Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel Magaw, 19 January 1798

From Samuel Magaw

Philadelphia, Janry. 19. 1798


A stated meeting of the American Philosophical Society, is to be held, this evening, at the usual hour—six o’clock—in their hall; where Your presence is respectfully requested. It is matter of sincerest pleasure to every Well-wisher of Science, that One deep in its researches, & distinguished for its diffusion, is to honour its Chair again in this City; invited thereto by an unanimous suffrage.—The Secretaries ought to have announced to the President, his reelection, at an earlier time: But, for want of due arrangement among themselves, an omission has taken place; which, while needing an Apology,—they nevertheless, hope for an excuse, in Your Kindness & Generosity. In sentiments & Assurances of high Consideration,

I am Your Obedient Servant,

Sam. Magaw

RC (MHi); addressed: “The Hon. Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 Jan. 1798 and so recorded in SJL.

Since his arrival in Philadelphia for the session of Congress TJ had not attended meetings of the society on 15 Dec. 1797 or 5 Jan. 1798, at the latter of which he had been reelected the group’s president. He did attend on 19 Jan. 1798, at which time he gave the society a mammoth bone from Virginia. He also presented a Swedish coin, the gift of Tadeusz Kosciuszko. The membership tendered TJ “acknowledgement of the constant sense they entertain of his valuable Communications & Offices of Friendship” (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 264–7; Philip Turpin to TJ, 18 July 1796; TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, 7 May 1797; and TJ to John Barnes, [18] July 1797).

Two communications, nominally addressed to TJ as president of the society but almost certainly not dealt with by him individually, had been received by the society during his absence from Philadelphia. A long missive written by Dr. Benjamin Shultz in Philadelphia on 7 Nov. 1797 described a method for examining certain structures of plants “to distinguish between such plants as are esculent and such as are noxious to animals” (RC in PPAmP: Manuscript Communications, Natural History; at foot of text: “To Thomas Jefferson Esqr. President of the American Philosophical Society, & the present vice President of the United States of America, as well as to the Members of the just-named respectable Society”; with author’s footnotes; endorsed by an officer of the society). Thomas Coulter of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, wrote on 4 Dec. 1797 to identify himself as the author of an essay submitted in a society-sponsored competition seeking solutions to the problem of “Premature death in Peach trees,” and to indicate that “The Author has Som reason to believe that Mr. George Elder, which he Got to Transscribe his Peace, has, Sent a Coppy to the Socity for him Self—If So, it, will appear (as I Suppose) in the Same hand writing as Mine does” (RC in same; addressed: “To the American Philosophical Society. In Phia. Or, the President (or) Vice President thereof”; endorsed by an officer of the society). Neither letter bears any endorsement by TJ or is recorded in SJL. Shultz’s communication was read at a meeting on 1 Dec. 1797 and referred to a committee, which did not report until 7 Dec. 1798. At that time a vote by the members sustained the committee’s “objections to publishing” the paper, the particular reasons for the rejection not being recorded in the minutes. The society received Coulter’s essay on peach trees at the meeting of 19 Jan. 1798, then in October 1800 determined that no submission in that competition deserved the full prize. The society split the premium between Coulter and another entrant, and published both of the brief essays (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 264, 266, 275, 303; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, 5 [1802], 325–8).

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