James Gillespie Birney to Gerrit Smith, October 29, 1857, in Dwight L. Dumond, ed., The Letters of James Gillespie Birney, 1831-1857 (2 vols., Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1966), 2: 1174-1175.
The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible.
Thursday Octo. 29/1857
Dear Brother Gerrit
I was much concerned to hear that you were taken down sick in N.Y. So much so indeed that the Physicians were called in to see you and attend to you. But I hope your ailment will be of short duration and keep you but a short time from traveling on full, that noble highway which you made so beneficial to others and, I have no doubt, so successful to yourself. What is intended as benefits to others may prove to them any thing else, but no one can deprive you of the ennobling good which you must draw from meaning to bless others.
When you and Nancy last left me, I did not much expect to be here so long. I thought I could not hold out more than a few days more. But how often do we miscalculate! Here am I writing you a letter when, according to the view of Spiritualists I should have been careering through the 2d sphere, looking out for a habitation.
Many will think especially Sectarians that I will go into the other world with but slender provision for its happiness. If I do not love justice, prudence, mercy, kindness; if I am not patient, long suffering, disposed, whenever I can, to do good to my fellow man; if I do not dispense with a most liberal hand the things God has put into my power partially to bless others and relieve their wants, in fine if I am not God like in all my tempers, giving my higher nature mastery over my lower one, if I have used all the power He has given me to pull down his word and not to build it up then am I poorly prepared to enter its joys. But I cannot conceive of a great or noble character Truly so, that is not built up with the things I have mentioned and kindred ones. Are we to suppose God will condemn a Character, which makes his son our exemplar, and strives in all things to be like it; Certainly not. O no, dear Gerrit, he intends me and he intends you for even a higher and happier state of existence than you have had here. Judging from what God has done for us heretofore, notwithstanding our peevishness and fretfulness and unfaithfulness shall we at all limit his goodness to us hereafter? Yes, he is God, Gerrit, and there is none like him.
You have known that for a long time, I have lost all confidence in mere beliefs as necessary to happiness hereafter. Whether we believe in the Inspiration of the Bible – in the vicarious atonement – in the personality of the Holy Ghost appears to me a small and deceptive business. The question truly is do we do what good things the Scriptures and Christ and the Holy Ghost tell us to do?
I woke last night about 1 ½ o’clock. From my exhaustion and shortness of breath I thought time with me must soon come to an end, but my wife so managed to turn the affair that here I am.
Receive my best love for yourself dear Gerrit and give it also to Nancy. Good bye.
James G. Birney