchman who would have
expunged or modified his radical sentiments; or had his works been
suppressed after they were published, as some desired, the clergy
might with less fear of exposure claim that their author was a Christian.
his writings are accessible to the public, it adds nothing to
their reputation for candor to make the claims respecting his belief
which many of them do; for these writings clearly prove that he was
not a Christian, but a Freethinker.|
The "Memoirs, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of
Thomas Jefferson," edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, a grandson
of the distinguished statesman, was printed in four large volumes,
and published in 1829. From these volumes, and other writings of
Jefferson, I have culled some of the most radical thoughts to be
found in the whole range of Infidel literature.
In a letter to his nephew and ward, Peter Carr, while at school,
Jefferson offers the following advice, which though thoroughly
sound, would be considered rather questionable advice for a
Christian to give a schoolboy:
"Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal
every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the
existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more
approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. ... Do
not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its
consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you
find incitements to virtue in the comfort and
pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of
others which it will procure for you" (Jefferson's Works, Vol.
ii., p. 217).
The God of the Old Testament -- the God which Christians worship
-- Jefferson pronounces "a being of terrific character -- cruel,
vindictive, capricious, and unjust" (Works Vol. iv., p. 325).
In speaking of the Jewish priests, he denominates them "a
bloodthirsty race, as cruel and remorseless as the being whom
they represented as the family God of Abraham, of Isaac, and
Jacob, and the local God of Israel" (Ibid.).
In a letter to John Adams, dated April 8, 1816, referring to the
God of the Jews, be says:
"Their God would be deemed a very indifferent man with us"
(Ibid., p. 373).
To his nephew he writes as follows regarding the Bible:
"Read the Bible as you would Livy or Tacitus. For
example, in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood still
for several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or
Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood,
speaking of their statues, beasts, etc. But it is said that
the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore,
candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired.
The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions
believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to
know how contrary it is to the law of nature" (Works, Vol.
ii., p. 217).
In this same letter, he thus refers to Jesus Christ:
"Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: First, of
who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin,
suspended and reversed the laws of Nature at will, and
ascended bodily into heaven; and second, of those who say he
man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart,
enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to
divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally
for sedition by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law,
which punished the first commission of that offence by
whipping, and the second by exile or death in furea."
His own opinion respecting the above is expressed in a letter
to John Adams, written a short time previous to his death:
"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
brain of Jupiter" (Works, Vol. iv, p. 365).
In the gospel history of Jesus, Jefferson discovers what he
terms "a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible,
of superstitions, fanaticism, and fabrications" (Works,
Vol. iv, p. 325).
"If we could believe that he [Jesus] really
countenanced the follies, the falsehoods, and the charlatanism
his biographers [Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,] father on
him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations, and
theorizations of the fathers of the early, and the fanatics of the
latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound
that he was an impostor" (Ibid..).
Jefferson, however, did not regard Jesus as an impostor. He says:
"Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his
biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct
morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others,
of so much ignorance, of so much absurdity, so much
untruth and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such
contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I
separate, therefore, the gold from the dross, restore to him
the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some and
the roguery of others of his disciples" (Ibid., 320).
Jefferson made a compilation of the more rational and humane
teachings of Jesus, the "gold," as he termed it, which has
since been published. Some superficial readers have supposed
this to be an acknowledgment of Christ. Orthodox teachers,
however, know. better and ignore the book.
For the man Jesus, Jefferson, like Rousseau,
other Freethinkers, had nothing but admiration; for the
Christ Jesus of theology, nothing but contempt.
to Jesus believing himself inspired he interposes
the plea of mild insanity. He says:
"This belief carried no more personal imputation than the
of Socrates that he was under the care and admonition
of a guardian demon. And how many of our wisest men still
believe in the reality of these inspirations while perfectly
sane on all other subjects" (Works, Vol. iv, p. 327).
Several of the preceding quotations are from a lengthy
communication to William Short. In the same communication he
characterizes the Four Evangelists as "groveling authors" with
"feeble minds." To the early disciples of Jesus he pays the
"Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great
Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus"
The published writings of Jefferson, which, however, do not
contain many of his most radical thoughts, would indicate
that he regarded Jesus Christ as a historical character. In a
contribution to Frazer's Magazine for March, 1865, Dr. Conway
shows that he was sometimes disposed to entertain the mythical
hypothesis. Mr. Conway says:
"Jefferson occupied his Sundays at Monticello in writing
letters to Paine (they are unpublished, I believe, but I have
seen them) in favor of the probabilities that Christ and his
Twelve Apostles were only personifications of the sun and the
twelve signs of the Zodiac."
