Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Waterhouse to Thomas Jefferson, 14 December 1815

From Benjamin Waterhouse

Cambridge 14th Decr 1815

Dear Sir

I received your letter of 13th Octr with pleasure, and read it with great satisfaction.—I here enclose a curious publication, printed first in Connecticut, & reprinted at Andover, 20 miles from this place, where is a new & well endowed theological college, being a splinter struck off from Cambridge, at the time when we elected an unitarian professor of divinity. Dwight of the Connecticut-College;—Morse the geographer, & Pearson, late Professor of Hebrew & oriental languages here; are the three most distinguished Cardinals; but the first has the most external, if not internal marks of being our Pope Bonaface the first. The last named gentleman has just published a sermon, bottomed on the calculations & reasonings of the Tract No 70. here enclosed, which taken collectively, is the largest & boldest stride towards the establishment of calvinistical-popery we have yet seen.—

By this Tract you will percieve that your native State is but poorly represented in Heaven, there being 914,0001 of her population destitute of the means of grace!”—whence we infer that “Virginia influence” scarcely extends to the New-Jerusalem:—we are also as certain, that in miserable Louisiana the people “sit in darkness, and the shadow of death2—there being not one protestant minister within its limits.”—

In the sermon above referred to, the preacher says—“I shudder when I think that the constitution of the U.S. does not recognize the being of a God, nor ever once mentions His name!”—and he might have encreased his shuddering by adding—“while every Bill of lading does.”

I hope some able hand in the south will reply to this Tract No 70. You will see by the poetry in the enclosed news-paper, that we attack this rant with other weapons beside those of serious argument. The Hartford Convention has fallen flat before the unceasing streams of ridicule, which swelled, at last, into a torrent. But it is to be lamented that those who assume the pen in the cause of truth, liberality & common sense do not exceed3 three in number We need the aid of some of the fine spirits of the South.

The venerable Adams, who is “—a stout polemic, stubborn as a rock,” has several times in years past, expressed to me his very serious apprehension of the movements of these restless, & aspiring priests. This calvinistic-junto have paid great court to the sage of Quincy, till at length he wrote Dr Morse a letter with leave to publish it, which he never will do: the substance of it has however got abroad: he tells the geographical divine that he knows more of this old controversy of trinitarianism, & of the corruptions of christianity than he does, or all his party; that he himself has always been an Unitarian. Since this letter they have ceased to burn incense under the nose of our God. Terminus.

This controversy has produced a strange state of things, and a queer jumble of opinions in this our American Canaan The Essex-Junto & this University are boasting of Adams & Jefferson, while their political idol Caleb Strong is a gloomy calvinist of the deepest blue connecticut dye; and it bids fair to break up their political covenant. Strong will retire; and his party will support the Republican candidate of last year, Mr S. Dexter, while the Republicans will try to carry Gen. Dearborn.—But the religious dispute is obliterating the political one; and some think the calvinists will rally under the banners of the general government. They already4 speak of Mr Madison & Monroe with decency, while they shudder at the anti-terrific doctrines of the Junto.—It is strange, but we have a vast number of both sexes, who love to be agitated by the horrid doctrine of the eternal punishment of fire & brimstone. I however found out, while guarding Vaccination, in its disputed march through an host of enemies, that a man need not dispair making a certain class of people believe any thing but truth.—

You will find by the enclosed newspaper, that our fanaticks are attacked by other weapons than that of serious argument.

I remain with a high degree of respect your steady admirer

Benjn Waterhouse

P.S. By letters I have recently received from Mr J. Q. Adams, he says—“I do not think there is an immediate prospect of tranquility in Europe. The Allies appear to think that the dismemberment & ruin of France is indispensable for the security of the world against universal monarchy; and that to put down the Jacobins, all the Protestants in France must be St Bartholomewed; they think that to consummate the holy triumph of lawful monarchy, Religion & social order,5 rivers of Jacobin blood must be poured forth from the scaffold. All this is the orthodox doctrine consecrated by the victory of La Belle Alliance.6 Their alternatives are all of a nature which will require the rod of iron, the sharp pointed-rod, to carry them into effect.”

RC (DLC); addressed: “Honorable Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 Dec. 1815 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Lyman Beecher, On the Importance of Assisting Young Men of Piety and Talents in Obtaining an Education for the Gospel Ministry (1st ed., New Haven, [1814]; 2d. ed., Andover, [1815], at head of text: “No. 70.”). Other enclosure not found.

