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Thomas Jefferson: “the best religion that has been given to man”

9 October 2019

Thomas Jefferson.jpg



“No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”

Thomas Jefferson, taken from a handwritten history in possession of the Library of Congress, “Washington Parish, Washington City,” by Rev. Ethan Allen




8 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 October 2019 1:32 pm

    The citation is not clear. Is the Rev. Ethan Allen remembering something Jefferson said?

    Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence and of the Statue of Virginia for religious freedom, wrote these words, emblazoned on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or 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.”

    And in Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” [Query XVII, “Religion”]: “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

  2. 9 October 2019 1:49 pm

    This quotation is spurious according to

    “Earliest appearance in print: 18571

    “Comments: This quotation appeared in a handwritten manuscript by the Reverend Ethan Allen (1796-1879). The story was related to Allen by a Mr. Ingle, who claimed to have been told a story that Jefferson was walking to church services one Sunday,

    “‘…with his large red prayer book under his arm when a friend querying him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson. To which he replied to Church Sir. You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it. Sir said Mr. J. No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir.’

    “The story comes to us third-hand, and has not been confirmed by any references in Jefferson’s papers or any other known sources. Its authenticity is questionable.”

    Jefferson did, at one place, call himself a Christian, but he qualified that to mean what he regarded the teachings of Jesus, not theology about Jesus. His “Jefferson Bible” removed references to miracles and such. Jefferson also called himself a Unitarian.

    • 9 October 2019 2:23 pm

      The link you provided says that it “has not been confirmed by any references in Jefferson’s papers or any other known sources.” That is not the same thing as saying that the Reverend Ethan Allen made a false statement.

  3. 9 October 2019 2:25 pm

    Jefferson was instrumental in establishing weekly Sunday worship services at the U. S. Capitol (a practice that continued through the 19th century) and was himself a regular and faithful attendant at those church services, not even allowing inclement weather to dissuade his weekly horseback travel to the Capitol church. (Reference to this is made in a letter by Bishop Claggett of Maryland, dated February 18, 1801, and held in the Maryland Diocesan Archives)

    The fact that the U. S. Capitol building was available for church on Sundays was due to the Article I, Section 7 constitutional requirement that forbade federal lawmaking on Sundays; and this recognition of a Christian Sabbath in the U. S. Constitution was cited by federal courts as proof of the Christian nature of America. While not every Christian observes a Sunday Sabbath, no other religion in the world honors Sunday except Christianity.

  4. Edward permalink
    10 October 2019 12:42 pm

    Contemporary critics who assert that America is not a Christian nation always refrain from offering any definition of what the term “Christian nation” means. Contrary to what critics imply, a Christian nation is not one in which all citizens are Christians, or the laws require everyone to adhere to Christian theology, or all leaders are Christians, or any other such superficial measurement. We are a Christian nation because we have been shaped and molded by the Christian faith.

  5. JBlankenship permalink
    12 October 2019 12:32 pm

    Those most ardently challenging America ’s Christian origins wrongly portray the Founders as rank secularists. They would seemingly reduce religious liberty to mere freedom of worship letting Believers pray in their hovels, but in public: Be seen and not heard. Some liberals seem inclined on expunging Christianity. Democrats nearly revolted over a fleeting reference to “God-given potential” at their convention.

    The hardcore Left once highlighted how they supposed the political establishment exploited religion to keep workers content. Karl Marx thought religion reflected a palliative. Modern denizens of political correctness reckon the Founders so irreligious that they had sought to diminish spiritual influence.

  6. GHB permalink
    17 October 2019 2:30 pm

    If one is to understand the story of the United States of America, it is important to have a proper appreciation for its Christian colonial roots. By almost any measure, colonists of European descent who settled in the New World were serious Christians whose constitutions, laws, and practices reflected the influence of Christianity.
    Early colonial laws and constitutions such as the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and Massachusetts Body of Liberties are filled with Christian language —and in some cases, they incorporate biblical texts wholesale. Perhaps more surprisingly, tolerant, Quaker Pennsylvania was more similar to Puritan New England than many realize. The Charter of Liberties and Frame of Government of the Province of Pennsylvania (1681) begins by making it clear that God has ordained government, and it even quotes Romans 13 to this effect.

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