Thomas Paine.

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of changing your opinion. It is written to satisfy you, and
some other friends whom I esteem, that my disbelief of the
Bible is founded on a pure and religious belief in God ; for
in my opinion the Bible is a gross libel against the justice
and goodness of God, in almost every part of it.

Thomas Paine.




\To the Editor of the " National Intelligencer" Federal Citj/.]

Towards the latter end of last December I received a
letter from a venerable patriot, Samuel Adams, dated Bos-
ton, Nov. 30. It came by a private hand, which I suppose
was the cause of the delay. I wrote Mr. Adams an answer,
dated Jan. ist, and that I might be certain of his receiving
it, and also that I might know of that reception, I desired a

' The Hon. Samuel Adams (1722-18O3) was from the Stamp Act agitation of
1764 to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 the pre-eminent revolutionary
leader in Massachusetts, and General Gage was given orders to send him over
to London, where a newspaper predicted that his head would appear on Temple
Bar. He was sent by Massachusetts, with his cousin, John Adams, afterwards
President, to the first Continental Congress (1774), where he was suspected,
with justice, of being favorable to separation from England. When Paine
published his famous appeal for American Independence (January 10, 1776),
Samuel Adams was the first member of the Congress at his side, and a cordial
lifelong relation existed between the two. It is to my mind certain that these
two men were the real pioneers of American Independence, and they were both
inspired therein by their widely different religious sentiments. Samuel Adams
was the son of a deacon of the Old South Church, Boston, who sent his son to
Harvard College with the hope that he would graduate into a minister. The
son had no taste for theology, but he made up for it by retaining through all his
career as a lawyer and public man a rigid Puritanism, of which the first article
was hatred of the British system of royalty and prelacy. While Adams's desire
for American independency was largely an inheritance from New England
Puritans, Paine beheld in it a means of establishing a Republic based on the
principles of Quakerism, — the divine Light in every man by virtue of which all
were equal. Samuel Adams died October 2, 1803. The correspondence here
given was printed in the National Intelligencer, Washington City, February 2,
1803, as one of a series of Ten Letters addressed to " The Citizens of the
United States " on his return after his fifteen eventful years in Eiirope. These
Letters were printed in a pamphlet iu London, 1804, by his friend Thomas Clio
Rickman, whose task, however, was achieved under sad intimidation. Rick-
man's preface opens with the words : " The following little work would not
have been published, had there been anything in it the least offending against
the government or individuals." Under this deadly fear the much prosecuted
Rickman mutilated Paine's letter to Adams a good deal. I have been fortim-
ate in being able to print the letter from Paine's own manuscript, which was
recently discovered among the papers of George Bancroft, the historian, when
they passed into the possession of the Lenox Library, New York, to whose ex-
cellent librarian I owe thanks for this and other favors. — Editor,


friend of mine at Washington to put it under cover to some
friend of his at Boston, and desire him to present it to Mr.
Adams. The letter was accordingly put under cover while
I was present, and given to one of the clerks of the post
oflfice to seal and put in the mail. The clerk put it in his
pocket book, and either forgot to put it into the mail, or
supposed he had done so among other letters. The post-
master general, on learning this mistake, informed me of it
last Saturday, and as the cover was then out of date, the
letter was put under a new cover, with the same request,
and forwarded by the post. I felt concern at this accident,
lest Mr. Adams should conclude I was unmindful of his
attention to me ; and therefore, lest any further accident
should prevent or delay his receiving it, as well as to relieve
myself from that concern, I give the letter an opportunity
of reaching him by the newspapers. I am the more induced
to do this, because some manuscript copies have been taken
of both letters, and therefore there is a possibility of imper-
fect copies getting into print ; and besides this, if some of the
Federal[ist] printers (for I hope they are not all base alike)
could get hold of a copy, they would make no scruple of
altering it, and publishing it as mine. I therefore send
you the original letter of Mr. Adams, and my own copy of
the answer.

Thomas Paine.

Federal City.

Boston, Nov. 30, 1802.

