Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Ware Peacock, 20 October 1803

From Robert Ware Peacock

City of Washington October 20. 1803.


It seems to be a defect in the present system of public Education, that a proper course of Studies is not provided for Gentlemen designed to fill the principal stations of active Life, distinct from those of the Learned professions.

The objects of human attention are multiplied; the connexion of the United States much extended; a reflection upon our present advantages, and the steps by which we have arrived to the degree of happiness we now enjoy, has shewn the true sources of them; and so thoroughly convinced are the people of the United States to a sense of their true interests, that they are convinced the same inattention which formerly prevailed is no longer safe—and that without a continuation of the superior degrees of wisdom and vigour in our political measures, which have marked the course of the present administration, their happiness will be destroyed.

In this posture of affairs, more lights and superior industry, are requisite to all persons who have any influence in schemes of public and national advantage, and consequently a different and a better furniture of mind is requisite to be brought into the business of Life.

This produces a call for the examination of the State of Education in this Country—And it will readily be admitted that an Education in our own, is preferable to an Education in a foreign Country. For passing by the advantages to the Community which result from the early attachment of Youth to the Laws and Constitution of their Country, I will only remark, that Young men who have trodden the pathes of Science together, or have joined in the same sports, generally feel through Life, such ties to each other as add greatly to the obligations of mutual benevolence.

Therefore it becomes the duty of every one to render their aid to the establishment of such plans as will contribute to the desired end—Warmed by a zeal to be useful, I am prompted to undertake the task—and submit the inclosed plan to the Lovers of Literature and Science, for their patronage and support, in this its infantine state—

I shall endeavour to make such observations as will lead those who attend the Lectures to the perfect understanding the means of promoting national prosperity and independence—Knowing the consequence, in a Republic, of the youth being taught to think justly upon the great subjects of Liberty and government.

I hope I shall be pardoned the Liberty I take in soliciting your sanction to the inclosed—For I am well convinced, that no reasonable proposal for the honor, or the advantage of the United States however foreign to your more immediate office, was ever neglected by you.

I remain, with due respect, yr. obed. Sev

Robert Ware Peacock

RC (ViW: Tucker-Coleman Collection); addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esquire President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Oct. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found, but see below.

Robert Ware Peacock was born about 1770, probably in Virginia. He was admitted to the Albemarle County bar in 1791, practiced law in nearby counties as late as 1800, and may also have worked in Maryland. About that year, he settled in the federal district, where he kept a lodging house and was admitted to practice at the Supreme Court. He advertised his services as an attorney and conveyancer but in December 1804 was convicted of forgery. After his failure to gain a pardon, Peacock escaped from the Washington jail. A notice announcing a $100 reward for his capture described him as a “stout man” of 34 or 35 years of age, “much inclined to corpulency.” He was not heard from again (Gazette of the United States, 11 Feb. 1801; National Intelligencer, 1 May 1805; William P. Palmer and others, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers ... Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, 11 vols. [Richmond, 1875-93], 9:130; Woods, Albemarle description begins Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia, Charlottesville, 1901 description ends , 380; Allen C. Clark, “The Mayoralty of Robert Brent,” RCHS description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1895-1989 description ends , 33-34 [1932], 275-8; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser., 14:286; TJ to John P. Van Ness, 12 Mch. 1805).

In 1802, Peacock began soliciting subscribers to a proposed work, “A Direction, or, Preparative to the Study of Law,” a series of lectures intended to make legal studies “less intricate.” He later also advertised a course of study in history and the law, for which he charged one dollar per lecture (Georgetown Olio, 7 Oct. 1802; National Intelligencer, 14 Dec. 1803).

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