Jefferson the atheist

More ‘No love for atheists in today’s Democratic party’ articles! But this one includes an interesting anecdote from the early days of America’s history, when atheist presidential candidates roamed the earth:

And if Senator Obama, a committed Christian, were ever attacked for something so minute as, say, making space on a dais for a Humanist clergyperson? He could successfully take a page from the presidential election of 1800, pitting the irreligious Thomas Jefferson against incumbent John Adams in the first case of a Presidential candidate Swiftboated for his religion.

Alexander Hamilton, playing a Karl Rove-like role on Adams’s campaign, ran this ad for the Federalists:

THE GRAND QUESTION STATED At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked
by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is
“Shall I continue in allegiance to


Or impiously declare for
Jefferson–and no god!!!”

Jefferson turned the tables, portraying his opponents as reactionary Presbyterians, taking advantage of most of the era’s non-mainstream religious groups’ fear that Presbyterians (the 1800 equivalent of today’s Christian Right) sought to roll back or reverse religious freedom. Reflecting on defeat, Adams wrote years later, “With the Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, and Moravians, as well as the Dutch and German Lutherans and Calvinists, it had an immense effect, and turned them in such numbers as decided the election. They said, let us have an Atheist or Deist or any thing rather than an establishment of Presbyterianism.”

Comments (1)

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    Jefferson was not an atheist. He believed in God, but did not acknowledge Jesus as the son of God. He did, however, believe him a great moral teacher. Jefferson’s religious works include the “Jefferson Bible”, a compilation of the words of Christ minus miracles and such. Jefferson helped to lay the groundwork for the Unitarians. The accusation that Tom was an atheist came mainly from political opponents.

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