The study of a religious factor in the history of the U.S. foundations belongs to the promising modern historical science, which reflects American Revolution and Enlightenment in Anglo-Saxon countries. This work attempts to give characteristics of religious beliefs of Thomas Jefferson – an author of the Independence Declaration and the third president of the United States (1801-1809).
It is well-known that Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was born in Virginia – a colony where most population belonged to Anglicanism, and there Church occupied a privileged position. However, from the 1740s religious landscape began to change – Baptist, Methodism and other beliefs were becoming more and more popular. This process was particularly active in distant Atlantic coastal areas of the North American UK colonies. The Church of England, experiencing a lack of well-trained clergy, tried to stop a greater influence of dissident churches (usually, relying on state power). The following conflicts on religious grounds were an important part of the socio-political life in Virginia during 1740-1770.
According to this background, the views of Jefferson were formed. He grew up in the bosom of official church and for six years he studied with Pastor W. Douglas. In college, Thomas Jefferson met with Enlightenment ideas which became a part of his world. Locke and Newton received a status of an intellectual beacon for a young Virginian. In particular, the theoretical legacy of John Locke became the basis for social and philosophical ideas of Jefferson. He firmly shared beliefs of the great English philosopher on the need of religious tolerance. At the same time, Thomas Jefferson did not support the position of atheistic radicalism, which was held by the French Enlightenment, but he took a negative attitude to the church hierarchy and dogmas while remaining a deeply religious person.
Having become a successful lawyer, Thomas Jefferson began to work in a political field. During this period, British Parliament sought to unlimited legislative activity with respect to overseas territories, gradually nullifying their practice of self-government. The religious conflict grew steadily since the religious support of Anglican Church was London with the King of England. The deepening conflict with the mother privatization eventually led to the declaration of independence in 1776. The primary author of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson. The text of this document shows that religious issues served as an important basis for the justification of the rights of the colonists.
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By virtue of this, Declaration of Independence contained an appeal to “Almighty God” as a guarantor of the colonies law offices right to separate from the UK, as the laws were based on the “laws of nature and its Creator” (Hamilton 69). Representation of the sacred character of fighting for independence in relation to Puritanism ideas about the “American Israeli” became widespread (Hamilton 69). The reflection of this, in particular, was Jefferson’s proposal to create public a Coat of Arms (1776). Thus, in the second inaugural address (March 4, 1805) he wrote: “I also need the blessing of a Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as in the past, to Israel, from their native land and settled them in a country, with a comfortable life and with all the necessary – we go for it” (Hamilton 69).
It should be noted that it was the belief in the power of God on which a free thinking of T. Jefferson was based to a large extent. On one hand, it led him to the negation of several important Christian doctrines, and on the other – to a decisive rejection of state interference in religious affairs. Hence, he, considering popular confessions, firmly said: “Only delusions need the support of the government. Truth stands on its own” (Hamilton 69). With the active participation of Jefferson in Virginia after the announcement of independence of all the legal restrictions, religious dissidents were canceled, and Anglican Church lost its privileged status.
As it is known, Thomas Jefferson led The Committee on the revision of the laws of his native Colony which became a state after 1776. The given Committee in 1779 presented a package of 126 laws, but due to the circumstances primarily surrounding military actions, their distribution and approval was only launched five years later. In this package under number 82 “The Act on establishing religious freedom in Virginia” was presented and it was approved by State Assembly after extensive debates at the end of 1785-beginning of 1786. Act was opened with the following words: “Being completely aware that God Almighty created a human mind free, it means that all attempts to undermine his influence in the world by imposing on punishments and burdening his existence or depriving him of civil rights can lead only to the generation of skills of hypocrisy and meanness, so that these efforts are far from the idea of the Holy Creator of our religion, who being the Lord of both body and mind, yet did not prefer to distribute our religion through coercion and violence on a body or intelligence, although both lie in the power of Almighty” (Hamilton 69).
