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Article the religious opinions of Thomas Jefferson. Some of our readers may not be aware of the serious and combined efforts of his friends to exalt him in the estimation of his countrymen as having been eminent in piety, and in case of a failure to deliver him from the charge of freethinking or unbelief. Dr. Randall, the principal expounder of the Jeffersonian creed, opens a long chapter with the assertion that "Mr. Jefferson was a public professor of his belief in the Christian religion." What is meant by a public professor of belief in the Christian religion may be inferred from the following specifications: "In all his most important early state papers, in his inaugural addresses, and in many of his annual messages, there are more or less pointed recognitions of God and Providence." "He substantially avows the God of his faith to be the God of Revelation, declares his belief in the efficacy of prayer and the duty of ascription of praise," [of ascribing praise] "to the author of all mercies; speaks of the Christian religion, as professed in this country, as a benign religion, evincing the favor of Heaven. Had his wishes been consulted the symbol borne on our national seal would have contained our public profession of Christianity as a nation.* There is nothing in his writings or in the history of his life to show that his public declarations were insincere or thrown out for mere effect. We find him once, like John Adams and Hamilton, advocating a fast day for popular effect. This is all, nor does it in any way conflict with the declaration of the text."+
"On the contrary, his most confidential writings sustain his public professions, and advance beyond them into the avowal of a belief in a future state of rewards and punishment." This is
* What Dr. Randall calls a symbol of Christianity was the representation of the Children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, on one side of the seal, and on the other the Saxon chiefs, Hengist and Horsa.
We find him, too, refusing to proclaim fastings and thanksgivings in accordance with the custom of his predecessors and sending an address to Mr. Lincoln to be corrected, with the remark, "you understand the temper of those in the North, and can weaken it to their stomachs; it is at present seasoned to the Southern taste."
certainly a narrow creed, in its present shape, to distinguish “a public professor of belief in the Christian religion!" Its tangible points are not distinctive, since they might be avowed by a public professor of Mohammedanism or Judaism, such as "belief in the efficacy of prayer," and in a future state, "recognitions of God and Providence more or less,"-other parts of it either were not professed even in public by the person to whom they are ascribed, or they have no bearing upon his religious belief. The avowal substantially of the God of his faith to be "the God of Revelation," is not found in any of his writings. In numerous extracts from messages and addresses, selected by Dr. Randall, to prove his assertion, there is but one allusion to the Christian religion, which is in these words: "Enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practised in various forms." Mr. Jefferson has also used, once in his "Notes on Virginia," and again in one of his letters, the phrase "our holy religion," as he would speak of the Holy Inquisition. But there is not in his published works a single recognition of the Bible or any part of it as a Revelation from God. On the contrary, he denies its truth and Divine inspiration. This is said with a full understanding of the views of some of his descendants, to which our author and the Review have given publicity. As these opinions are presumed to throw new light on this subject, we transfer a few of them to our pages. "From a letter written in 1834, in answer to one from a political friend of Mr. Jefferson, who wished to exculpate him from the charge of infidelity in religion. 'He called himself a Christian. He always said he was a Christian in what he understood to be the right sense of the word; and according to the doctrines which he believed to be truly those of Jesus. His character, in spite of the mistakes which prevailed among many persons in regard to it, was essentially Christian, and could have been formed under no other influences than those of the Gospel. . . . . He entertained the greatest possible admiration and veneration for the character and doctrines of Jesus. . Nor was his study of the Scriptures entirely confined to the New Testament. His sympathies were much stronger with the Unitarian than any other of the religious de
nominations. He had known and esteemed Dr. Priestley. I repeat, again, my firm belief that such a character as my dear grandfather's could have been formed under no other influences than those of the Gospel; that there is in the world but one tree capable of bearing such fruit.””
