The Founders’ Bible: Did Thomas Jefferson Base the Declaration of Independence on the Bible?

The authors of the Founders’ Bible want readers to believe that America was established to be a Christian nation. By that, they mean that the basis of civil law is Christianity. One important claim in support of the Christian nation theory is that the Declaration of Independence was based on the Bible.

In an article titled “Inseparably Linked: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” editors Brad Cummings, Lance Wubbels and Paul Jehle describe their view of what Thomas Jefferson did when he wrote the Declaration.

In writing the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson staked the legal claim for lawful separation from England on “the Laws of Nature,” which were widely understood as the will of God revealed in nature, “and of Nature’s God,” being God’s will revealed in the Bible — those two entitled America to be a free and independent nation. The Declaration is America’s birth certificate and legal basis that is bedrocked in Christian principles.

Also, in the Declaration’s second paragraph, Jefferson declared that we “are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Clearly, he was stating facts the Founders already knew. God’s charter for the nations via Creation (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), with mankind’s God-given rights of life, liberty and property, is the foundation upon which the charter or the mission statement for the United States stands.

Perhaps you can see where this is going. The Founders’ Bible authors want you to believe that Thomas Jefferson was writing in code. Instead of explicitly basing the Declaration on the Bible, he wrote general words that really meant something else. The authors conclude:

As was true for the Jamestown Charter and the Mayflower Compact, the same is true for the Declaration of Independence — the basis of law in our civil society is Christianity, as based on the Word of God. This is the foundation and blueprint that informs our purpose and destiny. It is out nation spiritual birthright. To conclude otherwise is to ignore the basic history anchored in fact. (p. 1248)

What is ignored by the Founders’ Bible is Jefferson’s own words about the Declaration. He wrote several times about the reasons and source of the document. When Jefferson wrote about the Declaration, he did not credit the Bible or Christianity.

First, to Henry Lee on May 8, 1825, Jefferson wrote:

But with respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects. When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles or new arguments never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before: but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. The historical documents which you mention as in your possession ought all to be found, and I am persuaded you will find to be corroborative of the facts and principles advanced in that Declaration.

Who wrote the “elementary books of public right?” Moses? The Apostle Paul? No, Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney contributed to the “harmonizing sentiments of the day.” A case could be made that some of that harmonizing sentiment derived from religious sources with religious references, but Jefferson did not mention them or appeal to them as primary influences.

In 1823, Jefferson told James Madison (referring to Lee’s theories about the source of the Declaration):

Richard Henry Lee charged it as copied from Locke’s treatise on government. Otis’s pamphlet I never saw, and whether I had gathered my ideas from reading or reflection, I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before.

According to Jefferson (and in contrast to what the authors of the Founders’ Bible want you to believe), he did not turn to the Bible when writing the Declaration of Independence. Christian historians Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden got it right when they wrote in 1989:

Here then is the “historical error”: It is historically inaccurate and anachronistic to confuse, and virtually to equate, the thinking of the Declaration of Independence with a biblical world view, or with Reformation thinking, or with the idea of a Christian nation. (p. 130).

The Founders’ Bible is full of these kind of errors. While I don’t know if the authors intend to do so, it seems clear that the idea of Christian nationalism has so captured them that claims are assembled (some with some truth, some completely false) in order to prove an ideological position.

Related posts:

Founders’ Bible Rewrites Exodus 18 to Fit Christian Nation Narrative

Confirmed: David Barton’s Founders’ Bible Cites Pro-Slavery James Hammond as Proponent of America as Christian Nation

David Barton’s Founders’ Bible is Wrong about the Aitken Bible

Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President

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  • Lynn David

    Perhaps Barton will next declare that Aristotle and Cicero got their ideas from the Bible.

    ;-)

  • http://www.yespeak.com Nicholas

    Insofar as it is Christian, the “nature and nature’s God” reference in the Declaration is a reference to natural law theory (as colored by the enlightenment authors Jefferson referenced). However, that theory holds that there is a distinction between what Aquinas called natural law (revealed in nature/discoverable by reason) and divine law (the 10 Commandments and other direct revelation). The two complement each other, but are not the same. (To round out types, there’s also eternal law and human law, but I won’t even get into those.)

    Today’s evangelicals tend to have difficulty with this distinction (Barton sees natural law and thinks 10 commandments), which as part of Catholicism, was tossed out by protestants during the reformation. The protestants have been tossed to and fro looking for a replacement political theory ever since (and I say that as a protestant).

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    Warren,

    If you are going to post stuff like this, the complete story is needed:

    Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c.

    The “and others” at the end no doubt is the Bible. That is indisputable. Besides Locke and Sidney write Nature’s God is Jehovah. Even Jefferson’s idol said Nature’s God was Jehovah.

    You are pulling what you claim Barton does:

    <i.Richard Henry Lee charged it as copied from Locke’s treatise on government.

    Where is the evidence Lee wrote this? Many historians call it bunk. He was jealous of RH Lee and everyone knew it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    oft – Your powers of mind reading Jefferson beyond the grave are amazing. You have no doubt about what Jefferson meant despite the fact that he said nothing close to it. On the other hand, when you look at what Jefferson wrote about the Bible, I would say your assumption is quite disputable.

