Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

"That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the Son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe himself inspired from above, is very possible The whole religion of the Jews, inculcated on him from his infancy, was founded in the belief of divine inspiration. The fumes of the most disordered imaginations were recorded in their religious code, as special communications of the Deity; and as it could not but happen that, in the course of ages, events would now and then turn up to which some of these vague rhapsodies might be accommodated by the aid of allegories, figures, types, and other tricks upon words, they have not only preserved their credit with the Jews of all subsequent times, but are the foundation of much of the religions of those who have schismatized from them. Elevated by the enthusiasm of a warm and pure heart, conscious of the high strains of an eloquence which had not been taught him, he might readily mistake the corruscations of his own fine genius for inspirations of an higer order. This belief, carried, therefore, no more personal imputation, than the belief of Socrates, that himself was under the care and admonitions of a guardian Dæmon; and how many of our wisest men still believe in the reality of these inspirations, while perfectly sane on all other subjects. Excusing, therefore, on these considerations, those passages in the gospels which seem to bear marks of weakness in Jesus, ascribing to him what alone is consistent with the great and pure character of which the same writings furnish proofs, and to their proper authors their own trivialties and imbecilities, I think myself authorized to conclude the purity and distinction of his character, in opposition to the impostures which those authors would fix upon him."*

Again, in the letter first referred to, the apostles are charged with "stupidity" and "roguery," and we are informed that "of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphoeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus."

Now, so far as man is concerned, we mean not to question Mr. Jefferson's right to entertain these opinions. If it pleased him to mistake for the grand discoveries of an enlarged intellect, an incredulity which is quite as vulgar as a too ready belief: be it so. "To his own master" let him stand or fall; he has gone where human censure and human applause are alike indifferent to him; he has ere this discovered his mistakes, if any he made, on the subject of Christianity; but when our admiration of him is invoked, we do claim for ourselves even the same privilege which we have accorded to him-the privilege of having our opinions on the subject of Christianity; and as they are diametrically opposed to his, we shall take the liberty of withholding our admiration. We will not indeed imitate his example, and charge him with "stupidity," as he has charged

* Jefferson's Correspondence, vol. iv. p. 327.

the apostles; but we will say, and especially to our young countrymen, that Christianity may be true, even though Mr. Jefferson disbelieved it; we will say that men whose minds were at least equal to his, and whose lives were better, have believed it, after such a patient investigation as Mr. Jefferson had neither leisure nor learning enough to make. We caution them therefore not to be charmed into infidelity by the fascination of a name. We assure them that as scholars, and statesmen and gentlemen, they may reach all that Mr. Jefferson ever attained, without being obliged to pay for their elevation by the surrender of their faith in Christianity.

If on this subject nothing more remained to be said, no heavier imputation would rest on Mr. Jefferson's memory than that, in the opinion of some, he erred in judgment; but it is due to truth to add, that he was not content in silence to enjoy his own opinions, without an effort to infuse them into others: he was willing to labor in the work of proselyting, and we happen to know that he did so labor. The man who entertains doubts of the truth of Christianity, after honest and patient examination, is much to be pitied; and the best proof of his sincerity, who professes thus to be skeptical, will be found in the fact that he confines his doubts to himself. Unable (as every man must be) to demonstrate with absolute certainty that the Christian religion is untrue, he seeks not to make others share in the perplexities which embarrass him; he feels that there is no philanthropy in depriving a fellow creature of something, which, however doubtful, yet imparts comfort to him who believes it. Nor does such a man endeavor to give currency to his opinions by seeking to array, in their support, the imposing influence of high and honored names: he does not betray the spirit of a partizan ready to count his recruits, and mislead the thoughtless by the exhibition of a muster roll of mighty names. And finally, if he be really honest in his doubts; if the hatred of a bad heart be not mistaken for the perplexities of an embarrassed head, he will scorn the baseness of leaving behind him a written record implicating the departed, and not to be used until after his own death; so that, when produced, the calumniated will be past the power of denial, and the calumniator safe from the world's indignant expression of reprobation.

In Mr. Jefferson's " Ana,"* (which, our author informs us in his preface, were arranged by Mr. J., "and intended, no doubt, to be one day published," by his executor,) under the date of February 1st, 1800, appears the following statement:

"February the 1st. Doctor Rush tells me that he had it from Asa

* Jefferson's writings, vol. iv. p. 512.

Green, that when the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation, that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address, as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes, he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers, except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the States when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion.' "I know that Governeur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets, and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did."

