thomas jefferson

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jeff_simpson7's picture

I need some help, and this is always the best place to get it!   I know people like to use the famous jefferson quote to try and say he was a Christian.   Yet i know from listening to Thom, that it is taken out of context and if you read the whole thing, you see he was talking about not giving in to religion.  Does anyone know where I can find the whole letter.

I have a friend who keeps saying that the seperation of church and state is a myth and that jefferson was against it. 




reed9's picture
Are you referring to

Are you referring to Jefferson's response to the Danbury Baptist Association where he uses the phrase "wall of separation between Church & State"?

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


The affectionate sentiments of esteem and 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 and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and 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, & 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 & State. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its 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 & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson

This may be of interest to you as well:

Quotations that Support the Separation of Church and State

jeff_simpson7's picture
I was looking for the saying

I was looking for the saying he is most known for, i believe it is on the Jefferson monument.  The one that makes it look like he believes this is a Christian nation but when you read the whole thing in context, it shows he is talking about all of the different religions trying to become the official religion and he wont have any of it.   Thom reads the whole thing every once in a while

Probably, it would be a

Probably, it would be a really good idea to have my own religion declared the official one....and have everyone be required to send us their $1,000 monastery tax every April 15th. Probably Baptists, among many others, wouldn't like that.

Separation of church/state was put there for a reason. Unlike the British, the U.S. Head of State isn't the Head of the Relgion...the head of whatever an American Church might turn out to entail without a separation of church/state..

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"


reed9's picture
This one? Quote: "Almighty

This one?

"Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments oJefferson Memorialr burthens . . . are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion . . . No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."

Which, in the original "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom", read:

"Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; 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 . . . .

More info and quotes on the Jefferson Memorial here.

jeff_simpson7's picture
thanks for all of your help. 

thanks for all of your help.  I found what i was looking for....

which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro' the U. S.; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians & Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.


Jaghatai Khan
Jaghatai Khan's picture
jeff_simpson7 wrote: I have a

jeff_simpson7 wrote:

I have a friend who keeps saying that the seperation of church and state is a myth and that jefferson was against it. 



A myth in that it isn't located anywhere in a legal binding form. Jefferson was well known for his anti church rhetoric. Was he against separation of Church and State. Well, he didn't put it in anything of any importance like the constitution, declaration of independence, Bill of Right, Virginia charters, School charters, presidential signing statements, laws etc etc etc.. He really wasn’t for or against it. Yet it’s the equivalence of me posting something here and the Supreme Court upholding it as a founding principle.

DRC's picture
I am glad you found the

I am glad you found the quote.  If I may make a postscript comment from his observation about each "sect" believing its own to be true.  What is clear in the founding of America is that they could not agree upon any established church.  They could not even cobble together a compromise American Protestant Church within the diversity of WASP religion.  In the larger world of Protestant churches and doctrines, this is a narrow demographic.  And they could not agree to disagree together in any "American" church.

Having just finished Lindsey Davis's REBELS AND TRAITORS, a novel about the English Civil War, I have a new appreciation for the bitter feelings between Puritans and everybody else.  There are good reasons that Baptists and Presbyterians had feuds, and why they united against the Methodists and their Anglicanism Lite.  Which gets to the Episcopalians and then we have the Catholics and the Jews.  But for the point here, it is the disunity among the Protestants that makes secular civil community the only way to live together and avoid wars of religion.

And that just leads into the Enlightenment and "free thought."  Levellers and Ranters make hippies look modest and bourgeoise.  Those radicals who needed to get out of town often made it to America.  The separation of church and state comes from the lack of any "church" to fill the role.  But the whole American notion of "power to the people" made "free speech and conscience" part of the shift from monarchy and bishops to democracy and "ministers."

If Christians want to take credit for a lot of the political thinking that led to the First New Nation, they have a right.  But if they want to own the brand of America, they misunderstand it all.  What this brilliant theological innovation by necessity discovered was the grace of secular civil community as a gift of God.  Secular political science could appreciate the sovereignty of functions and "turf."  

Freedom of religion requires freedom for all.  If anybody ran the show, everyone else would be compromised of conscience at the very least.  The synergy of pluralism requires all of us to be equally free from dogmatic oppression and lets us be more than the sum of our parts--or able to put our best together instead of our worst.

