1 full page, 4to. [With:] DELAWARE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION. Letter signed ("J. Boggs, Clerk," and "J. Flood, Moderator") to President Thomas Jefferson (a retained copy), Bryn-sion Meeting House, Delaware, 8 June 1801. 2 pages, 4to, verso docketed: "For the Mirror" (a Wilmington newspaper). JEFFERSON AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: THE NEW PRESIDENT INVOKES "THE ALMIGHTY" WHO "HATH WILLED THAT THE HUMAN MIND SHALL BE FREE" IN THE UNITED STATES AND "IN WHOSE HOLY KEEPING MAY OUR COUNTRY REMAIN" HE REJOICES IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF "LIBERTY, EQUALITY OF SOCIAL RIGHTS, EXCLUSION OF UNEQUAL PRIVILEGES CIVIL & RELIGIOUS, & THE DOMINATION OF ONE SECT OVER ANOTHER" JEFFERSON REAFFIRMS HIS BELIEF IN THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE, SIX MONTHS BEFORE HIS FAMOUS "WALL OF SEPARATION" LETTER A truly remarkable letter of the Third President, forcefully and unequivocally stating the importance of the First Amendment of the Constitution ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."). Here, in eloquent phrases which strikingly parallel some Jefferson had used earlier--in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia (drafted in 1776) and his Notes on the State of Virginia--Jefferson affirms the Establishment clause's promise of religious freedom, endorses the separation of church and state and emphatically asserts that the role of governments must be strictly limited to "the enforcement of social conduct" while "the right to question religious principles" must remain forever "beyond their [governments'] cognizance." This letter, written from a White House he had occupied for only three months, constitutes invaluable direct evidence of Jefferson's personal interpretation of the Bill of Rights as it pertains to religion, and provocatively parallels another, very famous letter he addressed to a Baptist group in Danbury, Connecticut. In that letter, written just six months after the present letter, Jefferson again extolled the First Amendment for, in his words, "building a wall of separation between Church and State" (Jefferson to a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, 1 January 1802, in Writings, ed. M.D. Peterson, p.510). That simple metaphor "has become a household phrase in the United States because the Supreme Court has declared it to be a shorthand expression for 'the authoritative declaration of the scope and effect' of the religious section of the Bill of Rights, the establishment clause of the First Amendment" (J. H. Hutner, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1998, p.92). In 1947, Justice Hugo Black of the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking new interpretive insights into the founders' intent in the Establishment clause, turned to that particular letter. Jefferson's vivid metaphor--a "wall of separation"--for the absolute separation of church and state, became the fundamental basis for Black's majority decision in Everson v. Board of Education, which held that "Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church," and "Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another...." This fundamental issue--the respective role of religion and government in American society, the subject of the present letter--remains the focus of heated and passionate debate a half century later, and that continuing intellectual and moral debate lends added importance to any of Jefferson's letters, like the present, which reveal or elucidate his evolving personal religious beliefs, his deep commitment to the preservation of religious freedom and his interpretation of the Bill of Rights. A BAPTIST CONGREGATION SALUTES A NEW PRESIDENT Just three months after his inauguration as President--following the most bitterly contested election in American presidential history--a group of small Delaware Baptist congregations, probably very cognizant of Jefferson's life-long efforts to secure and preserve religious freedom in Virginia and in the larger world, and of his commitment to maintain the Constitutional separation of church and state, addressed an eloquent congratulatory letter to the new President. Saluting the chief executive in Republican fashion as "Friend and Fellow-Citizen," the letter reads: [INDENT WHOLE LETTER]With Emotions of Gratitude to the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, who manageth the affairs of this terrestrial Globe, and under whose divine Auspices we taste the sweets of that Liberty which thousands are destitute of, we lift up our hearts, and render the Tribute of Thankfulness to him, who hath given us leave to worship according to His revealed word, and the dictates of our Consciences, and none to make us afraid. We not only think is our duty to obey those who rule the affairs of Government according to Justice and Equity, but, also, to pray for them, that God would give unto every one the spirit of his respective Station. Accept, Sir, our Congratulation on your appointment to the Chief Magistracy of the nation. While we view the happy consequences of the American Revolution, (viz, Liberty, Peace, Equality of Birth, the destruction of created Titles, Emancipation from British Tyranny, the nonestablishment of ecclesiastical Dignity and the preponderance of one society over another), we unitedly adore the great Jehovah for his Kindness in conferring on us such inestimable priviledges. May you, dear sir, long continue to preside over the people thus happy. And may the God of Battle, who hath granted us the victory over our Oppressors, who presideth over heaven and all worlds, preside over you; may his munificent Hand cover your head, and his counsel guide your heart in all those difficulties in which, by your exalted Station you are naturally involved. And when, like the grand Luminary of the day, you shall have finished your course of service on the stage of Action, may your immortal Spirit soar aloft into the heavenly world of unremitting Felicity. The Baptists' letter is intriguing in several respects: first, it harks back to the Revolution in Biblical terms ("victory over our oppressors"), as the event which won for Americans the "sweets" and the "inestimable privileges" of liberty enjoyed by all Americans. These carefully enumerated blessings are "Liberty, Peace, Equality of Birth, the destruction of created titles, Emancipation from British Tyranny, the nonestablishment of ecclesiastical Dignity, and the prepoderance of one Society [church] over another." Secondly, the Baptists' letter explicitly invokes the deity, both as the "God of Battle," ultimately responsible for granting Americans the victory over "our oppressors," and again as the "Almighty Ruler" who presides over Americans' consequent enjoyment of the "sweets of liberty," most particularly the freedom to worship Him "according to His revealed word" and the dictates of individual conscience, without the risk of sanctions or prosecution from other religious groups: "with none to make us afraid." Finally, the Delaware Baptists affirm their duty as citizens to accord obedience to those legitimately in control of the civil government, but add the condition that such compliance shall be accorded them only so long as the Chief Magistrate and his deputies shall rule "with Justice and Equity." A JEFFERSONIAN RESPONSE In his carefully composed reply (for which no preliminary draft exists), Jefferson eloquently states his own profound appreciation for the freedom of thought and belief conferred on Americans by the Constitution, expresses gratitude to a Supreme Deity, and avows the fundamental importance of religious freedom and non-sectarianism, and the separation between church and state as provided in the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. [INDENT LETTER]. I join you, fellow-citizens, in rendering the tribute of thankfulness to the Almighty ruler, who, in the order of his providence, hath willed that the human mind shall be free in this portion of the globe: that society shall here know that the limit of its rightful power is the enforcement of social conduct; while the right to question the religious principles producing that conduct is beyond their cognisance. I rejoice too with you in the happy consequences of our revolution, namely our separation from the bloody horrors which are depopulating the other quarters of the earth, the establishment here of liberty, equality of social rights, exclusion of unequal privileges civil & religious, & of the usurping domination of one sect over another. The obedience you profess to those who rule under such an order of things, is rational & right: and we hope the day is far off when evils beyond the reach of constitutional correction, & more intolerable than their remedies in the judgment of the nation, may fix a just term to that duty. I thank you, fellow-citizens, for your congratulations on my appointment to the chief magistracy, and for your affectionate supplications on my behalf, to that being, whose counsels are the best guide, & his favor the best protection under all our difficulties, and in whose holy keeping may our country ever remain. Accept, I pray you, my salutations and respect. THE ATTEMPT TO DEFINE "THE LEGITIMATE POWERS OF GOVERNMENT" Jefferson, as one recent scholar writes, "was a remarkably consistent and zealous defender of religious freedom" (David N. Mayer, The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, Univ. of Va. Press, 1994, p.158). His enduring and very public committment to religious liberty may be traced back at least as far as his proposed Constitution for Virginia, drafted in 1776, stating that "all persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain [subsidize] any religious institution" (Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:363). Jefferson's draft arrived at the convention too late for consideration, but demonstrates that even at that early date, Jefferson intended to protect both the free exercise of religion and to prevent the establishment of any religion in ascendancy over others, as had been the case for many years in Virginia. During the ensuing heated debates on the disestablishment of the Church of England in Virginia, representatives of the dissenting sects, especially the Baptists, played a central role. Jefferson served on the Virginia legislature's Committee on Religions, and his notes from that period concerning disestablishment again demonstrate that he "had in mind the widest possible latitude for religious freedom, extending it not only to all Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, but also to Jews, 'Mohamedans,' 'pagans,' and atheists" (Mayer, p.159). Those principles are powerfully embodied in Jefferson's draft of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777), eventually adopted by the state legislature largely through the efforts of James Madison in 1785, while Jefferson was in France. The statute has been termed "the supreme expression of the eighteenth-century enlightenment in the life and works of Thomas Jefferson" (M. D. Peterson, "Jefferson and Religious Freedom," Atlantic, December 1994). Authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was, in fact, one of only three accomplishments Jefferson listed in a famous epitaph he composed for himself (the other two being the authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia). In its preamble, (Section 1) Jefferson categorically states that freedom of religion is an inherent, natural right, and in a passage which strikingly parallels one used in Jefferson's letter to the Delaware Baptist Association, the statute asserts that "Almighty God hath created the mind free." Farther on, it proclaims, in terms quite similar to those of the present letter, that "the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction." Another passage, from Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, also parallels the phraseology of the present letter. There, in a