Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 7 September 1814

To Peter Carr

Monticello Sep. 7. 14.

Dear Sir

On the subject of the Academy or College proposed to be established in our neighborhood, I promised the trustees that I would prepare for them a plan, adapted in the first instance to our slender funds, but susceptible of being enlarged either by their own growth or by accession from other quarters. I have long entertained the hope that this our native state would take up the subject of education, and make an establishment, either with or without incorporation into that of William & Mary, where every branch of science, deemed useful at this day, and in our country, should be taught in it’s highest degree. with this view I have lost no occasion of making myself acquainted with the organisation of the best seminaries in other countries, and with the opinions of the most enlightened individuals on the subject of the sciences worthy of a place in such an institution. in order to prepare what I had promised our trustees, I have lately revised these several plans with attention and I am struck with the diversity of arrangement observable in them, no two being alike. yet I have no doubt that these several arrangements have been the result of mature reflection, by wise and learned men, who, contemplating local1 circumstances, have adapted them to the condition of the section of society for which they have been framed. I am strengthened in this conclusion by an examination of each separately, and a conviction that no one of them, if adopted without change, would be suited to the circumstances and pursuits of our country. the example they have set then is authority for us to select from their different institutions the materials which are good for us, and with them to erect a structure whose arrangement shall correspond with our own social condition, and shall admit of enlargement in proportion to the encoragements it may merit and recieve. as I may not be able to attend the meetings of the trustees, I will make you the Depository of my ideas on the subject, which may be corrected as you proceed by the better views of others, and adapted from time to time to the prospects which open on us, and which cannot now be specifically foreseen and provided for.

In the first place we must ascertain with precision the object of our institution, by taking a survey of the general field of science, and marking out the portion we mean to occupy at first, and the ultimate extension of our views beyond that, should we be enabled to render it in the end as comprehensive as we would wish.

It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of it’s functionaries to provide, that every citizen in it should recieve an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life. the mass of our citizens may be divided into two classes, the laboring, & the learned. the laboring will need the first grade of education to qualify them for their pursuits and duties: the learned will need it as a foundation for further acquirements. a plan was formerly proposed to the legislature of this state for laying off every county into Hundreds or Wards of 5. or 6. miles square, within each of which should be a school for the education of the children of the ward, wherein they should recieve three years instruction gratis, in reading, writing, arithmetic as far as fractions, the roots and ratios, and Geography. the legislature, at one time, tried an ineffectual expedient for introducing this plan, which having failed it is hoped they will some day resume it in a more promising form.

At the discharge of the pupils from this elementary school, the two classes separate: those destined for labor will engage in the business of agriculture, or enter into apprenticeships to such handicraft art as may be their choice: their companions destined to the pursuits of science will proceed to the College, which will consist of 1st General schools and 2d Professional schools. the General schools will constitute the second grade of education. The learned class may still be subdivided into two sections. 1. those who are destined for learned professions as a means of livelihood; and 2. the Wealthy who possessing independant fortunes may aspire to share in conducting the affairs of the nation, or to live with usefulness & respect in the private ranks of life. both of these sections will require instruction in all the higher branches of science, the wealthy to qualify them for either public or private life, the Professional section will need those branches especially which are the basis of their future profession, and a general knolege of the others as auxiliary to that, and necessary to their standing and associating with the scientific class. all the branches then of useful science ought to be taught in the General schools to a competent extent,2 in the first instance. these sciences may be arranged into 3. departments, not rigorously scientific indeed but sufficiently so for our purpose. these are I. Language. II. Mathematics. III. Philosophy.

I. In the 1st department I would arrange as distinct sciences, 1. Languages and history, antient and modern. 2. Grammar. 3. Belles lettres. 4. Rhetoric and Oratory. 5. a school for the deaf, dumb and blind.history is here associated with languages not as a kindred3 subject, but on a principle of economy, because both may be attained by the same course of reading, if books are selected with that view.

II. in the department of Mathematics I should place distinctly 1. Mathematics pure. 2. Physico-mathematics. 3. Physics. 4. Chemistry. 5. Natural history, to wit, Mineralogy. 6. botany. and 7. Zoology. 8. anatomy. 9. the Theory of Medecine.

III. in the Philosophical department I should distinguish 1. Ideology. 2. Ethics. 3. the Law of Nature & Nations. 4. Government. 5. Political economy.

but some of these terms being used by different writers in different degrees of extension, it is necessary to define exactly what I mean to comprehend within each of them.

I. 3. within the term of Belles lettres I include poetry & composition generally, and Criticism.

II. 1. I consider pure mathematics as the science of 1. Numbers. and 2. Measure in the abstract. that of numbers comprehending4 Arithmetic, Algebra, & Fluxions; that of Measure, under the general appellation5 of Geometry, comprehending Trigonometry plane and Spherical. Conic sections and Transcendental curves.

