Correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: 1813-1823 Adams to Jefferson, Quincy, September 14, 1813



Download 62.35 Kb.
Date conversion26.05.2016
Size62.35 Kb.

Correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: 1813-1823

Adams to Jefferson, Quincy, September 14, 1813

Dear Sir


I owe you a thousand thanks for your favor of August 22d, and its inclosures, and for Doctor Priestley's " Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy compared with those of Revelation." Your letter to Dr. Rush, and the syllabus, I return inclosed with this, according to your injunction, though with great reluctance. May I beg a copy of both ? They will do you no harm, me and others, much good. I hope you will pursue your plan, for I am confident you will produce a work much more valuable than Priestley's, though that ia curious, and, considering the expiring powers with which it was written, admirable.

The bill in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians, is a great event, and will form an epoch in ecclesiastical history. The motion was made by my friend Smith, of Clapham, a friend of the Belshams. I should be very happy to hear that the bill is passed.

The human understanding is a revelation from its maker, which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no scepticism, Pyrrhonism, or incredulity or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one.

Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.

We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfilment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature's God, that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or prophecies might frighten us out of our wits, might scare us to death, might induce us to lie, to say that we believe that two and two make five, but we should not believe it; we should know the contrary.

Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine Shechinah, and there told that one was three and three one, we might not have had courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it. The thunders and lightnings and earthquakes, and the transcendent splendors and glories, might have overwhelmed us with terror and amazement, but we could not have believed the doctrine. We should be more likely to say in our hearts, whatever we might say with our lips, This is chance. There is no God, no truth. This is all delusion, fiction, and a lie, or it is all chance. But what is chance? It is motion; it is action; it is event; it is phenomenon without cause. Chance is no cause at all; it is nothing, and nothing has produced all this pomp and splendor, and nothing may produce our eternal damnation in the flames of hell-fire and brimstone, for what we know, as well as this tremendous exhibition of terror and falsehood.

God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal, a parte ante and a parte post. His presence is as extensive as space. What is space? An infinite spherical vacuum. He created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable for ever for his glory. This is the doctrine of Christian theologians, in general, ten to one.

Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, created, and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, to make them miserable for ever, for his own glory? Wretch! What is his glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions. My answer to them is always ready. I believe no such things. My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation; delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence, though but an atom, a molecule organique in the universe; are my religion. Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.

When I was at college, I was a mighty metaphysician. At least I thought myself such, and such men as Lock, Hemenway, and West thought me so too, for we were forever disputing, though in great good humor.

When I was sworn as an attorney in 1758, in Boston, though I lived in Braintree, I was in a low state of health, thought in great danger of a consumption, living on milk, vegetables, pudding, and water, not an atom of meat or a drop of spirit; my next neighbor, my cousin, my friend, Dr. Savil, was my physician. He was anxious for me, and did not like to take upon himself the sole responsibility of my recovery. He invited me to a ride. I mounted my horse, and rode with him to Hingham, on a visit to Dr. Ezekiel Hersey, a physician of great fame, who felt my pulse, looked in my eyes, heard Savil describe my regimen and course of medicine, and then pronounced his oracle: " Persevere, and as sure as there is a God in Heaven you will recover." He was an everlasting talker, and ran out into history, philosophy, metaphysics, &c., and frequently put questions to me as if he wanted to sound me and see if there was any thing in me besides hectic fever. I was young and then very bashful, however saucy I may have sometimes been since. I gave him very modest and very diffident answers. But when he got upon metaphysics, I seemed to feel a little bolder, and ventured into something like argument with him. I drove him up, as I thought, into a corner, from which he could not escape. "Sir, it will follow, from what you have now advanced, that the universe, as distinct from God, is both infinite and eternal." "Very true," said Dr. Hersey: Your inference is just; the consequence is inevitable, and I believe the universe to be both eternal and infinite." Here I was brought up. I was defeated. I was not prepared for this answer. This was 55 years ago.

When I was in England, from 1785 to 1788, I may say I was intimate with Dr. Price. I had much conversation with him at his own house, at my house, and at the houses and tables of many friends. In some of our most unreserved conversations, when we have been alone, he has repeatedly said to me: "I am inclined to believe that the universe is eternal and infinite: it seems to me that an eternal and infinite effect must necessarily flow from an eternal and infinite cause; and an infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, that could have been induced to produce a universe in time, must have produced it from eternity. It seems to me, the effect must flow from the cause."