This was the opinion held by Paine during the last years of
For nearly sixteen hundred years the doctrine of the Trinity
has been a leading tenet of the Christian faith. To doubt
this dogma is the rankest heresy; for denying it thousands
lost their lives. In a letter to Col. Pickering,
Jefferson speaks of "the incomprehensible jargon of the
Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one and one is three."
In a letter to James Smith, Jefferson says:
"The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God, like another
Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and
in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs"
(Works, Vol. iv., p. 360).
in the same communication, he says:
"The Athanasian paradox that one is three and three but
one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid
man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what
presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself
He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has
no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and
like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With
such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the
helm of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck."
an insignificant minority, not at an unimportant and
unpopular sect, but at nine hundred and ninety-nine out of
every thousand Christians -- at virtually the entire Christian
-- was the above scathing criticism hurled. Even more
is the following from a letter to Dr. Benjamin
as soon undertake to bring the crazy skulls
to sound understanding, as inculcate reason into
that of an Athanasian" (Works, Vol. iv., p. 353).
In a letter to John Adams, written August 22, 1813, Jefferson
"It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to
pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticism that three are
one and one is three, and yet, that the one is not three, and
are not one.... But this constitutes the craft, the
power, and profits of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer
fabrics of fictitious religion, and they would catch no more
flies" (Ibid, p. 205).
Writing to John Adams a year later -- July 5, 1814 -- he
again refers to this subject:
"The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of
Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need
explanation, saw in the mysticisms of Plato materials with
which they might build up an artificial system, which might,
from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give
employment for their order and introduce it to profit, power
and pre-eminence" (Ibid, p. 242).
Alluding to the eucharist, he styles the orthodox clergy
"cannibal priests" (Ibid, p. 205).
Jefferson's hatred of Calvinism was intense. He never ceased
to denounce the "blasphemous absurdity of the five points of
Calvin." Three years before his death he writes John Adams:
"His [Calvin's] religion was demonism. If ever man
worshiped a false God, he did. The being described in his five
is ... a demon of malignant spirit. It would be more
pardonable to believe in no God at all, than to blaspheme him
by the atrocious attributes of Calvin" (Works, Vol. iv., p.
"It is hard to say observes Bancroft, "which surpassed the
other in boiling hatred of Calvinism, Jefferson or John Adams."
To Dr. Cooper, November 2, 1822, Jefferson writes:
no idea, however, that in Pennsylvania, the cradle
of toleration and freedom of religion, it [fanaticism] could
have arisen to the height you describe. This must be owing to
the growth of Presbyterianism. The blasphemy of the five
of Calvin, and the impossibility of defending them,
render their advocates impatient of reasoning, irritable, and
prone to denunciation" (Works, Vol. iv, p. 358).
In the same letter, after mentioning the fact that in Virginia
where he resides, the Christians being divided into different
sects, including the Presbyterian, are more tolerant, he
"It is not so in the districts where Presbyterianism
prevails undividedly. Their ambition and tyranny would
tolerate no rival if they had power. Systematical in grasping
at an ascendancy over all other sects, they aim, like the
Jesuits, at engrossing the education of the country, are
hostile to every institution they do not direct, and jealous
seeing others begin to attend at all to that object."
In the following significant passage we have Jefferson's
opinion of the Christian religion as a whole:
"I have recently been examining all the known
superstitions of the world, and do not find in our
particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming
feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and
mythologies" (Letter to Dr. Woods).
Could a more emphatic declaration of disbelief in
Christianity be framed than this?
In his "Notes on Virginia," the following caustic allusion
to Christianity occurs:
"Millions of innocent men, women, and children,
the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt,
tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not
advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the
of coercion? To make one-half the world fools
and the other half hypocrites."
In his letter to Dr. Cooper, prayer meetings and revivals
receive this cruel thrust from his pen:
"In our Richmond there is much fanaticism, but chiefly
the women. They have their night meetings and praying
parties, where, attended by their priests, and sometimes by a
henpecked husband, they pour forth the effusions of their love
to Jesus in terms as amatory and carnal as their modesty would
to a merely earthly lover" (Works, Vol. iv., p. 358).
