Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address

I came across this excellent address by Jefferson and if you’re pressed for time, just read the bold items below. If you’re REALLY pressed for time, just read the items in blue which directly relate to our Republican form of government.

Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

March 4, 1801

Friends and Fellow-Citizens:

Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire. A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye—when I contemplate these transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of this beloved country committed to the issue, and the auspices of this day, I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking. Utterly, indeed, should I despair did not the presence of many whom I here see remind me that in the other high authorities provided by our Constitution I shall find resources of wisdom, of virtue, and of zeal on which to rely under all difficulties. To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever State or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people—a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

I repair, then, fellow-citizens, to the post you have assigned me. With experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country’s love and destined for him the fairest page in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation implied by your suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.

Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will, I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make. And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.

18 Responses to “Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address”

  • Maple:

    Too bad Jefferson will be the President who starts our country down the path of Big Government. He couldn't even stick to these principles he espouses in this speech. I guess once one is enlightened as to what really must happen at a National level they see the bigger picture than their personal politics and biases.
    Oak, I think you could learn from this. As much as I appreciate your cherry picking of this speech, as you seem to do with every quote and speech you find and post as proof of your agenda, you need to look at everything presented in a speech and article and not just the parts that promote your ideals. Apparently you have missed, “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” I would say that this quote shows that Democracy and Republic and the interpretations you apply to them are like splitting hairs of the same principle. The whole context of Jefferson's speech is anti-tyranny not Democracy vs. Republic. No one would disagree that a tyrannt is worse than a representative government that Jefferson promotes in this speech. You have been told this before but choose to manipulate the fact that a Republic is a form of Democracy (or representative government). I wish in all your google searching you could realize you are blatantly misinterpreting the issues you are trying to push onto the patrons of ASD.
    On a side argument, I guess if you are willing to promote Jefferson and his proclaimed ideas for our country then you are also promoting his private life and having extra-martial affairs. Because Jefferson did have extra-marital affairs and therefore is anti-marriage, honesty, loyalty, faithfulness, Godliness, etc. Or that you are promoting Atheism since C.S. Lewis was an Atheist since he was an Atheist for a good part of his life. If you are going to quote an Atheist on this site then I guess you are espousing the ideals of atheism. Lewis did go back to his religion, but did he ever really overcome his atheistic views of the world? We will never know because we didn't personally know him.
    At least those things would be true based on your argument that ASD is trying to create a curriculum to promote Socialism to our students because John Dewey believed in Socialism. A persons public ideas to make a better world for people and their personal beliefs and practices can be separated- with Jefferson, Lewis, and Dewey.

  • Posting as Maple or Walnut is clever but honestly…can't you do better than that? I haven't had someone tease me about my name since my high school years. If you continue to get upset at me though, feel free to call me a son of a birch. :)

    Cherry picking by posting Jefferson's first inaugural speech??? The point of this is to show that Jefferson knew we were a Republic. As any good liberal, you've felt compelled to denigrate the man by bringing extra-marital affairs into your argument. I know it's popular to bash Jefferson for his supposed relationship with Sally Hemmings, but it's far more likely that his younger brother was the actual culprit. It wasn't in Jefferson's character to do it.

    I have to chuckle that you keep bashing me for posting a comment without the entire speech, but then you'll completely make stuff up to attack me with like saying Franklin was pulling a prank on the delegates at the constitutional convention regarding prayer in the service, or this stuff about C.S. Lewis. You say we'll never know if Lewis overcame his atheistic views because we don't know him, but you're willing to throw Jefferson under the bus without knowing him either. Lewis wrote so many books on Christianity down to his dying days, it's laughable you would even raise such an argument.

  • Maple:

    The Cherry picking I was referring to was your chosen selections to have people read. You are encouraging them to believe that those are the only words that matter in this article. As I pointed out earlier, the main context of what Jefferson was saying was related to Tyranny and the Monarchy that most Americans had just fought against. You also pick out little quotes from the Founding Fathers and do not look at or ignore the overall context of what they are saying. I truly hope you understand that what somebody says is impacted by what is happening around them at the time. You seem to feel that these little quotes are universally applied from the 1780's to the entire future of our country.
    I have not made up anything I have ever posted on here. As for Jefferson's character, I did bot throw him under the bus, I stated something widely accepted in the Historical world- I guess it is not accepted in the blind conservative world you live in though. I am glad you are an expert on Jefferson's character as much as you are an expert on Dewey and Goodlad. I am sure those two men were pure evil and had no character at all; besides trying to make sure that ALL children in this country receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Clearly they were evil men and our local school district should not be associated with them. Without men like Dewey and Goodlad, we would be like the 3rd world nations of the world where only the wealthy are educated.
    I can't help but feel that you have a personal grudge against ASD. Did they do something personal against you? Utah does provide some decent Charter schools you can enroll your children into and then get on one of those Boards and make that school into what you want it to be.
    As for people making fun of you, trust me it is happening all over Utah County.

