Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

Old Time Religion: Virginia’s First Freedom and LVA’s Religious Press Collection

Exhibit

The First Freedom Exhibit in the Library of Virginia’s Exhibit Hall

The current exhibit at the Library of Virginia, First Freedom: Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom, explores the meaning and evolution of this significant legislation. Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777, it was not enacted into law until January 16, 1786, when it was passed by the Virginia General Assembly. The statute disestablished the Church of England, allowed citizens the freedom to practice any religion and assured the separation of church and state–innovative precepts later incorporated into the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

By showing episodes from Virginia’s past which involved questions of religious tolerance and practice, the exhibit raises important and often difficult questions, such as what actually constitutes the separation of church and state? How is “establishment of religion” defined? And how have perceptions of “religious freedom” changed since the statute was written?

In recognition of First Freedom, the Virginia Newspaper Project spotlights the Library of Virginia’s large collection of religiously affiliated newspapers which offer insight into religion’s role in local culture, morality and life. The papers also show how the understanding of religious tolerance and separation of church and state have changed over the past 200 years. For example, this article from the Lutheran weekly Our Church Paper of Feb. 16, 1904, fully endorsed church involvement in the development of the public educational system. “What part shall she play in the education of the youth of this country,” it asked, “and how shall she play it?” It warned that without the church’s intervention, public education might become “completely secularized.”

OCP 16 Feb 1904OCP (2) 16 Feb 1904Virginia has a long and rich tradition of religious press with Episcopalian, Baptist, Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic publications, dating back well over one hundred years. Virginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s digital newspaper repository, contains … read more »

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His pistols within his reach: the volatile history of the Examiner

Written by Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project volunteer

The Examiner, published semi-weekly in Richmond, Virginia from 1798 to 1804, held a prominent place in the incendiary world of early American politics. An organ for Thomas Jefferson’s administration and edited by Meriwether Jones and his brother, Skelton Jones, the Examiner committed itself to the Republican cause, boasting in its masthead, “truth, its guide, and liberty, its object.”Examiner mastheadPassionately dedicated to their cause, the Jones brothers constantly found themselves in hostile conflict with Jefferson’s critics, filling the Examiner’s pages with vehement editorials.

These enmities were especially fiery, as Meriwether and Skelton Jones were quick to employ vitriolic personal attacks, in contrast to editors like Thomas Ritchie, their successor, who, after purchasing the Examiner in 1804 and changing its name to the Enquirer, asserted, “this paper will not condescend to become the vehicle of personal abuse; much less of dishonorable slander. Private character is too delicate a subject for any public print.”

The most infamously volatile of these conflicts occurred between the Jones brothers and James T. Callender, editor of the Recorder (Richmond) and their former friend and employee. The feud began when Callender revealed that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemmings, launching a scandal that remains contentious even today. Calling Callender’s paper “the Recorder of Lies,” the Examiner frequently published attacks on Callender’s character, calling him a liar, a drunk, and an adulterer, and accusing him of causing his wife’s death by giving her a venereal disease:

September 18, 1802In an article addressed “To JAMES T. CALLENDER” in the Examiner, Meriwether Jones states, “The world hates you. Wherever your name travels, it carries with it that repulsive chill, which hurries our retreat from a vault of putrid human mortality!” Jones continues to lambast Callender’s character even after his … read more »

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