Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Linn, 31 July 1791

To William Linn

Philadelphia July 31. 1791.

Sir

I am to return you my thanks for the copy of the sermon you were so good as to send me, which I have perused with very great pleasure. It breathes that spirit of pure fraternity which exists in nature among all religions, and would make the ornament of all: and with the blessings we derive from religious liberty, makes us also sensible how highly we ought to value those of a temporal nature with which we are surrounded. I sincerely wish you in abundance those of every kind, being with sentiments of perfect respect, Sir Your most obedt & most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

William Linn (1752–1808), whose greatgrandfather had emigrated from Ireland and settled in Pennsylvania, entered Columbia College before he was fourteen, was graduated in 1795, and began the study of law under Alexander Hamilton but soon gave it up and prepared himself for the ministry (W. B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, iv [New York, 1858], 210–11). The sermon which he transmitted to TJ in a letter describing him as one of the nation’s greatest ornaments was his The Blessings of America … preached in the Middle Dutch Church on the Fourth of July, 1791 … At the request of the Tammany Society, or Columbian Order (New York, Thomas Greenleaf, 1791); see Linn to TJ, 18 July 1791; Greenleaf to TJ, 14 Aug. 1791; and Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 1647. In his enumeration of America’s blessings, Linn praised the Constitution, which gave “no undue preference … to one denomination of religion above another,” a sentiment which naturally evoked TJ’s warm sympathy. Linn and TJ later corresponded about their common interest in the American Indian tribes and their languages (Linn to TJ, 25 May 1797; 8 Feb. and 4 Apr. 1798; TJ to Linn, 3 June 1797; 5 Feb. and 2 Apr. 1798).

But the political animosities of the times brought their correspondence to an end. In 1800 Linn published anonymously Serious considerations on the election of a President (Trenton, 1800), in which he professed gratitude for the services TJ had rendered his country but argued against his election solely on the basis of “his disbelief of the Holy Scriptures … his rejection of the Christian Religion and open profession of Deism.” He suspected TJ of being an atheist and said that one of the effects of his election would be to “destroy religion, introduce immorality, and loosen all the bonds of society” (see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 3226). DeWitt Clinton, as Grotius, replied to the “furious priest” with A vindication of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1800); Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 3197. Years later, when TJ received a copy of the defense from Clinton, he said that he had read Serious considerations when it came out, had guessed Linn to be its author, and had left him with other “slanderers … to the scourge of public opinion” (TJ to Clinton, 24 May 1807).

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