Tag Archives: Privacy
to the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, & believing he never claimed any other. .. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance [support] the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that Inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed.
To Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders pick and choose what they will believe.
In writing to his old friend and confidante, Jefferson expressed views very similar to those in his letter to Edward Dowse, the source of the preceding four posts. He expressed his devotion to Jesus, asserted his own Christianity, and warned his friend to keep the matter between the two of them and explained why.
As “to the corruptions of Christianity,” these would be everything in the four gospels that Jefferson thought shouldn’t be there (the unprovable, the miraculous and anything divine), ‘fake news’ in 2018 parlance. His version of Christianity was devotion to Jesus the man, only, and his teachings.
Jefferson did not want to share his “religious tenets” with the public. To do so would support the position of those who thought they had a right to know those beliefs. The Constitution and laws were properly limited to people’s actions only, not their thoughts. No individual or public forum had the right to inquire into what the Constitution decreed as private.
If you care to wade through it, Jefferson enclosed this document with his letter, “Doctrines of Jesus Compared with Others.”
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… a certain description of persons are so industrious in misconstruing & misrepresenting every word from my pen, that I must pray you, after reading this, to destroy it, that no accident happening to it may furnish matter for new slanders.
To James Cheetham, January 17, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thin-skinned leaders are wary of adding fuel to the fire.
Cheetham asked Jefferson’s help in procuring a certain 1794 document for a history he was writing of that period. The President gave his thoughts on the matter, including reference to another source published in 1796 which contained a verbatim account of the document’s contents.
The document’s subject might arouse controversy, even nine years later. Jefferson hated controversy, though plenty came his way. He could be very thin-skinned at times and insisted Cheetham destroy this letter after reading it, to deprive his political enemies of any more material. Still, Jefferson kept his own copy of the letter, as he did with all his correspondence.