Now, my friend Jefferson, suppose an eternal, self-existent being, existing from eternity, possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, in absolute, total solitude, six thousand years ago conceiving the benevolent project of creating a universe ! I have no more to say at present.

It has been long, very long, a settled opinion in my mind, that there is now, ever will be, and ever was, but one being who can understand the universe, and that it is not only vain but wicked for insects to pretend to comprehend it.
John Adams

Adams to Jefferson, Quincy Decr., December 25, 1813

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Dear Sir.

Answer my letter at your leisure. Give yourself no concern. I write as a refuge and protection against ennui.

The fundamental principle of all philosophy and all Christianity is, "Rejoice always in all things." "Be thankful at all times for all good, and all that we call evil." Will it not follow, that I ought to rejoice and be thankful that Priestley has lived ? Aye, that Voltaire has lived ? [Adams’s note in the margin: “I should have given my Reason for rejoicing in Voltaire etc. It is because I believe they have done more than Even Luther or Calvin, to lower the Tone of that proud Hierarchy that shot itself up above the Clouds, and more to propagate religious Liberty than Calvin or Luther, or even lock.” He means Locke] I should have given my reason for rejoicing in Voltaire, &c. It is because I believe they have done more than even Luther or Calvin to lower the tone of that proud hierarchy that shot itself up above the clouds, and more to propagate religious liberty than Calvin, or Luther, or even Locke. That Gibbon has lived? That Hume has lived, though a conceited Scotchman? That Bolingbroke has lived, though a haughty, arrogant, supercilious dogmatist? That Burke and Johnson have lived, though superstitious slaves, or self-deceiving hypocrites both? Is it not laughable to hear Burke call Bolingbroke a superfic,al writer; to hear him ask, "who ever read him through! "Had I been present, I should have answered him: "I, I myself! I have read him through, more than fifty years ago, and more than five times in my life, and once within five years past. And, in my opinion, the epithet ' superficial' belongs to you and your friend Johnson more than to him/J I might say much more; but I believe Burke and Johnson to have been as political Christians as Leo X.

I return to Priestley, though I have great complaints against him for personal injuries and persecution, at the same time that I forgive it all, and hope and pray that he may be pardoned for it all above. Dr. Brocklesby, an intimate friend and convivial companion of Johnson, told me, that Johnson died in agonies of horror of annihilation; and all the accounts we have of his death corroborate this account of Brocklesby. Dread of annihilation ! Dread of nothing! A dread of nothing, I should think, would be no dread at all. Can there be any real, substantial, rational fear of nothing? Were you on your deathbed, and in your last moments informed by demonstration or revelation that you would cease to think and to feel at your dissolution, should you be terrified? You might be ashamed of yourself for having lived so long, to bear the proud man's contumely; you might be ashamed of your Maker, and compare Him to a little girl amusing herself, her brothers, and sisters by blowing bubbles in soapsuds; you might compare Him to boys, sporting with crackers and rockets, or to men employed in making more artificial fireworks, or to men and women at fairs and operas, or Sadler's Wells exploits; or to politicians, in their intrigues ; or to heroes, in their butcheries; or to Popes, in their devilisms. But what should you fear ? Nothing. Emori nolo; sed me mortuum esse nihil cestimo.

I return to Priestley. You could make a more luminous book than his upon the " Doctrines of Heathen Philosophers, compared with those of Revelation." Why has he not given us a more satisfactory account of the Pythagorean philosophy and theology ? He barely names Ocellus, who lived long before Plato. His treatise of kings and monarchy has been destroyed, I conjecture, by Platonic philosophers, Platonic Jews or Christians, or by fraudulent republicans or despots. His treatise of the universe has been preserved. He labors to prove the eternity of the world. The Marquis D'Argens translated it in all its noble simplicity. The Abbe Batteux has given another translation. D'Argens not only explains the text, but sheds more light upon the ancient systems. His remarks are so many trealises, which develop the concatenation of ancient opinions. The most essential ideas of the theology, of the physics, and of the morality of the ancients are clearly explained, and their different doctrines compared with one another, and with the modern discoveries. I wish I owned this book, and one hundred thousand more that I want every day, now when I am almost incapable of making any use of them. No doubt, lte informs us that Pythagoras was a great traveller.

