The Mudslinging of the 1800 Election

1800 marks the first overt attack on Jefferson’s faith ever. There had been a couple vague attacks a couple years earlier without naming Jefferson specifically or identifying a specific sign of heretodoxy. Many scholars note that this was for political reasons by northerners associated with the Federalist opposing party. Jefferson made a few critical comments on those northerners who did it, but his first critical statement against Presbyterian clergy in general was not until 1820.[1] Throughout his entire life there is only one clergyman south of New York that ever attacked Jefferson’s faith that we know of. That one person was in Philadelphia. None were in Virginia. Jefferson seemed to hold orthodox beliefs for at least 40 of his adult years and perhaps 50. And even then his growing sympathy with Unitarianism was not expressed publicly, and he still worshipped in traditional orthodox churches. We define orthodox as defined by the core doctrines of historic Christianity, as found, for example, in the Apostles’ Creed.

Despite the overwhelming number of positive relationships with clergy in politics in Jefferson’s lifetime, an image developed especially during the mud-slinging of the 1800 election, America’s first heated presidential campaign. Allegations against Jefferson’s faith were heard in some quarters. We should note at the outset that such criticism as we’re about to hear never once came from Virginia or any clergyman from the south.

[1] We will see in chapter 11 on the University of Virginia that his criticisms against Presbyterians, in particular in the last few years of his life, came in the midst of controversies surrounding that school.

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