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A MEMORANDUM (SERVICES TO MY COUNTRY)

Thomas Jefferson, c. 1800

In this memorandum, Jefferson reflects upon a few of his significant efforts to establish and preserve religious freedom in this country. Rightly so, Jefferson acknowledges that such a dramatic change, whereby church establishment was abolished and religious freedom grew up in its stead, could only be accomplished through the efforts of many people, and even then only by degrees.

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I have sometimes asked myself whether my country is the better for my having lived at all? I do not know that it is. I have been the instrument of doing the following things; but they would have been done by others; some of them, perhaps, a little better.

* * * *

The Declaration of Independence.

I proposed the demolition of the church establishment, and the freedom of religion. It could only be done by degrees; to wit, the Act of 1776, c. 2, exempted dissenters from contributions to the church, and left the church clergy to be supported by voluntary contributions of their own sect; was continued from year to year, and made perpetual 1779, c. 36. I prepared the act for religious freedom in 1777, as part of the revisal, which was not reported to the Assembly till 1779, and that particular law not passed till 1785, and then by the efforts of Mr. Madison.

* * * *

Source: Thomas Jefferson: writings 702 (Merrill D. Peterson ed., 1984)


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