A short time before his death, Jefferson, in a letter to John
Adams, after commending the morals of Jesus, wrote as follows
concerning his philosophical belief:
"It is not to be understood that I am with him [Jesus]
in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist."
In support of his Materialistic creed, he argues as follows:
"On the basis of sensation we may erect the fabric of all
the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to
be an action of matter or magnetism of loadstone. When he who
to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the
mode of motion called thinking shall show how he could endow
the sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins
the planets in their orbits, or how an absence of matter can
have a will, and by that will put matter into motion, then the
Materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by
which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we
quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of
immaterial existences, is to talk of nothings. To say that the
human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are
nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I
cannot reason otherwise. But I believe that I am supported in
my creed of Materialism by the Lockes, the Tracys, and the
Noting the absence of the idea of immortality in the Bible
and particularly in the books ascribed to Moses, he writes:
"Moses had either not believed in a future state of
existence, or had not thought it essential to be explicitly
to the people." (Works, Vol. iv., p. 326.)
Jefferson's wife preceded him to the grave by nearly
forty-four years. If ever woman was adored by man this woman
was adored by her husband. The blow stunned him; and for
weeks he lay prostrated with grief. Referring to the sad
event, Wm. O. Stoddard, the Presidential biographer, says:
"He was utterly absorbed in sorrow, and took no note of
what was going on around him. His dream of life had been
shattered, and it seemed as if life itself had lost its claim
him, for no faith or hope of his reached onward and
to any other." (Lives of the Presidents, Vol. ii, p.
In the following brave and truthful words we have Jefferson's
estimate of priestcraft:
"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."
Alluding to his beloved child, the University of Virginia,
"The serious enemies are the priests of the different
religious sects to whose spells on the human mind its
improvement is ominous" (Works, Vol. iv., p. 322).
"We have most unwisely committed to the hierophants of
our particular superstition the direction of public opinion --
lord of the universe. We have given them stated and
privileged days to collect and catechise us, opportunities of
delivering their oracles to the people in mass, and of molding
their minds as wax in the hollow of their hands." (Ibid.).
His uncomplimentary allusions to the Christian clergy, to the
Christian Sabbath, and to Christianity itself as "our
particular superstition," are as unorthodox as anything to be
found in Paine.
To John Adams he writes as following regarding disestablishment
in New England:
"I join you, therefore, in sincere congratulations that
this den of the priesthood is at length broken up, and that a
Protestant Popedom is no longer to disgrace the American
history and character." (Works, Vol. iv., p. 301).
Jefferson's hatred of priestcraft was life-long; for while the
was written but a few years prior to his death, the
following from a letter to Mr. Whyte, was written nearly half
"If anybody thinks that kings, nobles and priests, are
good conservators of the public happiness, send him here [Paris].
the best school in the universe to cure him of that folly.
He will see here with his own eyes that these descriptions of men
are an abandoned confederacy against the happiness of the mass of
While he detested the entire clergy, regarding them as a
worthless class, living like parasites upon the labors of others,
his denunciation of the Presbyterian priesthood was particularly
severe, as evinced by the following:
"The Presbyterian clergy are the loudest, the most
intolerant of all sects; the most tyrannical and ambitious,
ready at the word of the law-giver, if such a word could now
be obtained, to put their torch to the pile, and to rekindle
in this virgin hemisphere the flame in which their oracle,
Calvin, consumed the poor Servetus, because he could not
subscribe to the proposition of Calvin, that magistrates have
a right to exterminate all heretics to the Calvinistic creed!
pant to re-establish by law that holy inquisition which
they can now only infuse into public opinion" (Works, Vol.
iv., p. 322).
