Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to David Campbell, 14 March 1800

To David Campbell

Philadelphia Mar. 14. 1800.

Dear Sir

I have long been of opinion that the only means we can have of coming at the descent and relations among the Indians, is by a collection & comparative view of their languages. for this purpose I have never failed to avail myself of any opportunity to get their vocabularies. I have now a large collection, & for fear that in case of any accident they should be lost, I am about to print them. I want however the Cherokee to compleat my object. your situation near them has suggested to me that it might be in your power to procure me a vocabulary of that language without much trouble. for this purpose I send you a vocabulary ready prepared, nothing being necessary but to write the Cherokee word by the side of the English one. I think it would be best to use the English orthography, only, where there are sounds which that is incapable of expressing, substituting some arbitrary character. in proposing to you this trouble, I rely not merely on the friendly dispositions which I have with great satisfaction believed to be reciprocated, but that as an object of science this matter will not be indifferent to you. probably you will know of some person in the Cherokee nation who will be able and willing to perform this task. I would add to my sollicitation that of it’s being done as soon as your convenience will admit, as I propose to prepare the whole of my materials early this summer, and I would wish to place the Cherokee in it’s proper column along side of it’s kindred tongues. a letter put into your post office and directed to me at Monticello near Charlottesville will come safely.—we are at present in a total dearth of European news. Congress have before them a bill making considerable innovations in their judiciary system. I have not yet seen it; but from what I have heard I hardly expect it will pass. I am with sentiments of great esteem Dear Sir

Your most obedt. Servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Judge Campbell”; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso. Enclosure: vocabulary list, containing 276 English words in TJ’s hand in a narrow column that he headed “English,” corresponding in general sequence to his printed blank vocabulary lists (see TJ to William Linn, 5 Feb. 1798); in a wider column, headed “Cherokee” by TJ, Campbell filled in Cherokee equivalents for all but three of the English words; at foot of text in TJ’s hand: “recd from Judge Campbell. see his lre Aug. 5. 1800,” that letter, not found, recorded in SJL as received from Tennessee on 3 Nov. 1800; with additional transcriptions of some Cherokee words probably added by the Historical and Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society, Campbell’s list being one that TJ donated to the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends (MS in PPAmP; see also Benjamin Hawkins to TJ, 12 July 1800).

Despite his expectation of finishing his compilation of American Indian vocabularies, TJ continued to work on the project for several more years. Many of the word lists he collected were stolen and destroyed in 1809. Several lists that he managed to preserve he conveyed to a Committee of History, Moral Science, and General Literature that the American Philosophical Society formed in 1815 to collect manuscripts of use to researchers. Peter S. Du Ponceau, the committee’s corresponding secretary, undertook in particular to utilize the society’s data on Native American languages (Transactions of the Historical & Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society, 1 [1819], vi-x, xii-xiii, xvii-xlvi, xlviii-xlix; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 453; Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science [New York, 1990], 376–8, 417, 439; Anthony F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans [Cambridge, Mass., 1999], 144–52, 318–26).

Campbell, a Tennessee superior court judge, had lived in the region for a number of years and was an early landowner at Knoxville. In 1792 he was a commissioner in the survey of a boundary with the Cherokee Indians (Harold D. Moser and others, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 6 vols. [Knoxville, 1980], 1:122n; Philip M. Hamer, ed., Tennessee: A History, 1673–1932, 4 vols. [New York, 1933], 1:155).

On 11 Mch. Robert Goodloe Harper, for a House committee that also included John Marshall, Chauncey Goodrich, James A. Bayard, and Samuel Sewall, introduced a bill to alter the judiciary system in keeping with a request in the president’s December message. The House of Representatives did not take up the bill, which provided for an elaborate framework of 30 U.S. court districts and 9 circuits, until 24 Mch. Following debate and a recommital of the measure to the committee, Harper on 31 Mch. introduced a substitute bill that called for fewer districts and circuits. In April the House postponed further action until December 1800, when the bill became the basis for the act of February 1801 that, in restructuring the courts, allowed John Adams to make a number of judicial appointments at the conclusion of his term as president (DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , 4:284–95, 310–57; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States… Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 10:623, 643–50; see also Harry Innes to TJ, 6 Dec. 1799).

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