Priestley barely mentions Timffius; but it does not appear that he had read him. Why has he not given us an account of him and his book? He was before Plato, and gave him the idea of his Timseusf and much more of his philosophy. After his master, he maintained the existence of matter; that matter was capable of receiving all sorts of forms; that a moving power agitates all the parts of it, and that an intelligence directed the moving power; that this intelligence produced a regular and harmonious world. The intelligence had seen a plan, an IDEA (logos), in conformity to which it wrought, and without which it would not have known what it was about, nor what it wanted to do. This plan was the idea, image, or model, which had represented to the Supreme Intelligence the world before it existed, which had directed it in its action upon the moving power, and which it contemplated in forming the elements, the bodies, and the world. This model was distinguished from the intelligence which produced the world, as the architect is from his plans. He divided the productive cause of the world into a spirit, which directed the moving force, and into an image, which determined it in the choice of the directions which it gave to the moving force, and the forms which it gave to matter.

I wonder that Priestley has overlooked this, because it is the same philosophy with Plato's, and would have shown that the Pythagorean, as well as the Platonic philosophers, probably concurred in the fabrication of the Christian Trinity. Priestley mentions the name of Archytas, but does not appear to have read him, though he was a successor of Pythagoras, and a great mathematician, a great statesman, and a great general. John Gram, a karned and honorable Dane, has given a handsome edition of his works, with a Latin translation, and an ample account of his life and writings. Zaleuct,s, the legislator of Locris, and Charondas of Sybaris, were disciples of Pythagoras, and both celebrated to immortality for the wisdom of their laws, ftve hundred years before Christ. Why are those laws lost? I say, the spirit of party has destroyed them; civil, political, and ecclesiastical bigotry. Despotical, monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical fury, have all been employed in this work of destruction of every thing that could give us true light, and a clear insight of antiquity. For every one of these parties, when possessed of power, or when they have been undermost, and struggling to get uppermost, has been equally prone to every species of fraud and violence and usurpation.

Why has not Priestley mentioned these legislators? The preamble to the laws of Zaleucus, which is all that remains, is as orthodox Christian theology as Priestley's, and Christian benevolence and forgiveness of injuries almost as clearly expressed.

Priestley ought to have done impartial justice to philosophy and philosophers. Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature. man. When this revelation is clear and certain, by intuition or necessary inductions, no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it. Philosophy is not only the love of wisdom, but the science of the universe and its cause. There is, there was, and there will be but one master of philosophy in the universe. Portions of it, in different degrees, are revealed to creatures. Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow sphere, my straitened means, and my busy life would allow me ; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation.

Priestley ought to have given us a sketch of the religion and morals of Zoroaster, of Sanchoniathon, of Confucius, and all the founders of religions before Christ, whose superiority would, from such a comparison, have appeared the more transcendent.

Priestley ought to have told us that Pythagoras passed twenty years in his travels in India, in Egypt, in Chaldea, perhaps in Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon. He ought to have told us, that in India he conversed with the Brahmins, and read the Shasta, five thousand years old, written in the language of the sacred Sanscrit, with the elegance and sentiments of Plato. Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples. He there learned also his metempsychosis; but this never was popular, never made much progress in Greece or Italy, or any other country besides India and Tartary, the region of the grand immortal Lama. And how does this differ from the possessions of demons in Greece and Rome, from the demon of Socrates, from the worship of cows and crocodiles in Egypt and elsewhere? After migrating through various animals, from elephants to serpents, according to their behavior, souls that, at last, behaved well, became men and women, and then, if they were good, they went to Heaven. All ended in Heaven, if they became virtuous. Who can wonder at the widow of Malabar ? Where is the lady who, if her faith were without doubt that she should go to Heaven with her husband on the one hand, or migrate into a toad or a wasp on the other, would not lie down on the pile, and set fire to the fuel ? Modifications and disguises of the metempsychosis had crept into Egypt, and Greece, and Rome, and other countries. Have you read Farmer on the demons and possessions of the New Testament?

According to the Shasta, Moisayer, with his companions, rebelled against the Eternal, and were precipitated down to Ondero, the region of darkness.

Do you know any thing of the prophecy of Enoch ? Can you give me a comment on the 6th, the 9th, the 14th verses of the epistle of Jude?

