John Locke, deist?

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    In the “The Declaration of Independence” lesson, you state that John Locke was a deist. This is not at all accurate. He was thoroughly a Christian, though unorthodox. No one can read his “The Reasonableness of Christianity” or “Notes on the Epistles of Paul,” and still believe that he was any type of deist. And, as to Jefferson’s being the “author” of the document, it doesn’t seem–since there is no evidence that the man was any kind of egotistical liar–that he would have had that claim inscribed on his tombstone if he hadn’t considered himself to be its author, even if he wasn’t the originator of all its words and phrases.


    Woolhouse in his biography of Locke describes in great detail the dispute in Locke’s lifetime over his relationship to Socinianism. Draw your own conclusions. The bottom line is that, contrary to Christians for at least thirteen centuries by his day (and nearly seventeen by the time I recorded the lectures), Locke held that only one belief was necessary to Christianity. In sum, he wasn’t a Christian if the word “Christian” has any meaning–and, indeed, it has an ancient pedigree.

    As for Jefferson: he drafted a Declaration of Independence. It was revised slightly by two of the other four members assigned to the committee for the purpose, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. It then was reported to the whole Second Continental Congress, which changed it substantially. In the wake of Congress’s adoption of the heavily revised version we all know, Jefferson sent several correspondents copies of both his and Congress’s versions so that they could assure him–which some did–that his had been better.

    I have the authority of Pauline Maier, whose book on the subject is far superior to Becker’s, Eicholz’s, Pangle’s, or any other I know, that the Declaration of Independence should be considered the work of Congress, with Jefferson playing the leading role. She thinks, and virtually everyone agrees, that Congress improved Jefferson’s draft markedly.

    As I note in James Madison and the Making of America, Jefferson liked to take more credit than he had earned. He did so on his tombstone not only in relation to the Declaration of Independence, but of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom–which we know as “Jefferson’s” even though when he left the General Assembly in 1779, it was a dead letter. James Madison got it passed seven years after Jefferson became an ex delegate, and two years after he left North America for France. Whether that makes him a liar, as you put it, I’ll leave you to decide.

    In general, I’ll answer any questions you pose. You don’t need to pose the same questions on multiple threads.

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