Thomas Jefferson * * (1743-1826; US President 1801-9)

Excerpts from Notes on Religion * (1776?)

As the Antients tolerated visionaries & enthusiasts of all kinds so they permitted a free scope to philosophy as a balance. As the Pythagoreans & latter Platonists joined with the superstition of their times the Epicureans & Academicks were allowed all the use of wit & railery against it. Thus matters were balanced; reason had play & science flourished. These contrarieties produced harmony. Superstition & enthusiasm thus let alone never raged to bloodshed, persecution &c. But now a new sort of policy, which considers the future lives & happiness of men rather than the present, has taught to distress one another, & raised an antipathy which if temporal interests could ever do now uniformity of opn, a hopeful project! is looked on as the only remedy agt. this evil & is made the very object of govm't itself. If magistracy had vouchsafed to interpose thus in other sciences, we should have as bad logic, mathematics & philosophy as we have divinity in countries where the law settles orthodoxy.
... In the middle ages of Xty. opposition to the State opins was hushed. The consequence was, Xty. became loaded with all the Romish follies. Nothing but free argument, raillery & even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion...
Truth will do well enough if left to shift for herself. She seldom has received much aid from the power of great men to whom she is rarely known & seldom welcome. She has no need of force to procure entrance into the minds of men. Error indeed has often prevailed by the assistance of power or force. Truth is the proper & sufficient antagonist to error...
... Why have Xns. been distinguished above all people who have ever lived, for persecutions? Is it because it is the genius of their religion? No, its genius is the reverse. It is the refusing toleration to those of a different opn which has produced all the bustles and wars on account of religion. It was the misfortune of mankind that during the darker centuries the Xn. priests following their ambition and avarice combining with the magistrate to divide the spoils of the people, could establish the notion that schismatics might be ousted of their possessions & destroyed. This notion we have not yet cleared ourselves from. In this case no wonder the oppressed should rebel, & they will continue to rebel & raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them & all partial distinctions, exclusions & incapacitations removed.

Excerpts from Notes on the State of Virginia (1782)

... he has not established it. He has not even left it on ground so respectable as to have rendered it an object of enquiry to the literati of his own country. Abandoning this fact, therefore, the three hypotheses are equally unsatisfactory; and we must be contented to acknowledge, that this great phaenomenon is as yet unsolved. Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, then he who believes what is wrong.
... going from a country of the old world remarkably dry in its soil and climate, fancied there were more lakes and fogs in South America than in Europe. An inhabitant of Ireland, Sweden, or Finland, would have formed the contrary opinion. Had South America then been discovered and seated by a people from a fenny country, it would probably have been represented as much drier than the old world. A patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and comparison of them, is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker, if he wishes to attain sure knowledge.
The first settlers in this country were emigrants from England, of the English church, just at a point of time when it was flushed with complete victory over the religious of all other persuasions. Possessed, as they became, of the powers of making, administering, and executing the laws, they shewed equal intolerance in this country with their Presbyterian brethren, who had emigrated to the northern government. The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England. They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom; but they found them free only for the reigning sect. Several acts of the Virginia assembly of 1659, 1662, and 1693, had made it penal in parents to refuse to have their children baptized; had prohibited the unlawful assembling of Quakers; had made it penal for any master of a vessel to bring a Quaker into the state; had ordered those already here, and such as should come thereafter, to be imprisoned till they should abjure the country; provided a milder punishment for their first and second return, but death for their third; had inhibited all persons from suffering their meetings in or near their houses, entertaining them individually, or disposing of books which supported their tenets. If no capital execution took place here, as did in New-England, it was not owing to the moderation of the church, or spirit of the legislature, as may be inferred from the law itself; but to historical circumstances which have not been handed down to us. The Anglicans retained full possession of the country about a century. Other opinions began then to creep in, and the great care of the government to support their own church, having begotten an equal degree of indolence in its clergy, two-thirds of the people had become dissenters at the commencement of the present revolution. The laws indeed were still oppressive on them, but the spirit of the one party had subsided into moderation, and of the other had risen to a degree of determination which commanded respect.
  The present state of our laws on the subject of religion is this. The convention of May 1776, in their declaration of rights, declared it to be a truth, and a natural right, that the exercise of religion should be free; but when they proceeded to form on that declaration the ordinance of government, instead of taking up every principle declared in the bill of rights, and guarding it by legislative sanction, they passed over that which asserted our religious rights, leaving them as they found them. The same convention, however, when they met as a member of the general assembly in October 1776, repealed all acts of parliament which had rendered criminal the maintaining any opinions in matters of religion, the forbearing to repair to church, and the exercising any mode of worship; and suspended the laws giving salaries to the clergy, which suspension was made perpetual in October 1779. Statutory oppressions in religion being thus wiped away, we remain at present under those only imposed by the common law, or by our own acts of assembly. At the common law, heresy was a capital offence, punishable by burning. Its definition was left to the ecclesiastical judges, before whom the conviction was, till the statute of the 1 El. c. 1. circumscribed it, by declaring, that nothing should be deemed heresy, but what had been so determined by authority of the canonical scriptures, or by one of the four first general councils, or by some other council having for the grounds of their declaration the express and plain words of the scriptures. Heresy, thus circumscribed, being an offence at the common law, our act of assembly of October 1777, c. 17. gives cognizance of it to the general court, by declaring, that the jurisdiction of that court shall be general in all matters at the common law. The execution is by the writ De haeretico comburendo. By our own act of assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of a 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 offence 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 father's 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 a 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 their civil freedom (Furneaux passim). The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. 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. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the aera of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food. Government is just as infallible too when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere: the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error however at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vorteo. The government in which he lived was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. In fact, the vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established, on the basis of reason, than it would be were the government to step in, and to make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand. That if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free enquiry must be indulged; and 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? Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws. It is true, we are as yet secured against them by the spirit of the times. I doubt whether the people of this country would suffer an execution for heresy, or a three years imprisonment for not comprehending the mysteries of the Trinity. But is the spirit of the people an 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 times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.
... in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. And 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 of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. -- But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one's mind. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation...

[Note: This is very frequently quoted out of context * as 'these liberties are of the gift of God' or 'I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just' * * * * (even by Bartlett's Familiar Quotations) without mentioning 'slaves'.]

"... nothing is so mistaken as the supposition that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty, by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. this increases the difficulties tenfold, & those who pursue these methods, get themselves so involved at length, that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed. it is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. there is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible & he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second & third time, till at length it becomes habitual, he tells lies without attending to it, & truths without the world's believing him. this falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, & in time depraves all its good dispositions." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr on 19 August 1785 * *

"if any body thinks that kings, nobles, or priests [illegible] are good conservators of the public happiness, send them here [France]. It is the best school in the universe to cure them of that folly. they will see here, with their own eyes, that these descriptions of men are [illegible] an abandoned confederacy against the happiness of the mass of people. the omnipotence of their effect cannot be better proved than in this country particularly, where, notwithstanding the finest soil upon earth, the finest climate under heaven, and a people of the most benevolent, the most gay and amiable character of which the human form is susceptible, where such a people, I say, surrounded by so many blessings from nature, are yet loaded with misery, by kings, nobles and priests, and by them alone. preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Wythe on 13 August 1786 * * *

An Act for establishing religious Freedom * * * (Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom) (1786)

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 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 very 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: Be it enacted by 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 opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

[The above version was passed by the Virginia legislature in 1786 and was later used as a model for the First Amendment to the US Constitution and a model for the religious freedom laws of many other states. TJ wrote the first draft in 1779. Patrick Henry proposed an alternate bill that would have made Christianity the official religion of Virginia and would have given all Christian denominations equal privileges. George Washington?? TJ's bill was passed because of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. * ]

Excerpt from Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr on 10 August 1787 * * * *

... in the first place divest yourself of all bias in favour of novelty & singularity of opinion. indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. it is too important, & the consequences of error may be too serious. on the other hand shake off all the fears & servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. 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 of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. you will naturally examine first the religion of your own country. read the bible then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. the facts which are within the ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. the testimony of the writer weighs in their favor in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature does not weigh against them. but those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from god. examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature in the case he relates. for example in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood still several hours. were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. 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 enquiry, because millions believe it. on the other hand you are Astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped. should not by that sudden stoppage have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time have resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? you will next read the new testament. it is the history of a personage called Jesus. keep in your eye the opposite pretensions 1. of those who say he was begotten by god, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven: and 2. of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, & was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile or death in furca. See this law in the Digest Lib.48.tit.19.28.3. & Lipsius cruce.cap.2. these questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. they will assist you in your enquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all. do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of it's consequences. if it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it's exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. if you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement: if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. in fine, I repeat that you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision. __ I forgot to observe when speaking of the new testament that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, & not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. most of these are lost. there are some however still extant, collected by Fabricius which I will endeavor to get & send you...

