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Siz Letters from Mr. Jefferson to his Brother-in-Law, Francis Eppes, in 1775.
- PHILADELPHIA, June 26th, 1775.
DEAR SIR: You will before this have heard that the war is now heartily entered into, without a prospect of accommodation but through the effectual interposition of arms. General Gage has received considerable reinforcements, though not to the whole amount of what was expected. There has lately been an action at the outlet of the town of Boston. The particulars we have not yet been able to get with certainty; the event, however, was considerably in our favor as to the numbers killed. Our account says we had between 40 and 70 killed, and 140 wounded. The enemy has certainly 500 wounded and the same account supposes that number killed; but judging from the proportion of wounded and slain on our part, they should not have perhaps above two hundred killed. This happened on Saturday, and on Monday, when the express came away, the provincials had begun to make another attack. Washington set out from here on Friday last as generalissimo of all the provincial troops in North America. Ward and Lee are appointed major-generals and Gates adjutant. We are exceedingly anxious till we hear of their arrival at Boston, as it is evident to every one that the provincial encampment is the most injudicious that can possibly be conceived. For the sole purpose of covering two small towns near Boston they have encamped so near the line of the ministerial army that the sentries may converse. Gage, too, being well fortified, is in little danger of an attack from them; while their situation is such that he may attack them when he pleases, and if he is unsuccessful, they cannot pursue him a foot scarcely, on account of the ships and floating batteries bearing on the Neck of Boston. If no evil arises from this till General Washington arrives, we may expect to hear of his withdrawing the provincial troops to a greater distance. The Congress have directed 20,000 men to be raised, and hope by a vigorous campaign to dispose our enemies to treaty. Governor Carleton has been spiriting up the Canadian Indians to fall on our back settlements; but this we hope will be prevented. Governor Skeene, appointed to take charge of the fortresses on the lakes, was intercepted here, and as we had already taken possession of those fortifications and provided a governor, there was no occasion for lowers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist, frittering them into subtleties, and obscuring them with jargon, until they have. caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us, which, if filled up in the style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines. 1. He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government. 2. His moral doctrines, relating to kindred and friends, were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others. 3. The precepts of philosophy, and of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head. 4. He taught, emphatically, the doctrines of a future state, which was either doubted, or disbelieved by the Jews; and wielded it with efficacy, as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct.
Jefferson did not assent to all of Priestley’s leading views. He wrote to John Adams, August 22d, 1813:
“You are right in supposing, in one of yours, that I had not read much of Priestley's Predestination, his no-soul system, or his controversy with Horsley. But I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, and Early Opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them, and on Middleton's writings, especially his letters from Rome, and to Waterland, as the basis of my own faith. These writings have never been answered, nor can be answered, by quoting historical proofs, as they have done. For these facts, therefore, I cling to their learning, so much superior to my own.”
And to the same, January 24th, 1814:
“I think with you that Priestley, in his comparison of the doctrines of philosophy and revelation, did not do justice to the undertaking. But he felt himself pressed by the hand of death.”
He wrote the Rev. Mr. Whittemore, June 5th, 1822, that he had “never permitted himself to meditate a specified creed ”— that those “formulas had been the bane and ruin of the Christian
by an express whom we dispatched hence last Friday, that if any defence could be provided on the rivers by fortifications or small vessels it might be done immediately. In the spring, 10,000 men more are to come over. They are to be procured by taking away two-thirds of the garrison at Gibraltar (who are to be replaced by some Hessians), by 2,000 Highlanders and 5,000 Roman Catholics, whom they propose to raise in Ireland. Instead of the Roman Catholics, however, some of our accounts say foreigners are to be sent. Their plan is this. They are to take pos. session of New York and Albany, keeping up a communication between them by means of their vessels. Between Albany and St. John's, they propose also to keep open the communication, and again between St. John's, Quebec, and Boston. By this means they expect Gage, Tryon, and Carleton may distress us on every side, acting in concert with one another. By means of Hudson's River, they expect to cut off all correspondence between the northern and southern rivers. Gage was appointed Governor-General of all America; but Sir Jeffery Amherst consented afterwards to come over, so that Gage is to be recalled; but it is believed Amherst will not come till the spring; in the meantime Howe will have the command. The cooperation of the Canadians is taken for granted in all the ministerial schemes. We hope, therefore, they will all be dislocated by the events in that quarter. For an account of these I must refer you to Patty. My warmest affections attend Mrs. Eppes. Adieu.
Th. JEFFERSON. MR. FRANcis Eppes, in Charles City County, Virginia.
To be sent by the Williamsburgh post.
PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 24, 1775.
DEAR SIR: Since my last, we have nothing new from England or from the camps at either Cambridge or St. John's. Our eyes are turned to the latter place with no little anxiety, the weather having been uncommonly bad for troops in that quarter, exposed to the inclemencies of the sky without any protection. Carleton, is retired to Quebec, and though it does not appear he has any intimation of Arnold's expedition, yet we hear he has embodied 1,100 men to be on his guard. A small vessel was the other day cast away on the Jersey shore (she was one of the transports which had some time ago brought over troops to Boston), on board of which were a captain, with his subordinate officers and marines, amounting to 23 in all, and also a Duncan Campbell, who was going to recruit men at New York for General Gage, he having some time before undertaken the same business in the same place, and actually carried off 60 men. The marines and their officers were all taken immediately, except their captain and the recruiting gentleman; these pushed off in a little boat, and coasted it to Long Island, where they got on board a sloop which was to have sailed in an hour, when the party sent after them came upon them. They were brought to this city this morning, the marines having been here some time. Our good old Speaker died the night before last. For the particulars of that melancholy event I must refer you to Patty. My affections attend Mrs. Eppes. Adieu.