famous passage, he states the principle that religion must remain a wholly private affair between each individual and his God, and that conscience, and religious belief, cannot be coerced: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg." Historically, he adds (in a passage widely interpreted as anti-Christian), "millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites." No religion, he argued, should need to ally itself to the existing civil government, for, "it is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand for itself." Religious pluralism, in which each and every sect existed freely and without either endorsement or persecution by the state, was, he believed, the natural concomitant of true religious freedom. THE BAPTISTS IN DELAWARE The Baptist Church played a particularly significant role in the development of religious freedoms in the United States, progressing--during the course of the 17th to late 18th century-- from outright persecution in certain colonies to a grudging tolerance in the wake of the Revolution and, subsequently, to explicit guarantees of the right to worship embodied in the constitutions of certain states and, finally, by the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution. The Baptists encountered quite different treatment in the various colonies: in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and the Three Lower Counties (Delaware) they were guaranteed full freedom of religion, but in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia especially, Baptists were energetically persecuted, taxed or tithed by the civil government, while Baptist ministers were frequently subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and expulsion. Taxes levied on Baptists and other dissenters were usually assigned to the established Congregationalist or Anglican church. In spite of these formidable difficulties the Baptists attracted converts and established a network of congregations. According to one early chronicler, in 1780 "there were not less than two thousand persons baptized in the New England States only," and from 1780 to 1789, some 200 new churches "were organized in different parts of the United States" (Benedict, General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Elsewhere, London, 1813). As if in direct confirmation of the sentiments expressed by the Delaware Baptist Association in their letter to Jefferson, Benedict observes that the Revolution "was peculiarly auspicious to the cause of religious liberty in Massachusetts, and the other Colonies, where religious establishments were enforced with rigor. All denominations unitedly engaged in resisting the demands of Great Britain," he states, from which it became apparent that Britain's tyranny was "no more unreasonable nor unjust" than that of the predominant sect, "whether Congregational or Episcopalian" towards dissenters. "The Baptists and other dissenters did not fail to make a proper use of this argument." In Delaware, Baptists had first established a settlement and congregation at Iron Hill in 1703, on a tract of land obtained from William Penn, and known as the Welsh Tract since it was founded by emigrants from Wales who had been severely persecuted. From this initial settlement, the congregation spread rapidly. The Wilmington Baptist Church, according to Benedict, dated from 1769. The Bryn-sion Baptist congregation was founded about 1755 at Duck Creek, some 70 miles southwest of Philadelphia, and its brick meeting house (from which the Delaware Baptist Association wrote to President Jefferson) was built in 1771. According to Jeffrey Mask, Professor of Religion at Wesley College, the Delaware Baptist Association was probably founded in 1795; such associations of small congregations for fellowship and mutual assistance were not uncommon. John Boggs (1741-1802), one of the writers of the Association's 1801 letter to Jefferson, became a Baptist in 1771, was ordained in 1781 and, according to Benedict, "was much inclined to itinerate" as a preacher. The other signer of the letter to Jefferson, Joseph Flood, appears quite controversial. Minister of the Wilmington Baptist congregation in 1797, he was "excluded for immoral conduct, and afterwards went to Norfolk, in Virginia, and was the cause of much evil and confusion." JEFFERSON'S 1801 RELIGIOUS DILEMMA At the time when he received the letter from the Delaware Baptists, the subject of religion, the place of religious freedom and even the nature of his own personal religious convictions were very much on Jefferson's mind. For years Jefferson had studiously kept his own religious convictions private, except in a handful of private letters to close friends, in spite of his powerful efforts on behalf of religious freedom, noted above. Partly due to his personal reticence, he had become the target of charges of infidelity or indifference to religion as early as the election of 1796. But it was not until the bitterly partisan election of 1800 that his Federalist enemies and the partisan newspapers they controlled "unleashed a frenzied barrage of vituperative attacks upon his personal character and public record" (Sheridan, p.21). Voters were exhorted to choose "God-and a religious President" in preference to "Jefferson...and no God;" if he became President, they asserted hysterically, "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced" (M. D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, pp.637-638). Even Jefferson's widely read Notes on the State of Virginia, composed in 1781-1783 and originally intended only for private distribution, was meticulously sifted by zealous critics seeking ammunition against Jefferson. They seized upon his speculations about marine fossils and his suggestion that blacks might have once formed a separate and distinct race as evidence that he denied the divine inspiration of scripture and the biblical accounts of the deluge and creation (Eugene R. Sheridan, Jefferson and Religion, 1983/1998, p.23). And his