The idea that Thomas Jefferson was a total skeptic is not accurate. He was often a regular church-goer when it was available to him. Here are some things we wrote in DOUBTING THOMAS about our third president’s active church life.
On December 28, 1801, James Jackson wrote Thomas Jefferson, saying that he stopped by to see him but “…found you were gone to Church in the Morning…” The editors of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson say of this that: “When the federal government moved to Washington, TJ began attending Sunday worship services at Christ Church, an Episcopalian parish founded in Washington in 1795 that met in a converted tobacco house at what is now New Jersey Avenue and D Street. In 1807, the congregation moved to G Street to a newly constructed building designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, which had a pew reserved for the president. TJ was an admirer and supporter of its pastor, Reverend Andrew McCormick. He also chose to attend services held in the House of Representatives on occasion.
These services in the Capitol at first were held in the Supreme Court chamber before the construction of the House of Representatives Chamber was completed. Although Jefferson quickly connected and established his membership and financially supported the Episcopal parish in Washington, the first record of his financial support did not appear in his account book until July 2, 1804, but it references commitments for previous years. Rev. McCormick became Jefferson’s primary pastor during most of his two terms in Washington.
I remember telling a friend one time that, as president, Thomas Jefferson regularly attended Christian worship services on Sunday at the U.S. Capitol building. He said, “He did? But what about the separation of church and state?” Yeah, what about it? Especially in light of the fact that Jefferson was the source for that phrase “separation of church and state.” Clearly, the founders never intended any kind of separation of God and state. What they were trying to avoid was the government, at the federal level, establishing a national religion (like the Church of England).