Andover Theological Seminary was a splinter struck off from Harvard University as a result of a controversy ignited when the latter institution appointed a Unitarian minister, Henry Ware, as professor of divinity in 1805 (Edwards A. Park, The Associate Creed of Andover Theological Seminary [1883], 13). connecticut-college: Yale College (later Yale University). Waterhouse paraphrased quotations from pages 7 and 8 of the tract … enclosed. The sermon above referred to was Eliphalet Pearson, A Sermon delivered in Boston before The American Society for Educating Pious Youth for the Gospel Ministry. Oct. 26, 1815 (Andover, 1815; paraphrased quotation from p. 23). As Waterhouse observed, at this time printed forms for a ship’s bill of lading routinely began “Shipped by the grace of God” (examples that reached TJ, dated 30 May 1816 and 24 Sept. 1819, in MHi). a stout polemic, stubborn as a rock paraphrases book 4, line 195, of Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, in Four Books (London, 1743), 172: “Each staunch Polemic, stubborn as a rock.”

John Adams responded to Jedidiah Morse’s Review of American Unitarianism (Boston, 1815) in a letter to Morse dated 15 May 1815, at the head of which Adams wrote “This letter must not be printed.” Morse later explained that “a copy of your letter (not from me) has found its way on Change in Boston, and copies have been multiplied and sent into different parts of the country” (both letters transcribed in William B. Sprague, The Life of Jedidiah Morse [1874], 125–6). The letter Waterhouse had recently received from John Quincy Adams was written 27 Aug. 1815 (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers; printed from this text in Worthington Chauncey Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Letterpress Edition, 1892–99, 10 vols. description ends ed., Writings of John Quincy Adams [1913–17], 5:353–7; varying substantially in organization from text as quoted by Waterhouse). Napoleon’s defeat at the hamlet known as la belle alliance is more commonly known as the Battle of Waterloo.

1Omitted opening quotation mark editorially supplied.

2Superfluous closing quotation mark editorially omitted.

3Manuscript: “exceeed,” reworked from “exceed.”

4Manuscript: “alread.”

5Manuscript here contains an ampersand, not in the Adams letter as cited above and editorially omitted.

6Superfluous closing quotation mark editorially omitted.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; letter from, to J. Morse search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John Quincy; on France search
  • Andover Theological Seminary search
  • A Sermon delivered in Boston before The American Society for Educating Pious Youth for the Gospel Ministry. Oct. 26, 1815 (E. Pearson) search
  • Beecher, Lyman; On the Importance of Assisting Young Men of Piety and Talents in Obtaining an Education for the Gospel Ministry search
  • Boniface I, pope; T. Dwight compared to search
  • Christianity; denominational strife search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and religion search
  • Dearborn, Henry; Mass. gubernatorial candidate search
  • Dexter, Samuel; Mass. gubernatorial candidate search
  • Dwight, Timothy; and Andover Theological Seminary search
  • Essex Junto search
  • France; Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre search
  • God; invoked in official documents search
  • Hartford, Conn.; Federalist convention at search
  • Harvard University; and Andover Theological Seminary search
  • Louisiana (state); religion in search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); mentioned search
  • medicine; smallpox vaccination search
  • Monroe, James; mentioned search
  • Morse, Jedidiah; and Andover Theological Seminary search
  • Morse, Jedidiah; letter to, from J. Adams search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; defeated at Battle of Waterloo search
  • New England; clergy of search
  • On the Importance of Assisting Young Men of Piety and Talents in Obtaining an Education for the Gospel Ministry (L. Beecher) search
  • Pearson, Eliphalet; and Andover Theological Seminary search
  • Pearson, Eliphalet; A Sermon delivered in Boston before The American Society for Educating Pious Youth for the Gospel Ministry. Oct. 26, 1815 search
  • Pope, Alexander; The Dunciad search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • religion; Unitarianism search
  • Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre search
  • schools and colleges; Andover Theological Seminary search
  • schools and colleges; Harvard University search
  • smallpox; vaccinations search
  • Strong, Caleb; as governor of Mass. search
  • The Dunciad (A. Pope) search
  • Unitarianism; and Harvard University search
  • Virginia; clergy in search
  • Ware, Henry; professor at Harvard search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; and vaccination search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; letters from search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; on religion search
  • Waterloo, Battle of (1815) search