JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") as President, to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut (address panel addressed to Messrs. Richard Douglas and Isaiah Bollis), [Washington, D.C.], 4 February 1809. 1 full page, 4to, integral blank. In fine condition. [With:] Autograph free frank ("free Th:Jefferson Pr. US") on separate address leaf addressed in Jefferson's hand, brown circular "Washington 5 Feb." postmark, stamped "FREE", small tear at one fold intersection.\n\nJEFFERSON ON FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS: "NO PROVISION IN OUR CONSTITUTION OUGHT TO BE DEARER...THAN THAT WHICH PROTECTS THE RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE AGAINST THE ENTERPRIZES OF THE CIVIL AUTHORITY"\n\nJefferson's eloquent reply to a group of Connecticut Methodists who had expressed approval of the President, on the eve of his long-sought retirement to Monticello at the expiration of his second term: "The approbation you are so good as to express of the measures which have been recommended & pursued during the course of my administration of the National concerns, is highly acceptable. The approving voice of our fellow citizens, for endeavors to be useful, is the greatest of all earthly rewards."\n\n"No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprizes of the civil authority. It has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the consciences of men either attainable, or applicable to any desirable purpose. To me, no information could be more welcome that that of the minutes of the several religious societies should prove, of late, larger additions, than have been usual, to their several associations: and I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious, as well as civil liberty."\n\n"I thank you for your affectionate good wishes for my future happiness. Retirement has become essential to it, and one of its best consolations will be to witness the advancement of my country in all those pursuits & acquisitions which constitute the character of a wise and virtuous nation: and I offer sincere prayers to heaven that its benedictions may attend yourselves, our country, & all its sons."\n\nAs early as 1777 Jefferson had drafted for Virginia a Statute for Religious Freedom, adopted in 1786, which "burned with an ardor than belied mere rationality," and which attempted to secure "for himself and all his countrymen, not freedom from religion, but freedom to pursue religion wherever reason and conscience led" (M. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, p.143.) A recent historian, commenting on Jefferson's pervasive suspicion of central authority and its tendency to seek ever-greater powers at the expense of the governed, observes that "within that anti-governmental context, Jefferson's most enduring legacy is the principle of religious freedom, defined as the complete separation of church and state"; moreover, he adds, the "principle that the government has no business interfering with a person's religious beliefs or practices is the one specific Jeffersonian idea that has negotiated the passage from the late 18th to the late 20th century without any significant change in character or coloration" (J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, pp.355-356). In regard to Jefferson's last months in office, biographer Dumas Malone has noted that "judging from the addresses, resolutions and letters that poured over his desk," Jefferson "had maintained a high degree of popularity with his fellow citizens. Since he received communications from Republican groups in New England, he can be said to have had messages of approval from all parts of the country" (Jefferson the President: Second Term, p.664). A month later, after attending the inauguration of James Madison, Jefferson returned to Monticello.