The Danbury Baptists' Letter and President Jefferson's Response. (Special Delivery)
The Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association wrote to Thomas Jefferson to outline its members' concerns about religious liberty on Oct. 7, 1801. Jefferson replied on New Year's Day, 1802, in a famous response that asserts the importance of the "wall of separation" between church and state. Below is the transcript of each letter. Original spelling, punctuation and capitalization have been retained.
The address of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut; assembled October 7th 1801.
To Thomas Jefferson Esq., the President of the united States of America.
Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your Election to office, we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoy'd in our collective capacity, since your Inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief Magistracy in the United States: And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompious than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, Sir to believe, that none are more sincere.
Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty -- That Religion is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals -- That no man ought to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his religious Opinions -- That the legitimate Power of civil Government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbour: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our government at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws & usages, & such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; & therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable fights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the fights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power & gain under the pretence of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men -- should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.
Sir, we are sensible that the President of the united States is not the national Legislator & also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the Laws of each State; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved President, which have had such genial Effect already, like the radiant beams of the Sun, will shine & prevail through all these States and all the world till Hierarchy and Tyranny be destroyed from the Earth. …