Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the American Philosophical Society, 28 January 1797

To the American Philosophical Society

Monticello Jan. 28. 1797.


I have duly recieved your favor of the 7th. inst. informing me that the American Philosophical society have been pleased to name me their President. The suffrage of a body which comprehends whatever the American world has of distinction in philosophy and science in general is the most flattering incident of my life, and that to which I am the most sensible. My satisfaction would be complete were it not for the consciousness that it is far beyond my titles. I feel no qualification for this distinguished post but a sincere zeal for all the objects of our institution, and an ardent desire to see knowlege so disseminated through the mass of mankind that it may at length reach even the extremes of society, beggars and kings. I pray you, gentlemen, to testify for me to our body, my sense of their favor, and my dispositions to supply by zeal what I may be deficient in the other qualifications proper for their service, and to be assured that your testimony cannot go beyond my feelings.

Permit me to avail myself of this opportunity of expressing the sincere grief I feel for the loss of our beloved Rittenhouse. Genius, science, modesty, purity of morals, simplicity of manners, marked him as one of nature’s best samples of the perfection she can cover under the human form. Surely no society, till ours, within the same compass of time ever had to deplore the loss of two such members as Franklin and Rittenhouse: Franklin, our Patriarch the ornament of our age and country,1 whom Philosophy and Philanthropy announced the first of men, and whose name will be as2 a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of heaven, when the memory of his companions of the way3 will be lost in the abyss of time and space.4 With the most affectionate attachment to their memory, and with sentiments of the highest respect to the society, and to yourselves personally I have the honor to be Gentlemen Your most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: William Thornton Papers); with emendations, recorded in notes below, made by TJ subsequent to receipt of the letter by American Philosophical Society (see below); addressed: “Messrs. Samuel Magaw Jonathan Williams William Barton John Bleakley Secretaries of the American Philosophical society Philadelphia”; endorsed by John Vaughan: “Thomas Jefferson’s letter of Acceptance of The Presidentship of the Society. Monticello. 28 Jany. 1797 read: Feby. 10. 1797.” PrC (DLC); incomplete, consisting of first page only; lacks emendations on RC. Tr (PPAmP: Archives); in Samuel Magaw’s hand; lacks emendations on RC. Tr (PPAmP: Ms. Minutes, 17 Feb. 1797); in Magaw’s hand; lacks emendations on RC. Printed in APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, xxii, pt. 3 [1884], 250–1, which follows text of PrC; and APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, iv [1799], xii–xiii, which follows the amended RC.

That the copies made by one of the Society’s secretaries follow the text of TJ’s letterpressed copy and not the altered RC suggests that TJ made the emendations on the RC sometime after the Society’s receipt of the letter, perhaps in anticipation of its publication in the Transactions.

1Preceding seven words interlined.

2Word interlined in place of “like.”

3Preceding five words interlined in place of “those who have surrounded and obscured him.”

4Preceding two words inserted in space at end of sentence.

Index Entries