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August 04, 2007

Stuff Jefferson Said (OregonMuse)

Here is my favorite Jefferson quote:

"And can liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"

I don't know which of his writings this quote comes from, but I saw it inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. Now, in the interminable debates over the religious affiliation/status of the various founding fathers, Jefferson usually gets categorized as a "deist" and everyone on all sides seems to be happy with that. But I've never understood why.

I've always thought a deist was one who holds that God (or some Aristotelian "prime mover") created the universe and then stood back to watch it whir, click and hum along its appointed paths without getting into any "hands on" intervention. But the above quote suggests that Jefferson believed that God takes an active interest in human affairs and will take action if we humans do things of which He does not approve. This hardly sounds like the deistic way of looking at things, and in fact, sounds a lot more Christian than deistic.

I'm not arguing that this quote proves that Jefferson was some kind of traditional, orthodox Christian. At this point, I'm not sure how he should be classified. But he just doesn't sound like a deist. Not in this quote, anyway.


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posted by xgenghisx at 12:43 PM

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