"... I have heretofore supposed from observation, that light affects the colour of living bodies, whether vegetable or animal; but that either the one or the other receives nutriment from that fluid, must be permitted to be doubted of, till better confirmed by observation. it is always better to have no ideas, than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong. in my mind, theories are more easily demolished than rebuilt..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Rev. James Madison on 19 July 1788 * * * (Rev. James Madison and President James Madison were two different people.)

"... Popery teaches a method of pleasing God without forsaking vice, and of getting to heaven by penances, bodily mortifications, pilgrimmages, Saying masses, believing mysterious doctrines, burning heretics, aggrandizing Priests, Etc. Mahomatans expect a paradise of Sensual pleasures. Pagans worship'd lewd, revengeful and cruel Deities, and Sanctify'd to themselves Some of the worst passions. The religion likewise of many Protestants is little better than a compromise with the Deity for wrong practises by fastings, Sacram'ts hearing the word, Etc. Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism? And what is the religion of many persons but a kind of demonism that delights in human Sacrifices [Jesus's crucifiction] and causes them to look with horror on the greatest part of mankind? Plutarch, it is well known, has observed very justly that it is better not to believe in a God than to believe him to be a capricious and malevolent being..." --Richard Price in Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on 26 October 1788 *

"... I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism & demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Richard Price on 8 January 1789 * *

"... I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. if I could not go to heaven but with a party I would not go there at all." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Francis Hopkinson on 13 March 1789 * * *

"I think it is Montaigne who has said, that ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man can rest his head." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edmund Randolph on 3 February 1794 *

"... transplanting the college of Geneva to my own country, was too analogous to all my attachments to science, & freedom, the first-born daughter of science, not to excite a lively interest in my mind..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to F. D. Ivernois on 6 February 1795 *

"... CONSIDER the effects which the election of any man avowing the principles of Mr. Jefferson would have upon our citizens. The effects would be to destroy religion, introduce immorality, and loosen all the bonds of society... Were our government not elective, there would be an excuse for a weak or a bad man being exalted to the highest place. But when this depends upon our own choice, the blame must rest entirely upon ourselves; and the voice of the nation in calling a deist to the first office must be construed into no less than rebellion against God..." --Rev. William Linn in Serious Considerations on the Election of a President (1800) (unverified; Library of American Civilization (fiche LAC 40066))

"... the clergy, by getting themselves established by law, and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Jeremiah Moor on 14 August 1800 *

"... the clause of the constitution, 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 US. and as every sect believes it's 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. but this is all they have to fear from me..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Benjamin Rush on 23 September 1800 * (Note: This is very frequently quoted out of context (even on the Jefferson Memorial * * in Washington DC) as "I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man", without making it clear that TJ was referring especially to religious tyranny.)

"... if, indeed, they could have prevailed on us to view all advances in science as dangerous innovations, and to look back to the opinions & practices of our forefathers, instead of looking forward, for improvement, a promising ground work would have been laid. but I am in hopes their good sense will dictate to them, that since the mountain will not come to them, they had better go to the mountain: that they will find their interest in acquiescing in the liberty & science of their country, and that the Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which they have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity & simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, & the freest expansions of the human mind." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Moses Robinson on 1 March 1801 * *

"... those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, endeavored to crush your well earnt & well deserved fame. but it was the Lilliputians upon Gulliver. our countrymen have recovered from the alarm into which art & industry had thrown them; science & honesty are replaced on their high ground..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Joseph Priestley on 21 March 1801 * * (This is frequently MISquoted as 'Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.')

"... a coalition of sentiments is not for the interest of printers. they, like the clergy, live by the zeal they can kindle, & the schisms they can create. it is contest of opinion in politics as well as religion which makes us take great interest in them, and bestow our money liberally on those who furnish aliment to our appetite. the mild and simple principles of the Christian philosophy, would produce too much calm, too much regularity of good, to extract from it's disciples a support for a numerous priesthood, were they not to sophisticate it, ramify it, split it into hairs, and twist it's texts till they cover the divine morality of it's author with mysteries, and require a priesthood to explain them. the Quakers seem to have discovered this. they have no priests, therefore no schisms. they judge of the text by the dictates of common sense & common morality. so the printers can never leave us to a state of perfect rest and union of opinion. they would be no longer useful, and would have to go to the plough..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Elbridge Gerry on 29 March 1801 * *

"... the nature of your government [Connecticut] being a subordination of the civil to the Ecclesiastical power, I consider it as desperate for long years to come. their steady habits exclude the advances of information & they seem exactly where they were when they separated from the Saints of Oliver Cromwell. and there your clergy will always keep them if they can. you will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Pierpont Edwards on 21 July 1801 * *

"Averse to receive addresses, yet unable to prevent them, I have generally endeavored to turn them to some account, by making them the occasion, by way of answer, of sowing useful truths & principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets. the Baptist address, now enclosed, admits of laying down the principles of a condemnation of the alliance between church and state, under the authority of the Constitution. it furnishes an occasion too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did. the address to be sure does not point at this, and its introduction is awkward. but I foresee no opportunity of doing it more pertinently. I know it will give great offence to the New England clergy: but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them. will you be so good as to examine the answer, and suggest any alterations which might prevent an ill effect or promote a good one, among the people? you understand the temper of those in the North, and can [illegible] weaken it, therefore, to their stomachs: it is at present seasoned to the Southern taste only." --Thomas Jefferson in a note to US Attorney General Levi Lincoln on 1 January 1802 *

"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 legislative powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with solemn 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. 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 & creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association on 1 January 1802 * * * * (Note: The phrase 'wall of separation of Church and State' apparently refers to Roger Williams, who in 1603 used the phrase 'hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world'. * * * Perry Miller, Roger Williams: His Contribution to the American Tradition, p89)

First, the faithful labors of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, extant to the world, abundantly proving that the church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type of the church of the Christians under the New Testament in the antitype were both separate from the world; and that when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God bath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made His garden a wilderness, as at this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and that all that shall be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the world, and added unto His church or garden --Roger Williams in a letter to John Cotton in 1643? * *

"Earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services." --Articles of War signed by Thomas Jefferson on 10 April 1806 (unverified)

"... unlearned views of medicine, which, as in most cases, are, perhaps, the more confident in proportion as they are less enlightened... old heads as well as young may sometimes be charged with ignorance and presumption. The natural course of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Caspar Wistar on 21 June 1807 * *

"I consider the government of the US. as interdicted by the constitution from intermidling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. this results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the US. certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. it must then rest with the states, as far as it can be in any human authority. but it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting & prayer. that is, that I should indirectly assume to the US. an authority over religious exercises which the Constitution has directly precluded them from..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Samuel Miller on 23 January 1808 *

"reading, reflection & time have convinced me that the interests of society require the observation of those moral precepts only in which all religions agree (for all forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, or bear false witness.) and that we should not intermeddle with the particular dogmas in which all religions differ, and which are totally unconnected with morality. in all of them we see good men, & as many in one as another. the varieties in the structure & action of the human mind as in those of the body, are the work of our creator, against which it cannot be a religious duty to erect the standard of uniformity. the practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, he has taken care to impress it's precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. we all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus, & nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in his discourses. it is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the innocent questions on which we schismatize." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Fishback on 27 September 1809 * * (not sent?)

"... a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, & perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandising their oppressors in church and state: that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man, has been adulterated & sophisticated by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth & power to themselves, that rational men not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue & cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do in fact constitute the real Anti-Christ." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Samuel Kercheval on 19 January 1810 * *

"... if science produces no better fruits than tyranny, murder, rapine and destitution of national morality, I would rather wish our country to be ignorant, honest & estimable, as our neighboring savages are..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 21 January 1812 *

"... I very much suspect that if thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinions, as much as is supposed. I remember to have heard Dr. Priestley say that if all England would candidly examine themselves, & confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all: and I observe a bill is now depending in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians. it is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, & one is three; & yet the one is not three, and the three are not one: to divide mankind by a single letter into ομοysians [ouoysians], and ομοιysians [ouoiysians]. but this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. we should all then, like the quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition...
  ... a comparison of the morality of the Old Testament with that of the New. And yet, no two things were ever more unlike. I ought not to have asked him [Joseph Priestley] to give it. He dared not. He would have been eaten alive by his intolerant brethren, the Cannibal priests. And yet, this was really the most interesting branch of the work...
  I had not read much of [(Socinian/Unitarian) Joseph] Priestley's Predestination, his No-soul system, or his controversy with [(Trinitarian) Samuel] Horsley. but I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, & Early opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them, and on [(Deist) Conyers] Middleton's writings, especially his letters from Rome [* which says "as Lactantius [* * in de fals.relig.i.4] justly observes, 'among those who seek power and gain from their religion, there will never be wanting an inclination to forge and to lie for it.'"], & to [Daniel] Waterland [*], as the basis of my own faith. these writings have never been answered, nor can be answered by quoting historical proofs, as they have done. for these facts therefore I cling to their learning, so much superior to my own..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 22 August 1813 *

"An eloquent preacher of your religious society, Richard Motte, in a discourse of much emotion and pathos, is said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation, that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist in heaven, having paused to give his hearers time to stare and to wonder. He added, that in heaven, God knew no distinctions, but considered all good men as his children, and as brethren of the same family. I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ. That on entering there, all these are left behind us, and the Aristides and Gatos, the Penns and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Baptists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. of all systems of morality which antient of modern which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. he who follows this steadily need not, I think, be uneasy, altho' he cannot comprehend the subtleties & mysteries erected on his doctrines by those who, calling themselves his special followers & favorites, would make him come into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs. these metaphysical heads, usurping the judgment seat of god, denounce as his enemies all who cannot perceive the Geometrical logic of Euclid in the demonstrations of St. Athanasius that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three nor the three one..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Canby on 18 September 1813 * *

"... the law for religious freedom... having put down the aristocracy of the clergy, and restored to the citizen the freedom of the mind, and those of entails and descents nurturing an equality of condition among them, this on Education would have raised the mass of the people to the high ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety & to orderly government..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 28 October 1813 *

"[regarding New Spain] ... history, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. this marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Baron Alexander von Humboldt on 6 December 1813 *

"... in the New testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. it is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills... I have nothing of Vives, or Budaeus, and little of Erasmus. if the familiar histories of the saints, the want of which they regret, would have given us the histories of those tricks which these writers acknowledge to have been practiced, and of the lies they agree have been invented for the sake of religion, I join them in their regrets. these would be the only parts of their histories worth reading. it is not only the sacred volumes they have thus interpolated, gutted, and falsified, but the works of others relating to them, and even the laws of the land. we have a curious instance of one of these pious frauds in the Laws of Alfred. he composed, you know, from the laws of the Heptarchy, a Digest for the government of the United kingdom, and in his preface to that work he tells us expressly the sources from which he drew it, to wit, the laws of Ina, of Offa & Aethelbert, (not naming the Pentateuch.) but his pious Interpolator, very awkwardly, premises to his work four chapters of Exodus (from the 20th to the 23rd.) as a part of the laws of the land; so that Alfred's preface is made to stand in the body of the work. our judges too have lent a ready hand to further these frauds, and have been willing to lay the yoke of their own opinions on the necks of others; to extend the coercions of municipal law to the dogmas of their religion, by declaring that these make a part of the law of the land. [detailed analysis of Finch's mistranslation of Priscot] ... and who now can question but that the whole Bible and Testament are a part of the Common law? and that Connecticut, in her blue laws, laying it down as a principle that the laws of god should be the laws of their land, except where their own contradicted them, did anything more than express, with a salve, what the English judges had less cautiously declared without any restriction? and what I dare say our cunning Chief Justice [Marshall] would swear to, and find as many sophisms to twist it out of the general terms of our Declarations of rights, and even the stricter text of the Virginia 'act for the freedom of religion' as he did to twist Burr's neck out of the halter of treason. may we not say then with him who was all candor and benevolence 'Woe unto you, ye lawyers, for ye lade men with burdens grievous to bear.'" --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 24 January 1814 * * * * * (Vernon Hampton dishonestly excluded "from dunghills" in his 1932 book Religious Background of the White House * * by saying "He [Thomas Jefferson] also observed that it was easy to pick out the exact words of Christ himself as they shone out like diamonds." **** Note: James Wilson in his Course of Lectures (3rd vol. of his Works, 122, he stated that...Christianity is part of the common law. From W.J. Federer's America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, 1994.)

"... the pious disposition of the English judges, to connive at the frauds of the clergy, a disposition which has even rendered them faithful allies in practice. when I was a student of the law, now half a century ago [Jefferson wrote the following notes, which he now copies into this letter]... Thus we find this string of authorities, when examined to the beginning, all hanging on the same hook, a perverted expression of Prisot's, or on one another, or nobody. thus Finch quotes Prisot; Wingate also; Sheppard quotes Prisot, Finch and Wingate; Hale cites nobody; the court in Woolston's case cite Hale; Wood cites Woolston's case; Blackstone that and Hale; and Ld. Mansfield, like Hale, ventures it on his own authority... there is no better instance of the necessity of holding the judges and writers to a declaration of their authorities than the present; where we detect them endeavoring to make law where they found none, & to submit us at one stroke to a whole system, no particle of which has its foundation in the Common law. for we know that the Common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the Common law, or Lex non scripta, and commences that of the Statute law, or Lex scripta. this settlement took place about the middle of the 5th century. but Christianity was not introduced till the 7th century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598. and that of the last about 686. here, then, was a space of 200 years, during which the Common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it. if it ever was adopted, therefore, into the Common law, it must have been between the introduction of Christianity and the date of the Magna Charta. but of the laws of this period we have a tolerable collection by Lambard & Wilkins, probably not perfect, but neither very defective: and if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. these were so far alterations of the Common law, and became themselves a part of it. but none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the Common law. if therefore from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the Common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the Common law. another cogent proof of this truth is drawn from the silence of certain writers on the Common law. Bracton gives us a very complete & scientific treatise of the whole body of the Common law. he wrote this about the close of the reign of H.3. a very few years after the date of the Magna Charta. we consider this book as the more valuable, as it was written about the time which divides the Common & Statute law, and therefore gives us the latterformer in its ultimate state. Bracton too was an Ecclesiastic, and would certainly not have failed to inform us of the adoption of Christianity as a part of the Common law, had any such adoption ever taken place. but no word of his, which intimates anything like it, has ever been cited. Fleta & Britton, who wrote in the succeeding reign (of E.1.) are equally silent. so also is Glanvil, an earlier writer than any of them, (viz.temp. H.2.) but his subject perhaps might not have led him to mention it. Justice Fortescue Aland, who possessed more Saxon learning than all the judges & writers before mentioned put together, places this subject on more limited ground. speaking of the laws of the Saxon kings, he says, 'the ten commandments were made part of their laws, and consequently were once part of the Law of England; so that to break any of the ten commandments was then esteemed a breach of the common law, of England; and why it is not so now, perhaps it may be difficult to give a good reason'. Preface to Fortescue Aland's reports.xvii. had he proposed to state with more minuteness how much of the scriptures had been made a part of the common law, he might have added that in the Laws of Alfred, where he found the ten Commandments, two or three other chapters of Exodus are copied almost verbatim. but the adoption of a part proves rather a rejection of the rest, as municipal law. we might as well say that the Newtonian system of philosophy is a part of the Common law, as that the Christian religion is. the truth is that Christianity and Newtonianism being reason & verity itself, in the opinion of all but infidels & Cartesians, they are protected under the wings of the common law from the dominion of other sects, but not erected into dominion over them... finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland's question Why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the Common law of England? we may say they are not, because they never were made so by legislative authority, the document which has imposed that doubt on him being a manifest forgery." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Cooper on 10 February 1814 * * * * *

"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. it is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them: and to effect this they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man, into mystery & jargon unintelligible to all mankind & therefore the safer engine for their purposes." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford on 17 March 1814 *

"... if we did a good act merely from the love of god, and a belief that it is pleasing to him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? it is idle to say, as some do, that no such being exists. we have the same evidence of the fact as of most of those we act on, to wit, their own affirmations, and their reasonings in support of them. I have observed, indeed, generally, that while in protestant countries the defections from the Platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in Catholic countries they are to Atheism. Diderot, Dalembert, D'Holbach, Condorcet, are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. their virtue then must have had some other foundation than the love of god... Ld. Kaims, one of the ablest of our advocates, who goes so far as to say, in his Principles of Natural religion, that a man owes no duty to which he is not urged by some impulsive feeling. this is correct, if referred to the standard of general feeling in the given case, and not to the feeling of a single individual..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Law on 13 June 1814 * * * *

