To Stephen Hall

    “From the Woods” [Biddeford]        18 April 1786

    Dear Friend,

    The freedom of Thinking is not more the Right of rational Creatures, than the freedom of Conversation upon what we think is a Source of unbounded satisfaction to a candid, sociable mind—take away the latter and the benefits of the former become exceedingly contracted and trifling—while the understanding of men sinks into a State of baseness little superiour to the brute Creation—yet notwithstanding the truth of these observations, how hazardous has it been to converse with rational freedom upon matters of the utmost consequence to human beings—And even now—in this enlightened age when the Liberty & wrights of man are so well known and defined, it is at the expense of a mans Character that he even dares to make use of his natural priviledges—But let it be laid down as a maxim that malevolence cannot fix a stigma upon truth, and then all the danger vanishes at once—Reason, and pursue truth wherever she may be found—nothing can hurt you—the way is clear—

    This Resolution you know I have long since come to—the consequence, you, in part, know—I am called a Deist—yes—and Atheist too—but how does that hurt me—The man who discharges the Duties of morality can never be injured by the whims & Anathemas of enthusiasts—Morality arises from the nature of man & his situation; so long as he observes the Relations he is in it becomes a Shield & a strong Tower round about him—

    The little conversation I had with you when at your house delighted me—it convinced me your mind was above the prejudices of the superstitious, and capable of soaring to the fountain of Religious Truth—and with the [k]nife of Philosophy to cleave the sacred truths of the [G]ospel from the Errors of Ignorance & superstition fanaticism—

    Yet, my friend, we differ in some things—things generally looked upon of great importance—But if speculative subjects are of importance only in proportion as they influence our Conduct to our fellow creatures & to ourselves, perhaps, it may be made to appear they are not so important as generally supposed—Because persons firmly persuaded in the truth of contrary sentiments often exhibet lives of unspoted morality & charity—

    You believe that Jesus existed prior to his being born of Mary—in a state of exaltation & Dignity with God the father that he Created the World and All things therein—that his death in some manner or other made satisfaction, or atonement for the sins of Adams Race—

    On the other hand—I look upon Jesus Christ as having been a man—a mere man, highly favoured by God—that he had no more existance before he was born of Mary than you or I, or any other person, had before we were born of our mothers—that his death was brought about by natural, political, & moral Causes in the same manner Revolutions, in Government, are effected—that his death did not—nor could—make satisfaction or Atonement for the sins of men—Notwithstanding our difference touching these things—we perfectly agree in those things that affect ourselves & our neighbours in the new-testament sense—that is—that it is our indispensable duty to do unto others as we would, in like circumstances, have them to do unto us—As also we do in the discharge of all moral duties—Of what consequence, then, is it whether we agree in our belief concerning these other things before mentioned? I trust we both agree in this—that Life & Immortality are brought to Light by the Gospel

    It is late in the evening and I am weary; & fear you will be more so by the time you have followed me thus far, or I would endeavour to point out wherein my faith is more consolatory—& affords more comfort beyond the Grave than yours—Perhaps, in some future Letter, should you not forbid it by telling me this is unwellcom I may send you some further speculations of on Religion & Philosophy—In the meantime

    believe me to be with sentiments of esteem & friendship, dear Sir, yours, &c &c &c

    * * *

    ALS, Chamberlain