If I am not weary of writing, I am sure you must be of reading such incoherent rattle. I will not persecute you so severely in future, if I can help it, so farewell.
John Adams

Adams to Jefferson, Montezillo, February 21, 1820
Dear Sir,

Was you ever acquainted with Dugald Stuart? Before I left France I received a letter from Benjamin Vaughn, Esqre. In London, Introducing and recommending in strong terms two Gentlemen from Scotland, one by the name of Dugald Stuart and the other Lord—whose name and title I forget—as young Gentlemen of great talent and attainments sufficient to diminish our American prejudices against Scotland. I received the Letter, but never saw the Gentlemen, from which I conjecture that they did not reach Paris after I went away, and that you probably had the Satisfaction to enjoy their Company. I regret very much that I missed his Visit. Can you tell me anything of his present State? I am informed that he is dying at top, like Sir Isaac Newton and Dr. swift. I have a prejudice against what they call Metaphysiks because they pretend to fathom deeper than the human line extends. I know not very well what e’er the to metaphusica of Aristotle means, but I can form some idea of Investigations into the human mind, and I think Dugald in his Elements of the Philosophy of the human Mind has searched deeper and reasoned more correctly than Aristotle, Des Cartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Condillac and even Reid. I would therefore propose this problem or Theorem for your consideration: whether it would not be adviseable to institute in the Universities Professorships of the Philosophy of the human Understanding, whose object should be to ascertain the Limits of human knowledge already acquired. If I was worth as much money as some of the shop Boys I left in Boston, I would give fifty thousand dollars to establish such a professorship—though I suppose you will have doubts of the propriety of setting any limits, or thinking of any limits of human Power, or human Wisdom, and human Virtue.

I wish the Missouri question may not sett too narrow limits to the Power and Respectability of the United States. Yet I hope some good natural way or other will be found out to untie this very intricate knot and am, dear Sir, as ever your friend,

John Adams


Jefferson to Adams, Monticello, March 14, 1820

Dear Sir


A continuation of poor health makes me an irregular correspondent.  I am, therefore, your debtor for the two letters of January 20th and February 21st.  It was after you left Europe that Dugald Stewart, concerning whom you inquire, and Lord Dare, second son of the Marquis of Lansdowne, came to Paris.  They brought me a letter from Lord Wycombe, whom you knew.  I became immediately intimate with Stewart, calling mutually on each other and almost daily, during their stay at Paris, which was of some months.  Lord Dare was a young man of imagination, with occasional flashes indicating deep penetration, but of much caprice, and little judgment.  He has been long dead, and the family title is now, I believe, in the third son, who has shown in Parliament talents of a superior order.  Stewart is a great man, and among the most honest living.  I have heard nothing of his dying at top, as you suppose.  Mr. Ticknor, however, can give you the best information on that subject, as he must have heard particularly of him when in Edinburgh, although I believe he did not see him.  I have understood he was then in London superintending the publication of a new work.  I consider him and Tracy as the ablest metaphysicians living ;  by which I mean investigators of the thinking faculty of man.  Stewart seems to have given its natural history from facts and observations;  Tracy its modes of action and deduction, which he calls Logic and Ideology;  and Cabanis, in his Physique et Morale de l’Homme, has investigated anatomically, and most ingeniously, the particular organs in the human structure which may most probably exercise that faculty.  And they ask why may not the mode of action called thought, have been given to a material organ of peculiar structure, as that of magnetism is to the needle, or of elasticity to the spring by a particular manipulation of the steel.  They observe that on ignition of the needle or spring, their magnetism and elasticity cease.  So on dissolution of the material organ by death, its action of thought may cease also, and that nobody supposes that the magnetism or elasticity retire to hold a substantive and distinct existence.  These were qualities only of particular conformations of matter;  change the conformation, and its qualities change also.  Mr. Locke, you know, and other materialists, have charged with blasphemy the spiritualists who have denied the Creator the power of endowing certain forms of matter with the faculty of thought.  These, however, are speculations and subtleties in which, for my own part, I have little indulged myself.  When I meet with a proposition beyond finite comprehension, I abandon it as I do a weight which human strength cannot lift, and I think ignorance, in these cases, is truly the softest pillow on which I can lay my head.  Were it necessary, however, to form an opinion, I confess I should, with Mr. Locke, prefer swallowing one incomprehensibility rather than two.  It requires one effort only to admit the single incomprehensibility of matter endowed with thought, and two to believe, first that of an existence called spirit, of which we have neither evidence nor idea, and then secondly how that spirit, which has neither extension nor solidity, can put material organs into motion.  These are things which you and I may perhaps know ere long.  We have so lived as to fear neither horn of the dilemma.  We have, willingly, done injury to no man;  and have done for our country the good which has fallen in our way, so far as commensurate with the faculties given us.  That we have not done more than we could, cannot be imputed to us as a crime before any tribunal.  I look, therefore, to the crisis, as I am sure you also do, as one “qui summum nec metuit diem nec optat."1  In the meantime be our last as cordial as were our first affections.

