Thomas Jefferson Papers

Josiah Meigs to Thomas Jefferson, 5 August 1812

From Josiah Meigs

Paracletos, near Athens, Georgia. August. 5, 1812.


I take the liberty to address you on a subject, which to me is of a very interesting nature—It is not unlikely that you have already heard that I have no longer any connection with the University of Georgia—The real cause of that disconnection is to be found in the Federal Character of the Board of Trustees, who have appointed a Clergyman & a Federalist as my Successor—The Board which displaced me has been since displaced by the Legislature—

I have thro’ life been culpably negligent of the acquisition & preservation of Property; and am, at this time, with a considerable family, in a state of serious embarrassment.—I can with propriety adopt Goldsmiths address to his muse

“Thou cause of all my joy and all my woe,

Thou found’st me poor at first & keep’st me so.”1

I think I could be useful to my Country in some Office which would place me at least above want

The Office of Professor of Mathematics & Natural Philosophy in the Military School would be very acceptable, & I think I may be permitted to say that I could discharge its duties acceptably. My object in this address is to request your cooperation with Wm H. Crawford Esq; of the Senate, in requesting the President of the United States to confer on me the Office abovementioned.—I pretend not to any peculiar Claims of favour from the Government.—It is well known that I have been an undeviating friend of the Administration since 1801.—If the application shall on any account be deemed improper I shall regret that I have given you the trouble of reading it—but shall continue to be, as I always have been

very respectfully and with high Esteem Your friend & fellow Citizen

J. Meigs

RC (CtY: Stokes Autograph Collection); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson, Esq.”; endorsed by TJ as received 29 Aug. 1812 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in TJ to James Madison, 2 Oct. 1812.

Josiah Meigs (1757–1822), educator and public official, was a Connecticut native who graduated from Yale College in 1778 and returned there as a tutor of mathematics, natural philosophy, and astronomy, 1781–84. He was admitted to the bar in 1783. During 1784–89 he served as New Haven city clerk and also published the New-Haven Gazette (later the New-Haven Gazette, and the Connecticut Magazine), first with partners and for its last two years as sole proprietor. Meigs practiced law in Bermuda, 1789–94, and returned to Yale as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, 1794–1800. Finding life difficult in New Haven as a staunch Republican in a Federalist stronghold, late in the latter year he accepted an offer to join the nascent Franklin College (later the University of Georgia) in Athens. In June 1801 Meigs became president and that autumn he welcomed the institution’s first students. He resigned as president in 1810, and the trustees removed him as professor the following year, leaving his family destitute. Late in 1812 President James Madison appointed Meigs surveyor general of the United States, stationed in Ohio, and two years later he appointed him commissioner of the General Land Office of the United States in Washington, where he served until his death. Meigs was president of the School of Literature and the Arts in Cincinnati, 1813–14, a founder in 1816 and president of the Columbian Institute, 1819–22, a member of the American Philosophical Society from 1818, and an incorporator, trustee, and briefly a professor at Columbian College (later George Washington University) (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Dexter, Yale Biographies description begins Francis Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, 1885–1912, 6 vols. description ends , 4:43–7; William M. Meigs, Life of Josiah Meigs [1887]; Meigs to TJ, 11 Apr. 1803 [DLC], 25 Aug. 1813, 3 May 1821; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:303–4, 534, 3:314 [13, 16 Nov. 1812; 10, 11 Oct. 1814; 23 Dec. 1822]; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 17 Apr. 1818 [MS in PPAmP]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 5, 6 Sept. 1822).

Oliver Goldsmith included an address to his muse, “sweet Poetry, thou loveliest maid,” in “The Deserted Village” (first published 1770), lines 407, 413–4, crediting her as the “source of all my bliss and all my woe, That found’st me poor at first and keep’st me so” (Roger Lonsdale, ed., The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith [1969], 693, 694). The military school was the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. On 25 May 1812 United States senator William H. crawford had written to president James Madison on Meigs’s behalf (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 4:416–7).

1Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Crawford, William Harris; recommends J. Meigs search
  • Georgia; University of (Athens) search
  • Goldsmith, Oliver search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Meigs, Josiah; identified search
  • Meigs, Josiah; letters from search
  • Meigs, Josiah; Republican sympathies of search
  • Meigs, Josiah; seeks appointment search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • schools and colleges; University of Georgia (Athens) search
  • United States Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.); J. Meigs seeks position at search