TH. JEFFERSoN. To MR. FRANcis Eppes,
At the Forest, in Charles City County, Virginia.
various instances unquestionably unmerited. Much of all of this, had it been published by him, would have been inexcusa. bly aggressive on the beliefs and feelings of others.
Mr. Jefferson was neither a proselyter nor a system-founder in theology, and consequently having given a pretty full outline of his beliefs (far fuller than would have been given but for special circumstances already named), we regard it as no part of our duty to attempt to follow him through the whole range of his particular opinions and speculations; and still less do we propose to cull out and array for connected perusal every word that would be offensive to persons of a different belief.
Every one, of course, is entitled to form his own opinions as to the truth or error of Mr. Jefferson's views, but in taking his language as a criterion of his feelings and even of his ideas, justice demands that a few considerations be kept distinctly in view. First, his habitual freedom and strength of expression. Second, that his language was confidential. Third, that the controversial language of any period can only be fairly judged by the customs and the spirit of that period.' Fourth, that his remarks were not addressed to opponents whose feelings they would injure, to the young or the unsettled whose sentiments they could influence, or to any person whatever with a view of propagandism. Fifth, that he had received peculiar provocations to anger, prejudice, and acerbity of tone, by attacks on his public and private character from the clergy of particular denominations.”
Mr. Jefferson declared’ that “he never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed.” His oldest grandson writes us:
* No man, for example, would now think of culling out all the harsh and dis. respectful expressions used towards opposing sects, or opinions, by Calvin, Luther, and Knox, judging these by the standards of the o day, and then 1. them as fair expositions of the characters, feelings, and beliefs of the men. No one need to be told that it is but yesterday, as it were, since sects which now freely concede each other's orthodoxy, and which work harmoniously together in the Christian field, imprisoned, exiled, and put to death each other's members, and shook kingdoms with their religious wars. In this they represented the civilization of their day and generation. In religion as in politics, the opening of the present century had not witnessed any general advent of toleration in feeling, or respectfulness of language in controversy. Priestley, though his character was defended by such men as Dr. Parr, Robert Hall, and Lord Brougham, was persecuted, mobbed, and driven out of England. A wide-spread and bitter contest between the Congregationalists and Unitarians was going on in our country among the descendants of the crew of the Mayflower, and in sight of “Pilgrim Rock.” The denunciations, the insinuations, the ridicule, etc., freely thrown out, are in the recol lections of all aged men who lived within the theatre of the dispute, Nay, it would be difficult to find an aged man who had not heard nearly as severe language employed by disputants whose theological differences were infinitely smaller than those which exist between the Trinitarian and the Unitarian.
* See yol. i. p. 491, et seq.; and vol. ii. p. 567, 568; and Appendix No. 18.
* See letter to Mrs. M. Harrison Smith, August 5th, 1816.
Great Britain, is an enemy to this country, to America, and to the inherent and” inalienable rights of man. “That we, the citizens of Mecklenburg county, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the mother country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association with that nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties, and inhumanly shed the blood of American patriots at Lexington. “That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people; are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing association, under the control of no power, other than that of our God, and the general government of the Congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other, our mutual coöperation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor. “That as we now acknowledge the existence and control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this county, we do hereby ordain and adopt as a rule of life, all, each, and every of our former laws; wherein, nevertheless, the crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein. “That it is further decreed, that all, each, and every military officer in this county, is hereby reinstated in his former command and authority, he acting conformably to these regulations. And that every member present of this delegation shall henceforth be a civil officer, viz., a justice of the peace, in the character of a committee man, to issue process, hear, and determine all matters of controversy, according to said adopted laws; and to preserve peace, union, and harmony in said county, and to use every exertion to spread the love of country and fire of freedom throughout America, until a more general and organized government be established in this province. “ABRAHAM ALEXANDER, Chairman. “John McNITT ALEXANDER, Secretary.”
There is nothing at all noticeable in most of these coincidences. Any man might use as his own such collocations of words as “free and independent,” “all political connection,” etc., in 1776, or at any time before or since, without the imputation of plagiarism. In fact, the whole matter, so far as Mr. Jefferson is concerned, would not be entitled to a moment's notice, had not a train of subsequent circumstances given a degree of factitious notoriety to his connection with it.
On the publication of the paper in the Raleigh Register in 1819, it was copied (June 5th) into the Essex Register, in Massachusetts, and John Adams inclosed a copy of this (June 22d) to Mr. Jefferson, with some remarks from which we select the following:
“How is it possible that this paper should have been concealed from me to this day? Had it been communicated to me in the time of it, I know, if you do not know, that it would have been printed in every whig newspaper upon the continent. You know that if I had possessed it, I would have made the hall of Congress echo and reëcho with it fifteen months before your Declaration of Independence. What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass is Tom Paine's “Common Sense" in comparison with this paper. Had I known it, I would have commented upon it from the day you entered Congress till the fourth of July, 1776. The
1 The words “inherent and " were connected with the others in Mr. Jefferson's draft, but were stricken out.