Jefferson’s Response to the Unfair Attacks on his Religion in the 1800 Election

Jefferson biographer Merrill Peterson comments on how Jefferson took this criticism. Jefferson was “personally hurt by the smear campaign” but thought it was reaction to his position of disestablishment which northerners had yet to embrace as Virginia had done. Note how Jefferson dealt with this unjustified criticism; he trusted that God would eventually hold accountable those who had lied about him. “I know that I might have filled the courts of the United States with actions for these slanders, and have ruined perhaps many persons who are innocent. But this would be no equivalent for the loss of character. I leave them, therefore, to the reproof of their own consciences. If these do not condemn them, there yet come a day when the false witness will meet a judge who has not slept over his slanders.”[1]

Author/professor Daniel Dreisbach shows how Adams, as well as Jefferson, was hurt by the false accusations against their religious beliefs (or the reported lack thereof): “Both men were deeply wounded by the vicious attacks on their characters and the ruinous campaign tactics. An anguished Jefferson compared his persecution at the hands of critics—especially among the New England clergy—with the crucified Christ: ‘from the clergy I expect no mercy. They crucified their Saviour, who preached that their kingdom was not of this world; and all who practice on that precept must expect the extreme of their wrath. The laws of the present day withhold their hands from blood; but lies and slander still remain to them.’”[2]

Despite all the dire predictions should Jefferson win, the new nation carried on. Writes Peterson: “Direct consequences were predicted from seating a visionary, a demagogue, and a ‘howling atheist’ at the head of the nation. But in the victory celebrations even church bells rang for Jefferson.”[3]

[1] Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, 639, 640.

[2] Dreisbach, “The Wall of Separation,”

[3] Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, 642.

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