Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thomas Jefferson was not the sole author of the Declaration of Independence

The influence of Thomas Jefferson on the founding of America is somewhat overrated. No one would deny the strength of Jefferson's intellect, and the fact that he had influence both on national and Virginia politics during the founding era. Secular Humanists and Christians alike love to quote Jefferson because both can find material in Jefferson that affirms their worldview. Jefferson's influence did extend to American institutions, but the scope of his influence is overplayed in the excessive use of Jefferson in modern literature.

First consider that Thomas Jefferson was not even in America during the Constitutional Convention. He was the ambassador to France at that time. Secondly, most of you were probably taught that he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but the truth is that he was one of a committee of five able men who were assigned to draft the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston teamed up with Jefferson to draft a document which was eventually presented to Congress. After the drafting committee presented the Declaration of Independence to Congress at least 85 changes were made to the document including the removal of almost 500 words. The myth that Thomas Jefferson was the sole author of the declaration of Independence was first introduced during his presidential campaigns against John Adams. Finally, consider his inability to overcome his greatest opponents. His loss to John Adams, a strong Christian, for president is well known. He also singled out Fisher Ames for defeat in 1792 because he uncompromisingly influenced the civil institutions of the United States with Biblical principles. Fisher Ames was reelected that year receiving 1,627 out of 2,900 votes.

Why do Secular Humanists like Jefferson so much? He was undoubtedly influenced by enlightenment thinking while in France. He was most probably not a Christian, as is evidenced by his version of the Bible. He cut out all miracles until he was only left with a bare shell of scripture. He, along with humanists, believed that human reason could solve all problems. Finally, they love to distort the meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state,” which he coined in a letter to the Danbury Baptists while president.

Why do Christians like to appeal to Jefferson? He was superintendent of the Washington D.C. Schools while President of the United States, and as an official act in that capacity he required two text books be used in the school: the Bible and Watt's Hymnal. His references to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,” “self-evident” truths,” “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” “all men are created equal,” “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and the grievances against the king, are all concepts distinctive to Christian thinking in respect to civil government.

Besides the fact that the Declaration of Independence is a work of a body of founders who ordered their lives by Christian doctrines, in 1825 Jefferson explained why the Declaration of Independence was formed as a Christian document. The overwhelming mindset of the American people in 1776 was Christian. America was still under the influence of the Great Awakening, and Alexis DeTocqueville confirms that even 50 years later “Christianity reigns”. Consider this statement from his Democracy in America, “Among the Anglo-Americans there are some who profess Christian dogmas because they believe them and others who do so because they are afraid to look as though they did not believe in them. So Christianity reigns without obstacles, by universal consent; consequently, as I have said elsewhere, everything in the moral field is certain and fixed...” Jefferson said, “Neither aiming at originality of principles, or sentiments, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind. We wanted not only to communicate in words and ideas that were popular in Europe, we wanted the Declaration of Independence to be reflective of the way Americans thought.”