Dear Citizens of the Enternet,
Today Daniel granted me the favor of joining him in a small household feast considered a day of "Thanks-giving", an annual practice that by now I was certain would not be around anymore, but as I was wrong about so many other things, I may be wrong about this. It is almost as if the same circumstances during early year of 1808, when I wrote to Rev. Samuel Miller Washington, upon the same occassion of a national day of giving and prayer, such as was Washington's "Thanks-giving" ritual which I suppose is still the practice of today. I consider now as I did then that the government of the U S. is interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no lawshall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the U.S. Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. It must then rest with the states, as far as it can be in any human authority, but that does not seem to be the case and it upsets me. But it is only proposed that I should recommend, definitely not prescribe a day of fasting & prayer, as is done now. It must be meant too that this recommendation might carry some authority but it's not something I shall want sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; indeed of fine and imprisonment, but merely of some degree of proscription perhaps in public opinion. And has the nature of the penalty changed today, and of what weight is the recommendation of the law, if not another hollow gesture without it? Is this how the laws of today work? I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct it's exercises, it's discipline, or it's doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it.
I am aware that the practice of my predecessors may be quoted. But I have ever believed that the example of state executives led to the assumption of that authority by the general government, without due examination, which would have discovered that what might be a right in a state government, was a violation of that right when assumed by another. Be this as it may, every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, & mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.
I may, after all, retain this issue as one of the many I regard in my future letter to Congress. To all, my happy thanks for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, cheapness of eggs and bread, and perhaps also the ease of acquiring the evening's turkey dinner without having to hunt for it; and I am sure the prominence of Turkey today would serve Benjamin Franklin fine and well, and even with his legendary humour and wit; I am, however, glad to see it is not our national bird.
I again express my satisfaction that you people of the Enternet have been so good as to give me an opportunity of explaining myself in a private letter regularly for weeks now, in which I could give my reasons more in detail than might have been done in a public answer in a different time & Era: and I pray you to accept the assurances of my high esteem & respect.
- TH. Jefferson