Saturday, October 17, 2015

Who was Algernon Sidney?

•  Sidney was a popular hero, whose life, death and writings were well-known to all of the Founding Fathers and to the American colonists generally at the time of the revolution.

  A study published in Peter Karsten’s Patriot Heroes in England and America revealed that the vast majority of public and private libraries in 1774 contained these three political treatises: Cato’s Letters, Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, and Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government.

  Sidney was born in 1722 and was executed in 1783. He was considered by the colonists to be “the true Martyr of Liberty.”

  Colonel Sidney fought in the Battle of Marston Moor, served in Parliament and as the British Ambassador to Sweden, was later exiled to Europe, escaped the King’s assassins, consulted with William Penn, wrote Discourses, returned to England, was accused as a traitor against King Charles II, was wrongfully tried and convicted, and was beheaded on December 7, 1783.

Algernon Sidney was born in Kent, England ten years before Locke, in 1622.  He lived for six years in France with his father, the Earl of Leicester, who served there as Ambassador.  Later, as a Colonel in the army, he joined the fight for parliamentary government, taking up arms against King and fought gallantly in the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.  Sidney was elected to the famous Long Parliament in 1646. He opposed Cromwell's reign in 1653; and in 1660, after a brief restoration to the Rump Parliament, he chose voluntary exile in Europe when the Commonwealth collapsed under Charles II.   It was during this exile that Sidney penned his Discourses Concerning Government.

After wandering about Europe for nearly twenty years, Sidney returned to England and soon worked in cooperation with William Penn to achieve greater freedom of religion in England.  Finally, he pursued with other Whigs a strategy to restore an independent Parliament to England under the reign of Charles II.  In 1681, after King Charles dismissed Parliament, Sidney joined in a revolutionary plot to restore representative government. Although he never advocated regicide, he was arrested in his home, charged with treason against the King, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. 

John Locke, who never worked closely with Sidney, and who was alleged to be part of the same plot, fled from the English continent when the conspiracy was exposed. Sidney was not so fortunate. After a long and illegally administered trial, he was ultimately convicted and beheaded on December 7, 1683.  While in prison, he wrote and completed his Apology on the day of his death and it is included in the 1751 (London) edition of his Discourses (see below).

After the successful revolution of 1688 in England, which drove out King James and restored Parliament under William of Orange, such high “regard was had for Sidney's innocence, and the justice due to his memory,” that the new Parliament on February 13, 1689, made it one of their first acts to repeal his conviction and to expunge all of the trial proceedings from the public record.[1]  Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government was first published in England in 1698 (with several later printings), and in America in 1805.  A modern edition edited by Thomas West is available online from Liberty Fund (

Algernon Sidney’s final words, from his “Apology,” written by his own hand in the Tower of London, on the Day of His Execution -- December 7, 1683:

“Being ready to die under an accusation of many crimes, I thought it fit to leave this as a testimony unto the world, that, as I had from my youth endeavored to uphold the common rights of mankind, the laws of this land, and the true protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power; and popery, I do now willingly lay down my life for the same; and having a sure witness within me, that God doth absolve, and uphold me, in the utmost extremities, am very little solicitous, though man doth condemn me. . . . I believe that the people of God in England have, in these late years, generally grown faint: some, through fear, have deflected from the integrity of their principles; some have been too deeply plunged themselves in worldly cares, and, so as they might enjoy their trades and wealth, have less regarded the treasure that is laid up in heaven: but I think there are very many who have kept their garments unspotted; and hope that God will deliver them, and the nation for their sakes. God will not suffer this land, where the gospel hath of late flourished more than any other part of the world, to become a slave of the world, he will not suffer it to become a land of graven images: he will stir up witnesses of the truth, and, in his own time, spirit his people to stand up for his cause, and deliver them. I lived in this belief, and am now about to die in it; I know that my Redeemer lives; and, as he hath in great measure upheld me in the day of my calamity, hope that he will still uphold me by his spirit in this last moment, and giving me grace to glorify him in my death, receive me into the glory prepared for those that fear him, when my body shall be dissolved. Amen.”[2]

[1] "Memoirs of Algernon Sidney, Esq.", Discourses, xxviii (cited as "Memoirs").
[2]   Algernon Sidney, Apology on the Day of His Death, Discourses, lii.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Washington, Hamilton & The Glorious Cause

By: Tony Williams

When “Lighthorse Harry” Lee eulogized George Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” he was expressing an indisputable truth that General Washington was the “indispensable” man of the American Revolution.  The war would have turned out very differently if he had not been the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.  But, the collaboration of Washington and his young aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, was no less critical to victory. 

