Jefferson Letter to Baltimore Baptist, 1808

Jefferson Letter to the Members of the Baltimore Baptist Association, 1808

This letter was written in response to a letter from the Baltimore Baptist Association received by Jefferson after announcing his intent to retire from office at the close of his term in the spring of 1809. In the first letter, the Baptist Association apparently expressed its gratitude to Jefferson for his noted efforts to achieve religious disestablishment. In his response, Jefferson modestly acknowledges the efforts of “the many” who merit approbation. Interestingly, Jefferson characterizes as a “duty” that which was done to achieve religious freedom. In addition to Jefferson’s humble acceptance of the Baptist Association’s appreciation, this letter is significant because it expresses Jefferson’s concern for the mounting tension in the country caused by strained relations with Great Britain. Although Jefferson does not say what he fears the result of such strained relations will be, he does indicate that it likely will be serious enough to require the American people to once again unite their hearts and hands in preserving their new government and the freedoms, including religious liberty, secured by that government.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

October 17, 1808

I receive with great pleasure the friendly address of the Baltimore Baptist Association, and am sensible how much I am indebted to the kind dispositions which dictated it.

In our early struggles for liberty, religious freedom could not fail to become a primary object. All men felt the right, and a just animation to obtain it was exhibited by all. I was one only among the many who befriended its establishment, and am entitled but in common with others to a portion of that approbation which follows the fulfilment of a duty.

Excited by wrongs to reject a foreign government which directed our concerns according to its own interests, and not to ours, the principles which justified us were obvious to all understandings, they were imprinted in the breast of every human being; and Providence ever pleases to direct the issue of our contest in favor of that side where justice was. Since this happy separation, our nation has wisely avoided entangling itself in the system of European interests, has taken no side between its rival powers, attached itself to none of its ever-changing confederacies. Their peace is desirable; and you do me justice in saying that to preserve and secure this, has been the constant aim of my administration. The difficulties which involve it, however, are now at their ultimate term, and what will be their issue, time alone will disclose. But be it what it may, a recollection of our former vassalage in religion and civil government, will unite the zeal of every heart, and the energy of every hand, to preserve that independence in both which, under the favor of heaven, a disinterested devotion to the public cause first achieved, and a disinterested sacrifice of private interests will now maintain.

I am happy in your approbation of my reasons for determining to retire from a station, in which the favor of my fellow citizens has so long continued and supported me: I return your kind prayers with supplications to the same almighty Being for your future welfare and that of our beloved country.

Source: VIII The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private 137-38 (H. A. Washington ed., 1984)