Th. Jefferson



Adams to Jefferson, Montezillo, May 12, 1820
Dear Sir

I have received with great pleasure your favour of March 14th. Mr. Ticknor informes me that Dugald Stuart was not reduced to a state of Idiocy as I had been informed, but he was in bad Health, and by the advice of his friends and Physicians to remove to Devenshire in England, in hopes by the change of air, tranquil repose and retirement from the irritations of society, he might recover his health. Be he said there was something mysterious in the business and the Gentlemen in Scotland did not love to converse upon the subject, but chose to wave as well as they could, questioning it it—That he had not been in London superintending any work.

This account leaves ample scope for all our conjectures, but in all events it is very melancholy that so profound a genius should be obliged to retire before he had exhausted all his Speculations for the Illumination of his Species; for, indeed, all his writings are melancholy; they are humiliating; for they show us our ignorance, and the utmost limits to which the human understanding may hope to go in this Inferior World. They ought, however, to be consolatory, because they furnish us with abundance of your pillows of Ignorance—an expression that I very much admire—on which to repose our puzzled heads.

The question between spirit and matter appears to me nugatory because we have neither evidence nor idea of either. All that we certainly know is that some substance exists, which must be the cause of all the qualitys and Attributes which we perceive: Extension, Solidity, Perception, memory, and Reason, for all these are Attributes, or adjectives, and not Essences or substantives.

Sixty years ago, at College, I read Berkeley, and from that time to this I have been fully persuaded that we know nothing of Essences, that some Essence does exist, which causes our minds with all their ideas, and this visible World with all its wonders. I am certain that this Cause is wise, Benevolent and powerful, beyond all conception; I cannot doubt, but what it is, I cannot conjecture.

Suppose we dwell a little on this matter.The Infinite divisibility of it had long ago been demonstrated by Mathematicians—When the Marquis De L’Hospital arose and demonstrated that there were quantities and not infinitely little, but others infinitely less than those infinitely littles, and he might have gone on, for what I know, to all Eternity demonstrating that there are quantities infinitely less than the last infinitely littles; and the Phenomena pf nature seemes to coincide with De L’Hospitals demonstrations. For example, Astronomers inform us that the Star draconis is distant from the Earth 38,000,000,000,000 miles. The Light that proceeds from that Star, therefore, must fill a Sphere of 78,000,000,000,000, miles in diameter, and every part of that Sphere equal to the size of the pupil of the human Eye. Light is Matter, and every ray, every pencil of that light is made up of particles very little indeed, if not infinitely little, or infinitely less than infinitely little. If this Matter is not fine enough and subtle enough to perceive, to feel and to think, it is too subtle for any human intellect or imagination to conceive, for I defy any human mind to form any idea of anything so small. However, after all, Matter is but Matter; if it is infinitely less than infinitely little, it is incapable of memory, judgement, or feeling, or pleasure or pain, as far as I can conceive. Yet for anything I know, it may be as capable of Sensation and reflection as Spirit, for I confess I know not how Spirit can think, feel or act, any more than Matter. In truth, I cannot conceive how either can move or think, so that I must repose upon your pillow of ignorance, which I find very soft and consoleing, for it absolves my conscience from all culpability in this respect. But I insist upon it that the Saint has as good a right to groan at the Philosopher for asserting that there is nothing but matter in the Universe. As the Philosopher has to laugh at the Saint for saying that there are both Matter and Spirit, or as the Infidel has to despise Berckley for saying that we cannot prove that there is anything in the Universe but Spirit and Idea—for this indeed is all he asserted, for he never denied the existence of Matter. After all, I agree that both the groan and the Smile is impertinent, for neither knows what he says, or what he affirms, and I will say of both, as Turgot says of Berkley in his Article of Existence in the Encyclopedia: it is easier to despise than to answer them.

Cabanis’s Ignition can destroy nothing in the Magnet. But motion, magnetism, Electricity, Galvinism, Attraction, Repulsion, are nothing but motion, and have no more relation to, Analogy or resemblance to, memory, Perception, conception or Volition, than black has to white, or falsehood to truth, or right to wrong. When two Billiard Balls meet and repell each other, we know nothing of the Cause, Contact or repulsion than we do of Spirit. We see nothing but motion in the Case, and what motion is, we know not.

