Image not available in this digital edition

    fig. 5. Nathaniel Barrell, by Jacques Moses Dupré Cole (1816). Courtesy of the Old York Historical Society, York, Maine. Cole (1783-1849), a native of France who was active in Newburyport, Massachusetts, captures Thatcher’s eighty-four year old widowed friend in this half-length portrait.


    To Nathaniel Barrell

    New York City        21 July 1790

    My dear Sir—

    My last contained some general observations on the dissatisfaction among the people at the delays, as well as the doings of Congress—and the probability of a change of Representatives the ensuing election.1

    This shall give you some facts and sentiments relative to myself, and in answer to your favour of the 10th. inst. which came to hand last evening2—And I assure you, that sometimes, and upon some subjects, I delight as much in talking about myself as fond mothers do about their darling children—There is one difference, however—they most always dwell on such qualities and actions as are esteemed, by their company, to be virtuous, and amiable; and for the most part recommends children to the approbation of those they converse with—whereas I shall bring to view those things that, in the present state of opinions and sentiments, have a quite contrary tendency—But truth and duty to my fellow creatures command me to speak—and silence would be criminal.

    The most ardent wish I have is, that all people may be instructed in those things that make for their real happiness—An enlightened, intelligent people only can be happy—while ignorance and misery are inseperable companions. When I compare the past state of things with the present I am delighted—but when I extend the comparason to future periods—the prospect is ravishing—my soul is in extacy; and I forgive, as well as forget the little Bickerings, calumnies and troubles of the present moment, & live upon the general joy & harmony which all will then enjoy—What is it to me, whether I am in Congress, or out? Others may conduct affairs as well as myself—and the increasing felicity of mankind can be equally enjoyed on the Banks of the Saco, or the Hudson—To return to your Letter—

    The Journals of the House of Representatives will witness that I have uniformly opposed those grants and measures of Congress which have caused so much uneasiness among the people of Massachusetts—I have done my duty—On this account I am above slander—I have vanity to think, that in some respects, I have served particular parts of the district of Maine better than any man in it would have done, had he been in my room—on this account I shall always triumph over those who were my competitors at the last election: And I feel myself equal to any man in the district of Maine to render it such service, in Congress, as it may require—and sure I am that no man exceeds me in wishing its happiness and prosperity—Hence, on this account, I shall never be mortified at seeing another succeed me in the future elections.

    Indeed I shall think it rather strange if the general uneasiness at the proceedings of Congress, joined to the Cry of impiety and irreligion, against me in particular, should not oust me at the coming election. It is natural for pole-cats to kill chickens—and for wolves to devoure Lambs: So it is for religious people to persecute those who differ from them in sentiment. Ignorance and superstition have, in all Countries, and at all times been at war with reason. Religion has long served as a shield for vilany to attack honesty under; and it is not unusual for the greatest scoundrals to cry out, God and the Church, in order to run down those who stand in their way.

    But these things, my friend, must be endured with patience and resignation—time, and information, in the true principles of what is usefull to man and Society, will work a cure—

    Tho I am the victim of this monster, I feel happy in thinking, he will soon be drove from the American shores—his power is weakned every day; and the most it can effect is to prevent a mans election, or cause him to be stared at for a while—The reason and good sense of the people will not long be duped by hypocrisy, superstition and folly—I feast on the idea that people are daily growing wiser, better and more happy. This is a luxurious compensation for any thing I may suffer by the pious Calumny of the ignorant.

    What astonishing advances have been made towards rationality in thinking & acting within one century past—Had I lived in that time I certainly should have been banished—perhaps, worse might have befallen me. At that unhappy period, to be a Quaker, a Baptist a Witch or a Socinian3 was almost equally dangerous—The same spirit of holy error led people to persecute each of these denominations; and now induces many to cry out Impiety & irreligion against those whom they wish to hunt down—with this difference however; and which strongly marks the superior felicity of the present times—that then this spirit was so potent as to govern the Laws; but now ’tis fe[e]ble, and governed by them. Happy happy times—soon—very soon, will it be in subjection not only to the Laws, but to reason itself—And it shall be my constant endeavour to accelerate and hasten so desirable a state of Society—

    You tell me “that every artifice is made use of to oust me at the ensuing election amongst which ’tis said that I coupled Bibles and wool-cards together, and proposed a heavy impost on them, equal to a prohibition”4—This is truly laughable—yet it tends to shew the spirit, I will not say of the people, but, of some people.

