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Art. LX.

A Vindication of Thomas Jefferson
against the Charges contained in a
Pamphlet entitled “Serious Consi-
&c. By Grotius. 8vo.
47. New-York. Denniston.

HAVING noticed the several
publications against Mr. Jef-
ferson in our former numbers, we
proceed to examine those which
have appeared on his side, in this
very singular controversy.

Grotius proposes to inquire, first,
whether the deductions made by
his adversary are well drawn from
the premises; and, secondly, to
show strong evidences of the chris-
tianity of Mr. Jefferson, taken from
his own writings. He remarks that
the christian world is divided into a
great variety of sects, all differing
from each other in doctrines and
discipline, yet all agreeing in the
divinity of Christ, and mutually
denominating each other christians;

that Calvinists, Arminians, Uni-
versalists, Trinitarians, Arians, So-
cinians, Presbyterians, Episcopa-
lians and Roman Catholics, are all
comprehended under the general
name of christians, or believers in
the divinity of Christ; that the au-
thor of Serious Considerations has
unwarrantably endeavoured to re-
present a belief in a particular creed
as essential to constitute a christian;
and if Mr. Jefferson's sentiments
were really as he states them to be,
on certain points, yet it could not
be fairly inferred that he was a
deist, or one who wholly disbelieved
the scriptures, though he might, per-
haps, be deemed a heretic.

After these preliminary observa-
tions he proceeds to examine the
first proof exhibited of Mr. Jeffer-
son's infidelity, arising from his dis-
belief of the universality of the de-
luge recorded by Moses. —He thus
expresses himself.

“That it was not universal has been
the opinion of a number of christian di-
vines, and scholars of the first celebrity
for piety and learning, and whose or-
thodoxy has never been questioned. The
intention of the deluge was to destroy
the posterity of Adam, for their sins, ex-
cept the family of Noah. The Deity
does nothing in vain: to deluge that
part of the world which was not inha-
bited, might not have embraced the ob-
ject of his wise dispensations. It is true,
Moses says, that ‘all the high hills that
were under the whole heaven were co-
vered.’ But are we always to under-
stand the bible in a literal sense? Is not
its language frequently highly figurative?
St. Paul says, ‘I please all men in all
Does this mean that he pleased
all men with whom he communicated in all
things which were lawful? Or does it
mean that he pleased the wicked and the
righteous, and those whom he did not know
as well as those with whom he was ac-
in evil and good things indiscrimi-
nately? Surely no man of common
sense will hesitate to embrace the first
construction. The expression of Moses
may, in like manner, be considered as a
synecdoche, a figure in rhetoric, where
the whole is put for a part, or a part for
the whole. All the high hills under the

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whole heaven may be taken in a qualified
sense, and construed only to intend all the
high hills in the inhabited countries un-
der the heavens. The deluge might
therefore have been universal with re-
gard to mankind, but not so with re-
spect to the earth itself. The pious and
learned Dr. Burnet was of opinion, with
Mr. Jefferson, that there was not water
enough to cover the earth in its present
shape; and, in his sacred theory, he has
a singular hypothesis to account for it.
The celebrated Vossius says, ‘To effect
an universal deluge, many miracles must
have concurred—but God works no mi-
racles in vain. What need was there to
drown those lands where no men lived,
or are yet to be found.’
“But when I mention the name of Stil-
lingfleet, Bishop of Worcester, that great
champion of the christian church, on the
same side of the question, surely this su-
perficial writer must be covered with
“The Bishop's zeal for religion was
so great, that he fancied he discovered a
tendency to atheism in Mr. Locke's doc-
trine respecting innate ideas, and the
most remarkable controversy on record
ensued between those able writers. In
speaking of the deluge, this learned di-
vine expresses himself as follows: “I can-
not see,— says he, “any urgent necessity
from the scripture, to assert that the
flood did spread itself all over the surface
of the earth. That all mankind (those
in the ark excepted) were destroyed by it,
is most certain, according to the scrip-
tures. When the Lord said that he
would destroy man from the face of the
earth, it could not be any particular de-
luge of so small a country as Palestine,
as some have ridiculously imagined; for
we find an universal corruption in the
earth mentioned as the cause; an uni-
versal threatening upon all men for this
cause; and afterwards, a universal de-
struction expressed as the effect of this
flood. So, then, it is evident the flood
was universal with respect to mankind;
but from thence follows no necessity at
all for asserting the universality of it, as
to the globe of the earth, unless it be
sufficiently proved that the whole earth
was peopled before the flood, which I
despair of ever seeing proved; and what
reason can there be for extending the
flood beyond the occasion of it, which
was the destruction of mankind?
“The only probability, then, of as-
serting the universality of the flood as to

