“The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”

[Picture: Statue of Sir William Blackstone, the eminent British jurist] When Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, he touched on religion when it mentioned “…the laws of nature and of nature’s God” and “…We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal.” Jefferson’s phrase “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” was clearly defined by Blackstone’s Commentaries as meaning the unwritten law of God in creation and the revealed law of God in the Bible.

Louisiana State University professor Ellis Sandoz writes that Jefferson’s language: “. . .harmonizes with the Christian religious and Whig political consensus that prevailed in the country at the time; . . . (and with) traditional Christian natural law and rights going back to Aquinas…” Similar language was used by the Protestant John Calvin, John Locke and others. See Sandoz, A Government of Laws, pp. 190-191. Jefferson defined the law of  nature in 1793 as: “the moral Law to which man has been subjected by his creator,” Opinion on the Treaties with France, 28 April 1793.

Other references to God such as “endowed by their Creator” and “the Supreme Judge” and “the protection of divine providence” were added during the collaborative process by others in Congress before the final document was adopted but Jefferson never expressed any dissent with these phrases.

Providence terminology was used by his own pastor (Rev. Charles Clay) and orthodox theologians for many years, and was not known distinctly as an Enlightenment or Deist language. Jefferson wrote of God’s providential help in private letters as well. To Richard Henry Lee, Jefferson reported on the military front: “Our camps recruit slowly, amazing slowly. God knows in what it will end. The finger of providence has as yet saved us by retarding the arrival of Ld. Howe’s recruits.”

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