II. 2. Physico-Mathematics treat of Physical subjects by the aid of Mathematical calculation. these are Mechanics, Statics, hydrostatics, hydraulics, hydro-dynamics, navigation, astronomy, geography, optics, pneumatics, Acoustics.

II. 3. Physics, or Natural philosophy (not entering the limits of chemistry) treat of natural substances, their properties, mutual relations and action. they particularly examine the subjects of motion, attraction, magnetism, electricity, galvanism—light6 meteorology with an Etc not easily enumerated. these definitions and specifications render immaterial the question whether I use the generic terms in the exact degree of comprehension in which others use them. to be understood is all that is necessary to the present object.

At the close of this course the Students separate, the wealthy retiring with a sufficient stock of knolege to improve themselves to any degree to which their views may lead them, and the Professional section to the Professional7 Schools constituting the IIId Grade of education, and teaching the particular sciences which the individuals of this section mean to pursue with more minuteness and detail than was within the scope of the General schools for the 2d grade of instruction. in these Professional8 schools each science is to be taught in the highest degree it has yet attained. they are to be in the

Ist Department, the Fine arts, to wit, civil Architecture, Gardening Painting, Sculpture & the theory of Music. in the

IId Department, Architecture military and naval, Projectiles, Rural economy (comprehending agriculture, horticulture, and veterinary) Technical philosophy, the Practice of Medecine, Materia medica Pharmacy,9 and Surgery. in the

IIId Department, Theology & Ecclesiastical history, Law municipal and foreign.

To these Professional10 schools will come those who separated at the close of their 1st Elementary course, to wit,

the Lawyer to the school of Law.

the Ecclesiastic to that of Theology & Ecclesiastical history.

the Physician to those of the Practice of medecine, Materia Medica, Pharmacy and Surgery

the military man to that of military & naval architecture & Projectiles:

the Agricultor11 to that of Rural economy:

Cthe Gentleman, the Architect, Pleasure-gardener, Painter & Musician to the school of Fine arts:

and to that of Technical philosophy will come the mariner12 carpenter, ship-wright, plough-wright, wheel wright, mill wright, pump-maker, clock-maker, machinist, optician, metallurgist, founder, cutler, druggist, brewer, vintner, distiller, dyer, painter, bleacher, soap-maker, tanner, powder maker, salt maker, glass maker, to learn as much as shall be necessary, to pursue their art understandingly, of the sciences of geometry, mechanics, statics, hydrostatics, hydraulics, hydrodynamics, navigation, astronomy, geography, optics, pneumatics, acoustics, physics, chemistry, natural history, botany mineralogy & pharmacy.

The school of Technical philosophy will differ essentially in it’s functions from the other Professional13 schools. the others are instituted to ramify and dilate the particular sciences taught in the schools of the 2d grade on a general scale only: the Technical school is to abridge those which were taught there too much in extenso for the limited wants of the artificer or practical man. these artificers must be grouped together, according to the particular branch of science in which they need elementary and practical instruction, and a special lecture or lectures must be prepared for each groupe. and these lectures should be given in the evening, so as not to interrupt the labors of the day. this school particularly should be maintained wholly at the public expence, on the same principle with that of the ward schools.

Through the whole of the Collegiate course, at the hours of recreation on certain days, all the Students should be taught the Manual exercise, Military evolutions and manoeuvres, should be under a standing organisation as a military corps, and with proper officers to train and command them.

A Tabular statement of this distribution of the sciences will place the system of instruction more distinctly in view.

Ist or Elementary grade, in the Ward schools.
 reading, writing, arithmetic, geography.
IId or General14 grade.
 1. Language & History, antient and modern.
 2. Mathematics. viz
 Mathematics pure.
 Theory of Medecine.
 3. Philosophy. viz.
 Law of nature & nations.
 Political economy.
IIId or Professional grade.
 Theology and Ecclesiastical history.
 Law, municipal & foreign.
 Practice of Medicine.
 Materia Medica and Pharmacy.
 Architecture military & naval, and Projectiles.
  Technical Philosophy.
 Rural economy.
 Fine arts.

On this survey of the field of science, I recur to the question, what portion of it do we mark out for the occupation of our Institution? with the 1st grade of education we shall have nothing to do. the sciences of the 2d grade are our first object, and to adapt them to our slender beginnings, we must separate them into groupes, comprehending many sciences each, and greatly more in the first instance than ought to be imposed on, or can be competently conducted by, a single professor permanently. they must be subdivided from time to time, as our means increase, until each professor shall have no more under his care than he can attend to with advantage to his pupils, & ease to himself. in the further advance of our resources the Professional15 schools must be introduced, and Professorships established for them also. for the present we may groupe the sciences into Professorships as follows, subject however to be changed according to the qualifications of the persons we may be able to engage.

