Andrew Tribble

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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The claim that Thomas Jefferson was influenced by local Baptist congregations in his ideas of democracy has appeared persistently throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The source of these claims may lie in an 1826 newspaper article.

On July 14, 1826 - very shortly after Jefferson's death - the following article entitled "ANECDOTE OF MR. JEFFERSON" appeared in the Christian Watchman:

MR. EDITOR,-- The following circumstances, which occurred in the State of Virginia, relative to Mr. JEFFERSON, were detailed to me by Elder ANDREW TRIBBLE, about six years ago, who since died when ninety-two or three years old. The facts may interest some of your readers --

ANDREW TRIBBLE was the Pastor of a small Baptist Church, which held its monthly meetings at a short distance from Mr. JEFFERSON'S house, eight or ten years before the American Revolution. Mr. JEFFERSON attended the meetings of the church for several months in succession, and after one of them, asked Elder TRIBBLE to go home and dine with him, with which he complied.

Mr. TRIBBLE asked Mr. JEFFERSON how he was pleased with their Church Government? Mr. JEFFERSON replied, that it had struck him with great force, and had interested him much; that he considered it the only form of pure democracy that then existed in the world, and had concluded that it would be the best plan of Government for the American Colonies. This was several years before the declaration of American Independence. To what extent this practical exhibition of Religious Liberty and Equality operated on Mr. JEFFERSON'S mind, in forming his views and principles of religious and civil freedom, which were afterwards so ably exhibited, I will not say.

The article continues on to describe the persecution of the Baptists in Virginia at the time of Tribble's encounter with Jefferson, and the article is signed simply, "A FRIEND."[1]

Although there was a clergyman named Andrew Tribble in Albemarle County at the time in question,[2] no record of any meeting or communication with Thomas Jefferson has been found. This does not preclude the possibility that they did meet, but it makes proving the veracity of Tribble's story difficult.

Regardless of whether the story is true or not, it has been remarkably persistent. It appeared in a number of newspapers in the months and years immediately following its first appearance in the Christian Watchman, but it was still appearing in newspapers as late as 1880.[3]

Still other instances of the story do not mention Tribble at all, but emphasize the influence the Baptist church had on Jefferson's ideas of government and religious freedom. The story was appearing in religious histories by the 1850s,[4] and was even repeated by Calvin Coolidge in a 1926 speech.[5]


Footnotes

  1. In some sources, the "friend" to whom Tribble related the story and who, in turn, related it to the newspapers was James Fishback, another Albemarle County resident who later moved to Kentucky. Fishback corresponded with Jefferson several times himself; see PTJ:RS volume 1.
  2. Woods, Albemarle 133. According to Woods, the first Baptist congregation in the county was established in early 1773; Tribble was not elected pastor until 1777.
  3. "Congregationalism and the State," The Congregationalist (Boston, MA), September 1, 1880, pg. 4, Issue 35, col C.
  4. Joseph Belcher, Religious Denominations in the United States: their History, Doctrine, Government and Statistics. With a Prelimary Sketch of Judaism, Paganism and Mohammedanism (Philadelphia: Potter, 1854), 184; Joseph S. Clark, A Historical Sketch of the Congregational Churches in Massachusetts from 1620 to 1858 (Boston: Congregational Board of Publication, 1858), 120.
  5. Calvin Coolidge, Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 5, 1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Printed in Coolidge, Foundations of the Republic: Speeches and Addresses (New York: Scribner, 1926), 448.

Further Sources