Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s pro-life values

Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson

While no one can question that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson stood for liberty, history proves that he exalted the right to life even higher. And even more than Jefferson stood for individual rights, he stood for equal rights for all. After all, one of the Founding Fathers’ main objections in the War for Independence was that the British did not treat the Americans as equal subjects.

Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, declared the famous words we so often take for granted:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Note that Jefferson affirmed that all men are created equal, not that some men are born equal. Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers knew that life was the chief right – given not by government, but by the God Who alone is more powerful than any man or government. Government, the Founders insisted, exists for the purpose of ensuring that the people are enabled to keep hold of their rights.

A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.

Many of Jefferson’s quotes reveal his thoughts concerning issues that arise in the pro-life/pro-choice debate today. He believed that no man (or woman) has the right to commit violence on another and violate his equal right. He believed that laws should stop one person from destroying the equal right of another. This is the exact reasoning behind the pro-life view that a mother and an unborn child’s rights to life are equal and that both ought to be protected in law.

No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.

Jefferson heartily agreed that liberty, when rightly viewed, had to be limited by the equal rights of others. Otherwise, the rights of the innocent and the weak could easily be trampled upon by the law and by the strongest among us.

Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add “within the limits of the law,” because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.

It is also clear that Jefferson would have completely discarded the view that a woman’s happiness is centered on imposing her own will on her child – even when that means the innocent child’s death.

I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson might have gone so far as to say that the current ObamaCare mandate – which requires that the public pay for women’s abortions and abortion pills – is “sinful” and “tyrannical.”

To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

Regardless of any controversy that some may believe arises out of Jefferson’s ideas, one thing is beyond a doubt: Thomas Jefferson did his part to build our nation on the undeniable principle that the right to life is above any other right that a person may claim. Above all other things government ought to do, it ought to protect life. Without that protection, everything else ceases to matter.

The first duty of government is the protection of life, not its destruction.  The chief purpose of government is to protect life. Abandon that and you have abandoned all.

History proves that Thomas Jefferson believed in the Christian God – Who he believed was mighty above all else. And he knew in his heart that the God he served was just.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.

In the end, justice always wins, no matter how long it takes people to realize it. Jefferson knew this over 200 years ago, and we would do well to remember it today.

  • peach

    I was going to write out a long comment but I found this instead which pretty much says everything:
    Jefferson knew what abortion was so I’m sure if he had any strong feelings about it, he would have talked about it and then you wouldn’t have had to take all these quotes out of context and spin them to fit your agenda. He found abortion to be a sometimes necessary thing for women, but otherwise, he didn’t seem to speak strongly either way about it.
    Also, you should probably read up on Jefferson’s religion. He did say “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common

    • “Everything” turns out to not be that much.

      The quote from Jefferson is purely descriptive, and describes Indian abortions in such a detatched way because he was writing as a social scientist. It doesn’t show whether or not he considered abortion “sometimes necessary”; that’s simply the blog authors (and you) reading into his words the value you want to find there.

      In fact, Jefferson happened to believe that the Indians got gender roles backwards, and whatever else may be said of his views in this area, they certainly don’t sound like the sort of thing that usually corresponds with abortion on demand:

      The real questions are these: first, do the general principles Jefferson was articulating logically apply to the unborn? As Kristi shows, they clearly do.

      Second, did the common law tradition assign value and protection to the unborn? Yes, it did: (see also “The Party of Death” by Ramesh Ponnuru). They key difference was their understanding of the concept of “quickening.” In other words, they didn’t question whether early-term preborn life was worth protecting, they questioned whether it was *there at all* in certain situations.

      Fortunately, biology has long since answered that question. So, Peach, which era’s science would you rather take as authoritative: the colonial era, or the 21st century?

      Lastly, Kristi doesn’t make any claims about applying Christian doctrine to common law or Jefferson’s views on organized religion. I don’t know anyone who denies that Jefferson’s theological views were highly unorthodox. But on the politically-relevant questions – whether there was a God, whether He endowed humans with unalienable rights, whether He took an interest in human affairs, and whether He was the ultimate author of justice – Jefferson’s answer was a resounding yes.

      • Kristiburtonbrown

        Couldn’t have said it better myself, Calvin. Thanks for giving the explanation =)

      • peach

        So you linked me to an article that says “all men are created equal” doesn’t include women, but you want me to believe it includes fetuses? Maybe only the male fetuses I guess…

        And yes, the quote is descriptive, but it shows he knows of the practice and he didn’t say anything more. The quotes Kristi chose don’t logically apply to the unborn because he was talking about men. Men in government, men in positions of authority, men with money. None of her extrapolations are clear or logical.

        I also found this quote by Jefferson: “Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into
        the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of
        moving and using it at his own. This is what is called personal liberty,
        and is given him by the author of nature, because necessary for his own
        sustenance.” He specifically says “born” there.

