Although he did not die until July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson wrote a most unusual letter to his namesake, Thomas Jefferson Smith, on February 21, 1825. The letter is Jefferson’s advice as to how to live a good life. They are indeed sage words of advice. I found it particularly interesting that after all the interpretations I have read of Jefferson’s religious views, his first piece of advice is to “Adore God.” At the end of the letter is a 10 point list that is as timely today as it was when Jefferson wrote them. I printed out a copy of the 10 points and posted them on our refrigerator door. Enjoy!
“This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.
The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets,
for your imitation
Lord, who’s the happy man that may to thy blest courts repair;
Not stranger-like to visit them but to inhabit there?
‘Tis he whose every thought and deed by rules of virtue moves;
Whose generous tongue disdains to speak the thing his heart disproves.
Who never did a slander forge, his neighbor’s fame to wound;
Nor hearken to a false report, by malice whispered round.
Who vice in all its pomp and power, can treat with just neglect;
And piety, though clothed in rages, religiously respect.
Who to his plighted vows and trust has ever firmly stood;
And though he promise to his loss, he makes his promise good.
Whose soul in usury disdains his treasure to employ;
Whom no rewards can ever bribe the guiltless to destroy.
The man, who, by his steady course, has happiness insur’d.
When earth’s foundations shake, shall stand, by Providence secur’d.
A Decalogue of Canons for observation in practical life.
1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.