Thomas Jefferson Papers

Francis Adrian Van der Kemp to Thomas Jefferson, 4 June 1816

From Francis Adrian Van der Kemp

Oldenbarneveld 4 June 1816.


Accept mÿ Sincerest thanks for the distinguished proof of your confidential esteem, with which you have been pleased to gratifÿ me. I Suppose, I consult your wishes, to copÿ it, and Send it in mÿ handwriting to mÿ friend in England, for publication in the Month. Repos. of Theol. with the expressed request, that neither he or his friends by insinuation or allusion Should drop a hint with respect to the presumtive Author—but invite a fair discussion of this interesting Subject—except leave to act in a contrarÿ course was obtained from me in expressed words.

I know from experience—my master Van der Marck Prof. at Law—having been a victim to a persecuting clergÿ—not because he was not Orthodox—which he was indeed in a Superlative1 degree, but because he resisted the Hierarchy, and would not Submit to clerical power—and, had I not received this lesson in my youth, the warnings of my friend Adams—before I crossed the Atlantic—not to meddle here with topics of controversy—would have been Solemn enough, to make me avoid that rock—and generally—with one or two exceptions—I Steered free. A Sketch of the hist. of Calvin and Servetus was inserted in the V vol. of the Month. Repos. for 1810—but—yet—incedis2 per ignes—

An estimate of the doctrine of Jezus—and a view of his historÿ—on the proposed plan are two desirable Subjects—requiring more candour than learning—an unbiassed mind—and ardent love of truth. Such an investigation, even if it is not at first, carried to perfection must effectuallÿ promote the Gospel-cause, which—in my opinion—Stands Stedfast, on a rock.

All heterogeneous materials ought to be carefullÿ Set aside—nothing precariously assumed, and from one undisputed or proved fact proceeded to the next. The Sublime doctrine of a first wise—and good Being—the pure and elevated moral doctrine—with the certainty of a future life contain the Summarÿ of the Christ: Revelation—the remaining are hay and Stubbles. You presume, that according with this plan, I have adopted the Divine interposition—miracles—the revival of a man—died on the cross—without this last point, I can not perceive, that with all the excellence of that doctrine above others—we have advanced one Single Step farther than before—Immortality remains desirable—but cannot be proved.

On this Subject you will permit me a few words more—In my youth—educated as others—but Surrounded with young men of Superior Talents—I Soon rejected what—though not examined—appeared absurd—inquired for myself—and ransacked all, that was written on the Subject in France and England: Soon I was convinced that truth was not the only aim of the opposers—neither was allways at their Side An utter Stranger to polemical Divinity, as what I had learnd from the catechism—well armed with preparatory knowledge of Languages—hist. and Antiquities—I resolved—to enquire in the truth. I became persuaded of the hist. truth of christianity—now I proceeded to examine its doctrine. If it had a divine origine, it must be So plain that any man, of the meanest capacities—but with a Sound head and honest heart, could discover it with ease With this axiom—taken for granted—I Supposed—the four Evang: and Acts must contain this doctrine: these I would endeavour to read, as if theÿ were Send me, and I had lived in those times—however with the allowance—that even now—they ought to have the Same effect. All what I did not3 plainly understand—at first—by an attent perusal—I passed bÿ—This was Not for me. At the end of mÿ enquiry—the doctrine, I had gathered—was plain and Simple—I renewed the perusal—Several times—without further progress—and have Since forty years—having more than once repeated this critical examination—not gathered a more ample Stock; by this, you must perceive—that I am no proper person to enter the list of the Champions of divinity—neither am I longing to obtain that distinction.