        • peach

          Oh and don’t accuse me of reading the value into Jefferson’s words that I want to be there. That’s the basis of Kristi’s entire article.

        • No, I’m just pointing out that if you’re trying to infer opinions that Jefferson doesn’t state outright, then you have to weigh the entirety of the evidence. And if you had a better understanding of the Founding era’s conception of natural law, you’d understand that it doesn’t automatically follow to suggest that just because Jefferson believed the different sexes had different strengths and inclinations, therefore he would have considered them unequal in their natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

          As for his use of “men,” you’re again showing ignorance. In the writings of the era, “men” was simply a way of denoting “mankind,” i.e., the human race. It includes everybody. You don’t think “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was also sexist or ageist, do you?

          The use of “born” is similar. It’s a common speech convention (“birthday,” etc.) only because it’s intuitive – where we visibly see the baby “enter the world.” But speech conventions don’t even begin to outweigh empirical and logical observations about what the preborn are and when they exist.

          “None of her extrapolations are clear or logical.”

          Only to you. Because you have ideological reasons for actively trying to avoid seeing them.

          Lastly, I note how you totally avoid the bigger point about the common law record……

        • Kristiburtonbrown

          Can you argue away the fact that, in his most significant written document – the one that is a government document of our nation, the Declaration of Independence – Jefferson used the word “created”?

          • peach

            It’s a common speech convention? I think you could argue that a man isn’t fully created until he’s born.

          • Only in the same way that you could argue that someone “isn’t fully created” until his brain is fully developed until age 25…….

          • peach

            But most people wouldn’t argue that so that’s kind of irrelevant.

          • *sigh* I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the concept of illustrating illogic with an analogy went right over your head……..

          • peach

            Remember when I called you a dick and you stopped replying to my comments for awhile? Can we go back to that time? Calvin, you’re a dick.

          • I just happen to believe that you need to confront just how lousy your reasoning is, because your thoughtless, anti-rational, and uninformed votes inflict suffering on others. If all you can do is react with name-calling………

        • Guest

          Men is a term that is not always used to relate to gender. If you look it up in the 1828 Webster dictionary (as I have done) you will see it can mean mankind. I wish feminist would take an lesson on word usage and stop complaining when words are properly used.

    • Kristiburtonbrown

      I thought I’d point out that abortion was actually illegal when the Declaration of Independence was signed/America was formed. That’s almost certainly one reason why Jefferson didn’t cover the topic too much. Also, for more on Jefferson’s actual religious beliefs, you should look into some of Wallbuilders’ materials. They teach history from the standpoint of actual historical documents, not someone’s modern theory.

      • peach

        You’re wrong (dishonest?). As Calvin said the unborn were protected only after quickening. Until then, abortions were legal. It wasn’t until the 1820s, well after the Declaration of Independence was signed, that abortion began to become illegal. (I know it’s wikipedia but you can find many other sources as well just through google, I just thought this was unbiased (unlike your source) and clear).

        • guest

          The reason abortion was legal earlier was because the scientist had not yet discovered when life began. The very term quickening means to begin to live. If you look at the term in the historical light you will see that the laws were designed to protect life.

        • Kristiburtonbrown

          Ahhh…no, you’re sadly wrong. Abortions were still punished before quickening, but by a misdemeanor instead of a felony. That was the difference under English Common Law.

          Also, look at this quote from your own source, from a writer of the Constitution: “With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.” That was the heart behind the laws back then.

          As soon as they knew human life existed, they protected it. They didn’t know what we know biologically speaking, today, so, according to the knowledge they actually had, they would not have viewed those early procedures as the taking of actual human life – hence the difference in degrees of the crime.

      • peach

        Also, I don’t really care about his religious beliefs because of that whole separation of church and state thing..

        • Actually, it pretty clearly looks like you DID care about his religious beliefs when you thought they aligned with yours, but the instant you’re faced with contrary evidence, you flip-flop. Real principle there, Peach……

          • peach

            I never said I cared about them before, I just thought Kristi needed some more education on it.

  • heicart

    >And even more than Jefferson stood for individual rights, he stood for equal rights for all.

    Just to clarify, we are talking about the Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves?

    • heicart

      And didn’t the Constitution that he helped draft, and signed onto restricted presidential office to males 35 or older? I’m just sayin’…equal rights for all?

      • heicart

        Hmmm. Maybe not on that second one. But I’m pretty sure about the slave thing…was he all for female voting as well?

        • Kristiburtonbrown

          I would certainly not defend Thomas Jefferson’s owning slaves. I think we all can agree that is not an application of equal rights for all. Sadly, mankind in general often has an area of personal life where we do not follow the values that we speak about. That’s something we all ought to be on guard against. However, please note that, in this article, I was discussing Jefferson’s values that he spoke about…and it’s clear that the things he said align with the pro-life viewpoint and are very applicable for our abortion debate in America today.