"I amused myself with reading seriously Plato's republic [* * *]. I am wrong however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. while wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, & unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been, that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? how the soi-disant Christian world indeed should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. but how could the Roman good sense do it? and particularly how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato? altho' Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the business of the world, & honest. he could not be the dupe of mere style, of which he was himself the first master in the world. with the moderns, I think, it is rather a matter of fashion and authority. education is chiefly in the hands of persons who, from their profession, have an interest in the reputation and the dreams of Plato. they give the tone while at school, and few in their after-years have occasion to revise their college opinions. but fashion and authority apart, and bringing Plato to the test of reason, take from him his sophisms, futilities, & incomprehensibilities, and what remains? in truth, he is one of the race of genuine Sophists, who has escaped the oblivion of his brethren, first by the elegance of his diction, but chiefly by the adoption & incorporation of his whimsies into the body of artificial Christianity. his foggy mind, is forever presenting the semblances of objects which, half seen through a mist, can be defined neither in form or dimension. yet this which should have consigned him to early oblivion really procured him immortality of fame & reverence. the Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled 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 & pre-eminence. the doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained. their purposes, however, are answered. Plato is canonized: and it is now deemed as impious to question his merits as those of an Apostle of Jesus. he is peculiarly appealed to as an advocate of the immortality of the soul; and yet I will venture to say that were there no better arguments than his in proof of it, not a man in the world would believe it. it is fortunate for us that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living; men, women and children, pell mell together, like the beasts of the field or forest. yet 'Plato is a great philosopher', said [Jean?] La Fontaine. but says [Bernard] Fontenelle 'do you find his ideas very clear'? __ 'oh no! he is of an obscurity impenetrable'. __ 'Do you not find him full of contradictions'? __. 'certainly, replied La Fontaine, he is but a sophist'. yet immediately after he exclaims again, 'oh Plato was a great philosopher'. __ Socrates had reason indeed to complain of the misrepresentations of Plato; for in truth, his dialogues are libels on Socrates." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 5 July 1814 * * *

"... I agree with yours of the 22d. that a professorship of Theology should have no place in our institution [University of Virginia]. but we cannot always do what is absolutely best. those with whom we act, entertaining different views, have the power and the right of carrying them into practice. truth advances, & error recedes step by step only; and to do to our fellow-man the most good in our power, we must lead when we can, follow where we cannot, and still go with them, watching always the favorable moment for helping them to another step, perhaps..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Cooper on 7 October 1814 *

"... the priests have so disfigured the simple religion of Jesus that no one who reads the sophistications they have engrafted on it, from the jargon of Plato, of Aristotle & other mystics, would conceive these could have been fathered on the sublime preacher of the Sermon on the Mount. yet, knowing the importance of names, they have assumed that of Christians, while they are mere Platonists, or any thing rather than disciples of Jesus..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse on October 13, 1815 *

"... if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be. the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. there is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Charles Yancey on 6 January 1816 *

"... I too have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. a more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. they have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics of deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Charles Thomson on January 9, 1816 *

"... I am not afraid of the priests. they have tried upon me all their various batteries, of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying & slandering, without being able to give me one moment of pain. I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West, and I have found no difference of character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance of those on whom their interested duperies were to be plaid off. their sway in New England is indeed formidable. no mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself. if it does, they excite against it the public opinion which they command, & by little, but incessant and teasing persecutions, drive it from among them. their present emigrations to the Western country are real flights from persecution, religious & political, but the abandonment of the country by those who wish to enjoy freedom of opinion leaves the despotism over the residue more intense, more oppressive..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford on 10 January 1816 *

"... an extract from the Evangelists of His morals, selecting those only whose style and spirit roved them genuine, and His own ; and they are as distinguishable from the matter in which they are imbedded as diamonds in dunghills... " --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to F. A. Van Der Kemp on April 25, 1816

"Altho' I rarely waste time in reading on theological subjects, as mangled by our Pseudo-Christians, yet I can readily suppose Basanistos may be amusing. ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. it is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. if it could be understood it would not answer their purpose. their security is in their faculty of shedding darkness, like the scuttle fish, thro' the element in which they move, and making it impenetrable to the eye of a pursuing enemy, and there they will skulk, until some national creed can occupy the void which the obliteration of their duperies would leave in the minds of our honest and unsuspecting brethren. whenever this shall take place, I believe that Christianism may be universal & eternal..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Francis A. van der Kemp on 30 July 1816 *

"When we see religion split into so many thousands of sects, and I may say Christianity itself divided into its thousands also, who are disputing, anathemizing and where the laws permit burning and torturing one another for abstractions which no one of them understand, and which are indeed beyond the comprehension of the human mind, into which of the chambers of this Bedlam would a man wish to thrust himself. The sum of all religion as expressed by its best preacher, fear God and love thy neighbor, contains no mystery, needs no explanation. But this wont do. It gives no scope to make dupes; priests could not live by it." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Logan on 12 November 1816 *

"... The Parson [Lemuel Bryant] and the Pedagogue [Joseph Cleverly] lived much together, but were eternally disputing about Government and Religion. One day, when the Schoolmaster had been more than commonly fanatical and declared if he were a Monarch, He would have but one Religion in his Dominions. The Parson cooly replied 'Cleverly! You would be the best Man in the World, if you had no Religion.'
  Twenty times, in the course of my late Reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible Worlds, if there were no Religion in it'!!! But in this exclamatic I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell. So far from believing in the total and universal depravity of human Nature; I believe there is no Individual totally depraved..." --John Adams in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on 19 April 1817 * (This is frequently (but probably fairly) quoted out of context to include "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it" without mentioning Bryant, Cleverly, or Jefferson's response.)

"... Your communications ... make us acquainted with what there is of excellent in our ancient sister state of Massachusetts, once venerated and beloved, and still hanging on our hopes, for what need we despair of after the resurrection of Connecticut to light and liberality. I had believed that, the last retreat of monkish darkness, bigotry, and abhorrence of those advances of the mind which had carried the other States a century ahead of them. they seemed still to be exactly where their forefathers were when they schismatised from the Covenant of works, and to consider, as dangerous heretics, all innovations good or bad. 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. 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 all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it'. but if the moral precepts, innate in man, and made a part of his physical constitution, as necessary for a social being, if the sublime doctrines of philanthropism and deism taught us by Jesus of Nazareth in which all agree, constitute true religion, then, without it, this would be, as you again say, 'something not fit to be named even, indeed a Hell'..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 5 May 1817 *

"... What, but education, has advanced us beyond the condition of our indigenous neighbors? And what chains them to their present state of barbarism and wretchedness, but a bigotted veneration for the supposed superlative wisdom of their fathers, and the preposterous idea that they are to look backward for better things, and not forward, longing, as it should seem, to return to the days of eating acorns and roots, rather than indulge in the degeneracies of civilization? And how much more encouraging to the achievements of science and improvement is this, than the desponding view that the condition of man cannot be ameliorated, that what has been must ever be, and that to secure ourselves where we are, we must tread with awful reverence in the footsteps of our fathers. This doctrine is the genuine fruit of the alliance between Church and State; the tenants of which, finding themselves but too well in their present condition, oppose all advances which might unmask their usurpations, and monopolies of honors, wealth, and power, and fear every change, as endangering the comforts they now hold..." --Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia (1818)

"You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, so far as I know. I am not a Jew, and therefore do not adopt their theology, which supposes the God of infinite justice to punish the sins of their fathers upon their children, unto the third and fourth generation; and the benevolent and sublime Reformer of that religion has told us only that God is good and perfect, but has not defined Him. I am, therefore, of His theology, believing that we have neither words nor ideas adequate to that definition. And if we could all, after this example, leave the subject as undefinable, we should all be of one sect, doers of good, and eschewers of evil. No doctrines of His lead to schism. It is the speculations of crazy theologists which have made a Babel of a religion the most moral and sublime ever preached to man, and calculated to heal, and not to create differences. These religious animosities I impute to those who call themselves His ministers, and who engraft their casuistries on the stock of His simple precepts. I am sometimes more angry with them than is authorized by the blessed charities which He preaches." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely on 25 June 1819 * * *

Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth * (the "Jefferson Bible") (1819?)

"While on a short visit lately to Monticello, I received from you a copy of your comparative view of Socrates & Jesus, and I avail myself of the first moment of leisure after my return to acknolege the pleasure I had in the perusal of it, and the desire it excited to see you take up the subject on a more extensive scale. In consequence of some conversation with Dr. Rush, in the year 1798-99, I had promised some day to write him a letter giving him my view of the Christian system. I have reflected often on it since, & even sketched the outlines in my own mind. I should first take a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkable of the antient philosophers, of whose ethics we have sufficient information to make an estimate, say of Pythagoras, Epicurus, Epictetus, Socrates, Cicero, Seneca, Antoninus. I should do justice to the branches of morality they have treated well; but point out the importance of those in which they are deficient. I should then take a view of the deism and ethics of the Jews, and show in what a degraded state they were, and the necessity they presented of a reformation. I should proceed to a view of the life, character, & doctrines of Jesus, who sensible of incorrectness of their ideas of the Deity, and of morality, endeavored to bring them to the principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice & philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. This view would purposely omit the question of his divinity, & even his inspiration. To do him justice, it would be necessary to remark the disadvantages his doctrines have to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him; when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, & presented in very paradoxical shapes. Yet such are the fragments remaining as to show a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent & sublime probably that has been ever taught, and consequently more perfect than those of any of the antient philosophers. His character & doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his special disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions & precepts, from views of personal interest, so as to induce the unthinking part of mankind to throw off the whole system in disgust, and to pass sentence as an impostor on the most innocent, the most benevolent, the most eloquent and sublime character that ever has been exhibited to man..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Joseph Priestley on 9 April 1803 * *

"In some of the delightful conversations with you... the Christian religion was sometimes our topic: and I then promised you, that one day or other, I would give you my views of it. they are the result of a life of enquiry & reflection, & very different from that Anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. to the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Benjamin Rush on 21 April 1803 * (This is frequently quoted out of context * to include "I am a Christian... sincerely attached to his doctrines" without including "every human excellence... never claimed any other". Because TJ did not believe in Jesus' divinity, he was NOT a 'Christian' by any traditional definition *. Therefore, quotes that omit TJ's redefinition of 'Christian' are MISleading.)

