From George Washington
Philadelphia 1st. Septr. 1796
My dear Sir,
About the middle of last Week I wrote to you;1 and that it might escape the eye of the Inquisitive (for some of my letters have lately been pried into) I took the liberty of putting it under a cover to Mr. Jay.
Since then, revolving on the Paper that was enclosed therein;2 on the various matters it contained; and on the just expression of the advice or recommendation which was given in it, I have regretted that another subject (which in my estimation is of interesting concern to the well-being of this country) was not touched upon also: I mean Education generally as one of the surest means of enlightening & givg. just ways of thinkg to our Citizens, but particularly the establishment of a University; where the Youth from all parts of the United States might receive the polish of Erudition in the Arts, Sciences & Belle Letters; and where those who were disposed to run a political course, might not only be instructed in the theory & principles, but (this Seminary being at the Seat of the General Government) where the Legislature wd. be in Session half the year, and the interests & politics of the Nation of course would be discussed, they would lay the surest foundation for the practical part also.
But that which would render it of the highest importance, in my opinion, is, that the Juvenal period of life, when friendships are formed, & habits established that will stick by one; the Youth, or young men from different parts of the United States would be assembled together, & would by degrees discover that there was not that cause for those jealousies & prejudices which one part of the union had imbibed agains[t] another part: of course, sentiments of more liberality in the general policy of the country would result from it. What, but the mixing of people from different parts of the United States during the War rubbed off these impressions? A century in the ordinary intercourse, would not have accomplished what the Seven years association in Arms did: but that ceasing, prejudices are beginning to revive again, and never will be eradicated so effectually by any other means as the intimate intercourse of characters in early life, who, in all probability, will be at the head of the councils of this country in a more advanced stage of it.
To shew that this is no new idea of mine, I may appeal to my early communications to Congress;3 and to prove how seriously I have reflected on it since, & how well disposed I have been, & still am, to contribute my aid towards carrying the measure into effect, I enclose you the extract of a letter from me to the Governor of Virginia on the Subject,4 and a copy of the resolves of the Legislature of that State in consequence thereof.5
I have not the smallest doubt that this donation (when the Navigation is in complete operation, which it certainly will be in less than two years) will amount to twelve or £1500 Sterlg a year, and become a rapidly increasing fund. The Proprietors of the Federal City have talked of doing something handsome towards it likewise6 and if Congress would appropriate so⟨me of⟩7 the Western lands to the same uses, funds sufficient, and of the most permanent and increasing sort might be so established as to invite the ablest Professors in Europe, to conduct it.
Let me pray you, therefore, to introduce a Section in the Address expressive of these sentiments, & recommendatory of the measure—without any mention, however, of my proposed personal contribution to the plan.
Such a Section would come in very properly after the one which relates to our religious obligations, or in a preceding part, as one of the recommendatory measures to counteract the evils arising from Geographical discriminations.8
With Affecte regard I am always Yours
Colo. A. Hamilton
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, facsimile (tracing), Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; two copies, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Washington to H, August 25, 1796.
3. Washington had proposed the creation of a national university in his first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).
4. On March 16, 1795, Washington wrote to Governor Robert Brooke of Virginia: “Ever since the General Assembly of Virginia were pleased to submit to my disposal fifty shares in the Potomack, and one hundred in the James River company, it has been my anxious desire to appropriate them to an object, most worthy of public regard.
“It is with indescribable regret that I have seen the youth of the United States migrating to foreign countries, in order to acquire the higher branches of erudition and to obtain a knowledge of the Sciences. Altho it would be injustice to many to pronounce the certainty of their imbibing maxims, not congenial with republicanism; it must nevertheless be admitted that a serious danger is encountered by sending abroad among other political systems those who have not well learned the value of their own.
“The time is therefore come when a plan of Universal education ought to be adopted in the United States. Not only do the exigencies of public and private life demand it; but if it should ever be apprehended that prejudice would be entertained in one part of the Union against another; an efficacious remedy will be, to assemble the youth of every part under such circumstances, as will, by the freedom of intercourse and collision of sentiment, give to their minds the direction of truth, philanthropy and mutual conciliation.
“It has been represented, that an University, corresponding with these ideas is contemplated to be built in the federal city; and that it will receive considerable endowments. This position is so eligable from its centrality—so convenient to Virginia, by whose legislature the shares were granted, and in which part the federal district stands—and combines so many other conveniences, that I have determined to vest the Potomack shares in that University.
“Presuming it to be more agreeable to the general assembly of Virginia, that the shares in the James River company should be reserved for a similar object in some part of that State, I intend to allot them for a Seminary to be erected at such place, as they shall deem most proper.…
“I must beg the favor of your Excellency to lay this letter before that honorable body, at their next Session; in order that I may appropriate the James River shares to the place which they may prefer.…” (ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)
5. Washington’s letter to Brooke of March 16, 1795, was presented to the Virginia House of Delegates on November 10 and 11, 1795 (Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond, on Tuesday, the Tenth Day of November, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Five [Richmond, 1795], 3, 5).
On December 1, 1795, the House of Delegates agreed to the following resolutions:
“Whereas the migration of American youth to foreign countries, for the completion of their education, exposes them to the danger of imbibing political prejudices disadvantageous to their own republican forms of government, and ought therefore to be rendered unnecessary and avoided.
“1. Resolved, that the plan contemplated for erecting an University at the Federal City where the youth of the several states may be assembled, and their course of education finished, deserves the countenance and support of each state.
“And whereas, when the General Assembly presented sundry shares in the James river and Patowmac Companies to George Washington, as a small token of their gratitude for the great, eminent and unrivalled services he had rendered to this commonwealth, to the United States, and to the world at large, in support of the principles of liberty and equal government, it was their wish and desire that he should appropriate them as he might think best. And whereas the present General Assembly retain the same sense of his virtues, wisdom, and patriotism:
“2. Resolved therefore, that the appropriation by the said George Washington of the aforesaid shares in the Patowmac Company to the University intended to be erected in the Federal City, is made in a manner most worthy of the public regard and of the approbation of this commonwealth.
“3. Resolved also, that he be requested to appropriate the aforesaid shares in the James river Company to a Seminary at such place in the upper country as he may deem most convenient to a majority of the inhabitants thereof.” (Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia.… 63–64).
6. See the Memorial of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, November 21, 1796 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Miscellaneous, I, 153–54); Washington to the Commissioners of the City of Washington, December 1, 1796 (ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; LC, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).
7. Material within broken brackets has been taken from the facsimile in the Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
8. See the introductory note to H to Washington, May 10, 1796; H to Washington, July 30, 1796, note 12.