Jefferson, Thomas

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Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph and designed the obelisk grave marker that was to bear three of his accomplishments and “not a word more:” “HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. BORN APRIL 2, 1743. DIED JULY 4. 1826.” He could have filled several markers had he chosen to list his other public offices: third president of the new United States, vice president, secretary of state, diplomatic minister, and congressman. For his home state of Virginia he served as governor and member of the House of Delegates and the House of Burgesses as well as filling various local offices — all tallied into almost five decades of public service. He also omitted his work as a lawyer, architect, writer, farmer, gentleman scientist, and life as patriarch of an extended family at Monticello.

He offered no particular explanation as to why only these three accomplishments should be recorded, but they were unique to Jefferson. Other men would serve as U.S. president and hold the public offices he had filled, but only he was the primary draftsman of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, nor could others claim the position as the Father of the University of Virginia. More importantly, through these three accomplishments he had made an enormous contribution to the aspirations of a new America and to the dawning hopes of repressed people around the world. He had dedicated his life to meeting the challenges of his age: political freedom, religious freedom, and educational opportunity. While he knew that we would continue to face these challenges through time, he believed that America’s democratic values would become a beacon for the rest of the world. He never wavered from his belief in the American experiment.

I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves…
Thomas Jefferson, 2 July 1787

He spent much of his life laying the groundwork to insure that the great experiment would continue.

Early Life and Monticello

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, on his father’s plantation of Shadwell located along the Rivanna River in the Piedmont region of central Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.1 His father Peter Jefferson was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families. When Jefferson was fourteen, his father died, and he inherited a sizeable estate of approximately 5,000 acres. That inheritance included the house at Shadwell, but Jefferson dreamed of living on a mountain.2

In 1768 he contracted for the clearing of a 250 feet square site on the topmost point of the 868-foot mountain that rose above Shadwell and where he played as a boy.3 He would name this mountain Monticello, and the house that he would build and rebuild over a forty-year period took on this name as well. He would later refer to this ongoing project, the home that he loved, as my “essay in Architecture.”4 The following year, after preparing the site, he began construction of a small brick structure that would consist of a single room with a walk-out basement kitchen and workroom below. This would eventually be referred to as the South Pavilion and was where he lived first alone and then with his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton, following their marriage in January 1772.

Unfortunately, Martha would never see the completion of Monticello; she died in the tenth year of their marriage, and Jefferson lost “the cherished companion of my life.” Their marriage produced six children but only two survived into adulthood, Martha (known as Patsy) and Mary (known as Maria or Polly).5

Slavery

When it comes to slavery and Thomas Jefferson, most Americans think they know the truth – Jefferson fathered children with his own slave, Sally Hemings, and he refused to free his slaves upon his death. But the reality is those assumptions are myths. That’s from a historian who is taking on the most persistent misconceptions surrounding America’s most enigmatic Founding Father. David Barton, president of the pro-family organization WallBuilders and the author of “The Jefferson Lies,” says there is almost no evidence to suggest Jefferson actually fathered children with Hemings.

“To this day, most Americans think that DNA proved that Thomas Jefferson fathered the children of slave Sally Hemings,” said Barton. “But how can that be when Thomas Jefferson’s DNA was never tested? It was for this reason that the 1998 announcement of Jefferson’s alleged paternity was pulled only two weeks after the story’s release. But no one heard of that recall and correction.” The accusation Jefferson had fathered children with his slaves originated in the wild charges of James T. Callender. Callender was a onetime political ally of Jefferson who authored vitriolic attacks against Jefferson’s Federalist opponents. However, Callender eventually demanded then-President Jefferson appoint him Postmaster of Richmond, Virginia. When Jefferson refused, Callender turned his poison pen on Jefferson, accusing Jefferson of various misdeeds including fathering illegitimate children with Hemings.

Jefferson could have filed charges of libel. Instead, he trusted in God, writing, “[T]he false witness will meet a Judge who has not slept over his slanders.” These rumors remained largely unaccepted until 1998, when the magazine Nature proclaimed in a headline, “Jefferson fathered slave’s last child.” A DNA study showed a Y chromosome present in the Jefferson familial line was present in Eston Hemings, supposedly proving Thomas Jefferson had fathered the child. The supposed revelations, coming at a time when President Bill Clinton was facing his own accusations of sexual impropriety, were widely circulated, both to undermine the image of Thomas Jefferson and to make Clinton’s behavior seem less shocking.

However, as Barton notes, the study did not actually “prove” anything about Thomas Jefferson, especially because no DNA sample used in the testing had been taken from the Thomas Jefferson family line. Jefferson had no male descendants from which to take a DNA sample, as his only son had died soon after his birth. The Y chromosomes used in the test were taken from the descendants of Field Jefferson, Thomas’ uncle. What the test really proved is that some descendent of Field Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings resulting in the birth of Eston Hemings, her youngest son. There were twenty-six Jefferson males living in the area at the time.

Almost sheepishly, the authors of the study confessed in Nature a few weeks later, “The title assigned to our study was misleading in that represented only the simplest explanation of our molecular findings: namely, that Thomas Jefferson…was likely to have been the father of Eston Hemings Jefferson.” But this isn’t the full story. Oral tradition among the slaves at Monticello held Thomas Jefferson had fathered Thomas Woodson, Hemings’ oldest son. The study did completely prove Jefferson did not father that child, thus utterly destroying what was once held to be the strongest claim.

Furthermore, as Barton notes, many scholars now believe the father of Hemings’ younger child (and possibly of some of her other children) was Randolph Jefferson, Thomas’ brother. Some Hemings descendants had stories about “Uncle Randolph” and slave memoirs contain stories about Randolph Jefferson’s propensity to “come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night.” In contrast, no accounts have Thomas Jefferson socializing with his slaves in such a manner.

Jefferson family historian Herbert Barger argued his own study indicated Thomas Jefferson was not the father of any of Hemings’ children, but Randolph may have been the father of Eston and others. A Scholars’ Commission of respected academics with diverse views also concluded it was unlikely Jefferson had fathered any of Hemings’ children, with only one dissenting member suggesting Jefferson may have fathered Eston. The leaves saying it’s been “proven” Jefferson fathered children with Hemings as a lie.

Barton argues the media and many historians are similarly deceptive when describing Jefferson’s views on slavery and emancipation, especially Jefferson’s supposed failure to emancipate his slaves. “Many today who write about history spend much time in speculation and little time in researching facts,” said Barton. “They recklessly claim that Jefferson could have freed his slaves if he had wanted to; but history proves otherwise. Jefferson claimed that the laws of Virginia prevented him from freeing slaves, and records show that when other slaveholders emancipated their slaves, because of state laws they still remained in slavery even decades later. “Numerous historians of previous generations who sought for truth rather than political correctness affirm that the laws of Virginia did indeed forbid Jefferson from doing what he wanted to do throughout his long life: free his own slaves.”

One of Barton’s most persistent critics is Warren Throckmorton, a blogger and psychology professor who was widely cited in the campaign to pull the first edition of “The Jefferson Lies” from bookshelves. Throckmorton accused Barton of concealing the reality that Thomas Jefferson could have simply freed his slaves. But Barton says the situation was far more complicated, and takes on Throckmorton’s claim directly in a special section of the new edition. He argues Throckmorton seems to believe only one law governed emancipation in Virginia. In fact, he argues, there were many.

Because Jefferson suffered severe difficulties throughout his life, Barton says he would be exposing his slaves to possible re-enslavement if he tried to set them free. Barton observed: “Particularly relevant to Jefferson’s case was a law requiring the economic bonding of certain emancipated slaves… Jefferson… was unable to meet the added financial requirements of that emancipation law.”

Another law applicable to Jefferson also stated, “All slaves so emancipated shall be liable to be taken… to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them.” As Jefferson was, in today’s standards, millions of dollars in debt when he died, freeing the slaves might simply lead to them being taken by someone else.

Deist or Christian?

Thomas Jefferson, as we all know, was a skeptic, a man so hostile to Christianity that he scissored from his Bible all references to miracles. He was, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation tells us, “a Deist, opposed to orthodox Christianity and the supernatural.”

