Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John D’Wolf, 30 October 1821

To John D’Wolf

Monto Oct. 30. 21.

Th:J. returns his thanks to mr De Wolf for his excellent oration on the 4th of July sent him either by mr De Wolf or some friend who has not named himself.1 he is happy to see an example set of2 something solid substituted for the usual froth of that day. our citizens have much need of being reminded of the doctrines of this oration, for altho’ we are entitled to3 religious freedom by law, we are denied4 it by public opinion5 fanaticism being in fact stronger than law. Th:J. is one of those who fondly believes in the improvability of the condn6 of man, and anxiously prays for it.

he salutes mr De Wolf with respect.

Dft (MHi); on verso of reused address cover of Joel Yancey to TJ, 28 Mar. 1820; dateline beneath closing; at foot of text: “John De Wolf junr Bristol R.I.”; endorsed by TJ.

John D’Wolf (1786–1862), chemist and educator, was born in Bristol, Rhode Island. After preparatory studies under Eleazar Wheelock, of Dartmouth College, he studied at Rhode Island College (renamed Brown University in 1804) from 1802 until poor health forced him to leave without a degree three years later. D’Wolf then spent two years in Philadelphia studying chemistry under Robert Hare. He was appointed professor of chemistry at Brown University in 1817 and held this position until 1834. D’Wolf also taught chemistry and natural philosophy between 1833 and 1835 in Woodstock at Vermont Medical College, which was then affiliated with Middlebury College. Disputes over institutional relationships and low enrollments led him to teach for the autumn session in 1833 at the rival Vermont Academy of Medicine in Castleton, where he continued to lecture later in the decade before moving to Saint Louis in 1840 to teach in the medical department of Kemper College. During his four years in Saint Louis, D’Wolf spent his summers at home in Bristol. He moved there permanently in 1844 to farm his family estate, retiring from this pursuit a decade later. Two years before his death in Bristol, D’Wolf owned personal property and real estate with a combined value of $68,000 (Historical Catalogue of Brown University, 1764–1904 [1905], 37, 52, 541, 597; Martha Mitchell, Encyclopedia Brunoniana [1993], 186; DNA: RG 29, CS, R.I., Bristol, 1820–60; Frederick Clayton Waite, The Story of a Country Medical College: A History of the Clinical School of Medicine and the Vermont Medical College, Woodstock Vermont, 1827–1856 [1945], 74, 85, 87, 148, 150; Eclectic Journal of Medicine 1 [1837]: 429; Transactions of the Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry in the Year 1862 [1863], 62–5; gravestone inscription in Juniper Hill Cemetery, Bristol).

D’Wolf’s oration, published anonymously as An Address delivered to the Citizens of Bristol, R. I., July Fourth, 1821; and published at their request ([Bristol, 1821]; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 13 [no. 818]), argues that mankind is at a unique political moment where improvement is possible thanks to the invention of printing, which is drawing “the great mass of the people from the depths of ignorance and of humiliation they once occupied” (p. 5); states as a given that increased knowledge of Christianity will further the cause of enlightenment, aided by the printed word; advocates freedom “to embrace and to avow any creed, religious or irreligious,” while invoking TJ as an opponent of religious coercion (p. 8); outlines the history of religious freedom in England; suggests that tyrants are co-opting the language of religion to reinforce their power; and laments American slavery while opposing any solution other than gradual and voluntary manumission.

1Preceding five words interlined.

2Manuscript: “of of.”

3Preceding three words interlined in place of “have.”

4Word interlined in place of “debarred.”

5Remainder of sentence interlined.

6Word interlined in place of “situation.”

Index Entries

  • An Address delivered to the Citizens of Bristol, R. I., July Fourth, 1821 (J. D’Wolf) search
  • D’Wolf, John; An Address delivered to the Citizens of Bristol, R. I., July Fourth, 1821 search
  • D’Wolf, John; identified search
  • D’Wolf, John; letters to search
  • Fourth of July; orations search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Fourth of July orations search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religious freedom search
  • religion; atheism search
  • religion; freedom of search