Tag Archives: Religion

Do not speak of politics (or religion). Part 1 of 2

we rarely speak of politics, or of the proceedings of the house but merely historically, and I carefully avoid expressing an opinion on them, in their presence, that we may all be at our ease.
To John Randolph, December 1, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders avoid subjects that unnecesarily promote controversy.
The prickly Congressman Randolph had written the President the day before. He disclaimed a newspaper account on a disagreement in the House of Representatives, which involved him and one of Jefferson’s two sons-in-law, both House members. Jefferson replied immediately that no explanation was needed. Jefferson vouched for the independence of his sons-in-law and his unwillingness to influence their opinions.

The President preferred to keep peace in their family relationship, the same as he preferred in all his relationships. To do that, it was necessary that they not speak of politics or any other divisive issues. He kept his opinions to himself unless asked and would not debate those who disagreed, “that we may all be at our ease.”

“…our delegates greatly enjoyed your ability to portray President Thomas Jefferson
from a humorous yet meaningful perspective.”
Meetings Administrator, Iowa Association of Counties
Invite Thomas Jefferson to address your meeting.
Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Family matters, Politics Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

I will tell close friends only and no one else.

A promise to a friend sometime ago, executed but lately, has placed my religious creed on paper. I am desirous it should be perused by three or four particular friends, with whom tho’ I never desired to make a mystery of it, yet no occasion has happened to occur of explaining it to them. it is communicated for their personal satisfaction, & to enable them to judge of the truth or falsehood of the libels published on that subject. when read, the return of the paper with this cover is asked.
To Henry Dearborn and Levi Lincoln, April 23, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders trust close associates with personal revelation.
In the preceding post, Jefferson shared his personal religious beliefs, in the form of a Syllabus, with an old friend, Benjamin Rush. In this letter, he shared that same information with two of his Cabinet members, Secretary of War Dearborn and Attorney General Lincoln.

Although Jefferson believed his personal views should remain private, he had no hesitation in sharing them with close friends. Writing the Syllabus for Dr. Rush also gave him the opportunity to send copies to several trusted associates. Jefferson was widely criticized in the opposition press on the subject of religion. He could not change what his opponents thought of him, but he did care what his friends thought. Sharing this very private, personal information would allow his friends “to judge of the truth or falsehood” of what they read in the papers.

Always sensitive to criticism and wary of adding fuel to his opponent’s fire, he insisted Dearborn and Lincoln return their copies of the Syllabus along with this cover letter.

“Your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was riveting.
What a wonderful thing to be learning history and at the same time be so entertained.”
Executive Director, Illinois Court Reporters Association
The best teachers are also entertaining.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to do both. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |

Your religion is NONE of my business!

[This post is the last of four from this one letter.]

… I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of enquiry into the religious opinions of others. on the contrary we are bound, you, I, & every one, to make common cause, even with error itself, to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience. we ought with one heart and one hand to hew [cut] down the daring and dangerous efforts of those who would seduce the public opinion to substitute itself into that tyranny over religious faith which the laws have so justly abdicated. for this reason, were my opinions up to the standard of those who arrogate [claim without justification] the right of questioning them, I would not countenance that arrogance by descending to an explanation.
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders respect the privacy of all moral beliefs.
Concluding a letter in which Jefferson wrote openly about his appreciation for the superiority of Jesus’ teaching while respecting the contribution of others to the moral canon, he took direct aim at those who sought to inquire into this most private realm:
1. He vowed total opposition to religious intolerance or even questioning another’s beliefs.
2. All are bound to support “the common right of freedom of conscience,” even for those they believe to be in error.
3. Since the Constitution guaranteed religious freedom, the efforts of those who sought any form of religious tyranny should be destroyed.
4. He would not dignify with answers the inquiries of those who claimed a right to question his religious beliefs.

” … our sincere appreciation to you for your exceptional presentation …”
President/GM, Missouri Association, Mutual Insurance Companies
Mr. Jefferson adds a unique and memorable dimension to your conference.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Morality, Personal preferences, Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |

Do not belittle others to make your point. Part 2 of 4

[This post is the second of four drawn from this one letter.]

… I must also add that tho’ I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus, as more pure, correct, & sublime than those of the antient philosophers, yet I do not concur with him in the mode of proving it. he thinks it necessary to libel and decry the doctrines of the philosophers. but a man must be blinded indeed by prejudice, who can deny them a great degree of merit. I give them their just due, & yet maintain that the morality of Jesus, as taught by himself & freed from the corruptions of later times, is far superior
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know effective leadership is not a zero-sum game.
Jefferson agreed with the moral status credited to Jesus by the author of a sermon forwarded to him by Edward Dowse. He did not agree with the author’s method of proving it, which was to belittle the beliefs of other ancient philosophers.

