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The foundation of America can be attributed to many men and women, but two men had enormous influence on the structure and growth of the nation as a whole. These two men were Thomas Jefferson and John Winthrop who believed strongly in the foundation of freedom. Although their ideals and beliefs were very different, both of them had a tremendous influence on their contemporaries and ultimately on the foundation of the United States of America. Both men held office and both men were looked up to in a religious and a political sense. While they were very similar in power and some religious beliefs, most of their differences were because of their religion and how it influenced their governmental rule. They both followed God and believed in Him, they also held some important and influential beliefs that shaped America to be the country it is today; a basis of religious freedom. Between their religious and political views they were able to form a nation set on religious freedom and prosperity, though their differences were many.
For John Winthrop, America was a chance to gain religious freedom away from England and the questionable Anglican Church. Winthrop landed in America near the beginning of its colonization. Since Winthrop had proven himself in England as a responsible leader in terms of his grandfather’s land and his societal upbringing, he was chosen to take lead of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a task he took as seriously as his religion. When Winthrop came to America to help govern the new nation he and his fellow travelers believed “the purpose of New England was to show the world a community where the laws of God were followed by church and state – as nearly as fallible human beings could follow them,” (Morgan 180). Essentially John Winthrop believed that the church and state should be separate, as it was in England at the time, but still be able to be influenced by one another. While the government held the majority of the power, the religious leaders were able to advise others and were called upon often to be advisors.
In the A Model of Christian Charity sermon he preached en route to America, he emphasized the value and importance of succeeding in America and more importantly the value of working together as a community and not as an individual. He, and the other Puritans, believed that God would control their destiny in the New World and that it would be quite obvious whether they succeeded or did not succeed based on God’s presence and the future happenings in the colony. He also mentioned that the poor and the rich were needed, and that it was important for them to co-exist and help one another. This shows that Winthrop believed God had an active role in the community. He stated that they may not succeed in shaping this New World and that would show that God did not want them to intervene or that He was not pleased with them. He believed that everyone should consider themselves equal to everyone else and that religion should not be thought as a relationship with oneself and God but a relationship between the community and God.
As a governor, Winthrop kept his religious beliefs as his first priority. Whenever there would be problems in the church, or people that could threaten the community, he worked diligently to rectify all issues that could become dangerous. In the case of Roger Williams, for example, Winthrop made a conscious effort to alert the different churches and urged the ministers to take action against him. For him, it was important to keep the sanctity of the religion and the state in order, especially in terms of people threatening the community. He was very open about his religion, and because of this, he was looked up to and admired as someone who radiated true Puritanism. He tried to keep the community as pious as possible and lived as perfectly as possible to his Puritan beliefs especially in regards to pleasure. He fought with himself on issues such as hunting and activities that God may or may not approve of.
With Thomas Jefferson, religion was quite different in values to him. While he believed himself to be a Christian, he is more accurately described as a deist. Deism is, on a basic level, a belief that God created the universe based on natural and scientific evidence. However, after that, deists believe that God does not have any outside influence on our behaviors or what happens to us. He believed very strongly in Jesus, stating that “his moral doctrines…were more pure and perfect that those of the most correct…gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids” (Jefferson 11). He believed Jesus to have one main and important job: a teacher. In Jefferson’s Bible he rejected all writings of miracles or amazing feats that were written in the Bible that he believed to be made up or flourished. There was no virgin birth, no miracles or resurrection of Jesus. He believed in the works of a teacher, and not what he believed was made up.
Jefferson was mostly concerned with how to live life according to Jesus’ teachings rather than to completely devote oneself to God. While he certainly did believe in God, he was mostly concerned with what makes a good person. He strongly believed in charity and that privilege is not a sure way to be a good person, as evidenced in the parables he chose for his beliefs. In the parable of the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her own tears, she was considered a sinner and a “bad” person. When Simon confronted Jesus about it, he simply replied that it was she who had taken care of him, not Simon, who was his host. Through this parable it shows that Jefferson values Jesus’ teachings that it is good deeds to all that matter and not ones riches or tributes to the Church. What is interesting about this belief is that Jefferson himself was not a perfect man to his standards. He had slaves and he committed adultery, he was also quite wealthy. Jefferson also strongly believed in the separation of the church and the state. He believed that the state concentrated too much on religion, especially in regards to funding. He led his country in this manner and used his scientific and philosophical thought process with his decisions.
While Jefferson and Winthrop both were considered Christians, they had many differing beliefs on Christianity. While they agreed that the church and state should be separate, Jefferson was the first to define how separate it should be and fully believed in it, unlike Winthrop who believed in a much milder version. Winthrop believed in the Bible completely, and changed his life to reflect what the Bible taught the Puritans in belief and actions. Jefferson on the other hand, was skeptical of the Bible and its origins. He believed the much of the Bible was made up and that people should look at the Bible as scientifically as possible.
In Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” sermon, he stressed the importance of God’s presence in the daily lives of the Puritans. He mentioned that God would be displeased with them if they failed, or could bless them if they succeeded. Jefferson disagreed with this belief and believed himself that God was not present in the daily life of people. This is a main difference between the two men. Although they both led the same country with not much of a time period in between, they had quite different views and practices while running it. For Winthrop, religion was the key in his leadership. For Jefferson, science and logic dominated over religion despite his country still holding religious values. Winthrop was known as a religious man to his people; Jefferson was often criticized for his beliefs and questioned.
Both men truly shaped America to be how it is today, founded on religious freedom. While both had differing definitions of religious freedom, and both did not truly mean what it means today, in a way they both held similar beliefs. The Puritans fled the Church of England, and Jefferson held views that were not entirely popular. That is the basis on what the country is essentially, a place where the fore founders were able to practice their beliefs without many problems from the government.
Despite their differences, both men were able to control and lead a mass of people in a resourceful and successful way that shaped the nation. Winthrop, a devoted Puritan who preached to his fellow shipmates on the powers of God and the hope of their success dominated the colonies as a wise and devout leader. Jefferson, the third president of the United States, had religious views that were quite different from the norm, believing in scientific evidence and logical philosophical processing of information and decisions, was able to succeed as one of the greatest presidents of the time. While they had differences, such as differing opinions on the Bible, they brought this nation to what it is today, a basis for religious freedom and equality.
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