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Letter from President Thomas Jefferson

Letter To Rev. Samuel Miller - Washington, Jan. 23, 1808

        _To Rev. Samuel Miller_
        _Washington, Jan. 23, 1808_

        SIR, -- I have duly received your favor of the 18th and am
thankful to you for having written it, because it is more agreeable
to prevent than to refuse what I do not think myself authorized to
comply with.  I consider the government of the U S. as interdicted by
the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions,
their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.  This results not only
from the provision that no lawshall be made respecting the
establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also
which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the U.S.
Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume
authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general
government.  It must then rest with the states, as far as it can be
in any human authority.  But it is only proposed that I should
_recommend_, not prescribe a day of fasting & prayer.  That is, that
I should _indirectly_ assume to the U.S. an authority over religious
exercises which the Constitution has directly precluded them from.
It must be meant too that this recommendation is to carry some
authority, and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who
disregard it; not indeed of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree
of proscription perhaps in public opinion.  And does the change in
the nature of the penalty make the recommendation the less _a law_ of
conduct for those to whom it is directed?  I do not believe it is for
the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct
it's exercises, it's discipline, or it's doctrines; nor of the
religious societies that the general government should be invested
with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among
them.  Fasting & prayer are religious exercises.  The enjoining them
an act of discipline.  Every religious society has a right to
determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects
proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this
right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the
constitution has deposited it.

        I am aware that the practice of my predecessors may be quoted.
But I have ever believed that the example of state executives led to
the assumption of that authority by the general government, without
due examination, which would have discovered that what might be a
right in a state government, was a violation of that right when
assumed by another.  Be this as it may, every one must act according
to the dictates of his own reason, & mine tells me that civil powers
alone have been given to the President of the U S. and no authority
to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.

        I again express my satisfaction that you have been so good as
to give me an opportunity of explaining myself in a private letter,
in which I could give my reasons more in detail than might have been
done in a public answer: and I pray you to accept the assurances of
my high esteem & respect.