Or was he? While Jefferson has been lionized by those who seek to drive religion from public life, the true Thomas Jefferson is anything but their friend. He was anything but irreligious, anything but an enemy to Christian faith. Our nation’s third president was, in fact, a student of Scripture who attended church regularly, and was an active member of the Anglican Church, where he served on his local vestry. He was married in church, sent his children and a nephew to a Christian school, and gave his money to support many different congregations and Christian causes.

Moreover, his “Notes on Religion,” nine documents Jefferson wrote in 1776, are “very orthodox statements about the inspiration of Scripture and Jesus as the Christ,” according to Mark Beliles, a Providence Foundation scholar and author of an enlightening essay on Jefferson’s religious life.

Thomas Jefferson, as we all know, was a skeptic, a man so hostile to Christianity that he scissored from his Bible all references to miracles. He was, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation tells us, “a Deist, opposed to orthodox Christianity and the supernatural.”

Or was he? While Jefferson has been lionized by those who seek to drive religion from public life, the true Thomas Jefferson is anything but their friend. He was anything but irreligious, anything but an enemy to Christian faith. Our nation’s third president was, in fact, a student of Scripture who attended church regularly, and was an active member of the Anglican Church, where he served on his local vestry. He was married in church, sent his children and a nephew to a Christian school, and gave his money to support many different congregations and Christian causes.

Moreover, his “Notes on Religion,” nine documents Jefferson wrote in 1776, are “very orthodox statements about the inspiration of Scripture and Jesus as the Christ,” according to Mark Beliles, a Providence Foundation scholar and author of an enlightening essay on Jefferson’s religious life.

So what about the Jefferson Bible, that miracles-free version of the Scriptures? That, too, is a myth. It is not a Bible, but an abridgement of the Gospels created by Jefferson in 1804 for the benefit of the Indians. Jefferson’s “Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the New Testament for the Use of the Indians” was a tool to evangelize and educate American Indians. There is no evidence that it was an expression of his skepticism.

Raised Episcopalian, Jefferson believed that the New Testament had been polluted by early Christians eager to make Christianity palatable to pagans. He believed that they had mixed the words of Jesus with the teachings of Plato and the philosophy of the ancient Greeks. The authentic words of Jesus were still there, he assured his friend, John Adams. He determined to extract the “authentic” words of Jesus from the rubble which he believed surrounded His real words and it was intended as a primer for the Indians on Christ’s teachings, is commonly known as the “Jefferson Bible.”

Written in the front of his personal Bible, he wrote:

“I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.”

Jefferson, who gave his money to assist missionary work among the Indians, believed his “abridgement of the New Testament for the use of the Indians” would help civilize and educate America’s aboriginal inhabitants. Nor did Jefferson cut all miracles from his work, as Beliles points out. While the original manuscript no longer exists, the Table of Texts that survives includes several accounts of Christ’s healings.

But didn’t Jefferson believe in the complete separation of church and state? After all, Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Baptists in Danbury, Conn., in which he cited the First Amendment’s creation of a “wall of separation” between church and state, is an ACLU proof-text for its claim that the First Amendment makes the public square a religion-free zone. But if the ACLU is right, why, just two days after he sent his letter to the Danbury Baptists did President Jefferson attend public worship services in the U.S. Capitol building, something he did throughout his two terms in office? And why did he authorize the use of the War Office and the Treasury building for church services in Washington, D.C.?

In 1803, at the request of President Thomas Jefferson, the United States Congress allocated federal funds for the salary of a preacher and the construction of his church. That same year, Congress, again at Jefferson’s request, ratified a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians. Congress recognized that most of the members of the tribe had been converted to Christianity, and Congress gave a subsidy of $100.00 a year for seven years for the support of a priest so that he could “instruct as many … children as possible.”

On April 21, 1803, Jefferson wrote this to Dr. Benjamin Rush (also a signer of the Declaration of Independence):

“My views…are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others.”

In that same letter, he wrote,

“To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others.”

In a letter to William Short on October 31, 1819, he wrote:

“But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of His own country, was Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jefferson’s outlook on religion and government is more fully revealed in another 1802 letter in which he wrote that he did not want his administration to be a “government without religion,” but one that would “strengthen … religious freedom.”

Jefferson was a true friend of the Christian faith. But was he a true Christian? A nominal Christian – as demonstrated by his lifelong practice of attending worship services, reading the Bible, and following the moral principles of Christ – Jefferson was not, in my opinion, a genuine Christian. In 1813, after his public career was over, Jefferson rejected the deity of Christ. Like so many millions of church members today, he was outwardly religious, but never experienced the new birth that Jesus told Nicodemus was necessary to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Nonetheless, Jefferson’s presidential acts would, if done today, send the ACLU marching into court. He signed legislation that gave land to Indian missionaries, put chaplains on the government payroll, and provided for the punishment of irreverent soldiers. He also sent Congress an Indian treaty that set aside money for a priest’s salary and for the construction of a church.

Most intriguing is the manner in which Jefferson dated an official document. Instead of “in the year of our Lord,” Jefferson used the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ.” Christian historian David Barton has the proof – the original document signed by Jefferson on the “eighteenth day of October in the year of our Lord Christ, 1804.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1947 that Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state “must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” Judging from the record, it looks like the wall some say Tom built is, in fact, the wall Tom breached. The real Thomas Jefferson, it turns out, is the ACLU’s worst nightmare.

Defender of Liberty and Tough-guy on Terrorism

Historian David Barton told WND Jefferson led America’s first war against radical Islam. And the author of the bestselling book, “The Jefferson Lies” sees many parallels between the young republic’s struggle against the Barbary Pirates and the West’s current war against Muslim terrorists.

“The one thing Thomas Jefferson showed throughout his life is that he was diligent about and intolerant of violations of individual rights,” Barton said. “Jefferson was very clear that our people and property were entitled to protection wherever they go. And he was just as diligent to protect American rights in Europe and on the high seas as he was within America.”

During the period of the American Revolution and the early republic, American merchants and sailors were under constant threat from North African pirates from the Muslim powers known as the Barbary States. More than one million Europeans were captured and enslaved by Muslim raiders between the 16th and 18th centuries. One village in Ireland, Baltimore, was famously sacked and entirely depopulated by slavers.

Jefferson was well acquainted with this history. In Jefferson’s initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, he criticized the “Christian king of Great Britain for engaging in slavery, which he termed “this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers.” As the late Christopher Hitchens observed, “The allusion to Barbary practice seem[s] inescapable.”

But Jefferson also had firsthand experience with the motivations of Islamic slavers. While in London, Jefferson and John Adams spoke to the ambassador from Tripoli, Abd Al-Rahman, and questioned him on why the Barbary pirates thought they should war upon a nation that had never done them any harm. The Muslim ambassador’s response was, “It was … written in their Quran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged Islam’s authority were sinners, that it was their … duty to make war upon them … and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners.”

Barton argues it was this shocking response that drove both Adams and Jefferson to seek out their own copies of the Islamic holy book. “They both individually wanted to know,” Barton said. “They were not placated by platitudes from one side or the other. They wanted to see for themselves. For them, it was a self-evident fact that when you read the Quran, you’ll see why they behave the way they do.” However, Adams and Jefferson had a fundamental disagreement about how to respond to this problem of Islamic terrorism.

“John Adams, as president, refused to use the navy to fight the pirates because he knew if we got involved in a conflict with radical Islam, it would be on going for years,” Barton said. “He thought the American people had no stomach for it.”  In contrast, Barton said Jefferson’s long experience of dealing with the Barbary pirates as secretary of state under George Washington and as vice president under Adams led him to a different approach. “Jefferson’s attitude is that he would put an end to this kind of terrorism because had seen the country dealing with it for many years,” Barton explained. “He had seen Americans dealing with it for 15 years.” While Adams thought America simply could not afford a war, Jefferson demanded the United States cease paying the tribute demanded by the Barbary States.

While Muslim terrorists kidnapped and killed innocent people around the world as they do today, Thomas Jefferson knew exactly how to end radical Islam’s bloodshed – with a classic American take-no-prisoners smackdown. President Jefferson refused to play games when given the choice of appeasement or confrontation in the face of terror.

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