critics took great offense at Jefferson's offhand remark in the Notes regarding the religious establishments in the New York and Pennsylvania: "Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and good order." And Jefferson unwittingly opened a Pandora's box when he generously offered passage to America on an American naval vessel to that notorious revolutionary and critic of organized religion, author of The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine. On this and other evidence, "Jefferson's opponents triumphantly proclaimed, the conclusion was clear: Jefferson was an atheist, an infidel, or at best a deist who was hostile to Christianity and therefore unworthy to serve in the highest office" (Sheridan, p.22). To them, Jefferson studiously made no direct reply "believing as a matter of principle that he was accountable to God alone for his religious convictions and realizing as a practical matter that nothing he could say would silence his detractors. As a result, charges that he was an irreligious enemy of Christianity plagued Jefferson...especially during his first term" (Sheridan, p. 23). In hindsight, we now know, Jefferson was anything but an enemy to organized religion, as his enemies insisted, nor was he hostile to Christianity. During his term as President, in fact, he was a frequent contributor to different churches, and frequently attended services, usually those held in the House of Representatives, where different ministers preached (for pertinent details, see Hutner, pp.84-91). These public acts, though, represent neither cynical political image-building, as some have argued, nor dutiful and devout traditional Christianity. Jefferson appears to have experienced, as a young man, a profound crisis of faith that resulted in his abandonment of the Anglican faith, and, very much a product of the Enlightenment, he gravitated towards a rather undefined "natural religion." But beginning in the latter years of the 1790s, though, under the influence of his readings of Joseph Priestley and an important private correspondence in 1800 with Benjamin Rush, who attempted to convince his friend that republicanism and Christianity were organically connected, Jefferson's convictions underwent a significant transformation (on this remarkable shift, see Sheridan and Dumas Malone's chapter "The Religion of a Reasonable Man," in Jefferson The President: First Term, pp.190-205). As a result, at the beginning of Jefferson's first term, "public criticism of his alleged atheism and infidelity had caused him to reexamine his attitude toward Christianity. The fierce party conflict of the 1790s had disrupted the social harmony he valued as one of the main pillars of republicanism and made him sensitive to the need for a more effective system of ethical principles to inform the moral sense of the new nation...." (Sheridan, p.32). Therefore, by the date of this letter and the related letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson's private religious beliefs and his pragmatic political needs came into unexpected convergence. While he remained unable, as before, to accept the divinity of Christ, and found the concept of the Trinity unacceptable, he nevertheless came to view the ethical teachings of Jesus--if "demystified," or reduced to their innate simplicity and purity--as the "outlines of a system of the most divine morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man." In 1804, while still President, he began compilation of a series of extracts from the New Testament that he entitled "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth" for his own edification (ms. now in the Alderman Library, Univ. of Virginia). Sheridan comments that this study was "in response to his personal religious needs and his concern with the problem of maintaining social harmony in a republican nation." Perhaps it is in such a light--without imputations of cynicism or political expediency--that we should also view Jefferson's regular attendance at services in the House of Representatives during his Presidency, his extensive financial contributions to a number of churches, and, in addition, his public letters to the Delaware Baptist Association and the Danbury Baptists. Both of those letters, he certainly knew or suspected, would almost immediately be published in the local press. And, in fact, his letter to the Delaware Baptists was published not long afterwards in the Wilmington Mirror of the Times and subsequently in several other papers. A "SECT OF ONE" Late in life, years after leaving the Presidency, Jefferson confessed to an old friend, Ezra Stiles, that his personal beliefs had never accorded comfortably with those of any particular church or denomination: "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know," he wrote. While much has been written on the complex subject of Jefferson's evolving religious faith, its impact upon his political and social philosophy and his ideas of the degree of separation appropriate to church and state in a republican society, there is little doubt that letters such as this, which contribute substantially to our knowledge of his faith and his philosophy, will continue to be widely and carefully studied, analyzed, debated and appreciated. " /> The letter of President Thomas Jefferson described below has long been known only from its contemporary publication in several local newspapers. Only a smudged "press copy" survives in the Jefferson Papers. The original letter has not been seen since 1801 and was presumed lost. Then, on March 23, 2002, a volunteer at the historic Hollingsworth House in Elkton, Maryland, discovered the letter (along with a copy of the Delaware Baptist Association's letter to which Jefferson responded) in a bundle of papers removed from the attic storeroom. The property had belonged a noted early merchant family of Elkton, and was acquired in 1999 by the town of Elkton and leased to the Historic Elk Landing Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation. The contents have been donated by Holingsworth descendants to the Foundation. A full restoration of the Hollingsworth property is in progress. The Board of Directors of the Historic Elk Landing Foundation, after careful consideration, has decided to offer this exceptional Jefferson letter for sale in order to support ongoing restoration efforts and to augment the long-term educational, historical and interpretive goals of the Foundation. JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson") as President, to the Delegates of the Delaware Baptist Association, Washington, D.C., 2 July 1801. <I>1 full page, 4to.