Quotation: "Sir, no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man, and I as chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example."
Variations: None known.
Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
Thomas Jefferson retirement papers
Thomas Jefferson: Papers and Biographies collections in Hathi Trust Digital Library
Comments: This quotation appeared in a handwritten manuscript by the Reverend Ethan Allen (1796-1879). The story was related to Allen by a Mr. Ingle, who claimed to have been told a story that Jefferson was walking to church services one Sunday,
"...with his large red prayer book under his arm when a friend querying him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson. To which he replied to Church Sir. You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it. Sir said Mr. J. No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."2
The story comes to us third-hand, and has not been confirmed by any references in Jefferson's papers or any other known sources. Its authenticity is questionable.
1. J.P. Ingle note, July 6, 1857, quoted in Allen's manuscript, "Washington Parish, Washington City, 1794-1857," in Ethan Allen Papers, 1856-1874, Library of Congress. For further details of and quotation from this document, see Robert Brooks Ennis, "Christ Church, Washington Parish," Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 69/70 (1969/1970): 129.