I hope—your life maÿ be Spared—to finish your plan—of which I anticipate, that it must do good. Several years past I Send to my old friend Dr. Toulmin a life of Jezus—which—as he informed me then, never reached him—I cannot repair that loss—as by the Sale of my large Librarÿ—before I left Europe, retainïng only a few remnants of ancient and modern Literature and history and Philosophy, I would be unable to retrace that plan—but—as I possess manÿ Separate fragments—relating to this Subject, if my days are prolonged—I may yet, and it is my intention, institute an Inquirÿ—what there is in the Jewish writings about a Messiah—what opinions the cotemporaries of Jezus—friends and foes had of him—and what he instilled in his disciples—what they learned of him in Public.4 You will Say—this is not an easÿ task—and In this I agree—but I deem it feasible.

I include a copÿ of the Letter—which I send to England—to accompany it and am confident, that my Correspondents Shall make no abuse of it bÿ any hints—even the most distant.

Are you acquainted with Goëthens ingenious conjecture—that not one word—of what we call the Decalogus, was written on the two Tables?—it is in IV vol. of his Schrïften. if unknown to you, and you wish to See it, I Shall make a translation, as Soon [as]5 the Season of labouring—to which I Must Submit is over—and the fall or winter permits me to return to my Studÿ.

Permit me to Sollicit the continuance of your favourable regard and believe, that I remain with Sentiments of high respect
Sir! Your most obed: and obliged Sert

Fr. Adr. vander Kemp

RC (DLC); dateline adjacent to closing; endorsed by TJ as received 19 June 1816 and so recorded in SJL, which adds that Olden Barneveld was located “near Trenton Oneida.” RC (DNAL: Thomas Jefferson Correspondence, Bixby Donation); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to John Campbell White, 24 Aug. 1816, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson L L D at his Seat Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Trenton, N.Y., 6 June.

Van der Kemp’s sketch was published in a series of eight letters under the pseudonym of “Candidus” (“Sketch of the Life of Servetus, in Letters to the Rev. Jedediah Morse, D. D.,” Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature 5 [1810]: 105–8, 163–8, 222–6, 277–82, 328–31, 377–87, 430–5, 525–9). “incedis per ignes suppositos cineri doloso” (“fires still burning beneath the treacherous ash”) comes from Horace, Odes, 2.1.7–8, in Horace: Odes and Epodes, trans. Niall Rudd, Loeb Classical Library (2004), 96–7. For Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (goëthens) argument against the generally accepted text of the biblical Ten Commandments, see John Adams to TJ, 14 Nov. 1813, and note.

1Manuscript: “Superlatve.”

2Manuscript: “incedi.”

3Word interlined.

4Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

5Omitted word editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; friendship with F. A. Van der Kemp search
  • Bible; Acts referenced search
  • Bible; John referenced search
  • Bible; Luke referenced search
  • Bible; Mark referenced search
  • Bible; Matthew referenced search
  • Bible; Ten Commandments search
  • Calvin, John; F. A. Van der Kemp’s essay on search
  • Christianity; denominational strife search
  • Christianity; F. A. Van der Kemp on search
  • Christianity; TJ on search
  • D[oktor]Goethens Schriften (J. von Goethe) search
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; and Ten Commandments search
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; D[oktor]Goethens Schriften search
  • Horace; quoted by F. A. Van der Kemp search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Christianity search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Jesus search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Jesus; F. A. Van der Kemp on study of search
  • Jesus; TJ on search
  • Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature; publishes TJ’s syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Olden Barneveld, N.Y.; location of search
  • religion; and Christianity in F. A. Van der Kemp’s proposed book search
  • religion; and sectarian violence search
  • religion; works on search
  • Serveto (Servetus), Miguel; F. A. Van der Kemp’s work on search
  • Sketch of the Life of Servetus (F. A. Van der Kemp) search
  • The Netherlands; religious conflict in search
  • Toulmin, Joshua; and F. A. Van der Kemp search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and TJ’s syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; friendship with J. Adams search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; letters from search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; on Christianity search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; proposed work on Jesus search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; Sketch of the Life of Servetus search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; writings of on religion search
  • Van der Marck, Frederik Adolf; as Dutch educator search