[This post is the first of four from this one letter.]
I now return the sermon you were so kind as to inclose me, having perused it with attention. the reprinting it by me, as you have proposed, would very readily be ascribed to hypocritical affectation [artificial, pretended, offered only to impress], by those who, when they cannot blame our acts, have recourse to the expedient of imputing them to bad motives. this is a resource which can never fail them; because there is no act, however virtuous, for which ingenuity may not find some bad motive.
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Bad leaders will always find a way to criticize virtuous acts.
Dowse (1756–1828), a Massachusetts merchant, had forwarded a sermon by William Bennet, The Excellence of Christian Morality, which had been delivered at a meeting in Scotland. Something in the sermon suggested to Dowse its value in evangelizing the Indians in America, and he asked the President to reproduce it for use by American missionaries.
Jefferson read the sermon carefully and returned it, declining Dowse’s suggestion. Why?
1. As President, he avoided any theological favoritism.
2.His opponents would label him a hypocrite if he now championed this worthwhile effort.
3. Some people were so jaded and clever they could find sinister motives in even virtuous acts.