One of Washington’s greatest strengths was his ability to judge character and recognize talent as well as to establish a meritocracy in the American leadership.  Among the brilliant and courageous commanders that he surrounded himself with in his inner circle were Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, Marquis de Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, and even Benedict Arnold (up until his betrayal). 

Washington witnessed Hamilton’s stalwart courage in 1776 during the disastrous Battle of New York.  The British had numerous advantages in terms of mobility with the Royal Navy and generalship.  Washington narrowly averted disaster on Long Island and was driven across Manhattan.  Washington probably noted how cool Hamilton was under fire as the army fled back to Harlem Heights as his artillery helped repulse a British attack.  Eventually, the Americans crossed the Hudson and retreated safely across New Jersey with Hamilton again covering the army at key moments.  When Washington and his army crossed the Delaware and attacked the Hessians at Trenton and the British at Princeton, Hamilton’s artillery stood firm and helped turn the tide in both battles.  General Washington asked the young man to serve on his staff as an aide-de-camp shortly thereafter.

Washington and Hamilton fought together at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth Courthouse, came under enemy fire, and watched young men shed their blood and die.  Together, they suffered the privation at Valley Forge and the continued inability of Congress and the states to send adequate supplies throughout the war.  Washington dispatched Hamilton on several vital missions including wresting troops away from Horatio Gates, the heroic victor at the Battle of Saratoga.  Perhaps most importantly, Hamilton worked daily with Washington in the inner circle of aides and learned the General’s mind as he wrote key correspondence.  They worked and dined together, conversed about personal and military matters, and developed a strong bond with a shared outlook. 

Washington and Hamilton had a dramatic falling out when the former exploded at his protégé for keeping him waiting for a planned meeting.  Hamilton’s honor was deeply wounded and actually refused a meeting Washington offered to clear the air.  They parted until Hamilton won a command at Yorktown and courageously seized a redoubt that turned the tide of battle and led to the American victory in the American Revolution. 

The wartime alliance of Washington and Hamilton was significant for its leadership in highest levels of the Continental Army.  Washington and Hamilton abided by a deference to the civilian authorities even when they were corrosive to the war effort.  Finally, Washington and Hamilton were at the center of those army leaders who developed a continental outlook and would strengthen the national government and the country by advocating and winning a new Constitution with a “more perfect Union.” 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the co-author of Washington & Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America (Sourcebooks, 2015). (Buy it on Amazon:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and American Principles

By: Tony Williams

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton could hardly have been more different.  Washington was a Virginia planter, a war hero from the French and Indian War, and a member of the House of Burgesses.  He was an established gentleman of the Virginia hierarchy presiding over Mount Vernon and married to an “agreeable consort” with her two children.  Hamilton, on the other hand, was an orphan of illegitimate birth who immigrated to the colonies and rose quickly with his native brilliance.  When British policy of the 1760s and 1770s taxed the colonists without their consent, both Washington and Hamilton argued for the universal rights of mankind and self-government. 

Washington was known to be moderate and prudent while also a strong advocate for American constitutional liberties.  He looked askance at the furor over the Stamp Act taxes and the destruction of the tea in the Boston Tea Party, but he was firmly committed to American liberties and one of the earliest supporters of possibly going to war to defend those rights.  Washington thought the 1765 Stamp Act was an “unconstitutional method of taxation [and] a direful upon their liberties.”  When the Townshend Acts were passed in 1767 with additional taxes, Washington led the charge in the House of Burgesses for a non-importation agreement, or boycott, to “avert the stroke and maintain liberty which we have derived from our ancestors.”  At this point, Washington even considered military action to defend the moral principle of self-government: “That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment to use arms in defense of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends.” 

In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, Parliament retaliated and passed the Coercive Acts (1774) that stripped people of Massachusetts of their rights.  Washington saw a systematic attack on American liberties over the past decade and argued that defending those liberties was a matter of right rather than economic self-interest.  “What is it we are contending against?  Is it paying the duty of 3 pence per pound on tea because burthensome? No, it is the right only . . . that as Englishmen, we could not be deprived of this essential, and valuable part of our constitution.”  Washington was not merely claiming the rights of Englishmen but those of the “law of nature.”  He asked, “Ought we not, then, to put our virtue and fortitude to the severest test?” 

