Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Jacob De La Motta, 1 September 1820

To Jacob De La Motta

Monticello Sep. 1. 20.

Th: Jefferson returns his thanks to Doctr de la Motta for the eloquent discourse on the Consecration of the Synagogue of Savannah which he has been so kind as to send him.   it excites in him the gratifying reflection that his own country has been the first to prove to the world two truths, the most salutary to human society, that man can govern himself, and that religious freedom is the most effectual anodyne against religious dissension: the maxim of civil government being reversed in that of religion, where it’s true form is ‘divided we stand, united we fall.’ he is happy in the restoration, of the Jews particularly, to their social rights, & hopes they will be seen taking their seats on the benches of science, as preparatory to their doing the same at the board of government. he salutes Dr de la Motta with sentiments of great respect.

PoC (DLC).

Jacob De La Motta (1789–1845), physician, was born in Savannah, Georgia, but soon moved with his family to Charleston, South Carolina. After receiving a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1810, he was elected to the Medical Society of South Carolina and began work as an attending physician at the Charleston Dispensary. Following service as a surgeon in the United States Army, 1812–14, De La Motta practiced medicine in New York City for four years. He returned first to Savannah, 1818–23, and then to Charleston, where he reestablished a private practice, operated an apothecary shop, and was active in local politics, philanthropy, freemasonry, and the Jewish community. De La Motta served as secretary to the state medical society for a decade and to the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina, 1832–40. President William Henry Harrison appointed him receiver of public money for the Charleston district early in 1841. De La Motta’s publications included articles on botany, silkworms, and the causes of mortality among visitors to Savannah. He owned five slaves in 1830 and four a decade later. Having suffered a series of strokes late in life, De La Motta died in Charleston (Thomas J. Tobias, “The Many-Sided Dr. De La Motta,” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 52 [1963]: 200–19; Will J. Maxwell, comp., General Alumni Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania [1917], 570; Charleston Courier, 3 July 1810; Charleston City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, 31 July 1810, 13 May 1824; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, repr. 1994, 2 vols. description ends , 1:365; Charleston Southern Patriot, 20 Aug. 1832, 18 May 1840, 22 Feb. 1845; Baltimore Niles’ National Register, 3 Apr. 1841; DNA: RG 29, CS, S.C., Charleston, 1830, 1840; Occident and American Jewish Advocate 3 [1845]: 59–60; gravestone inscription in Coming Street Cemetery, Charleston).

De La Motta enclosed his eloquent Discourse, delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue, of the Hebrew Congregation, Mikva Israel, in the city of Savannah, Georgia. On Friday, the 10 of Ab, 5580; corresponding with the 21st of July, 1820 (Savannah, 1820; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 10 [no. 545]), in a missing letter to TJ of 7 Aug. 1820, which is recorded in SJL as received 30 Aug. from Savannah. The author also sent a copy to James Madison on 7 Aug. 1820 (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:80–1).

The maxim of civil government, “united we stand, divided we fall,” can be traced to both Aesop’s fable of the lion and the bulls and the Bible (Matthew 12.25; Mark 3.25; Luke 11.17).

Index Entries

  • Aesop; referenced by TJ search
  • Bible; Luke referenced by TJ search
  • Bible; Mark referenced by TJ search
  • Bible; Matthew referenced by TJ search
  • De La Motta, Jacob; Discourse, delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue, of the Hebrew Congregation, Mikva Israel, in the city of Savannah, Georgia search
  • De La Motta, Jacob; identified search
  • De La Motta, Jacob; letter from accounted for search
  • De La Motta, Jacob; letter to search
  • Discourse, delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue, of the Hebrew Congregation, Mikva Israel, in the city of Savannah, Georgia (J. De La Motta) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; republicanism search
  • Jews; TJ on search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); works sent to search
  • religion; freedom of search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • religion; works on search