</I> [With:] DELAWARE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION. Letter signed ("J. Boggs, Clerk," and "J. Flood, Moderator") to President Thomas Jefferson (a retained copy), Bryn-sion Meeting House, Delaware, 8 June 1801. <I>2 pages, 4to,</I> verso docketed: "For the Mirror" (a Wilmington newspaper). JEFFERSON AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: THE NEW PRESIDENT INVOKES "THE ALMIGHTY" WHO "HATH WILLED THAT THE HUMAN MIND SHALL BE FREE" IN THE UNITED STATES AND "IN WHOSE HOLY KEEPING MAY OUR COUNTRY REMAIN" HE REJOICES IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF "LIBERTY, EQUALITY OF SOCIAL RIGHTS, EXCLUSION OF UNEQUAL PRIVILEGES CIVIL & RELIGIOUS, & THE DOMINATION OF ONE SECT OVER ANOTHER" JEFFERSON REAFFIRMS HIS BELIEF IN THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE, SIX MONTHS BEFORE HIS FAMOUS "WALL OF SEPARATION" LETTER A truly remarkable letter of the Third President, forcefully and unequivocally stating the importance of the First Amendment of the Constitution ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."). Here, in eloquent phrases which strikingly parallel some Jefferson had used earlier--in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia (drafted in 1776) and his <I>Notes on the State of Virginia</I>--Jefferson affirms the Establishment clause's promise of religious freedom, endorses the separation of church and state and emphatically asserts that the role of governments must be strictly limited to "the enforcement of social conduct" while "the right to question religious principles" must remain forever "beyond their [governments'] cognizance." This letter, written from a White House he had occupied for only three months, constitutes invaluable direct evidence of Jefferson's personal interpretation of the Bill of Rights as it pertains to religion, and provocatively parallels another, very famous letter he addressed to a Baptist group in Danbury, Connecticut. In that letter, written just six months after the present letter, Jefferson again extolled the First Amendment for, in his words, "building a wall of separation between Church and State" (Jefferson to a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, 1 January 1802, in <I>Writings</I>, ed. M.D. Peterson, p.510). That simple metaphor "has become a household phrase in the United States because the Supreme Court has declared it to be a shorthand expression for 'the authoritative declaration of the scope and effect' of the religious section of the Bill of Rights, the establishment clause of the First Amendment" (J. H. Hutner, <I>Religion and the Founding of the American Republic</I>, Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1998, p.92). In 1947, Justice Hugo Black of the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking new interpretive insights into the founders' intent in the Establishment clause, turned to that particular letter. Jefferson's vivid metaphor--a "wall of separation"--for the absolute separation of church and state, became the fundamental basis for Black's majority decision in <I>Everson v. Board of Education</I>, which held that "Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church," and "Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another...." This fundamental issue--the respective role of religion and government in American society, the subject of the present letter--remains the focus of heated and passionate debate a half century later, and that continuing intellectual and moral debate lends added importance to any of Jefferson's letters, like the present, which reveal or elucidate his evolving personal religious beliefs, his deep commitment to the preservation of religious freedom and his interpretation of the Bill of Rights. A BAPTIST CONGREGATION SALUTES A NEW PRESIDENT Just three months after his inauguration as President--following the most bitterly contested election in American presidential history--a group of small Delaware Baptist congregations, probably very cognizant of Jefferson's life-long efforts to secure and preserve religious freedom in Virginia and in the larger world, and of his commitment to maintain the Constitutional separation of church and state, addressed an eloquent congratulatory letter to the new President. Saluting the chief executive in Republican fashion as "Friend and Fellow-Citizen," the letter reads: [INDENT WHOLE LETTER]With Emotions of Gratitude to the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, who manageth the affairs of this terrestrial Globe, and under whose divine Auspices we taste the sweets of that Liberty which thousands are destitute of, we lift up our hearts, and render the Tribute of Thankfulness to him, who hath given us leave to worship according to His revealed word, and the dictates of our Consciences, and none to make us afraid. We not only think is our duty to obey those who rule the affairs of Government according to Justice and Equity, but, also, to pray for them, that God would give unto every one the spirit of his respective Station. Accept, Sir, our Congratulation on your appointment to the Chief Magistracy of the nation. While we view the happy consequences of the American Revolution, (viz, Liberty, Peace, Equality of Birth, the destruction of created Titles, Emancipation from British Tyranny, the nonestablishment of ecclesiastical Dignity and the