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Thomas Jefferson, Nature's God, and the Theological Foundations of Natural-Rights Republicanism

  • Kody W. Cooper (a1) and Justin Buckley Dyer (a2)


While the role of theology in Jefferson's political thought and its implications for how we should understand the role of “Nature's God” in grounding natural-rights republicanism are topics of ongoing scholarly interest, scholars have missed important continuities between Jefferson's natural-law theory and that of classical, theistic natural-law. Many scholars who have considered Jefferson in this light have emphasized Jefferson's discontinuity and even subversion of that tradition. In critical dialogue with this vein of scholarship, we argue that Jefferson espouses a creational metaphysics and a natural-law theory of morality that has surprising continuities with classical natural-law. We seek to shed new light on Jefferson's theory of the moral sense and his the earth belongs to the living principle, which we contend encapsulates his theistic understanding of equality and property.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kody W. Cooper, University of Tennesse at Chattanooga, Department of Political Science and Public Science, 207 Pfeiffer Hall, 615 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37403. E-mail:; or to Justin Buckley Dyer, University of Missouri, Department of Political Science, 218 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65211-6030. E-mail:


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We thank participants in an interdisciplinary workshop at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy in April 2016 for helpful feedback on an earlier draft of this essay.



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