It was 273 years ago today that the Deist Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, Virginia. He accomplished a lot of good with his life.
Although he was a wealthy land owner and a lawyer, he went strongly and openly against the system which made his financial success possible. This is pure altruistic idealism. He risked his livelihood, career, wealth, home, family and life for the Enlightenment based ideals of the American Revolution. He is credited with being the author of the Deistic document the Declaration of Independence. If he had been arrested by the legally established government of that time, he would have faced being executed for treason.
Because Jefferson was actively involved in politics, he was not as open about his Deism as people like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. However, as you can see from our page Thomas Jefferson Versus Pat Robertson, he held strong Deistic beliefs.
Jefferson’s Deism is evident by the way he designed the University of Virginia. Universities of that time were usually based on Christianity with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania which was started by Jefferson’s friend and fellow Deist, Ben Franklin. Like Franklin, Jefferson wanted the University of Virginia to be secular and not built around a church. Jefferson’s university did not have a chapel on its grounds until after the death of Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson’s reputation has been attacked after DNA tests proved that the descendants of one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, have Jefferson DNA. It is very often taken as fact that the Jefferson DNA comes from Thomas Jefferson. However, that has not been proven. It is possible that it was from Thomas Jefferson, but it is also possible that it is from his brother and/or from one of his nephews. A well documented and interesting book on this is In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal by William G. Hyland, Jr.
Thomas Jefferson was a true friend to Thomas Paine. When most of the rest of the world turned against Paine for being the author of The Age of Reason, Thomas Jefferson remained a solid friend. President Jefferson offered Thomas Paine passage home from France on a US Navy ship. Paine declined the offer. When Paine did return to the US, his friend President Jefferson had him as a guest at the White House.
Jefferson’s Deistic beliefs are summed up well by his writing the below just a few weeks prior to his death on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote it in response to an invitation to attend a Fourth of July celebration:
May it (the Fourth of July) be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Thomas Jefferson earned and deserves the respect and appreciation from all Deists and from all people who value free speech, freedom of and from religion and the free exchange of ideas which makes progress possible.