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Letter from Thomas Jefferson

Letter To Mrs. Samuel H. Smith - Monticello, August 6, 1816

        _To Mrs. Samuel H. Smith_
        _Monticello, August 6, 1816_

        I have received, dear Madam, your very friendly letter of July
21st, and assure you that I feel with deep sensibility its kind
expressions towards myself, and the more as from a person than whom
no others could be more in sympathy with my own affections.  I often
call to mind the occasions of knowing your worth, which the societies
of Washington furnished; and none more than those derived from your
much valued visit to Monticello.  I recognize the same motives of
goodness in the solicitude you express on the rumor supposed to
proceed from a letter of mine to Charles Thomson, on the subject of
the Christian religion.  It is true that, in writing to the
translator of the Bible and Testament, that subject was mentioned;
but equally so that no adherence to any particular mode of
Christianity was there expressed, nor any change of opinions
suggested.  A change from what? the priests indeed have heretofore
thought proper to ascribe to me religious, or rather anti-religious
sentiments, of their own fabric, but such as soothed their
resentments against the act of Virginia for establishing religious
freedom.  They wished him to be thought atheist, deist, or devil, who
could advocate freedom from their religious dictations.  But I have
ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our
consciences, for which we were accountable to him, and not to the
priests.  I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of
another.  I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change
another's creed.  I have ever judged of the religion of others by
their lives, and by this test, my dear Madam, I have been satisfied
yours must be an excellent one, to have produced a life of such
exemplary virtue and correctness.  For it is in our lives, and not
from our words, that our religion must be read.  By the same test the
world must judge me.  But this does not satisfy the priesthood.  They
must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested
absurdities.  My opinion is that there would never have been an
infidel, if there had never been a priest.  The artificial structures
they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose
of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for
themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.
These, therefore, they brand with such nick-names as their enmity
chooses gratuitously to impute.  I have left the world, in silence,
to judge of causes from their effects; and I am consoled in this
course, my dear friend, when I perceive the candor with which I am
judged by your justice and discernment; and that, notwithstanding the
slanders of the saints, my fellow citizens have thought me worthy of
trusts.  The imputations of irreligion having spent their force; they
think an imputation of change might now be turned to account as a
holster for their duperies.  I shall leave them, as heretofore, to
grope on in the dark.

        Our family at Monticello is all in good health; Ellen speaking
of you with affection, and Mrs. Randolph always regretting the
accident which so far deprived her of the happiness of your former
visit.  She still cherishes the hope of some future renewal of that
kindness; in which we all join her, as in the assurances of
affectionate attachment and respect.