Baptists Loved Thomas Jefferson

Contrary to the view often popular today that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist or skeptic who was disliked by the Christians of his day, there were many evangelicals, particularly Baptists, that were grateful when Thomas Jefferson became president. In our book, DOUBTING THOMAS, on the religious life and legacy of our third president, we show that the real picture was much more nuanced than the idea that Jefferson was a lifelong skeptic. It is true that he voiced doubts of key doctrines later in life in private. At the same time, he participated in Christian worship virtually every Sunday it was available to him. Meanwhile, he had many supporters among the evangelicals.

Baptist friends clearly saw President Jefferson differently than the Congregationalists of New England. Another Baptist man, Daniel D’Oyley, wrote Jefferson on July 24, 1802. Jefferson replied on August 15, thanking him for a sermon by Baptist Rev. Richard Furman, and said: “…the restoration of the rights of conscience to two thirds of the citizens of Virginia in the beginning of the revolution, has merited to those who had agency in it, the everlasting hostility of such of the clergy as have a hankering after the union of church & state…”

Clergy of almost all denominations in Washington saw Jefferson as a worshiper and supporter of the Christian faith. On February 14, Rev. Cutler noted: “Mr. Gant[t] preached in the Hall. A very full Assembly. Mr. Jefferson present.” Rev. Edward Gantt was an Episcopal Senate Chaplain for most of Jefferson’s first term as President (December 1801-November 1804 and again, December 1805-1806).

Jefferson’s account book for February 9, 1802 says he “Gave…in favor [of ] Revd. Mr. Eaden in charity” (spelled Eden in his account book entry of February 12) and on February 17, he gave “$30 to Reverend John Debois.” Rev. Debois was a Catholic priest in Frederick, Maryland. And on March 13, Jefferson “gave…25 Dollars charity for meeting house for blacks.” It was given to the Methodist “Reverend Thomas Lucas.” On April 7, 1802, Jefferson “Gave…in favour of the Revd. Mr. [William] Parkinson towards a Baptist meeting house.” Rev. Parkinson was also the chaplain in Congress at this time.150 On April 9, Jefferson “Gave…in favor [of] The Revd. Doctor [Samuel S.] Smith towards rebuilding Princeton college 100 Dollars” (about $2400 in today’s dollars). Presbyterian Rev. Smith was president of the College of New Jersey and the recent national Moderator of Presbyterians. His account book also says he “Gave…in favor [of ] Revd. Mr. Baulch $75 in charity” according to an October 20 entry. This was the Presbyterian pastor in Georgetown mentioned previously as receiving aid from Jefferson in December Little is known of some of these clergymen Jefferson was contributing to, but they serve to show Jefferson’s numerous friendly connections to many clergy of various denominations and parties. About 90 percent of these were members of orthodox denominations.

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