Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Elihu Palmer, 1 September 1802

From Elihu Palmer

Constant Street No. 71
New York Sep 1 1802.


I send you a Copy of the Second Edition of my Principles of Nature. I beg that you would accept of it as a mark of that profound Respect which I entertain for premient talents and Virtue Your Elivation by the Voice of the People to the Chief Magistracy of the United States is an Event consoling to the feelings of every true1 Republican and you will Permit me to pertake of the General Joy upon this occation. I know that the Book which I send you contains nothing new to you and furnishes only an evideance of sincere attachment to you and the Principles for which you have contended

Health & Respect

Elihu Palmer

RC (DLC); in an unidentified hand, but see below; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Presidant of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 Dec. and so recorded in SJL.

Elihu Palmer (1764–1806), originally of Canterbury, Connecticut, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1787. After reading in divinity in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, he assumed a Presbyterian pulpit on Long Island. In Philadelphia, he joined the Baptists who later dismissed him in 1791 for his heretical denial of the divinity of Christ and other heterodox views. Abandoning Christianity altogether, he relocated to western Pennsylvania, where he read law. In 1793, he gained admission to the Philadelphia bar just as the yellow fever epidemic fatally struck his wife and left him totally blind. Palmer spent some time in Augusta, Georgia, where he promoted deism. In 1794, he founded a deistic society, the New York Theistical Society. He wrote several addresses and articles and initiated the publication of two deist journals, the Philadelphia Temple of Reason and the New York Prospect; or, View of the Moral World (Roderick S. French, “Elihu Palmer, Radical Deist, Radical Republican: A Reconsideration of American Free Thought,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 8 [1979], 90–91; Kerry S. Walters, The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic [Lawrence, Kans., 1992], 240–2, 306; Nathalie Caron, “Introduction to the Life and Work of a Militant American Deist: Elihu Palmer [1764–1806],” Annales du Monde Anglophone, 9 [1999], 35–45; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ).

SECOND EDITION: Palmer’s magnum opus, Principles of Nature; or, a Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery among the Human Species, which he dictated to his second wife, was first published in New York in 1801 and appeared in a revised edition with five new chapters in 1802 (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 1290). The publication became the textbook of the New York Theistical Society and copies of the volume were reputedly sent by the Society to TJ and Thomas Paine (Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , 2:727–8; John Wood, A Full Exposition of the Clintonian Faction, and the Society of the Columbian Illuminati [Newark, N.J., 1802], 32, 41, Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3280; Kerry S. Walters, Elihu Palmer’s “Principles of Nature”: Text and Commentary [Wolfeboro, N.H., 1990], 14–15, 28–9, 71; Washington Federalist, 1 Oct. 1802; John Fellows, comp., Posthumous Pieces by Elihu Palmer [London, 1824], 9).

1 Word interlined.

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