Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joseph Priestley, 29 October 1802

From Joseph Priestley

Northumberland Oct 29. 1802

Dear Sir,

As there are some particulars in a letter I have lately received from Mr Stone at Paris which I think it will give you pleasure to know, and Mr Cooper has been so obliging as to transcribe them for me, I take the liberty to send them, along with a copy of my Dedication, with the correction that you suggested, and a Note from the letter with which you favoured me concerning what you did with respect to the constitution, and which is really more, than I had ascribed to you. For almost everything of importance to political liberty in that instrument was, as it appears to me, suggested by you; and as this was unknown to myself, and I believe is so to the world in general, I was unwilling to omit this opportunity of noticing it.

I shall be glad if you will be so good as to engage any person sufficiently qualified to draw up such an account of the constitutional form of this country as my friend says will be agreable to the emperor, and I will transmit it to Mr Stone

Not knowing any certain method of sending a letter to France and presuming that you do I take the liberty to inclose my letter to Mr Stone. It is, however, so written, that no danger can arise to him from it, into whatever hands it may fall.

The state of my health, tho, I thank God, much improved, will not permit me to avail myself of your kind invitation to pay you a visit. Where ever I am, you may depend upon my warmest attachment and best wishes

Joseph Priestley.

P.S. I send a copy of the Preface as well as of the Dedication, that you may form some idea of the work you are pleased to patronize.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 6 Nov. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Priestley to John Hurford Stone, not found. (2) For dedication and preface, see below.

For the DEDICATION of the second part of Priestley’s General History, see Vol. 37:592–5. TJ’s suggested CORRECTION, mentioned in his letter to Priestley of 19 June, was incorporated into the final dedication of July 1802 and appeared in print as an asterisked note about TJ’s involvement in the plan and establishment of the CONSTITUTION: “When the constitution was formed Mr. Jefferson was absent on the service of his country in Europe, but on receiving a copy of it he wrote strongly to Mr. Madison, urging the want of provision for the freedom of religion, the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, the habeas corpus, the substititution of a militia for a standing army, and an express reservation to the states of all the rights not specifically granted to the union. Mr. Madison accordingly moved in the first session of congress for these amendments, and they were agreed to, and ratified, by the states as they now stand” (Priestley, General History of the Christian Church, from the Fall of the Western Empire to the Present Time, 4 vols. [Northumberland, Pa., 1802–03], 1:iv).

In his PREFACE of 3 July 1802 to the General History, Priestley explained his decision to resume his history and carry it forward in time. He also presented his methodology with a focus on events rather than centuries, a reliance on general ecclesiastical histories rather than original writers, and an opinion about biases in recorded events. He expressed a hope that the history would be useful for the instruction of youth (same, 1:ix-xxxii). Priestley also sent a copy of the preface to his friend Theophilus Lindsey, to whom he related that it was the longest he had ever written and that “it consists chiefly of reflections on the middle and dark ages” (Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. [London, 1812], 438).

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