He charges the early church in this country with uniform
cruelty -- in Virginia as well as New England. Re says:
"If no capital execution [of Quakers) took place here it
was not owing to the moderation of the church." (Notes on
Virginia, p. 262.)
noble fight against the church and in behalf of religious
freedom for Virginia, in which he acknowledged the valiant
support of Madison, entitles him to the everlasting gratitude
of every lover of liberty. From his argument in favor of the
disestablishment of religion, to be found in his "Notes on
Virginia," (pp. 234-237,) the following extracts are taken:
"By our own act of Assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person
brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of God,
or the Trinity, or asserts there are more gods than one, or
denies the Christian religion to be true, or the Scriptures to
be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offense
by incapacity to hold any office or employment,
ecclesiastical, civil, or military; on the second, by
disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian,
executor, or administrator, and by three years' imprisonment
without bail. A fathers right to the custody of his own
children being founded in law on his right of guardianship,
this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him,
and put by the authority of the court, into more orthodox
hands. This is a summary view of that religious slavery under
which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished
their lives and fortunes for the establishment of civil
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts
only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for
my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. Constraint
may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will
never make him a truer man."
"Reason and persuasion are the only practicable
instruments. To make way for these free inquiry must be
indulged; how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse
it ourselves? But every state, says an inquisitor, has
established some religion. No two, say I, have established the
same. Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments?"
"It is error alone which needs the support of government.
stand by itself."
still existing on the statute books of many states
laws but little less intolerant than those which Jefferson
and his friends removed from the statute books of Virginia.
To those who Contend that these laws are not dangerous because
longer enforced, I commend these words of Jefferson:
"I doubt whether the people of this country would suffer
an execution for heresy, or a three months' imprisonment for
not comprehending the mysteries of the Trinity. But is the
of the people infallible -- a permanent reliance? Is it
government? Is this the kind of protection we receive in
return for the rights we give up? Besides, the spirit of the
alter -- will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt,
our people careless. A single zealot may become persecutor,
and better men become his victims." (Notes on Virginia, p.
Jefferson's Presidential administration was probably the most
purely secular this country has ever had. During his eight
years' incumbency of the office not a single religious
proclamation was issued. Referring to his action in this
matter, he says:
"I know it will give great offense to the clergy, but the
advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor
forgiveness from them."
to a communication from the Rev. Mr. Miller relative
to this subject, he writes as follows:
"I consider the Government of the United States as
interdicted by the Constitution from meddling with religious
institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. But
it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a
day of fasting and praying. That is, I should indirectly
to the United States an authority over religious
exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them
one must act according to the dictates of his
own reason and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been
given to the President of the United States, and no authority
direct the religious exercises of his constituents."
A favorite claim with the church is that we are indebted to
and Christianity for our moral and civil law, and
especially that the teachings of the Bible and Christianity
are a part of the common law. This claim is universally urged
by Christians and generally conceded by jurists. In a letter
to Major John Cartwright, Jefferson exposes the fraudulent
character of the claim. Of such importance is the question,
and so thorough is the refutation, that I give it entire:
"I was glad to find in your book a formal contradiction
of the judiciary usurpation of legislative powers;
for such the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions,
that Christianity is a part of the common law. The proof of
the contrary which you have adduced is incontrovertible; to
that the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were
yet Pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name
Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever
existed. But it may amuse you to show when and by what means
they stole the law in upon us. In a case of quare impedit in
the Year Book 34 H. 6, folio 38, (anno 1458,) a question was
how far the ecclesiastical law was to be respected in
a common law court. And Prisot, Chief Justice, gives his
opinion in these words: 'A tiel leis qu'ils de seint eglise
ont en ancien scripture covient a nous a donner credence,'
etc. See S.C. Fitzh. Abr. Qu. imp. 89. Bro.; Abr. Qu. imp.
in his first book, c. 3 is the first afterwards who
quotes this case, and mistakes it thus: 'To such laws of the
as have warrant in Holy Scripture our law giveth
credence;' and cites Prisot, mistranslating 'ancien scripture'
into 'Holy Scripture.' Whereas Prisot palpably says 'To such
laws as those of holy church have in ancient writing it is
proper for us to give credence;' to wit, to their ancient
written laws. This was in 1613, a century and a half after
the dictum of Prisot. Wingate, in 1658, erects this false
translation into a maxim of common law, copying the words of
Finch, but citing Prisot. Wing, Max. 3. And Sheppard, title
'Religion,' in 1675, copies the same mistranslation, quoting
the Y.B. Finch and Wingate. Hale expresses it in these words:
'Christianity is parcel of the laws of England.' 1 Ventr. 293.