I have frequently with pleasure reflected on your services
to my native and your adopted country. Your Common
Sense and your Crisis unquestionably awakened the public
mind, and led the people loudly to call for a Declaration of
our national Independence. I therefore esteemed you as a
warm friend to the liberty and lasting welfare of the human
race. But when I heard that you had turned your mind to
a defence of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and
more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious
to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so


great a part of the citizens of the United States. The peo-
ple of New England, if you will allow me to use a scripture
phrase, are fast returning to their first love. Will you ex-
cite among them the spirit of angry controversy, at a time
when they are hastening to unity and peace ? I am told
that some of our newspapers have announced your intention
to publish an additional pamphlet upon the principles of
your Age of Reason. Do you think that your pen, or the
pen of any other man, can unchristianize the mass of our
citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to
assist you in so bad a cause ? We ought to think ourselves
happy in the enjoyment of opinion without the danger of
persecution by civil or ecclesiastical law.

Our friend, the President of the United States,' has been
calumniated for his liberal sentiments, by men who have
attributed that liberality to a latent design to promote the
cause of infidelity. This and all other slanders have been
made without a shadow of proof. Neither religion nor
liberty can long subsist in the tumult of altercation, and
amidst the noise and violence of faction.
Felix qui cautus.

Samuel Adams.

Mr. Thomas Paine.

My Dear and Venerable Friend ^Samuel Adams:

I received with great pleasure your friendly and affection-
ate letter of November 30, and I thank you also for the
frankness of it. Between men in pursuit of truth, and whose
object is the Happiness of Man both here and hereafter,
there ought to be no reserve. Even Error has a claim to
indulgence, if not to respect, when it is believed to be truth.
I am obliged to you for your affectionate remembrance of
what you stile my services in awakening the public mind to
a declaration of Independance, and supporting it after it was
declared. I also, like you, have often looked back on those

' Thomas Jefiferson.


times, and have thought that if independance had not been
declared at the time it was, the public mind could not have
been brought up to it afterwards. It will immediately occur
to you, who were so intimately acquainted with the situation
of things at that time, that I allude to the black times of
seventy-six ; for though I know, and you my friend also
know, they were no other than the natural consequence of
the military blunders of that campaign, the country might
have viewed them as proceeding from a natural inability to
support its Cause against the enemy, and have sunk under
the despondency of that misconceived Idea. This was the
impression against which it was necessary the Country should
be strongly animated.

I come now to the second part of your letter, on which I
shall be as frank with you as you are with me.

" But, (say you) when I heard you had turned your mind
to a defence of Infidelity I felt myself much astonished &c."
— What, my good friend, do you call believing in God
infidelity? for that is the great point maintained in The Age
of Reason against all divided beliefs and allegorical divini-
ties.' The bishop of Landaff (Doctor Watson) not only ac-
knowledges this, but pays me some compliments upon it (in
^is answer to the second part of that work). " There is (says
me) a philosophical sublimity in some of your Ideas when speak-
fngof the Creator of the Universe."

What then (my much esteemed friend for I do not respect
you the less because we differ, and that perhaps not much,
in religious sentiments), what, I ask, is this thing called
infidelity? If we go back to your ancestors and mine three
or four hundred years ago, for we must have had fathers and
grandfathers or we should not be here, we shall find them
praying to Saints and Virgins, and believing in purgatory
and transubstantiation ; and therefore all of us are infidels
according to our forefathers' belief. If we go back to times
more ancient we shall again be infidels according to the
belief of some other forefathers.

' The ten concluding words of this sentence were omitted from Rickman's
edition, the close being " in the work alluded to." — Editor.


The case my friend is, that the World has been over-run
with fable and creeds of human invention, with sectaries of
whole Nations against all other Nations, and sectaries of those
sectaries in each of them against each other. Every sectary,
except the quakers, has been a persecutor. Those who filed
from persecution persecuted in their turn, and it is this con-
fusion of creeds that has filled the World with persecution
and deluged it with blood. Even the depredation on your
commerce by the barbary powers sprang from the Cruisades
of the church against those powers. It was a war of creed
against creed, each boasting of God for its author, and revil-
ing each other with the name of Infidel. If I do not believe
as you believe, it proves that you do not believe as I believe,
and this is all that it proves.