          • ProTruth2

            However, please note that, in this article, I was discussing Jefferson’s values that he spoke about.

            Jefferson was a slave owner and slave owners, by definition, violate the rights of
            others and gain their happiness from the exercise of power over others. When you dismiss Jefferson’s “personal life” as irrelevant to your assertion that he would share your political stances, you are ignoring the real suffering of real people under his power, simply because acknowledging that suffering would inconvenience you. Nice.

            Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson might have gone so far as to say that the current ObamaCare mandate–which requires that the public pay for women’s abortions and abortion pills–is “sinful” and “tyrannical.”

            He might have. But since he did go so far as to say “History…furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government,” and “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty,” I rather doubt it.

          • Nobody is disregarding anyone’s suffering or minimizing the flaws in Jefferson’s character; merely pointing out that however Jefferson failed to live up to his own standards in private practice, it doesn’t change the fact that he articulated and fought for values worth celebrating and protecting.

            Indeed, Jefferson’s anti-slavery political record was more than talk. He proclaimed natural human equality in the Declaration; as Lincoln later noted, such a principle had no practical application in the contest with Britain and was better understood as laying the moral groundwork for slavery’s eventual abolition. In his first draft of the Declaration, he listed perpetuating the slave trade – “cruel war against human nature itself” – as among the colonists’ grievances against King George. He clearly condemned slavery in various writings. Both in Virginia and on the national level, he worked for laws and provisions against slave importation and banning slavery in new American territories.

            Lastly, the ObamaCare mandate is so clearly at odds with the quote Kristi cites that it’s hard to see how anyone who takes Jefferson’s sentiments seriously could dispute it. And you should read Tocqueville sometime. It should clear up some misconceptions about the difference between religion in America and the kind of corrupt religious establishments Jefferson was talking about.

          • kristiburtonbrown

            Bingo. Jefferson was definitely referring to corruption in certain religious establishments. This is clear from his record and the many documentations of his position on Christianity, religion, etc. If you want to learn about history from actual historical documents – not just someone’s interpretation of them, this is a great source:

            And no, I am not dismissing Jefferson’s personal life. What I’m saying is that our nation was founded, not on his personal life, but on his values. That’s why his values should matter to us today.

          • Kristiburtonbrown

            Hmmm…sorry, still figuring out this new comment system. That comment is @ProTruth2:disqus, not at Calvin.

          • Guest

            I have to point out Jefferson lived in Virgina where it was illegal to free slaves.

  • ElbethL

    As someone who is staunchly pro-life and agrees with your conclusion that abortion is a Very Bad Thing Indeed, I really have to disagree about Jefferson.

    As has been pointed out by others, Jefferson owned slaves. While he did try to introduce an incremental end to slavery, when this failed, he freed all of two of his own slaves. The remainder of his slaves were SOLD AT AUCTION after his death to cover his debts, as he had instructed in his will. Jefferson was, I believe, the first president to begin working towards the Indian Removal Act. This was eventually be passed in 1830, resulting in–among other horrific things–the Trail of Tears and the deaths of 4,000 Cherokee tribespeople. And for all his grandiose language in the Declaration, neither Jefferson nor any of the Congress that passed that document intended for the phrase “all men are created equal” to apply to anyone other than white males. Women, blacks, Native Americans, and anyone who wasn’t a man and white did not count under this definition of equality. It was precisely this tension that resulted, eventually, in the Dred Scott ruling, the Civil War, Amendments Thirteen through Fifteen, and the Women’s Suffrage movement. And ultimately, the pro-life movement on behalf of the unborn is carrying on that same fight right now.

    Simply put, Thomas Jefferson liked the idea of human equality, but never took the kinds of action that would make me believe he was willing to do what it took to make that work. He strikes me as someone who would, in the modern age, be “personally pro-life.” Perfectly happy to have nothing to do with abortion himself, possibly even willing to write/speak against it when pressed very hard, but would stop very far short of doing anything that might actually end it.

    Jefferson’s words in the Declaration were bigger than he meant them to be. And I agree that they apply to the unborn. But he was right that “all men are created equal” and that all have an inalienable right to life more by accident than design. He is not at all someone I would want as a role model for our movement.

    • Kristiburtonbrown

      Thanks for your comments. I’m not saying he’s a role model. I’m simply saying that our nation was founded on Jefferson’s values, and I’m trying to explain what those values were. Did he live 100% by those values? Sadly, no. I think there’s more to some of those issues that you mentioned, but regardless, our nation was founded on his values and his words, not his lifestyle. I’m not dismissing or excusing his lifestyle – just explaining the purpose of this article.

      • ElbethL

        Ah. Well, on this I can wholeheartedly agree with you. Which is good, since I really enjoy your articles. Cheers. :)