Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

The Ruins

Volney, Jefferson, translation, Alien and Sedition Act, John Adams, Ruins of Empires

We have just learned something interesting about the nastiest presidential election in American history.

No, not this year’s. It’s not the nastiest . . . yet.

It is about the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson beat back the Federalist Party and its Alien and Sedition Acts.

The Federalists made much of fears that the freethinking Jefferson would suppress Christianity. Some folks are said to have buried Bibles in their backyards, for safe keeping.

Overkill, sure. Jefferson was quite earnest in his support for religious freedom, as he famously wrote to the Danbury Baptists. (Jefferson garnered overwhelming Baptist support.) But he was a freethinker.

So much so that, in the year leading up to the big race, Jefferson translated all but the last chapters of C.-F. Volney’s The Ruins of Empires. This secret was uncovered recently by Thomas Christian Williams, who found in the Boston archives of the Massachussetts Historical Society many chapters of The Ruins, in English, in Jefferson’s hand. Williams wrote up his discovery in the March 2016 issue of The Skeptic, Michael Shermer’s journal.

The Ruins — once infamous, now almost forgotten — is mostly devoted to advancing a very deep view of the importance of limited government. Only the last few chapters, which Jefferson left to somebody else to translate, engage in a skeptical account of religion.

But note: Jefferson thought enough of Volney’s book to translate it himself, putting his political career at risk.

Oh, it also turns out that the Comte de Volney’s very presence in 1790s’ America served to spark the widespread panic about French spying . . . and thus President John Adams’s Alien Friends and Alien Enemies Acts!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

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Volney, Jefferson, translation, Alien and Sedition Act, John Adams, Ruins of Empires


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1 Comment

  1. Brian Wright says:

    Very interesting and exceptional discovery. Thank you, Paul, for bringing it to our attention. While I’m ‘skeptical’ of any official story Michael Shermer’s lot of evidence ignorers and intellectual brown nosers is part of, the Jefferson find looks like the real deal. My personal suspicion is that Jefferson was a true atheist, which some of the founders cloaked via Deism or Nature. Also, I believe he was an anarchist, or more precisely a panarchist… which is how I read the clause ‘whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to” contract with one of their own choosing. In any case, ahead of his time in both ways.

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