Hamilton, on the other hand, was a brilliant young man who immediately joined the patriot movement as a college student in New York.  He joined several rallies denouncing British tyranny and had close ties to the Sons of Liberty.  Most significantly, he penned important pamphlets after the First Continental Congress that garnered national attention because of the concise arguments for natural rights and republican self-government.

In the highly significant Farmer Refuted (1775), Hamilton argued along the lines of John Locke that “the origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact between the rulers and the ruled.”  He quoted English jurist, Sir William Blackstone, that the purpose of government established by the social compact was to protect individuals in the enjoyment of their natural rights. With incredible eloquence rivalling the Declaration of Independence, Hamilton wrote, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records.  They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

Later that year, after the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, Washington and Hamilton would both go to war to defend those natural rights against British oppression.  The Revolutionary War would additionally provide the opportunity on the field of battle for the two leaders to form an “indispensable alliance” at the highest levels of military leadership. 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the co-author of Washington & Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America (Sourcebooks, 2015). (Buy it on Amazon:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Classic Sources of Virtue & Liberty

In May of 1825, writing to Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson set forth the classic sources of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, including human equality, self-government, and the individual rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” He wrote:

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence.  Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject  … it was intended to be an expression of the American mind … All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc."[1] [Images above]. 

While each of his named political philosophers, Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and Sidney, were advocates for “public right[s],” each of them were also moralists, and Jefferson was intimately familiar with all of their writings. As taught in his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner, and vice as deficiencies or excesses in character. In addition to the nature of the virtues and vices involved in moral evaluation, he addresses the methods of achieving happiness in human life. Cicero’s On Duties analyzes what is “honorable” (honestas) and what is “beneficial” (or advantageous), and what is honorable can also be called “moral,” “virtuous,” “ethical,” or “noble.” The main components of noble behavior according to Cicero are virtue and duty, and he concludes that moral worth is the only good and that virtue is sufficient for happiness. In his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke states that, “the necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty” and that, “Morality is the proper Science, and Business of Mankind in general.” We must also remember that near the end of his life, Aristotle had to flee Athens, Cicero was proscribed an enemy of Rome and assassinated, and Locke fled England to Holland in order to escape King Charles II.
Yet, while Locke was a member of Jefferson’s triumvirate of the three greatest minds (along with Bacon and Newton), he reserved his highest political praise for Algernon Sidney. In addition to citing Sidney’s writings as a source for the principles of The Declaration, he endorsed Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government as “a rich treasure of republican principles” and “probably the best elementary book of the principles of government, as founded in natural right which has ever been published in any language.”[2]  And, Jefferson, together with James Madison, stated that “the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and society” were to be found in Locke's Second Treatise on Government and in Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government.[3]  So, while much less known than Locke in our day, Jefferson actually gave equal weight to Sidney’s Discourses alongside Locke in his proscribed course on the Constitution at the University of Virginia.
What makes Sidney unique as a source of Jefferson’s philosophy of virtue and happiness is that, unlike Locke who focused more on property rights, Sidney wrote profusely concerning the connection between liberty and virtue. Sidney stated, “The principle of liberty in which God created us …includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards felicity, that is the end of our hopes in the other.”[4] In other words, “life, liberty, and happiness” are mutually dependent. Jefferson also quoted Sidney in his Commonplace Book, recording in his own hand, “If vice and corruption prevail, liberty cannot subsist; but if virtue have the advantage, arbitrary power cannot be established.”[5]  Much less fortunate than Locke, Sidney was arrested, accused with the crime of high treason against King Charles II and was executed on December 7, 1683. Known in the American colonies as the “true martyr of liberty”[6] the influence of Sidney on Jefferson and the principles of the Declaration of Independence cannot be discounted. 

[1] Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, ME 16:118-19.
[2] Thomas Jefferson to John Trumbull, 18 January 1789, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 14:467-68.
[3] Minutes of the Board of Visitors, March 4, 1825, ME 19:460-61 (cited as “Minutes”).
[4] Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government (London: A. Millar, London, 1751)(cited as “Discourses”), I:2:5.
[5] Discourses, II:30:241-242.
[6] c.f. Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government, Thomas G. West, ed. (Liberty Fund, Inc., Indianapolis, 1996), Introduction, xvi.
[7] Thomas Jefferson, Report for the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, August 4, 1818 (Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Character, Reputation and the Moral Sense

