Thomas Jefferson's Evangelization of the Indians

Subject: Re: Slave Schools: Then and Now
Date: 5/26/2001 8:53 AM Pacific Daylight Time
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In message-id: <> dated: 5/26/2001 7:03 AM Pacific Daylight Time, EDarr1776 writes:

  Kevin said:  >>>Jefferson approved legislation which was designed to convert the 
>Indians and other savage heathen to Christianity.

Jefferson may have approved legislation to school Indians.  Christians may have been involved.  I'd like to see details of any place Jefferson urged schools to convert people.

That flies in the face of his clear statements that the Bible was inappropriate material for the schools and should be removed (to make room for teachings on morality instead!), and his actions banning teachers of Christianity from schools where he had authority to do so.


First, as to removing the Bible to teach morality:

"The Jefferson Bible" was designed to teach Christian morality to the Indians, of whom Jefferson said,

"The known rule of warfare of the Indian Savages is an indiscriminate butchery of men, women and children."
To the Governor of Canada.  (Sir Guy Carleton.)
WILLIAMSBURG, July 22d, 1779.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 4, p.301
Originally, part of [Jefferson's] purpose was to compile a simple account of Jesus, giving his ethical teaching in his own words, in a form suited to the comprehension of the American Indians . . . .
The Jefferson Bible, "Introduction" by Henry Wilder Foote, p. 15.
The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, He has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus, and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in his discourses.
TJ to James Fishback, Sept 27, 1809, Bergh 12:315. (1809.)
Jefferson had written in 1819, "I never go to bed without an hour or half an hour's reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep" -- to which Randall adds, "The book oftenest chosen . . . was a collection of extracts from the Bible."
Henry Wilder Foote, "Introduction," The Jefferson Bible, 23
He was passionately devoted to the gospel of Jesus, which stirred him to the depths of his being and was the most powerful motive force in his life.
Donald S. Harrington, "Foreword," The Jefferson Bible, 11

Speaking of "the widespread denunciation of him by his political opponents as an anti-Christian infidel or atheist," Foote observes,

[I]t is one of the minor ironies of history that such slanders should have been so generally and so long believed about the man whose knowledge of and admiration for the teachings of Jesus have never been equaled by any other President.

Henry Wilder Foote, "Introduction," The Jefferson Bible, 18

As to banning Christians from schools,
Jefferson never really had much authority to ban Christians from schools.
Jefferson proposed combining missionaries and anthropologists -- a clear violation of the modern myth of "separation of church and state":

The purposes of the Brafferton institution would be better answered by maintaining a perpetual mission among the Indian tribes, the object of which, besides instructing them in the principles of Christianity, as the founder requires, should be to collect their traditions, laws, customs, languages, and other circumstances which might lead to a discovery of their relation with one another, or descent from other nations. When these objects are accomplished with one tribe, the missionary might pass on to another.
Notes on Virginia, Query XV
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 2, p.210

It was not, however, to be understood that instruction in religious opinion and duties was meant to be precluded by the public authorities as indifferent to the interests of society. On the contrary, the relations which exist between man and his Maker and the duties resulting from those relations are the most interesting and important to every human being and the most incumbent on his study and investigation.

TJ, Report to the Visitors [school boards] Oct 7, 1822

Numerous laws were passed during the Jefferson Administration which had as their goal the Christianization of the Indians. This was in keeping with the accepted idea that America was a nation "under God."

From Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, by Edwin S. Gaustad, NY: Harper & Row, 1987.

