Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Levi Lincoln, 11 September 1803

From Levi Lincoln

Worester Sept 11. 1803.

Dear Sir

The inclosed is a poem spoken by my 2d son on the last commencement at Harvard College—The Presidt of the College objected to the latter part, said it would give offence, and refused to approbate it. The author told him he would not alter it—He was directed to give a copy & consider further of the matter—It was spoken—the circumstance shews the spirit of the governors of that Seminary, altho it has become more moderate—

Accept Sir assurance of my most respectful esteem

Levi Lincoln

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The Presdt of the U States”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 Sep. and so recorded in SJL.

Daniel Waldo Lincoln, the second son of Levi and Martha Waldo Lincoln, wrote “Benevolence” for his college commencement as a wave of dysentery swept through his family in the summer. Because he was recovering from the illness himself, he had a friend deliver the poem to Joseph Willard, the president of harvard, for review. Fearing the poem would offend the largely Federalist audience, Willard rejected it and demanded revision. Lincoln, however, traveled to Cambridge and in defiance read the poem aloud in its original form. An eyewitness to the event on 30 Aug. 1803, described the piece as “worthy a disciple of Voltaire, who in affection for the great whole forgets the parts.” Lincoln’s other verses in praise of TJ included “Purity of Heart” in April 1803, a Fourth of July oration given at Worcester and published there in 1805, and “New Year” published in Portland, Maine, in 1806. After reading law with his father, Lincoln settled in Portland and received an appointment as county attorney of Cumberland. He practiced law in Boston from 1810 to 1813, but then returned to Portland and resumed his business. A Republican orator described as a “closet cultural Federalist who preferred deference, philosophy and poetry to politics and partisanship,” he died in 1815 at the age of 31 (William Lincoln, History of Worcester, Massachusetts, from its Earliest Settlement to September, 1836: With Various Notices Relating to the History of Worcester [Worcester, 1837], 271; James Spear Loring, The Hundred Boston Orators Appointed by the Municipal Authorities and Other Public Bodies, From 1770 to 1852, 2d ed. [Boston, 1853], 351-2; Charles C. Smith, “Some Notes on the Harvard Commencements, 1803-1848,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., 5 [1889-90], 169; Rebecca M. Dresser, “The Dissolution of a Republican: Daniel Waldo Lincoln, 1784-1815” [Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 2010], 39-79, 104, 206-7, 217; Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801-1819, New York, 1958-63, 22 vols. description ends , Nos. 8788, 13215; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004- , 10 vols. description ends , 2:504-5, 666).

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