Oh delightful Ignorance! When I arrive at a certainty that I am ignorant, and that I always must be ignorant, while I live I am happy, for I know I can no longer be responsible.

We shall meet hereafter and laugh at our present botherations. So believe your our Friend,

John Adams


Jefferson to Adams, Monticello, August 15, 1820

I’m a great defaulter, my dear Sir, in our correspondence, but prostrate health rarely permits me to write; and, when it does, matters of business imperiously press their claims. I am getting better however, slowly, swelled legs being now the only serious symptom, and these, I believe, proceed from extreme debility. I can walk but little; but I ride 6. or 8. miles a day without fatigue; and within a few days, I shall endeavor to visit my other home, after a twelve month's absence from it. Our University, 4 miles distant, gives me frequent exercise, and the oftener as I direct it's architecture. It's plan is unique, and it is becoming an object of curiosity for the traveller.

I have lately had an opportunity of reading a critique on this institution in your North American Review of January last, having been not without anxiety to see what that able work would say of us: and I was relieved on finding in it much coincidence of opinion, and even, where criticisms were indulged, I found they would have been obviated had the developements of our plan been fuller. But these were restrained by the character of the paper reviewed, being merely a report of outlines, not a detailed treatise, and addressed to a legislative body, not to a learned academy. E.g. as an inducement to introduce the Anglo-Saxon into our plan, it was said that it would reward amply the few weeks of attention which alone would be requisite for it's attainment; leaving both term and degree under an indefinite expression, because I know that not much time is necessary to attain it to an useful degree, sufficient to give such instruction in the etymologies of our language as may satisfy ordinary students, while more time would be requisite for those who would propose to attain a critical knolege of it.

In a letter which I had occasion to write to Mr. Crofts (who sent you, I believe, as well as myself, a copy of his treatise on the English and German languages, as preliminary to an Etymological dictionary he meditated) I went into explanations with him of an easy process for simplifying the study of the Anglo-Saxon, and lessening the terrors, and difficulties presented by it's rude Alphabet, and unformed orthography. But this is a subject beyond the bounds of a letter, as it was beyond the bounds of a Report to the legislature. Mr. Crofts died, I believe, before any progress was made in the work he had projected.

The reviewer expresses doubt, rather than decision, on our placing Military and Naval architecture in the department of Pure Mathematics. Military architecture embraces fortification and field works, which with their bastions, curtains, hornworks, redoubts etc. are based on a technical combination of lines and angles. These are adapted to offence and defence, with and against the effects of bombs, balls, escalades etc. But lines and angles make the sum of elementary geometry, a branch of Pure Mathematics: and the direction of the bombs, balls, and other projectiles, the necessary appendages of military works, altho' no part of their architecture, belong to the conic sections, a branch of transcendental geometry. Diderot and Dalembert therefore, in their Arbor scientiae, have placed military architecture in the department of elementary geometry. Naval architecture teaches the best form and construction of vessels; for which best form it has recourse to the question of the Solid of least resistance, a problem of transcendental geometry. And it's appurtenant projectiles belong to the same branch, as in the preceding case. It is true that so far as respects the action of the water on the rudder and oars, and of the wind on the sails, it may be placed in the department of mechanics, as Diderot and Dalambert have done: but belonging quite as much to geometry, and allied in it's military character, to military architecture, it simplified our plan to place both under the same head. These views are so obvious that I am sure they would have required but a second thought to reconcile the reviewer to their location under the head of Pure Mathematics. For this word Location, see Bailey, Johnson, Sheridan, Walker etc. But if Dictionaries are to be the Arbiters of language, in which of them shall we find neologism.

No matter. It is a good word, well sounding, obvious, and expresses an idea which would otherwise require circumlocution. The Reviewer was justifiable therefore in using it; altho' he noted at the same time, as unauthoritative, centrality, grade, sparse; all which have been long used in common speech and writing. I am a friend to neology. It is the only way to give to a language copiousness and euphony. Without it we should still be held to the vocabulary of Alfred or of Ulphilas; and held to their state of science also: for I am sure they had no words which could have conveyed the ideas of Oxigen, cotyledons, zoophytes, magnetism, electricity, hyaline, and thousands of others expressing ideas not then existing, nor of possible communication in the state of their language.

