Jefferson Abridged: Bush Deletes Line from Jefferson Quote that Criticizes Religious Superstition

President Bush has been unsuccessful lately in abridging the Constitution with stinging loses in the last month before the Supreme Court and lower courts. He appears now to be attacking the problem at its source: the Founders. In a July 4th speech at Monticello, Bush cleaned up a famous quote by Jefferson by deleting a line that is viewed as critical of religious superstitions and ignorance. The video of the event and the original quote are below.

Here is what Bush said:

Thomas Jefferson understood that these rights do not belong to Americans alone. They belong to all mankind. And he looked to the day when all people could secure them. On the 50th anniversary of America’s independence, Thomas Jefferson passed away. But before leaving this world, he explained that the principles of the Declaration of Independence were universal. In one of the final letters of his life, he wrote, “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be — to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all — the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.

However, in the letter to Roger Weightman reflecting on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the last line reads:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.

The meaning of the chains is quite different in the original. The letter is well known because that anniversary would be Jefferson’s last. Both he and John Adams would die on that same day.

The speech was already controversial due to repeated interruptions by people called Bush as war monger and criminal. For the video, click here.

For a copy of Bush’s whole speech, click here.

37 thoughts on “Jefferson Abridged: Bush Deletes Line from Jefferson Quote that Criticizes Religious Superstition”

  1. Mespo,
    Thank you for your usual kind words. I’m heading north to await the birth of my second grandchild. I’ll see you and the gang in August.
    Keep fighting!

  2. MichaelSpindell:

    “Disabled, I only have the power of my words to protest against the rape of our heritage.”

    You seem more than adequate for the job at hand.

  3. “It’s as if every post on this blog is a Rorschach test where every answer is “Bush is a war criminal.”

    I hope my “overly serious” mind has misinterpreted your clever use of irony. Bush really is a war criminal. You write with some intelligence, so if you comment as if you do not recognize this simple fact then either you’re being facetious, or you’re blithely missing the problem with this administration. They have gotten us into an unjustified and illegal war, murdered hundreds of thousands of people for oil, given sanction to torture and shredded our Constitution. I may not be a lawyer, but I’m pretty “wonky” when it comes to policy and I love this country’s constitution. Disabled, I only have the power of my words to protest against the rape of our heritage. I’m just an older guy who wants his children to have the same chances I’ve had. I know more than enough history to state that America has never lived up to its’ founding principles. However, we are on the cusp of our country descending beyond the point of redemption and it sickens me.

  4. Mespo,

    Your list of past transgressions does not equal malice in the speech incident, no matter how hard you try. Sorry. The overreactions to some of the posts on this blog make some of you sound nutty. I’ve actually spent some time wondering why that is. Professor Turley is a smart guy. He writes a lot of good, insightful commentaries. Many of his blog posts raise interesting legal issues. I would have guessed … and this may be where I’ve gone amiss … that the audience would be lawyers, or at least legal/policy wonks. Judging by the tone of the comments, though, it looks like … I dunno … overflow from the Daily Kos, Code Pink, and It’s as if every post on this blog is a Rorschach test where every answer is “Bush is a war criminal.”

    I don’t mean to rain on yall’s picnic or anything, I’m just saying …


  5. “Thomas Jefferson understood that these rights do not belong to Americans alone.” Therefore, George W. Bush, we find you guilty of crimes against humanity!
    You are hereby sentenced to write those aforementioned words, repeatedly under guard, at Guantanemo Bay, Cuba for the rest of you natural life!

  6. Gino:

    “What I don’t understand is why some of you equate the omission with an evil motive, like destroying the Constitution.”

