Led by God
On Monday, March 4, 1805, Thomas Jefferson gave his Second Inaugural Address as president of the United States.
In his closing remarks he painted a provocative parallel between the settling and establishment of the United States following our exodus from tyrants in Europe, and the settling and establishment of ancient Israel following the Israelite's exodus from tyrants in Egypt.
He referred to God as “that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and … goodness[.]”
Jefferson, a man not just of reason, but of faith, continued:
“I shall need, too, the favor of that Being. …”
And why was that?
Because, said he:
“the weaknesses of human nature, and the limits of my own understanding, will produce errors of judgment sometimes injurious to your interests.”
Bottom line: He loved his country and countrymen too much to rely only upon his own abilities and understanding.
And so, he continued:
“I ask you to join with me in supplications that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.” (1)
He was speaking to every American citizen, as president of the United States, in an official capacity, to remind America whence cometh her blessings, how dependent he personally felt upon God, and to express an interest in their prayers that God would help him and their country.
And so, what´s wrong with that?
Is this not about humility – something in short supply today? Is this not but an exercise of the inalienable right to speak freely? Is it not pure nonsense to believe that any man becomes less free because another man declares that our liberties come from God (not the state), that man, being imperfect, ought to pray to God for His guidance and blessings?
Just how is it that free expression forces religion down any man´s throat? Where is the harm to a man´s property, or to his life, or to his civic rights?
Here´s the plain truth: Public speech, public confession and public monuments are not manifestations of forced religion, but its opposite.
That such reminders, monuments and testimonials were not deemed by Jefferson as manifestations of forced religion are further witnessed by Jefferson´s proposal for the Great Seal of the United States.
Think of this. Shortly after 1776, he submitted a drawing depicting
the aforementioned theme, that is:
“the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night,” with the bold inscription “Israel Led by God´s Pillar of Fire” and, in smaller print, “Liberty under God´s law – Man´s Inalienable Birthright of Freedom.” (2)
Again, this provocative parallel.
It was a popular belief. He might have discovered it on his own, or maybe he read it in Samuel Sherword´s oft-cited 1776 political sermon, “The Church´s Flight Into the Wilderness.” (3)
Franklin introduced a similar drawing for the great seal, depicting Moses standing on the shore extending his hand over the sea, which overwhelmed Pharaoh, while rays from a pillar of fire in the clouds reach to Moses, expressing that he acts by command of the Deity. With this Motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” (4)
And so, what´s wrong with that?
These drawings, these speeches were not idols that men must bow down before or perish. Give Jefferson credit. They were, however, reminders that something larger than the state presides over man – and that any man who sets himself in the place of God will have a hot rebellion on his hands.
Excuse me, and excuse Chief Justice Moore, but isn´t this the very rationale for what the founders called a just revolution? Or have we forgotten?
So, here´s a little reminder: Standing up for such beliefs in public does not constitute force in religion – they are only words.
Removing a man from office for defending his belief, however, does in fact constitute an act of force against faith. It is the approach of the communists. It is the approach of the old church-states in Europe.
Peter of old once asked, “Whom shall we fear, God or man?”
Justice Moore made his choice. Now, you make yours.
Steve Farrell is associate professor of political economy at George Wythe University, and the author of “Dark Rose,” an inspirational read about faith and family. Get your autographed and discounted copy for the holidays now.
1. Jefferson, Thomas. Second Inaugural Address.
2. Patterson, Richard S., and Richardson, Dougall, “The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States,” Washington: U.S. Department of State, 1976, p. 18.
3. Sandoz, Ellis, editor. “Political Sermons of the Founding Era, 1730-1805, Volume I,” Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1998, pp. 493-525.
4. Patterson and Dougall, p. 16. For more on the Great Seal, see also: Skousen, W. Cleon. “The Making of America,” The National Center for Constitutional Studies, Washington D.C., 1985, pp. 32-33.