Syllabus of an Estimate of the doctrines of Jesus compared with those of others * (~1803)

In a comparative view of the Ethics of the enlightened nations of antiquity, of the Jews, and of Jesus, no notice should be taken of the corruptions of reason among the antients, to wit, the idolatry & superstition of the vulgar, nor of the corruptions of Christianity by the learned among its professors. Let a just view be taken of the moral principles inculcated by the most esteemed of the sects of ancient philosophy, or of their individuals; particularly Pythagoras, Socrates, Epicurus, Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca, Antoninus.
    1. Their precepts related chiefly to ourselves, and the government of those passions which, unrestrained, would disturb our tranquillity of mind. (To explain, I will exhibit the heads of Seneca's & Cicero's philosophical works, the most extensive of any we have received from the ancients. Of 10. heads in Seneca, 7. relate to ourselves, to wit de ira, consolatio, de tranquilitate, de constantia sapientis, de otio sapientis, de vita, beata, de brevitate vitae; 2 relate to others, de clementia, de beneficiis; & 1. relates to the government of the world, de providentia. Of 11 tenets of Cicero, 5 respect ourselves, viz. de finibus, Tusculana, academica, paradoxa, de Senectute; 1. de officiis., partly to ourselves, partly to others; 1., de amicitia, relates to others; and 4. are on different subjects, to wit, de natura deorum, de divinatione, de fato, and somnium Scipionis.) In this branch of philosophy they were really great.
    2. In developing our duties to others, they were short and defective. They embraced, indeed, the circles of kindred & friends, and inculcated patriotism, or the love of our country in the aggregate, as a primary obligation: toward our neighbors & countrymen they taught justice, but scarcely viewed them as within the circle of benevolence. Still less have they inculcated peace, charity & love to our fellow men, or embraced with benevolence the whole family of mankind.
  2. JEWS.
    1. Their system was Deism; that is, the belief of one only God. But their ideas of him & of his attributes were degrading & injurious.
    2. Their Ethics were not only imperfect, but often irreconcilable with the sound dictates of reason & morality, as they respect intercourse with those around us; & repulsive & anti-social, as respecting other nations. They needed reformation, therefore, in an eminent degree.
  3. JESUS. In this state of things among the Jews, Jesus appeared. His parentage was obscure; his condition poor; his education null; his natural endowments great; his life correct and innocent: he was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested, & of the sublimest eloquence. The disadvantages under which his doctrines appear are remarkable.
    1. Like Socrates & Epictetus, he wrote nothing himself.
    2. But he had not, like them, a Xenophon or an Arrian to write for him. On the contrary, all the learned of his country, entrenched in its power and riches, were opposed to him, lest his labors should undermine their advantages; and the committing to writing his life & doctrines fell on the most unlettered & ignorant men; who wrote, too, from memory, & not till long after the transactions had passed.
    3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he fell an early victim to the jealousy & combination of the altar and the throne, at about 33. years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of 3. years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.
    4. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, & often unintelligible.
    5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatising followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating & perverting the simple doctrines he taught by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist, frittering them into subtleties, & obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, & to view Jesus himself as an impostor.
    Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us, which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merit of his doctrines.
    1. He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government.
    2. His moral doctrines, relating to kindred & friends, were more pure & perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.
    3. The precepts of philosophy, & of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.
    4. He taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state, which was either doubted, or disbelieved by the Jews; and wielded it with efficacy, as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct.

"To compare the morals of the old, with those of the new testament, would require an attentive study of the former, a search thro' all it's books for it's precepts, and through all it's history for it's practices, and the principles they prove. As commentaries too on these, the philosophy of the Hebrews must be enquired into, their Mishna, their Gemara, Cabbala, Jezirah, Sohar, Cosri, and their Talmud must be examined and understood, in order to do them full justice. Brucker, it should seem, has gone deeply into these Repositories of their ethics, and Enfield, his epitomiser, concludes in these words. 'Ethics were so little studied among the Jews, that, in their whole compilation called the Talmud, there is only one treatise on moral subjects. Their books of Morals chiefly consisted in a minute enumeration of duties. From the law of Moses were deduced 613. precepts, which were divided into two classes, affirmative and negative, 248 in the former, and 365 in the latter. It may serve to give the reader some idea of the low state of moral philosophy among the Jews in the Middle age, to add, that of the 248. affirmative precepts, only 3. were considered as obligatory upon women; and that, in order to obtain salvation, it was judged sufficient to fulfill any one single law in the hour of death; the observance of the rest being deemed necessary, only to increase the felicity of the future life. What a wretched depravity of sentiment and manners must have prevailed before such corrupt maxims could have obtained credit! It is impossible to collect from these writings a consistent series of moral Doctrine.' Enfield, B. 4. chap. 3. It was the reformation of this 'wretched depravity' of morals which Jesus undertook. In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to them. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their Logos and Demi-urgos, Aeons and Daemons male and female, with a long train of Etc. Etc. Etc. or, shall I say at once, of Nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the Amphibologisms into which they have been led by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book [Bible], and arranging, the matter which is evidently his [Jesus], and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an 8 vo. of 46. pages of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on by the unlettered apostles, the Apostolic fathers, and the Christians of the 1st. century. Their Platonising successors indeed, in after times, in order to legitimate the corruptions which they had incorporated into the doctrines of Jesus, found it necessary to disavow the primitive Christians, who had taken their principles from the mouth of Jesus himself, of his Apostles, and the Fathers cotemporary with them. They excommunicated their followers as heretics, branding them with the opprobrious name of Ebionites or Beggars.
  For a comparison of the Graecian philosophy with that of Jesus, materials might be largely drawn from the same source. Enfield gives a history, and detailed account of the opinions and principles of the different sects..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 12 October 1813 * * *

"There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed." --last verse of the "Jefferson Bible"

"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy which Greece & Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their doctrines dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. the merit of his philosophy is in the beauties of his style. diffuse vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. his prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms uncomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention. these they furthered blasphemously on him whom they claimed as their founder, but who would disarm them with the indignation which their caricatures of his religion so justly excite. of Socrates we have nothing genuine but on the Memorabilia of Xenophon. for Plato makes him one of his Collocutors merely to cover his own whimsies under the mantle of his name; a liberty of which we are told Socrates himself complained. Seneca is indeed a fine moralist, disfiguring his work at times with some Stoicisms and affecting too much of antithesis and point, yet giving us on the whole a great deal of sound and practical morality. but the greatest of all the Reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by it's lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dung hill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man: outlines which it is lamentable he did not live to fill up. Epictetus & Epricurus give us laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties & charities we owe to others. the establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this good benevolent Moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from misconstructions of his words by his pretended votaries artificial systems (e.g. the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection & visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy Etc.), invented by Ultra-Christian sects, unauthorised by a single word ever uttered by him is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestly has successfully devoted his labors and learning, it would in times it is to be hoped effect a quiet euthanasia of the heretics of bigotry and fanaticism which have so long triumphed over human reason, and so generally & deeply afflicted mankind. but this work is to be begun by winnowing the grain from the chaff of the historians of his life. I have sometimes thought of translating Epictetus (for he has never been tolerably translated into English) of adding the genuine doctrines of Epicurus from the Syntagma of Gassondi, and an Abstract from the Evangelists of whatever has the stamp of the eloquence and fine imagination of Jesus. the last I attempted too hastily 12 or 15 years ago. it was the work of 2 or 3 nights only at Washington, after getting thro' the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day. __ but with one foot in the grave, these are now idle projects for me. my business is to beguile the wearisomness of declining life, as I endeavor to do by the delights of classical reading and of Mathematical truths and by the consolations of a sound philosophy, equally indifferent to hope & fear.
  I take the liberty of observing that you are not a true disciple of our master Epicurus, in indulging the indolence to which you say you are yielding. one of his canons, you know, was that 'that indulgence which prevents a greater pleasure, or produces a greater pain is to be avoided'. your love of repose will lead, in it's progress to a suspension of healthy exercise, a relaxation of mind, an indifference to every thing around you, and finally to a debility of body and hebetude of mind, the farthest of all things from the happiness which the well regulated indulgences of Epicurus ensure. fortitude, you know, is one of his four cardinal virtues. that teaches us to meet and surmount difficult ties; not to fly from them, like cowards. and to fly too in vain, for they will meet and arrest us at every turn of our road. weigh this matter well; brace yourself up; take a seat with Correa..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Short on 31 October 1819 * * *