This Act forbade the “invasion of the ruling authority in the field of views and opinions”, at the same time leaving room for a “legitimate management actions” in the case the principles of action will clearly lead against peace, tranquility and good order (Hamilton 69). Hence, Thomas Jefferson clearly made a distinction between a religious belief and an action done in accordance with these views, on which constraints of the authorities could be imposed. The other 126 bills in that package remain to be little known since they were written by T. Jefferson, or included there with his consent. In fact, there was a number of other acts relating to a religious sphere. The titles of these acts speak for themselves: “Bill of maintaining church instruments as set before”, “Bill, constituting punishing violations order of worship and improper worship to God”, “Bill of appointing public days of fasting and Thanksgiving”, “Bill cancelling marriages which were carried out not in accordance with law, and prescribing the procedure for the conclusion of a marriage” (Jefferson 2982).
The establishment of religious freedom in the Virginia significantly influenced the level of states union, as set by the Federal Constitution in 1787, which was supplemented by the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791. Specific features of the Jefferson’s free will performed well during his term as a U.S. president. As it is known, he owned the famous, often-quoted words of the “wall between church and the state”. This metaphor was taken from a letter to Baptist Association of Danbury (CT) written by January 1, 1802. On the other hand, Jefferson regularly attended church services in House of Representatives, which were moved to the new capital – Washington. Various Christian denominations were provided a worship space in buildings which housed the executive branch agencies. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians who were supported with federal money to build Catholic Church and hold priests among them (Jefferson 2982).
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It was the conviction of Thomas Jefferson in the omnipotence of the Creator which led him to reject several provisions of Christian theology, because, as an American researcher Charles Sanford explained, from this point of view, “miracles are violations of the laws of God and his mind”. This is why Thomas Jefferson denied a doctrine of Trinity, he believed that Jesus Christ was only an outstanding, “inspired by the above”, moral teacher and reformer, who became “a victim of envy and combinations of the altar and the throne” and he also had a negative attitude to the biblical behavior regarding the existence of miracles, etc (Jefferson 2982). He categorically did not accept commitment to a shared vision of religious sphere backed by force by the secular government, believing that it was the most damaging religion since it eliminated competition between the various churches and sects. Yet Thomas Jefferson provided cash charity in sacrifice for the benefit of various religious organizations.
A weakness of the views of Thomas Jefferson was an underestimation of the real diversity of religious experience and its relationship with socio-political sphere, originating from understanding religion. However, still Jefferson never considered his own views as the only true ones and he did not promote results of his own “laboratory of thought” (Jefferson 2982). His worldview, like any other of the founders of the United States, formed in a line with the Britain empirical tradition, the expression of which, in particular, was a law practicality and the principles of “common law”.
The Real World to them seemed as infinitely more complex than any theoretical scheme that could serve as its description or change. The motto of Thomas Jefferson stated: “I never spoke of my own religion, and I never carefully investigated the religion of others. I never tried to create a new convert and I did not want to change another faith. I always judged the religion of others by their lives”. This appears to be a key to understanding the specifics of Jefferson’s philosophy, in which educational component is supplemented to knowledge of certain restrictions. Not accidentally he posed a question: “Is it possible to consider people’s freedom assured if we destroyed the only firm basis of it – conviction of people that our freedom if one of the God’s gifts? Violence cannot be used without triggering God’s wrath” (Jefferson 2982). Therefore, as a public person Thomas Jefferson still allowed the possibility of state support for faith – energy in a non-discriminatory manner.
In conclusion, the debate over the heritage of Jefferson, as well as other activities of the American Revolution in the 18th, continues to occupy a place in a society and political life of the modern United States. On the other hand, the principle of separation of church and state, enshrined in the Constitution 1787, influenced the basic laws of many countries. This, in particular, determined the importance of study of the life and creative properties of Jefferson who was an outstanding figure during Enlightenment.