Gratuitous picture of Dillane’s Jefferson supplied by me, because we all need eye candy from time to time.
Over the years, Thomas Jefferson has been accused of atheism, cutting up the Bible, detesting religion and desiring its separation from politics, and fathering children with a slave girl, Sally Hemings. A few of these rumors are taught as “facts” in the classroom, or are widely assumed to be true. Most of them are fabrications, a few are outright lies, and some are taken out of context.
Who was the real Thomas Jefferson? He struggled with his faith. He had very strong opinions. He was an idealist. He was a deeply personal man, who loved his wife with utter devotion, and mourned her loss in the depths of the blackest despair. He suffered from horrific migraines that in his later years kept him bedridden for days on end. He was one of the most articulate, brilliant minds of his generation.
There is a new book out by David Barton that proves how wrong our modern idea of him is, and reveals the origins of where most of our misinformation comes from. After I read the book (entitled “The Jefferson Lies”) I realized how wrong and maligned our perspective on him has been over the last century, and how deep of a faith he actually had.
Jefferson really did cut scriptures out of Bibles, but not because he denied the divinity of Christ. (That is the most popular way scholars try to claim he was anti-religious.) The first reason for cutting up one of his Bibles was because he was cutting out important verses to include in an Indian Bible. Jefferson believed it was best to instruct Indians in the ways of Christ, and then in the miracles of Christ. The second reason was because he was putting what he thought were the most inspiring verses into a personal diary to keep with him everyday. He was not trying to make his own Bible which left out doctrine he didn’t like. He was trying to do quite the opposite. He was creating a private devotional of his own with his own favorite verses and passages. He never intended for this “Bible” to be made public.
Many use the “separation of church and state” comment Jefferson wrote in a letter to say that he was against religion in government. This could not be further from the truth. He believed government had no business making an “official” church or exercising political authority over faith-based groups. He believed in the “separation of church and state” not to protect the government from religion, but to protect religion from the government. If Jefferson believed religion had no place in government, why would he authorize using federal funds for missionary work among the Indians? Why would he be part of a group that agreed to start church services each week in the capitol building?
Today it is taught that Sally Hemings bore the illegitimate children of Thomas Jefferson. What most history books fail to include is that the so-called “DNA evidence” is not only inconclusive, but the tests never included the DNA of Thomas Jefferson himself. All the DNA proves is that some of her children were fathered by a Jefferson. There were a dozen male Jeffersons living in the immediate area. It should also be noted that this rumor was started by a journalist with a grudge. Jefferson refused to give in to this person’s blackmail and appoint him to a local government post, and shortly thereafter the Sally Hemings story started. (The book In Defense of Thomas Jefferson, by William Hyland, explores all the evidence in the case, if you wish to hear all the pros and cons.)
There is nothing to prove Jefferson was pro-slavery. He owned slaves out of obligation. He inherited many through his marriage, and regarded them as “family” so much so that he nearly went broke over his refusal to sell his slaves to cover his mounting debts. He didn’t want them going to unknown homes or having their families broken up.
Thomas Jefferson, like all the other founders, even at his best was imperfect, but he never desecrated the Holy Scriptures, never was pro-slavery, and never had affairs with his slave girls. He was not the most religious of the founders, but neither was he an atheist. Out of all the Founding Fathers, for some reason, possibly his involvement in writing The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is the most maligned. But you can take heart. He wasn’t the man you’ve probably been told he was. ♥