preponderance of one society over another), we unitedly adore the great Jehovah for his Kindness in conferring on us such inestimable priviledges. May you, dear sir, long continue to preside over the people thus happy. And may the God of Battle, who hath granted us the victory over our Oppressors, who presideth over heaven and all worlds, preside over you; may his munificent Hand cover your head, and his counsel guide your heart in all those difficulties in which, by your exalted Station you are naturally involved. And when, like the grand Luminary of the day, you shall have finished your course of service on the stage of Action, may your immortal Spirit soar aloft into the heavenly world of unremitting Felicity. The Baptists' letter is intriguing in several respects: first, it harks back to the Revolution in Biblical terms ("victory over our oppressors"), as the event which won for Americans the "sweets" and the "inestimable privileges" of liberty enjoyed by all Americans. These carefully enumerated blessings are "Liberty, Peace, Equality of Birth, the destruction of created titles, Emancipation from British Tyranny, the nonestablishment of ecclesiastical Dignity, and the prepoderance of one Society [church] over another." Secondly, the Baptists' letter explicitly invokes the deity, both as the "God of Battle," ultimately responsible for granting Americans the victory over "our oppressors," and again as the "Almighty Ruler" who presides over Americans' consequent enjoyment of the "sweets of liberty," most particularly the freedom to worship Him "according to His revealed word" and the dictates of individual conscience, without the risk of sanctions or prosecution from other religious groups: "with none to make us afraid." Finally, the Delaware Baptists affirm their duty as citizens to accord obedience to those legitimately in control of the civil government, but add the condition that such compliance shall be accorded them only so long as the Chief Magistrate and his deputies shall rule "with Justice and Equity." A JEFFERSONIAN RESPONSE In his carefully composed reply (for which no preliminary draft exists), Jefferson eloquently states his own profound appreciation for the freedom of thought and belief conferred on Americans by the Constitution, expresses gratitude to a Supreme Deity, and avows the fundamental importance of religious freedom and non-sectarianism, and the separation between church and state as provided in the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. [INDENT LETTER]. I join you, fellow-citizens, in rendering the tribute of thankfulness to the Almighty ruler, who, in the order of his providence, hath willed that the human mind shall be free in this portion of the globe: that society shall here know that the limit of its rightful power is the enforcement of social conduct; while the right to question the religious principles producing that conduct is beyond their cognisance. I rejoice too with you in the happy consequences of our revolution, namely our separation from the bloody horrors which are depopulating the other quarters of the earth, the establishment here of liberty, equality of social rights, exclusion of unequal privileges civil & religious, & of the usurping domination of one sect over another. The obedience you profess to those who rule under such an order of things, is rational & right: and we hope the day is far off when evils beyond the reach of constitutional correction, & more intolerable than their remedies in the judgment of the nation, may fix a just term to that duty. I thank you, fellow-citizens, for your congratulations on my appointment to the chief magistracy, and for your affectionate supplications on my behalf, to that being, whose counsels are the best guide, & his favor the best protection under all our difficulties, and in whose holy keeping may our country ever remain. Accept, I pray you, my salutations and respect. THE ATTEMPT TO DEFINE "THE LEGITIMATE POWERS OF GOVERNMENT" Jefferson, as one recent scholar writes, "was a remarkably consistent and zealous defender of religious freedom" (David N. Mayer, <I>The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson</I>, Charlottesville, Univ. of Va. Press, 1994, p.158). His enduring and very public committment to religious liberty may be traced back at least as far as his proposed Constitution for Virginia, drafted in 1776, stating that "all persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain [subsidize] any religious institution" (<I>Papers</I>, ed. Boyd, 1:363). Jefferson's draft arrived at the convention too late for consideration, but demonstrates that even at that early date, Jefferson intended to protect both the free exercise of religion and to prevent the establishment of any religion in ascendancy over others, as had been the case for many years in Virginia. During the ensuing heated debates on the disestablishment of the Church of England in Virginia, representatives of the dissenting sects, especially the Baptists, played a central role. Jefferson served on the Virginia legislature's Committee on Religions, and his notes from that period concerning disestablishment again demonstrate that he "had in mind the widest possible latitude for religious freedom, extending it not only to all Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, but also to Jews, 'Mohamedans,' 'pagans,' and atheists" (Mayer, p.159). Those principles are powerfully embodied in Jefferson's draft of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1777), eventually adopted by the state legislature largely through the efforts of James Madison in 1785, while Jefferson was in France. The statute has been termed "the supreme expression of the eighteenth-century enlightenment in the life and works of Thomas Jefferson" (M. D. Peterson, "Jefferson and Religious Freedom," <I>Atlantic</I>, December 1994). Authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was, in fact, one of only three accomplishments Jefferson listed in a famous