The worst tends to come out when we go to culture and religious war and fall for the old temptation to think that our way would be the best for everybody.

What is deeply ironic is to hear these religious theocrats claiming that we have removed God from the Public Square.  What kind of God do they worship that we mere mortals could send into exile?  Are they so insecure that they need us to accept their brand and live in their narrative?  I am afraid so.  What the Old Mainline did understand was that God never gets pushed around by humans.  They were not afraid that secular government would be free of theocracy, even their own deepest religious opinions.  Churches did better as independents than as established.

jeffbiss's picture
Quote:I have a friend who

I have a friend who keeps saying that the seperation of church and state is a myth and that jefferson was against it.

Actually, the separation between church and state is in the fact that the state was granted no power with regards to religion. You can safely ignore any Jefferson argument regarding "original intent", as that is itself meaningless.

The argument against adding a Bill of Rights centered on the argument that the government was granted explicitly enumerated powers, which would protect rights because if rights were enumerated, then the govenment could argue that unenumerated rights didn't exist. However, certain peole thought that at least a few important rights must be enumerated to guarentee that the government also couldn't argue that they didn't exist. This was done, and to ensure that the government didn't use the "rights not enumerated do not exist" argument, the Ninth Amendment was added. So, not only does the constitution not empower the government with regards to religion, but the Bill of Rights includes the First Amendment that explicitly states that the "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;".

Therefore, the government is not to support any one religion over any other, to allow each person to practise their religion, unless that practise infringes upon the rights of another of course.

Kerry's picture
jeff_simpson7, you'll find a

jeff_simpson7, you'll find a lot of good quotes of Jefferson's concering religion (especially the Christian religion) in the Appendix of a book by Stephen Mitchell The Gospel According to Jesus--A New Translation and Guide To His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers.  It's still sold on

I had it and have quoted it here in thomland--but I loaned it to one of my daughters a while back and haven't gotten it back.  In the text of the book, Stephen Mitchell says a lot about Thomas Jefferson and his view on religion and Christianity.  Stephen Mitchell, himself, was born a Jew and became a Buddhist monk--so, his position on traditional Christianity isn't, well, 'traditional'...

douglaslee's picture
In TX with their recent

In TX with their recent revisionist history and their book publishing racket, the quotes and sources in this thread, not to mention even TJ's existence ought to encourage one to copy to hard drive [pref. external], and offer in the graduation gifts to TX grads.

I suppose it could be spun as the 'Yes Virginia there is a Santa Clause' and Yes Houston there was a Jefferson. Myths In Texas acronymed would be MIT, home of Noam Chomsky.

wmstoll's picture
The interesting thing about

The interesting thing about Jefferson is that the closest thing he wrote resembling a book was the Notes on Virginia, which really wasn't political. His writings are basically letters, and many of them are throwing out ideas to see what will register, and this is really obvious with his correspondence with Madison.

Nullification was one of his pet projects, infact he got it included in the TN constitution and wanted Madison to put it in the new VA constitution. Madison thought he was nut, and simply ignored it. The concept lived on, especially in SC where it really took root.

Another idea that got alot of ink but no support from Madison was the idea of each generation having their own constitutional convention. Jefferson didn't participate in the original convention, and Madison convinced him that the process was too difficult. The ammendment process was adequate, although we don't use it today.

FoxMulder's picture
jefferson said he would drive

jefferson said he would drive the indians to the stony mountains

the czatholics killed the cathars

about 10 states in 1779 till 1820 had a state tax funded church see wikipedia

monsieurb54's picture
jeff_simpson7 wrote: I need

jeff_simpson7 wrote:

I need some help, and this is always the best place to get it!   I know people like to use the famous jefferson quote to try and say he was a Christian.   Yet i know from listening to Thom, that it is taken out of context and if you read the whole thing, you see he was talking about not giving in to religion.  Does anyone know where I can find the whole letter.

I have a friend who keeps saying that the seperation of church and state is a myth and that jefferson was against it. 



I'm pretty sure Jefferson was a deist of some sort, and for separation of church and state on a the federalist level.

FoxMulder's picture
he hounded aaron burr and did

he hounded aaron burr and did all sorts of spiteful things


he was a real bastard

FoxMulder's picture
Constitution, Law, and

Constitution, Law, and Politics in United States v. Aaron Burr