There is however one point of Union wherein all religions
meet, and that is in the first article of every Man's Creed,
and of every Nation's Creed, that has any Creed at all : I be-
lieve in God. Those who rest here, and there are millions
who do, cannot be wrong as far as their Creed goes. Those
who chuse to go further may be wrong, for it is impossible
that all can be right, since there is so much contradiction
among them. The first therefore are, in my opinion, on the
safest side.

I presume you are so far acquainted with ecclesiastical his-
tory as to know, and the bishop who has answered me has
been obliged to acknowledge the fact, that the books that
compose the New Testament were voted by Yeas and Nays
to be the Word of God, as you now vote a law, by the popish
Councils of Nice and Laodocia about 14S0 years ago. With
respect to the fact there is no dispute, neither do I mention
it for the sake of controversy. This Vote may appear
authority enough to some, and not authority enough to
others. It is proper however that everybody should know
the fact.'

' This paragraph was omitted by Rickman with a footnote saying : " A para-
graph of eleven lines is here omitted, it being a principle with the Editor to
offend neither the government nor individuals. Its insertion is also unnecessary,
as the curious reader will find it answered in a way well worth his notice by the


With respect to The Age of Reason, which you so much
condemn, and that I believe without having read it, for you
say only that you heard of it, I will inform you of a Circum-
stance, because you cannot know it by other means.

I have said in the first page of the First Part of that work
that it had long been my intention to publish my thoughts
upon Religion, but that I had reserved it to a later time of
life. I have now to inform you why I wrote it and published
it at the time I did.

/ In the first place, I saw my life in continual danger. My
iiriends were falling as fast as the guilleotine could cut their
/heads off, and as I every day expected the same fate, I
resolved to begin my Work. I appeared to myself to be on
my death-bed, for death was on every side of me, and I had
no time to lose. This accounts for my writing it at the time
I did ; and so nicely did the time and the intention meet,
that I had not finished the first part of that Work more than
six hours before I was arrested and taken to prison. Joel
Barlow was with me and knows the fact.

In the second place, the people of france were running
headlong into Atheism, and I had the work translated and
published in their own language to stop them in that carreer,
and fix them to the first article (as I have before said) of
every man's Creed who has any Creed at all, / believe in God.
I endangered my own life, in the first place, by opposing in
the Convention the execution of the king, and by labouring
to shew they were trying the Monarchy and not the Man,
and that the crimes imputed to him were the crimes of the
monarchical ' system ; and I endangered it a second time by
opposing Atheism ; and yet some of your priests, for I do not
I believe that all are perverse, cry out, in the war-whoop of
\monarchical priestcraft, What an Infidel, what a wicked Man,
^Thomas Paine ! They might as well add, for he believes
iirGod and is against shedding blood.

bishop of LlandafF. See his apology for the Bible, from page 300 to 307." The
title " Age of Reason" is also suppressed in the next paragraph, and elsewhere.
— Editor,
' This word is omitted by Rickman, — Editor.


But all this war-whoop of the pulpit ' has some concealed
object. Religion is not the Cause, but is the stalking horse.
They put it forward to conceal themselves behind it. It is
not a secret that there has been a party composed of the
leaders of the federalists, for I do not include all federalists
with their leaders, who have been working by various means
for several years past to overturn the federal Constitution
established on the representative system, and place Govern-
ment in the new World on the corrupt system of the old."
To accomplish this, a large standing army was necessary,
and as a pretence for such an army the danger of a foreign
invasion must be bellowed forth from the pulpit, from the
press, and by their public orators.

I am not of a disposition inclined to suspicion. It is in
its nature a mean and cowardly passion, and upon the whole,
even admitting error into the case, it is better, I am sure it
is more generous, to be wrong on the side of confidence
than on the side of suspicion.' But I know as a fact that
the english Government distributes annually fifteen hundred
pounds sterling among the presbyterian ministers in Eng-
land and one thousand among those of Ireland ; * and when
I hear of the strange discourses of some of your ministers
and professors of Colleges, I cannot, as the quakers say, find
freedom in my mind to acquit them. Their anti-revolution-
ary doctrines invite suspicion even against one's will, and in
spite of one's charity to believe well of them.

