Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Matthew Clarkson, 17 August 1784

To Matthew Clarkson

Paris Aug. 17.1 1784

Dear Sir

Having been here but few days2 and as yet seen but little of the place or people I cannot pretend to decide from my own observations on the hopes which may be justly formed here of success in your mission. From the conversations I have had on the subject3 they appear to me small indeed. Dr. Franklin is decidedly of opinion they are desperate here, and Mr. Adams that they are so both here and in Holland. These gentlemen know the people of whom they speak and they have seen the experiment tried. To me therefore their opinions are satisfactory. Small sums might perhaps be obtained from a few; as some men will give merely because they are asked. But it is doubted whether these gifts would be equal to your expences, and perhaps certain they would not answer any purpose of consequence, to the institution in whose service you are engaged. It would seem therefore for it’s interest to put an end to all further expences4 with which this pursuit would be attended. Nevertheless as I speak from no knowlege of my own, I can only express this to be my opinion without assuming to advise. I am with very great respect and esteem Dr. Sir Your most obedt. humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNC); addressed: “Colo Matthew Clarkson Paris”; endorsed. Dft (MOSHi); with several deletions and corrections, the more important of which have been noted below. Tr (NNS). Not recorded in SJL.

On 26 May 1784 Matthew Clarkson was authorized to proceed to France and the United Netherlands to solicit benefactions for Columbia College and was instructed to “purchase such philosophical apparatus for the College as Dr. Franklin, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Jefferson, Ministers of the United States, should advise” (History of Columbia University, N.Y., 1904, p. 63). Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, Dickinson, and other American colleges, their funds depleted by the effects of the Revolution, sent emissaries to Europe in 1783 and 1784 to solicit funds, uniformly without success and in some instances without yielding enough to pay expenses. Most of these appeals were made in France and Holland, but Witherspoon of Princeton went directly to London, where he was given not contributions but insults. Pennsylvania conferred honorary degrees on three Frenchmen in 1782, and Louis xvi responded with a gift of one hundred volumes to the Library of that institution, together with a similar number to the College of William and Mary. Brown appealed directly to Louis xvi for the establishment of a chair in French language and history (see Rhode Island delegates to TJ, 14 Oct. 1786). Franklin stood out firmly against this wholesale solicitation, saying to Witherspoon, “The very request would be disgraceful to us, and hurt the credit of responsibility we wish to maintain in Europe by representing the United States as too poor to provide for the education of their own children” (V. L. Collins, Witherspoon, Princeton, 1925, ii, 138–45; Writings of John Jay, H. P. Johnston, ed., iii, 120–2; J. H. Morgan, Dickinson College, Carlisle, 1933, p. 19; R. A. Guild, Early History of Brown University, Providence, 1897, p. 345ff.; E. P. Cheyney, History of the University of Pennsylvania, Phila., 1940, p. 140–1; see also Ezra Stiles to TJ, 7 July 1784; TJ to the Rhode Island Delegates in Congress, 22 July 1787).

1Dft dated 16 Aug.; Tr, 17 Aug.

2TJ first wrote at this point, then deleted and substituted the present text: “it is not possible for me to judge from my own knowlege of the people of this country what success might attend your sollicitations of money.”

3Deleted in Dft: “with the few I have seen.”

4Deleted in Dft: “by a return to America.<It would have given me real pleasure to have been serviceable in any> I think it is what I should do in the same situation.”

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