the globe of the earth, is from the de-
struction of all living creatures, together
with men. Now, though men might not
have spread themselves over the whole
surface of the earth, which beasts and
creeping things might, which were all
destroyed by the flood; for it is said,
“that all flesh that moved upon the earth,
both of sowl and of cattle, and of every
creeping thing that creepeth upon the
earth, and every man.”

Grotius next weighs the second
proof of Mr. Jefferson's deism, de-
duced from his opinions relative to
the origin and migration of nations,
and the observations contained in
the Notes on Virginia, concerning
the red men of America and Asia.
—The following passage shows his
opinion and explanation of this sub-

“The most authentic account of the
origin and migration of nations, is to be
found in the holy scriptures. The tra-
ditions and histories of all the ancient
nations of the world corroborate, in a
wonderful manner, the writings of
Moses: to them we must look up as a
light to guide us through the darkness
of antiquity; as a standard by which to
regulate our opinions of the early period
of the human race; and as a certain means
of solving many perplexing difficulties
which beset us in our researches into an-
cient history, and our views of the pre-
sent appearances of men and nations.
We are informed by Moses, that all men
are descended from one pair; and we
should be extremely puzzled to reconcile
with this fact, not only the great variety,
but the essential, radical, and entire dif-
ference of languages prevalent in the
world, did not scripture furnish us with
a solution of this otherwise inexplicable
“We are told, in the eleventh chap-
ter of Genesis, that sometime after the
flood, all the human race were assembled
together on a plain in the land of Shinar;
that the whole earth was of one lan-
guage, and of one speech; that they im-
piously attempted to counteract the in-
tentions of the Deity, by building a city
which should serve as a habitation for
them all, and prevent their dispersion
over the earth; that the Lord interfered
in a miraculous manner, and created a
diversity of languages among them, by
which means their work was left un-

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finished, and they were scattered abroad
upon the face of all the earth. This
great plain was then a common centre,
from which mankind diverged, in
every direction over the earth. How
many different languages were originally
established, we are not informed of by
the scriptures; but we have every reason
to believe, that they were as various as
the original families and tribes which
eventually expanded into nations. A
sameness of complexion and figure, no
doubt, existed, as well as an identity of
speech, and the diversities of colour which
now exist must be attributed to a va-
riety of physical and moral causes, but
principally to climate and the state of
society. That white was the original
complexion of the human species, is, I
believe, the opinion of the most intelli-
gent writers on this subject. The tribes
which emigrated to America, after the
confusion of tongues, might have settled
there, long before migrations took place
in the parts of Asia, now inhabited by
red men, and their complexion, would,
in course of time, be changed from white
to red, by the operation of natural causes.
There is no difficulty with respect to
the passage from Asia to America:
these two continents, if parted at all,
are only separated by a narrow strait.
We may therefore say, that the red men
of America are of greater antiquity than
the red men of Asia, or, in other words,
that red men were settled in America
before they were settled in Asia, with-
out impugning the authority of the scrip-
tures. Every body would smile, if the
writer would denominate one an infidel
for saying that the black men of Africa
are of greater antiquity than the black
men of Asia, and yet the cases are ex-
actly parallel.
“Mr. Jefferson infers, from the greater
number of radical languages among the
red men of America, that they are of
greater antiquity than the red men of
Asia; but he expressly confines the re-
mark to red men, and no where insinu-
ates that men were originally created in
America. That the population of Ame-
rica is very ancient, has not only been
deduced from the above circumstance,
but from many other considerations.
The Americans had no knowledge of the
people of the old continent, nor the latter
any account of the migration of the for-
mer to the new world. They wanted
those arts and inventions which, when
once discovered, are never forgotten;