As you have given me one scripture phrase I will give you
another for those ministers. It is said in Exodus xxii. 28,
" Thou shalt not revile the Gods nor curse the ruler of thy
people." But those ministers, such I mean as Dr. Emmons,'

' The words " of the pulpit " omitted by Riclcman. — Editor,

' The preceding fourteen words omitted by Rickman. — Editor.

'The words "it is better" and "on the side of Confidence than" are
dropped out of the sentence in Rickman's edition. — Editor.

* See vol. iii. p. 85, of my edition of Paine's Writings, where the amounts are
stated as £1^00 to the dissenting Ministers in England, and;^8oo to those of
Ireland. — The preceding 29 words, and the remainder of this parE^raph, are
omitted by Rickman. — Editor

' Nathaniel Emmons, D.D. (1745-1840), fifty-four years minister of the


curse ruler and people both, for the majority are, politically,
the people, and it is those who have chosen the ruler whom
they curse. As to the first part of the verse, that of not re-
viling the Gods, it makes no part of my scripture. I have
but one God."

Since I began this letter, for I write it by piece-meals as I
have leisure, I have seen the four letters that passed between
you and John Adams. In your first letter you say, " Let
divines and Philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their
endeavours to renovate the age by inculcating in the minds
of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philan-
thropy" Why, my dear friend, this is exactly my religion,
and is the whole of it. That you may have an Idea that
The Age of Reason (for I believe you have not read it) incul-
cates this reverential fear and love of the Deity I will give
you a paragraph from it.

" Do we want to contemplate his power ? We see it in the im-
mensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wis-
dom : We see it in the unchangeable order by which the
incomprehensible Whole is governed. Do we want to contem-
plate his munificence ? We see it in the abundance with which
he fills the Earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy ? We
see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the un-

As I am fully with you in your first part, that respecting
the Deity, so am I in your second, that of universal philan-
thropy ; by which I do not mean merely the sentimental
benevolence of wishing well, but the practical benevolence
of doing good. We cannot serve the Deity in the manner
we serve those who cannot do without that service. He
needs no service from us. We can add nothing to eternity.
But it is in our power to render a service acceptable to him,
and that is not by praying, but by endeavouring to make

Franklin, Mass., Congregational Church. He was a vehement Federalist, and
assailant of President Jefferson. — Editor,

' This and the preceding sentence are omitted by Rickman. — Editor.


his creatures happy. A man does not serve God when he
prays, for it is himself he is trying to serve ; and as to hiring
or paying men to pray, as if the Deity needed instruction, it
is, in my opinion, an abomination. One good schoolmaster
is of more use and of more value than a load of such persons
as Dr. Emmons and some others.'

You, my dear and much respected friend, are now far in the
vale of years ; I have yet, I believe, some years in store, for
I have a good state of health and a happy mind, and I take
care of both, by nourishing the first with temperance and
the latter with abundance. This, I believe, you will allow
to be the true philosophy of life. You will see by my third
letter to the Citizens of the United States that I have been
exposed to, and preserved through, many dangers ; but in-
stead of buffetting the Deity with prayers as if I distrusted
him, or must dictate to him,' I reposed myself on his pro-
tection ; and you, my friend, will find, even in your last
moments, more consolation in the silence of resignation
than in the murmuring wish of a prayer.

In every thing which you say in your second letter to
John Adams, respecting our Rights as Men and Citizens in
this World, I am perfectly with you. On other points we
have to answer to our Creator and not to each other. The
key of heaven is not in the keeping of any sect, nor ought
the road to it be obstructed by any. Our relation to each
other in this World is as Men, and the Man who is a friend
to Man and to his rights, let his religious opinions be what
they may, is a good citizen, to whom I can give, as I ought
to do, and as every other ought, the right hand of fellow-
ship, and to none with more hearty good will, my dear
friend, than to you.

