Jefferson Often Corresponded with Clergymen

It is a common myth that Thomas Jefferson was some sort of lifelong skeptic of the Christian faith. Certainly in the last decade or so of his life, he harbored serious doubts about some key Christian doctrines. But the man’s faith (or lack thereof) is much more nuanced than we are led to believe. Our book, DOUBTING THOMAS, documents this. In 1777, when he was in his thirties, before some Unitarian-inspired doubts came upon him, Jefferson was an active lay-leader who helped create an evangelical church, the Calvinistical Reformed Church of Charlottesville, with an evangelical pastor, Rev. Charles Clay. Furthermore, the book documents that, regardless of his private beliefs and doubts, he certainly did not subscribe to the common view of the separation of God and state.

Jefferson fondly corresponded throughout his adult life with clergymen. Here is one small example of that from our book, DOUBTING THOMAS by Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe. Some northern clergy were strong supporters of Jefferson. In New York, a layman named Peter H. Wendover of the Dutch Reformed Church, who was a Democratic-Republican Congressman, sent a sermon from a New York pastor to Jefferson on January 30, 1815 entitled A Scriptural View of the Character, Causes, and Ends of the Present War (the War of 1812) by Rev. Alexander McLeod of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Rev. McLeod was a friendly clergy ally of Jefferson. Jefferson replied to Wendover on March 13, telling him: “Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to Mr [Peter] Wendover and his thanks for the volume of mr [Alexander] Mcleod’s discourses which he has been so kind as to send him. He has seen with great satisfaction the able proofs adduced by the eloquent author from Scriptural sources, in justification of a war so palpably supported by reason, he supposes indeed that true religion and well informed reason will ever be in unison in the hands of candid interpretation and that in the impassioned endeavors to place these two great authorities at variance, on so important a question, the Eastern clergy have not deserved well either of their religion or their country. He renders deserved honor to [Rev.] mr Mcleod for the piety and patriotism of his discourses, and salutes mr Wendover with respect and esteem.”

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson include a longer unsent version of this letter that will be discussed later.

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