Politics Can Be a Dirty Business

Politics can be a dirty business. Just ask Thomas Jefferson. Some of the negative things being said about Jefferson, questioning whether he was a Christian, first came out as political statements against the Virginia politician when he was running for president in 1800. This helped create a misleading image of Jefferson as a lifelong skeptic. But these hits were politically motivated. This does not mean that later in life Jefferson privately seemed to harbor some serious doubts about some of the core Christian doctrines.

Uriah McGregory wrote Jefferson on July 19, 1800 to tell the negative things he heard Rev. Cotton Mather Smith of Sharon, Connecticut, say about Jefferson’s financial dealings. Jefferson replied on August 13 saying: from the moment that a portion of my fellow citizens [looked towards me] with a view to one of their highest offices, the floodgates of calumny have been opened upon me; not where I am personally known [i.e., in Virginia], where their slanders would be [instant]ly judged & suppressed, from a general sense of their falshood; but in the remote parts of the union, where the means of detection are not at hand,”

At this same moment, Jefferson’s evangelical allies corresponded with him. The Rev. Jeremiah Moore was a Baptist leader in Fairfax, Virginia, who apparently had delivered a petition to Jefferson over 15 years before. Moore wrote Jefferson on July 12, 1800, wondering if Jefferson still supported that clause in the Virginia constitution that prohibited clergy from holding elected office. Jefferson had not authored that particular clause but had supported it. On August 14 Jefferson replied, saying: “…after 17 years more of experience and reflection, I do not approve. It is the incapacitation of a clergyman from being elected. The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, & ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man. They are still so in many countries & even in some of these United States;…It now appears that our means were effectual. The clergy here [in Virginia] seem to have relinquished all pretension to privilege and to stand on a footing with lawyers, physicians, etc. They ought therefore to possess the same rights.”


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