Today I spend on the run, my friends, so hastily I approach this letter. This morning I went with Natalie to her parent's house, to celebrate the occasion with a Thanksgiving feast. Over the approach of the midday, I witnessed several things which I leave to matters of record.
Mr. Cato: Before we eat, let's turn on the television to watch the speech by President Bush.
Me: Whatever is your occasion.
Natalie: These speeches all sound the same, we should just start eating.
Mrs. Cato: Now listen to your father, dear. We all want to hear from the President.
Mr. Cato: Hush, the speech is starting...
President Bush: Thanksgiving Day is a time to remember our many blessings and to celebrate the opportunities that freedom affords. Explorers and settlers arriving in this land often gave thanks for the extraordinary plenty they found. And today, we remain grateful to live in a country of liberty and abundance. We give thanks for the love of family and friends, and we ask God to continue to watch over America. This Thanksgiving, we pray and express thanks for the men and women who work to keep America safe and secure. Members of our armed forces, state and local law enforcement and first responders embody our nation's highest ideals of courage and devotion to duty. Our country is grateful for their service and for the support and sacrifice of their families. We ask God's special blessings on those who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.
Mr. Cato: There, see that? He said God twice. Where is your atheist revisionism now, Tom?
Natalie: Stop it dad, I told you Tom wasn't atheist.
Me: I am not an atheist. To indirectly assume the power of the U.S. an authority over religious exercises, an authority which even the President has none, is irresponsible. Furthered to his irresponsibility is the zeal of Mr. Bush to assume this authority.
Mr. Cato: Atheist, heathen, it's all the same to me, I don't see how you can date him.
President Bush: We also remember those affected by the destruction of natural disasters. Their tremendous determination to recover their lives exemplifies the American spirit, and we are grateful for those across our nation who answered the cries of their neighbors in need and provided them with food, shelter and a helping hand. We ask for continued strength and perseverance as we work to rebuild these communities and return hope to our citizens.
Mrs. Cato: Those poor black people in New Orleans. See, Bush cares about them?
Mr. Cato: That'll show that rapper Kanye West. The man can call Bush a racist on TV but he can't even spell his own damn name right. Good for you Mr. President!
President Bush: We give thanks to live in a country where freedom reigns, justice prevails and hope prospers. We recognize that America is a better place when we answer the universal call to love a neighbor and help those in need. May God bless and guide the United States of America as we move forward.
Mr. Cato: So, atheist, what do you have to say to that?
Me: As a President, Bush has little more power over the blessings of God than the most common of citizens. He can command God to bless the United States, however that commandment is of little consequence to the Almighty.
Mr. Cato: If the President wasn't Christian, we would've had more than those hurricanes hit us this year. It is obvious that God has raised his protective veil over us, and President Bush is doing his best to get that veil back on. After all, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because of all the abortions and faggotry going on down there.
Natalie: Dad, that makes no sense.
Mr. Bush: Hush now, the President's talking.
President Bush: So now, to remind people of the history behind this special occasion, I am going to recite a prayer by founder Thomas Jefferson, from his 1805 second inaugural speech.
Me: I didn't make a prayer during my second inauguration.
Mr. Cato: What was that? I couldn't quite hear you.
President Bush: I call the nation to prayer, "Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
Me: I... I mean, Thomas Jefferson... never said that.
Mr. Cato: What? Of course he did, I read it on OurChurch.com. I knew we couldn't go one speech without your revisionist garbage.
Mrs. Cato: Yes dear, it is all over the faith-going websites.
Natalie: So? What if Tom is right on this one?
Mr. Cato: Nonsense. Everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson was one of our most religious founding fathers. He established two days of prayer and fasting when he was in Virginia as a politician.
Me: Certainly, both of those declarations were made 12 and 18 years before the Constitutional Republic came into being, and a Constitutional law was adopted. Likewise, those were actions of the states, each independent of will and action, from the confederation that was in place in the time and the federation later established. To ascribe a day of fasting & prayer was not his proscription, but instead his recommendation. You must be able to see the difference? He was asked, by many, to prescribe such days. And towards his reply, he said that he considered the government of the U S. as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the U.S. Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. It must then rest with the states, as far as it can be in any human authority. But it is only proposed by those like yourself that the President should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting & prayer. That is, that he should indirectly assume to the U.S. an authority over religious exercises which the Constitution has directly precluded them from. It must be meant too that this recommendation is to carry some authority, and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; not indeed of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree of proscription perhaps in public opinion. And does the change in the nature of the penalty make the recommendation the less a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed? I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct it's exercises, it's discipline, or it's doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. Surely, you see how this is different than the attitude of Bush today.
Mr. Cato: Difference? You make no sense sometimes. Either he was for God and true Christianity or he was an atheist. There is no differences.