"... the priests of the different religious sects, who dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of day-light; and scowl on it the fatal harbinger announcing the subversion of the duperies on which they live. in this the Presbyterian clergy take the lead. the tocsin is sounded in all their pulpits, and the first alarm denounced is against the particular creed of Doctr. Cooper; and as impudently denounced as if they really knew what it is..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Jose Francesco Correa Da Serra on 11 April 1820

"... But while this Syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in it's true and high light, as no imposter himself but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist, he takes the side of spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin, I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it Etc. Etc. it is the innocence of his character, the purity & sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcations, the beauty of the apologias in which he conveys them, that I so much admire: sometimes indeed needing indulgence to Eastern hyperbolism. my eulogies too may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I seperate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. these palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The Syllabus is therefore of his doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and disent...
  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. [Thomas] Cooper whom they charge as a 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 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 [Michael] Servetus, because he could not find in his Euclid the proposition which has demonstrated that three are one and one is three, nor subscribe to that of Calvin that magistrates have a right to exterminate all heretics to Calvinistic creed. they pant to re-establish, by law that holy inquisition, which they can now only infuse into public opinion. we have most unwisely committed to the hierophants of our particular superstition, the direction of public opinion, that 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. but in despite of their fuminations against endeavors to enlighten the general mind, to improve the reason of the people, and to encourage them in the use of it, the liberality of this State will support this institution [University of Virginia], and give fair play to the cultivation of reason..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Short on 13 April 1820 * * *

"I trust with you that the genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored: such as it was preached and practised by himself. very soon after his death it became muffled up in mysteries, and has been ever since kept in concealment from the vulgar eye. to penetrate and dissipate these clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education. enlightened by it's torch the disciples of religion will see that, instead of abandoning their reason, as the superstition of every country requires, and taking for the [illegible] of their god whatever their own hierophants declare it to be (and no two of them declaring it alike) that god has confided to them the advent of reason, not to hide under a bushel, but to render him a [illegible] of it's employment..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Francis A. van der Kemp on 9 July 1820 * *

"... my aim in that was to justify the character of Jesus against the fictions of his pseudo-followers which have exposed him to the inference of being an imposter. for if we could believe that he really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods and the Charlatinisms which his biographers father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations & theorisations of the fathers of the early, and fanatics of the latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind, that he was an imposter. I give no credit to their falsifications of his actions & doctrines; and, to rescue his character, the postulate in my letter asked only what is granted in reading every other historian. when Livy or Siculus, for example, tell us things which coincide with our experience of the order of nature, we credit them on their word, and place their narrations among the records of credible history. but when they tell us of calves speaking, of statues sweating blood, and other things against the course of nature, we reject these as fables, not belonging to history. in like manner, when an historian, speaking of a character well known, and established on satisfactory testimony, imputes to it things incompatible with that character we reject them without hesitation, and assent to that only of which we have better evidence. had Plutarch informed us that Caesar & Cicero passed their whole lives in religious exercises, and abstinence from the affairs of the world, we should reject what was to inconsistent with their established characters, still crediting what he relates in conformity with our ideas of them. so again, the superlative wisdom of Socrates is testified by all antiquity, and placed on ground not be questioned. when therefore Plato puts into his mouth such paralogisms, such quibles on words & sophisms as a schoolboy would be ashamed of, we conclude they were the whimsies of Plato's own foggy brain, and acquit Socrates of puerilities so unlike his character. (speaking of Plato I will add that no writer antient or modern has bewildered the world with more ignis fatui than this renowned philosopher, in Ethics, in Politics & Physics. in the latter, to specify a single example, compare his views of the animal economy, in his Timaeus, with those of Mrs. Bryson in her Conversations on chemistry, and weigh the science of the canonised philosopher against the good sense of the unassuming lady. but Plato's visions have furnished a basis for endless system of mystical theology, and he is therefore all but adopted as a Christian saint. __ it is surely time for men to think for themselves, and to throw off the authority of names so artificially magnified. but to return from this parentheses, I say that) this free exercise of reason is all I ask for the vindication of the character of Jesus. we find in the writings of his biographers matter of two distinct descriptions. first a ground work of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms, & fabrications. intermixed with these again are sublime ideas of the supreme being, aphorisms and precepts of the purest morality & benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence, and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition & honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed. these could not be inventions of the grovelling authors who relate them. they are far beyond the powers of their feeble minds. they shew that there was a character, the subject of their history, whose splendid conceptions were above all suspicion of being interpolations from their hands. can we be at a loss in separating such materials, & ascribing each to it's genuine author? the difference is obvious to the eye and to the understanding, and we may read, as we run, to each his part; and I will venture to affirm that he who, as I have done, will undertake to winnow this grain from it's chaff, will find it not to require a moment's consideration. the parts fall asunder of themselves, as would those of an image of metal & clay.
  There are, I acknowledge, passages not free from objection, which we may, with probability, ascribe to Jesus himself; but claiming indulgence from the circumstances under which he acted. His object was the reformation of some articles in the religion of the Jews, as taught by Moses. That sect had presented for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust. Jesus, taking for his type the best qualities of the human head and heart, wisdom, justice, goodness, and adding to them power, ascribed all of these, but in infinite perfection, to the Supreme Being, and formed him really worthy of their adoration. Moses had either not believed in a future state of existence, or had not thought it essential to be explicitly taught to his people. Jesus inculcated that doctrine with emphasis and precision. Moses had bound the Jews to many idle ceremonies, mummeries and observances, of no effect towards producing the social utilities which constitute the essence of virtue; Jesus exposed their futility and insignificance. The one instilled into his people the most anti-social spirit towards other nations; the other preached philanthropy and universal charity and benevolence. The office of reformer of the superstitions of a nation, is ever dangerous. Jesus had to walk on the perilous confines of reason and religion: and a step to right or left might place him within the gripe of the priests of the superstition, a blood thirsty race, as cruel and remorseless as the being whom they represented as the family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the local God of Israel. They were constantly laying snares, too, to entangle him in the web of the law. He was justifiable, therefore, in avoiding these by evasions, by sophisms, by misconstructions and misapplications of scraps of the prophets, and in defending himself with these their own weapons, as sufficient, _ad homines_, at least. That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe himself inspired from above, is very possible. The whole religion of the Jews, inculcated on him from his infancy, was founded in the belief of divine inspiration. The fumes of the most disordered imaginations were recorded in their religious code, as special communications of the Deity; and as it could not but happen that, in the course of ages, events would now and then turn up to which some of these vague rhapsodies might be accommodated by the aid of allegories, figures, types, and other tricks upon words, they have not only preserved their credit with the Jews of all subsequent times, but are the foundation of much of the religions of those who have schismatised from them. Elevated by the enthusiasm of a warm and pure heart, conscious of the high strains of an eloquence which had not been taught him, he might readily mistake the coruscations of his own fine genius for inspirations of an higher order. This belief carried, therefore, no more personal imputation, than the belief of Socrates, that himself was under the care and admonitions of a guardian Daemon. And how many of our wisest men still believe in the reality of these inspirations, while perfectly sane on all other subjects. Excusing, therefore, on these considerations, those passages in the gospels which seem to bear marks of weakness in Jesus, ascribing to him what alone is consistent with the great and pure character of which the same writings furnish proofs, and to their proper authors their own trivialities and imbecilities, I think myself authorised to conclude the purity and distinction of his character, in opposition to the impostures which those authors would fix upon him..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Short on 4 August 1820 * * *
(The above phrase "cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust" is echoed in two probable MISquotes: "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded upon fables and mythologies. The Christian God is a being of terrific character: cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust." and "The Christian god can be easily pictured as virtually the same as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of the people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.")

