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Jefferson’s Famous Letter on the “Wall of Separation” Between Church and State
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THOMAS JEFFERSON. Newspaper. Aurora General Advertiser. [Philadelphia:] Published (Daily) at William Duane, Successor to Benjamin Franklin Bache, in Franklin-Court, Market-Street, February 1, 1802. 4 pp. The Danbury letters are on p. 2.

Inventory #25964       Price: $18,000

Responding to the Association’s letter congratulating him on his election to the Presidency and expressing its concern regarding the state of religious liberty in Connecticut, Jefferson observes:

Jefferson’s Response to the Danbury Baptist Association

To Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins and Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen,

     The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, gave me the highest satisfaction; my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

     Believing with you, that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation, in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural rights in opposition to his social duties.

     I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you, for yourselves, and your Religious Association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.

                                                            Thomas Jefferson

                                                            Jan. 1, 1802.

The Letter to Jefferson

The address of the Danbury Baptists Association in the state of Connecticut, assembled October 7, 1801. To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America.

Sir,

            Among the many million in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief magistracy in the United States: And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe that none are more sincere.

            Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty‐‐that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals‐‐that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions‐‐that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men‐‐should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.

            Sir, we are sensible that the president of the United States is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each state; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved president, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these states and all the world, till hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the chair of state out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for your arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you to sustain and support you enjoy administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to raise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.

And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

            Signed in behalf of the association,     Nehemiah Dodge
                                                                        Ephraim Robbins
                                                                        Stephen S. Nelson

Additional content includes an Aaron Burr effort to repeal the 1801 Judiciary Act, a proposed new Naturalization law, the President’s correspondence with the Dey of Algiers, and other political and military news.

Aurora General Advertiser / Philadelphia Aurora (1794-1824) was a daily newspaper founded as The General Advertiser, and Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Literary Journal, by Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769-1798), called “Young Lightning Rod” after his grandfather Benjamin Franklin. In the 1790s, the Aurora was the most popular Republican (actually, “Democratic Republican” newspaper) in the nation, reaching 1,700 subscribers. Bache was critical of both the Washington and Adams administrations, and other Federalist leaders and ideas. He caused outrage by publishing the text of the Jay Treaty in 1795 before it had been released officially. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote of Bache that “no editor did more to politicize the press in the 1790s.” Administration backlash against the Aurora contributed to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts; Bache was arrested in 1798 on charges of sedition and died of yellow fever while in prison awaiting trial in 1798. The equally colorful William Duane (1760-1835) served as publisher and editor until 1822. According to some sources, Thomas Jefferson attributed his victory in 1800 to the Aurora, which took as its motto, surgo ut prosim (“I rise that I might serve”).

Jefferson’s use of the phrase “wall of separation between Church & State” gave us the language most frequently used in interpreting the Constitution’s Establishment clause. After March 1802, Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” letter apparently was not published again until 1853, when it appeared in a collection of his writings.

Only two copies are found in auction records since 2006, and no others found from 2004 back at least another 25 years. Several other newspapers printed the letter in early 1802, but we are not aware of any having come on the market in the last 40 years.

Condition

Near Fine; a bright and attractive copy; expertly conserved with some infill to the upper corner of the first leaf, affecting a few letters of two advertisements.


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