“… the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”
– Thomas Jefferson
First Inaugural Address
March 4, 1801
“… separation between church and State.”
– Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT.
January. 1, 1802
“…all Men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness…”
– Thomas Jefferson
Rough draft of the Declaration of Independence
June 28, 1776
“I AM FOR FREEDOM OF RELIGION”
Thomas Jefferson wanted his tombstone to list the most important “things that he had given the people.” It reads: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of Independence of The Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom And Father of the University of Virginia.” Why did Jefferson, man of many accomplishments, include the Statute for Religious Freedom as one of his gifts to the people?
The American colonies were settled by groups seeking religious freedom. At the time, the Church of England was the official religion of Great Britain, and many colonists continued to worship in the Church of England. But the thirteen colonies were also a crazy quilt of other religions: Baptists, Quakers, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Jews and Catholics. Thomas Jefferson, like many colonists, believed in “freedom of religion.”
In 1776, when the Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, delegates met to write state constitutions. The Church of England was closely tied to the British government. Great Britain had imposed taxes to fund the church. The colonial religious groups did not want to pay taxes to continue to support the Church of England. The new states had to ask the question: should they continue to impose taxes for the support of churches?
Thomas Jefferson believed that people should not be taxed to support any church. He felt there should be a “high wall between church and state.” After returning home from the Second Continental Congress, Jefferson worked to get rid of laws that kept the church in power in Virginia. He had the support of Virginia’s Quakers, Presbyterians and Baptists.
Jefferson wrote the “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.” The bill declared that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever.” This was a radical idea at the time. In 1779, the bill was introduced to the Virginia Assembly. It did not pass, but it brought together Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Madison agreed with his fellow Virginian.
Jefferson left for Paris in 1784 to become the US foreign minister to France. It was up to James Madison to get the bill passed. Madison presented the bill to the Virginia Assembly. In 1786, the bill passed with only a few changes. Madison sent word of their triumph to Jefferson in Paris.
With the passing of the bill, Virginia became the first state to separate church and state. It is still part of Virginia’s constitution. It was used as a model for other state’s constitutions. It was also used as a model for the religious language in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison considered the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom one of their great achievements.
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was drafted in 1777 (though it was not first introduced into the Virginia General Assembly until 1779) by Thomas Jefferson in the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia. On January 16, 1786, the Assembly enacted the statute into the state’s law. The statute disestablished the Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths, including Catholics and Jews as well as members of all Protestant denominations. The statute was a notable precursor of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Statute for Religious Freedom is one of only three accomplishments Jefferson instructed be put in his epitaph.
Courtesy of the Library of Virginia
Thomas Jefferson. “An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom,” 16 January 1786. Manuscript. Records of the General Assembly, Enrolled Bills, Record Group 78. Lab# 07_0071_01.
An Act for establishing religious Freedom.
(I) Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry, that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right, that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:
(II.) Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.
(III.) And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
Exd: ARCHIBALD CARY S.S.
Exd. BENJ HARRISON Sp HD
NATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY
National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. This vital document became the basis for the establishment clause, and led to freedom of religion for all Americans as protected in the religion clause in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Religious Freedom Day is officially proclaimed on January 16 each year by an annual statement by the President of the United States. This day is commemorated by the First Freedom Center in Richmond, Virginia by an annual First Freedom Award banquet.
THOMAS JEFFERSON AND RELIGION
The religious views of Thomas Jefferson diverged widely from the orthodox Christianity of his day. Throughout his life Jefferson was intensely interested in theology, religious studies, and morality. Jefferson was most closely connected with Unitarianism and the religious philosophy of Christian deism he was sympathetic to and in general agreement with the moral precepts of Christianity. He considered the religion of Christianity as having “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
As the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, Jefferson articulated a statement about human rights that most Americans regard as nearly sacred. While not necessarily being averse to such things as affirming the people’s “acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence” (as in his First Inaugural Address), and expressing the need for “the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old” in his second inauguration, yet, together with James Madison, Jefferson carried on a long and successful campaign against state financial support of churches in Virginia. It is Jefferson who created the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut. During his 1800 campaign for the presidency, Jefferson had to contend with critics who argued that he was unfit to hold office because he did not have orthodox religious beliefs.
Jefferson used certain passages of the New Testament to compose The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (the “Jefferson Bible”), which excluded any miracles by Jesus and stressed his moral message. Though he often expressed his opposition to clergy and to Christian doctrines, Jefferson repeatedly expressed his belief in a deistic god and his admiration for Jesus as a moral teacher. Opposed to Calvinism, Trinitarianism, and what he identified as Platonic elements in Christianity, in private letters Jefferson variously refers to himself as “Christian” (1803), “a sect by myself” (1819), an “Epicurean” (1819), a “materialist” (1820), and a “Unitarian by myself” (1825). Historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom associated Jefferson with “rational religion” or deism.
THOMAS JEFFERSON ON CHRISTIANITY & RELIGION
Compiled by Jim Walker
“Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.”-Thomas Jefferson (Notes on Virginia, 1782)
In spite of right-wing Christian attempts to rewrite history to make Jefferson into a Christian, little about his philosophy resembles that of Christianity. Although Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote of the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God, there exists nothing in the Declaration about Christianity.