"I feel, therefore I exist. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organization of matter, formed for the purpose by its Creator, as well as that attraction is an atom of matter, or magnetism of lodestone. 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 I am supported in my creed of materialism by the Lockes, the Tracys, and the Stewarts. at what age of the (that of Athanasius and the Council of Nicea anno 324?) Christian church this heresy of immaterialism or masked atheism, crept in, I do not exactly know. but a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us, indeed, that " God is a Spirit, '' but He has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the ancient fathers generally, of the three first centuries, held it to be matter, light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter. Origen says, "Deus se ipse corporalis est ; sed graviorum tantum corporum ratione, incorporeus. '' Tertullian, "quid enim Deus nisi corpus?" And again, "quis negabit Deum esse corpus? Etsi Deus spiritus, spiritus etiam corpus est, sui generis in sua effigie." St. Justin Martyr, And St. Macarius, speaking of angels, says, " quamvis enim subtilia sint, tamen in substantia, forma et figura, secundurn tenuitatem naturae eorum, corpora sunt tenuia. '' And St. Augustin, St. Basil, Lactantius, Tatian, Athenagoras and others, with whose writings I pretend not a familiarity, are said by those who are better acquainted with them, to deliver the same doctrine. (Enfield x. 3, 1.) Turn to your Ocellus d 'Argens, 97, 105, and to his Timaeus, 17, for these quotations. In England, these Immaterialists might have been burnt until the 29 Car .2, when the writ de haeretico comburendo was abolished; and here until the Revolution, that statute not having extended to us. All heresies, being now done away with us, these schismatists are merely atheists, differing from the material atheist only in their belief, that "nothing made something," and from the material deist, who believes that matter alone can operate on matter." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 15 August 1820 * *

"I hold the precepts of Jesus, as delivered by Himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man. I adhere to the principles of the first age; and consider all subsequent innovations as corruptions of His religion, having no foundation in what came from Him. The metaphysical insanities of Athanasius, of Loyola, and of Calvin, are, to my understanding, mere relapses into polytheism, differing from paganism only by being more unintelligible. The religion of Jesus is founded in the Unity of God, and this principle chiefly, gave it triumph over the rabble of heathen gods then acknowledged. Thinking men of all nations rallied readily to the doctrine of one only God, and embraced it with the pure morals which Jesus inculcated. If the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by His pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity. This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Jared Sparks on 4 November 1820 *

"... this institution [University of Virginia] will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Willian Roscoe on 27 December 1820 *

"The bill for establishing religious freedom [the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom], the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. it still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the words 'Jesus Christ' so that it should read 'a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion' the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination." --Thomas Jefferson in his Autobiography on 6 January 1821 * *

"No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances toward rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned every-thing which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines, he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily, his disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from his lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel. In the present advance of truth, which we both approve, I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. As the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. We well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price and Priestley, for example. So there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. They are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. These accounts are to be settled only with him who made us; and to him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom, also, he is the only rightful and competent judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Timothy Pickering on 27 February 1821 * *

"You ask my opinion on the items of doctrine in your catechism. I have never permitted myself to meditate a specified creed. These formulas have been the bane and ruin of the Christian church, its own fatal invention, which, through so many ages, made of Christendom a slaughter-house, and at this day divides it into casts of inextinguishable hatred to one another. Witness the present internecine rage of all other sects against the Unitarians. The religions of antiquity had no particular formulas of creed. Those of the modern world none, except those of the religionists calling themselves Christians, and even among these the Quakers have none. And hence, alone, the harmony, the quiet, the brotherly affections, the exemplary and unschismatising society of the Friends, and I hope the Unitarians, will follow their happy example. With these sentiments of the mischiefs of creeds and confessions of faith, I am sure you will excuse my not giving opinions on the items of any particular one." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Whittemore on 5 June 1822 *

Except from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse on 26 June 1822 * *

... the doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

  1. that there is one only God, & he all perfect.
  2. that there is a future state of rewards & punishments.
  3. that to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.
These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews. But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin.
  1. that there are three Gods.
  2. that good works, or the love of our neighbor, are nothing.
  3. that Faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit in its faith.
  4. that reason in religion is of unlawful use.
  5. that God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; & that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.
Now which of these is the true and charitable Christian? he who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus? or the impious dogmatists, as Athanasius & Calvin? verily I say these are the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. they are mere usurpers of the Christian name, teaching a counter-religion made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself, with the horrors so falsely imputed to him. had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian. I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.

But much I fear, that when this great truth shall be re-established, its votaries will fall into the fatal error of fabricating formulas of creed and confessions of faith, the engines which so soon destroyed the religion of Jesus, and made of Christendom a mere Aceldama; that they will give up morals for mysteries, and Jesus for Plato. how much wiser are the Quakers, who, agreeing in the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, schismatize about no mysteries, and, keeping within the pale of common sense, suffer no speculative differences of opinion, any more than of feature, to impair the love of their brethren. be this the wisdom of Unitarians, this the holy mantle which shall cover within its charitable circumference all who believe in one God, and who love their neighbor! I conclude my sermon with sincere assurances of my friendly esteem and respect.

"the atmosphere of our country is unquestionably charged with a threatening cloud of fanaticism, lighter in some parts, denser in others, but too heavy in all. I had no idea, however, that in Pennsylvania, the cradle of toleration and freedom of religion, it could have arisen to the height you describe. this must be owing to the growth of presbyterianism. the blasphemy and absurdity of the five points of Calvin, and the impossibility of defending them, render their advocates impatient of reasoning, irritable, & prone to denunciation... in our Richmond there is much fanaticism, but chiefly among the women: they have their night meetings, and praying parties, where attended by their priests, and sometimes by a hen-pecked husband, they pour forth the effusions of their love to Jesus, in terms as amatory and carnal, as their modesty would permit them to use to a mere earthly lover. In our village of Charlottesville, there is a good degree of religion, with a small spice only of fanaticism. We have four sects, but without either church or meeting-house. The court-house is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each. Here, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each others' preachers, and all mix in society with perfect harmony. 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 which they do not direct, and jealous at seeing others begin to attend at all to that object. the diffusion of instruction, to which there is now so growing an attention, will be the remote remedy to this fever of fanaticism; while the more proximate one will be the progress of Unitarianism. that this will, ere long, be the religion of the majority from North to South, I have no doubt.
  In our university you know there is no Professorship of Divinity. A handle has been made of this, to disseminate an idea that this is an institution, not merely of no religion, but against all religion. Occasion was taken at the last meeting of the Visitors, to bring forward an idea that might silence this calumny, which weighed on the minds of some honest friends to the institution. In our annual report to the legislature, after stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets, on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there, and have the free use of our library, and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences. I think the invitation will be accepted, by some sects from candid intentions, and by others from jealousy and rivalship. And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Cooper on 2 November 1822 * * *

"I have to thank you for your pamphlets on the subject of Unitarianism, and to express my gratification with your efforts for the revival of primitive Christianity in your quarter. no historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. the hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs. and a strong proof of the solidity of the primitive faith, is its restoration, as soon as a nation arises which vindicates to itself the freedom of religious opinion, and its external divorce from the civil authority. the pure and simple unity of the Creator of the universe, is now all but ascendant in the Eastern States; it is dawning in the West, and advancing towards the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States. the Eastern presses are giving us many excellent pieces on the subject, and Priestley's learned writings on it are, or should be, in every hand. In fact, 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 from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Smith on 8 December 1822 * *

"The wishes expressed in your last favor [letter], that I may continue in life and health until I become a Calvinist, at least in his exclamation of 'mon Dieu! jusque a quand!' would make me immortal. I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon 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. Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. Now one sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian revelation, are without a knolege of the existence of a god! This gives compleatly a gain de cause to the disciples of Ocellus, Timaeus, Spinosa, Diderot and D'Holbach. The argument which they rest on as triumphant and unanswerable is that, in every hypothesis of Cosmogony you must admit an eternal pre-existence of something; and according to the rule of sound philosophy [Occam's Razor], you are never to employ two principles to solve a difficulty when one will suffice. They say then that it is more simple to believe at once in the eternal pre-existence of the world, as it is now going on, and may for ever go on by the principle of reproduction which we see and witness, than to believe in the eternal pre-existence of an ulterior cause, or Creator of the world, a being whom we see not, and know not, of whose form substance and mode or place of existence, or of action no sense informs us, no power of the mind enables us to delineate or comprehend. On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it's parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to percieve and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it's composition. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with it's distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms. We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in it's course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro' all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis. Some early Christians indeed have believed in the coeternal pre-existance of both the Creator and the world, without changing their relation of cause and effect. That this was the opinion of St. Thomas, we are informed by Cardinal Toleto, in these words `Deus ab aeterno fuit jam omnipotens, sicut cum produxit mundum. Ab aeterno potuit producere mundum. -- Si sol ab aeterno esset, lumen ab aeterno esset; et si pes, similiter vestigium. At lumen et vestigium effectus sunt efficientis solis et pedis; potuit ergo cum causa aeterna effectus coaeterna esse. Cujus sententiae est S. Thomas Theologorum primus' Cardinal Toleta.
  Of the nature of this being we know nothing. Jesus tells us that `God is a spirit.' 4. John 24. but without defining what a spirit is {pneyma o Theos}. Down to the 3d. century we know that it was still deemed material; but of a lighter subtler matter than our gross bodies. So says Origen. `Deus igitur, cui anima similis est, juxta Originem, reapte corporalis est; sed graviorum tantum ratione corporum incorporeus.' These are the words of Huet in his commentary on Origen. Origen himself says `appelatio {asomaton} apud nostros scriptores est inusitata et incognita.' So also Tertullian `quis autem negabit Deum esse corpus, etsi deus spiritus? Spiritus etiam corporis sui generis, in sua effigie.' Tertullian. These two fathers were of the 3d. century. Calvin's character of this supreme being seems chiefly copied from that of the Jews. But the reformation of these blasphemous attributes, and substitution of those more worthy, pure and sublime, seems to have been the chief object of Jesus in his discources to the Jews: and his doctrine of the Cosmogony of the world is very clearly laid down in the 3 first verses of the 1st. chapter of John, in these words, `{en arche en o logos, kai o logos en pros ton Theon kai Theos en o logos. `otos en en arche pros ton Theon. Panta de ayto egeneto, kai choris ayto egeneto ode en, o gegonen}. Which truly translated means `in the beginning God existed, and reason (or mind) was with God, and that mind was God. This was in the beginning with God. All things were created by it, and without it was made not one thing which was made'. Yet this text, so plainly declaring the doctrine of Jesus that the world was created by the supreme, intelligent being, has been perverted by modern Christians to build up a second person of their tritheism by a mistranslation of the word {logos}. One of it's legitimate meanings indeed is `a word.' But, in that sense, it makes an unmeaning jargon: while the other meaning `reason', equally legitimate, explains rationally the eternal preexistence of God, and his creation of the world. Knowing how incomprehensible it was that `a word,' the mere action or articulation of the voice and organs of speech could create a world, they undertake to make of this articulation a second preexisting being, and ascribe to him, and not to God, the creation of the universe. The Atheist here plumes himself on the uselessness of such a God, and the simpler hypothesis of a self-existent universe. The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And 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 the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams on 11 April 1823 * *