To Jefferson, Jesus could remain the most “pure, correct & sublime” of all philosophers while appreciating what others contributed to the moral canon. One who built up one moral authority while belittling all the others “must be blinded indeed by prejudice.”

“They [OSBA members] were particularly enthralled
by your ability to answer their many questions …”
Associate Director, Oregon School Boards Association
Mr. Jefferson delights in an open question-and-answer session with his audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Morality, Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |

Jesus trumps all the ancient moral philosophers!

I had promised some day to write … my view of the Christian system … [after taking] a general view of the moral doctrines of the most remarkeable of the antient philosophers … I should proceed to a view of the life, character, & doctrines of Jesus … a pure[r] deism, and juster notions of the attributes of god, to reform their moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice, & philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state. this view would purposely omit the question of his divinity & even of his inspiration … [and] shew a master workman, and that his system of morality was the most benevolent & sublime probably that has been ever taught; and eminently more perfect than those of any of the antient philosophers.
To Joseph Priestley, April 9, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders take pains to assess the morals of even wiser ones.
Priestley (1733-1804) was a renowned English-born scientist, philosopher, theologian, and Jefferson confidante. The work envisioned here was completed in 1804 with the title, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.” Fifteen years later, in 1819, he produced an expanded version called, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” That final version, excerpts from the four Gospels was produced in parallel form, with English, Greek, Latin and French translations on each page. Both were produced solely for his personal, private meditation, and made known to only a very few. Some years after his death, it would come be known, however incorrectly, as “The Jefferson Bible.”

Jefferson’s work focused only on Jesus’ words and historical accounts from the Gospels. Omitted were any claims of divinity and all of his miracles. Those, Jefferson believed, had been added by Jesus’ disciples to embellish their teacher. Even so, he found Jesus to be “more perfect” than all ancient philosophers “and that his system of morality was the most benevolent & sublime probably that has been ever taught.”

“I would like to thank you for your excellent presentation …
I continue to hear compliments …”
Secretary/Treasurer, Virginia Association of Surveyors
Your members will be talking about Mr. Jefferson long after your event.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in History, Morality, Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |

Why focus on the ONLY area where you disagree?

I consider it a great felicity [happiness], through a long and trying course of life, to have retained the esteem of my early friends unabated. I find in old age that the impressions of youth are the deepest & most indelible. some friends indeed have left me by the way, seeking, by a different political path, the same object, their country’s good, which I pursued, with the crowd, along the common highway. it is a satisfaction to me that I was not the first to leave them. I have never thought that a difference in political, any more than in religious opinions should disturb the friendly intercourse of society. there are so many other topics on which friends may converse & be happy, that it is wonderful [astonishing, in this context] they should select of preference the only one on which they cannot agree.
To David Campbell, January 28, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders maintain friendships with those who disagree.
Jefferson appreciated friends who stuck with him over the decades. He acknowledged that philosophical differences inspired some to seek the country’s good “by a different political path” than his, and that cost him some friendships. He took satisfaction that any loss of friendship over political differences was not his doing but the choice of others.

Why should political or religious differences separate people? Why pick the one area of disagreement and make that the deciding factor in what could be an otherwise cordial relationship? Such choices astonished Jefferson when there was so much common ground where “friends may converse & be happy.”

“We are always on the lookout for programs that reach all ages …
Your presentation was entertaining as well as enlightening.”
Daniel Boone Regional Library
Thomas Jefferson will enlighten your audience and entertain them in the process!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Miscellaneous, Politics, Religion Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Let us remain where all religions agree.

at an earlier period of life I pursued enquiries of that kind with industry & care. reading, reflection & time have convinced me that the interests of society require the observation of those moral precepts only in which all religions agree, (for all forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, or bear false witness.) and that we should not intermeddle with the particular dogmas in which all religions differ, and which are totally unconnected with morality.
To James Fishback, September 27, 1809

April 13 is Mr. Jefferson’s 274th Birthday!