In the final years of the twentieth century, it is easy to persuade ourselves that a comprehension of American history requires going back no farther than, say, the Age of Jackson -- surely no earlier than the inauguration of George Washington. But when that latter event took place in 1789, the British colonies of North America had nearly two centuries of history behind them. Or, to put it another way, the period from Jamestown to Washington's assumption of office would stretch in the other direction from Washington's presidency to that of Richard Nixon. Such is the apologia, if one be needed, for taking the nation's colonial antecedents seriously. In the area of religion, particularly, it is otherwise impossible to understand the one revolution in American history that was truly radical.*

In all European settlements in North and in South America, the interests of state and church melded together in a strong and seemingly indissoluble bond. Today's historians put questions to yesterdays conditions that would make little sense to those who lived in sixteenth-century Mexico City, or seventeenth century Boston, or eighteenth-century Quebec. We of today ask where the state left off and the church began; they of yesterday can only shake their heads in wonderment at so meaningless a question. [S]ociety survived only as church and state worked and worshipped together, only as values were shared, only as common assumptions about human nature and the nature of God and the universe underlay all action . . . .

It was also a given that "savages," so long denied the blessing of the Christian Gospel, should have that blessing bestowed upon them. And to reject that great give made as little sense as for starving multitudes to turn away from freely offered food. To attack the Church as it went about its proper mission, whether to savages or civilized, was to attack the state and the threaten the very survival of civilization itself.

Notice that during his administration, Jefferson appropriated funds for Christian missionaries to evangelize the heathen, as Justice Rehnquist noted:

As the United States moved from the 18th into the 19th century, Congress appropriated time and again public moneys in support of sectarian Indian education carried on by religious organizations. Typical of these was Jefferson's treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, which provided annual cash support for the Tribe's Roman Catholic priest and church. The treaty stated in part:

"And whereas, the greater part of said Tribe have been baptized and received into the Catholic church, to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion . . . [a]nd . . . three hundred dollars, to assist the said Tribe in the erection of a church." 7 Stat. 79.
From 1789 to 1823 the United States Congress had provided a trust endowment of up to 12,000 acres of land "for the Society of the United Brethren, for propagating the Gospel among the Heathen." See, e. g., ch. 46, 1 Stat. 490. The Act creating this endowment was renewed periodically and the renewals were signed into law by Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

Congressional grants for the aid of religion were not limited to Indians. In 1787 Congress provided land to the Ohio Company, including acreage for the support of religion. This grant was reauthorized in 1792. See 1 Stat. 257. In 1833 Congress authorized the State of Ohio to sell the land [472 U.S. 38, 104] set aside for religion and use the proceeds "for the support of religion . . . and for no other use or purpose whatsoever. . . ."
4 Stat. 618-619.

It was not until 1897, when aid to sectarian education for Indians had reached $500,000 annually, that Congress decided thereafter to cease appropriating money for education in sectarian schools. See Act of June 7, 1897, 30 Stat. 62, 79; cf. Quick Bear v. Leupp, 210 U.S. 50, 77-79 (1908); J. O'Neill, Religion and Education Under the Constitution 118-119 (1949). See generally R. Cord, Separation of Church and State 61-82 (1982). This history shows the fallacy of the notion found in Everson that "no tax in any amount" may be levied for religious activities in any form. 330 U.S., at 15-16.

Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, at 104, J. Rehnquist, dissenting.

In the 20 pages of material Rehnquist cites from Robert Cord can be found numerous provisions for the teaching of religion (Christianity) in order to effect "the civilizing of the Indians." They spanned the entire century following the ratification of the Constitution. These acts were clearly "unconstitutional" by modern "separationist" standards, thus showing that the "separation of church and state" as we understand it today is not constitutionally required.

In a reply to a Presbytery that had expressed misgivings [on the absence of express references to God in the Constitution], Washington wrote the following:

[A]nd, here, I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country. To the guidance of the ministers of the gospel this important object is, perhaps, more properly committed -- It will be your care to instruct the ignorant, and to reclaim the devious--and, in the progress of morality and science [knowledge], to which our government will give every furtherance, we may confidently expect the advancement of true religion, and the completion of our happiness [i.e., blessedness].
[Letter from Geo.Washington to the Presbyterian Ministers of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, (Nov. 2, 1789), reprinted in 4 The Papers of Washington (Dorothy Twohig, ed.) at 274; see also 1 Stokes, Church and State in the U.S. (1950) at 248.]

