THE STYLES LETTER OF JUNE 25, 1819: BY JEFFERSON?
>In taking advice from my brother to verify the quotes by Jefferson, I >came across a mystery that perhaps you may have some insight on. The >quote in question goes as follows: > >"You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am a sect by myself, so far as >I know." > >A couple of Jefferson books attribute this to Ezra Stiles, the president >of Yale University (for example, see The Jefferson Bible, by O.I.A. >Roche, ed, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1964). However, my brother points >out that Stiles died in 1795 and I found a copy of the entire letter in >"The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," Lipscomb, ed, Vol XV, page 202 which >has Jefferson addressing it to Ezra Styles, Esq., June 25, 1819. (Note >the different spelling) > >My brother thinks it may be forgery. Any information on this matter >would be appreciated. In general, the letter does not seem to be in Jefferson's writing style. It contains a lot of short sentences and only one really involved sentence, which was not his preference. For him to say he was "too much in action" to study the mind just doesn't sound like TJ. It is hard to believe TJ was too much involved in letter-writing to read a single page in a week. The phrase "no two sects dream alike" is very unlike TJ. I cannot imagine him using the word "dream" in that context. Similarly, the use of the word "crazy" to describe theologians is very unlike TJ. Finally, the sentence, "I am sometimes more angry with them than is authorized by the blessed charities which He preaches," is, to me, about as far as you can get from TJ. John Adams, maybe, but not TJ. The opening and the closing of the letter are atypical. There are a few phrases that sound familiar. "The drudgery of letter-writing," "merit of the first order," "duties of a social being," could be Jefferson. But I have read so much of his stuff, and the general tenor of this letter has a chop=chop=chop to it that I find decidedly un-Jeffersonian. I could easily believe that it is a fake. The different spelling (Stiles/Styles), BTW, seems to be a typo in the edition of Writings. The index has it spelled Stiles, with a reference to pg. 202 of vol. 15. If Stiles dies in 1795, it is possible this was to his son? Just a possibility that could be researched. That is my assessment. It is suspicious, but I cannot say definitively one way or the other.
>I think your assessment of the Styles 1819 letter appears sound. I went >back to the library and found that the letter to "Ezra Stiles" of July >17, 1785 appears as "Stiles" in the Boyd/Princeton edition (Vol 8, p. >298). But the same letter in the Lipscomb edition (Vol. V, p. 35) has >Jefferson addressing "To Dr. Styles." So I think you got it correct >about the misspelling. > >My brother found a son by Stiles of the same name but he died in 1784. >Ezra, Jr. did marry in 1781 so it's possible he had a son named Ezra >III. My brother plans to check this out further and will see if he can >find the 1819 letter in the Ford edition.
> Eyler, just to let you know what I found, I think I've solved the Stiles > letter mystery. My brother searched the Ford edition and couldn't find > the Stiles letter. From this he concluded that it probably came from a > forger, perhaps a Federalist. However, it just didn't make sense to me > that Federalists would bother with Jefferson after his presidency. And > a > forger who misspells the name and gets the date so wrong should have > sent red flags to anyone compiling the work. It seems like an honest > mistake by historians to me. So I went digging some more. > I found the same letter by Jefferson to Ezra Stiles Ely in > "Jefferson's Extracts from The Gospels," a second series of "The Papers > of Thomas Jefferson," Dickinson W. Adams, ed. et al, Princeton Univ. > Press, 1983. > Ely (1786-1861), a Calvinist, served as pastor of the Third > Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and wrote the book "Conversations > on > the Science of the Human Mind". (Jefferson refers to this book in the > letter.) That is fascinating! I'll make a note of your findings in my edition of Jefferson's writings. But apparently that means Jefferson *did* write the letter after all. Well, maybe he was having one of his migraine headaches that day. ;-)
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