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). With his scientific bent, Jefferson sought to organize his thoughts on religion. He rejected the superstitions and mysticism of Christianity and even went so far as to edit the gospels, removing the miracles and mysticism of Jesus (see The Jefferson Bible) leaving only what he deemed the correct moral philosophy of Jesus.
Distortions of history occur in the minds of many Christians whenever they see the word “God” embossed in statue or memorial concrete. For example, those who visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington will read Jefferson’s words engraved: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man.” When they see the word “God” many Christians see this as “proof” of his Christianity without thinking that “God” can have many definitions ranging from nature to supernatural. Yet how many of them realize that this passage aimed at attacking the tyranny of the Christian clergy of Philadelphia, or that Jefferson’s God was not the personal god of Christianity? Those memorial words came from a letter written to Benjamin Rush in 1800 in response to Rush’s warning about the Philadelphia clergy attacking Jefferson (Jefferson was seen as an infidel by his enemies during his election for President). The complete statement reads as follows:
“The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . .”
Jefferson aimed at laissez-faire liberalism in the name of individual freedom, He felt that any form of government control, not only of religion, but of individual mercantilism consisted of tyranny. He thought that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.
If anything can clear of the misconceptions of Jeffersonian history, it can come best from the author himself. Although Jefferson had a complex view of religion, too vast for this presentation, the following quotes provide a glimpse of how Thomas Jefferson viewed the corruptions of Christianity and religion.
“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782
“But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782
“What is it men cannot be made to believe!”
– Thomas Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, April 22, 1786. (on the British regarding America, but quoted here for its universal appeal.)
“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787
“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom
“I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion and wrote “Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?”)
“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789
“They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.”
– Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800
“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.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802
“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”
– Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813
“The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814
“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814
“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814
“If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? …Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814
“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816
“My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith, August, 6, 1816
“You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819
“As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819
“Priests…dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Correa de Serra, April 11, 1820
“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, April 13, 1820
“Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.”
– Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822.
“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
“It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825
“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826 (in the last letter he penned)
- Merrill D. Peterson, ed, Thomas Jefferson Writings, (The Library of America,1984)
- O.I.A. Roche, ed, The Jefferson Bible: with the Annotated Commentaries on Religion of Thomas Jefferson, (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1964)
- Dickinson W. Adams, ed, et al, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series (Princeton University Press, 1983)
- Lester J. Cappon, ed, The Adams-Jefferson Letters, Vol. 2, (The University of North Carolina Press, 1959)
- Alf J. Mapp, Jr., Thomas Jefferson, A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity, (Madison Books, 1987)
- Julian P. Boyd, ed, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, (Princeton University Press 1950–)
- A.A. Lipscomb, Albert E. Bergh, eds. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1903-1904)
For other quotes on the internet see:
FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights was originally proposed as a measure to assuage Anti-Federalist opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to states—a process known as incorporation—through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence to call for “a wall of separation between church and State”, though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute. Speech rights were expanded significantly in a series of 20th and 21st-century court decisions which protected various forms of political speech, anonymous speech, campaign financing, pornography, and school speech; these rulings also defined a series of exceptions to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court overturned English common lawprecedent to increase the burden of proof for defamation and libel suits, most notably in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Commercial speech, however, is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation.
The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota (1931) and New York Times v. United States (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraint—pre-publication censorship—in almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the Amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.
JEFFERSON ROUGH DRAFT OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
Transcript of Declaration of Independence (Rough Draft)
- Note: Italicized words or phrases were omitted in the final draft.
- Bracketed words or phrases were added to the original draft and appear in the final draft.
FIRST PAGE OF JEFFERSON’S ROUGH DRAFT OF THE DECLARATION
A Declaration by the Representatives
of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in
General Congress assembled.
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 & 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 withinherent and* [certain] inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles, & organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness. Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light & transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses & usurpations begun at a distinguished period and pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, & to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; & such is now the necessity which constrains them to expunge [alter] their former systems of government. The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of unremitting [repeated] injuries & usurpations, among which appears no solitary fact to contradict the uniform tenor of the rest but all have [all having]in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world for the truth of which we pledge a faith yet unsullied by falsehood.
HE has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome & necessary for the public good.
HE has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate & pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; & when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
HE has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them, & formidable to tyrants only.
HE has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
HE has dissolved representative houses repeatedly & continually for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
HE has refused for a long time after such dissolutions to cause others to be elected, whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise, the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without & convulsions within.
HE has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners, refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, & raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
HE has suffered [obstructed] the administration of justice totally to cease in some of these states [by] refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
HE has made our judges dependant on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, & the amount & paiment of their salaries.
HE has erected a multitude of new offices by a self assumed power and sent hither swarms of new officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
HE has kept among us in times of peace standing armies and ships of war without the consent of our legislatures.
HE has affected to render the military independent of, & superior to the civil power.
