It Is a Myth That Jefferson Was a Closet Atheist

It’s a myth that Thomas Jefferson was some sort of closet atheist. Later in life he came to privately doubt some core Christian doctrines. And there are credible answers to those doubts. But the man regularly attended church, was a reader of Bible—in particular the teachings of Jesus—and also quite generous with his money (and time) toward various Christian causes. He certainly did not buy today’s modern notion of state-sanctioned secularism as the norm. Here are some thoughts of his actions when he was in the White House…in 1804.

Religious leaders in Washington, and those back home in Virginia, were well aware of Jefferson’s active church life and support of religion, but northerners [primarily people from New England, who were wary of Jefferson, partly because of his time in Jacobin France] did not know of this (or ignored it for political reasons) and so there were still occasional attacks on his faith by clergy from the northeastern states. An example from sometime in 1804, was by Rev. Clement C. Moore of New York, who wrote “Observations Upon Certain Passages in Mr. Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia which appear to have a tendency to subvert religion and establish a false philosophy.” Jefferson ally DeWitt Clinton, who led the Republicans in New York, wrote to Jefferson a few years later to say that he was working hard to “…disassociate republicanism from deism” in the minds of many up north due to the false information spread by Linn, Moore, and others. Jefferson replied to Clinton saying that perceptions of Deism were “…an unfounded falsehood…” and the idea that Jefferson wanted government to be without religion was “slander” which “…Th: J. has thought it best to leave to the scourge of public opinion.” But in reality pieces such as written by Moore in 1804 soon ceased being published after Jefferson’s presidential re-election, and most of the country no longer believed it. Sadly, Jefferson’s widespread support of various orthodox clergy and churches such as led by Rev. James Laurie [sometimes spelled, Lowry] and Rev. John Glendy is almost unknown today, and only the attacks by people such as Rev. Moore are recounted by modern biographers.

Interesting side note: Rev. Clement Moore, an Episcopal minister, is best known for likely being the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a.k.a., “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”).

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