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The following is the title page of each of these
















With the approval of the family I did not include these books, nor others of general interest, in the privately printed catalogue, which was intended to describe only the contents of a special department of the library. But I undertook to search for the volume, first through Miss Sarah N. Randolph, who, just as I was about to call on her on the subject, died, and, after a lapse of some years and with steps that it is not necessary to detail, obtained it from Miss Randolph, her sister, then living at Shadwell, Va. The latter, in a communication dated July 27, 1895, states of Jefferson that "the idea he had at first was to compile


a book which would be valuable for the use of the Indians.”

This little book was one which occupied a great deal of Jefferson's attention, and the fol lowing statements and extracts from his letters directly bear upon its making.

On April 9, 1803, he wrote from Washington to Dr. Priestley, referring to Priestley's comparative view of Socrates and Jesus, that in a conversation with Dr. Rush in the years 1798 and 1799 he had promised some day to write a letter giving his view of the Christian system. This letter he had as yet only sketched out in his mind. It was evident that he considered the Gospels as having much extraneous matter and that by careful pruning there could be selected out those sayings which were absolutely the words of Jesus himself. After discussing the injustice done by these later additions, he says to Priestley, "you are the person who of all others would do it best and most promptly. You have all the materials at hand, and you put together with ease. I wish you could be induced to extend your late work to the whole subject."

In a letter of ten days later, April 19, 1803, to Edward Dowse, he writes that he considers "the moral precepts of Jesus as more pure, correct and sublime than those of the ancient philosophers.'

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Under date of April 21, 1803, Jefferson wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush, sending him the syllabus of an estimate of the merits of the doctrines of Jesus compared with those of others. This is the communication to which he had referred


in his letter to Dr. Priestley. In the letter accompanying the syllabus he tells Dr. Rush that he is sending this for his own eye, simply in performance of his promise, and indicates its confidential character in the following words: "And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am, moreover, averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public, because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavoured to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquest over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself to resist invasions of it in the case of others, or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own."

On January 29, 1804, Jefferson wrote to Priestley from Washington that he was rejoiced to hear that Priestley had undertaken to compare the moral doctrines of Jesus with those of the ancient philosophers. He writes: "I think you cannot avoid giving, as preliminary to the comparison, a digest of his moral doctrines, extracted in his own words from the Evangelists, and leaving out everything relative to his personal history and character. It would be short and precious. With a view to do this for my own satisfaction, I had sent to Philadelphia to get two testaments (Greek) of the same edition, and two English,


with a design to cut out the morsels of morality, and paste them on the leaves of a book, in the manner you describe as having been pursued in forming your Harmony. But I shall now get the thing done by better hands."

This is the first definite statement of Jefferson's purpose to prepare such a book, which he apparently at the time abandoned in the hope that Priestley would take it up. In the year 1808 Jefferson was greatly interested in the translation of the Septuagint made by Charles Thomson, the Secretary of the first Continental Congress, and wrote several communications to Thomson on the subject. In 1813 John Adams began a voluminous correspondence with Jefferson on religious subjects, the letters following each other very closely. Adams had access to a number of Priestley's letters written to various persons and in a communication dated at Quincy, July 22, 1813, he reminds Jefferson of his intention of preparing the work which he (Jefferson) had handed over to Priestley. He writes: "I hope you will still perform your promise to Dr. Rush. If Priestley had lived, I should certainly have corresponded with him."

On August 9, John Adams again writes to Jefferson, sending further extracts of letters of Priestley and saying that he did so because "I wish it may stimulate you to pursue your own plan which you promised to Dr. Rush."

In a letter to Adams written from Monticello, October 12, 1813, Jefferson gives a description of the volume as follows: "We must reduce our vol


ume to the simple Evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphiboligisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dung-hill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages."

It would appear from this that Jefferson made two such books, one a volume of forty-six pages which he later enlarged to the book which is here given.

Under date of January 29, 1815, Jefferson wrote from Monticello to Charles Clay: "Probably you have heard me say I had taken the four Evangelists, had cut out from them every text they had recorded of the moral precepts of Jesus, and arranged them in a certain order, and although they appeared but as fragments, yet fragments of the most sublime edifice of morality which had ever been exhibited to man." In this letter however Jefferson disclaims any intention of publishing this little compilation, saying: "I not only write nothing on religion, but rarely permit myself to speak on it."

Again, in a letter to Charles Thomson, written

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