Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John F. Oliveira Fernandes to Thomas Jefferson, 29 January 1817

From John F. Oliveira Fernandes

Norfolk 29th January 1817

Dear Sir!

The Law of the ancient Rome De minimis non curat Prætor that is, the high Dignity of the Pretor, is not to be troubled with the common events, or small affaires of the people would be, to me, a reason, for not imposing on your goodness and Serious engagements with trifles; should not this kind of trifles, be of such serious caracter in its consequences, as to involve the Society at a future period, in distressing circumstances.

I presume truly philosophical the Law, permitting any person, to worship God, agreably to their own persuasion & Creed; but, in my humble opinion, something very essensial, has been ommitted in the Law viz that the Rom. catholick clergy—no matter, Should acknowledge the Primacy of Rome—only as to the Spiritual; but as for the temporalities, they Should be altogether plain Citizens, perfe[c]tly free, Submitted and amenable to Law, in every respect without acknowledgin Superior, but the Civil Magistrate.1

Nor can I see, with indiference a regular convent of Jesuits—the Perturbators of the peace of the world; fixed & stablished [n]ear the Seat of our Gouvernment, and more over, publick Preceptors; making choice of their Scholars to fill up their Noviciate with young Citizens of our Country!!

from that ommitted circumstance have, in my opinion, arrised the sad results which have taken place both in charleston S.C. as well as in this place, (in consequence of the Ecclesiastics I should Say).2 Jesuitical Despotism of the Re Arch Bishop of Baltimore L. Neale: this, gave occasion to the enclosed printed Letter, in answer to that of the Said Rev Gentleman printed in the Documents pag 31. 37—which I beg Leave to offer for your perusal and imparcial Censure.

Please to excuse my liberty—and to permit me to continue to Subscribe my Self

Dear Sir Your mo: obt & respectfull Sert

John F. Oliveira Fernandes

RC (DLC); edge chipped; between dateline and salutation: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire”; endorsed by TJ as received 5 Feb. 1817 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: [Oliveira Fernandes], Letter, Addressed to the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, Arch Bishop of Baltimore. by A Member of the Roman Catholic Congregation of Norfolk, in Virginia ([Norfolk, 1816?]); with separately paginated Documents (one full set at MdBS: Archdiocese of Baltimore Archives, Neale Papers); specific letter by Neale mentioned above repr. in Peter Guilday, The Catholic Church in Virginia (1815–1822) (1924), 23–6.

de minimis non curat prætor: “The praetor does not concern himself with trifles.”

The enclosed printed letter, written by Oliveira Fernandes but published anonymously, was dated 30 Nov. 1816 and directed to Leonard Neale, the Catholic archbishop of Baltimore. It responded to one of 5 July 1817 from the said rev gentleman advising the trustees of the congregation at Norfolk of his authority to remove and appoint their pastors without their consent. New priests unacceptable to the parish trustees had been installed in both Norfolk and Charleston by Neale, a Jesuit. Oliveira Fernandes asserted the trustees’ independence to make appointments free from any religious authority not chosen by themselves, concluding that “nothing can inspire the extravagant idea of a Pastor commanding absolutely the temporal concerns of our Church, but a despotical, groundless authority, which neither suits—or can ever prosper under the Government of these United States of America” (pp. 42–3).

1Omitted closing guillemet editorially supplied.

2Omitted opening parenthesis editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Catholicism; and ecclesiastical authority search
  • Jesuits; accused of despotism search
  • Letter, Addressed to the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, Arch Bishop of Baltimore (J. F. Oliveira Fernandes) search
  • Neale, Leonard; as archbishop of Baltimore search
  • Oliveira Fernandes, John Francisco; Letter, Addressed to the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, Arch Bishop of Baltimore search
  • Oliveira Fernandes, John Francisco; letters from search
  • Oliveira Fernandes, John Francisco; on ecclesiastical authority search
  • religion; Catholicism search