A Letter to President Jefferson
From the Editor: This is our third and final post in a Presidents Day series of letters to Presidents.
Dear Mr. President,
I start this letter to you with a reminder of a monumental moment in your life, and one that has become essential in our lives; I think you might remember this:
In Congress, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
As you know, Mr. President, this is the beginning of a document … a proclamation … a declaration that our country was to become independent. And I feel that first sentence, of the second paragraph, which I have written in bold blue text, is without doubt, the greatest assembly of words ever written about the essential philosophy and structure that are country was to be all about, to live by, and to foster for all of our people.
So, Mr. President, let me reflect on the events of that time, events I’m sure you know all too well. Our fledgling colonies, were on the verge of a major vote to decide whether or not we would become our own sovereign nation. It seemed apparent that there were enough votes to break our bond with England and become our own country. So, in anticipation of this vote, the Continental Congress selected a committee to draft a declaration of independence. The committee, composed of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Yourself (Thomas Jefferson,) Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. These leaders, in turn, selected and instructed you to write the declaration. What an honor that must have been for you to be so entrusted, respected, and revered, to author such an incredible document. Little did you know, this document would launch what would become the greatest nation on this Earth.
As amazing as your writing of this declaration is, and how incredible a president you would later become, Mr. Jefferson, You are a conundrum to me. You may have been the greatest president from a leader and fiscally responsible person, that we have ever had. I so admire what you did as a leader and for the birth of our country. However, as a so-called religious man, you’re views of Jesus and God are perplexing to me, although not too surprising for a person raised in the Church of England. How frustrated you must have been with the English Government, for you to have played such a critical and monumental role is establishing our country, even while you stayed aligned to England’s established religious views, of the times. Traits that seem quite opposite and thus make it difficult for me to understand you.
Mr. Jefferson, I truly admire and applaud what many people feel were your primary goals. It is clear you committed your administration to repeal taxes, slash government expenses, cut military expenditures which made sense in your time but not so much today, and to pay off the public debt. Through your personal conduct and public policies, it should be commended that you sought to return the country to the principles of Republican simplicity. It is said that you felt that the central government should be "rigorously frugal and simple."
When it comes to your legacy, an “evaluator” we in the 21st century place far too much importance upon, it is clear that you will always be known as the author of the Declaration of Independence and as the orchestrator of the Louisiana purchase. But I feel you will also be known for the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and the father of the University of Virginia". In your retirement years, you would author a couple of books on Jesus, one of which has become known as the “Jeffersonian” Bible, and it is these two books, that I find my only dispute with you and your views and leadership, which I will touch on later.
Mr. Jefferson, Thomas if I may, you were born on April 13, 1743, in Virginia, which I know you know. But I find it ironic that you would die, at the ripe old age of 83, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. You were raised an intelligent yet modest man to a humble family who was not poor by the standards of the times. Although you had slaves, you were still known as a champion of political and religious freedom. It is apparent that you loved liberty in every form and that you worked for freedom of speech, press, religion, and civil liberties.
In 1820; your retirement years, and just 6 years before your death, you penned a book known as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth aka the “Jeffersonian” Bible. You were seventy-seven years old when you constructed this book by cutting excerpts of the New Testament Gospels from six printed volumes published in English, French, Latin and Greek. You then edited and arranged the passages in a chronological order to tell the story of Jesus’s life, parables and moral teachings. I think you did this because you lived in a world where political rulers routinely established a single faith as the official religion. While I love the focus on Jesus, there are aspects of this book, that discount the existence of God and other key biblical facts, of which I cannot agree. I think you missed the boat on much of this book, except the exceptional character of our Savior Jesus Christ.
It is clear you promoted religious freedom in order to secure the rights of differing religions and to protect the freedom of an individual to practice the religion of their choosing – a principle I cannot agree with you more. It is said you extracted passages that you literally cut out from two volumes of Jacob Johnson’s 1804 printing of the King James New Testament, and that your goal was to clarify the teachings of Jesus which you believed provided “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” On this portion of the book, I am in total agreement!!!
Later on, after your death, you may be surprised to know that, the Government Printing Office published a facsimile of the “Jefferson Bible” in 1904 which was distributed to the two chambers of Congress. Following elections, each newly elected senator was presented with a copy of the book until the supply ran out in the 1950’s. Although, I’m not in agreement with all you put in “your” Bible, it is refreshing to know that this was shared with all newly elected members of congress. Boy would I love for a true Bible to be shared with every elected senator and representative today!!!
In closing Mr. Jefferson, Thomas – You were a great leader, a great author, and a great man with impeccable character and one whom we could desperately use today in our struggling world and country. Although I cannot embrace or agree with all the contents of the “Bible” you are attributed to writing, it is critical that we embrace the person, you, for all of your attributes and look past, forgive, or accept, those that we do not share. You were brilliant, committed, dedicated, and impeccable in your integrity, and for all this, we all owe you a significant debt of gratitude for all you did for this country and for all of us.
Thank you, Mr. President, – Your contributions are forever appreciated and we are so blessed to have had you as our third President!!!
For everyone…the following notes are 5 Surprising Facts About Thomas Jefferson from Montiocello.org:
Thomas Jefferson was a man of many faces. Other than his obvious influence on American politics, he was intrigued by diverse cultures in the New World and embraced them in every way he was able. Jefferson accomplished a lot in his lifetime—his presidential tenure didn’t even make it into the three achievements inscribed on his gravestone. Here are a few facts you never knew about one of the most interesting men in American history.
1. He was a (proto) archaeologist.
Jefferson collected fossils and was obsessed with animals, especially the mammoth. He even had the bones of a mastodon (now displayed in the Monticello Entrance Hall) sent to him during his residence in the President's House in Washington, DC. (Read about Jefferson's excavation of an Indian burial mound near Monticello.)
2. He was an architect.
Aside from his Monticello home, which took him nearly 40 years to complete, Jefferson was obsessed with building things—and not only as a hobby. He designed the iconic rotunda at the University of Virginia, as well as the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.
3. He was a wine aficionado.
After residing in France, Jefferson brought his love of French wine to America. He is recognized as one of the great wine experts of early America and even kept two vineyards at Monticello.
4. He was a founding foodie.
In addition to wine, French food inspired Jefferson’s palate, from the cooking within his home to his presidential dinner parties. Some of America’s most beloved foods, like ice cream, mac 'n' cheese and french fries were popularized after his interests permeated to the rest of the country.
5. He was obsessed with books.
It's highly likely that Jefferson had the largest personal collection of books in the United States at the time. After the Library of Congress was raided by the British in 1814, Jefferson offered his personal library, which contained almost 6,500 volumes, as a replacement.