Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Beliefs

Author’s Note:

Why include a scholarly abstract on this website? Because Richard Ashmore identifies strongly with Thomas Jefferson, and his own struggles with faith mirrored Jefferson’s up to the major crisis in Richard’s life.

Many years ago, a graduate professor of mine decided that I should do a study of Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs. Having no idea of Jefferson beyond a vague notion that he had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, I agreed (being largely indifferent to American History anyway, and taking the seminar only to fulfill the requirement of six American hours in a Modern European master’s). As I researched the paper, I read everything I could find on the Sage of Monticello…and, in the process, I fell in love.

Over the years, I have continued to read everything I can find on Jefferson. My main interest in TJ remains the subject of that first seminar paper, the debate over his religious values.

Atheists in America celebrate TJ’s birthday. They do so from a false idea of his religious beliefs, and TJ (I like to think) is whirling in his grave! However, he himself was wrong in calling himself a Christian. He was hard to classify…not a Deist like Franklin, who believed in the God who created the universe and walked away, but not a believer in the divinity of Christ. TJ prayed while he rode horseback (implying that he was praying to SOMEONE); as I concluded, you do not pray unless you believe that your prayers may be heard.

This article is an abstract of the much longer paper I wrote on Jefferson, and was actually written three years later for a class on the Enlightenment. The abstract is a summary; the longer paper lays the case against Jefferson’s purported Christianity.