Me: I am most certain that Jefferson's position was much more nuanced than that, and that if you ever met him, you would certainly misunderstand his position as many have before. No-where does he prescribe a religious practice to anyone. He certainly makes that recommendation, to his friends and family, to those attending schools he recommended religious instruction, to those in the military he offered the services of chaplains. However he never, as a President to the American public or attendant to the provisions of the Constitution, saw fit to make such religious practices, beliefs or servitudes a prescription by which the state officiates a doctrine or practice. He most certainly never led public prayer in those official capacities. I am aware that the practice of his predecessors may be quoted. But I have ever believed that the example of state executives led to the assumption of that authority by the general government, without due examination, which would have discovered that what might be a right in a state government, was a violation of that right when assumed by another. Be this as it may, every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, & mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.
Mr. Cato: Again, more revisionism. I don't know what you have against Christians, but your hatred of God is apparent. I can't believe you'd deny basic history. Everyone knows that Jefferson worshipped the Son, the Father and the Holy Ghost just like all true Christians, and all our founding fathers who created this nation to be a Christian nation. Anyone saying otherwise is a revisionist who is distorting history.
Me: Trinitarianism is certainly something he didn't believe in...
Mrs. Cato: Well dear, may you know Jesus someday.
Natalie: Do you understand that people don't always have the same dogmatic attitude that you have about religion? Thomas has said many times he is a Christian and even has... unique... beliefs about Jesus. Just because that isn't compatible to your crazy idea of fundamentalist and orthodox worship doesn't mean he's some wacko sinner. Why don't you lay off him and let's eat?
It certainly was a bit uncomfortable, but the food was good and there is still much left to the day. Later this evening I will be making a trip over to the now vacant apartment of Professor Ludwig von Meises to ensure that his equipment is safe and that his mail is delivered inside. He left me with his house-key to make certain these affairs are attended to.
I pray you to accept the assurances of my high esteem & respect on this Thanksgiving. Likewise, I pray you accept and understand how that attitude differs from the public policy of our civil magistrate, as some seem unable to make this distinction.
- TH. Jefferson
Looking at this in its original and unedited context, it should give you an easy way to understand how Jefferson actually felt about such acts. Yes, Jefferson often talked of God and his religious beliefs, but as the highest of public officials he felt that it was simply not the government's duty. He knew others felt differently and would contradict him. It was, to him, a matter of principle. This attitude didn't prevent him from hiring chaplains to service military or to recommend Biblical lessons in schools, however he didn't make these recommendations because he felt it was government's role to educate the masses about religion - he made these recommendations because he was an intellectual purist who believed everyone should learn of religion and religious philosophy and that people were not better for remaining ignorant of the topic. Nothing there should be confused as a contradiction to his principle of the Wall of Separation between Church and State. In fact, they are a reinforcement of these principles, if you understand his position properly.
Some have gone to quite distant lengths to distort Jefferson's opinion to make him sound more like a modern conservative, which is ridiculous. Take for instance, the oft-cited prayer Jefferson supposedly gave on March 4th, 1805 (his second inauguration).
"Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
This would certainly be confusing. Did the person who write the above letter condemning public officials for recommending religious ideas to the public as authorities, try to lead the public in prayer during his inaugural address? The citation for this quote comes from "A National Prayer for Peace", a document that as far as I know, does not exist. It certainly was not a part of his inaugural address. He wrote out his entire address by hand, and I have read his handwritten notes from 1805 and 1801 (which this quote is often also attributed to) and in neither document can I find the written above prayer, however I do find the whole body of the speeches supposedly addressed. The only sources I find for this is that it is included in "The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson", edited together by Adrienne Koch and William Peden, although no source for this quote seems to exist. That book was copywrited two years after "America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations", by William J. Federer, which seems to be the original source for the quotation. In other words, the prayer above seems to have no official source.
Looking at that evidence, my first conclusion was that the prayer was completely fabricated, however, now it appears it is merely cited incorrectly. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 was the person to actually deliver the above prayer, during his Thanksgiving proclamation. It is interesting to note that after searching hundreds of letters, I could not find Jefferson once using the term "Jesus Christ our Lord", as his reverence of Christ was as a human prophet and not a god-amongst-men as many believe. There are many minute misconceptions floating around about Jefferson which tries to paint him as a modern conservative and not the objective philosopher, my favorite is that he signed his letters with "the year of our lord", which is completely false (having read hundreds of his letters, including handwritten photocopies, I not once have seen that mentioned). Little white lies like this distort our conception of the founders and their base principles by which we establish our current policy.
However, I hope I have cleared some of that up for you with today's update, and as always you are free to believe whatever you want. Jefferson wouldn't have had it any other way.