Monday, June 28, 2010

Thomas Jefferson and the Restoration

June 28, 2010
by Tim Barker

The growth of the church from its infancy through today, amazes me.  I think the growth today is different from the 1800's, however, not just because of the size of the missionary effort in our day, but because the converts then and now, come from significantly different cultures.  Concerns today, collectively, are different than what they used to be.  It seems that there has been a general growing indifference towards religion for many years.  In the 1800's there were many people prepared for the Gospel because they saw the corruption of Biblical teachings within the churches they attended.  The Protestant movement was a key factor in the enlightment age, and within the U.S. there were "great awakenings," that inspired people towards religion.  A number of Christians considered themselves as "restorationists," who believed that the gospel was inoperable due to a lack of authority, but a restoration of Christ's primitive church and gospel would occur.  One such individual was Thomas Jefferson.

Joseph Smith had stated by revelation that the U.S. constitution was established "by the hands of wise men whom I [the LORD] raised up unto this very purpose..." (D&C 101:80).  It is no wonder that after the completion of the dedication of the St. George temple, the first operating temple in Utah, the signers of the Declaration of the Independence appeared to the Prophet Wilford Woodruff, requesting their temple work be done.  He stated, "those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth.  They were choice spirits, not wicked men.  General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord..."1 

On November 4, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Reverend Jared Sparks.  He stated:
I hold the precepts of Jesus, as delivered by Himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man.  I adhere to the principles of the first age; and consider all subsequent innovations as corruptions of His religion, having no foundation in what came from Him.  The metaphysical insanities of Athanasius, of Loyola, and of Calvin, are, to my understanding, mere relapses into polytheism, differing from paganism only by being more unintelligible.  The religion of Jesus is founded in the Unity of God, and this principle chiefly, gave it triumph over the rabble of heathen gods then acknowledged.  Thinking men of all nations rallied readily to the doctrine of one only God, and embraced it with the pure morals which Jesus inculcated.  If the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by His pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity.  This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it.2

Jefferson died July 4, 1826.  The church of Jesus Christ was restored on April 6, 1830. 

While Jefferson correctly predicted that the doctrines of Jesus would be restored after his death, he believed it would come through an educated reformation, rather than revelation.  Regardless, it was clear he recognized an apostasy and the need for a return to primitive Christianity. 

1 Journal of Discourses, 19:228-229
2 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson V15: Containing His Autobiography, Notes on Virginia, Parliamentary Manual, Official Papers, Messages and Addresses, And Other Writings And Private (Lipscomb and Bergh, Eds.; Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 15:288 (emphasis in original)


  1. One other quotation from Thomas Jefferson on apostacy and restoration:

    "Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger athletes to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages."

    Letter to Dr. Benjamin waterhouse, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson V15: Containing His Autobiography, Notes on Virginia, Parliamentary Manual, Official Papers, Messages and Addresses, and Other Writings and Private (Lipscomb and Bergh, Eds., Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 15:391

  2. Wow this is incredible!! I am related to Thomas Jefferson. My Grandfather was Field Jefferson which was Thomas Jeffersons Uncle. We have the same Grandparents. I am a convert and am learning more and more about My Ancestors. I am the only living Member of the Church in my family that I know of. I am learning more and more about when the founding Fathers appeared to Wilford Woodruff. Also what may seem really interesting his great grandson was the Mission President when I was baptized and was there to witness it! That being a coincidence I may never know! Love to know more about this history.

  3. Thanks for your comment. What a great story - I'm happy for you. You will probably continue to have "coincidences" throughout your life in the Gospel, at least I know that I have. You might be interested in the book - Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, as it relates to your heritage and your brilliant and incredible ancestor, Thomas Jefferson. It is available online here:

  4. This is great information! I wonder if any work has been done to research the claims made by modern-day "Reasonists" that T.J. rejected the divinity of Jesus, his miracles, etc. From what I've gathered, this is due to the fact that the Jefferson Bible had all of this information taken out of it. Any ideas on this?

  5. Great question Ted L. I'm certainly not an expert on Jefferson, so I don't think that I could adequately answer this question - definately a good research point though.

    I will offer my 2 cents anyways...

    The quotations from Jefferson that I've read all seem to imply more of a contempt for apostate Christianity in general, and specifically hypocrisy of individuals who claim to be Christian, but are anything but followers of Christ. The Jefferson Bible extracts principles taught by Christ. I don't know that he rejected the divinity of Christ, or miracles performed by the Savior, but he simply sought to follow the example of Christ, and his extractions, it seems to me, form the moral basis by which he tried to live. I know some argue that Jefferson was not Christian. I think this quotation is interesting:

    "You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."
    -letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, 6/25/1819

    He doesn't argue about being a separate religion, rather he simply makes the point that he has no affiliation with any of the existing Christian sects (in this quotation and in others). In connection with the previous quotations I used above, it seems he simply was not pleased with Christianity as it existed in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Critics argue he dismissed Christianity (at least everything but the morals), and some Christians argue he was Christian through and through.

    Again, I'm not an expert on Jefferson, but based on what I have read, it seems to me that he was a pretty strong Christian, just not intersted in Catholicism or Protestantism.

  6. Thinking of pristine Christianity, Jefferson accurately saw Jesus' own regard for the Only One God. Jesus was a faithful Jew even up to his last moments on the cross when he cried "My God, why has thous forsaken me?" Faced with Trinitarian Christianity Jefferson rightly sought restoration of Jesus' sublimest faith and love for the Unseen Yahweh. roger l.s.