such, for example, as those of wax and
oil for light, which are very ancient in
Europe and Asia, and are not only highly
useful, but necessary. And, it is said,
that the polished nations of the new
world, and particularly those of Mexico,
preserve, in their traditions and paintings,
the memory of the creation of the world,
the building of the tower of Babel, the
confusion of languages, and the disper-
sion of the people, although blended
with some fables; and that they had no
knowledge of the events which happen-
ed afterwards in Asia, in Africa, or in
Europe; although many of them were
so great and remarkable, that they could
not easily have gone from their memory.
The learned author of the History of
Mexico, the Abbe Clavigero, a christian
divine, is of opinion that the Americans
do not derive their origin from any
people now existing in the ancient world;
not only from the circumstances of the
great diversity of languages, but from the
total want of affinity between them and
any of the languages of the old world.
He therefore infers that the Americans
are descended from different families, dis-
persed after the confusion of tongues, and
have since been separated from those
others who peopled the countries of the
old continent.”

On the opinion of Mr. Jefferson
of the inferiority of the black men
of Africa to the whites of Europe
and America, after quoting the pas-
sage in Mr. Jefferson's Notes at
length, he thus comments.

“Now, it must require more than com-
mon acuteness to discover any thing in
the above observations which militates
against the Mosaic account of the creation.
A distinct race means a distinct genera-
tion or family; and does, by no means,
ex vi termini, exclude the idea of a com-
mon origin. If the blacks do not apper-
tain to the human race, then it is no
more anti-christian to say so, than it is to
assert it of the Orang Outang, or the
monkey. If they do belong to it, we
may suppose them a distinct race, made
so by time and circumstances, and infe-
rior in the endowments both of body and
mind to the whites, without impeaching
the doctrine of a first pair. We must
admit them ‘a variety of the same spe-
cies,’ and inferior in complexion and phy-
sical conformation; but all this may have
resulted from adventitious circumstances,

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and their original ancestors may have
been white. Sir William Jones, who
was a christian from conviction, and pos-
sessed of the most extensive acquirements
in language of any man living in his time,
asserts, from a comparison of the Sanscrit
and Arabic languages, that they ‘are
totally distinct, and must have been in-
vented by two different races of men,’ and
that ‘the Tartarian language has not
the least resemblance either to Arabic or
Sanscrit, and must have been invented by
a race of men wholly distinct from the
Arabs or Hindoos.’* And yet he con-
cludes that these three stocks had one
common root; or, in other words, pro-
ceeded from one pair. In like manner,
although Mr. Jefferson has asserted that
the blacks are inferior to the whites in
certain respects, yet, as he has, in une-
quivocal terms, admitted them to be of
the human race, we have every reason
to suppose that he believes that they and
the whites are branches of the same stem,
and children of the same common pa-
rents; especially, as in a letter to Ben-
jamin Banneker, which has been publish-
ed, he declares himself convinced “that
nature has given to our black brethren,
talents equal to those of other colours,
and the appearance of a want of them is
owing merely to the degraded condition
of their existence both in Africa and

The next proof adduced against
Mr. Jefferson, which Grotius ex-
amines, is the celebrated passage in
the “Notes on Virginia” concerning
religious toleration, or the right
which government has to interfere
in matters of conscience. After
citing the whole passage, he denies,
that Mr. Jefferson has any where
said “that it is a matter of indiffer-
ence what a man believes,” or that
such an opinion can be fairly in-
ferred from his book. If the spirit
and legitimate meaning of Mr Jef-
ferson's reasoning in favour of the
rights of conscience be duly at-
tended to, Grotius is of opinion,
that the scope of his arguments goes
only to prove,