The year is 1757.  George Washington is 25 years old and is engaged in the French-Indian War.  Near Charlottesville, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter, has just died at age 49 at his home in Shadwell.  Young Thomas is only 14 years old -- the third of ten children and the oldest son.  While his father was not well educated, he made sure that Thomas received schooling and had books to read.  Yet, with his father gone, what would he decide to do with his future?  Years later, speaking of this time in his life, Jefferson wrote to his eldest grandson (Thomas Jefferson Randolph): "When I consider that at fourteen years of age the whole care and direction of myself was thrown on myself entirely, without a relative or a friend qualified to advise or guide me, and recollect the various sorts of bad company with which I associated from time to time, I am astonished that I did not turn off with some of them, and become as worthless to society as they were. From the circumstances of my position, I was often thrown into the society of horseracers, cardplayers, foxhunters, [as well as] scientific and professional men … and many a time have I asked myself … "Well, which of these kinds of reputation should I prefer--that of a horsejockey, a foxhunter, … or the honest advocate of my country's rights?"[1]  As we know, young Thomas made his choice to develop his reputation, not as not a “horsejockey, cardplayer or foxhunter,” but as an “honest advocate of his country’s rights.”

In his short biography of George Washington, Founding Father, Richard Brookhiser, states that “Washington and his contemporaries thought of reputation as a thing that might be destroyed or sullied…reputation was held to be a true measure of one’s character—indeed, in some sense identical to it.”[2] In 1814, at the age of 70, Thomas Jefferson reflected on Washington’s character:

I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these. His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though, not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder … His integrity was most pure … He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man … it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance …We knew his honesty … I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that ‘verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.’[3]

While partisan animosities had splintered their previous friendship, Jefferson’s opinion of Washington’s virtues had not diminished. Perhaps his keen observations of Washington’s character traits may be indicative of those that Jefferson himself sought and valued in his own life: a penetrating mind, sound judgment, wisdom, goodness, integrity, and honesty.[4]  We may presume that to him, as to Washington and their contemporaries, one’s character and reputation were not to be trifled with and truly mattered in the grand scheme of things.  

In the founding generation, a man’s character, or his virtuous characteristics and behavior, meant both private and public virtue, civic and religious. America’s first dictionary published by Daniel Webster in 1828, defined “Virtue” as “moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws is virtue and religion. In this sense it is true, that virtue only makes our bliss below.” This contemporaneous definition fittingly describes Jefferson’s own pursuit of virtue. His moral philosophy was founded on an understanding of each person’s innate sense of right and wrong, or conscience. This moral sense, said Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr, “may be strengthened by exercise … [and] is as much a part of man as his leg or arm.” In the same letter, Jefferson stated that “[you should] lose no occasion of exercising your dispositions to be grateful, to be generous, to be charitable, to be humane, to be true, just, firm, orderly, courageous &c. Consider every act of this kind as an exercise which will strengthen your moral faculties, & increase your worth.[5]  He also believed that the simple combination of morality and common sense was more likely to be found in the average man, such “a ploughman,” than in the highly educated man, such as “a professor,” who are “led astray by artificial rules.”[6] 

[1] Sarah N. Randolph, The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1872), p. 26.
[2]  Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (The Free Press, New York, NY, 1996), p.131.
[3] Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Walter Jones, January 2, 1814, ME 14:48-52.
[4] Concerning the character trait of honesty (without which no man’s reputation is honorable), Jefferson wrote, “He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truth without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.” (Letter to Peter Carr, September 19, 1785). Jefferson also said, “honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” (Letter to Nathaniel Macon, January 12, 1819).
[5] Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787, ME 6:257.
[6] Id.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Thomas Jefferson's Scrapbooks

In 2006, Jonathan Gross edited and introduced the world to “Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks.”[1] As Richard Dixon of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society observed, “This is a book of Thomas Jefferson’s poetry; not poetry that he wrote, but poems that he collected. …Jefferson began the scrapbooks in 1801, and compiled them through his two terms as president. …This is not the standard Jefferson biography. The author calls it an ‘autobiography of the heart,’ and indeed it is. ”[2] Jefferson’s ‘autobiography of the heart’ contains numerous poetic references to virtue, virtuous anecdotes, and moral lessons (along with patriotic and other themes). As examples of these, see: “Patriotic Odes for the Year 1808” (p.120), “To Virtue” (p. 164),“The Choice of a Wife” (pp. 259-60), “Advice to Young Women” (p. 296),“Moral and Natural Beauty” (pp. 314-315), and “Epitaph on a Young Lady” (p. 384). Let us turn to one of these poems titled Advice to Young Women (Anonymous):

Detest disguise, remember 'tis your part
By gentle fondness to retain the heart.
Let duty, prudence, virtue, take the lead,
To fix your choice:  – but from it ne'er recede.
Abhor coquetry;  – spurn the shallow fool
Who measures out dull complements by rule,
And, without meaning, like a chattering jay;
Repeats the same dull strain throughout the day,
Are men of sense attracted by your fate?
Your well turn’d figure, or their compound grace?
Be mild and equal, moderately gay;
Your judgment rather than your wit display…
Disdain duplicity – from pride be free:
What every woman should, you then will be.

