Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Rush, 4 January 1797

From Benjamin Rush

Philada: Jany: 4th. 1797.

My Dear Friend

I enclose you a humble tribute to the memory of our great republican and philosophical friend Mr. Rittenhouse. It is a feeble expression of respect for his Character compared with yours, in your defence of the genius of the Americans. Few such men have ever lived, or died in any Country.

Accept of my Congratulations upon your election to the Vice President’s Chair of the United States, and upon your escape of the Office of President. In the present situation of our Country it would have been impossible for you to have preserved the Credit of republican principles, or your own character for integrity, had you succeeded to the New York Administration of our government. The Seeds of British Systems in every thing, have at last ripened. What a harvest of political evils1 is before us!

It has given me great pleasure to hear of Mr. Adams’s speaking with pleasure of the prospect of administring the government in a connection with you. He does you justice upon all occasions, And it is currently said, views the Attempt which originated in New York to prefer Mr. Pinckney to him, in its proper light.

The philosophical Society purpose to place you in the Chair vacated by the death of Mr. Rittenhouse. This will be done, in Consequence of your declaration in your letter to Mr. Madison that you will not refuse the Office of Vice President of the U States if elected to it. We shall expect you to preside in our Winter Meetings. From Dr. Sir your sincere Old friend

Benjn Rush

RC (DLC); one emendation recorded in note below; endorsed by TJ as received 21 Jan. 1797 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Benjamin Rush, An Eulogium, intended to perpetuate the memory of David Rittenhouse, late President of the American Philosophical Society, delivered before the Society in the First Presbyterian Church … 17th Dec. 1796 (Philadelphia, 1796). See Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 680.

As an example of American genius, TJ in Notes on the State of Virginia had cited Rittenhouse’s accomplishments in astronomy (Notes, ed. Peden, 64–5).

Rush had a long conversation with John Adams on 31 Dec. 1796 and expected to dine with him on the day the above letter was written. Rush recounted to Adams the contents of TJ’s letter to Madison of 17 Dec. 1796, taken to be a declaration concerning TJ’s intentions toward the vice presidency, which Madison had shown to Rush in a chance encounter on the street (see note to that letter, and John Adams’s correspondence with Abigail Adams cited there).

1Preceding three words interlined in place of a dash.

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