James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 7 April 1822

From Thomas Jefferson

Monticello Apr. 7. 22.

Dear Sir

Your favor of Mar. 29. did not come to hand until the 4th. instant. Only mr. Cabell, Genl. Cocke and myself attended. Messrs. Johnson and Taylor were retained in Richmond on Lithgow’s case,1 and Genl. Breckenridge hindered by business. It was not material as there was not a single thing requisite to act on. We have to finish the 4. rows and appendages this summer which will be done and then to rest on our oars. The question of the removal of the seat of government2 has unhappily come athwart us, and is the real thing now entangling us. Staunton & Richmond are both friendly to us as an University, but the latter fears that our Rotunda will induce the legislature to quit them, & Staunton fears it will stop them here. You will recollect that our brother Johnson has opposed constantly every proposition in the board to begin that building, and moved himself in the late session to suspend interest with an express Proviso that no money should be applied to that building; and mr. Harvie3 one of the zealous friends to the University, in a Philippic against the Rotunda declared he would never vote another Dollar to the University but on condition that it should not be applied to that building. Our opinion, and a very sound one, has been from the beginning never to open the institution until the buildings shall be compleat; because as soon as opened, all the funds will be absorbed by salaries Etc. and the buildings remain for ever incompleat. We have thought it better to open it fully, altho’ a few years later, than let it go on for ever in an imperfect state. I learn from those who were present at the last proceedings of the legislature, that there was a general regret even with the opposition itself, when they found that they had done absolutely nothing at all for the institution. Our course is a plain one, to pursue what is best, and the public will come right and approve us in the end. This bugbear of the seat of government will be understood at the next session, and we shall be enabled to proceed. The establishment is now at that stage at which it will force itself on. We must manage our dissenting brother softly; he is of too much weight to be given up. I inclose you his letter and two from mr. Cabell4 which will inform you more particularly of the state of things. Be so good as to return them when perused. Ever & affectionately your’s

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). RC docketed by JM.

1The case in question, Alexander Lithgow v. The Commonwealth, was an appeal of a case in which Lithgow was tried for embezzlement, found guilty, and sent to prison for one year. The appeal rested on Lithgow’s claim that one of the jury should have been rejected by the court because he had already expressed a decided opinion of Lithgow’s guilt. Lithgow’s challenge was ignored by the court. The General Court upheld Lithgow’s appeal and ordered a retrial (William Brockenbrough, Virginia Cases, or Decisions of the General Court of Virginia … Commencing … 1815, and Ending … 1826 [Richmond, Va., 1826], 297–313).

2Joseph C. Cabell had written Jefferson on 3 Jan. 1822 that there had been discussion on the question of moving the state capital from Richmond: “Blackburn is said by some, to take to heart the removal of the seat of government to Staunton. I am not sure of this, but I suspect he seeks it with deep anxiety. Is it not possible that calculations may be made on our anxiety to endow the University? May they not say—these men would not oppose us, least we may retaliate? I feel the dilemma—I regret it—but I cannot vote to carry the seat of government to Staunton. We are committed against Charlottesville; because of the University being there. And I presume our best course is to keep it here [Richmond]” (Cabell, Early History of the University of Virginia, 226).

3Jacqueline Burwell Harvie (1788–1856) of Richmond subscribed $500 to the Central College, which subsequently became the University of Virginia. Harvie entered the U.S. Navy in 1804 as a midshipman, was promoted lieutenant in 1809, and resigned his commission in 1812. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1821–30, and in the Senate, 1830–39. Harvie married Mary Marshall, daughter of Chief Justice John Marshall, in 1813 (Johnson et al., Papers of John Marshall, 2:321 n. 5; Cabell, Early History of the University of Virginia, 411; Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy description begins Edward W. Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900 (New York, 1901). description ends , 251; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , 385).

4The letter from Chapman Johnson has not been found, but Jefferson noted in his Epistolary Record (DLC: Jefferson Papers) that he received on 31 Mar. 1822 a letter from Johnson written two days earlier from Richmond. For Joseph C. Cabell’s letters to Jefferson of 6 and 10 Mar. 1822, both of which contained detailed descriptions of political infighting in support of the university during the General Assembly session, see Cabell, Early History of the University of Virginia, 245–54.

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