Open for comments: Thomas Jefferson District doesn’t rename

So the Thomas Jefferson District didn’t rename itself. This issue has been going on for almost twenty years, and having been a member and supply minister in the TJD, I’ve heard a bit about it. I can respect both sides, but don’t have — as they say — “a dog in this fight.”

So I’ll just open the comments. As usual, I’ll allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments so long as there’s a real email address to identify it.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. If I were involved, I’d take a purely utilitarian stand. If enough people offended, I’d change. The 64% voting in favor of change would be enough for me to want to change too.

    What’s fascinating though is there is no rush to rename anything after John Adams (John Adams who?).. a guy with far clearer Untarian bona fides. Testament maybe to flash and a bit of evil and sex having more appeal than dour, boring, but on the right side of the moral debate of his age?

  2. I had slavery more in mind…

    Jefferson opposing the Alien and Sedition acts as the Feds usurping powers rightly belong in the hands of the States though under the 10th amendment would put Jefferson at odds with the UUA board…. via Ariznoa’s 10th amendment center,

    Some people are surprised to learn that in response to these acts, Jefferson did not hold up the First Amendment in protest. Rather he invoked the Tenth Amendment, which states that:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    Essentially, he argued that by passing and enforcing the Alien and Sedition Acts, the federal government had over stepped its bounds and was exercising powers which belonged to the states.

    In other words, the Alien and Sedition Acts were acts of usurpation.

    Great minds working over principles can slice many ways. So Jefferson the small gov fellow can suddenly turn around and buy Lousiana.

    I’ll stick with the solid Federalist and Unitarian John Adams.

    My suggestion to the district.

  3. Bill, it’s the substance of the Alien and Sedition Acts, not the legal justification for either Jefferson’s or Adams’s positions about it, that make modern liberals unhappy. Imprisoning people for criticizing their government is a bit of a major blemish on Adams’s reputation.

  4. It’s comparative blemish’s with Adams v Jefferson.

    Let’s just get Jefferson’s stand right though… he opposed Alien and Sedition on the grounds of State’s Rights, not the first Amendment, and to the extent we can carry Jefferson’s reasoning foward, seems to me he’d be perfectly happy with Arizona’s law on immigration. Arizona quite consistent with Jefferson’s reasoning.

    Adam’s wife an abolitionist. Adam’s didn’t own slaves. Jefferson owned slaves. He used a slave for sexual gradification and had a child with her.

    There are blemishes and there are blemishes…..I’ll pick Adams over Jefferson, although I wouldn’t raise a ruckus over the name Jefferson either.

  5. Arguably, Thomas Jefferson was not a Unitarian. The Episcopalians may have a stronger claim on him — he certainly went to more Episcopalian services than Unitarian services. I submit that it’s best to consider him a freethinker of no particular denomination (see, e.g.,

    I’ll let others argue about whether we want a slave-holder as a religious exemplar; I guess I assume that human beings are deeply fallible, and we should expect that all our exemplars might have horrible skeletons in their closets. Instead, I’d like to ask why we would hold up as an exemplar a man who made absolutely no commitment to organized Unitarianism. Perhaps this is indicative of many UU’s feelings of ambivalence towards organized religion, so perhaps Jefferson is indeed a religious exemplar for many UUs.

  6. It would be hard for Jefferson to attend an Unitarian service – as he died a few years after the Unitarians (AUA) started, and the AUA only started allowing churches in their rolls during the late 1860s. Add smiley face here. Slightly more seriously, it would be hard to attend services where no services were held – I can see some doctorial project of someone making a list of churches that Jefferson attended each Sunday, and therefore which ones he didnt attend those Sundays.
    Do we really need to compare the sins of Jefferson and Adams???? or even the sins of Jefferson versus the rest of us?

  7. But of course, the irony is that back in the late 1950s, southern Universalists complained that the Unitarians worshiped the trinity of Jefferson, Schweitzer, and Gandhi.

  8. Adams v Jefferson opens fundamental American issues Steve…and UU ones too I suspect…

    maybe the Adams-Jefferson district? It’s really in the clash and conflict, and the sorting out of ideas that truth found, and these two Americans offer rich conflict in ideas.

    Creation will sort our their sins by the way…I only deal with blemishes.

  9. How about John C. Calhoun District? He was one of ours and he really did live in the boundaries of the district. What, no takers? Not a serious offer anyway.

    Then how about the Quillen H. Shinn District? True, he was not from there but he did a lot of missionary work there. His name actually hearkens back to our Southern Universalist roots. Not as prominent as TJ but far more noble.

  10. While Shinn was from Virginia,it’s now the part that is West Virginia. However he served in the Union Army; so that would qualify him. However he was also both an Universalist and a Christian, so that would disqualify him . Interesting though that one of his converts Rev Jordan was suggested (as Towne-Jordan District). “Toward Justice District” was another suggestion, although I would thought it would have been more offensive than old Tom Jefferson is.
    Certainly removing Jefferson is easier than making any real or meaningful changes in the UUA…..

  11. As for Shinn, it is more in reference to his area of ministry which included Eastern Tennessee, North and South Carolina, sometimes Kentucky and parts of Virginia, if memory serves.

  12. Back when C Conrad Wright and Alan Seaburg were on the team (I can’t believe I’m that old!), the UU Historical Society featured Quillen Shinn and his horse on the cover of its leaflet.

    As to naming the district, if we insist on sticking with prestigious Unitarians, I’m pretty happy with Thomas Jefferson, despite his foibles. Calhoun has his good points (as a theorist), and I’ve always loved the irony that both the Declaration of Independence and the Null and Void Act came from our religious value of radical personal/local sovereignty, as opposed to New England’s more nuanced tension between covenant and conscience.

    “Great Ideas District”?

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