Thomas Jefferson Papers

Samuel Greenhow to Thomas Jefferson, 11 November 1813

From Samuel Greenhow

Richmond 11th Novr 1813.


I [am]1 very unwilling to be considered as impertinent, and have therefore hesitated, before I determined, that, I might, without impertinence, inclose to you a Copy of the Address & Constitution of an Association in Virginia, for the distribution of Bibles gratuitously, to those who are not able to purchase them.—Conscious of the purity of my motive, I have discarded the doubts which at first presented themselves to me as to the propriety of this Act.

This association has no tendency to produce any legal preference of Sects—that, it exists, made up of persons of all the different religious2 sects known among us, is perhaps (Under God) the result of that perfect toleration secured to us, in all matters relative to religion.—The distribution of Bibles, so far from being calculated to give undue influence to any one sect, will tend to counteract the improper influence of ambitious and worldly men licensed as Preachers & pastors—To me then it seems, that, this Association can not possibly produce evil of a political sort; which, from the devotion of so large a part of your life to the service of our Country, I suppose would be a previous enquiry with you—

If then, no evil will probably result from it, and the possession of the Bible shall, as I am sure it will, add to the Enjoyments of a number of our poor fellow Citizens who can not purchase—If, as I imagine is certain, the System of morals inculcated in the new testament, is the most perfect in existence—

If the most correct principles of Civil liberty are presented in that Book—And if the distribution of Bibles shall excite Citizens of the poorer class, to make greater exertions to teach their children to read, and thus increase the Stock of knowledge in that Class of Society—then without Enquiring whether you or I receive this Book as a work of Inspiration, I shall hope for your patronage of the Association—

We should be much pleased to number you among the members of the Society; But, if you should prefer it, we will thankfully receive any donation that you may be pleased to aid us with—

Should you think this letter worthy of notice, you will please address your reply to me as Treasurer of the Bible Society of Virginia; or to any of the managers, whose names you will find on the last page of the inclosed pamphlett.

I am Very respectfully Yrs &c

Samuel Greenhow

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 16 Nov. 1813 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Address of the Managers of the Bible Society of Virginia, to the Public (Richmond, 1813), with subjoined, separately paginated Constitution of the Bible Society of Virginia. The former mentions English and American precursors; emphasizes the importance of the Bible to improving the morals of mankind and preparing humanity “for the life that now is, and for that which is to come” (p. 5); stresses the great need to disseminate the scriptures to the ignorant and erring of the world; underscores the nondenominational character of the organization; and states that its work will secure heavenly blessings to the Society and to the nation as a whole. The Society’s constitution gives as its object “the distribution of Bibles and Testaments to the poor of our country, and to the Heathen” (p. 1); provides for the election of managers, the replacement of vacancies on the board, and the calling of annual meetings; and declares that “Persons of every religious creed or denomination may become members of this Society, upon paying five dollars subscription money, and binding themselves to pay four dollars annually, so long as they choose to continue in the Society” (p. 2).

1Omitted word editorially supplied.

2Word added in margin.

Index Entries

  • Address of the Managers of the Bible Society of Virginia, to the Public search
  • Bible; societies for distribution of search
  • Bible Society of Virginia search
  • Constitution of the Bible Society of Virginia search
  • Greenhow, Samuel; and Bible Society of Virginia search
  • Greenhow, Samuel; letters from search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • religion; societies for Bible distribution search
  • Virginia; religious societies in search