  • Lets see, the purpose of this site is to remind people we live in a Republic. I mention at the top of the page to read Jefferson's address but if they don't have time, at least read the highlights. You're right, I cherry picked those highlights.

    If you don't know Jefferson's character, try reading “The Real Thomas Jefferson.” The first 1/2 of the book is biography, and the last half is indexed quotes by him. It's a nice resource. There's also “The Real George Washington” and “The Real Benjamin Franklin” which are similarly laid out and excellent reads.

    You do throw Jefferson under the bus when in the middle of discussing policy you feel the need to toss in alleged extra-marital affairs. It's highly debatable whether or not it was him and had nothing to do with the discussion.

    As for Dewey and Goodlad, they can stand on their own. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If you haven't looked into the Humanist Manifesto, which Dewey was an original signer, it specifically identifies itself as a religion and it is an atheistic document. If you are LDS which you seemed to indicate in another post, these individuals are “Korihors” who espouse a lot of good stuff and have ulterior motives to tear down God.

    I have no “grudge” against ASD. I'm sure a lot of people think so based on a shallow examination of the facts. I have a “grudge” against people indoctrinating my children in false philosophies. That doesn't mean every teacher or administrator is trying to do that, but some in power are promoting Goodlad's “social democracy” model which is *defined* as a move from capitalism to socialism. I stand against that.

    As for people making fun of me, I stand in good company. However, it is quite juvenile to make fun of someone's name and not have the courage to post your own name.

  • lewisbarnavelt:

    I prefer to read things within their full context, including historical context, rather than focus on phrases “in blue or black” that remove the overall context. I can't believe that you encourage people to read just your highlighted portions. The entire inaugural address relates to our republic.

    You failed to highlight a very important passage in the address “but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Notice he uses words such as “majority” “common efforts” and “common good.”

    Yes, we are a Republic and yes, Thomas Jefferson describes our government as such, but he also refers to the democratic principles that underlie our republic. This a speech for all citizens whether they be Federalists or Republicans, this is not a speech limited to representatives. The parts you have highlighted are not referring to those who want some form of direct democracy or mob rule, but are references to the tyrannical British system that precipitated the American Revolution.
    Remember, Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd President, and the revolution was still fresh in the minds of many Americans and evoking principles that led to the revolution was often used as fodder for speeches such as this. You have to look at the larger picture, Oak, rather than just pick sound bites that support your particular ideology.

  • lewisbarnavelt:

    Does Goodlad tear down God, or is he promoting the separation of church and state as our founding fathers wanted? I think our founding fathers would be shocked to see an America today that has religious zealots trying to insert themselves into government and policy. In fact our founding fathers would be quite offended at modern-day efforts to portray them as demi-gods. Don't forget that when our country was founded our congressional sessions were held on Sunday and they didn't celebrate Christmas. It seems that religion has since been trying to make inroads into our government when our early government and founders made such serious efforts to keep it out. Also, don't forget that many of our founding fathers were deists and had plenty of negative things to say in regards to organized religion. So Oak, if you wish to take America back to the original intent of our founding fathers concerning the definition of democracy, do you also agree with taking us back to a less religion-oriented government.

    “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church” –Thomas Paine

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” –Thomas Jefferson

    “I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.” –Thomas Jefferson

    “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” –Thomas Jefferson

    “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” –Thomas Jefferson

  • Lewis, I did encourage everyone to read the entire speech, but I know full well that most people aren't going to do it. My point in posting this is in response to other comments I've received that Jefferson said we were a democracy and I wanted to point out that he very clearly stated we were a republic. Obviously the majority wins elections and under the law of the Constitution, we are united toward a common goal and efforts. This isn't a slight on “democratic principles” and the election process.

  • Ugh, my browser crashed when I had a lengthy response written. :(

    So here goes again.

    First, thanks for the Jefferson quote on blindfolded fear. Glenn Beck quotes that more than any other line but I've never had it written down.

