Did Thomas Jefferson Found a Secular University?

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I keep publishing excerpts for David Barton’s book “Jefferson Lies.” I think it is important we all know these things.

Did Jefferson have a disdain for the influence of Christianity on education?

Did he found the first intentionally secular university in America?

Did he hire only Deists and Unitarians for his faculty?

Did he exclude religious content from the curriculum of the school?

Most Americans would probably answer “yes” to these four questions, for they have been told repeatedly by many of today’s writers, both academic and journalistic, that Jefferson was an ardent secularist. But what if this is wrong? What if Jefferson’s own education – an education that thoroughly prepared him for the national and international scene – had not only been heavily religious but also personally satisfying to him? If such was the case, then it is illogical to assert that Jefferson would seek to exclude from others that which had so benefited him; so let’s begin with a look at Jefferson’s own education. Born in 1743, as a youngster he attended St. James’ Anglican Church of Northam Parish with his family. The church was pastored by the Reverend William Douglass, and from 1752 to 1758 the young Thomas attended the Reverend Douglass’ school. In 1758 his family moved to Albemarle County, where they attended the Fredericksville Parish Anglican Church, pastored by the Reverend James Fontaine Maury. From 1758 to 1760 Thomas attended the Reverend Maury’s school, and then entered William and Mary, yet another school affiliated with the Anglican Church. Part of Jefferson’s daily routine at the college included morning and evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer with lengthy Scripture readings.


Scottish instructor Dr. William Small, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was Jefferson’s favorite instructor. Jefferson later acknowledged: “It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life, that Dr. William Small of Scotland, was then professor …”

It’s interesting that many of the best instructors in early America were Scottish Presbyterians. As historian George Marsden affirmed, “ It is not much of an exaggeration to say that outside of New England, the Scots were the educators of eighteenth-century America.”

These Scottish instructors regularly tutored students in what was known as the Scottish Common Sense educational philosophy – an approach under which not only Jefferson but also other notable Virginia Founding Fathers were trained, including George Washington, James Madison, George Mason, Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Nelson. In fact, Gaillard Hunt, head of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, observed: “One reason why the ruling class in Virginia acted with such unanimity [during the Revolution] … was that a large proportion of them had received the same kind of education. This usually came first from clergymen.”

 Scottish Common Sense was originated to counter the skepticism of stridently secular European writers and philosophers. This approach asserted that common sense should shape philosophy rather than vice versa, and that normal, everyday language could express philosophical principles in a way that could be understood by ordinary individuals and not just academic elites. Key tenets of Scottish Common Sense included: 9 1. There is a God. 2. God placed into every individual a conscience – a moral sense written on his or her heart (cf. Jeremiah 31: 33, Romans

God established “first principles” in areas such as law, government, education, politics, and economics; and these first, or transcendent guiding principles could be discovered by the use of common sense, logic, and reason. 4. There was no conflict between reason and revelation. The two were not inherent enemies; both came directly from God, and revelation fortified and clarified reason.

This is the philosophy under which Jefferson was largely educated. Interestingly, Jefferson’s own personal education, including at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels, all occurred at religious schools and consistently incorporated religious instruction. Yet many of today’s writers insist that it was not the Scottish Common Sense philosophy under which he had been trained that influenced his thinking but rather it was the secular European Enlightenment.

The author has been a writer/photographer for over thirty years. Specializing in nature and landscape photography, as well as studying native cultures.

His travels have taken him to most of the United States, as well as Australia, Belize, Egypt and the Canary Islands.

He has studied the Mayan culture of Central America as well as the aborigines of Australia. Photography has given him the opportunity to observe life in various parts of the world.

He has published several books about his adventures.

For more information, please consult his website,www.journeysthrulife.com.

Your comments are welcome

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