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Letter from Thomas Jefferson

Letter To N. G. Dufief - Monticello, April 19, 1814


        _To N. G. Dufief_
        _Monticello, April 19, 1814_


        DEAR SIR, -- Your favor of the 6th instant is just received,
and I shall with equal willingness and truth, state the degree of
agency you had, respecting the copy of M. de Becourt's book, which
came to my hands.  That gentleman informed me, by letter, that he was
about to publish a volume in French, "Sur la Creation du Monde, un
Systeme d'Organisation Primitive," which, its title promised to be,
either a geological or astronomical work.  I subscribed; and, when
published, he sent me a copy; and as you were my correspondent in the
book line in Philadelphia, I took the liberty of desiring him to call
on you for the price, which, he afterwards informed me, you were so
kind as to pay him for me, being, I believe, two dollars.  But the
sole copy which came to me was from himself directly, and, as far as
I know, was never seen by you.


        I am really mortified to be told that, _in the United States of
America_, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of
criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question
about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate.
Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor
whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may
buy?  And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our
citizens?  Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to
be cut or stretched?  Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a
layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what
we are to read, and what we must believe?  It is an insult to our
citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and
blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of
truth and reason.  If M. de Becourt's book be false in its facts,
disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it.  But, for God's
sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.  I know little of
its contents, having barely glanced over here and there a passage,
and over the table of contents.  From this, the Newtonian philosophy
seemed the chief object of attack, the issue of which might be
trusted to the strength of the two combatants; Newton certainly not
needing the auxiliary arm of the government, and still less the holy
author of our religion, as to what in it concerns him.  I thought the
work would be very innocent, and one which might be confided to the
reason of any man; not likely to be much read if let alone, but, if
persecuted, it will be generally read.  Every man in the United
States will think it a duty to buy a copy, in vindication of his
right to buy, and to read what he pleases.  I have been just reading
the new constitution of Spain.  One of its fundamental basis is
expressed in these words: "The _Roman Catholic_ religion, the only
true one, is, and always shall be, that of the Spanish nation.  The
government protects it by wise and just laws, and prohibits the
exercise of any other whatever." Now I wish this presented to those
who question what you may sell, or we may buy, with a request to
strike out the words, "Roman Catholic," and to insert the
denomination of their own religion.  This would ascertain the code of
dogmas which each wishes should domineer over the opinions of all
others, and be taken, like the Spanish religion, under the
"protection of wise and just laws." It would shew to what they wish
to reduce the liberty for which one generation has sacrificed life
and happiness.  It would present our boasted freedom of religion as a
thing of theory only, and not of practice, as what would be a poor
exchange for the theoretic thraldom, but practical freedom of Europe.
But it is impossible that the laws of Pennsylvania, which set us the
first example of the wholesome and happy effects of religious
freedom, can permit the inquisitorial functions to be proposed to
their courts.  Under them you are surely safe.


        At the date of yours of the 6th, you had not received mine of
the 3d inst., asking a copy of an edition of Newton's Principia,
which I had seen advertised.  When the cost of that shall be known,
it shall be added to the balance of $4.93, and incorporated with a
larger remittance I have to make to Philadelphia.  Accept the
assurance of my great esteem and respect.