    Next, and a little more truncated than last time, among the Founding Fathers, the great mass of them were Christians. This page (…) tallys them by religion and then lists them individually by the documents they signed. There were only 3 deists among them all, Franklin, Jefferson, and one other. Then you have to get into how long were they really deists and did they modify their position, etc…

    I encourage you to take into consideration your quotes contrasted with this statement which illustrates that Jefferson really had a belief in the teachings of Jesus if not his divinity.

    “If the freedom of religion guaranteed to us by law in theory can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by his pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity. This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it.” (The Real Thomas Jefferson, pg 301)

    Clearly Jefferson saw the perversions over the centuries as people did horrid things in the name of Jesus that Jesus never advocated. You cannot blame Jesus for what awful things people have done in his name.

    You also have Jefferson's greatest work, the Declaration of Independence, which 4 times invokes deity in it. He believed in God, but just didn't necessarily believe in the miracles and deity of Jesus.

    Next, Franklin clearly displayed his beliefs in the Constitutional Convention. When they were in heated discussion and not making much progress, Franklin offered these words.

    “In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need [His] assistance?

    “I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest.

    “I, therefore, beg leave to move:

    “That hereafter prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

    (Smyth, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 9:600-601.)

    This motion failed because they had no funds to hire clergymen and because the people didn't want to change the proceedings at that point after having carried on so far without it. It did have the effect of settling the mood though and within a short time they accomplished their task.

    I like this quote from Franklin as well.

    “That Being who gave me existence, and through almost threescore years has been continually showering his favors upon me, whose very chastisements have been blessings to me; can I doubt that he loves me? And, if he loves me, can I doubt that he will go on to take care of me, not only here but hereafter? This to some may seem presumption; to me it appears the best grounded hope: hope of the future, built on experience of the past.” -Smyth 4:248

    And this one:
    “Being mindful that before I address the Deity my soul ought to be calm and serene, free from passion and perturbation, or otherwise elevated with rational joy and pleasure, I ought to use a countenance that expresses a filial respect, with a kind of smiling, that signifies inward joy, and satisfaction, and admiration.” – Smyth 2:94

    And this one:
    “Having taken care to do what appears to be for the best, we must submit to God's providence which orders all things really for the best.”-Smyth 3:103

    My understanding is that Franklin was a deist for some time in his younger years, but clearly he resolved the issue within himself and moved on with a solid belief in the involvement and blessings of a benevolent God.

  • lewisbarnavelt:

    Thanks for the quotes. Like I said before, these men were deists. I'm well aware that not all of the founding fathers were deists but belonged to a congregation (I have visited the North Church in Boston for instance where the Adams' attended church), but the more influential framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution certainly made their deist points quite clear in those documents (separation of church and state) and the fact that Christianity was not specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

  • Lewis, what is the reason that you and others bring up the deist issue? I'm curious because this site is all about advocating our proper form of government but you and others have brought this up sort of out of the blue and I'm not sure why. When you say “these men were deists” who specifically are you referring to and what definition of deist are you using? Even Franklin acknowledged the Lord in his statement above which was after any period of non-belief in Jesus.

  • Maple:

    Oak, I believe you do have a personal grudge against ASD and that is what it driving you. Your misuse and misinterpretations of history and religion have blinded you to what is really going on. As I mentioned elsewhere, you are misleading people due to your own personal issues.
    It is a widely known fact that you were a big player in the anti-investigations Math issue (I agree ASD should have never implemented that mess), you were also quite involved in the disputes over the Lone Peak boundary issues, and finally you became very upset with ASD when they would not let you add your little part to the “In God Trust” poster issue. So How can you claim you do not have a grudge against ASD when the last 8 years of your life have been focused on changing things in ASD? You are a hypocrite and liar. Your motives belie your true intentions.

  • Maple:

    I believe the reason that Lewis and I have attacked your argument through deism and atheism is that you have spouted religion and used religious leaders quotes as some of the reasons ASD must change its Mission Statement.

  • Sorry Maple, there's no grudge and I've expressed that to the board members. There's nothing personal. As for a big player in the Investigations math fiasco, absolutely. Check out As for Lone Peak boundary issues, I don't even know what you're talking about so no, I wasn't involved in whatever that was. As for the “In God We Trust” national motto posters, we printed them and distributed them to the schools free of charge and offered them to teachers to post in their classrooms if they chose to. Most did and were appreciative. Again, no big deal.

