A promise to a friend sometime ago, executed but lately, has placed my religious creed on paper. I am desirous it should be perused by three or four particular friends, with whom tho’ I never desired to make a mystery of it, yet no occasion has happened to occur of explaining it to them. it is communicated for their personal satisfaction, & to enable them to judge of the truth or falsehood of the libels published on that subject. when read, the return of the paper with this cover is asked.
To Henry Dearborn and Levi Lincoln, April 23, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders trust close associates with personal revelation.
In the preceding post, Jefferson shared his personal religious beliefs, in the form of a Syllabus, with an old friend, Benjamin Rush. In this letter, he shared that same information with two of his Cabinet members, Secretary of War Dearborn and Attorney General Lincoln.
Although Jefferson believed his personal views should remain private, he had no hesitation in sharing them with close friends. Writing the Syllabus for Dr. Rush also gave him the opportunity to send copies to several trusted associates. Jefferson was widely criticized in the opposition press on the subject of religion. He could not change what his opponents thought of him, but he did care what his friends thought. Sharing this very private, personal information would allow his friends “to judge of the truth or falsehood” of what they read in the papers.
Always sensitive to criticism and wary of adding fuel to his opponent’s fire, he insisted Dearborn and Lincoln return their copies of the Syllabus along with this cover letter.