    If it be impious to write Bibles and wool-cards on the same bit of paper, what shall we say of those who keep the Bible and wool-cards in the same house and, perhaps, some times in the same room? I will honestly confess I have always had a Bible, a Testament and wool-cards in my house & I never once heard them call each other hard names—nor did I ever know them to quarrell. I can well recollect particular times when I have set by the side of Mrs. [Sarah Savage] Thatcher reading the Bible, while she was diligently making use of these said wool-cards; and I never perceived but she worked with them as well as tho the Bible had been at an hundred miles distance—And I declare further, that I beleive, I read the Bible as understandingly, and as savingly, as if the said wool-cards had been in the Garret or in some merchants shop at Boston—Hence I conclude there is nothing hurtfull to individuals, or Society in coupling the Bible and wool-cards together; or their being in the same House, the same room; or even nearer together—And consequently I shall give it as my opinion, in which I dont know that many will join me, that there is nothing impious, irreligious or criminal in this action of coupling the Bible and wool-cards together—

    “But tis said I proposed a high impost on them equal to a prohibition”—Query—did this Impost extend to Bibles—or the wool-cards, or to both? I have before shewn there is no criminality in coupling Bibles and wool-cards together: And I beleive it will be a much more difficult task, than my religious constituents imagine, to shew why wool-cards should be imposted in this manner, and not Bibles—since the American printers can as easily supply America with Bibles, as the Card-makers can with wool-cards. I very well recollect there was great opposition to the impost on wool-cards; but none to the impost on Bibles—for Bibles are imposted—Perhaps the Impost was designed to reach both Bibles and wool-cards, in equal degree—Be it so—And in the name of good policy why should it not? Are not American Bibles as good as British or Irish? Does not America furnish good paper, good Tipes, & good printers in abundance? Are there not already published, or publishing, in different parts of the United States Bibles of almost every size—viz, folio, quarto and octavo? Have not the printers come forward and requested Congress to afford them some encouragement as well as other mechanics and manufacturers in the Union?5 And what reason can be assigned why they should not be duly encouraged—I say according to the magnitude of their undertaking? If Bibles are of the first utility—it is of importance that we should not depend on a foreign nation for our supply—every one must recollect how much we suffered during a long war thro the scarcity of Bibles6—while we had wool-cards eno’ because the latter were manufactured in america, & not the former—now I would have them both equally encouraged, & then we shall be always able to supply ourselves—

    I have said “we have good printers” in America—perhaps, some of my religious constituents will object, that they are not religious printers—I confess I dont know how this may be; but I repeat it, they are good printers—I speak of my own knowledge—they print equal to any, and superior much better than many of the British and Irish Bible printers—And with proper encouragement would supply the United States with good Bibles as cheep as we now get them from England—Should I be asked if they would be religious Bibles? I shall decline giving an answer till they let me know what they mean by religion—and a religious Bible—And hence I conclude again that it would not have been injurious to the United States to have imposted Bibles and wool-cards with a pretty high duty—and if you please equal to a prohibition—And I shall dare to give it as my opinion, let religious people say whatever their Religion may suggest, that there is nothing impious, irreligious, or criminal in coupling Bibles and wool-cards together, and proposing a high duty on either or both

    I have thus allowed the facts as charged against me, in order to shew, that if the facts were true, they do not amount to a crime of a civil, or religious nature—

    But to be honest—I never did propose an impost on Bibles and wool-cards in my life—It was, as nearly as I can recollect, on Bibles, Testaments, spelling-books and other school-books printed in America—this I moved—which was seconded—Then a very authordox, religious man, who set by me, and approved my motion, (the same who seconded it) desired me to add playing cards to the list—which I accordingly did. Then it ran thus—on all Bibles, Testaments, spelling Books & all other school-books printed in the United States, also on all playing Cards—But I never mentioned any sum, either high or low, at which I would have them imposted—I ment to leave that to the merchants & those better acquainted with the subject7

    I have now stated to you the facts just as they took place; and will only add, that if some people knew I had coupled Bibles with playing-cards they would be more outrageous, and ball [bawl] out irreligion, with more zeal, than when they heard I had coupled the Bible with wool-cards—And if any one mentions this matter to you as an objection to my religious, moral or political Character—do you be honest and tell him plainly I never coupled the Bible and wool-cards together; but it was the Bible and playing-cards—Tell him he has been misinformed; And if this is a more impious copulation than the other—nevertheless, it being the truth, I would have him know it.

