(1st) In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General [national] Government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it, but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of the church or state authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.
(2nd) … every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.
Sources: (1st) SecondInaugural Address, March 4, 1805
(2nd) To Rev. Samuel Miller, 1808
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders respect the limits on their authority.
A national day of thanksgiving implies religious or spiritual roots. The Constitution’s 1st Amendment specifically prohibited Congress from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the the free exercise thereof.” Thus, there would be no such “official” day from President Jefferson. But his reasoning here wasn’t so much the 1st Amendment as it was the 10th, that the Constitution gives any such authority to the states alone.
When he was Governor of Virginia in 1779, the Continental Congress asked all the state executives to adopt a “day of Thanksgiving and Prayer” on December 9. He sent that request to the House of Burgesses. They wrote it and adopted it. Jefferson signed it. This was years before the Constitution, and Jefferson was acting as a state executive, not a national one. Here is the full text of that proclamation.
You will be thankful you invited Mr. Jefferson to speak at your meeting!
Call Patrick Lee to schedule a presentation, 573-657-2739.
The Moral Liberal Thomas Jefferson Editor, Patrick Lee, is a professional speaker, actor and writer. Since 1990, he has inspired, entertained and educated audiences from Maine to Hawaii with his authentic, first person leadership presentations as President Thomas Jefferson, Frontiersman Daniel Boone, and Lewis & Clark Co-Leader William Clark. He also appears as himself, The Hopeful Humorist™, with a program of motivational humor, patriotism and inspiration.