When dealing with American history in the late 18th century, one must bear in mind that during these times, which include the birth of the American nation, ideas such as freedom and liberty were new and bold. As with anything new and bold, some people will inevitably be scared of the change. With freedom comes responsibility and with responsibility sin. This is what happened in Eden. With the gift of free will came the ability to sin. The religious fundamentalists knew this and were afraid for their flock may stray. However, the birth of America took this freedom of will to the level of a nation-state and let it reign. But, with personal freedoms, one takes responsibility for having more opportunity to do right and to do wrong. Gaining religious freedom is potentially even more damaging—then a person could choose to completely reject God. To these clergymen, personal freedoms would be frightening enough, but religious freedom could be outright terrifying. It took a brave nation to step out like that—to break away from their mother country and step out on principle for something they believed in, but could easily cause their doom. It took brave men and women to come to the New World, and it took brave ones with strong leaders to secede from the Old World. Among these brave leaders was Thomas Jefferson. With his Enlightened way of thinking that would lead to numerous attacks, Thomas Jefferson had the strength of character to lead a fledgling nation, and eventually the world, into a new era of freedom and religious liberties.
At the time of Jefferson’s birth, religious institutions were firmly rooted in the everyday life of the colonies. In the New England states, Puritanism had taken root as settlers searched for religious purity and to set an example of a “City on a Hill” for their brethren back in England. There, religion was bound with every step of life to the point of being a near theocracy in Massachusetts Bay. In Jefferson’s home state, Virginia, the Anglican Church was established as the official religion and laws were on the books to enforce the citizenry’s adherence to basic religious laws, including taxation for church and glebe lands (Tallant, 1/26/2001, 2/5/2001). Thus, at Jefferson’s birth, he was placed in a society where religion was assumed for you and where breaking the bonds of traditional power of the clergy would be hard to do.
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Last Updated: February 16, 2001
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