December 7: Samuel Miller and the Danger of Politics

“I look back on that whole part of my early history with entire disapprobation and deep regret. On two points I totally disapprove my own conduct. In the first place, I was wrong in suffering myself to be so warmly and actively en­gaged in Politics as I was during that period. For though ministers have the rights and duties of citizens, and, probably, in most cases, ought to exercise the right of voting at elections; yet when party politics run high, and when their appearing at the polls cannot take place without exciting strong feelings on the part of many against them; and when their ministry among all such persons will be therefore much less likely to be useful, I cannot think that their giving their votes can have an importance equivalent to the injury it is likely to do. I think I was wrong in talking, and acting, and rendering my­self so conspicuous as a politician, as I did. I fear I did an amount of injury to my ministry, which could by no means have been counterbalanced by my usefulness as a politician.”—Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller.

It was on this day, December 7th, in 1800 that the Rev. Samuel Miller penned the following letter which explains some of his concerns about mixing politics and the Christian religion. Rev. Miller was still about a dozen years away from accepting his post as professor at the newly formed Princeton Theological Seminary. The portrait of him on the right dates to about the time he began at Princeton. The following account is drawn from volume one of the biography of Dr. Samuel Miller. The explanatory comments are those of his his son, Samuel Miller, Jr., who served as his biographer:—

The letter from which the following extract is taken was addressed to the Rev. Mr. Gemmil, of New Haven.

New York, December 7, 1800.

My dear Sir,

Your kind letter by Mr. Broome came duly to hand. I will endeavor to answer it as explicitly as I can. Few things have given me greater mortification and shame, than the use which has been and continues to be made of religion, in the present electioneering struggle for President of the United States. That mere politicians, who despise religion, should thus convert it into an engine of party, is not strange; but that men professing to love it, and especially its ministers, who ought to be its wise, prudent and wary defenders, should con­sent to do the same, is to me strange.. If I do not totally mistake, they are acting a part, calculated to degrade religion, to bring its ministers into contempt, and to excite in the minds of thoughtful and observing men a suspicion that, even in America, the idea of ecclesiastical encroachment and usurpation is not wholly destitute of foundation. I am mortified—I am humbled at the scenes which have passed and are passing be­fore me.

I profess to be a Christian. I wish all men were Christians. We should have more private, social and political happiness. But what then? Because Mr. Jefferson is suspected of Deism, are we to raise a hue and cry against him, as if he ought to be instantly deprived of his rights of citizenship? If he be an in­fidel, I lament it for two reasons: from a concern for his own personal salvation, and that a religion, which is so much spoken against, does not receive his countenance and aid. But not­withstanding this, I think myself perfectly consistent in saying that I had much rather have Mr. Jefferson President of the United States, than an aristocratic Christian.

But what are we to think of the consistency of the federal party? I hear men, whom I know to despise religion, bellow­ing against the republican candidate for his supposed want of it. And I hear on the other hand, Christian ministers inveigh­ing against one for infidelity, and ready to embrace another, and straining every nerve to exalt him, when his religion is equally questionable; nay, making no objection to men openly and infamously immoral. Can charity itself believe that re­ligion is the sole motive in this ease?

In explanation of the last foregoing paragraph, and as some palliation, too, of Mr. Miller’s adherence to the cause of Jefferson, it may be added, that the candidate of the Federalists for the Vice-presidency—Charles Cotesworth Pinckney—was currently charged by his opponents with infidelity and immorality.

Long afterwards Dr. Miller wrote,

There was a time, (from the year 1800, to 1809, or 1810,) when I was a warm partisan in favor of Mr. Jefferson’s polities and administration as President. Before his death, I lost all confidence in him as a genuine patriot, or even as an honest man. And after the publication of his posthumous writings, in 1829, my respect for him was exchanged for contempt and abhorrence. I now believe Mr. Jefferson to have been one of the meanest and basest of men. His own writings evince a hypocrisy, a selfishness, an artful, intriguing, underhand spirit, a contemptible envy of better men than himself, a blasphemous impiety, and a moral profligacy, which no fair, mind, to say nothing of piety, can contemplate without abhorence. 

I am so far from having any grounds of personal animosity against Mr. Jefferson, that the contrary is the case. While I sided with him in politics, he was remarkably polite and atten­tive to me; wrote me a number of respectful letters; (one of which is published in his posthumous writings;) and said and did many things adapted to conciliate my personal feelings. Nor did anything personal ever occur to change those feel­ings.

I renounce, and wish unsaid and unwritten, everything that I ever said or wrote in his favor.                                                      
Sam’l Miller
Princeton, June, 1830.