What a language has the French become since the date of their revolution, by the free introduction of new words! The most copious and eloquent in the living world; and equal to the Greek, had not that been regularly modifiable almost ad infinitum. Their rule was that whenever their language furnished or adopted a root, all it's branches, in every part of speech were legitimated by giving them their appropriate terminations. {adelphos} ["brother"], {adelphe} ["sister"], {adelphidion} ["little brother"], {adelphotes} ["brotherly affection"], {adelphixis} ["brotherhood"], {adelphidoys} ["nephew"], {adelphikos} ["brotherly," adj.], {adelphizo} ["to adopt as a brother"], {adelphikos} ["brotherly," adv.]. And this should be the law of every language. Thus, having adopted the adjective fraternal, it is a root, which should legitimate fraternity, fraternation, fraternisation, fraternism, to fraternate, fraternise, fraternally. And give the word neologism to our language, as a root, and it should give us it's fellow substantives, neology, neologist, neologisation; it's adjectives neologous, neological, neologistical, it's verb neologise, and adverb neologically. Dictionaries are but the depositories of words already legitimated by usage. Society is the work-shop in which new ones are elaborated. When an individual uses a new word, if illformed it is rejected in society, if wellformed, adopted, and, after due time, laid up in the depository of dictionaries. And if, in this process of sound neologisation, our transatlantic brethren shall not choose to accompany us, we may furnish, after the Ionians, a second example of a colonial dialect improving on it's primitive.

But enough of criticism: let me turn to your puzzling letter of May 12. on matter, spirit, motion etc. It's croud of scepticisms kept me from sleep. I read it, and laid it down: read it, and laid it down, again and again: and to give rest to my mind, I was obliged to recur ultimately to my habitual anodyne, ‘I feel: therefore I exist.’ I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can concieve thought to be an action of a particular organisation of matter, formed for that purpose by it's creator, as well as that attraction in an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tract of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart.

At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us indeed that `God is a spirit,' but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the antient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter. Origen says ‘Deus reapse corporalis est; sed graviorum tantum corporum ratione, incorporeus.’ Tertullian ‘quid enim deus nisi corpus?' and again `quis negabit deumesse corpus? Etsi deus spiritus, spiritus etiam corpus est, sui generis, in sua effigie.’ St. Justin Martyr ‘το Θειον φαμεν ειναι ασωματον ουκ ότι ασωματον —επειδη δε το μη κρατεισθαι ύπο τινος, του κρατεισθαι τιμιωτερον εστι, δια τουτο καλουμεν αυτον ασωματον.’ And St. Macarius, speaking of angels says ‘quamvis enim subtilia sint, tamen in substantia, forma et figura, secundum tenuitatem naturae eorum, corpora sunt tenuia.’2 And St. Austin, St. Basil, Lactantius, Tatian, Athenagoras and others, with whose writings I pretend not a familiarity, are said by those who are, to deliver the same doctrine. Turn to your Ocellus d'Argens 97. 105. and to his Timaeus 17. for these quotations. In England these Immaterialists might have been burnt until the 29. Car. 2. when the writ de haeretico comburendo was abolished:3 and here until the revolution, that statute not having extended to us. All heresies being now done away with us, these schismatists are merely atheists, differing from the material Atheist only in their belief that `nothing made something,' and from the material deist who believes that matter alone can operate on matter.

Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of the Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes decieved, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with their faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for all the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

Th: Jefferson


Jefferson to Adams, Monticello, April 11, 1823.

Dear Sir, — The wishes expressed, in your last favor, that I may continue in life and health until I become a Calvinist, at least in his exclamation of `mon Dieu! jusque à quand'! would make me immortal. I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Dæmonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a dæmon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin. Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. Now one sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian revelation, are without a knolege of the existance of a god! This gives compleatly a gain de cause to the disciples of Ocellus, Timaeus, Spinosa, Diderot and D'Holbach. The argument which they rest on as triumphant and unanswerable is that, in every hypothesis of Cosmogony you must admit an eternal pre-existance of something; and according to the rule of sound philosophy, you are never to employ two principles to solve a difficulty when one will suffice. They say then that it is more simple to believe at once in the eternal pre-existance of the world, as it is now going on, and may for ever go on by the principle of reproduction which we see and witness, than to believe in the eternal pre-existence of an ulterior cause, or Creator of the world, a being whom we see not, and know not, of whose form substance and mode or place of existence, or of action no sense informs us, no power of the mind enables us to delineate or comprehend. On the contrary I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it's parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to percieve and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it's composition. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with it's distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms. We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in it's course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro' all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis. Some early Christians indeed have believed in the coeternal pre-existence of both the Creator and the world, without changing their relation of cause and effect. That this was the opinion of St. Thomas, we are informed by Cardinal Toleto, in these words ‘Deus ab æterno fuit jam omnipotens, sicut cum produxit mundum. Ab aeterno potuit producere mundum. — Si sol ab aeterno esset, lumen ab aeterno esset; et si pes, similiter vestigium. At lumen et vestigium effectus sunt efficientis solis et pedis; potuit ergo cum causa aeterna effectus coaeterna esse. Cujus sententiae est S. Thomas Theologorum primus.’4 Cardinal Toleta.