6

If any man supposes this to be a fair representation of General Washington's opinions on the truth of the Christian religion, he may find means to correct his error in the perusal of a work lately given to the public, devoted expressly to the subject of Washington's religious belief, and reviewed in our pages; to that we refer him:* he may there find the injustice which Mr. Jefferson has here done to "the father of his country." Willing to insinuate that he was likeminded with himself, he yet shrinks from the responsibility of an explicit declaration, and screens himself under the convenient cover of "Doctor Rush tells me," and "Rush observes." But further, Thomas Jefferson knew General Washington as well as Mr. Morris did, if not better: his biographer informs us that he had with him "a long and intimate acquaintance, from the year 1769:" and during the four years that he was secretary of state, Mr. Jefferson himself says, "their intercourse was daily, confidential, and cordial." Vol. ii, p. 349. Why then, if he must record this rumor, does he not add, as a noble frankness would have prompted, that in his intercourse with his distinguished countryman, he had or had not seen the evidence of his unbelief? He had it in his power to speak from personal knowledge; why cite Mr. Morris at all, when he proves that, to his own mind at least, it was doubtful how far he was a credible witness; for he sneeringly remarks, that he "pretended to be in" the president's "secrets, and believed himself to be so?" If this sneer be not a gratuitous eruption of malignity toward Morris, then it is obvious that Mr. Jefferson did not himself suppose that Mr. Morris had the confidence of Washington. If so, honor required that he should not have used his testimony; and this conclusion loses none of its force

* McGuire's religious opinions of Washington.

from the fact, that Mr. Jefferson has recorded of this very Governeur Morris, that he was a "man shutting his eyes and his faith to every fact against his wishes, and believing every thing he desires, to be true." See Ana, p. 463.

The

A word now as to his proselyting spirit. The favorite project of Mr. Jefferson's latter days, was, as is well known, the establishment, in his native state, of a literary institution, which should surpass any of the higher seminaries of learning on this continent; and attaining deservedly to the name and character of an University, should attract students from all parts of the land. In this cause he labored with a perseverance which the weight of increasing years was not able to destroy. accomplishment of this object he was prepared to enrol among the most important achievements of his long and busy life; and among what he deemed the splendid trophies to his fame, which he was desirous should perpetuate his memory to posterity, he placed his agency in the creation of the University of Virginia: he ordered it to be inscribed upon the marble which covers his remains, that he was the "FATHER" of this institution. And his zeal in its behalf was of no sudden growth, for while the subject of founding the University was yet before the legislature, he requests a confidential correspondent to inform him of its progress and fate, and thus proceeds:

"I have only this single anxiety in the world. It is a bantling of forty years' birth and nursing; and if I can once see it on its legs, I will sing with sincerity and pleasure my nunc dimittas." Vol. ii. p. 400.

And now what was, in Mr. Jefferson's purpose, to be the character of this bantling, nursed so long and with such affectionate solicitude? Let Mr. Jefferson himself answer. In a letter to William Short, from which we have already quoted,* he thus speaks:

"The history of our University you know so far. Seven of the ten pavilions destined for the professors, and about thirty dormitories, will be completed this year, and three others, with six hotels for boarding, and seventy other dormitories, will be completed the next year, and the whole be in readiness then to receive those who are to occupy them. But means to bring these into place, and to set the machine into motion, must come from the legislature. An opposition, in the mean time, has been got up. That of our alma mater, William and Mary, is not of much weight. She must descend into the secondary rank of academies of preparation for the University. The serious enemies are the priests of the different religious sects, to whose spells on the human mind, its improvement is ominous. Their pulpits are

Jefferson's writings, vol, iv. p. 320.

[ocr errors]

now resounding with denunciations against the appointment of Doctor Cooper, whom they charge as a monotheist in opposition to their tri. theism. Hostile as these sects are, in every other point, to one another, they unite in maintaining their mystical theogony against those who believe there is one God only. The Presbyterian clergy are loudest; the most intolerant of all sects, the most tyrannical and ambitious; ready at the word of the lawgiver, if such a word could be now obtained, to put the torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere the flames in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus, because he could not find in his Euclid the proposition which has demonstrated that three are one, and one is three, nor subscribe to that of Calvin, that magistrates have a right to exterminate all heretics to the Calvinistic creed. They pant to re-establish, by law, that holy inquisition, which they can now only infuse into public opinion. We have most unwisely committed to the hierophants of our particular superstition the direction of public opinion, that lord of the universe. We have given them stated and privileged days to collect and catechize us, opportunities of delivering their oracles to the people in mass, and of moulding their minds as wax in the hollow of their hands. But in despite of their fulminations against endeavors to enlighten the general mind, to improve the reason of the people, and encourage them in the use of it, the liberality of this State will support this institution, and give fair play to the cultivation of reason. Can you ever find a more eligible occasion of visiting once more your native country, than that of accompanying Mr. Correa, and of seeing with him this beautiful and hopeful institution in ovo?"

It seems then that this mighty travail of forty years was to give to the youth of the United States an institution, made permanent by rich endowments, and cherished by national pride, in which they were to be taught, at least so far as Mr. Jefferson's influence could extend itself for that purpose, that "the priests of the different religious sects" were imposing "spells on the human mind:"-that the clergy of one of the most numerous and respectable denominations in the United States were panting to exercise a bloody tyranny over the souls and bodies of their fellow citizens; that the religion of Christ professed by so many of our countrymen was a "particular superstition;" that to "the hierophants" of that superstition, alias, the public teachers of Christianity, no opportunity should be afforded of addressing themselves to their fellow-beings on the subject of their immortal interests; that "stated and privileged days" on which to collect the people for this purpose should not be set apart and consecrated to this end, that is, that the Sabbath should be abolished; that God Almighty was not the "Lord of the Universe," for that most vague, and uncertain and fluctuating of all things changeable, viz. public opinion was the

« ÎnapoiContinuă »