epitaph he composed for himself (the other two being the authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia). In its preamble, (Section 1) Jefferson categorically states that freedom of religion is an inherent, natural right, and in a passage which strikingly parallels one used in Jefferson's letter to the Delaware Baptist Association, the statute asserts that "Almighty God hath created the mind free." Farther on, it proclaims, in terms quite similar to those of the present letter, that "the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction." Another passage, from Jefferson's <I>Notes on the State of Virginia</I>, also parallels the phraseology of the present letter. There, in a famous passage, he states the principle that religion must remain a wholly private affair between each individual and his God, and that conscience, and religious belief, cannot be coerced: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg." Historically, he adds (in a passage widely interpreted as anti-Christian), "millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites." No religion, he argued, should need to ally itself to the existing civil government, for, "it is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand for itself." Religious pluralism, in which each and every sect existed freely and without either endorsement or persecution by the state, was, he believed, the natural concomitant of true religious freedom. THE BAPTISTS IN DELAWARE The Baptist Church played a particularly significant role in the development of religious freedoms in the United States, progressing--during the course of the 17th to late 18th century-- from outright persecution in certain colonies to a grudging tolerance in the wake of the Revolution and, subsequently, to explicit guarantees of the right to worship embodied in the constitutions of certain states and, finally, by the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution. The Baptists encountered quite different treatment in the various colonies: in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and the Three Lower Counties (Delaware) they were guaranteed full freedom of religion, but in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia especially, Baptists were energetically persecuted, taxed or tithed by the civil government, while Baptist ministers were frequently subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and expulsion. Taxes levied on Baptists and other dissenters were usually assigned to the established Congregationalist or Anglican church. In spite of these formidable difficulties the Baptists attracted converts and established a network of congregations. According to one early chronicler, in 1780 "there were not less than two thousand persons baptized in the New England States only," and from 1780 to 1789, some 200 new churches "were organized in different parts of the United States" (Benedict, <I>General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Elsewhere</I>, London, 1813). As if in direct confirmation of the sentiments expressed by the Delaware Baptist Association in their letter to Jefferson, Benedict observes that the Revolution "was peculiarly auspicious to the cause of religious liberty in Massachusetts, and the other Colonies, where religious establishments were enforced with rigor. All denominations unitedly engaged in resisting the demands of Great Britain," he states, from which it became apparent that Britain's tyranny was "no more unreasonable nor unjust" than that of the predominant sect, "whether Congregational or Episcopalian" towards dissenters. "The Baptists and other dissenters did not fail to make a proper use of this argument." In Delaware, Baptists had first established a settlement and congregation at Iron Hill in 1703, on a tract of land obtained from William Penn, and known as the Welsh Tract since it was founded by emigrants from Wales who had been severely persecuted. From this initial settlement, the congregation spread rapidly. The Wilmington Baptist Church, according to Benedict, dated from 1769. The Bryn-sion Baptist congregation was founded about 1755 at Duck Creek, some 70 miles southwest of Philadelphia, and its brick meeting house (from which the Delaware Baptist Association wrote to President Jefferson) was built in 1771. According to Jeffrey Mask, Professor of Religion at Wesley College, the Delaware Baptist Association was probably founded in 1795; such associations of small congregations for fellowship and mutual assistance were not uncommon. John Boggs (1741-1802), one of the writers of the Association's 1801 letter to Jefferson, became a Baptist in 1771, was ordained in 1781 and, according to Benedict, "was much inclined to itinerate" as a preacher. The other signer of the letter to Jefferson, Joseph Flood, appears quite controversial. Minister of the Wilmington Baptist congregation in 1797, he was "excluded for immoral conduct, and afterwards went to Norfolk, in Virginia, and was the cause of much evil and confusion." JEFFERSON'S 1801 RELIGIOUS DILEMMA At the time when he received the letter from the Delaware Baptists, the subject of religion, the place of religious freedom and even the nature of his own personal religious convictions were very much on Jefferson's mind. For years Jefferson had studiously kept his own religious convictions private, except in a handful of private letters to close friends, in spite of his powerful efforts on behalf of religious freedom, noted above. Partly due to his personal reticence, he had become the target of charges of infidelity or indifference to religion as early as the election of 1796. But it was not until the bitterly partisan election of 1800 that his Federalist enemies and the partisan newspapers they controlled "unleashed a frenzied barrage of vituperative attacks upon his personal character and public record" (Sheridan, p.21). Voters were exhorted to choose "God-and a religious President" in preference to "Jefferson...and no God;" if he became President, they