Those who talk about America’s values and its founders would be served well by reading and reflecting on the words of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. He was, as we know, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the principal framers of the Constitution. Since he was most significant in the establishment of the principles upon which our government is founded, it is important to know what he would think of contemporary events, especially those similar to those of America at the time our country was initially established as a democracy.
Thomas Jefferson promoted many of the traditional ideas for which the Republican Party has been historically known. He saw the individual business person, most especially the farmers of his day, as representing the best of republican virtues. He believed in states rights and that federal authority should be strictly limited, especially in regard to individual freedoms. Many of his ideas make just as much sense today as they did 200 years ago, and yet they have been either forgotten or found no longer significant by those who try to rewrite history for their own purposes. Natchitoches became a major settlement during the Jefferson Presidency, and in many respects it represents many of the elements of that Presidency and the Jefferson ideals of a small town.
For that reason also his beliefs about clergy and politics are relevant to what has happened when preachers have run for political office so let’s examine some of the words of Jefferson in relationship to that. What would Thomas Jefferson think about a preacher running for political office? We use his words to answer the question for the voting public about this issue and to underline what he believed and his position opposing ministers running for political office.
Jefferson believed religious freedom is an important and personal freedom but that there should be a wall of separation between Church and State.
“In our early struggles for liberty, religious freedom could not fail to become a primary object.” –Thomas Jefferson to Baltimore Baptists, 1808. ME 16:317
“Believing… that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” –Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists, 1802. ME 16:281
“I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to Him, and not to the priests.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mrs. M. Harrison Smith, 1816. ME 15:60
“I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another.” –Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:78
These were his statements about preachers’ involvement in matters outside religion, including science and government:
“Whenever… preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.” –Thomas Jefferson to P. H. Wendover, 1815. ME 14:281
“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” –Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.
“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 to Alexander von Humboldt, 1813. ME 14:21