  • lewisbarnavelt:

    There is no disrespect in saying that these men were deists. In fact I respect them for their deism which was part of the European Enlightenment ideals that helped shape our nation through their influence of our Founding Fathers. I agree that Franklin recognized the Lord as did Thomas Jefferson, and others, but to be a deist doesn't mean that you don't believe in God. It just means that you don't believe in any particular organized religion. The deist beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and others played an important role in developing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I believe that their deism created a system of government where all religions were welcome. Deism was a fixture of the 18th century Enlightenment and were personified in varying degrees by these more well known founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Gov. Morris, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and even, George Washington. I'm sorry if the realities of history may not fit your perfect world, but these were great men whose ideologies shaped our revolution and our government and they shouldn't be subject to disgraceful revisionist history. The truth is that we don't know everything about our founding fathers including all of their intents and the beliefs held in their hearts. I'm willing to admit that. Are you?

  • I certainly don't mind the discussion here, I just wondered where the comments about deists came from? I've never advocated a state religion, I said Goodlad was an atheist and he actually is in favor of a state religion called humanism (self-described as a religion in the Humanist Manifesto) which he believes should be the anti-Christian religion of choice to be forced into our schools. Technically, that is “establishing” a secular religion and is a violation of the constitution.
    You said ” The truth is that we don't know everything about our founding fathers including all of their intents and the beliefs held in their hearts. I'm willing to admit that. Are you?” Ironically, right above this you listed a number of men and said they were deists in varying degrees. How do you know that?

    What follows is the result of research I've just done over the last couple days. It's been fascinating and by no means complete, but it is a starting point which I'm happy to receive feedback on. Please feel free to critique it and make comments which may help me refine this thought process.

    This page (…) shows the religious preferences of the men who signed the Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution, and out of the over 200 individual signers, only 3 were identified as deists and among those 3, Franklin was clearly a Christian who believed God was intricately interested in our lives by the time he was signing the Constitution as the above account clearly shows. Jefferson may not have believed in Jesus' divinity but he believed the teachings of Jesus were the most sublime and benevolent of any of the ancient philosophers. Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independence 4 references to deity and the important fact that our natural rights come from God. The only other deist was a man named Cornelius Harnett from North Carolina who only signed the Articles of Confederation. I know nothing about him. Washington clearly believed in Christ and attended church.

    Jefferson is obviously a great and influential man, but he wasn't a participant at the Constitutional convention. Nowhere in the constitution does the phrase “separation of church and state” appear. That comes from a personal letter he wrote a minister friend. It wasn't “deist beliefs” that played an important role in the development of the Declaration or Constitution and the separation Jefferson refers to, it was strong men of differing opinions sharing a belief that men should be able to choose for themselves what to believe. They were appalled at the choke-hold the Church of England had over people so they wrote into the constitution several elements to ensure the government had no ability to control the thoughts of citizens.
    So to go into this a little further, here's my understanding on what that means.

    Jefferson clearly understood that there were at least these three elements regarding religion written into the constitution.

    1) Article VI: “[legislators and officers must support this constitution]… but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    2) Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

    3) Amendment X: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    The first, Article VI, was clearly in response to their distaste for the Church of England's influence to prescribe the beliefs of an individual before allowing them to hold public office.

    The second specifically forbids the federal government from medling with religion or interfering in the free speech of anyone else. The freedom of conscience and freedom to worship as you choose didn't originate with deists, it came because there were many different people of differing religions involved and they all wanted to worship as they saw fit. Over 200 men signed the 3 major founding documents. Your list of deists is questionable at best.

    Neither of these items forbids religious leaders from making statements regarding politics, but prevents the establishment of a national religion or any kind of litmus test to hold office. The religious leaders of the Revolutionary era stirred the souls of the people to rise up and cast off England and nobody condemned them in those actions (except perhaps the pro-England factions). It was clearly within the freedom of speech rights of religious leaders to participate in civic affairs, but not vice-versa for the government to meddle in religious sects.

    The third element, the 10th Amendment, Jefferson illustrates his understanding of in this commentary from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation on the differing roles of state versus federal involvement.


    While Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, the Continental Congress sent a circular to the state executives recommending a day of public thanksgiving. Jefferson sent the circular to the Virginia House of Delegates which wrote out the actual proclamation and sent it for his signature. Jefferson signed this proclamation for a day of “Thanksgiving and Prayer” to be held on December 9, 1779. It must be remembered that the governor of Virginia at this time was a relatively weak office. The General Assembly formulated policy, not the governor. This proclamation did not establish a permanent annual observance.