    You do of course know what Jefferson wrote about Jehovah.

    Regarding what RH Lee charged, you will need to take it up with Jefferson since he is the one that said Lee made that charge. The evidence that Lee made the charge is that Jefferson said he did.

  • http://www.ourfoundingtruth.blogspot.com oft

    You have no doubt about what Jefferson meant despite the fact that he said nothing close to it. On the other hand, when you look at what Jefferson wrote about the Bible, I would say your assumption is quite disputable.

    Is this close to it?

    “that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that.. 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, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; 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 endeavoring 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 and abhors, 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” [bold face mine]

    –VA Act for Religious Freedom

    This is indisputably Jehovah and the Christians in Virginia knew it because Christian Pastors used the same language. Even more proof is ” That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful..” This is directly from the Assessment Bill and Madison makes it clear it is Jehovah.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      No, it is not close to it.

  • bob podesfinski

    OK. I have to ask: if Jefferson and the Founders lived in a Christian society, what else did they have to fall back to and refer if it wasn’t the Bible?

    I am a Roman Catholic, and I had to admire the courage of Martin Luther. Ordered by the all powerful Emperor and Catholic Bishops to recant and submit to rethinking his objections, he refused. “Here I stand, I can do nothing else.”

    Were not the Founders of the 13 colonies in a similar situation? Did they seriously think the American colonists would defeat Great Britain with its large armies and even greater navy. No, I doubt it. But like Martin Luther,. they said in effect, the same thing:: Here we stand, we can do nothing else.

    The bravery of the signers borders on foolhardiness. I think the Declaration is a very protestant document in a cultural way. And Roman Catholics who have come to the US have come to admire that Protestant ethic. The King of England was the head of the Anglican Church. The Founders appealed to the Creator.

    I read somewhere that Sam Adams made a motion to change “the Creator” to “Jesus Christ, Lord, Savior and Redeemer of Mankind.” It was voted down. Apparently Sam Adams knew what the Creator referred to.

  • bob podesfinski

    Because Jefferson and the Founders lived in a Christian society, what else did they have to fall back to and refer if it wasn’t the Bible? Not much else. Every colonist had a Bible, but books were expensive to own.

    I am a Roman Catholic, and I had to admire the courage of Martin Luther. Ordered by the all powerful Emperor and Catholic Bishops to recant and submit to rethinking his objections, he refused. “Here I stand, I can do nothing else.”

    Were not the Founders of the 13 colonies in a similar situation? Did they seriously think the American colonists would defeat Great Britain with its large armies and even greater navy. No, I doubt it. But like Martin Luther,. they said in effect, the same thing:: Here we stand, we can do nothing else.

    The bravery of the signers borders on foolhardiness. I think the Declaration is a very protestant document in a cultural way. And Roman Catholics who have come to the US have come to admire that Protestant ethic. The King of England was the head of the Anglican Church. The Founders appealed to the Creator.

    I read somewhere that Sam Adams made a motion to change “the Creator” to “Jesus Christ, Lord, Savior and Redeemer of Mankind.” It was voted down. Apparently Sam Adams knew what the Creator referred to.

  • Jon Rowe

    “I read somewhere that Sam Adams made a motion to change ‘the Creator’ to ‘Jesus Christ, Lord, Savior and Redeemer of Mankind.’ It was voted down. Apparently Sam Adams knew what the Creator referred to.”

    I’m not sure if this is true; but if it were, would the fact that this was voted down be dispositive?

    Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, who comprised a majority of the DOI’s drafting board, as theological unitarians, didn’t believe Jesus was “Creator.” Rather they thought He was a created being.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    And Roman Catholics who have come to the US have come to admire that Protestant ethic. The King of England was the head of the Anglican Church.

    Actually, it was more the Calvinists. ;-)

    “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson!”—Prime Minister Horace Walpole

    Dr. Mark David hall, George Fox University:

    Reformed leaders such as John Knox, George Buchanan, and Samuel Rutherford of Scotland, Stephanus Junius Brutus and Theodore Beza of France, and Christopher Goodman and John Ponet of England argued that inferior magistrates must resist unjust rulers and even permitted or required citizens to do so.

    It is worth noting that all of these men wrote before Locke published his Two Treatises of Government and that this tradition was profoundly influential in America. Indeed, between 55 percent and 75 percent of white citizens in this era associated themselves with Calvinist churches, and members of the tradition were significantly overrepresented among American intellectual elites.

    The influence of the Reformed political tradition in the Founding era is manifested in a variety of ways, but particularly noteworthy is the almost unanimous support Calvinist clergy offered to American patriots. This was noticed by the other side, as suggested by the Loyalist Peter Oliver, who railed against the “black Regiment, the dissenting Clergy, who took so active a part in the Rebellion.” King George himself reportedly referred to the War for Independence as “a Presbyterian Rebellion.” From the English perspective, British Major Harry Rooke was largely correct when he confiscated a presumably Calvinist book from an American prisoner and remarked that “[i]t is your G-d Damned Religion of this Country that ruins the Country; Damn your religion.”

    http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/2011/06/did-america-have-a-christian-founding


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