Jefferson’s Influence on William and Mary College and the University of Virginia

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As stated in David Barton’s book “Jefferson Lies“, the following excerpt exemplifies how Thomas Jefferson actually felt when it came to incorporating religious doctrine into education.

In 1779, Jefferson introduced legislation to modify the school – an accomplishment known as the Jefferson Reorganization. According to Professor Leonard Levy: Jefferson’s first proposal on higher education came in 1779. His Bill for the Amending of the Constitution of the College of William and Mary stated that the college consisted of “one school of sacred theology, with two professorships therein, to wit, one for teaching the Hebrew tongue, and expounding the Holy Scriptures; and the other for explaining the commonplaces of Divinity and controversies with heretics.” … Jefferson proposed to abolish … the school of theology with its professorships of religion.  Did Jefferson actually propose abolishing “the school of theology with its professorships of religion”? Apparently so, for Jefferson himself acknowledged, “I effected, during my residence in Williamsburg that year, a change in the organization of that institution by abolishing … the two professorships of Divinity.”  So it appears that Professor Levy was right – that Jefferson did seek to secularize higher education. At least, it appears that way until one reads the rest of Jefferson’s own account of his actions, and then it becomes evident that his intention was exactly the opposite. Jefferson explained: The College of William and Mary was an establishment purely of the Church of England [i.e., the Anglicans]; the Visitors [Regents] were required to be all of that Church; the professors to subscribe it’s thirty-nine [doctrinal] Articles; its students to learn its Catechism; and one of its fundamental objects was declared to be to raise up ministers for that church. The religious jealousies, therefore, of all the Dissenters [those from other denominations] took alarm lest this might give an ascendancy to the Anglican sect. Jefferson had abolished the School of Divinity because it was solely an arm of the state-established Anglican Church, and he wanted to open the college to greater involvement from “the Dissenters” – those from other Christian denominations such as Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and so Further evidence that Jefferson’s reorganization of the college was not motivated by any notion of secularism was the stipulation within his plan that “the said professors shall likewise appoint from time to time a missionary of approved veracity to the several tribes of Indians.” (In that day, missionaries, like ministers, taught both religious and academic subjects, and most schools were headed by ministers or missionaries.) Jefferson was not against Christian education, nor was he seeking to secularize it; he simply opposed favoring the Anglican Church over all others, and for this reason, abolished the Anglican Professorship of Divinity of Wiliam and Mary.

Four decades later, Jefferson sought to ensure that the University of Virginia would reflect the same denominational nonpreferentialism that he had repeatedly promoted throughout his life. He therefore reported to the state authorities that chartered the university: In conformity with the principles of our Constitution which places all sects of religion on an equal footing, with the jealousies of the different sects in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprise; and with the sentiments of the legislature in favor of freedom of religion manifested on former occasions, we have proposed no Professor of Divinity; and the rather as the proofs of the being of a God – the Creator, Preserver, and Supreme Ruler of the Universe – the Author of all the relations of morality and of the laws and obligations these infer – will be within the province of the Professor of Ethics; to which adding the developments of these moral obligations of those in which all sects agree, with a knowledge of the languages Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, a basis will be formed common to all sects. Proceeding thus far without offence to the Constitution, we have thought it proper at this point to leave every sect to provide as they think fittest the means of further instruction in their own peculiar tenets.  Jefferson and the Board of Visitors (regents) decided that there should be no specific Professor of Divinity since it might give the impression that the university favored the denomination with which the professor was affiliated. But this certainly did not mean that the university would be secular or have no religious instruction. To the contrary, Jefferson simply transferred the responsibility of teaching “the proofs of the being of a God, the Creator, Preserver, and Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Author of all the relations of morality and of the laws and obligations these infer” –– the things that a professor of Divinity would normally teach – to the Professor of Ethics. So religious instruction definitely would occur. Jefferson also reported: It is supposed probable that a building of somewhat more size in the middle of the grounds may be called for in time, in which may be rooms for religious worship, under such impartial regulations as the Visitors shall prescribe … Despite Jefferson’s unambiguous declarations in these provisions, critics nevertheless claimed that the university was anti-religious. 

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The blogger 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.

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a lutheran church against a sunny blue sky.

The day after Congress adopted the first amendment, they sent a message to George Washington. They asked him to declare a day of Thanksgiving to God.

Congress wanted to show America’s appreciation for the opportunity to create a new government in peace and tranquility.

The founders did not intend for God to be separate from our official acts. The founders just did not want a national denomination, such as in England.

They did not want an established church, an established church would take away religious liberty.
They did not want an established church that could force people to worship against their will or support it with private tax dollars.

Many say the founding fathers didn’t believe in God and weren’t Christian. They even go on to say that George Washington wasn’t a Christian and never went to church and never prayed.

This is completely wrong. In the early days of the United States, the whole of society centered around the local church. Most of the early pioneers attended church regularly or semi-regularly. Practically all our early schools were church sponsored, thus, the children’s education was based on religion, as was George Washington.

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