    When Jefferson was President, he expressed some hesitancy to endorse proclamations of this sort. Jefferson wrote in a letter to Reverend Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808, in response to Miller's proposal that he “recommend” a national day of fasting and prayer: “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. …But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from…civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.


    So Jefferson signed the state level observance, but felt he didn't have the right or ability to do it at the federal level because it was unconstitutional and reserved to the states through the Constitution.

    Jefferson wrote his minister friend in Danbury, Connecticut the famous letter of the protective wall between church and state in 1802 (full text: not to say religious leaders can't have a say in politics, which is a first amendment right, but to protect people from the *federal* government ever having an influence in prescribing how the citizens of the states must think or act. Thus his minority religion minister friend was being told that Jefferson couldn't influence anything in Connecticut because Jefferson as president had no authority to do anything related to religion within the bounds of a state.

    Further evidence of this is the fact that both Connecticut and Massachusetts actually had state mandated religions well into the 1800's, *during and after* Jefferson wrote the “wall” letter and yet Jefferson took no action as president to remove those states' religious preferences. (…)

    He viewed the states as sovereign entities that had the power to establish a state religion if they wanted to, though in today's climate it would be political suicide so it's not going to happen, nor does anyone care to see it happen. The Framers just wanted freedom of religion so people could choose what they want to believe without being told what they must believe, especially if it was used as a test to holding public office.

    So to summarize, it seems that in Jefferson's view, the federal body has no authority to do anything one way or another regarding religion, but the state has the constitutional authority to establish a religion or proclaim a day of prayer or whatever it wants (unless of course they've written into their own state constitution that it was illegal).

    Before you jump all over me for writing these things, this is just my first take on what appears to be Jefferson's views based on his statement and actions above. I'm open to enlightenment if anyone wants to correct this. :)

    On a separate note, the reason I shared some quotes from LDS leaders on various pages/posts of the site is because I'm a member of that church and the majority of people in Utah happen to be LDS and Utah is really my target audience so I posted them. If there was a need to find quotes from Baptists, Catholics, and others, I'd be happy to post it if it was relevant and at my fingertips like the LDS quotes were. Of course, the Founders and Framers of the country were mostly in this category so I guess I've got the bases covered by posting quotes from them as well. :)

  • Lanie J.:

    Maple, Since you seem to know so much about Mr. Norton, it would be nice if you'd use your real name instead of this “Maple” (tree) business? How can you criticize Oak Norton (who I don't even know myself) by saying things like “[what's] driving you” and “[your] personal agenda” when that is exactly what you are doing? It just feels like an oxymoron of sorts. No one should be criticized for their personal opinion. Can't you just respectfully disagree on this matter? Why do people feel the need to put down someone for their opinion? I have talked with others about this issue who have a different view than mine and there are no feelings of such anger. I truly don't know where it comes from. It feels like (on a smaller scale of course) the prop 8 stuff in Calif. People can get angry – but not at opinions, only the actions to those opinions. Sounds to me like you have a personal vendetta against Mr. Norton, and should simply leave it alone here and let this blog be useful for its intended purpose. Thank you.

  • Lanie J.:

    Maple, Since you seem to know so much about Mr. Norton, it would be nice if you'd use your real name instead of this “Maple” (tree) business? How can you criticize Oak Norton (who I don't even know myself) by saying things like “[what's] driving you” and “[your] personal agenda” when that is exactly what you are doing? It just feels like an oxymoron of sorts. No one should be criticized for their personal opinion. Can't you just respectfully disagree on this matter? Why do people feel the need to put down someone for their opinion? I have talked with others about this issue who have a different view than mine and there are no feelings of such anger. I truly don't know where it comes from. It feels like (on a smaller scale of course) the prop 8 stuff in Calif. People can get angry – but not at opinions, only the actions to those opinions. Sounds to me like you have a personal vendetta against Mr. Norton, and should simply leave it alone here and let this blog be useful for its intended purpose. Thank you.

  • karinm:

    For the type of response that you've received, I would just like to say you must be on the right track…and as both a mother (raising the NEXT generation) and a voter, I MORE than appreciate all that you are doing. The arguments presented against you seem vitriolic and inaccurate. Thanks again for all you do. You put up with a lot of abuse on behalf of so MANY.