“That government has no right to
punish mere opinions, but only the overt

resulting from them, which are con-
trary to the peace and good order of so-
ciety. To elucidate his ideas in the
strongest point of view, he takes the two
extremes of error respecting religion, Poly-
theism and Atheism,
and declares that go-
vernment has no right to punish them,
because they are opinions only, and not ac-
tions detrimental to the property or persons
of individuals.
I am persuaded that every
liberal, candid and intelligent friend of
civil and religious liberty will sanction
this sentiment; and yet would it be fair?
Would it not be dishonest to infer from
this that he supposed them, or either of
them, free from error or harmless in ten-
dency? If we can, with propriety, fix
the charge of Atheism upon Mr. Jeffer-
son from those expressions, we have also
equal reason to declare him a Polytheist,
because, in his illustration of his reason-
ing, he puts them on the same footing
with respect to freedom from persecution
—moreover, in the next preceding sen-
tence he expressly, and in the most pious
manner, recognizes the existence and at-
tributes of the Deity, and asserts the doc-
trine of human accountability, by declar-
ing that “We are answerable for the rights
of conscience to our God.”
In truth, the
only candid exposition of his meaning is,
that although atheistical and polytheisti-
cal opinions are fundamentally wrong
and have a mischievous tendency, yet,
that they ought not to be the subject of
legal coercion until they become injuri-
ous in action—that, in the mean time,
the oath of an atheist or polytheist ought
not to be admitted in the courts of jus-
tice, because he does not believe in that
God to whom an oath is an appeal. If
atheism, or an approbation of atheism, or
a leaning towards atheism, or a suspicion
of atheism, can be logically deduced from
this, then we can have no confidence in
the elements of just reasoning, or the
foundations of rational belief. All the
faculties of the mind must be unhinged
and jumbled together in chaotic dark-
ness. It will be seen by a marginal re-
ference in the “Notes on Virginia,” that
Mr. Jefferson has borrowed some of his
ideas on this subject from the writings of
the Rev. Dr. Philip Furneaux, one of the
ablest advocates of religious freedom.”

Where Mr. Jefferson treats of the
Indians of Virginia, and remarks
the state of society among them, as

   “* Asiatic Researches, vol. i. p. 125, 137. ”

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to crimes, he is of opinion that their
condition is happier without law,
than the Europeans who are sub-
jected to too much law; “the sheep
are happier of themselves, than un-
der the care of the wolves” —This
Grotius contends will not justify
the broad inference made by the
author of “Serious Considerations,”
that Mr. Jefferson supposes the hap-
piest state of man to be without law,
religion or government;
but that by
law was meant government, and by
too much law, an oppressive govern-
ment, or that a savage without law,
is happier than a civilised slave.
This is, certainly, a candid explana-
tion, though the speculative notions
of Rousseau and others, who, dis-
gusted with the vices and crimes of
the corrupt society of Europe, have
endeavoured to exhibit the superior
happiness and innocence of the
savage state, may have been present
to the mind of Mr. Jefferson.

Concerning the propriety of using
the bible as a school-book there has
been various and opposite opinions
among many good men. Grotius
does not admit the interpretation
given to the opinion of the writer of
the “Notes on Virginia,” and draws
an opposite inference from that of the
author of “Serious Considerations,”
from the language of the former.

“The reasons of Mr. Jefferson are
highly honourable to religion. ‘Instead
(says he) of putting the bible and testa-
ment into the hands of children, at an
age when their judgments are not suffi-
ciently matured for religious inquiries,’
&c. The plain inference is, that when their
judgments are sufficiently matured, then the
bible and testament ought to be put into their
—and is it not more respectful to
the holy scriptures to say that they
should be studied with ripe understand-
ings and enlightened minds, than to as-
sert that the faculties of infants are ade-
quate to this important task?”

Having thus discussed the proofs
which have been adduced from
written documents, he proceeds to
the examination of the oral and cir-

cumstantial evidence exhibited in
the cause. The letter to Mazzei,
ascribed to Mr. Jefferson, Grotius
alledges never to have been proved
to be genuine. If it is not genu-
ine, his antagonist may well ask,
why has Mr. Jefferson never denied
it? —His silence, if any thing is to
be inferred from it, is not in favour
of its spuriousness.

