Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John F. Oliveira Fernandes, 8 February 1817

To John F. Oliveira Fernandes

Monticello Feb. 8. 17.

Dear Sir

I have read with pleasure and edification the pamphlet and documents you were so kind as to send me. the attempt seems really extraordinary, in this age and country, to sieze on private and voluntary funds under spiritual authority. and it is a novelty in any country to impose a teacher against the will of the employers. I have always supposed it a principle of every church that endowment entitles to collation. in England, whose church government is in structure the same with that of Rome, the lay proprietor of a benefice has the never-questioned right of Collation. he must, to be sure, take a regularly ordained clergyman; but he has free choice among all these. in this state, while we had a regularly established church, the parishes furnished a glebe, paid the salaries, and built the churches; and their vestrymen, chosen by themselves, collated to the parish the clergyman of their choice. but here you have an advantage which we had not. our contributions being required by law, we could not withold them, so as to get rid of an incumbent who proved himself not to have merited our choice. yours being voluntary, may be withdrawn, and the incumbent in [th]at way got rid of. for it is the money which is the inspiring principle of the priesthood. this is the essential object of all their impositions, duperies & usurpations.

I believe still that our law is wise in restraining it’s legitimate cognisance to the actions of men. if we permitted the civil authority to cross that only-definable line, I doubt we should experience more evil than at present. I suspect that the reverend bishop has already found that ‘the tail’ is as learned as ‘the head,’ and I am sure that a congregation of which you are a member, must have the benefit of too much light to bow the neck implicitly to the yoke of barbarism and ignorance with the offer of which they are now insulted. Accept the assurance of my friendly & respectful esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on verso of a reused address cover from Josephus B. Stuart to TJ; mutilated at seal, with some of the missing text rewritten by TJ; at foot of text: “Doctr Fernandes”; endorsed by TJ.

TJ’s ironic reference to the tail and the head alludes to Archbishop Leonard Neale’s letter to the trustees of the Catholic congregation at Norfolk. Neale argued that when lay trustees assume the power to conduct all temporal concerns of a congregation, they acquire the ability to “frustrate the most genuine views of the pastor on all occasions. This appears to me unjust, and a fair inversion of the order of nature, which forbids the head to become the tail” (quote from separately paginated Documents, 32–3 [copy at MdBS: Archdiocese of Baltimore Archives, Neale Papers], supplement to [Oliveira Fernandes], Letter, Addressed to the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, Arch Bishop of Baltimore. by A Member of the Roman Catholic Congregation of Norfolk, in Virginia ([Norfolk, 1816?]); repr. in Peter Guilday, The Catholic Church in Virginia (1815–1822) [1924], 23).

Index Entries

  • Catholicism; and ecclesiastical authority search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Letter, Addressed to the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, Arch Bishop of Baltimore (J. F. Oliveira Fernandes) search
  • Neale, Leonard; as archbishop of Baltimore search
  • Oliveira Fernandes, John Francisco; Letter, Addressed to the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, Arch Bishop of Baltimore search
  • Oliveira Fernandes, John Francisco; letters to search
  • religion; Catholicism search
  • religion; TJ on search