To Thomas B. Wait

    New York City        2 May 1790

    My friend—

    Last evening I enjoyed the pleasure of reading yours of the 17th & 21st of April1—& to the speculative part of the former, will, at this time, only observe—leaving the full discussion of the question to some future opportunity, when I may have more leisure to write, and your mind is duly prepared to read, what I may have to advance on the curious subject.

    Because I said, man can arrive at very few general truths in morals[,] politics & theology,2 you seem to conclude, that a man whose duty & interest it is to be a politician ought not to employ two thirds of his time in the study of morals and theology—Strange! In this, my friend, you are certainly wrong—but your error results from not seeing two or three facts—and these too before your eyes! If two thirds of mans actions are the direct effects of the morality & theology taught in every country—if from the beginning of the first empires down to the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, religion has been the source of more misery to the human race, & one of the greatest obstacles to the formation of good Laws, shall you think a politician is out of the line of his duty in examining the various systems of theology &, as well as the principles of morals—as they have been & still are taught in the world?

    Public utility is the only measure of the goodness or badness of human actions—And tho all actions that tend to the public good are, by some, called religious; yet there are a great part of the very religious & pious actions of men that are good in no sense of the word—that is—do not advance the general happiness of man.

    According to my analysis, there is nothing more distinct than good actions and those that are religious—

    The seven sacriments of the catholics are ridiculed by the protestants—the ceremonies of the Church of England are, by some of the dissenters, esteemed no better than the fooleries of ancient Greece & Rome—And many religious actions of the dissenters are, by other sects, still farther dissenting, accounted of no substantial use to the public—Yet these are all religious actions, & those who attend to & perform them are religious people—But do not all agree that, for parents to instruct their children in a punctual discharge of the duties they owe to themselves, to the magistrate & the Laws of their Country are part of a good education—And that the actions flowing from such instruction are good actions? What is it that makes a religious man? Is it a punctual discharge of his political & moral duties? no—He must do something more in every all Countries—He must observe the ceremonies established by the priests—Now ought not a politician, whose object is the greatest possible happiness of the greatest number of individuals, to inform himself of the effect these ceremonies have on society—And whether there be any natural connection between the observance of them & this great object—The diversity of religious ceremonies among different nations is visible—this diversity is also equally perceivable among different sects in the same nation—All nations are not equally happy—are the individuals of each sect, in the same nation, and under the same Laws, equally good members of society? If you say they are—of what avail then is their religion? do not different religions produce the same effects? If you answer in the negative, from what does this arise, but their difference of religious tenets—for all other things are equal—What then is of more importance to a politician than to know the different religions & their effects on nations and individuals? But I have rambled too far—this is a copious subject, & in my opinion it has been hitherto but imperfectly understood—Hereafter I will examine it farther—And in the mean time

    I am your friend & humble servant

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    FC, TFP