This past weekend, I decided to give the program a listen. I downloaded a couple of past episodes (which you can do at this link). It just so happens that the episode I downloaded dealt specifically with the presidential election of 1800. In the episode, Jenkinson states the fact that Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Adams campaign of being, "virtually an atheist."
Though hardly comparable to the all-out assault of modern campaigns, the election of 1800 did witness some severe attacks on the candidates. The most severe of these attacks were levied against the contender, Thomas Jefferson, and specifically centered on his religious views. In his infamous letter to the Reverend William Linn in 1800, Jefferson stated, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. 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." Along with this declaration, Jefferson went on to state the following about Christianity:
Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.In response to these comments, the Adams campaign wasted no time responding. Acting as if they had been handed a gift from the Divine, Adams' men pounced Jefferson in the public arena, accusing him of being "an enemy to his country and his God." Steven Waldman, author of the book Founding Faith sites a poem that was often used against Jefferson in the public:
I am the first of men in the ways of evil,In his defense, Jefferson stated the following:
The truest, thriftiest servent of the Devil;
Born, educated, glory to engross
And shine confess'd the Devil's Man of Ross.
Here's three to one I beat even him in pride;
Two whores already in my chariot ride. (Founding Faith, 170).
"I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians" (Jefferson to Charles Thompson, January 1801).We often talk of religion during this era as if it played a secondary role in the lives of the public. Despite these allegations, I maintain that religion (in whatever form it was embraced) was at the heart of virtually every major decision or event in the lives of ordinary people. We often hear of recent studies that point out how only 17% of colonial Americans ever attended church. If that is true, (and I believe the study is more indicative of the difficulties in traveling during this era than anything else) then why was religion such a pivotal issue in politics?