Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 22 August 1813

To John Adams

Monticello Aug. 22. 13.

Dear Sir

Since my letter of June 27. I am in your debt for many; all of which I have read with infinite delight. they open a wide field for reflection; and offer subjects enough to occupy the mind and the pen indefinitely. I must follow the good example you have set; and when I have not time to take up every subject, take up a single one. Your approbation of my outline to Dr Priestly is a great gratification to me; and I very much suspect that if thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinions, as much as is supposed. I remember to have heard Dr Priestly say that if all England would candidly examine themselves, & confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all: and I observe a bill is now depending in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians. it is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, & one is three; & yet the one is not three, and the three are not one: to divide mankind by a single letter into ὁμοουςιans, and ὁμοιουςιans. but this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. we should all then, like the quakers, live without an order of priests, moralise for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition.

It is with great pleasure I can inform you that Priestly finished the comparative view of the doctrines of the Philosophers of antiquity, and of Jesus, before his death; and that it was printed soon after. and, with still greater pleasure, that I can have a copy of his work forwarded from Philadelphia, by a correspondent there, and presented for your acceptance, by the same mail which carries you this, or very soon after. the branch of the work which the title announces is executed with learning and candor, as was every thing Priestley wrote: but perhaps a little hastily; for he felt himself pressed by the hand of death. the Abbé Batteux had in fact laid the foundation of this part, in his Causes premieres; with which he has given us the originals of Ocellus, and Timaeus, who first committed the doctrines of Pythagoras to writing; and Enfield, to whom the Doctor refers, had done it more copiously. but he has omitted the important branch, which in your letter of Aug. 9. you say you have never seen executed, a comparison of the morality of the old testament with that of the new. and yet no two things were ever more unlike. I ought not to have asked him to give it. he dared not. he would have been eaten alive by his intolerant brethren, the Cannibal priests. and yet this was really the most interesting branch of the work.

Very soon after my letter to Doctr Priestley, the subject being still in my mind, I had leisure, during an abstraction from business, for a day or two while on the road, to think a little more on it, and to sketch more fully than I had done to him, a Syllabus of the matter which I thought should enter into the work. I wrote it to Dr Rush; and there ended all my labor on the subject; himself & Dr Priestley being the only depositories of my secret. the fate of my letter to Priestley, after his death, was a warning to me on that of Dr Rush; and at my request his family was so kind as to quiet me by returning my original letter & Syllabus. by this you will be sensible how much interest I take in keeping myself clear of religious disputes before the public; and especially of seeing my Syllabus disembowelled by the Aruspices of the modern Paganism. yet I inclose it to you with entire confidence, free to be perused by yourself and mrs Adams, but by no one else; and to be returned to me.

You are right in supposing, in one of yours, that I had not read much of Priestley’s Predestination, his No-soul system, or his controversy with Horsley. but I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, & Early opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them, and on Middleton’s writings, especially his letters from Rome, and to Waterland, as the basis of my own faith. these writings have never been answered, nor can be answered, by quoting historical proofs, as they have done. for these facts therefore I cling to their learning, so much superior to my own.

I now fly off in a tangent to another subject. Marshal, in the 1st vol. of his history, c. 3. pa. 180. ascribes the petition to the king of 1774. (1. Journ. Congr. 67.) to the pen of Richard Henry Lee. I think myself certain it was not written by him, as well from what I recollect to have heard, as from the internal evidence of style: his was loose, vague, frothy, rhetorical. he was a poorer writer than his brother Arthur; and Arthur’s standing may be seen in his Monitor’s letters, to ensure the sale of which they took the precaution of tacking to them a new edition of the Farmer’s letters; like Mezentius who ‘mortua jungebat corpora vivis.’ you were of the committee, and can tell me who wrote this petition: and who wrote the Address to the inhabitants of the colonies ib. 45. of the papers of July 1775. I recollect well that mr Dickinson drew the petition to the king, ib. 149. I think Robt R. Livingston drew the address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain. ib. 152. am I right in this? and who drew the Address to the people of Ireland, ib. 180.? on these questions, I ask of your memory to help mine. ever and affectionately your’s

Th: Jefferson

P.S. Miss Lomax, daughter of one of our friends of 1776. lately dead, now here on a visit, asks permission to consign to you a memorial of the family respect for you:1 not done with the pencil, the burine or the chissel, but with the only instrument habitual to her, the humble scissars. you will find it inclosed.

