Jefferson-1775 until the Declaration of Independence

About half a year later in March 1775, Jefferson attended the Second Virginia Convention in Richmond, where he was elected one of Virginia’s delegates to the Continental Congress. A notable event occurred at that gathering. One Virginia delegate named Patrick Henry made a speech that called the colony’s leaders to begin to prepare for war, with his closing appeal to “give me liberty or give me death!” The convention met in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, and the church’s minister at the time was Rev. Miles Selden, who was at the convention and with whom Jefferson almost certainly became acquainted.

Jefferson was then in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress for about a month beginning in June 1775. At the Congress, Jefferson helped in the drafting of the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms,” which included religious references. His initial draft cited God and religious freedom and “those powers which our creator hath given us.” His draft also indicated a belief in a God who responded to prayer to intervene in human affairs, for it said “we devoutly implore the assistance of Almighty God to…dispose his majesty, his ministers, & parliament to reconciliation with us…”

Jefferson’s expressions of faith in public documents and acts were not the only indication of his faith in 1775. While in Philadelphia, there is also evidence that he attended church, as was his custom for most of his life (when available). His account book for July 14 says that he “…put in church box at German Church.” This church that he supported was apparently the German Lutheran Church in that city, led by Rev. Henry M. Muhlenberg (but also could have been the German Reformed church). Jefferson attended and donated again in October. This may have been the first time he worshiped at a different denomination than the one in which he was raised, and shows the willingness that Jefferson had to support various expressions of Christian faith even though many of the colonies still had laws limiting religious freedom. Jefferson had an unusual openeness in an era when interdenominational persecution was still common.

1776 was a watershed year for both political and religious freedom. Jefferson was again in Philadelphia at Congress beginning May 14. He also wrote a preliminary draft of a constitution for Virginia on June 13 that said: “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.” It represented his first expression on this topic. But his intellectual talents were also drawn on by the Congress to draft a Declaration of Independence.

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