If you take a trip to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., you will see panels inscribed with quotes by Jefferson. These are things that he wrote, and now are literally shouted from the rooftops at this memorial.
One panel reads in part:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.
It comes from two different writings by Jefferson, and you can find the original quotes below. But in both works, he makes it clear that he believed our liberty comes from God. He isn’t even particularly talking about religion. He’s discussing slavery, commerce and taxing and regulations. But God was such a part of how Jefferson saw life, it affected his worldview immensely and that naturally flowed into his understanding of other matters of life such as commerce.
Note these things from this panel of quotes:
• God gave us life
• God gave us liberty
• Can a nation expect to keep liberties if the only firm thing they are based on—that these liberties are the gift of God—is taken away?
• Jefferson knows God is just and that there will be a judgment—and that made him tremble
• Implicit in that thought is the idea that we may draw God’s wrath if these liberties—given as a great gift and blessing by God—are misused, changed, infringed, defied, abused, broken, damaged, despoiled, ruined, encroached upon or not respected—That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?
• In fact, that is what Jefferson actually originally said in that phrase on the panel, which shortened the quote. He said, “can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . .
It is no wonder that when Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, that a part of it included that we were given certain rights by our Creator.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; the official website of Jefferson’s home, museum, library and archives. http://www.monticello.org/reports/quotes/memorial.html
The two original Jefferson quotes in their entirety:
“For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . .”
– Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia
“But let them [members of the parliament of Great Britain] not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, or to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”
–Thomas Jefferson, in A Summary View of the Rights of British America