RC (MHi); right margin of second page trimmed, with missing text supplied from PoC; endorsed by Adams as answered 14 Sept. 1813; docketed by Charles Francis Adams. PoC (DLC); postscript added separately. Enclosures: enclosures 1–2 to Richard Rush to TJ, 12 Aug. 1813. Other enclosure not found.

ὁμοουςιans, and ὁμοιουςιans: “homoousians” and “homoiousians.” The comparative view was Priestley, Heathen Philosophy. TJ’s correspondent in Philadelphia was Nicolas G. Dufief. Despite the publication of works attributed to them in Charles batteux, Ocellus Lucanus, De la Nature de l’Univers, avec la traduction françoise & des remarques (Paris, 1768; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1293; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 8 [no. 417]), Timee de Locres, De l’Ame du Monde, avec la traduction françoise & des remarques (Paris, 1768; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1293; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 8 [no. 417]), and Histoire des Causes Premières, ou Exposition Sommaire des Pensées des Philosophes sur les Principes des Êtres (Paris, 1769; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1293), the supposed Pythagoreans ocellus, and timaeus are now believed to have left no writings that can definitively be called their own (OCD description begins Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2003 description ends , 1058, 1526). Haruspices (aruspices), the plural of haruspex or aruspex, were soothsayers of ancient Rome who prophesized by inspecting the entrails of sacrificial animals (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). The 1774 petition to the king was attributed to Richard Henry Lee in John Marshall (marshal), The Life of George Washington (Philadelphia, 1804–07; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 496; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 [no. 133]), 2:180, not the 1st vol. An edition combining The Farmer’s and Monitor’s Letters to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies was published in Williamsburg in 1769 (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3076), the Pennsylvania farmer’s letters being the work of John Dickinson. The Etruscan ruler Mezentius devised a method of execution in which he tied the living and the dead together (mortua jungebat corpora vivis) (Virgil, Aeneid, 8.485 [Fairclough, Virgil description begins H. Rushton Fairclough, trans., Virgil, ed. rev. by G. P. Goold, Loeb Classical Library, 1999–2000, 2 vols. description ends , 2:94–5]).

In a 14 Sept. 1813 letter Adams thanked Judith lomax for her gift: “My antient Friend, Mr Jefferson has presented me, in your name, with a Compliment more grateful to my heart, than the most costly monument of Art and Adulation could be, It is admired by all the Ladies of my Family, old and young, as the most exquisite production of the kind, they have ever Seen. It will be preserved with care, by my grand daughters and I hope, very soon by my great grand daughters: but by none will it be more highly esteemed, than by your obliged Friend and Servant” (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

1Preceding two words not in PoC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); and TJ’s syllabus on Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Adams, John; and addresses of Continental Congress search
  • Adams, John; and J. Lomax search
  • Adams, John; and J. Priestley’s writings search
  • Adams, John; and TJ’s syllabus on Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Adams, John; letters to search
  • An History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ (J. Priestley) search
  • Batteux, Charles; Histoire des Causes Premières search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; addresses to British people and Crown search
  • Dickinson, John; and Continental Congress search
  • Dickinson, John; The Farmer’s and Monitor’s Letters search
  • Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (Priestley) search
  • Enfield, William; The History of Philosophy search
  • George III, king of Great Britain; 1774address of Continental Congress to search
  • Great Britain; parliament of search
  • Histoire des Causes Premières (C. Batteux) search
  • History of the Corruptions of Christianity (J. Priestley) search
  • Horsley, Samuel; English theologian search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Quakers, American search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Jesus; TJ on search
  • Lee, Arthur; as writer search
  • Lee, Arthur; The Farmer’s and Monitor’s Letters search
  • Lee, Richard Henry; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Life of George Washington (J. Marshall); TJ on search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Lomax, Judith; and J. Adams search
  • Lomax, Judith; visits Monticello search
  • Marshall, John; Life of George Washington search
  • Mezentius (mythological Etruscan king) search
  • Middleton, Conyers; writings of search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Lomax, Judith search
  • Ocellus (Greek philosopher); writings attributed to 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; on Unitarianism search
  • Priestley, Joseph; The Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy, compared with those of Revelation search
  • Priestley, Joseph; TJ’s correspondence with search
  • Pythagoras search
  • Quakers; TJ on search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and religion search
  • Rush, Benjamin; TJ’s confidential letters to search
  • The Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy, compared with those of Revelation (J. Priestley) search
  • The Farmer’s and Monitor’s Letters (Dickinson and Lee) search
  • The History of Philosophy (W. Enfield) search
  • Timaeus (character in dialogue by Plato) search
  • Waterland, Daniel; English theologian search