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The "Wall of Separation..." letter by Jefferson...

Item # 200231

February 1, 1802

AURORA GENERAL ADVERTISER, Philadelphia, February 1, 1802, published by Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Ben Franklin. This issue was printed on Ben Franklin's printing press.
This is one of the more historic & rare newspapers we have come across in over 35 years in the business, as page 2 contains the very historic letter, signed in type by the President: THOMAS JEFFERSON, to the Danbury Baptist Association, which contains the now-famous phrase: "...a wall of separation between church and state..." (see the photos). Although readable in the photos below, we reprint the entire text:

"The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, gave me the highest satisfaction; my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing. Believing with you, that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation, in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural rights in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and belessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you, for yourselves, and your Religious Association, assurances of my high respect and esteem. THOMAS JEFFERSON. Jan. 1, 1802"

This phrase is still referenced today in discussion about the first part of the First Amendment as Jefferson wrote above: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or respecting the free speech thereof...". This newspaper contains the letter with that very phrase.

Although we knew of this letter, for 28 years we had searched through many 1802 bound volumes which have come into our inventory and were never able to find this report. We had all but given up hope that it ever appeared in a newspaper. A recent correspondence from an authority noted he had been in touch with Jefferson scholars and none of them had seen this letter in a period newspaper. To my knowledge this is the only newspaper to contain this letter, but it is possible others may eventually turn up.

This is a choice issue which would be a prime piece for the very best of collections, and would be a most significant addition to any collection of American documents or "famous American utterances". The issue is complete in 4 pages, has a professional archival mend near the top of page 2, not close to the Jefferson letter, has some very light damp staining, but is otherwise in very nice condition.

Note from customer who purchased this: Lastly, a few notes you ought to find interesting about this Jefferson letter… You wrote several days ago, “In 37+ years, this is the only title and date in which we've discovered this coverage - the 2/1/1802 General Advertiser.” On your website listing for this item, you also say, “To my knowledge this is the only newspaper to contain this letter, but it is possible others may eventually turn up.” Well, a bit of research on my own discloses the following, from good old Wikipedia: “The modern concept of a wholly secular government is sometimes credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke, but the phrase "separation of church and state" in this context is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper.” (My italics, for emphasis.) Intrigued, I searched further and found myself at the Library of Congress website, where I discovered a description of the letter by a Mr. James Hutson, one of their curators: “During his lifetime, Jefferson could not have predicted that the language in his Danbury Baptist letter would have endured as long as some of his other arresting phrases. The letter was published in a Massachusetts newspaper a month after Jefferson wrote it and then was more or less forgotten for half a century. It was put back into circulation in an edition of Jefferson's writings, published in 1853, and reprinted in 1868 and 1871.” The link to the L.O.C. page is http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danbury.html , see paragraph 3. Guy, I could not find anywhere the name of this Massachussetts newspaper they refer to, but wonder if, with your connections, you can discover this. Apparently, whatever it may be, it was published about the same time as the Aurora General Advertiser in Pennsylvania.

Category: Pre-Civil War

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