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April 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson

by Doug Mataconis

America’s Third President was born 267 years ago today.

Since there isn’t anything to write about Jefferson that hasn’t already been said, it seems appropriate to let his words speak for themselves from the text of the two written documents that he was most proud of throughout his life.

First, from the Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom:

[Sec. 1] Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

[Sec. 2] Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no 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 opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And secondly, of course, from the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security

A perfect man ? No.

A man who saw where the future was going ? Yes, I think absolutely.

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7 Comments

  1. Frankly, I believe Jefferson’s Memorial should be taken down. The fact is, he was a scoundrel hyprocrite, who personally slandered George Washington, at the same time in his cabinet.

    The French Minister said the most vicious slanders were done by the Secretary of State.

    What a loser!

    Comment by our founding truth — April 13, 2010 @ 10:31 am
  2. Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802:

    Mr. President

    To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

    Gentlemen

    The affectionate sentiments of esteem & approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more & more pleasing.

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate 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. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from presenting even occasional performances of devotion presented indeed legally where an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

    I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

    (signed) Thomas Jefferson
    Jan.1.1802.

    Could this be the actual axe which the prior post was intended to grind? As I read Jefferson’s letter, I find I have no problem whatsoever with its sentiment and tone.

    Comment by Akston — April 15, 2010 @ 4:50 am
  3. If you read my post on my blog, you will what a hypocrite and awful person Thomas Jefferson was.

    Washington hires him to be secretary of state, TJ then personally writes slanderous attacks against the man who hired him.

    The guy was a jerk!

    Comment by our founding truth — April 15, 2010 @ 7:42 am
  4. As I read the posts on your blog, I can find almost nothing with which I agree.

    Happily, as a libertarian, I need not agree with you to support your right to think and write as you please. May it bring you satisfaction.

    Comment by Akston — April 15, 2010 @ 8:28 pm
  5. I agree. We have the right to disagree, however, it is an historical fact what Jefferson did to Washington, and he back-stabbed Adams too.

    He was not a good guy.

    Comment by our founding truth — April 16, 2010 @ 12:51 pm
  6. “Our Founding Truth” may have discovered a few truths, but believes many things untrue. The notion that Washington appointed Jefferson from another party is patently false. There were no organized parties at that time. The clash between Jefferson and Washington came when Washington accepted more and more of Hamilton’s ideas. Hamiltonian ideas were English aristocracy uber alles. Sharing power between the government and the aristocracy was the means of shoring up political power. But the new nation had no birth-based aristocracy and Hamilton (of “low birth”) used money as the talisman of power. Merchants of New York and Philadelphia had been selling goods to the British army during the war and had the most money.
    Jefferson and Madison opposed the Hamiltonian ideas and the two parties of Federalists (maximizing central power) and the Democratic-Republicans (Jefferson, Madison and others) began to wrestle for power. Jefferson’s party evolved from opposition to Hamiltonian ideas. After Washington retired, the Adams presidency was marred by the Alien and Sedition Acts which hang like a pall over American liberty. One cannot promote the Federalist position without accepting their blame for the Alien and Sedition Acts. These proved for all the importance of the perennial importance of diligence in assuring liberty. That seems to have been forgotten in recent years, but the tea parties are showing it has not died off entirely.

    Comment by DocJim — April 19, 2010 @ 4:17 am
  7. Madison and Jefferson hired Freneau to write against Washington in 1790. The battle lines were drawn before your assertion.

    The Federalist prove Hamilton was a Republican. Only a Jacobite could have supported France the way Jefferson did.

    Hamilton used a better argument to defeat the Jeffersonians. This is why Jefferson referred to Hamilton as a “Colossus” He needed not the other Federalists to defeat him.

    Comment by our founding truth — April 20, 2010 @ 8:45 am

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