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek common ground between opponents.
Fishback (1776-1845) was a Kentucky lawyer, physician, editor, active Presbyterian and later a Baptist minister. The 30 page pamphlet he sent Jefferson was entitled, in part, “The Philosophy of the Human Mind in Respect to Religion … Also, an Inquiry Into the Production, Nature, and Effects of the Christian Faith, According to the Expositions of Christ …”

Jefferson’s lifelong study of religion had convinced him that people of varying faiths, in their public engagements, should restrict their interaction to areas where all religions agreed, primarily regarding moral conduct. Where those faiths disagreed (and where their proponents liked to argue!) involved their “particular dogmas” which had nothing to morality.

Jefferson regarded Jesus as the world’s greatest teacher, though not divine. Here he could find common ground with the evangelical Fishback, whose basis for analyzing Christianity was “According to the Expositions of Christ.” Both men could look at Jesus’ own words and regard them (and him) as extraordinary, even if they disagreed on his divine nature.

“Each year we have a guest speaker,
and none has ever been so widely praised.”
Secretary, Missouri Emergency Preparedness Association
Mr. Jefferson will earn the praise of your members.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
1 Comment Posted in Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |

Religion is none of our business.

In matters of Religion, I have considered that it’s free exercise is placed by the constitution independant of the powers of the general government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it: but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction & discipline of the state or church authorities acknoleged by the several religious societies.
Second Inaugural Address, March 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders respect firm boundaries on their authority.
Jefferson reiterated a familiar theme, that the Constitution prohibited the federal government’s involvement in religion, either to promote or inhibit its exercise. That authority was left to the states and the churches within them. For that reason, as President, he had proclaimed no national days of prayer, fasting or thanksgiving.

Twenty years before, Jefferson’s ban on state involvement in religion was adopted in Virginia. He claimed that as one of three accomplishments for which he wished to be remembered and had it recorded on his tombstone. He held that government authority extended only to an individual’s actions, not his thoughts or beliefs. That left religious practice entirely to the individual.

“You gave us an excellent program!
… and would highly recommend your presentation to others.”
Executive Director, New Mexico Federal Executive Board
Mr. Jefferson comes well-recommended!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Constitutional issues, Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |

Will my opposition to national religious observances upset our allies?

…the [Danbury]Baptist address now inclosed … furnishes an occasion too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did. the address to be sure does not point at this, and it’s introduction is awkward, but I foresee no opportunity of doing it more pertinently. I know it will give great offence to the New England clergy. but the advocate for religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them…
To Levi Lincoln, January 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are careful not to offend the sensibilities of loyal supporters.
The President sent a draft of his reply to the Danbury Baptists to his Massachusetts-born Attorney General. In particular, he wanted to know how Republican New Englanders would react.

In the last post, also taken from this letter, Jefferson said he used his responses to citizen addresses to teach the people “useful truths & principles.” In this excerpt, he found an opportunity he had long sought, to explain why he did not declare national days of religious expression as Washington and Adams had done.

Curiously, Jefferson noted that the Danbury Baptists had not raised that issue, but he would use their address about religious rights to discuss it. This might be the best shot he would get.

He knew this would displease “the New England clergy,” whose traditions he opposed. Still, he was intent on equal religious freedom for all, knowing his opponents would neither accept nor forgive what he had done.

“The authenticity of your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson …
provided a sense of 18th Century reality for all …”
Great Rivers Council, Boy Scouts of America
If Thomas Jefferson impressed pre-adolescent boys, he will really impress your adult audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Politics, Religion Tagged , , , , , , |

Since I have to do it, I will make it count!

Averse to recieve addresses, yet unable to prevent them, I have generally endeavored to turn them to some account, by making them the occasion by way of answer, of sowing useful truths & principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets.
To Levi Lincoln, January 1, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Astute leaders turn duties they don’t like into opportunities to teach.
Jefferson had just received on the same day a 700 pound cheese from the Cheshire Baptists of Massachusetts and an address (a written declaration, often stating a position or making a request) from the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut and New York. The latter protested that their religious practices were given as privileges, not rights, by their state government, whose official church was Congregational.

Jefferson’s reply has been embraced by opposing camps as support for their position on religion and government. It contained those famous words, “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Jefferson disliked addresses in general but felt duty-bound to respond. Thus, he would use the unwished-for task as a opportunity to “sow useful truths & principles among the people …” The point he wanted to make will be the subject of the next post.

The President included a draft of his response to the Danbury folks with this letter and asked Lincoln’s comments.

“I have now hired you three times to present your characters to my annual conference …
Each brought value and a unique, inspiring message to our group.”
Executive Director, National Coal Transportation Association
For a valuable, unique and inspiring message, Thomas Jefferson is your man!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
Leave a comment Posted in Religion Tagged , , , , , , , |