The Founding Fathers and Jesus
By Gary DeMar
Published: April 19, 2010
John Dickinson (signed the Constitution, served as governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware)
“[Governments] could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source: from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth.”
MH, of course, mentions Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson was not an orthodox Christian, he did consider himself to be a Christian.. The interesting this is that Jefferson actually published an edited version of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that was titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels. Jefferson had this to say about the Morals of Jesus found in the Gospels: “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” I am well aware of what TJ believed about Jesus. But it is wrong to conclude that TJ was not a big fan of Jesus, the proposition of MH. He was a big fan of Jesus. He wasn’t a big fan of the Bible’s view of Jesus.
The founding era is a mixed bag. There were orthodox Christians, some Deists, a number of rationalists, and few if any atheists. Contrary to Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Paine was not a “filthy little atheist.”
MH mentions the “Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” of which Jefferson was the author. The addition of “Jesus Christ” was proposed to be added to a section of the Preamble so that it would read as follows: “Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion [Jesus Christ], who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do.” Jefferson states the following in his autobiography:
The purpose of the Act was to prohibit coercion in religion as well as public funding of religion, something of which I agree with. Noah Webster said it well: “[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”
In 1807, Jefferson singed a federal passport that allowed the ship Hershel to proceed on its Journey to London and dated the letter September 24, 1807 “in the year of our Lord Christ.” Notice the addition of “Christ.” There is no misunderstanding that “in the Year of Our Lord” is a reference to Jesus Christ and no one else.
Let’s consider North Carolina’s Constitution for a comparison to the Virginia Act. The Constitution of North Carolina in 1776 provided, “That no person who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.” This provision remained in force until 1835, when it was amended by changing the word “Protestant” to “Christian,” and as amended remained in force until a redraft of the Constitution in 1868. And in that Constitution among the persons disqualified for office were “all persons who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”