3 Keb. 607. But he quotes no authority. By these echoings and
reechoings from one to another it had become so established
in 1728 that, in case the King vs. Woolston, 2 Stra. 834, the
court would not suffer it to be debated, whether to write
against Christianity was punishable in the temporal courts at
common law. Wood, therefore, 409, ventures still to vary the
phrase, and say that all blasphemy and profaneness are
offenses by the common law, and cites 2 Stra. Then Blackstone,
in 1763, 4.59, repeats the words of Hale, that 'Christianity
is part of laws of England,' citing Ventris and Strange. And
finally, Lord Mansfield, with a little qualification in Evans's
case, in 1767, says that 'the essential principles of revealed
religion are part of the common law.' Thus engulfing Bible,
Testament, and all, into the common law, without citing any
authority. And thus we find this chain of authorities hanging
link by link, one upon another, and all ultimately on one and
the same book, and that a mistranslation of the words 'ancien
scripture' used by Prisot.
Finch quotes Prisot; Wingate does the same. Sheppard quotes
Prisot, Finch, and Wingate. Hale cites nobody. The court in
Woolston's case cites Hale. Wood cites Woolston's case.
Blackstone quotes Woolston's case and Hale. And Lord
Mansfield, like Hale, ventures on his own authority. Here I
might defy the best read lawyer to produce another scrip of
authority for this judiciary forgery; and I might go on
further to show how some of they Anglo-Saxon priests
interpolated into the texts of Alfred's laws 20th, 21st, 22d,
and 23d chapters of Exodus, and the 15th of the Acts of the
Apostles, from the 23d to the 29th verse. But this would lead
my pen and your patience too far. What a conspiracy this
between church and state! Sing Tantarara, rogues all, rogues
all!" (Works, Vol. iv., pp. 397, 398).
It is claimed by Christian apologists that the grossest
intolerance prevailed in Pagan Rome, that Christians were
punished for their opinions merely, that religious freedom
was denied. The student of Roman history knows this to be
untrue. Religious intolerance in the Roman Empire was
virtually unknown. The so- called "Christian persecutions"
are mostly Christian myths, and the Christian martyrs of
early church were mostly Christian criminals. To this
Christian claim Jefferson pertinently replies:
"Had not the Roman Government permitted free enquiry
Christianity could never have been introduced" (Notes on
Virginia, p. 265).
The Fourth of July, 1826, was the fiftieth anniversary of
the Declaration of American Independence. The people of
Washington had decided to celebrate the memorable occasion
in a fitting manner, and Mr. Weightman was deputed to
invite the illustrious author of the Declaration to attend.
On the 24th of June Jefferson wrote a letter declining, on
account of his infirmities, to be present. In this letter
a new Declaration of Independence is proclaimed. Bravely
"All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The
general spread of the light of science has already laid open
to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has
not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few
booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the
grace of God."
Those were the last words Jefferson penned. Ten days later -- on
the day that he had contributed so much to make immortal -- the
Sage of Monticello breathed his last. On the same day, too, died
John Adams. Politically at variance these men differed but
in theology. Writing to Jefferson on the 5th of May, 1817,
Adams, giving expression to the matured conviction of eighty-two
eventful years, declares.
"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there
were no religion in it."
To this radical declaration Jefferson replied:
"If by religion, we are to understand sectarian dogmas,
in which no two of them agree, then your exclamation on that
hypothesis is just, 'that this would be the best of worlds if
there were no religion in it' " (Works, Vol. iv., p. 301).
Referring to another letter he received from Adams, he says:
"Its crowd of skepticism kept me from sleep"
Writing to Adams in 1817, Jefferson says:
"The result of your fifty or sixty years of religious
reading in the four words: 'Be just and good,' is that in
all our enquiries must end; as the riddles of all the
priesthood end in four more: 'Ubi panis ibi Deus.' What all
agree in is probably right; what no two agree in most probably
wrong" (Ibid, p. 300).
These anti-Christian views of Jefferson were for the most part
written after he had retired to private life; but that the
public had always been apprised of his unbelief, there can be
doubt. When he ran for President, the more bigoted orthodox
journals opposed his election upon these grounds. At his
inauguration, some of these journals appeared in mourning,
while flags were displayed at half-mast, in token of grief
because an Infidel had been elevated to the Presidency. It is
that Washington and Adams, both disbelievers in
Evangelical Christianity, had filled the office before him;
but they were reticent in regard to the subject, openly
expressing no opinions that would offend the church.
That Jefferson's Deistic opinions were well known before he
retired from public life is shown by a letter which Paine
wrote to Jefferson after his reelection. Paine says:
"When I was in Connecticut the summer before last, I fell
in company with some Baptists among whom were three ministers.
The conversation turned on the election for President, and one
of them who appeared to be a leading man said, 'They cry out
against Mr. Jefferson because they say he is a Deist. Well, a
may be a good man, and if he think it right, it is right
to him. For my own part,' said he, 'I had rather vote for a
Deist than for a blue-skin Presbyterian.'"
Jefferson's library contained the leading Freethought works of
his day. They gave evidence of having been carefully studied
and the marginal annotations from his pen showed that the most
radical sentiments were endorsed by him.
He wrote letters to Volney, and placed the bust of Voltaire in
his library. He manifested the strongest attachment for Paine,
which continued till the latter's death. When Paine signified
his intention of returning from France to America, Jefferson
furnished a national ship to convey him home. After his return
became the honored guest of the President, both at
Washington and Monticello.
Alluding to Paine's visit to Washington, the editor of the
"Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris" Says that "Jefferson
received him warmly, dined him at the White House, and could
be seen walking arm in arm with him on the street any fine
afternoon." This was eight years after Paine published his
"Age of Reason," and when in the eyes of Christians he had
President Jefferson continued to correspond with Paine on
theological subjects up to Paine's last illness, which
occurred about the time he retired from the Presidency.
To Paine and the great English Deist, Bolingbroke, Jefferson
paid the following tribute:
"You ask my opinion of Lord Bolingbroke and Thomas Paine.
were alike in making bitter enemies of the priests and
Pharisees of their day. Both were honest men; both advocates
human liberty" (Letter to Francis Eppes).
To the English heretic, Dr. Priestley, he extended the following
"It is with heartfelt satisfaction that in the first
moments of my public action, I can hail you with welcome to
land, tender to you the homage of its respect and esteem,
the protection of those laws which were
made for the good and the wise like you."
When Jefferson's works were first published, the New York
Observer, then the leading Christian journal of this country,
them the following notice:
"Mr. Jefferson, it is well known, was never suspected of
being very friendly to orthodox religion, but these volumes
not only that he was a disbeliever, but a scoffer of the
very lowest class."
What is remarkable, the Observer has never claimed that
Jefferson recanted; while it has claimed that Paine did.
According to this authority Jefferson was more confirmed in
his disbelief than Paine.
The clergy circulated a story to the effect that Jefferson
admitted his indebtedness to the church by declaring that it
was to a preacher, Dr. Small, of William and Mary College,
that he owed the destinies of his life. Being in doubt as to
whether the Dr. Small referred to was really a preacher or not,
Mr. Wm. Edmonds, of Texas, in 1887, addressed a letter to
Governor Fitzhugh Lee, of Virginia, on the subject. Gov. Lee
instructed his private secretary, Mr. J.E. Waller, to send the
"The Governor directs me to say, in reply to your letter
of inquiry of August 26th, that, from the beat information he
can get, he is satisfied that Dr. Small was either an M.D., or
scientist, which would entitle him to the degree of Doctor.
Mr. Jefferson was a Freethinker and, as there is no record of
Small ever having a church in Virginia, the natural
conclusion is that this Dr. Small was of the same belief. John
Randolph claims to have imbibed some of his skeptical ideas
from a Dr. Small."
The Rev. Thornton Stringfellow, D.D., a prominent Christian
of Jefferson's own state, in his "Scriptural View of
Slavery," a work showing that the Bible sanctions slavery,
"My correspondent thinks with Mr. Jefferson, that Jehovah
has no attributes that will harmonize with slavery; and that
all men are born free and equal. Now, I say let him throw away
Bible as Mr. Jefferson did his and then they will be fit
companions. But never disgrace the Bible by making Mr.
Jefferson its expounder, nor Mr. Jefferson by deriving his
sentiments from it. Mr. Jefferson did not bow to the authority
of the Bible, and on this subject I do not bow to him."
