Thomas Jefferson: Famed Deist or Christian?

Many of today’s history revisionists are busy re-writing American history in a concerted effort to completely remove any vestiges of Christianity and the Bible from the pages of the past. They willfully and flagrantly deny America’s Christian heritage, twisting and falsifying the words of the Founding Fathers.

Statements such as these are showing up on websites, books and classrooms all across the country:

Deists like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson rejected the miraculous and the supernatural beliefs of divine intervention with humans.”

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Although Jefferson believed in a Creator, his concept of it resembled that of the god of deism (the term ‘Nature’s God’ used by deists of the time).”


None of the Founding Fathers were atheists. Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books. They spoke often of God, (Nature’s God or the God of Nature), but this was not the God of the bible. They did not deny that there was a person called Jesus, and praised him for his benevolent teachings, but they flatly denied his divinity.”

In a previous post, I quoted from George Washington’s own words that he was definitely not a deist. This time we will read some of the words written by Thomas Jefferson to see if he was the deist that so many modern historians claim him to be or a Christian, which so many deny.

But first, I wanted to clarify what the term ‘deist’ means as I received some questions asking if the definition I used was my own or a genuine definition. Therefore, here is how one dictionary defines the term ‘deism’.

“deism [(dee-iz-uhm)]


The belief that God has created the universe but remains apart from it and permits his creation to administer itself through natural laws. Deism thus rejects the supernatural aspects of religion, such as belief in revelation in the Bible, and stresses the importance of ethical conduct. In the eighteenth century, numerous important thinkers held deist beliefs.”

It is true that in Jefferson’s early years he held on to more of a deist philosophy than to a Christian one. As he experienced more of life and gained in wisdom and understanding, he left his deist ways and embraced Jesus Christ. While many, including myself, may not agree with his specific beliefs in Jesus and various Christian theologians or denominations, it is obvious that in his later years Jefferson was not a deist.

As I did with Washington, the bulk of this article will consist of direct quotes from Thomas Jefferson. I would like to start with the quotes from Jefferson that have been inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.

Inscription under the dome:

“…I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Panel 1:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Panel 2:

“Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

Panel 3:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan.”

July 4, 1776 was indeed an historic day. Prior to the adjournment of the Continental Congress, a resolution was passed to form a committee to develop a seal for the newly declared nation. Members of this committee included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. While working with the committee, Jefferson proposed a seal portraying:

“The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night;…”

Letter to Moses Robinson, 1801:

“…the Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which they have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind.”

Thomas Jefferson is considered by all historical accounts to have been the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the author of the Statutes of Virginia for Religious Freedom. Sadly, today many see him as the father of the Wall of Separation of Church and State, which was never his intent.

On January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut concerning the federal government’s role in establishing a religion. This is the source for the infamous wall of separation. Note that Jefferson not only requests the prayers of the Baptist association, but nowhere does he state that the government is to be devoid of any religion or religious teachings. His obvious intent was to state that the federal government shall not erect a state church as had so many European nations of the time:



January I, 1802.


Gentlemen,—The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest satisfaction.


My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.


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. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.


I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem”

In December 1803, upon recommendation by President Thomas Jefferson, the United States Congress ratified a treaty between the United States and the Kaskaskia Indian tribe. Included and endorsed by Jefferson, the treaty included these words:

“And whereas the greater part of the said tribe have been baptized and received into the Catholic church, to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually, for seven years, one hundred dollars toward the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for said tribe the duties of his office, and also to instruct as many of their children as possible, in the rudiments of literature, and the United states will further give the sum of three hundred dollars, to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of America’s most influential Founding Fathers, was one of the first Founders to call for free, national, public schools.  A distinguished physician and scientist, he understood the role of an educated citizenry as regards to the stability of a republic.  Dr. Rush was also an ardent and outspoken Christian.  In letter to Dr. Rush, Jefferson wrote:





April 21, 1803.


Dear Sir,—In some of the delightful conversations with you, in the evenings of 1798-99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic; and I then promised you, that one day or other, I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.”

Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805:

“I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.”

Letter to James Fishback, Sept. 27, 1809:

“The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, he has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus, and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in his discourses.”

Letter to the Bible Society, 1814:

“I had not supposed there was a family in this state [Virginia] not possessing a Bible, and wishing without having the means to procure one. When, in earlier life, I was intimate with every class, I think I never was in a house where that was the case. However, circumstances may have changed, and the [Bible] Society, I presume, have evidence of the fact. I therefore enclose you cheerfully an order…for fifty dollars, for the purposes of the Society.”

Letter to Charles Thomson, 1816:

“I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus—very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer of the vicious ethics and deism on the Jews, were He to return to earth, would not recognize one feather.”

Letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, 1822:


“The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man:


1-  That there is one only God, and He all perfect.


2-  That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.


3-  That to love God with all thy heart, and they neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion…But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin…The impious dogmatists, as Athanasius and Calvin,…are the false shepherds foretold [in the New Testament] as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. Thee are mere usurpers of the Christian name, teaching a counter-religion made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. Their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed Author himself with the horrors so falsely imputed to Him.  Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would no have been Christian.” [Allison, Maxfield, Cook & Skousen, Ed., The Real Thomas Jefferson, The National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2008. p. 366.]


There are other writings and letters where Jefferson refers to himself as a Christian that have not been included here due to space and time. However, it should be obvious from those posted above that he not only believes in the Jesus of the Bible, he often referred to himself as a Christian, solicited prayers for himself and the nation and even donated to the Bible Society to help with the distribution of Bibles to those who could not afford one. A deist would not solicit prayers for themselves as they don’t believe there is an active God who answers prayer and gets involved in our lives.

Are these the words and actions of a deist? I say not!


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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