Thomas Jefferson Deist and Patriot Research Paper

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Thomas Jefferson -- Deist & Patriot

"Patriotism is not a short frenzied burst of emotion, but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime…" (Jefferson)

Thomas Jefferson is certainly well-known in the United States history books as the man who helped write the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution -- and of course he served as President of the United States. However, there are many books and scholarly articles that describe his religious values, and his patriotism, that go considerably deeper than popular history or other social studies sources. Thesis: The substantive information available in the literature on Jefferson's Deism -- which posits that he has been terribly misunderstood in that regard -- and his luminous approach to patriotism are pivotally important for all students of American history to know and understand.

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Deism is the spiritual perspective embracing the view that the actual existence of God can best be witnessed and demonstrated in the natural world. According to the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics, co-author and Denison University professor Paul Al Djupe points out that Deists believe God can be best understood and related to in the real world. Moreover, Deists believe that morals and ethics are more profoundly linked to their conception of God than doctrine (Djupe, et al., 2003, p. 133). Religious author S.J. Barnett writes that Deism is "diverse in form and thus difficult to define," but it has generally been accepted as belief in God and believe in "rewards and punishments" after one's death. The God of the Deists however was "usually remote from everyday human concerns" (Barnett, 2003, p. 17). Generally Deists did not believe in the need for "any mediation between humanity and divinity of the form of the Church," Barnett explained; hence, Deists rejected the claims of organized religions that they had the right path to God, and responded to those claims as "self-interested fraud" (17). This was considered a radical viewpoint, and many saw the view of Deists as a threat to Christianity and, Barnett adds, "a threat to the established social order" (17).

Jefferson, along with other leaders in the revolutionary period in Colonial America, became Deists because of the teachings and philosophies of the Enlightenment. Charles B. Sanford, a United Methodist minister, writes that Jefferson's reputation for not being very interested in religion is "undeserved" because Jefferson did indeed write "extensively" on subjects touching religion (Sanford, 1987, p. 173). It may not be widely known, but Jefferson has been subjected to what Sanford refers to as "religious attack" -- and "few Americans" have been subjected to as much negative writing as Jefferson in that regard. Part of the reason Jefferson was taken to task by so many writers (based on Jefferson's Deism) is that he was a "social reformer," he openly showed "reticence about his religion," and also because in his letters he wrote "outspoken" criticism on organized religion to individuals, and those missives were published "without his permission" (Sanford, 173).

It's seen today as very unfair that Jefferson took flack from people charging that he was "an atheist, deist, or devil," Sanford continues, but Jefferson was not an atheist and personal morality "and honor" were key parts of his character (173). Jefferson used references in his speeches about "God's providence and guidance" over the actions and affairs of humankind and of nations, Sanford explains (174). But when a leader of such high visibility makes statements like Jefferson did, there is no doubt that many Christians and others would reject those viewpoints. For example, Jefferson did say that Jesus Christ was the "greatest teacher of moral truths that ever lived," but he also made some very provocative statements that raised eyebrows in Colonial America.

Jefferson rejected the miracles that are revealed in the Bible; he also rejected the divinity of Christ, and he "…declared the doctrines of original sin, the blood atonement, and the Trinity as 'metaphysical insanities,'" Sanford reports on page 175. When a respected political leader takes positions as seemingly radical as Jefferson did, one can understand the negative reactions, but according to Sanford, writers, critics, religious scholars and others did not look deeper into Jefferson's real Deist beliefs, they just used his most provocative remarks as reflecting his whole view. Sanford rejects the notion that Jefferson's ideas were truly radical. His view that men had the absolute right to govern themselves freely in a democratic environment was "rooted in his theology," Sanford asserts (175). Jefferson's religious conviction was that man was a "…creature of God 'endowed by his Creator' with those rights"; Jefferson believed that men were ultimately responsible for their own beliefs and for their destiny "…to the God who made him, not to priest, magistrate, church, creed, or public opinion" (Sanford, 176). The point that Jefferson made again and again in his public life is that "inner morality" and the "restraint of evil" were the necessary components of "social living" in the colonial period (177).

Thomas Jefferson's Patriotism

"Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty…" (Jefferson, 1817).

About the time Jefferson was finishing his law courses, the King of England and the British Parliament were agreeing to pass the "Stamp Act," basically to help pay for the French and Indian War by taxing colonists. Author Carol H. Behrman -- who has written numerous history books for young people, explains that Jefferson was in attendance -- actually he was standing in the doorway -- at a debate in the House of Burgesses in Virginia while Patrick Henry was making a passionate speech against the Stamp Act (Behrman, 2004, p. 42). In his speech, Henry blasted the British Parliament and completed his remarks by asserting that "only elected representatives of the people had the right to impose laws" (Behrman, 42). Jefferson later wrote that he had "…heard the splendid display of Mr. Henry's talents as a popular orator -- great indeed" (Behrman, 42). The author doesn't claim that this speech turned Jefferson into a wild patriot, but the speech did inspire "a storm of outrage" as citizens rioted in the streets and "refused to pay the hated tax" (42).

Meanwhile, soon after Parliament dropped the Stamp Act, the Parliament passed the Townshend Act, which was designed to tax the colonists to pay taxes "on almost every item imported from Great Britain" and it reportedly caused "even more hardship than the Stamp Act," Behrman continued (43). As a backlash to the riots that the colonists engaged in, the British royal governor of Virginia, Baron de Botecourt, "punished the colonists by dissolving…the House of Burgesses." However, twenty-eight burgesses kept meeting anyway, gathering at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, with Jefferson among them (Behrman, 44). His patriotism now becoming more public and more strident, Jefferson was becoming increasingly angry, and wrote that King George's actions were "unjust and illegal." This kind of "oppression," Jefferson stated, "…plainly prove a… systematic plan for reducing us to slavery" (Behrman, 44).

The patriotic Jefferson responded to the second shutdown of the Virginia House of Burgesses with a strong protest essay in 1774. Titled, "A Summary View of the Rights of British America," Jefferson argued correctly that the ancestors of the colonists were "free people before they came to the colonies… [and] they were still free people" at that time. And yet, he pointed out, they had no representatives in the British Parliament (Behrman, 45). Parliament "has no right to exercise its authority over us," Jefferson wrote. His essay was reprinted and distributed throughout the colonies. Indeed, Jefferson's views caught on, especially when the king sent troops, arrested protestors, and enforced curfews (45).

In the online Encyclopedia of World Biography, the authors suggest that "…no other modern revolutionaries have possessed" what Jefferson possessed, which was using the basic roots of English law and government to argue for revolution and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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