Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Jonathan Williams, 3 July 1796

To Jonathan Williams

Monticello July 3.1 1796.

Dear Sir

I take shame to myself for having so long left unanswered your valuable favor on the subject of the mountains. But in truth I am become lazy as to every thing except agriculture. The preparations for harvest, and the length of the harvest itself which is not yet finished, would have excused the delay however at all times and under all dispositions. I examined with great satisfaction your barometrical estimate of the heights of our mountains, and with the more as they corroborated conjectures on this subject which I had made before. My estimates had made them a little higher than yours (I speak of the blue ridge.) Measuring with a very nice instrument the angle subtended vertically2 by the highest mountain of the Blue ridge opposite to my own house from3 a distance of about 18. miles South westward4 I made the height about 2000. f. as well as I remember, for I can no longer find the notes I made. You make the South Side of the5 mountain near Rockfish gap 1722.6 f. above Woods’s. You make the other side of the mountain 7677 f. Mr. Thomas Lewis deceased an accurate man, with a good quadrant made the North side of the8 highest mountain opposite my house something more (I think) than 1000. f. but the mountain estimated by him and myself is probably higher than that next Rockfish gap. I do not remember from what principles I estimated the peeks of Otter at 4000. f. But some late observations of judge Tucker’s coincided very nearly with my estimate. Your measures confirm another opinion of mine that the blue ridge on it’s South side is the highest ridge in our country compared with it’s base. I think your observations on these mountains well worthy of being published, and hope you will not scruple to let them be communicated to the world.9—You wish me to present to the Philosophical society the result of my philosophical researches since my retirement. But my good Sir I have made researches into nothing but what is connected with agriculture. In this way I have a little matter to communicate, and will do it ere long. It is the form of a Mouldboard of least resistance. I had some years ago concieved the principles of it, and I explained them to Mr. Rittenhouse. I have since reduced the thing to practice and have reason to believe the theory fully confirmed. I only wish for one of those instruments used in England for measuring the force exerted in the draught of different ploughs &c. that I might compare the resistance of my mould board with that of others. But these instruments are not to be had here. In a letter of this date to Mr. Rittenhouse I mention a discovery in animal history very10 signal indeed, of which I shall lay before the society the best account I can, as soon as I shall have recieved some other materials which are collecting for me.—I have seen with extreme indignation the blasphemies lately vended against the memory of the father of American philosophy. But his memory will be preserved and venerated as long as the thunders of heaven shall be heard or feared. With good wishes to all of his family and sentiments of great respect and esteem to yourself I am Dear Sir Your most obedt. & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (PPRF); addressed: “Jonathan Williams esq. Mount Pleasant near Philadelphia”; with reworked date and other emendations by TJ recorded in notes 1–5, 8, and 10 below; stamped; endorsed by Williams, who also evidently inserted square brackets and reworked two digits (see notes 6, 7, and 9 below) in preparing an extract for publication in APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, iv (1799), 222, which contains minor variations of wording, punctuation, and capitalization. PrC (DLC); lacks later emendations, possibly by Williams, on RC.

Your valuable favor: Williams to TJ, 24 Jan. 1796. Regarding TJ’s estimates of heights of Virginia mountains, see Williams to TJ, 20 June 1796.

The blasphemies uttered against Williams’s great uncle, Benjamin Franklin, as the father of american philosophy came from the pen of William Cobbett, who mocked an address by the Society of United Irishmen in Dublin, on the occasion of Joseph Priestley’s departure for America, that envisioned George Washington taking him by the hand and the spirit of Franklin looking down benevolently on “the first statesman of the age extending his protection to its first philosopher” on his arrival in the United States. Observing that Franklin could not possibly “look down” on that scene, for those who understood “the geography of the invisible world” generally believed that “Franklin’s shade” had “taken a different route,” Cobbett insisted that the address must have intended to say “that Washington would look down upon him, and Franklin take him by the hand” (“Peter Porcupine” [William Cobbett], A Bone to Gnaw, for the Democrats; Containing … Observations on a Patriotic Pamphlet. Entitled, “Proceedings of the United Irishmen.” … Part ii. [Philadelphia, 1795], 17–18). See Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 28434. Cobbett’s real target was Benjamin Franklin Bache, his chief adversary in the partisan press wars (Tagg, Bache, description begins James Tagg, Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora, Philadelphia, 1991 description ends 329).

1Digit reworked from “2.”

2Word interlined.

3Word reworked from “at.”

4Preceding two words interlined.

5Preceding four words interlined.

6Final digit reworked to “7”, possibly by Williams.

7Final digit reworked to “8”, possibly by Williams.

8Preceding four words interlined.

9Preceding nine sentences, which constitute the extract printed in APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, are bracketed, possibly by Williams.

10TJ originally wrote “of very great” and then altered the passage to read as above.

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