Of the nature of this being we know nothing. Jesus tells us that `God is a spirit.' 4. John 24. but without defining what a spirit is…. Down to the 3d. century we know that it was still deemed material; but of a lighter subtler matter than our gross bodies. So says Origen. ‘Deus igitur, cui anima similis est, juxta Originem, reapte corporalis est; sed graviorum tantum ratione corporum incorporeus.’5 These are the words of Huet in his commentary on Origen. Origen himself says ‘appelatio άσωματον apud nostros scriptores est inusitata et incognita.’6 So also Tertullian `quis autem negabit Deum esse corpus, etsi deus spiritus? Spiritus etiam corporis sui generis, in sua effigie.’7 Tertullian. These two fathers were of the 3d. century. Calvin's character of this supreme being seems chiefly copied from that of the Jews. But the reformation of these blasphemous attributes, and substitution of those more worthy, pure and sublime, seems to have been the chief object of Jesus in his discources to the Jews: and his doctrine of the Cosmogony of the world is very clearly laid down in the 3 first verses of the 1st. chapter of John, in these words:



Which truly translated means `in the beginning God existed, and reason (or mind) was with God, and that mind was God. This was in the beginning with God. All things were created by it, and without it was made not one thing which was made'. Yet this text, so plainly declaring the doctrine of Jesus that the world was created by the supreme, intelligent being, has been perverted by modern Christians to build up a second person of their tritheism by a mistranslation of the word . One of it's legitimate meanings indeed is `a word.' But, in that sense, it makes an unmeaning jargon: while the other meaning `reason', equally legitimate, explains rationally the eternal preexistence of God, and his creation of the world. Knowing how incomprehensible it was that `a word,' the mere action or articulation of the voice and organs of speech could create a world, they undertake to make of this articulation a second preexisting being, and ascribe to him, and not to God, the creation of the universe. The Atheist here plumes himself on the uselessness of such a God, and the simpler hypothesis of a self-existent universe. The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

So much for your quotation of Calvin's `mon dieu! jusqu'a quand' in which, when addressed to the God of Jesus, and our God, I join you cordially, and await his time and will with more readiness than reluctance. May we meet there again, in Congress, with our antient Colleagues, and recieve with them the seal of approbation `Well done, good and faithful servants.'

Th. Jefferson





1 “Who neither fears the final day nor hopes for it.”

2 Tr: Origen says, “God is in very fact corporeal, but, by reason of so much heavier bodies, incorporeal.” Tertullian “for what is God except body?” and again “Who will deny that God is body? Although God is spirit, yet spirit is body, of his own nature, in his own image.” St. Justin Martyr “We say that the divinity is without body, not because it is bodyless, but since the state of not being bounded by anything is a more honorable one than that of being bounded, for this reason we call him bodyless.” And St. Macarius, speaking of angels says “For although their bodies are of light texture, nevertheless in substance, form, and figure, their bodies are rare, according to the rarity of their nature.” This and other translations of Greek and Latin passages come from Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959).

3 “29. Car. 2.” Refers to the 29th year of the reign of King Charles II, 1678. A “writ de haeretico” had been used against convicted heretics who had repented but lapsed.

4 “God has been omnipotent forever, just as when he made the world. He has had the power to make the world forever. If the sun were in existence forever, light would have been in existence forever; and if a foot then likewise a footprint. But light and footprint are the effects of an efficient sun and foot; therefore the effect has had the power to be co-eternal with the eternal cause. Of this opinion is St. Thomas, the first of the theologians.”

5 “God, therefore, to whom the soul is similar, in consequences of its origin, is in reality corporeal; but He is incorporeal in comparison with so much heavier bodies.”

6 “The word άσωματον, among our writers, is not known or used.”

7 “Yet who will deny that God is body, although God is spirit? Indeed He is spirit of His own type of body, in His own image.”





The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page