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Picturing history: Thomas Jefferson and the prelude to the Restoration

Thomas Jefferson was president of the U.S. when the Prophet Joseph Smith was born

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The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D. C.

Kenneth Mays

Chapter 1 of the institute manual, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” is titled, “Prelude to the Restoration.” Woven in its text is a list of major events that needed to unfold before the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

One such historical step noted in the manual was the raising up of the great reformers, including Luther, Calvin, Knox and others (see page 8). Another such step was the discovery and colonization of America. “Complete religious freedom was not achieved in America until the American Revolution enhanced the climate for religious freedom,” according to the manual (see pages 9-10).

Along with other Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson played a major role in the Revolution. Interestingly, at one point in his life, he thought he had done all he was going to do. At the young age of 20, he wrote to a friend: “I verily believe ... that I shall die soon, and yet I can give no other reason for it but that I am tired with living. At this moment when I am writing I am scarcely sensible that I exist” (see “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson,” by Joseph J. Ellis, page 40). From that moment of despondency, he moved on to author “the Declaration of Independence, be the founding father of the University of Virginia, and the author of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, which was adopted in 1785,” according to “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (see page 11).

He was also vice president and president of the United States. Jefferson was president when the Prophet Joseph Smith was born. Of many other contributions, one was facilitating the Louisiana Purchase which moved the western boundaries of the nation in a manner to include Jackson County, Missouri — the center stake of Zion — in the new U.S. Territory.


Independence Hall, Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was approved and signed.

Kenneth Mays

Kenneth Mays is a board member of the Ensign Peak Foundation (formerly Mormon Historic Sites Foundation) and a retired instructor in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Department of Seminaries and Institutes.