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Friday, May 1, 2009

Was Thomas Jefferson a Member of the Illuminati?

Evidence usually cited to peg Thomas Jefferson as a member of the Illuminati is based on one letter he wrote to Bishop James Madison in January 1800. The letter is frequently quoted out of context, leaving out the part in which he makes it clear that he knows nothing about the order, apart from what he had just read in Abbé Augustin Barruél’s book, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism ( Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire du Jacobinisme), published after the French Revolution (the spellings are Jefferson’s):

“I have lately by accident got a sight of a single volume (the 3d) of the Abbé Barruel's Antisocial Conspiracy”, which gives me the first idea I have ever had of what is meant by the Illuminatism… Barruel's own parts of the book are perfectly the ravings of a Bedlamite. But he quotes largely from Wishaupt whom he considers as the founder of what he calls the order… I will give you the idea I have formed from only an hour's reading of Barruel's quotations from him, which, you may be sure, are not the most favorable. Wishaupt seems to be an enthusiastic philanthropist. He is among those… who believe in the infinite perfectability of man. He thinks he may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance, so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him, and, of course, to render political government useless… Wishaupt believes that to promote this perfection of the human character was the object of Jesus Christ… I believe you will think with me that if Wishaupt had written here, where no secrecy is necessary in our endeavours to render men wise and virtuous, he would not have thought of any secret machinery for that purpose.”

It should be pointed out, as an aside, that the Bishop James Madison to whom the letter was written was not President James Madison (they were cousins). But for a dose of extra irony, there is actually a secret society called the Bishop James Madison Society at William and Mary College in Virginia. Started in 1812, it is the second oldest secret society on the W&M campus. The only older one is the Flat Hat Club, to which Thomas Jefferson belonged.


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