S.C. Abbot, the panegyrist of Napoleon Bonaparte, in his
of the Presidents" (p. 142), referring to one of
Jefferson's most distinguished efforts in behalf of religious
"He devoted much attention to the establishment of the
University at Charlottesville. Having no religious faith which
he was willing to avow, he was not willing that any religious
faith whatever should be taught in the University as a part of
its course of instruction. This establishment, in a Christian
land, of an institution for the education of youth, where the
relation existing between man and his Maker was entirely ignored,
raised a general cry of disapproval throughout the whole country.
a stigma upon the reputation of Mr. Jefferson, in the
minds of Christian people, which can never be effaced."
noted divine, Dr. Wilson, in his celebrated sermon on "The
Religion of the Presidents," has this to say of Jefferson:
"Whatever difference of opinion there may have been as to
his religious faith at the time [of his election to the
Presidency], it is now rendered certain that he was a Deist.
fact after his 'Notes on Virginia' ought never to have
been doubted by any reasonable man. That work itself contains
sufficient evidence of the fact, and I believe the influence
of his example and name has done more for the extension of
Infidelity than that of any other man. Since his death, and
the publication of Randolph, [Jefferson's Works,] there
remains not the shadow of doubt of his Infidel principles. If
any man thinks there is, let him look at the book itself. I do
not recommend the purchase of it to any man, for it is one of
the most wicked and dangerous books extant."
The Rev. Dr. D.J. Burrell, of New York, recently said:
"No man could be elected President of the United States
to-day who is an avowed opponent of Christianity. Thomas
Jefferson would not be an available candidate to-day for
The "International Cyclopedia edited by Daniel Coit Gilman,
LL. D., President of Johns Hopkins University, says:
"In religion it is probable that he [Jefferson] was not
far from what was then known and execrated as a Freethinker."
The "New American Cyclopedia," in its edition of 1860, makes the
following frank and truthful statement of Jefferson's belief:
"Discarding faith as unphilosophical, he became an
This statement was offensive to some, and the edition of 1874
substituted the following which means the same thing:
"He carried the rule of subjecting everything to the test
of abstract reason into matters of religion, venerating the
moral character of Christ, but refusing belief in his divine
Bancroft, referring to Jefferson, says:
"He was not only a hater of priestcraft and superstition
and bigotry and intolerance, he was thought to be indifferent
to religion" (History of United States, Vol. v., p. 323).
J. Lossing, in his "Lives of the Signers of the
Declaration of American Independence," sums up the religious
moral character of Jefferson in the following brief words:
"In religion he was a Freethinker; in morals pure and
unspotted" (p. 183).
in his "Life of Jefferson," which forms a part of the
"American Statesman" series, says:
"To my mind it is very clear that Jefferson never
believed that Christ was other than a human moralist" (p.
Tucker, in his biography of Jefferson, says:
"It is very certain that he did not believe at all in the
divine origin of Christianity, and of course not in the
inspiration of the Scriptures; even of the New Testament."
Theodore Dwight, in "The Character of Jefferson, (p. 364) given
expression to the following sensible conclusion:
"It cannot be necessary to adopt any train of reasoning
to show that a man who disbelieves the inspiration and divine
authority of the Scriptures -- who not only denies the
divinity of the Savior, but reduces him to the grade of an
uneducated, ignorant and erring man -- who calls the God of
Abraham (the Jehovah of the Bible), a cruel and remorseless
being, cannot be a Christian."
In an article on Jefferson's religious belief, the Chicago
"A question has been raised as to Thomas Jefferson's
religious views. There need be no question, for he has settled
that himself. He was an Infidel, or, as he chose to term it,
a Materialist. By his own account he was as heterodox as Col.
Ingersoll, and in some respects even more so."
Surely, Christians, your cause must be growing desperate, when,
to sustain it, you must needs claim for its support so bitter
an enemy as Thomas Jefferson -- a man who affirmed that he was
a Materialist; a man who recognized in your religion only "our
particular superstition," a superstition without "one redeeming
feature;" a man who divided the Christian world into two
classes -- hypocrites and fools; a man who asserted that your
Bible is a book abounding with "vulgar ignorance;" a man who
termed your Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, a "hocus-pocus
phantasm;" a man who denounced your God as "cruel, vindictive,
and unjust;" a man who intimated that your Savior was "a man of
illegitimate birth;" a man who declared his disciples,
including your oracle, Paul, to be a "band of dupes and
impostors," and who characterized your modern priesthood as
"cannibal priests" and an "abandoned confederacy" against