"I thank you, Sir, for the copy of the letters of Paul and Amicus, which you have been so kind as to send me, and shall learn from them with satisfaction the peculiar tenets of the Friends, and particularly their opinions on the incomprehensibilities (otherwise called the mysteries) of the Trinity. I think with them on many points, and especially on missionary and Bible societies. While we have so many around us, within the same social pale, who need instruction and assistance, why carry to a distance, and to strangers what our own neighbors need? It is a duty certainly to give our sparings to those who want; but to see also that they are faithfully distributed, and duly apportioned to the respective wants of those receivers. And why give through agents whom we know not, to persons whom we know not, and in countries from which we get no account, when we can do itat short hand, to objects under our eye, through agents we know, and to supply wants we see? I do not know that it is a duty to disturb by missionaries the religion and peace of other countries, who may think themselves bound to extinguish by fire and fagot the heresies to which we give the name of conversions, and quote our own example for it. were the Pope, or his Holy allies to send in mission to us some thousands of Jesuit priests to convert us to their Orthodoxy, I suspect that we should deem and treat it as a National aggression on our peace and faith..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Michael Megear on 29 May 1823 *

"... 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 wit, that the Common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever existed. but it may amuse you to shew when, and by what means they stole this law in upon us. in a case of Quare impedit in the Year-book 34.H.6.folio.38.(anno 1458.) [King Henry 6th, 1422-61 & 1470-1] a question was made, how far the Ecclesiastical law was to be respected in a common law court? and Prisot C.J. gives his opinion in these words, 'a tiel leis que ils de seint eglise ont en ancien scripture, covient a nous a donner credence; car ceo Common ley sur quels touts manners leis sont fondes. et auxy, Sir, nous sumus obleges de conustre lour ley de saint eglise: et semblablement ils sont obliges de conustre nostre ley. et, Sir, si poit apperer or anous que l'evesque ad fait come un Ordinary fera en tiel cas, adong nous devons ceo adjuger bon, ou auterment nemy,' Etc. see S.C.Fitzh.abr.Qu.imp.89.Bro.abr.Qu.imp.12. [Fitzgibbon, 1728-33] Finch in his 1st.B.c.3. is the first afterwards who quotes this case, and mistakes it thus. 'to such laws of the church 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 antient writing, it is proper for us to give credence'. to wit, to their antient 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 the Common law, copying the words of Finch, but citing Prisot.Wing.Max.3. and Sheppard,tit.'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. [Ventris, 1668-88] but he quotes no authority. by these echoings and re-echoings from one to another, it had become so established in 1728 that in the case of the King v. Woolston, 2.Stra.834. [* * Strange, 1716-49] 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 offences by the common law', and cites 2.Stra. then Blackstone, in 1763.IV.59. repeats the words of Hale, that 'Christianity is part of the laws of England', citing Ventris and Strange. and finally, Ld. Mansfield [William Murray], with a little qualification, in Evans's case [should be English Reports v97p51 or v97p986], in 1767. says, that 'the essential principles of revealed religion are part of the Common law'. thus ingulphing 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 hook, 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, cite Hale. Wood cites Woolston's case. Blackstone quotes Woolston's case and Hale. and Ld. Mansfield, like Hale, ventures it 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 shew how some of the A-Saxon priests interpolated into the text of Alfred's laws the 20th. 21st. 22nd. and 23rd. chapters of Exodus, and the 15th. of the acts of the Apostles, from the 23rd. to the 29th. verses. 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, Sing Tantarara, rogues all!" --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Cartwright on 5 June 1824 * * * * *

"... If no action is to be deemed virtuous for which malice can imagine a sinister motive, then there never was a virtuous action; no, not even in the life of our Saviour Himself. But He has taught us to judge the tree by its fruit, and to leave motives to Him who can alone see into them. But whilst I leave to its fate the libel of Mr. Pickering...
  although I decline all newspaper controversy, yet when falsehoods have been advanced, within the knowledge of no one so much as myself, I have sometimes deposited a contradiction in the hands of a friend, which, if worth preservation, may, when I am no more, nor those whom I might offend, throw light on history, and recall that into the path of truth..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Martin Van Buren on 29 June 1824 * *

"... I must therefore be contented to be an Unitarian by my self, altho I know there are many around me who would become so, if once they could hear the question fairly stated..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse on 8 January 1825 *

"... it is between 50. and 60. years since I read it [Revelation of St. John], & I then considered it merely the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams... what has no meaning admits no explanation..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Alexander Smyth on 17 January 1825 * *

"... may it [the Declaration of Independence] 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 & security of self government. that form which we have substituted restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. 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. these are grounds of hope for others..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Roger Weightman on 24 June 1826 *

"[This is] the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." --John F. Kennedy, welcoming 49 Nobel Prize winners in 1962 *

"Often it has happened in history and in life itself that a good but naive man's principles have been mercilessly exposed by time to reveal logical implications, which he would have condemned in his own lifetime. Such was notably the case with Thomas Jefferson who, bereft of the Church's wisdom and maternal protection, fell victim to false principles long ago unmasked by Revelation and true philosophy. These false principles, known collectively as liberalism, were made by Jefferson into a kind of religion, as we shall see; and in using the prestige of the presidency to advance this secular religion, Jefferson unwittingly proved himself to be the first of a long line of abusers of the highest office of the land. For the Jeffersonian mentality, despite all good intentions, leads inexorably to moral nihilism and the abortionist Supreme Court of the 1970's." --Donald D'Elia in his article Relevance of Thomas Jefferson in 1977

Questionable 'Quotes'

Jefferson was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role.

"I am a real Christian, that is to say, a cisciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator." --Thomas Jefferson in the front of his Bible (unverified)

I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands... the Bible makes the best people in the world." --attributed to Thomas Jefferson (Vernon Hampton quotes "I have always said... better husbands" but not "the Bible makes the best people in the world" in his 1932 book Religious Background of the White House *. Hampton's book has a bibliography but does not have footnotes, it's not clear what his source was.)

"The reason that Christianity is the best friend of Government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart." --frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson (no sources found)

"The only foundation for useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion." --MISattributed to Thomas Jefferson (The true author is Benjamin Rush in Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic in 1786.)

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature." --frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but I did not find any citations at all (not even to secondary sources)

"The authors of the gospels were unlettered and ignorant men and the teachings of Jesus have come to us mutilated, misstated and unintelligible." --attributed to Thomas Jefferson (no sources found)

"Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen." --attributed to Thomas Jefferson in a prayer for peace on 4 March 1805, by William Federer * * in America's God and Country (Not found * in the draft version or final version of Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address, which was on 4 March 1805)

"If not an absolute atheist, he [Thomas Jefferson] had no belief in a future existence. All his ideas of obligation or retribution were bounded by the present life." --frequently attributed to John Quincy Adams in 1831, but I did not find any source citations

"Religions are all alike: founded on fables and mythologies." --Thomas Jefferson in his book "The Philosophy of Jesus Christ" (not found)