“Sowing Useful Truths
Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury
I have generally endeavored to turn [citizen addresses] to some ac-
count, by making them the occasion, by way of answer, of sowing
useful truths & principles among the people, which might germi-
nate and become rooted among their political tenets.
—Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln (1802)1
[T]he clergy [entertain] a very favorite hope of obtaining an estab-
lishment of a particular form of Christianity through[out] the
United States.… [T]hey believe that any portion of power con-
fided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And
they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eter-
nal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
—Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush (1800)2
In October 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson expressing “great satisfaction” in his “appointment to the chief Magistracy in the United States.”3 In the new president, the Connecticut Baptists found an ardent defender of religious liberty, a matter of vital concern to a minority sect in a state dominated by a Congregationalist establishment. The Baptists were eager to broadcast their support for the new administration in Washington and to repudiate Jefferson's critics in the bitter presidential campaign just ended. The president, in turn, was receptive to the Baptists' address, because it afforded