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Jefferson, Thomas°

JEFFERSON, THOMAS°

JEFFERSON, THOMAS ° (1743–1826), third president of the United States. The foremost advocate of religious freedom among the American founding fathers, Jefferson derived his political philosophy from the doctrine of natural law, viewing every man as endowed by nature with the same inalienable rights. As early as 1776 he sought the repeal of Virginia's law on disabilities for Dissenters and Jews. It was not until 1786, however, after having served as governor of the state, that he succeeded in passing his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which served as a precedent for the freedom of religion clause passed by the Federal Constitutional Convention in 1787. A deist by conviction and strong advocate of the separation of church and state, Jefferson wrote to Jacob *De La Motta in 1820 that he was "happy in the restoration of the Jews to their social rights." In 1826, after having founded the University of Virginia, he wrote to Isaac *Harby to denounce the university for tending to exclude Jews by requiring "a course in theological reading which their consciences do not permit them to pursue."

bibliography:

J.L. Blau and S.W. Baron (eds.), The Jews of the United States, 17901840 (1963), 13, 704; J.R. Marcus, Early American Jewry, 1 (1953), 51; 2 (1953), 181, 532; Kohler, in: AJHSP, 20 (1911), 11–30.

[Aaron Lichtenstein]

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