Still later, Dr. Miller, as if very intent upon leaving his matured opinions upon this whole subject on record, wrote again,

I look back on that whole part of my early history with entire disapprobation and deep regret. On two points I totally disapprove my own conduct. In the first place, I was wrong in suffering myself to be so warmly and actively en­gaged in Politics as I was during that period. For though ministers have the rights and duties of citizens, and, probably, in most cases, ought to exercise the right of voting at elections; yet when party politics run high, and when their appearing at the polls cannot take place without exciting strong feelings on the part of many against them; and when their ministry among all such persons will be therefore much less likely to be useful, I cannot think that their giving their votes can have an importance equivalent to the injury it is likely to do. I think I was wrong in talking, and acting, and rendering my­self so conspicuous as a politician, as I did. I fear I did an amount of injury to my ministry, which could by no means have been counterbalanced by my usefulness as a politician.

But I was, if possible, still more wrong in pleading with so much zeal the cause of Mr. Jefferson. I thought, even then, that he was an infidel; but I supposed that he was an honest, truly republican, patriotic infidel. But I now think that he was a selfish, insidious, and hollow-hearted infidel; that he had little judgment and no moral principle; that he was a hypocritical demagogue; and that his partisans rated his patriotism far higher than was just. I have long thought that his four volumes of posthumous works disclose a degree of meanness, malignity and hypocrisy, of which the friends of his memory have reason to be ashamed. The tradition is, that Mr. Jefferson himself, with minute care and absolute authority, selected all the parts of that publication, and left nothing to the discretion of his grandson, the editor. If it was so, his worst enemies could hardly have made a selection more un­friendly to his memory.

True, I am now, as I was then, a sincere and honest Repub­lican. But I totally mistook the real character of the leader of the nominal Republicans, who triumphed in the country at that time. I was gulled by hollow, hypocritical pretences, and did all I could to honor and elevate men, whom I now believe to have been unworthy of public confidence.

This language in regard to Mr, Jefferson may, to some persons, seem, if not wholly unjust, at least too strong and objurgatory. It would not have been here inserted, however, without the deepest conviction, after careful ex­amination, that every charge might be fully sustained. Mr. Jefferson had resided in Paris more than five years, the last four of them as our minister plenipotentiary; and returned to the United States in the Autumn of 1789, blindly enamored of Jacobinism, his head full of the worst French revolu­tionary ideas. (1.) He was not only an infidel, but a bitter, blaspheming in­fidel. (2.) He was a gross flatterer of the people—an unscrupulous dema­gogue past redemption. (3.) he was an apologist for insurrection and rebel­lion, and not in their more dignified form of secession, but in the vulgar shape of sedition and riot. (4.) As President, he was the originator of the incal­culably mischievous doctrine, that, public offices are the rightful “spoils” of a victorious party; and (5.) of the “policy” of vituperating a co-ordinate branch of the government, (the judiciary in this ease,) which was not subservient to his will. (0.) He was father of the doctrine of the repudiation of public debts. (7.) He was an insidious enemy and accuser of General Washington, at the very time when professing for him the sincerest regard. (8.) He was a high priest of that political creed, which justifies the means by the end, counting truth as secondary to the safe and plausible disparagement of personal and party opponents. (9.) In fine, his undoubted talents and acquirements only aggravated the littleness, meanness, insincerity, dishonesty, and malignity, which ought to consign his memory to everlasting shame and contempt. The evidence of all this is found, chiefly, in his own memoirs, letters, and memo­randa, carefully preserved by himself, and published posthumously, but doubt­less by his direction. He had fallen to that pitch of moral depravation, in which men lose their delicate sense of the difference between right and wrong; boast of their obliquities as praiseworthy; of their low cunning, as deserving the repute of sagacity and statesmanship; and treasure up against themselves, as honorable distinctions, the clear proofs of their debasement.

Words to Live By:
“A sobering article about President Thomas Jefferson. It should remind us, in this year 2016, when people were said to be holding their noses voting for either candidate, that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” We must seek God’s mercy, and pray for those who rule over us–political and ecclesiastical–and for ourselves and our Republic.”—David E Crocker, Ch, LtCol, USAF Ret.

 

  1. David E Crocker, Ch, LtCol, USAF Ret.’s avatar

    A sobering article about President Thomas Jefferson. It should remind us, in this year 2016, when people were said to be holding their noses voting for either candidate, that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” We must seek God’s mercy, and pray for those who rule over us–political and ecclesiastical–and for ourselves and our Republic.

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