In any case, it would be a mistake to automatically conclude that the omission of God or a religious designation from the Constitution was an expression of indifference toward religion, much less a deliberate repudiation of Christianity.

Daniel L. Dreisbach, "In Search of A Christian Commonwealth: An Examination of Selected Nineteenth-Century Commentaries on References to God and the Christian Religion in the United States Constitution," 48 Baylor Law Review 927 at 955-56 (1996).

So far, Jefferson and early America sound pretty Theocratic to me. But let's let Gaustad continue:

In the British colonies of North America, this self-evident worldview manifested itself in two powerful versions: the Congregational Way found in New England and the Anglican Way found, to some degree, nearly everywhere else. Risking a scandalous superficiality, one might even argue that these were merely two versions of the same Christian establishment, the chief difference being that one looked to London for direction and support and the other did not. it is far more complicated than that, of course, but for our present purposes it is useful to see these two establishments as sharing a common and virtually unquestioned view of the way in which God ordered the world.
There is a third version of a Christian Theocracy, one which shares with the other two a view of the way in which God providentially orders the world.
I am not Anglican. I am not Congregationalist. I am not a member of any denomination. I defend a non-denominational Theocracy, a nation "under God" in which no ecclesiastical institution is favored by law over any other. This is what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution created: a nation "under God" [Theocracy] with no legal preference for any ecclesiastical power (disestablishment).

The Constitution did not require that the sacred and secular be "separated." The Constitution protected an already-existing separation between church (ecclesiastical powers) and state (political powers). (It was Christians -- not atheists -- who held the Constitution hostage until an agreement was made to add the First Amendment, which would keep the Federal government from establishing any legal preference for one denomination over another under the Constitution.)


[S]ociety prospered and the gospel advanced only as sacred and secular realms coalesced.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Such a coalescence could be called "Christian civilization," and this is precisely what the U.S. Supreme Court recognized when it declared (throughout the first century after the Constitution was ratified) that America was a Christian nation.

What happened in the years following the Revolution against Britain was the disestablishment of the Anglican church, and then the disestablishment of all other denominations, but not the disestablishment of God. America was an ecclesiastically laissez-faire Theocracy.

The writers of the "Separation of Church and State Home Page" regrettably admit that the Framers were part of this Theocratic thinking and intended to civilize the Indians by teaching them Christianity:

If you are like many users of the World Wide Web, you may by somewhat put off by the words "civilizing the American Indian," as if Native Americans did not already have their own long-standing civilizations, and as if it were not widely known that the term "Indian" is an anachronism that is offensive to many Native Americans. We want to make clear that we use these words, not because we agree with them, but because these were the words of the framers of the Northwest Ordinance, and because "Indian affairs" was an important concern of 1780s America.
Regrettably, the attitude of many of the framers of the Constitution was that Native Americans were savages in need of Western education. The literary remains of early America teem with references for the need to educate the Indian nations to ensure peace on the American frontier. It was commonly assumed that churches and Christianity would play a major role in Indian education. These attitudes were held even by such progressive thinkers as Jefferson and Madison. We think it's important to be clear about what they believed, and why. Our concern is that the reader understand the social conditions that caused the framers of the Northwest Ordinance to tack on a sentence about education to an Article that was otherwise concerned with Indian affairs, and why that sentence mentioned religion.

Separationists are multiculturalists; the Founding Fathers were not. The Founding Fathers believed that America was a Christian nation and that this was a good thing, because Christianity is true and the rest are (to use Madison's words,) "false religions."

George Washington, asked to address the Chiefs of the Delaware Indians about educating their youth:

You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. . . . Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.
The Writings of GeoWashington, Jared Sparks, ed., (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1838) XV:55, from his speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs, May 12, 1779.



Kevin C.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7