Thomas Jefferson and SikhiSenator TIM KAINE
The following talk was given by US Senator Tim Kaine - currently the Democratic candidate for Vice-President of the United States and running mate to Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton in the 2016 US Elections - in the Richmond Gurdwara in Virginia, USA, on Vaisakhi Day, 2013.
April 13 is the birthday of the Khalsa.
It is also the birthday of Thomas Jefferson. He was born on April 13, 1743 - 44 years after the First Vaisakhi.
It is interesting to see the similarities between his life and the teachings of Sikhi.
Sikhs espouse humility.
If you visit Thomas Jefferson's grave in Monticello, Virginia, you will see the following inscription on his gravestone … it was written by him:
Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.
He did not proclaim that he was the third President of the United States.
He did not state that he was the second Vice-President of the new nation.
He did not mention that he was the First Secretary of State for the US.
He did not boast that he was a Governor of the State of Virginia.
Instead, he wanted to be known for only three accomplishments:
1 That he was the author of the Declaration of Independence.
The second paragraph of the Declaration reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …"
Please note that there are two parts to this: that there is a Creator, (all are Created … endowed by their Creator …), reflecting his belief in One God. And (just like in Sikhism), that all are equal and that the Creator has no favourites. This concept of equality, with no group of people who could call themselves superior, later on led to the Civil War which led to the emancipation of the slaves in this country.
It was also used by women to get their civil rights and their right to vote.
The Sikh Gurus’ concept of equality too had led them to speak out against the caste system and also about the equality of women.
2 That he was the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom - which was later incorporated into the US Constitution and became the First Amendment, which states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."
This protects the freedom of religion from government interference. The government of this country cannot show any partiality or preference of any one religion over another; nor can it force or compel the residents of this country to follow, or not to follow any particular religion, or choose not to have a belief system if they so wish.
This has allowed Sikh-Americans -- as all others -- to flourish in this country, free of any governmental pressures or impediments.
The establishment clause also prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion. (The First Amendment also protects the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of any complaints)
3 That he was founder of the University of Virginia.
To be a Sikh means to have taken the path of learning. The word "Sikh" comes from "sishya" which means "to learn".
This same love of learning led Mr. Jefferson to start the academic village that became the University of Virginia and is now one of the premier centers of higher learning in this country today.
So let us celebrate together as we celebrate the formation of the Khalsa and also the birth of one of the Founding Fathers of America, who at the same time personified some of the great ideals of Sikhi - those of humility, belief in one God, of equality, of tolerance of other faiths, and the path of lifelong learning.
Transcribed by Dr Gurpal Singh Bhuller.
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First published on April 26, 2013. Republished on July 26, 2016.
Conversation about this article
1: Kanwarjeet Singh (USA), April 26, 2013, 9:33 AM.
Beautiful! I have always thought the US constitution bears striking similarities with the Sikh philosophy - one nation under God, right to bear arms, right to life, liberty, equality and pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech and religion and not to mention the timing of the foundation of the USA - almost at the same time as the initiation of the Khalsa. If I was a conspiracy theorist I would have even speculated that Guru Gobind Singh's message reached the shores of the USA and the Sikh values were imbibed in the U S Constitution.
2: Manpreet Singh (Hyderabad, India), April 26, 2013, 2:10 PM.
In total agreement with Kanwarjeet Singh ji! There is a detailed account that people reached Anandpur Sahib on 13 April, 1699 from distant places. You never know if some American had reached over there and learnt about Sikhism and its fundamentals and then incorporated the same into the American constitution! :)
3: Harman Singh (California, USA), April 26, 2013, 3:04 PM.
There is a great deal of congruity between the US constitution and Sikh principles. I congratulate the Senator for such a thoughtful analysis.
4: Dr Devinder Singh Chahal (Laval, Quebec, Canada), April 27, 2013, 8:12 AM.
Is it not strange that scholars, politicians, peace activists, scientists from the West are picking up and practicing Sikhi and we are falling behind in doing so. On the Earth Mother Day I reported that John McConnell, the Peace Activist, proposed Earth Day in 1969, exactly 500 years after Guru Nanak (1469-1539) who declared 'Mata Dharat Mahat'. The concept of Earth Day was first proposed by John McConnell in 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. He proposed that March 21, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere ... and it was proclaimed as such by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. Later on it was designated as International Mother Earth Day in 2009 by a consensus resolution adopted by the United Nations. There are many such example of the principles of Sikhi promulgated by Guru Nanak that are now being accepted by many people around the world.
5: Gurpal Singh Bhuller (Chester, Virginia, USA), April 27, 2013, 3:02 PM.
Just to clarify what Manpreet SIngh brought up hereinabove. The Constitution was formulated by the Federal Convention that met in 1787 and sent the proposed Constitution to the states for ratification in September 1787. Some of these deliberations were recorded and defended by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison in "The Federalist Papers". None of them, or others who participated, were present in Punjab in 1699. So it is unlikely that the framers of the US Constitution had any knowledge of what was going on in the Sikh world at that time.
6: Kirpal Singh (Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S.A.), April 27, 2013, 9:08 PM.
Thanks, Dr. Gurpal Singh ji, for transcribing this wonderful speech. It needs to be incorporated in the curriculum of Sikh camps for our youngsters to develop appreciation of Sikh heritage more meaningfully while living in the West.
7: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 27, 2013, 10:48 PM.
Values such as Freedom, Liberty and Security, love and service of humanity under One God, are espoused by every valid religion (including Sikhism) and enshrined in every constitution of a proper, respectable democratic nation. The values which define Sikhism hence are aligned with all great democratic and respectable nations - including the US whose founders were inspired to break away from colonialism, slavery and the shackles of monarchy, thus creating, defining and guiding a nation that identifies and respects universal values, as such becoming a beacon of greatness on this planet ... akin to Sikhi which also illuminates among religions as a shining, guiding light. The only difference lies in that the message of the Ten Nanaks is inspired by the Divine and is therefore timeless and not tied to geography or political leanings, and is above and beyond all that is merely temporal, worldly or expedient. The vagaries of the majority or the powerful hold no sway when it comes to the ideals of Sikhi.
8: Manjit Singh Kwatra (India), May 05, 2013, 10:01 AM.
It is heartening to know that there are similarities between Sikhism and the American ideals. Why not make April 13 a day to celebrate minorities? And celebrate all that is good in the world, the way our Gurus did in bringing together everybody in the Guru Granth Sahib.
9: Rebecca Towers (Phoenix, Arizona, USA), March 27, 2014, 9:22 AM.
Gratitude. Sat Naam.