Tag Archives: Christianity

Shall we evangelize the Indians? Part 1 of 4

[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.

“Mr. Lee’s creative energy and talent were a major factor
in making this critical event the success it was.”
Program Coordinator, Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jefferson will contribute greatly to the success of your event!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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Is Christmas Day any different?

A dislocation of my right wrist has for upwards of three months prevented me the honor of writing to you. I begin to use it a little for the pen, but it is with great pain.
To Charles William Frederick Dumas, 46,  Paris, Dec. 25, 1786

I am full of plans of emploiment when I get there. They chiefly respect the active functions of the body. To the mind I shall administer amusement chiefly. An only daughter and a numerous family of grandchildren will furnish me great resources of happiness.
To Charles Thompson, 58,  Washington, Dec. 25, 1808

I inclose you a copy of it, however, in the handwriting of one of my granddaughters for my dislocated wrist is failing to …
To Joseph C. Cabell, 33, Monticello, Dec. 25, 1820

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What do these three excerpts spanning 34 years have to do with Christmas? Absolutely nothing. But all three were written on Christmas day. As nearly as I can discern from handwritten copies, none refer to the Christian holiday.
One web site displays 71 letters dated December 25 among a collection of Thomas Jefferson’s papers, the vast majority written by Jefferson to others. I picked excerpts from the earliest one listed in 1786, one in-between, 1808, and one of the latter ones, from 1820.
I suspect a perusal of all his letters of that date would reveal little or no mention of Christmas. Although Jefferson confessed a strong preference for the moral teachings of Jesus, he did not regard Jesus as divine. As such, the Christian holiday marking Jesus’ birth would have had no significance for Jefferson. December 25 was just another day to him.
The first letter, written when Jefferson was minister to France, details some commercial and financial issues relative to the U.S. The dislocated wrist resulted from a fall he took as he escorted Maria Conway around Paris.
The second letter describes Jefferson’s much-anticipated retirement from public life.
The third appears to deal with issues related to the University of Virginia. He needed a granddaughter’s help to copy and forward some necessary documents. That pesky wrist again …
Not a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” in the bunch!

Thomas Jefferson can speak to your audience on religious liberty!
About Christmas Day, not so much.

Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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