A friend I hold in much esteem pointed out to me today that Jefferson himself had spoken to the issue currently making news in Alabama. Here find Jefferson's letter entitled SAXONS, CONSTITUTIONS, AND A CASE OF PIOUS FRAUD:
[F]or such the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions, that Christianity is a part of the common law. The proof of the contrary, which you have adduced, is incontrovertible; to wit, that the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever existed.This is perfectly correct, as we would expect of Jefferson. The Anglo-Saxon constitution--as Jefferson calls it--included many of the rights that were lost after the Norman conquest, and rewon on English soil only after the protracted battles of centuries. Nor were the Anglo-Saxons alone in this: the Scots, and the Continential Germanic-language speakers alike, both knew elective kingship and a profound respect for liberty that fought at length with organized Christianity. As the Saxons' kings were slain by Charlemagne, bringing the "Holy Roman Empire," as the Anglo-Saxon king was destroyed by a usurper who came bearing a banner of war blessed by the Pope, so the "bonders," or independent farmers, of Norway united to repel the overbearing and murderous "Saint" Olav.
We may honestly say that there is nothing in Christianity that is especially democratic, and that in fact it has come rather late to the party, if in fact it has come at all. Christians may be devoted to liberty, but Christianity is not: Christianity is devoted to God. It is a strength of the faith that it can survive in both tyranny and liberty, bringing strength to the hearts of slaves even as it does to free men. Yet it does not require any greater liberty than that free will which some Christians feel God endowed with Men. Christianity has been a powerful help to many in the service of liberty, but it was left to others to secure liberty in this world.
So it was that the sons of Scotland wrote, in Arbroath in 1320:
A quibus Malis innumeris, ipso Juuante qui post uulnera medetur et sanat, liberati sumus per strenuissimum Principem, Regem et Dominum nostrum, Dominum Robertum, qui pro populo et hereditate suis de manibus Inimicorum liberandis quasi alter Machabeus aut Josue labores et tedia, inedias et pericula, leto sustinuit animo. Quem eciam diuina disposicio et iuxta leges et Consuetudines nostra, quas vsque ad mortem sustinere volumus, Juris successio et debitus nostrorum omnium Consensus et Assensus nostrum fecerunt Principem atque Regem, cui tanquam illi per quem salus in populo nostro facta est pro nostra libertate tuenda tam Jure quam meritis tenemur et volumus in omnibus adherere.That is, roughly: 'King Robert has borne up like a hero of the Biblical age, and divine providence has made him king. But if he turns aside from the cause of liberty we shall kill him and choose another, and fight on so long as even a hundred of us are left: not for glory, nor wealth, nor honor, but freedom alone, which no good man yields except unto death."
Quem si ab inceptis desisteret, regi Anglorum aut Anglicis nos aut Regnum nostrum volens subicere, tanquam inimicum nostrum et sui nostrique Juris subuersorem statim expellere niteremur et alium Regem nostrum qui ad defensionem nostram sufficeret faceremus. Quia quamdiu Centum ex nobis viui remanserint, nuncquam Anglorum dominio aliquatenus volumus subiugari. Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit.
That is the root of our Constitution, our rights, and our duty. It is that old Celtic-Germanic sensation, that freedom is better than everything, and death better than submission.