    Your friendship for me is so great I am fearfull it will lead you to state some things that are not true, the better to recommend me to the people—This I must caution you against. Friendship is sometimes as bland as Love; and to make others esteem our friends as we do ourselves, we are exceedingly apt to attribute to them those qualities and virtues which are the best calculated to produce this effect: But as much as I respect the opinion of people and court their applause I cannot wish for their approbation at the expence of truth. I should be unhappy if I thought people put their trust and confidence in me, upon a presumption that I possessed certain virtues or dispositions which I was conscious did not belong to me—

    As yet people think religion an essential qualification for a Legislator, or any person in public trust—And more have objected to my being their Representative, because I am, they say, a man of no Religion, than on any other account whatever—Remove this—and I am of opinion very few would withhold their votes—But in trying to obviate this I cannot agree for you to hold out an idea that I beleive any or scarce any of the Tenets that enter into the Creed which people, in general, look upon as necessary to make a religious man; I had rather be as I am, and deemed irreligious than thought such an one—Such as I am seen and known to be, by him who trys the reins and searches the hearts of all men,8 I am willing to appear to my fellow-creatures; and in no other Character—I had rather never be again noticed by the voice of my Country, than receive their unanimous vote on the ground of my holding to many of the things which I know they look upon [as] essential to a religious Character—Among which I will mention a few.

    The doctrine of original sin—or depravity—Imputation of sin, or Righteousness, with the doctrine of Atonement—The Trinity or a plurality of persons in the Deity—The divinity and preexistance of Jesus—the Divinity & personality of the Holy-Ghost as taught by athenatius9—that a man can be saved without virtue; or damned who is virtuous—or that there is any other way of recommending ourselves to the approbation of the Deity, than by the practice of moral virtue—

    If ’tis said, on this Ground, I am no Christian—I reply, tis indifferent to me what I am called—I beleive Life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel—That Jesus is the son of man; and, as the Apostle declares, a man highly favoured of God—that he wrought the miricles attributed to him in the four Gospels—that at the last day the Resurrection will take place as set forth in those Books; and man will be happy or miserable precisely according to his works in the Body—I dont beleive much about the Devil, or Hell fire—And am pretty strongly inclined to think the whole system of creation tends to perfection & happiness—And that finally, when God will be all in all, all beings will be happy—that the pain and misery the wicked undergo are by way of discipline—

    Now if a beleif of the foregoing positions, and perhaps some others of a similar kind, which, in my hurry, I have omitted, are sufficient to denominate me a Christian—then I am certainly one—otherwise I am not—But as I said, once before, it is indifferent to me what I am called—provided Justice is done me—And I am more fearfull that people will, after all, attribute to me too much, than too little faith—

    I will once more return to your Letter, and after an observation or two take my leave—And as this may be the last Congressional Letter you will receive from me, you will the more willingly excuse its undue length—You must recollect, I told you, at the beginning, I was going to write about myself—and compared myself to a fond parant listning to his own discourse about his darling children.

    I have noticed that the people of Massachusetts express more uneasiness at the proceedings of Congress, so far as they relate to the grants of money, than those of any other state. And tho it is well known to their Representatives have, with greater unanimity, than is to be found among the Representatives of other States, opposed those Grants; Yet Massachusetts is the only State where the people seem so determined upon a general change of their Senators and Representatives—I do not recollect a single measure or act of Congress that is reprobated by the people of Massachusetts, but what their Senators, or Representatives, or both, have uniformly opposed. All this must be known to the people if they read the News papers—What then can enrage them to such a degree as to aim at a general change?

    Why our District should wish to oust me is easily accounted for—first others wish to come in my room—& secondly my religion & that of the people are very different things—Now these two circumstances are eno’ to oust me, let my political character be ever so unexceptionable—But the second objection is made to none but myself—why then should they be turned out. They have uniformly advocated the very measures the people wish to have taken place—but they were in the minority—which is no crime.

    Whether the next representation, from Massachusetts, will be more wise, more powerfull, more economical, or more successfull than the present is impossible now to say—but sure I am they will not have the difficulties and perplexities to encounter that have fallen to our Lot. Ours is the task to conduct the Ship thro shoals, rocks & quick sands—in dark and tempestuous weather—theirs to command her in a serene sky, fair wind and placed [placid] sea—How immense the difference! Will these wide extremes of circumstances be duly weighed in estimating the services of the present & future members of Congress? I doubt it—The people are more apt to dwell upon the good effects of a Law than the great difficulties that might have attended it—But some philosophic Historian will hereafter lay open to public view the arduous task of organizing the Government, and adapting one Code of Laws to thirteen Sovereign & Independent States—Farewell—

    My things, books & papers are all put up, and on the morrow will be shiped for Boston, & thence to Biddeford, where I hope to follow them the next week—I shall there continue my Speculations in the midst of domestic enjoyments, regardless of politics, and politicians, excepting as they become subjects of disinterested discussion

    I am, my dear Sir, your friend & humble Servt.

    * * *

    FC, TFP