The modern-day image of Thomas Jefferson as a social and political liberal would be shattered after a single reading of his Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments. Capital punishment is maintained for murder and treason while rescinded for all other crimes. Even so, other crimes receive some rather harsh and politically incorrect penalties. Consider these examples:

“If any person commit petty treason, or a husband murder his wife, a parent his child, or a child his parent, he shall suffer death, by hanging, and his body be delivered to Anatomists to be dissected” (Sec. IV).

“Whosoever committith murder by poisoning, shall suffer death by poison” (Sec. V).

“Whosoever shall be guilty of rape, polygamy, or sodomy with man or woman, shall be punished; if a man, by castration, a woman, by boring through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch in diameter at the least” (Sec. XIV).

“Whosoever committith a robbery, shall be condemned to hard labour four years in the public works, and shall make double reparation to the persons injured” (Sec. XX).

“All attempts to delude the people, or to abuse their understanding by exercise of the pretended arts of witchcraft, conjuration, enchantment, or sorcery, or by pretended prophecies, shall be punished by ducking and whipping, at the discretion of a jury, not exceeding fifteen stripes” (Sec. XXIX).

Modern-day anti-religionists like Alan Dershowitz often turns to “his idol”[1] Thomas Jefferson, a modern born out of time, as an example of someone who valued reason over revelation long before it was acceptable. The following comments appeared in Publisher’s Weekly in a review of Dershowitz’s America Declares Independence:

Dershowitz focuses mainly on Thomas Jefferson, showing that the Declaration’s principal author thought most of the Bible was superstitious drivel: he did not believe in miracles, the devil or anything in the Gospels except that certain words were spoken by Jesus. Rather, Jefferson believed in a deistic God, who set the world in motion and then went on vacation. Jefferson didn’t think religion should have anything to do with politics.

Dershowitz and his fellow anti-theists are under the strange delusion that the rejection of God’s law as revealed in Scripture will move a society to accept a more reasonable moral code. Law is an inescapable concept, and any proposed law will be objected to by many who consider any new set of laws to be draconian or unreasonable because these laws inhibit their chosen freedoms. Since there is no transcendental reference point, Jefferson’s proposed laws are as equally valid as anyone else’s proposed laws. Those in power get to make the rules, and their rules are just and right by definition. Who could say otherwise? A larger majority or someone with a bigger stick who can offer better reasons for their choice of law could easily and rightly supplant any existing moral code.

In the final analysis, any law that does not have God as the fixed reference point is involved in a battle of “Says you!”

Finding Jefferson