Part 2 of 2
Quotes on various aspects of religion,
Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1799)
Religious quotes from Thomas Jefferson's writings
before the year 1800 are in the preceeding list.
Excerpts from his letters between 1800 & 1809:
Jefferson served as president of the U.S. between 1801 and 1809.
||1800: The clergy "...believe that any portion of power confided to me, will
be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for
I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of
tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me:
and enough, too, in their opinion. Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush.
||1802: "Believing with you 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 legislative 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.
Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, CT. The phrase "separation of
Church and State" is partly based on this letter.
||1803: "I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or
admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others." Letter to Edward Dowse.
During his presidency, he repeatedly refused to issue a Thanksgiving
proclamation. He wrote in a letter to the Rev. Mr. Miller that:
"I consider the Government of the United States as interdicted by the
Constitution of the United States from meddling with religious institutions,
their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.... But it is only proposed that I
should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and praying. That is, I
should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious
exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from.... Every
one must act according to the dictates of his own reason and mine tells me
that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United
States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his
Excerpts from his letters between 1810 & 1819:
By this time, Jefferson had retired from public life. His main accomplishment
during this decade was the founding of the University of Virginia.
||1813: "He who steadily observes the moral precepts in which all religions
concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven as to the dogmas in
which they all differ." Letter to WIlliam Canby.
||1813: "Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come
under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. He who
follows this steadily need not, I think, be uneasy, although he cannot
comprehend the subtleties and mysteries erected on his doctrines by those
who, calling themselves his special followers and favorites, would make him
come into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs.
These metaphysical heads, usurping the judgment seat of God, denounce as his
enemies all who cannot perceive the Geometrical logic of Euclid in the
demonstrations of St. Athanasius, that three are one, and one is three; and
yet that the one is not three nor the three one. Letter to WIlliam Canby.
||1813: "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.
Letter to Alexander von Humboldt.
||1813: "Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously
reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker
in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle."
Letter to Richard Rush.
||1814: "The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it
seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been
played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them,
that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of
them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that
parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts
are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those
parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills." On Christian scriptures, in
a letter to John Adams
||1814: "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."
Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper.
||1814: "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to
liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in
return for protection to his own." Letter to Horatio G. Spafford.
||1814: "If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is
pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ...Their virtue,
then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God." Letter to
||1814: "I am really mortified to be told that, in the United
States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and
of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question
about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this
then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur
shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to
dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the
measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our
inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the
rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to
our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and
blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and
reason." Letter to N. G. Dufief, a bookseller in Philadelphia, PA.
concerning his having been prosecuted for selling a book dealing with the
origins of the universe.
||1814: "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability
to our god alone. I enquire after no man's and trouble none with mine;
nor is it given to us in this life to know whether yours or mine, our
friend's or our foe's, are exactly the right.
Letter to Miles King.
||1817: "Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my god and myself alone.
||1819: "You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as
far as I know.
Letter to Ezra Stiles Ely.
||1819: "As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine
(not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in
moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Letter to William Short on his admiration of the
Excerpts from his letters between 1820 and his death in 1826:
The University of Virginia was opened in 1825.
||1820: "Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his
biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and
of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so
much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to
pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from
the same being." Letter to William Short.
||1820: "My aim in that was, to justify the character of Jesus against the
fictions of his pseudo-followers, which have exposed him to the inference of
being an impostor. For if we could believe that he really countenanced
the follies, the falsehoods and the charlatanisms which his biographers
father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations and
theorizations of the fathers of the early, and fanatics of the latter ages,
the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind, that he was an
impostor. I give no credit to their falsifications of his actions and
doctrines, and to rescue his character, the postulate in my letter asked
only what is granted in reading every other historian... I say, that this
free exercise of reason is all I ask for the vindication of the character of
Jesus. We find in the writings of his biographers matter of two distinct
descriptions. First, a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible,
of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications. Intermixed with these,
again, are sublime ideas of the Supreme Being, aphorisms and precepts of the
purest morality and benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence
and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition
and honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been
surpassed. These could not be inventions of the groveling authors who
relate them. They are far beyond the powers of their feeble minds. They shew
that there was a character, the subject of their history, whose splendid
conceptions were above all suspicion of being interpolations from their
hands... That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of
God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more
learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe
himself inspired from above, is very possible... Excusing, therefore, on
these considerations, those passages in the gospels which seem to bear marks
of weakness in Jesus, ascribing to him what alone is consistent with the
great and pure character of which the same writings furnish proofs, and to
their proper authors their own trivialities and imbecilities, I think myself
authorised to conclude the purity and distinction of his character, in
opposition to the impostures which those authors would fix upon him; and
that the postulate of my former letter is no more than is granted in all
other historical works. Letter to William Short describing why he wrote
a "Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus and
referring to Jesus’ biographers, the Gospel writers."
||1820: "We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead,
nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
Letter to Willian Roscoe.
||1820: "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the
human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or
that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I
believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and
Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism,
this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.
Letter to John Adams
||1821: Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan
of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting
'Jesus Christ,' so that it would read 'A departure from the plan of Jesus
Christ, the holy author of our religion;' the insertion was rejected by the
great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of
its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination. Autobiography, referring to the Virginia Act for
||1822: "No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of
one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity ... Nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted from the Christian creed
by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government, wielded at the
will of the Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another
Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the
blood of thousands of martyrs . . . The Athanasian paradox that one is
three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no
candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what
presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves,
also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against
absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport
of every wind. With such person, gullibility which they call faith, takes
the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck. A discussion
of the Christian concept of the Trinity, in a letter to James Smith.
||1823: "I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an
Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever
man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5 points is
not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent
governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more
pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the
atrocious attributes of Calvin. Indeed I think that every Christian sect
gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a
revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. A
discussion of Calvinism in a letter to John Adams.
||1823: "The truth is, that the greatest enemies of the doctrine of Jesus are
those, calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them to
the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without
any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical
generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a
virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the
brain of Jupiter... But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of
thought in these United States will do away with this artificial
scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this
most venerated reformer of human errors." Discussion of the virgin birth in
a letter to John Adams.
||1825: "It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it, and I then
considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of
explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." A discussion
of the biblical book of Revelation in a letter to General Alexander Smyth. 2
Thomas Jefferson died on the afternoon of 1826-JUL-04 at Monticello, VA. This
was the 50th anniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress. A few hours later, John Adams, his good friend
and fellow founding father of the United States, died at Quincy, MA.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Franklin Steiner, "Religious beliefs of our presidents," (1936). Excerpt
on Thomas Jefferson is online at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/
- "Thomas Jefferson," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikiquote.org/
Copyright © 2006 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JAN-31
Latest update: 2016-JAN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson