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Thomas Jefferson and a Prayer for Peace

Posted by sbh on Sunday, 6 February 2011

Did Thomas Jefferson proclaim the following prayer

Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

on 4 March 1801 as claimed at the Shades of Grace website, for example?

No, it’s from the American Book of Common Prayer, and has been attributed to George Lyman Locke (1835-1919), a Rhode Island minister.

In 1880 the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America appointed a committee to consider “certain alterations in the Book of Common Prayer in the direction of liturgical enrichment and increased flexibility of use.” This committee issued its report in 1883. A number of alterations and new prayers were proposed; one of these, entitled simply “For the Country,” appeared on pp. 63-64 of the Report of the Joint-Committee on the Book of Common Prayer in the section “The Proper Order for Thanksgiving-Day.” It read:

ALMIGHTY God, who in the former time leddest our fathers forth into a wealthy place, and didst set their feet in a large room, Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to us their children, that we may alway approve ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Defend our liberties, preserve our unity. Save us from violence, discord and confusion, from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Fashion into one happy people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those whom we entrust in thy Name with the authority of governance, to the end that there be peace at home, and that we keep our place among the nations of the earth. In the time of our prosperity, temper our selfconfidence with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

No author is given, and the committee explicitly disclaim authorship, observing

Their object has been to search for what seemed necessary or desirable in the way of additions among the rich stores of devotional forms which are the common heritage of the Catholic Church, rather than to undertake new compositions of their own. Among the later sources which have thus been drawn upon, they feel bound to mention, especially, Canon Bright’s Ancient Collects, and The Daily Service of our own lamented Hutton.

Nothing quite like it appears in the named sources, though Canon Bright’s

We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the prosperity bestowed upon us may not lead us to be ashamed of Thy worship, but rather may alway enkindle us to render heartier thanks to Thee…[Ancient Collects, pp. 90-91]

could have suggested

In the time of our prosperity, temper our selfconfidence with thankfulness…

and his

…give the Spirit of wisdom to those to whom Thou hast given the authority of government… [p.182]

is not dissimilar to

Endue with the spirit of wisdom those whom we entrust in thy Name with the authority of governance…

in “For the Country.” According to Christopher L. Webber (Give Us Grace: An Anthology of Anglican Prayers, [Harrisburg PA, 2004], p. 318), however, the author was George Lyman Locke (1835-1919) who “wrote the Prayer for Our Country at the suggestion of the Reverend Daniel Reed Huntington.” This same attribution is given in a reprint in a Life Magazine editorial (“The American Moral Consensus,” 25 December 1955, pp. 56-57). In any case this change was approved and the prayer duly appeared in the 1885 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

In 1913 another committee was appointed to revise the Book of Common Prayer, and their 1916 report suggested the following version, entitled “For Our Country” (pp. 29-30):

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour, glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties; preserve our unity; fashion into one happy people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, to the end that there be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to thy law we show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble suffer not our trust in thee to fail; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And in this form it duly appeared in the 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

So, how exactly did it come to be attributed to Thomas Jefferson? Well, in 1994 William J. Federer wrote, “President Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1805, offered A National Prayer for Peace:”, and followed it with the prayer, complete with the changes of “honourable industry” to “honorable ministry” and “arrogancy” to “arrogance”. [America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (St. Louis, 1994), pp. 327-8] Federer in turns claims to have got it from a Plymouth Rock Foundation newsletter. So far no older source for the misattribution has turned up, and there is no clear answer to how the confusion originated. However it may have originated, though, Federer and the Plymouth Rock Foundation (assuming it actually made this claim) are flat wrong. It’s not by Jefferson.

And as noted by the Monticello site,

it seems unlikely that Jefferson would have composed or delivered a public prayer of this sort. He considered religion a private matter, and when asked to recommend a national day of fasting and prayer, replied “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from inter meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…” [Letter to Samuel Miller, 23 January 1808]

Links

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Reverend Samuel Miller, 23 January 1808, (in Paul Leicester Ford, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition [New York and London, 1904-5), Vol. 11)

William Bright, Ancient Collects and Other Prayers (London, 1862)

Report of the Joint Committee on the Book of Common Prayer (1883)

Book of Common Prayer (1885 edition)

Report of the Joint Commission on the Book of Common Prayer (1916)

Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition)

Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, National Prayer for Peace (Monticello website)

Ed Brayton, Rodda on NCBCPS Bible Curriculum (Dispatches from the Culture Wars, 2007)

Fake Quotation Sources

William J. Federer, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (St. Louis, 1994), pp. 327-8 [no link available]

Natalie Nichols, Is America a Christian Nation? More Quotes from the Founders (Shades of Grace, 2010)

Anonymous, Prayers of the Presidents (BeliefNet, 2005)

Ben Rast, Separation of Church and State?
Don’t Blame Thomas Jefferson
(Contender Ministries, 2003)

Jeff Disario, What Separation of Church and State? (The National Report, 2008)

Thomas Spence, Moving Towards the National Day of Prayer with Thomas Jefferson’s Prayer for our Nation (Examiner.com, 2010)

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Thomas Jefferson and the End of Democracy

Posted by sbh on Thursday, 22 July 2010

Did Thomas Jefferson write:

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not

as claimed here for example?

No. It’s a modern fake, first seen in 1986 in a book written under the pseudonym John Galt, the name of a character in a piece of once-popular fiction (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged).

For matters related to Thomas Jefferson I strongly recommend the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia at the Monticello.org website. It has a brief article devoted to this fake that gives the databases used in running it down; the short version is that they ran the phrases “democracy will cease to exist” and “willing to work” through several digitized collections of Jefferson’s words and failed to find it, or anything much like it, for that matter. I amused myself by running various phrases from the saying through the Library of Congress Jefferson papers search engine (the collection by the way does not include everything Jefferson wrote) as well as an online version of Ford’s edition, and while I am quite convinced that Jefferson used each and every one of the words of this saying, I can not find any example of his using them together in this sequence. In other words, it appears to be a fake.

Out of curiosity I attempted to run down any nineteenth century uses of the phrase “democracy will cease to exist” without notable success. The closest I came was in a 1907 English translation of a tract by Wilhelm Liebknecht entitled “No Compromise; No Political Trading.” The passage reads:

No, Social Democracy must remain for itself, must seek for and generate its power within itself. … Therefore, we will not turn from the old tactics, nor from the old program. Ever advancing with science and economic development, we are what we were and we will remain what we are.

Or—the Social Democracy will cease to exist.

And a 1919 writer observes:

The average man in our democracy must be fitted to understand and comprehend sound principles of government, or American democracy will cease.

Neither of these gets us anywhere. Going back to the Jefferson Encyclopedia we learn from the researchers there that they found a superficially similar passage among Jefferson’s works:

To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.”

This comes from a comment Jefferson made in a prospectus for translation of Destutt de Tracy’s Treatise on Political Economy (found here [Lipscomb & Berg, The writings of Thomas Jefferson, 13:466]), but Jefferson is not here writing about democracy or its possible demise, but about the unfair effects that certain forms of taxation have on different groups of people. And there is nothing whatever to suggest that the genuine quotation in any way gave rise to the fake. It’s another dead end.

The Jefferson Encyclopedia researchers noted that

To establish the earliest appearance of this phrase in print, the following sources were searched for the phrase, “democracy will cease to exist” and “willing to work”: Google Books, Google Scholar, Amazon.com, Internet Archive, America’s Historical Newspapers, American Broadsides and Ephemera Series I, Early American Imprints Series I and II, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, American Periodicals Series Online, JSTOR.

What they found is that the authority for claiming this saying as Jefferson’s is an unreferenced quotation given on page 312 of Dreams Come Due: Government and Economics as if Freedom Mattered (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), written under the pseudonym of “John Galt”.

Now it may of course be that the fictional tycoon has a valid source (perhaps some unpublished scrap of Jefferson’s writing) for this otherwise unattested saying—but if so, it is his business to give it. Until he does, and that source proves to be in fact by the third president of the United States, the saying can only be regarded as fictional as its promoter.

Link

The Democracy Will Cease to Exist (Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia)

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Questionable Quotes: Jefferson and the Sacred Volume

Posted by sbh on Sunday, 5 July 2009

Did Thomas Jefferson say

I have always said, and will always say, that studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens.

?

Maybe.  The words are not Thomas Jefferson’s directly; they are words recalled by someone else many years later.

It’s always chancy to rely on the recollection of a witness for the words of another person, and it’s even chancier to rely on them after the passage of some time.  This saying falls into both these categories.  On the other hand, as such things go, this one is better than most.  It’s not the recollection of some anonymous person at an unknown time; in this instance we know the path this recollection traveled, and can form some estimate of its reliability.