asserted hysterically, "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced" (M. D. Peterson, <I>Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation</I>, pp.637-638). Even Jefferson's widely read <I>Notes on the State of Virginia</I>, composed in 1781-1783 and originally intended only for private distribution, was meticulously sifted by zealous critics seeking ammunition against Jefferson. They seized upon his speculations about marine fossils and his suggestion that blacks might have once formed a separate and distinct race as evidence that he denied the divine inspiration of scripture and the biblical accounts of the deluge and creation (Eugene R. Sheridan, <I>Jefferson and Religion</I>, 1983/1998, p.23). And his critics took great offense at Jefferson's offhand remark in the <I>Notes</I> regarding the religious establishments in the New York and Pennsylvania: "Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and good order." And Jefferson unwittingly opened a Pandora's box when he generously offered passage to America on an American naval vessel to that notorious revolutionary and critic of organized religion, author of <I>The Age of Reason</I>, Thomas Paine. On this and other evidence, "Jefferson's opponents triumphantly proclaimed, the conclusion was clear: Jefferson was an atheist, an infidel, or at best a deist who was hostile to Christianity and therefore unworthy to serve in the highest office" (Sheridan, p.22). To them, Jefferson studiously made no direct reply "believing as a matter of principle that he was accountable to God alone for his religious convictions and realizing as a practical matter that nothing he could say would silence his detractors. As a result, charges that he was an irreligious enemy of Christianity plagued Jefferson...especially during his first term" (Sheridan, p. 23). In hindsight, we now know, Jefferson was anything but an enemy to organized religion, as his enemies insisted, nor was he hostile to Christianity. During his term as President, in fact, he was a frequent contributor to different churches, and frequently attended services, usually those held in the House of Representatives, where different ministers preached (for pertinent details, see Hutner, pp.84-91). These public acts, though, represent neither cynical political image-building, as some have argued, nor dutiful and devout traditional Christianity. Jefferson appears to have experienced, as a young man, a profound crisis of faith that resulted in his abandonment of the Anglican faith, and, very much a product of the Enlightenment, he gravitated towards a rather undefined "natural religion." But beginning in the latter years of the 1790s, though, under the influence of his readings of Joseph Priestley and an important private correspondence in 1800 with Benjamin Rush, who attempted to convince his friend that republicanism and Christianity were organically connected, Jefferson's convictions underwent a significant transformation (on this remarkable shift, see Sheridan and Dumas Malone's chapter "The Religion of a Reasonable Man," in <I>Jefferson The President: First Term</I>, pp.190-205). As a result, at the beginning of Jefferson's first term, "public criticism of his alleged atheism and infidelity had caused him to reexamine his attitude toward Christianity. The fierce party conflict of the 1790s had disrupted the social harmony he valued as one of the main pillars of republicanism and made him sensitive to the need for a more effective system of ethical principles to inform the moral sense of the new nation...." (Sheridan, p.32). Therefore, by the date of this letter and the related letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson's private religious beliefs and his pragmatic political needs came into unexpected convergence. While he remained unable, as before, to accept the divinity of Christ, and found the concept of the Trinity unacceptable, he nevertheless came to view the ethical teachings of Jesus--if "demystified," or reduced to their innate simplicity and purity--as the "outlines of a system of the most divine morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man." In 1804, while still President, he began compilation of a series of extracts from the New Testament that he entitled "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth" for his own edification (ms. now in the Alderman Library, Univ. of Virginia). Sheridan comments that this study was "in response to his personal religious needs and his concern with the problem of maintaining social harmony in a republican nation." Perhaps it is in such a light--without imputations of cynicism or political expediency--that we should also view Jefferson's regular attendance at services in the House of Representatives during his Presidency, his extensive financial contributions to a number of churches, and, in addition, his public letters to the Delaware Baptist Association and the Danbury Baptists. Both of those letters, he certainly knew or suspected, would almost immediately be published in the local press. And, in fact, his letter to the Delaware Baptists was published not long afterwards in the Wilmington <I>Mirror of the Times</I> and subsequently in several other papers. A "SECT OF ONE" Late in life, years after leaving the Presidency, Jefferson confessed to an old friend, Ezra Stiles, that his personal beliefs had never accorded comfortably with those of any particular church or denomination: "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know," he wrote. While much has been written on the complex subject of Jefferson's evolving religious faith, its impact upon his political and social philosophy and his ideas of the degree of separation appropriate to church and state in a republican society, there is little doubt that letters such as this, which contribute substantially to our knowledge of his faith and his philosophy, will continue to be widely and carefully studied, analyzed, debated and appreciated. | Christie's