HE has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitutions & unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
FOR quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
FOR protecting them by a mock-trial from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states
FOR cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:
FOR imposing taxes on us without our consent:
FOR depriving us [in many cases] of the benefits of trial by jury
FOR transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences:
FOR abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging it’s boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states [colonies]:
FOR taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:
FOR suspending our own legislatures, & declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in allcases whatsoever.
He has abdicated government here withdrawing his governors, and declaring us out of his allegiance & protection. [by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.]
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, & destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation & tyranny already begun with circumstanccs of cruelty and perfidy [scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, & totally] unworthy the head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends & brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.
He has [excited domestic insurection among us, & has] endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, & conditions of existence.
He has incited treasonable insurrections of our fellow-citizens, with the allurements of forfeiture & confiscation of our property.
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobium of INFIDEL Powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of another.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injuries.
A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a [free] people who mean to be free. Future ages will scarcely believe that the hardiness of one man adventured, within the short compass of twelve years only, to lay a foundation so broad & so undisguised for tyranny over a people fostered & fixed in principles of freedom.
Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend a [an unwarrantable] jurisdiction over these our states [us]. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration & settlement here, no one of which could warrant so strange a pretension: that these were effected at the expense of our own blood & treasure, unassisted by the wealth or the strength of Great Britain: that in constituting indeed our several forms of government, we had adopted one common king, thereby laying a foundation for perpetual league & amity with them: but that submission to their parliament was no part of our constitution, nor ever in idea, if history may be credited: and, we [have] appealed to their native justice and magnanimity [and we have conjured them by] as well as to the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations which were likely to [would inevitably] interrupt our connection and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice & of consanguinity, and when occasions have been given them, by the regular course of their laws, of removing from their councils the disturbers of our harmony, they have, by their free election, re-established them in power. At this very time too they are permitting their chief magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our common blood, but Scotch & foreign mercenaries to invade & destroy us. These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us to renounce forever these unfeeling brethren. We must endeavor to forget our former love for them, and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. We might have been a free and a great people together; but a communication of grandeur & of freedom it seems is below their dignity. Be it so, since they will have it. The road to happiness & to glory is open to us too. We will tread it apart from them, and [We must therefore] acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our eternal separation! [and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.]
We therefore the representatives of the united States of America in General Congress assebled [appealing to the Judge of the World for the recititude of our intentions] do in the name & by authority of the good people of thesestates [colonies] reject and renounce all allegiance & subjections to the kings of Great Britain & all others who may hereafter claim by, through or under them: we utterly disolve all political connection which may heretofore have subsisted between us & the people or parliment of Great Britain: and finally we do assert and declare these colonies to be free and independent states, [solemly Publish and Declare that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are dissolved from allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;] and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract allies, establish commerce, & do all other acts & things which independent states may of right do.
And for the support of this declaration, [with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence] we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honor.
Source: Boyd, J.P. et al, editors. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950. Volume I page 426.
THE LEGACY OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
Before Americans were American, they were British. Before Americans governed themselves, they were governed by a distant British king. Before America was an independent state, it was a dependent colony. Before Americans claimed equal rights, they were subject to British tyranny. What brought about these transformations? The Declaration of Independence of 1776.
ENGRAVING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
AN AMERICAN PEOPLE
In its opening lines, the Declaration made a radical statement: America was one “people.” On the eve of independence, however, the thirteen colonies had been separate provinces. Colonists’ loyalties were to individual colonies. In fact, only commercial ties with Britain served to unify the colonies in any sense. Yet the Declaration transformed South Carolinians, Virginians, New Yorkers and other colonists into Americans.
A NEW SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE
The Declaration announced America’s separation from one of the world’s most powerful empires: Britain. Parliament’s oppressive taxes, along with King George III’s failure to address or ease his subjects’ grievances, made dissolving of the “bands which have connected them” not just a choice, but an urgent necessity. As the Declaration made clear, the “long train of abuses and usurpations” and the tyranny exhibited “over these States” forced the colonists to “alter their former system of Government.” Under the new “system,” Americans would govern themselves.
CLOSER TO EUROPE
America did not secede from the British Empire to be alone in the world. Instead, the Declaration proclaimed that an independent America had assumed a “separate and equal station” with the other “powers of the earth.” With this statement, America would occupy an equal place with other modern European nations, including France, the Dutch Republic, Spain, or even Britain. America’s independence signaled a fundamental change: once-dependent British colonies became independent states that could make war, create alliances with foreign nations, and engage freely in commerce.
The Declaration issued a landmark decree—that “all men are created equal.” Colonists had always seen themselves as equal to their British cousins and entitled to the same liberties. But when Parliament passed laws that violated colonists’ “inalienable rights” and ruled the American colonies without the “consent of the governed,” colonists concluded that Britain was the land of tyranny, not freedom. The Declaration sought to restore equal rights by rejecting Britain’s oppression.
THE “SPIRIT OF 76”
The principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence promised to lead America—and other nations on the globe—into a new era of freedom. The revolution begun by Americans on July 4, 1776 would never end. It would inspire all peoples living under the burden of oppression and ignorance to open their eyes to the rights of mankind, to overturn the power of tyrants, and to declare the triumph of equality over inequality.