Thomas Paine.

Federal City, January i, 1803.

' This and the preceding sentence omitted by Rickman. — Editor.

' This and the seventeen preceding words omitted by Rickman. — Editor.



It is a matter of surprise to some people to see Mr.
Erskine act as counsel for a crown prosecution commenced
against the rights of opinion. I confess it is none to me,
notwithstanding all that Mr. Erskine has said before ; for it
is difficult to know when a lawyer is to be believed : I have
always observed that Mr. Erskine, when contending as
counsel for the right of political opinion, frequently took
occasions, and those often dragged in head and shoulders,
to lard, what he called the British Constitution, with a great
deal of praise. Yet the same Mr. Erskine said to me in con-

' " A Letter to the Hon, Thomas Erskine, on the Prosecution of Thomas
Williams for publishing the Age of Reason. By Thomas Paine, Author of
Common Sense, Rights of Man, etc. With his Discourse at the Society of the
Theophilanthropists. Paris ; Printed for the Author." This pamphlet was
carried through Barrois' English press in Paris, September 1797, and is here
repriiited from an original copy. The Prosecution (Howells' State Trials, vol.
26,) was not technically instituted by the Crown, though in collusion with it, a
Special Jury being secured. The accusers were the new " Society for carrying
into effect His Majesty's Proclamation against Vice and Immorality," Erskine,
who had defended Paine, on his trial for the " Rights of Man,'' and had gained
popularity by his successful defence of others accused of sedition, was sagaciously
retained by the Society, whose means were unlimited, while poor Williams sent
out the following appeal :

" T, Williams, Bookseller, No, 8 Little Turnstile, Holbom, Being at this
time under a prosecution at common law, for selling The Age of Reason, and
not possessing the means of legal defence, hopes he will not be deemed obtrusive
in making his situation known to the Friends of Liberty, both civil and religious.
His case, he presumes, requires not a long explanation. It is not whether the
doctrines of the book above named are proper or improper ; nor whether the
selling a book in the ordinary course of business can be considered as an evi-

VOL. IV.-X4 20g


versation, " were government to begin de novo in England,
they never would establish such a damned absurdity, [it was
exactly his expression] as this is." Ought I then to be sur-
prised at Mr, Erskine for inconsistency ?

In this prosecution, Mr. Erskine admits the right of con-
troversy ; but says that the Christian religion is not to be
abused. This is somewhat sophistical, because while he
admits the right of controversy, he reserves the right of
calling the controversy abuse : and thus, lawyer-like, undoes
by one word what he says in the other. I will however in
this letter keep within the limits he prescribes ; he will find
here nothing about the Christian religion ; he will find only
a statement of a few cases which shew the necessity of ex-
amining the books handed to us from the Jews, in order to
discover if we have not been imposed upon ; together with
some observations on the manner in which the trial of
Williams has been conducted. If Mr, Erskine denies the
right of examining those books, he had better profess him-
self at once an advocate for the establishment of an Inquisi-
tion, and the re-establishment of the Star-chamber.

Thomas Paine.

dence of his own belief ; but whether a system of prosecution, on pretence of re-
ligion, in direct opposition to that liberality of sentiment which, to the honour
of modern times, has been so widely diffused, shall receive encouragement, by
being weakly opposed. Subscriptions will be received by J. Ashley, shoe-
maker, No. 6 High Holborn ; C. Cooper, grocer, New Compton-st., Soho ; G.
Wilkinson, printer, No. 115 Shoreditch; J. Rhynd, printer, Ray-st., Clerken-
well ; R. Hodgson, hatter. No. 29 Brook-st., Holborn.''

So humble were they who collected their coppers to begin the long war for
religious liberty against the powerful league whose gold had taken away their
leader. The defence was undertaken by Stephen Kyd (once prosecuted for
sedition), the solicitor being John Martin, who served notice on the prosecution
that it would be " required to produce a certain book described in the said in-

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe writings of Thomas Paine; → online text (page 20 of 51)