These are the Craziest Conspiracy Theories About Our Founding Fathers

Portrait of President Thomas Jefferson, by Rembrandt Peale (c. 1800). Wikimedia Commons.

15. During the presidential election of 1800 it became a widespread rumor Thomas Jefferson was secretly an atheist who sought to ban religion

Despite being a re-match of the presidential election from four years prior, the election of 1800 was one of the most acrimonious and unpleasant democratic exercises in early American political history. Initially close allies and friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had fallen out over their conflicting ideologies and designs for the infant nation, splitting the increasingly divided country between the Federalist and Democratic-Republicans. Whilst on the one side the Federalists were accused of monarchism, promoting aristocracy, and anti-democratic values, Jefferson’s movement was decried as radical and dangerously subversive for supporting the French Revolution.

Incrementally escalating in the scope and severity of accusations, Jefferson’s alleged religious beliefs rapidly became the subject of sustained theorizing and criticism. Opposed from a young age to Church institutions, Jefferson’s complicated relationship with religion can best be described as non-denominational theism. Nevertheless, despite belief in some sort of higher power, if not strictly Christianity, during the presidential election in 1800 Federalist supporters promulgated the supposition he was actually an atheist seeking to destroy religion in America. Reaching fever pitch, Jefferson was forced to counter these accusations by attending services in the Capitol despite his deep personal hatred of the fusion of church and state.