Thomas Jefferson Papers
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James Semple to Thomas Jefferson, [28 November 1812]

From James Semple

[Williamsburg, 28 Nov. 1812]1


At the first meeting of the Visitors after the receipt of the letter you did me the favor to write me, I laid before the board the information which you communicated with a view to the Interests of the Colledge of Wm & Mary. Measures were immediately adopted to ascertain whether Mr Meigs was fitted for the vacant department, which we are extremely solicitous to fill with an able and profound Man. As a Visitor of the Colledge, and as an American I feel the deepest interest in the prosperity of that Institution; which has sustained a rude Schock in the appointment of Mr Bracken to the Presidency. If the Gordian knot cannot be untied, I woud at once cut it—the best interests of our Country shoud not be jeopardized for the sake of preserving the words of our Royal charter—nor shoud delicacy towards an individual who disregards the publick wishes restrain me for a moment. If he was to continue Chaplain, the people woud not so much complain,—but that Office shoud be put down altogether, or at any rate left vacant—The connection between a Litterary Institution & the Church, seems to be as preposterous & absurd as the2 connection between Church & State—Custom appeared to have riveted a Chaplain on the House of Delegates; [bu]t principle & reason prevailed after repeated efforts and I trust the office in our Colledge will experience a similar fate—

I am with great respect

Y mo ob St

James Semple

RC (CtY: Franklin Collection); dateline and endorsement lacking (see note 1 below); with one small hole. Recorded in SJL as a letter dated Williamsburg, 28 Nov. 1812, and received 17 Dec. 1812.

The Board of visitors ultimately selected a local candidate, Ferdinand S. Campbell, to the chair of mathematics at the College of William and Mary. John bracken was an Episcopal clergyman when he served as president of the college from 1812 until the visitors obtained his resignation in 1814, about the same time that they eliminated the requirement that the institution’s president also belong to the clergy. The Virginia house of delegates decided against appointing a chaplain in 1806 but reinstated that position by 1814 (Susan H. Godson and others, The College of William & Mary: A History [1993], 1:201–3; JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1806–07 sess.], 6 [2 Dec. 1806]; [1814–15 sess.], 8 [11 Oct. 1814]).

1Dateline almost entirely lacking. According to Jefferson Correspondence, Bixby description begins Worthington C. Ford, ed., Thomas Jefferson Correspondence Printed from the Originals in the Collections of William K. Bixby, 1916 description ends , 203n, it was “eaten away by mice.” Endorsement on verso is almost entirely lacking, but when Jefferson Correspondence was compiled, it was evidently still possible to read 17 Dec. date of receipt.

2Semple here canceled what appears to be “former.”

Index Entries

  • Bracken, John; and College of William and Mary search
  • Campbell, Ferdinand S. search
  • Meigs, Josiah; seeks appointment search
  • Semple, James; and College of William and Mary search
  • Semple, James; letters from search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • William and Mary, College of; faculty of search
  • William and Mary, College of; president of search