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Letter from Thomas Jefferson

To Dr. Joseph Priestley - Washington, Mar. 21, 1801

        _To Dr. Joseph Priestley_
        _Washington, Mar. 21, 1801_

        DEAR SIR, -- I learnt some time ago that you were in
Philadelphia, but that it was only for a fortnight; & supposed you
were gone.  It was not till yesterday I received information that you
were still there, had been very ill, but were on the recovery.  I
sincerely rejoice that you are so.  Yours is one of the few lives
precious to mankind, & for the continuance of which every thinking
man is solicitous.  Bigots may be an exception.  What an effort, my
dear Sir, of bigotry in Politics & Religion have we gone through!
The barbarians really flattered themselves they should be able to
bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put everything into
the hands of power & priestcraft.  All advances in science were
proscribed as innovations.  They pretended to praise and encourage
education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors.  We were
to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement; the President
himself declaring, in one of his answers to addresses, that we were
never to expect to go beyond them in real science.  This was the real
ground of all the attacks on you.  Those who live by mystery &
_charlatanerie_, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying
the Christian philosophy, -- the most sublime & benevolent, but most
perverted system that ever shone on man, -- endeavored to crush your
well-earnt & well-deserved fame.  But it was the Lilliputians upon
Gulliver.  Our countrymen have recovered from the alarm into which
art & industry had thrown them; science & honesty are replaced on
their high ground; and you, my dear Sir, as their great apostle, are
on it's pinnacle.  It is with heartfelt satisfaction that, in the
first moments of my public action, I can hail you with welcome to our
land, tender to you the homage of it's respect & esteem, cover you
under the protection of those laws which were made for the wise and
good like you, and disdain the legitimacy of that libel on
legislation, which under the form of a law, was for some time placed
among them.

        As the storm is now subsiding, and the horizon becoming serene,
it is pleasant to consider the phenomenon with attention.  We can no
longer say there is nothing new under the sun.  For this whole
chapter in the history of man is new.  The great extent of our
Republic is new.  Its sparse habitation is new.  The mighty wave of
public opinion which has rolled over it is new.  But the most
pleasing novelty is, it's so quickly subsiding over such an extent of
surface to it's true level again.  The order & good sense displayed
in this recovery from delusion, and in the momentous crisis which
lately arose, really bespeak a strength of character in our nation
which augurs well for the duration of our Republic; & I am much
better satisfied now of it's stability than I was before it was
tried.  I have been, above all things, solaced by the prospect which
opened on us, in the event of a non-election of a President; in which
case, the federal government would have been in the situation of a
clock or watch run down.  There was no idea of force, nor of any
occasion for it.  A convention, invited by the Republican members of
Congress, with the virtual President & Vice President, would have
been on the ground in 8. weeks, would have repaired the Constitution
where it was defective, & wound it up again.  This peaceable &
legitimate resource, to which we are in the habit of implicit
obedience, superseding all appeal to force, and being always within
our reach, shows a precious principle of self-preservation in our
composition, till a change of circumstances shall take place, which
is not within prospect at any definite period.

        But I have got into a long disquisition on politics, when I
only meant to express my sympathy in the state of your health, and to
tender you all the affections of public & private hospitality.  I
should be very happy indeed to see you here.  I leave this about the
30th inst., to return about the twenty-fifth of April.  If you do not
leave Philadelphia before that, a little excursion hither would help
your health.  I should be much gratified with the possession of a
guest I so much esteem, and should claim a right to lodge you, should
you make such an excursion.