Selections from Jefferson’s Correspondence

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Author: Thomas Jefferson  | Date: 1785

To Timothy Pickering, on a Sermon by Doctor Channing

I THANK you for Mr. Channing’s discourse, which you have been so kind as to forward me. It is not yet at hand, but is doubtless on its way. I had, received it through another channel, and read it with high satisfaction. No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances toward rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned every-thing which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines, he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily, his disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from his lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr. Drake, has been a common one. The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel. In the present advance of truth, which we both approve, I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. As the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. We well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price-and Priestley, for example. So there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. They are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. These accounts are to be settled only with him who made us; and to him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom, also, he is the only rightful and competent judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.

In saying to you so much, and without reserve, on a subject on which I never permit myself to go before the public, I know that I am safe against, the infidelities which have so often betrayed my letters to the strictures of those for whom they were not written, and to whom I never meant to commit my peace. To yourself I wish every happiness, and will conclude, as you have done, in the same simple style of antiquity, da operam ut valeas; hoc mihi gratius facere nihil potes. MONTICELLO, 27 February, 1821.

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Chicago: Thomas Jefferson, "To Timothy Pickering, on a Sermon by Doctor Channing," Selections from Jefferson’s Correspondence Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=85A86F74CK4ZDGQ.

MLA: Jefferson, Thomas. "To Timothy Pickering, on a Sermon by Doctor Channing." Selections from Jefferson’s Correspondence, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=85A86F74CK4ZDGQ.

Harvard: Jefferson, T, 'To Timothy Pickering, on a Sermon by Doctor Channing' in Selections from Jefferson’s Correspondence. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=85A86F74CK4ZDGQ.