All of such poems he read, gathered, cut, pasted and compiled into four volumes during the eight years he served as President of the United States (and all the while also compiling “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.). No small task indeed, but more momentous in regard to his pursuit of virtue, and his desire to share that pursuit with his loved ones – whom, next in importance to his daughters, were his grandchildren. As his granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge reflected, “My Bible came from him, my Shakespeare, my first writing table, my first Leghorn hat, my first silk dress. …Our Grandfather seemed to read our hearts, to see our invisible wishes…” [3] His scrapbooks were most likely fashioned as much for them as they were for himself.    

[1] Jonathan Gross, Ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks: Poems of Nation, Family & Romantic Love (Steerforth Press, Hanover, 2006).
[2] Book Review online at
[3] Henry S. Randall, Life of Thomas Jefferson (Derby & Jackson, New York, 1858), pp.348-49.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Virtue vs. Tyranny

When visiting Monticello, a visitor may observe that prominent in Thomas Jefferson’s parlor are portraits and paintings of historical figures of significance and importance to him and his worldview. These include his triumvirate of Bacon, Newton & Locke, but also Washington, Lafayette, John Adams, Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Family, among others. One painting in particular stands out – it is “Herodias Bearing the Head of John the Baptist.”  Let us reflect upon this scene.  As Luke recorded in chapter 3:19, John the Baptist had rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother's wife, “and all the other evil things he had done.” Herod had John arrested and thrown into prison. Then as Matthew records in chapter 14:6-7, “when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger.” May we surmise that to Jefferson, John the Baptist represented virtue versus tyranny, or morality versus corruption?
Considering that Thomas Jefferson found meaning in this painting of Herodias, may we also query whether it may have possessed both a religious and a political connotation that resonated both within him and with respect to his times?  As Professor Marvin Olasky has convincingly argued, the American War of Independence was fought for much more than economic freedom and “no taxation without representation.” Virtue, or morality, and the right to govern their religious affairs were paramount in the minds and hearts of the American patriots of ‘76. Their legacy and belief in divine rights was borne of pilgrims and puritans, and other persecuted religious minorities, who immigrated to the new world in search of religious freedom by escaping the entrenched tyranny of church and state which were deeply rooted for centuries in Great Britain and Europe.  In this regard, the Revolutionary War was as much a battle against “the corruption of 18th century British high society,” as it was about financial matters.[1] It is virtue that inspired these souls to battle against great odds, more than simple monetary gain. It is virtue battling against tyranny that inspired Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Virginians to risk treason against the king of England, and potential death by hanging as the penalty for their rebellion.  
The Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia shows Virtue, spear in hand, with her foot on the prostrate form of Tyranny, whose crown lies nearby.[2]  In one sense, this singular image of Virtue conquering Tyranny may justly sum up Jefferson’s political convictions. Not only does this theme reverberate in the life and writings of each author cited by him for the principles of the Declaration, but it is also recurrent in Jefferson’s own life. From his Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), to the Declaration of Independence (1776), to his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), and finally to his Statute for Religious Freedom (1786), Jefferson dedicated his public service to overcoming all forms of tyranny in government, church and state, through a constant appeal to moral principles and natural rights. From the Summary View, representing the sentiments of  “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature” … he states that, “History has informed us that bodies of men, as well as individuals, are susceptible of the spirit of tyranny, [and states that] the whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” From the Statute for Religious Freedom, “Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burdens, or by civil incapacitations …are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion.”  Lastly, in what may be deemed to be his personal motto, he stated, “for I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”[3]

[1] Marvin Olasky, Fighting for Liberty and Virtue (Regnery Publishing, Washington D.C., 1996) p. 142.
[2] The Seal was planned by George Mason and designed by George Wythe. See Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792 (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1892) pp. 264–26.
[3] Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, ME 10:175.