Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, 19 September 1816

To James Fishback

Monticello Sep. 19. 16.


Presuming that a copy of your oration delivered in Lexington on the 4th of July last, which came inclosed to me yesterday, may have come from yourself, I take the liberty of addressing to you my thanks for this mark of attention. I have read it with satisfaction, a single paragraph only in the following words excepted. ‘mr Jefferson, it is said, declared that when he was in Paris, atheism was the common table-talk of the French bishops.’ I protest to you, Sir, that I never made such a declaration; and that as far as my knolege of that order of clergy enabled me to judge, it would have been entirely untrue. when speaking of the religious freedom, in matters of opinion, and conversation, practised in that country, in opposition to laws never put in execution but against what is printed, I may have said, what was true, that ‘I had heard the doctrines of atheism maintained at table in mixed company,’ but never by a bishop, nor even in presence of a bishop. such rudeness would not have been committed by any man of decent manners, nor witnessed without offence by any society. the importance of religion to society has too many founded supports to need aid from imputations so entirely unfounded. I am persuaded of the innocence with which you have introduced this matter of report: but being myself quoted by name, and in print too, as the author of such a calumny on a respectable order of prelates, I owe to them, as well as to myself, to declare that no such declaration, or expression, was ever uttered by me. trusting it will be as acceptable to yourself to recieve this truth, as it has been incumbent on me to testify it, I pray you to accept the assurance of my great respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNGL, on deposit NHi); mutilated at seal, with missing text supplied from PoC; at foot of text: “Mr James Fishback.” PoC (DLC).

The recently received oration was Fishback’s An Oration delivered in the First Presbyterian Church in the Town of Lexington, Ky. On the 4th day of July, 1816 (Lexington, Ky., 1816; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 13 [no. 826]; TJ’s copy in ViU is inscribed by the author to “Thos Jefferson”). The work was dedicated “To the Christian Republicans in these United States, the real friends of American Independence.” Just prior to the sentence about atheism being a common topic of conversation among French bishops, Fishback argued that “It was the corruption of religion, or rather its destruction, with a correspondent profligacy of manners, which caused the sanguinary scenes of the French revolution, and incapacitated that nation for civil liberty” (p. 19).

Index Entries

  • An Oration delivered in the First Presbyterian Church in the Town of Lexington, Ky. (J. Fishback) search
  • Catholicism; and French bishops search
  • censorship; in France search
  • Fishback, James; An Oration delivered in the First Presbyterian Church in the Town of Lexington, Ky. search
  • Fishback, James; letters to search
  • Fishback, James; misquotes TJ search
  • France; and censorship search
  • France; bishops of search
  • France; religion in search
  • French Revolution; and religion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • religion; and French Revolution search
  • religion; atheism search
  • religion; Catholicism search
  • religion; freedom of search
  • religion; TJ on search