An Evangelical Presbyterian Was Among Jefferson’s Favorite Preachers

Today one often gets the impression that Thomas Jefferson, a key founding father, had no use for religion, and certainly thought it should be banned from the public square or minimized. Our book, DOUBTING THOMAS, by Dr. Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe, disputes both of these contentions and provides ample documentation showing that Jefferson did profess to believe in Christianity early in life, but came to doubt some core Christian doctrines. Meanwhile, he believed that Judeo-Christian influence in the country was fine. But he felt such influence belonged on the state level, not the federal level. One of his favorite preachers was a strong evangelical who was a Presbyterian minister. When he was president, he even recommended this man (John Glendy) to preach at the U.S. Capitol in the weekly Christian services held on each Lord’s Day (Sunday). Jefferson himself often attended those services.

After he was president, the Presbyterian parson came to visit him. Jefferson’s favorite preacher, Presbyterian Rev. John Glendy, stopped by Monticello on September 28, 1815 and found Jefferson absent so he left a letter that day saying he had dinner the previous day at Montpelier with President Madison and Secretary of State James Monroe. Glendy then wrote: “I am on my way to Staunton, and purpose returning to Baltimore by the way of Charlottesville—were I to Occupy the bench [i.e., pulpit] in the CourtHouse of this town, as an itinerant preacher on Sunday week, the 8th day of October next, pray, could I have the honor of your sitting under my ministry on the Occasion? If you could promise me a Congregation on that day (and that the stated pastor would not be jealous) I would pledge myself to deliver a discourse at that period.” Unfortunately, it did not happen due to bad weather as Jefferson described on October 22: “…the change in the weather was a great disappointment; and the morning itself so threatening as to deter all distant persons from coming. I set out from home myself at 11. aclock in expectation momently of rain; but before I reached Charlottesville, it cleared away. You had left the place about an hour. About twelve aclock many came, all indeed who were near enough to get there in time after the weather cleared up. The loss of the pleasure of hearing you is the more regretted, as it can rarely if ever be expected to be renewed.”

Jefferson was complicated when it comes to his religious views. But the caricature of Jefferson the lifelong skeptic is totally inaccurate.

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