    Let me count the ways that other “innocent” little things led us to overreact in our sinister beliefs:

    1. Going around FISA
    2. Having the telecoms go around FISA
    3. Refusing to answer subpoenas of Congress
    4. Ordering others to refuse to answer subpoenas of Congress
    5. Faith based Initiatives where taxpayer money just happens to end up in the hands of faiths Bush likes despite the principle of separation of Church and State
    6. Politicizing the hiring of career employees at Justice Department
    7. Denial of Habeas Corpus
    8. Guantanamo
    9. Abu Ghraib
    10. A concerted effort to politicize the Katrina disaster when things went terribly wrong
    11. Subverting legitimate criminal investigations
    12. Initiating bogus criminal investigations
    13. “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

    There’s a bakers dozen off the top of my head. And by all means stay at the adult table, and review a primer on intent from the Romans who knew a thing or two about political intrigue and motivation:

    “In traditionibus scriptorum non quod dictum est, sed quod gestum est, inspicitur”*

    *In the delivery of writings, not what is said but what is done is to be considered.

  7. This is altogether a reasonable discussion and this contretemps is certainly not at the level of the other deceptions done by this administration. The fact remains though that this administration has been operating on an “Orwellian” level when it comes to their messages.
    That puts the onus of suspicion on all their actions.

  8. Gino,

    I took what people were saying this way–In many of Bush’s actions he has tried to remove an important founding prinicple of our nation-separation of church and state. This is a fact that one of his own, David Kyo, former head of faith based initatives has acknowledged.

    I think it is a big deal to try to destroy that founding principle. I think many of us are offended that a person who has done so much to subvert the Constitution, and just considers it a worthless piece of paper, would try to associate himself with Jefferson by using Jefferson’s writings.

    I’m guessing that the speech writer did leave the part about religion out for political purposes as this group does not want to offend fundamentalists (and they would be offended). And even though Bush doesn’t write his speeches he is still responsible for what he says.

    That’s how I took it. I did think you made some disparaging remarks about my and other’s posts. I don’t think that was fair. For my part no hard feelings.



  9. Jill,

    My gripe isn’t with the accuracy of the quote. I’m taking it for granted that the quote was stated as described in the original post. What I don’t understand is why some of you equate the omission with an evil motive, like destroying the Constitution. Chances are, Bush didn’t write the speech. Chances are, he didn’t know about the omission. Assuming he did know about the omission, it was a politically calculated move to sidestep and idea that he didn’t quite agree with. That’s about it.

    I’m no fan of Bush, Jill. My list of things he’s done right would be small indeed. But I have a hard time reading the original post as support for Bush’s malicious contempt for the Constitution.

    I’ll save mespo some time and just go sit at the kiddie table right now. Oh, and I’m stupid, too.


  10. Jill,

    I apologize, I thought you were asking a “gotcha” question and was being defensive. I forget that people actually do sometimes want intelligent discussions.

    I’m not entirely sure I can think of anything Bush got right. I’m not going to go reading through his speeches to find an example because I can’t stand the style of his orations, and I don’t really have time in any event. I’m sure that he’s gotten at least one or two things right simply because I’ve yet to find someone that I disagree with 100% of the time.

    Et al,

    I honestly don’t understand why my posts are getting the somewhat aggressive response that they are, I meant them in a constructive way. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. It’s the week before a show I’m playing in the pit orchestra for opens and all the rehearsals (not to mention the annoying songs that get stuck in my head) always make me a little grumpy. I’m NOT saying that Bush isn’t manipulating the English Language for political means; I’m just saying you have to choose your battles.

  11. I don’t agree about overlooking the missing words. First, the buck has never stopped with bush. Jefferson’s words were misused for political purposes, and bush is directly responsible. Second, the dropped words related to religion, and bush is the big fool in promoting specific ignorance in this regard, along with the fundies of all stripes who toil daily to strip us of our rights, and strive to fill our heads with ignorance.

  12. Pardon me-these are too good to misquote:

    You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

    -Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)
    16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

    “You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”
    George W. Bush quotes (American 43rd US President since 2001. b.1946)

  13. Gyges,

    I don’t see how they weren’t proportional but I’ll agree with the two things you mentioned above.


  14. Gyges,

    I was asking that you list those things, important ones, that Bush got right. I’m agnostic about this slip up and agree with you that in the scheme of things it’s not a big deal. Will you please tell me the important things you believe Bush got right?

    Thank you,


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