Letter to Joseph Simpson
The letter from President John Tyler in response to Joseph Simpson
The Notice which you mention in your letter of the 3d instant has only been called to my attention by your reference to it. I presume that it is nothing more than a contemplated assemblage of certain officers of the army and navy in their character of citizens and Christians, having for its object the inculcation upon others of their religious tenets, for, as they believe, the benefit and advantage of Mankind. A similar call on the part of any other religious sect would be alike tolerated under our institutions. The Government has nothing to do with the publication, nor has it issued from any one of the departments. Whether General Scott is to preside over the meeting, I am not in any way other than through your letter informed. If he attends, it will not and cannot be in his character of General in Chief of the army. He will necessarily for the time being lay aside his sword and epaulets, and appear, it is true, as a distinguished citizen, but in no other light than as a citizen. Was he a Hebrew and of the same tribe with yourself, his right to preside in your synagogue, if permitted or required by your laws would in no manner affect him in his military character; nor would it make him obnoxious to the censure of the Government for so doing. The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established heirarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he were to come among us, would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political institutions. The fruits are visible in the universal contentment which everywhere prevails. Christians are broken up into various sects, but we have no persecution, no stake or rack—no compulsion or force, no furious or bigoted zeal; but each and all move on in their selected sphere, and worship the Great Creator according to their own forms and ceremonies. The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid. He may boast, as well he can, of his descent from the Patriarchs of Old—of his wise men in council, and strong men in Battle. He may ever more turn his eye to Judea resting with confidence on the promise that is made him of his restoration to that Holy Land, and he may worship the God of his fathers after the manner that that worship was conducted by Aaron and his successors in the priesthood, and the Aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.
The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthy. Mind should be free as the light or as the air.
While I remain connected with the Government be assured, Sir, that so far as the Executive action is concerned, the guarantees of the Constitution in this great particular will know no diminution.
For your kind expression of good will towards me personally, I beg you to accept my thanks along with my best wishes for your health and happiness.
- The letter was published by the William and Mary Quarterly in July of 1904 and was uploaded to Internet Archive on March 19, 2013 (Tyler's letter to Simpson on Internet Archive). The version here on Wikisource was copied from there.