Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Wallace, 11 July 1803

To James Wallace

Washington July 11. 03.


Your letter of May 19. was recieved in due time, and that of the 6th. inst. came to hand last night. the duties of my present office calling for the whole of my time, and even that being insufficient, and rendering it necessary to leave unacted on whatever will admit of it, the first of your favors remained unanswered. under these circumstances I am obliged to deny myself the gratification of indulging in speculations of the nature of those in your letters, and which, were I free, would be peculiarly agreeable to me. trusting that your candour and good sense will admit this apology as arising from the necessity of my situation, I tender you my salutations and best wishes.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr. James Wallace. N. York.”

Wallace’s lengthy letter of the 6th expanded on some of the ideas expressed in his earlier letter, which he characterized as an attempt “to give an Idea of the System of the Universe, from some expressions found in the 15th. Chapter of St Paul to the Corinthians.” Pointing to Columbus’s explorations and Newton’s development of his theories of gravity and of light and color, Wallace praised their benefactors, without whom they would have lacked the resources to carry out their pursuits. Although Wallace was not assuming that his embryonic system was “entitled to any degree of merit” or support, he hoped that it would get a hearing from qualified judges. He had turned to TJ because he understood him to be less prejudiced in his cultivation of knowledge than professors at colleges and universities. Now “fully convinced of the truth of” his system, he saw it as a way of harmonizing “philosophy and revelation, Uniting, and declaring to man the Extent of the Creation.” It was, Wallace argued, “from the motions observed in the System of the World we draw such undenible arguments of the existance of a Deity.” Subsequent mechanical innovations and scientific discoveries would reveal the ways that light supplied the motive force for the universe and that it was “the cause of every active principle and property in matter, abstracted of divine influence.” Although “these things requiring deep investigation cannot be settled in a hurry,” Wallace intended to disprove through his theory of light some of Newton’s conclusions regarding planetary motion. He did not want to imply that science should be yolked to a particular religious tenet, as in previous eras, “yet in our enquiries, where there is a manifest agreement between Nature and Revelation, it ought to be noticed.” True philosophy and true religion were both founded in nature. In his closing paragraphs, Wallace hinted that he would benefit from TJ’s help in securing a position at an institution “where my assistance might be useful—where I could pursue these Studies with advantage to the Subject, and help to diffuse the Knowledge of these Sciences among many of the youth of Columbia” (RC in DLC; at head of text: “To his Excellency, Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 10 July and so recorded in SJL).

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