Monday, January 08, 2007

Jefferson letter to Dr. Woods not found

Atheist and secularist web sites and posts by secularists on various discussion forums are attributing the following to Thomas Jefferson:

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies" (Letter to Dr. Woods).

The source for this quote is chapter 2 of John E. Remsburg's book "Six Historic Americans: Paine, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, and Grant The Fathers And Saviors Of Our Republic, Freethinkers" published in 1906. No such letter is currently known to exist. If a Thomas Jefferson letter to Dr. Woods turns up in the future then, and only then, can we declare the quote to be genuine.

Some web sites attribute this same quote, with an extra sentence or two added, to a Thomas Jefferson letter to William Short. Jefferson wrote multiple letters to Mr. Short, but a search of the Thomas Jefferson Digital Archive, as well as various other online collections of transcribed Jefferson letters, finds no such quote. Neither the Dr. Woods nor the William Short citations provide a date. This is odd because Jefferson's letters usually begin with a date.

Unless someone identifies such a letter with that quote it must be deemed a probably bogus citation for a highly dubious quote. Please do not use this quote and please let people know that this alleged quote is unverified and should not be used.

1 comment:

  1. Props to you from a theist who is similarly concerned about the abuse of historic sources.

    The Remsburg lead is valuable. I had been fruitlessly following up on the claim of a secularist site that the quotation was in one of of the many letters from Jefferson to William Short.

    I'll gladly drop that pursuit in favor of looking into Remsburg's work.