The conversation stated to have
taken place between Jefferson and
Mazzei, related by the latter to the
deceased Dr. Smith, Grotius regards
as liable to all the objections of
hearsay evidence. Supposing, how-
ever, the story to be true, he ar-
gues, “is it not susceptible of a
good as well as a bad meaning?”

“In my opinion, it may well admit of
three constructions: either as a sarcasm
upon christianity, the way in which you
take it, or as a sneer of this kind at the
infidelity of Mazzei. ‘What! you ex-
press a concern at the bad architecture
of a building intended for the purposes
of a religion you despise—for the worship
of a Being you represent to be a mere
man, born in the lowest style of poverty
and obscurity!’ or it may be considered
as a serious sentiment, that as ‘the Lord
dwelleth not in temples made with
hands’ —as he made his appearance in
the most humble state, costly and mag-
nificent churches are as nothing in his
sight, and are oftener monuments of hu-
man pride and vanity, than evidences of
sincere piety. I leave it to the good
sense and christian charity of my readers
to say which construction ought to be
adopted. It must be evident, after all,
that Mr. Jefferson's real meaning could
only be collected from the manner of his
and of this Mazzei was a
very incompetent judge. He was a
stranger to Mr. Jefferson; and it requires
a considerable acquaintance to infer, at
all times, from a man's manner, whether
he is serious or in jest. Besides, Mazzei
was a foreigner, and probably knew little
of the language in which the idea was

The other conversations and cir-
cumstantial evidence arising from
the opinions and characters of the
friends, associates, and correspon-

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dents of Mr. Jefferson, are also re-
garded as susceptible of very differ-
ent constructions from those made
by the author of “Serious Consi-
derations,” and, at best, as unsuit-
able and inadequate proof, to sup-
port the heavy charge he has made.

Several passages are then quoted,
and commented on, from the
“Notes on Virginia,” and the pre-
amble to an act for establishing re-
ligious freedom in that State, drawn
up by Mr. Jefferson, in 1786; and
from the frequent mention of the
Deity, his providence, and the holy
author of our religion,
it is inferred,
that Mr. Jefferson is a believer, or,
at least, that his Deism is extremely

The concluding portion of this
pamphlet is personal, and the mo-
tives of the writer of “Serious Con-
siderations,” his pretensions to li-
berality and candour, his profes-
sions and language, are animad-
verted upon with extreme severity.
He is charged as uttering willful
falsehoods, as being actuated by hell-
born malice, as attempting to make
religion subservient to the purposes
of political faction, as one of those
busy factious, and ambitious priests,
the Sacheverells of party, who deserve
the contempt and hatred of man-

We have endeavoured to give a
clear view of the arguments con-
tained in this pamphlet, in defence
of Mr. Jefferson. On which side
lies the truth, the public will deter-
mine, if they have not already made
up their decision.

To show the insufficiency of the
evidence adduced by his adversa-
ries, and the fallacy of their argu-
ments, is a different, and less diffi-
cult task than that of proving that
Mr. Jefferson is not a Deist.

Though the reasoning of Gro-
is, in general, ingenious and
forcible, the manner in which he
treats his antagonist has no claim to
our approbation. His harsh and

indecorous demeanour excites dis-
pleasure, and deserves reprehen-
sion. He should have exercised the
same candour and forbearance to-
wards the author of the “Serious
Considerations” which he wishes
to be observed towards Mr. Jeffer-
son. We did not, in that pam-
phlet, remark any thing which
could justify the opprobrious terms,
and foul imputations which Grotius
has lavished against its author.

Instead of wicked and malicious
motives, it would have been more
becoming, and more accordant with
probability and truth, to have as-
cribed the production to an impru-
dent and mistaken zeal, engaged in
a good cause. Truth requires no
weapons but those which are fur-
nished by reason, and it is ever in-
jured by causeless crimination and
illiberal abuse. But while pride or
prejudice prevents the granting of
any indulgence to an adversary, a
proper sense of his own dignity, as
well as of the subject in which he
is engaged, should lead a writer to
reject the language of contumely
and scorn.

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