Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 18 July 1813

From John Adams

Quincy July 18th 1813

Dear Sir

I have more to Say, on Religion. For more than Sixty years I have been attentive to this great Subject. Controversies, between Calvinists and Arminians, Trinitarians and Unitarians, Deists and Christians, Atheists and both, have attracted my Attention, whenever the Singular Life, I have lead would admit, to all these questions. The History of this little Village of Quincy, if it were worth recording would explain to you, how this happened. I think, I can now Say I have read away Bigotry, if not Enthusiasm.

what does Priestly mean, by an Unbeliever? when he applies it to you? How much, did he “unbelieve,” himself?1 Gibbon had him right, when he denominated his Creed, “Scanty.” We are to understand, no doubt, that he believed The Resurrection of Jesus Some of his Miracles. His Inspiration, but in what degree? He did not believe in the Inspiration of the Writings that contain his History. yet he believed in the Apocalyptic Beast, and he believed as much as he pleased in the Writings of Daniel and John. This great, excellent2 and extraordinary Man, whom I Sincerely loved esteemed and respected, was really a Phenomenon; a Comet in the System,3 like Voltaire Bolingbroke and Hume. Had Bolingbroke or Voltaire taken him in hand, what would they have made of him and his Creed?

I do not believe you have read much of Priestleys “Corruptions of Christianity.” His History of early opinions of Jesus Christ. His Predestination, his No Soul System or his Controversy with Horseley.

I have been a diligent Student for many years in Books whose Titles you have never Seen. In Priestleys and Lindsay writings; in Farmer, Cappe, in Tuckers or Edwards Searches, Light of Nature pursued; in Edwards and Hopkins. and lately in Ezra Styles Ely; his reverend and learned Panegyrists and his elegant and Spirited opponents. I am not wholly uninformed of the Controversies in Germany and the learned Researches of Universities and Professors; in which the Sanctity of the Bible and the Inspiration of its Authors are taken for granted or waived; or admitted, or not denied. I have also read Condorcets Progress of the human mind.

Now, what is all this to you? No more, than if I Should tell you that I read Dr Clark and Dr Waterland and Emlyn, and Lelands View or Review of the Deistical Writers more than fifty4 years ago; which is a litteral Truth.

I blame you not for reading Euclid and Newton, Thucidides and Theocritus: for I believe you will find as much entertainment and Instruction in them as I have found, in my Theological and Ecclesiastical Instructors: or even as I have found in a profound Investigation of the Life Writings and Doctrines of Erastus, whose Disciples were Milton, Harrington, Selden, St. John, the Chief Justice, Father of Bolingbroke, and others the choicest Spirits of their Age: or in Le Harpes History of the Philosophy of the 18th Century, or in Van der Kemps vast Map of the Causes of the Revolutionary Spirit, in the Same & preceding5 Centuries. These Things are to me, at present, the Marbles and Nine Pins of old Age: I will not Say the Beads and Prayer Books.

I agree with you, as far as you go. Most cordially and I think solidly. How much farther I go, how much more I believe than you, I may explain in a future Letter.

Thus much I will Say at present, I have found So many difficulties, that I am not astonished at your Stopping where you are. And So far from Sentencing you to Perdition, I hope Soon to meet you in another Country.

John Adams

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 July 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

TJ owned Joseph Priestley, An History of the Corruptions of Christianity, 2 vols. (London, 1793; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1526) and An History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ, Compiled from Original Writers; Proving that the Christian Church was at First Unitarian, 4 vols. (London, 1786; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1527). Priestley’s no soul system was Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit. To Which is Added, The History of the Philosophical Doctrine concerning the Origin of the Soul, and the Nature of Matter (London, 1777). His controversy with horseley was documented in Letters to Dr. Horsley, in Answer to His Animadversions on the History of the Corruptions of Christianity. with Additional Evidence that the Primitive Christian Church was Unitarian (Birmingham, 1783). light of nature pursued: under the pseudonym of Edward Search, the English philosopher Abraham Tucker prepared Light of Nature Pursued, 3 vols. in 9 (London, 1768–77). The Congregationalist minister and philosopher Jonathan edwards was the mentor and tutor of the theologian and reformer Samuel hopkins (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ). In his library Adams had a copy of condorcets Outlines of an Historical view of the Progress of the Human Mind: being a posthumous work of the late M. De Condorcet (London, 1795; for French editions owned by TJ, see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1247; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 13 [no. 829]). John Leland’s view or review was A View Of the Principal Deistical Writers that have Appeared in England in the last and present Century; with Observations upon them (London, 1754). Oliver St. John, the chief justice of England, 1648–60, was the great-grandfather, not the father, of Henry St. John, viscount Bolingbroke (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ). A history of the philosophy of the 18th century was included in Jean François de La Harpe, Lycée, ou Cours de Littérature Ancienne et Moderne, 16 vols. (Paris, 1799–1805). Francis Adrian Van der Kemp enclosed a manuscript copy of his outline of a map of the causes of the revolutionary spirit, not found, to Adams on 2 Dec. 1811, and he added a supplement on 20 May 1812 (MHi: Adams Papers). For texts of the synopsis and addendum that went to TJ, see Van der Kemp to TJ, 18 Feb. 1812, enclosure, and 14 Apr. 1812.

1Superfluous closing quotation mark editorially omitted.

2Word canceled in FC.

3RC: “Systom.” FC: “system.”

4FC: “58.”

5RC: “preeceeding.” FC: “preceding.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and J. Priestley’s writings search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on J. Priestley search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; reading habits of search
  • An History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ (J. Priestley) search
  • A View Of the Principal Deistical Writers (Leland) search
  • Bible; Daniel referenced search
  • Bible; John referenced search
  • Bolingbroke, Henry St. John, Viscount; mentioned search
  • books; on religion search
  • Cappe, Newcome; English Unitarian search
  • Clark, Dr.; writings of search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; Outlines of An Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind search
  • Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (Priestley) search
  • Edwards, Jonathan; American theologian search
  • Ely, Ezra Stiles; writings of search
  • Emlyn, Thomas; Unitarian minister search
  • Erastus, Thomas (Thomas Lüber); mentioned search
  • Euclid; TJ reads search
  • Farmer, Hugh; English theologian search
  • Gibbon, Edward; mentioned search
  • Harrington, James; English political theorist search
  • History of the Corruptions of Christianity (J. Priestley) search
  • Hopkins, Samuel; American theologian search
  • Horsley, Samuel; English theologian search
  • Hume, David; mentioned search
  • Jesus; miracles of search
  • Jesus; resurrection of search
  • La Harpe, Jean François de; writings of search
  • Leland, John; A View Of the Principal Deistical Writers search
  • Light of Nature Pursued (Tucker) search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; mentioned search
  • Milton, John; mentioned search
  • Newton, Sir Isaac; TJ reads search
  • Outlines of An Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind (Condorcet) search
  • Priestley, Joseph; An History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ search
  • Priestley, Joseph; Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit search
  • Priestley, Joseph; History of the Corruptions of Christianity search
  • Priestley, Joseph; J. Adams on search
  • religion; works on search
  • Selden, John; English jurist search
  • St. John, Oliver; English chief justice search
  • Theocritus; TJ reads search
  • Thucydides; TJ reads search
  • Tucker, Abraham; Light of Nature Pursued search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; Synopsis of a Proposed Book search
  • Voltaire (François Marie Arouet); mentioned search
  • Waterland, Daniel; English theologian search