We turn for the present from these observations of one who "knew him intimately," to the record of another who knew him better, that of Mr. Jefferson himself, which contains such full and precise statements of his religious views and experiences that neither our author nor one of his assistant compilers nor favoring critics has thought it wise to expound them. This record is read in those very letters in which "he laid open his whole heart to his numerous correspondents," the "incautious publication of which" Mr. Tucker so much laments, as having "increased the maledictions of his enemies and imparted a new impulse of ill-will to a new generation." There can be no misunderstanding about the meaning and design of these letters. Their dates range through more than half a century. Those on religious topics evince the full maturity of the writer's intellect. "They were," as he says, "the results of a life of study and reflection." The preparation of the most obnoxious of them beguiled his leisure hours after he was seventy years of age, when he had, as he says, one foot in the grave; and being communicated, under the seal of secrecy, during his lifetime, to persons holding the same skeptical opinions, he was careful not to be misunderstood. Some of these letters from time to time met the public eye. Two of them were published before his death, in the "Theological works of Thomas Paine," as favoring the sentiments of the "Age of Reason." To this correspondence of Mr. Jefferson, to his free speeches and familiar conversations, to his frank disclosures in private circles and around the festive board,-in all of which, according to Mr. Tucker, he was "particularly unguarded" in evincing his hostility to Christianity, must be attributed "the excess of animosity which he experienced beyond any of his political associates." To these and to his open approval of some notorious atheists and deists in France and America, and to many of his public measures
and official acts, must be attributed that deep current of religious feeling which set so strongly against him during his life, and which, as we have seen, nas increased in force since the publication of his writings. We shall make free use of this confidential correspondence, or real autobiography, in which it will appear with what discretion it has been affirmed that "no unworthy sentiment, no base motive, can be traced in a single line of the voluminous collection," and that the character here delineated "could have been formed under no other influences than those of the gospel." This task has been partially performed by other writers. But the recent publication of the complete works of the distinguished author of these letters, in connection with the incautious disclosures of his friends, furnish additional materials for a synopsis of Jefferson's Body of Divinity. We do not maintain, with Mr. Dwight, that Jefferson was an atheist, in the popular sense of the termthough some passages in his letters seem to favor the conclusion that the idea of God was not a point in his speculations. We quote a remarkable paragraph in a letter addressed to Peter Carr, in which he is enjoined to question boldly even the Divine existence, and is sustained by this assurance: "If your inquiries end in the belief that there is no God, you will find incentives to virtue in the comfort and pleasure you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you."
From the tenor of his writings, however, we are inclined to give Jefferson credit for Theism, the "usefulness of virtue," and for an assent to the morality of the teachings of Christ, and a belief in a future state. From these affirmations his speculations ran into ridicule of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and a denial of its supernatural origin. He speaks of the Hebrew Scriptures and their authors in such terms as the following:
"Their ethics were not only imperfect, but often incon. sistent with the sound dictates of reason and morality. His [Jesus's] 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 char
acter, cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust." had either not believed in a future state, or had not thought it essential to be taught to the people."
"Moses had bound the Jews to many idle ceremonies, mummeries, and observances, of no effect towards procuring the social utilities."
"Jesus had to walk on the perilous confines of reason and religion, and a step to right or left might place him within the grasp of the priests of the superstition, a blood-thirsty race, as cruel and remorseless as the being whom they represented as family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, the local God of Israel."
"The fumes of the most disordered imaginations were recorded in this religious code, as special communications of the Deity; and as it could not but happen, in the course of ages, that 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 schismatized from them."
"He alleges that the Jews alone present the doctrine of the Unity of God. Yet their God would be deemed a very indifferent man with us; and it was to correct these misrepresentations of the Deity, that Jesus preached."
"You ask me" (to John Adams) "if I have seen the work of - Never; nor did the question occur to me before, Where get we the ten commandments? The Book, indeed, gives them to us verbatim; but where did it get them? For itself tells us they were written with the finger of God, on tables of stone, which were destroyed by Moses. It specifies those on the second set of tables in different language and substance, still without saying how the others were received. But the whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiries into them; and such tricks have been played with their texts and the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right to entertain much doubt as to what parts are genuine."