Ist professorship
IId professorship IIId professorship. IVth professorship.
Lang. & Hist. Antt & Mod. Mathematics pure. Chemistry Philosophy, Ethical & Civil.16
Belles Lettres. Physico-Mathematics Zoology
Rhetoric & Oratory. Physics. Botany
  Anatomy Mineralogy.
  Medecine. theory.

The organisation of the branch of the Institution which respects it’s government, police, and economy depending on principles which have no affinity with those of it’s course of instruction, may be the subject of separate & subsequent consideration.

with this tribute of duty to the board of trustees, accept the assurance of my great esteem & consideration

Th: Jefferson

FC (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; with wide margins characteristic of TJ’s drafts and texts on which he invited the comments of others; at foot of first page: “Peter Carr, President of the board of trustees.” PoC (ViU: TJP); lacking marginal headings. Enclosed in TJ to Thomas Cooper, 10 Sept. 1814, TJ to Joseph C. Cabell, 5 Jan. 1815, and Cabell to TJ, 26 Feb. 1816. Printed in Richmond Enquirer, 17 Feb. 1816, and Sundry Documents on the subject of a System of Public Education, for the State of Virginia, Published by the President and Directors of the Literary Fund, in obedience to a Resolution of the General Assembly (Richmond, 1817), 12–8.

As a member of the committee to revise Virginia’s laws, in 1778 TJ drafted “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge,” in which he proposed that each county be divided into hundreds that would each host an elementary school (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 2:526–35, esp. 527). The ineffectual expedient was “An Act to establish Public Schools” (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1796 sess.], 3–4).

1Word interlined in place of “the.”

2Reworked from “in a College to a general extent.”

3TJ here canceled “science.”

4Word interlined in place of “consisting of.”

5Word interlined in place of “term.”

6Word interlined.

7Preceding two words interlined in place of “Special.”

8Word interlined in place of “Special.”

9Word interlined.

10Word interlined in place of “Special.”

11Reworked from “Agriculturer.”

12Word interlined.

13Word interlined in place of “Special.”

14Word interlined in place of “Collegiate.”

15Word interlined in place of “Special.”

16Preceding three words not in Enquirer or Sundry Documents.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

º I. Elementary Schools.

º II. General Schools.

º 1. Language.

º 2. Mathematics.

º 3. Philosophy.

º III. Professional Schools.

Index Entries

  • A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge search
  • acoustics; study of search
  • agriculture; study of search
  • Albemarle Academy; TJ solicits planning advice search
  • Albemarle Academy; TJ’s proposed curriculum for search
  • An Act to establish Public Schools (1796) search
  • anatomy; study of search
  • architecture; study of search
  • astronomy; study of search
  • belles lettres; study of search
  • botany; study of search
  • Carr, Peter (TJ’s nephew); and Albemarle Academy search
  • Carr, Peter (TJ’s nephew); letters to search
  • chemistry; study of search
  • composition; collegiate education in search
  • disabilities, persons with; and education for deaf, dumb, and blind search
  • education, collegiate; faculty for search
  • education, collegiate; TJ on search
  • education; elementary search
  • education; for deaf, mute, and blind search
  • education; in fine arts search
  • education; military instruction search
  • education; professional search
  • education; TJ on search
  • education; vocational search
  • ethics; study of search
  • exercise, physical; at college search
  • gardening; study of search
  • geography; collegiate education in search
  • geography; elementary education in search
  • grammar; study of search
  • history; collegiate education in search
  • hydraulics; study of search
  • hydrodynamics; study of search
  • hydrostatics; study of search
  • ideology; study of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; College of William and Mary search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as Albemarle Academy trustee search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge search
  • language; TJ on study of search
  • law; professional education in search
  • mathematics; algebra search
  • mathematics; calculus search
  • mathematics; collegiate education in search
  • mathematics; elementary education in search
  • mathematics; geometry search
  • mathematics; trigonometry search
  • mechanics; study of search
  • medicine; collegiate education in search
  • medicine; professional education in search
  • military; and collegiate curriculum search
  • military; professional education for search
  • mineralogy; study of search
  • music; study of search
  • natural history; study of search
  • natural law; study of search
  • natural philosophy; study of search
  • navigation; study of search
  • optics; study of search
  • oratory; study of search
  • painting; study of search
  • pharmacy; study of search
  • philosophy; study of search
  • physics; study of search
  • pneumatics; study of search
  • political economy; study of search
  • politics; study of search
  • reading; elementary education in search
  • religion; education in search
  • rhetoric; study of search
  • schools and colleges; and TJ’s plans for a university in Va. search
  • schools and colleges; technical search
  • sculpture; professional education in search
  • statics; study of search
  • surgery; study of search
  • veterinary science; study of search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • William and Mary, College of; TJ on search
  • writing; elementary education in search
  • zoology; study of search