Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William Canby, 18 September 1813

To William Canby

Monticello Sep. 18. 13.


I have duly recieved your favor of Aug. 27.1 am sensible of the kind intentions from which it flows, & truly thankful for them, the more so as they could only be the result of a favorable estimate of my public course. during a long life,2 as much devoted to study, as a faithful transaction of the trusts committed to me would permit, no subject has occupied more of my consideration than our relations with all the beings around us, our duties to them, and our future prospects. after reading &3 hearing every thing which probably can be suggested respecting them, I have formed the best judgment I could as to the course they prescribe, and in the due observance of that course, I have no recollections which give me uneasiness. an eloquent preacher of your religious4 society, Richard Motte, in a discourse of much unction and pathos, is said to have exclaimed aloud to his congregation, that he did not believe there was a Quaker, Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist in heaven. having paused to give his audience time to stare and to wonder, he added, that, in heaven, God knew no distinctions, but considered all good men as his children, and as brethren of the same family. I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily5 observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned, at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ. that on entering there, all these are left behind us, and the Aristideses & Cato’s, the Penns & Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Papists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of6 the supreme mind. of all the systems of morality antient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. he who follows this steadily need not, I think, be uneasy, altho’ he cannot comprehend the subtleties & mysteries erected on his doctrines by those who, calling themselves his special followers & favorites, would make him come into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs. these metaphysical heads, usurping the judgment seat of god, denounce as his enemies all who cannot percieve the Geometrical logic of Euclid, in the demonstrations of St Athanasius, that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, nor the three one.7 in all essential points, you and I are of the same religion; and I am too old to go into enquiries & changes8 as to the unessential. repeating therefore my thankfulness for the kind concern you have been so good as to express, I salute you with friendship and brotherly esteem.9

Th: Jefferson

RC (PHC: Charles Roberts Autograph Collection); addressed: “Mr William Canby Brandywine mills. near Wilmington Del.”; franked; postmarked Milton, 22 Sept.PoC (DLC). Tr (NjP: Straus Autograph Collection); endorsed: “Religion. creed of the wise.” Tr (ViU: TJP); at foot of text: “The originals of the foregoing letters were in the possession of the late Timothy Pickering”; on verso of Tr of Canby to TJ, 27 Aug. 1813. Printed in WilmingtonDelaware Gazette, 1 Nov. 1814, and elsewhere.

that three are one, and one is three refers to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

1Delaware Gazette: “29.”

2Preceding four words not in Delaware Gazette.

3Preceding two words not in Delaware Gazette.

4Word not in Tr at ViU.

5Word not in Delaware Gazette.

6Preceding three words not in Delaware Gazette.

7Preceding twelve words not in Delaware Gazette.

8Tr at ViU: “charges.” Preceding three words not in Delaware Gazette.

9Delaware Gazette substitutes “love” for this word.

Index Entries

  • Athanasius, Saint; creed of search
  • Canby, William; and TJ’s religious beliefs search
  • Canby, William; letters to search
  • Euclid; mentioned search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Jesus search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Motte, Richard search
  • Penn, William; religious beliefs of search
  • Pickering, Timothy; possesses TJ-Canby letters search
  • religion; exhortations to TJ search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • Tillotson, John; as Christian author search