On 15 June 1852 Daniel Webster—statesman, former Senator, and then Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore—wrote a letter to “Professor Pease” (possibly Professor Calvin Pease, D.D. (1813-1863), who was active in the sabbath-school movement and later became a New York minister), to thank him for a report on the condition of New York sabbath schools.  In the course of his letter he recalled a sabbath spent with Thomas Jefferson more than a quarter of a century earlier and reported some of Jefferson’s views as he remembered them (paragraphing mine):

Many years ago I spent a Sabbath with Thomas Jefferson, at his residence in Virginia. It was in the month of June, and the weather was delightful. While engaged in discussing the beauties of the Bible, the sound of the bell broke upon our ears, when, turning to the sage of Monticello, I remarked, “How sweetly, how very sweetly sounds that Sabbath bell!”

The distinguished statesman for a moment seemed lost in thought, and then replied: “Yes, my dear Webster; yes, it melts the heart, it calms the passions, and makes us boys again.

Here I observed that man was only an animal formed for a religious worship, and that notwithstanding all the sophistry of Epicurus, Lucretius and Voltaire, the Scriptures stood upon a rock as firm, as unmovable as truth itself; that man, in his purer, loftier breathings, turned the mental eyes towards immortality, and that the poet only echoed the general sentiment of our nature in saying that,—

The soul secure in her existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.

Mr. Jefferson fully concurred in this opinion, and observed that the tendency of the American mind was in a different direction; and that Sunday Schools—(he did not use our more correct term, Sabbath)—presented the only legitimate means, under the constitution, of avoiding the rock on which the French republic was wrecked. “Burke,” said he, “never uttered a more important truth than when he exclaimed that a ‘religious education was the cheap defence of nations.’ Raikes,” said Mr. Jefferson, “has done more for our country than the present generation will acknowledge; perhaps when I am cold he will obtain his reward; I hope so, earnestly hope so; I am considered by many, Mr. Webster, to have little religion, but now is not the time to correct errors of this sort. I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands. Of the distinguished Raikes, he was clarum et venerabile nomen.

I took the liberty of saying that I found more pleasure in Hebrew poetry than in the best productions of Greece and Rome. That the “harp upon the willows by Babylon” had charms for me beyond anything in the numbers of the blind man of Smyrna. I then turned to Jeremiah (there was a fine folio of the Scriptures before me of 1458) and read aloud some of those sublime passages that used to delight me on my father’s knee.

First, a couple of notes.  Edmund Burke said that “chivalry,” not “religious education” was the cheap defense of nations (Reflections on the Revolution in France). Robert Raikes (1735-1811) was the founder of the Sunday School Movement. With these minor clarifications out of the way, let us continue.

As I noted above there are at least two strikes against the authenticity of this statement—the passage of time, and the fact that we are at one remove from the original. On the other hand Daniel Webster may be considered a credible witness, and the circumstances are such as to fix events in his memory. Spending an afternoon with one of the most revered figures of your time is the sort of thing that is not easy to forget, and certainly Daniel Webster is likely to have recalled and treasured the memory.

The statement that “the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens” is often cited in present-day controversial literature by those who wish to insert government-mandated Bible-reading in public schools.  As Chris Rodda points out, “…Webster’s recollection of Jefferson saying that Sunday schools were “the only legitimate means, under the constitution” for teaching religion, and Webster’s failure to disagree with this opinion, mak[e] this letter, whether the other quotes in it were accurately recalled by Webster or not, a much better argument against the public school Bible curriculum than for it.”

This letter had appeared in print by 1858 (see The National Magazine for August 1858), and was circulated originally to counteract emerging evidence of Jefferson’s “infidel” opinions. The National Magazine’s editorial comment read:

Some there have been who have labored hard to prove that the sage of Monticello was an infidel, and that he ignored all religion but that of nature, and lived in the atmosphere of a blank and cheerless atheism. The testimony above given by so eminent a witness must be received as conclusive on this point.

Of course Jefferson’s own writings easily trump anything written by anybody else, no matter how eminent. And his work does show that he was far from being an orthodox Christian by the standards of his time.

Links

Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (Chris Rodda)

The Bible is the Source of Liberty (Jefferson Encyclopedia)

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