Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Joseph C. Cabell to Thomas Jefferson, 22 February 1818

From Joseph C. Cabell

Richmond. 22d Feb. 1818.

Dear sir,

The University Bill has passed1 in the form of the enclosed, with one small exception. The appointment of the Commissioners is now a subject of infinite importance to us. The Executive, I think, will do us justice. But you will observe that vacancies are to be filled by the President & Directors of the Literary fund. Three out of the five come from beyond the mountain. It was proposed in the committee of the Senate to give the appointment in the first instance to the President & Directors of the Lit: Fund. To this I objected, and then it was agreed to give it to the Executive. And the fact is, that the power left with the Prest & Directors of the Lit: fund, was kept in, contrary to my expectation & intention. I relied upon the understanding that the power was to be given to the Executive: and in the hurry of the business, that part of the bill escaped amendment. It is a dangerous power, placed where it is. But it is there, and we must endeavour to avoid its consequences. It is of the very highest importance that every gentleman appointed on this side the Ridge should agree to act, and attend. We have to cope with profound & formidable opponents—no ordinary enemies, I assure you. The federal party, the Presn Clergy, and the whole of the back country. I am discussing the question among our friends here whether it would be proper to name you as a commissioner. The duties of the board will be various, & important. It is of great consequence that I should be forthwith informed whether you would serve if elected. In your answer, if possible, leave me a discretionary power. I see no objection to Mr Madison’s serving—and should he be appointed, I entreat that you will lay before him the high considerations that should induce him to accept the appointment. Be pleased to do this without delay. All I want in this business is fair play—to put this subject on a footing of reciprocity between the two sides of the mountain. The suggestion in my last relative to laying out all our funds in buildings is now worthy of your attention. Nothing can be more important to us than to hasten our operations.2 By the time your answer gets here, the assembly will be up, but I shall still be in town.   faithfully yours

Joseph C. Cabell

RC (ViU: TJP-PC); endorsed by TJ as received 25 Feb. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: “A Bill Appropriating part of the revenue of the Literary Fund, and for other purposes,” with seven subjoined “Amendments Proposed by the Senate,” calling for the appointment by each of the state’s county and city courts of from five to fifteen school commissioners; stipulating the time and place of their first and subsequent meetings; authorizing the choice of a treasurer and clerk by each board; granting the commissioners the “power to determine what number of poor children they will educate, what sum shall be paid for their education,” and which specific children are “to be taught reading, writing and arithmetic” gratis; announcing that the president and directors of the Literary Fund will pay each locality that proportion of $45,000 to which it is entitled on the basis of its free, white population; vesting in the school commissioners both the properties and funds currently in the hands of the overseers of the poor and those resulting from the sale of glebe lands; requiring that an annual report be made to the president and directors of the Literary Fund by each board of commissioners; sanctioning the establishment, “in some convenient and proper part of the State,” of a state university; dictating the selection by the executive of Virginia of twenty-four “discreet and intelligent persons,” one from each state senatorial district, to comprise a “Board of Commissioners for the University”; bidding them to meet at the tavern at Rockfish Gap on 1 Aug. 1818 and report to the next session of the General Assembly on an appropriate site for the school, a plan of building, the courses to be taught there, and the number and type of professorships needed, among other things; directing the board to receive any contributions made to it; appropriating to the university $15,000 a year out of the Literary Fund once a site has been chosen; declaring that the institution will be governed by thirteen visitors chosen by the president and directors of the Literary Fund; giving the visitors authority to appoint a rector and clerk, hire and remove faculty, set salaries and fees, and compose all necessary rules and regulations; requiring that “the said university shall in all things, at all times, be subject to the controul of the Legislature”; and declaring the act to be in force from 1 Mar. 1818 (printed circular in ViU: TJP; undated; with note by TJ at head of text [omitted closing single quotation marks editorially supplied]: “for the establishment of the Literary fund, see Act. Feb. 12. 1811. c. 62 ‘An act to provide for the education of the poor.’ the Govr Lieutt Govr Treasurer, Atty Genl & President of the court of Appeals incorporated under title of ‘The Presidt & Directrs of the literary fund.’ three of them constitute a board of which the Govr President. See also Acts Feb. 2. 1810. c. 44. and Feb. 11. 1811. c. 63. 2. Pleasants Collection”).

The Virginia House of Delegates informed the Senate that it agreed to all but one of its amendments to the university bill on 21 Feb. 1818, the day it was passed into law. The exception was the proposed removal of the phrase “represented in the General Assembly” from the opening sentence. By retaining this phrase the legislation restricted appointment of urban school commissioners to towns and cities that sent delegates to the lower house of the General Assembly (JSV description begins Journal of the Senate of Virginia description ends [1817–18 sess.], 159; Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1817–18 sess.], 11–5).

At this time three out of the five directors of the Literary Fund, Linah Mims, James P. Preston, and John Preston, hailed from west of the Blue ridge Mountains. Their colleagues William Fleming and Philip Norborne Nicholas came from east of the mountains. presn: Presbyterian.

1Cabell here canceled “very.”

2Cabell here canceled “I should prefer to send.”

Index Entries

  • A Bill Appropriating part of the revenue of the Literary Fund, and for other purposes search
  • A Bill Providing for the endowment of Primary Schools, Academies, Colleges, and an University search
  • Blue Ridge Mountains; as political divide search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and establishment of Central College search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and University of Virginia Commission search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; as Va. state senator search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; letters from search
  • Central College; construction of search
  • education; elementary search
  • education; in Va. search
  • Federalist party; in Va. search
  • Fleming, William; and Va. Literary Fund search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; and University of Virginia Commission search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); as University of Virginia commissioner search
  • mathematics; elementary education in search
  • Mims, Linah; and Va. Literary Fund search
  • Nicholas, Philip Norborne; and Va. Literary Fund search
  • Pleasants, Samuel; Supplement, containing the Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, of a public and generally interesting nature search
  • Presbyterians; and education search
  • Preston, James Patton; and Va. Literary Fund search
  • Preston, John (d.1827); and Va. Literary Fund search
  • reading; elementary education in search
  • religion; Presbyterians search
  • schools and colleges; elementary search
  • Supplement, containing the Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, of a public and generally interesting nature (S. Pleasants) search
  • Virginia, University of; Board of Visitors; members of search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; commissioners search
  • Virginia; and education search
  • Virginia; Court of Appeals search
  • Virginia; Federalists in search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; governor search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search
  • Virginia; Literary Fund search
  • Virginia; Senate search
  • Virginia; treasurer of search
  • writing; elementary education in search