I … learnt the death of Dr. Priestly … [and] request that you will be so kind as to take measures to prevent my letter & syllabus from ever getting into other hands. you know that if I write as a text that two and two are four, it serves to make volumes of sermons of slander and abuse.
To Thomas Cooper, February 24, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thin-skinned leaders shouldn’t add fuel to the fire.
Jefferson had sent his comparison of Jesus and other philosophers to Joseph Priestly, who had since died. The President guarded closely his personal views on religion and shared them only with very few trusted friends. Both Cooper and Priestly were in that select company. He asked Cooper’s help in keeping those private papers private.
Jefferson was always sensitive to criticism, convinced his political opponents would twist anything against him. In this example, he claimed that if he wrote publicly two plus two equaled four, his enemies would make that the basis for volumes of abuse.