Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Latham Mitchill, 13 June 1800

To Samuel Latham Mitchill

Monticello June 13. 1800.

Dear Sir,

Your favor of May 15. happened to be written on the very day on which I left Philadelphia, and as I took a very circuitous route and was long on the way, it is but lately I have recieved it here. the interesting report it covered goes by this post to the Philosophical society at Philadelphia. the calamities which our great cities have experienced from the [new] infection render it important to discover what are those principles in nature which forbid the soil to be covered here with a solid block of buildings & men to be piled on one another, as they may with impunity in Europe. do our cloudless skies and the solar heat consequently accumulated generate effects here on the same materials which are innocent under the [bank] of clouds constantly hovering over Europe? however while those who, [with] yourself hold the clues to nature’s secrets, are engaged in pursuing them, we of the multitude may rest in tranquility under the assurance that they will at length be laid open. nor is it in physics alone that we shall be found to differ from the other hemisphere. I strongly suspect that our geographical peculiarities may call for a different code of natural law to govern our relations with other nations from that which the conditions of Europe have given rise to there. I sincerely join in your congratulations on the revival of those principles on which our republic has been founded. perhaps future ages may never know the real soporific which, in gentle slumbers, was carrying them to their grave. I am with great esteem & respect Dear Sir

Your most obedt. servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Dr. Mitchell”; with faint passages interlined in pencil, possibly by TJ.

Some years earlier Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764–1831) had made a detailed study of the Hessian fly that was familiar to TJ, who also owned Mitchill’s Outline of the Doctrines in Natural History, Chemistry, and Economics and The Life, Exploits, and Precepts of Tammany; The Famous Indian Chief. A native of Long Island, trained as a physician in Scotland, Mitchill was professor of natural history, chemistry, and agriculture at Columbia College, 1792–1807, and investigated a variety of scientific topics. He had also studied law and served in the legislature of New York. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1801–4, 1810–13, and the Senate, 1804–9 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Vol. 20:446–8; Ezra L’Hommedieu to TJ, 10 Sep. 1791; TJ to Samuel Jones, Jr., 1 Dec. 1792; TJ to Henry Remsen, 17 Dec. 1795).

Mitchill’s favor of May 15, recorded in SJL as received from New York on 4 June 1800, has not been found. The report it covered was a manuscript dated New York City, 14 May 1800, called “Observations on that vitiated condition of the atmosphere, which precedes and accompanies the endemic annual sickness of some of Atlantic cities of North America” (PPAmP; also endorsed as relating to “combinations of Azote and Oxygene, which constitute Pestilential Matter”; endorsed for the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends ). Mitchill had been a member of the American philosophical society since 1791. His paper of 14 May, which TJ forwarded to Samuel Harrison Smith on 24 June, went before the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends on 15 Aug. Referred to Benjamin Smith Barton and Adam Seybert, it was not selected for publication. On 18 July the society had received another paper by Mitchill, on the composition of seawater and its potential for washing clothes without soap, which the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends did publish (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 188, 301–2; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, 5 [1802], 139–47).

A letter from Mitchill to TJ, written 17 Feb. 1791 and received from New York on the 23d of that month, is recorded in SJL but has not been found.

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