Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Joseph C. Cabell to Thomas Jefferson, 19 February 1817

From Joseph C. Cabell

Richmond 19th Feb: 1817.

Dear sir,

The Bill respecting the Turnpike from Rockfish Gap was this day postponed indefinitely in the House of Delegates. Col: yancey, as I am informed by Mr Thweat, did every thing in his power to push the Bill thro’ the House, after having consented to lay it on the table for the Balance of the session.

The Bill for taking the sense of the people as to the expediency of calling a convention was rejected in the Senate. The Bill for equalizing the Senatorial districts & the Land tax has since passed. I was an advocate for this last bill, and used the first Bill reported by yourself Mr Pendleton & Mr Wythe in the year 1779. to prove that we had the constitutional power to alter the classes.

The University Bill is now under consideration in the Senate. I cannot predict its fate. It comes to us, however, at a most inauspicious period, when the members are impatient to break up & go home.

I am, Dr sir, very truly yours

Joseph C. Cabell

RC (ViU: TJP-PC); endorsed by TJ as received 23 Feb. 1817 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 16 Mar. 1817, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson esq. Monticello”; franked; postmarked Richmond, 21 Feb.

Cabell was an advocate of “An Act for arranging the Counties into Districts for the election of Senators, and for equalizing the Land Tax,” which passed into law on 18 Feb. 1817 (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1816–17 sess.], 7–15). For the first bill reported by TJ, Edmund Pendleton, and George Wythe, see PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 40 vols. description ends , 2:336–7.

The university bill, “Providing for the establishment of Primary Schools, Academies, Colleges, and an University,” outlined a new plan for public education in Virginia, proposing that a ten-member Board of Public Instruction be elected annually by joint ballot of the Senate and House of Delegates; specifying that the governor serve as president of the Board and that its geographical composition be balanced among different regions of the state; calling for an annual meeting in Charlottesville or another location until the University of Virginia is complete, after which all meetings shall be held there; empowering the Board to establish the University of Virginia, decide on its professorships and curriculum, and recommend laws related to public education to the General Assembly; calling for the appointment of three commissioners in each county or corporation court with the authority to divide their jurisdictions into townships and wards for the purpose of establishing primary schools; prescribing the method for designating schoolhouse property and mandating the election of five trustees for each township or ward; describing the roles of the trustees and the arrangements for tuition payments, teacher salaries, and funding of educational supplies; authorizing the Board to divide the state into forty-eight academic districts of reasonably equal population based on the last census; establishing rules for the integration of schools already in existence into the new public education system; describing the procedure for the founding and operation of a new academy in an academical district; recognizing the Ann Smith Academy for female education as acceptable to the Board and limiting the number of such institutions in the state to a total of three; giving the Board authority to establish four new colleges to be named Pendleton, Wythe, Henry, and Jefferson; outlining the geographical distribution of the colleges and the responsibilities of twenty-five trustees for each, who will be appointed by the Board; providing that with the consent of the trustees or visitors of the existing colleges, William and Mary, Hampden-Sydney, and Washington, these institutions can be integrated into the new system of public education; instructing the Board to determine the site of the new University of Virginia as soon as possible; authorizing each county or corporation court to appoint three or more commissioners at its next meeting charged with collecting subscriptions from the residents in support of the educational institutions described in the bill; requiring the trustees of the primary schools, academies, and colleges to submit an annual report to the Board from which it will compile a statement on the condition of public education for presentation to the General Assembly; reiterating the responsibilities of the president and directors of the Literary Fund; repealing all existing acts and sections of acts falling within the purview of the new statute and detailing the process for its coming into effect; and appending a list of four amendments made by the Senate, including one explicitly subjecting the Board to the control of the General Assembly; another terminating the act at the end of the next legislative session unless it is reauthorized then and suspending the expenditure of money from the Literary Fund until such reauthorization; and a third requiring each commissioner of revenue to report on the institutions in his district to the Board and the governor and Council of State by 1 Dec. 1818 and stipulating that each county, city, corporate town, and the borough of Norfolk be required to appoint not less than five and not more than ten commissioners of the Literary Fund and listing their responsibilities (printed in Sundry Documents on the Subject of a System Of Public Education, for the State Of Virginia [Richmond, 1817], 35–52; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 5 [no. 211]).

A Senate committee chaired by Chapman Johnson amended the University Bill and reported it out on 20 Feb. 1817. Cabell noted that Johnson invoked the “Patronage of Mr Jefferson” for the legislation while urging the advantages of Staunton as the new institution’s home (MS in ViU: JCC; entirely in Cabell’s hand; undated; endorsed by Cabell: “Notes of Heads of Johnson’s argument on the University Bill”). The first two amendments described above, designed to aid passage by increasing legislative control, may have been drafted by Cabell (MS in ViU: JCC; entirely in Cabell’s hand; undated; endorsed by Cabell: “Amendments to the University Bill of Sessn 1816–17”). The Senate rejected the measure the same day on a tie seven-to-seven vote (JSV description begins Journal of the Senate of Virginia description ends [1816–17 sess.], 67 [20 Feb. 1817]).

Index Entries

  • A Bill Providing for the establishment of Primary Schools, Academies, Colleges, and an University search
  • Albemarle County, Va.; roads in search
  • An Act for arranging the Counties into Districts for the election of Senators, and for equalizing the Land Tax (1817) search
  • Ann Smith Academy (Lexington) search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and proposed Albemarle Co. road search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; as Va. state senator search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; letters from search
  • Central College; as state university of Va. search
  • education, collegiate; reform of search
  • education; elementary search
  • education; in Va. search
  • Hampden-Sydney College; and state university for Va. search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; and revision of Va. laws search
  • Johnson, Chapman; as Va. state senator search
  • Lexington, Va.; Ann Smith Academy search
  • Pendleton, Edmund (1721–1803); and revision of Va. laws search
  • roads; in Albemarle Co. search
  • Rockfish Gap, Va.; proposed road from search
  • Staunton, Va.; as potential location for state university search
  • Thweatt, Archibald; and proposed Albemarle Co. road search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; proposals for search
  • Virginia; Council of State search
  • Virginia; governor search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search
  • Virginia; Literary Fund search
  • Virginia; revision of laws search
  • Virginia; roads proposed in search
  • Virginia; Senate search
  • Washington College (later Washington and Lee University) search
  • William and Mary, College of; and state university for Va. search
  • women; education of search
  • Wythe, George; and revision of Va. laws search
  • Yancey, Charles (1766–ca.1825); and proposed Albemarle Co. road search