Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Vaughan’s Notes on Climate Change, March 1819

Benjamin Vaughan’s Notes on Climate Change

NB. There is something in the averages of the snow in p. 5. which perhaps requires revision.

The temperature of the springs in Kennebec has been given by a “friend” higher than the truth.

The Abbé Du Bos1 from some slender passages (easily explained away,) first endeavored to shew that there was an amelioration of climate since the times of the antients, as regards Europe. Mr Hume entered into the discussion; &, as I am told, Pelletier in his History of the Gauls. Others have copied these.—Then came the observers of the climates of the American world.

With respect to Europe, (saving what Pelletier may have said,) the accounts are to be contested in several ways: as. 1o By stating that accidents in the seasons, (answering to those in our times,) are not to be regarded: 2. By observing that elevations are to be allowed for. 3. By bringing into view the observations of modern travellers & recorders; which (when Swinburne is taken for Rome, Bell & various others for the Danube, & many travellers for Constantinople, Aleppo, &ca) exhibit great evidences of modern2 cold; as Cæsar’s commentaries, the decree about vines, several passages in monkish annals & in Shakespeare & in Hume’s history, do for temperate weather in former & in the middle ages.

With respect to this country, Dr Franklin’s distinction, as to Eastern & Western climates in middle latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, is all important; & being established, it makes the U. S. parallel to China, and the N West coast of America parallel to the Western coasts of Europe; as observers shew to occur in fact.—Dr Franklin denied the mitigation of the climate as to cold, as judged of by his occasional examinations of the fact previous to his last return here.—But that there are changes of magnitude her[e] of other descriptions cannot be denied: & they require to be noted.

With respect to Dr Williams, he was a person whose character in some respects is said to have been less correct, than could have been wished: and it is certain that he overlooked many things.—Since his time, Mr Noah Webster is said to have published (in the Connecticut Phil. Trans. in 8vo) a paper to confirm Dr Franklin’s opinions.—Profr Farrar of Harvard has taken an opposite stand: but he had no complete views of the question.

March 1819.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 215:38346–7); written entirely in Vaughan’s hand on two small scraps; partially dated; hole in manuscript.

Benjamin Vaughan (1751–1835), merchant, author, and diplomat, was born in Jamaica but grew up in England. Although he attended the Warrington Academy and Trinity College, Cambridge University, read law at the Inns of Court in London, and received medical training from the University of Edinburgh, he ultimately became, like his father and father-in-law, a West Indies merchant. A friend of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, fellow Unitarian Joseph Priestley, and other notables, Vaughan edited the only collection of Franklin’s writings published during his lifetime, Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces (London, 1779; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3053), and he wrote political essays under various pseudonyms. Despite his advocacy for American independence, his various political connections enabled him to serve as an unofficial British diplomatic agent at the peace negotiations in Paris early in the 1780s. Vaughan met TJ in 1786 and corresponded with him frequently thereafter. He was also elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1786, and he published a treatise promoting free trade three years later. A member of the British House of Commons, 1792–94, Vaughan fled to France in the latter year after falling under suspicion of supporting the French Revolution. He lived quietly thereafter in Switzerland and France until he immigrated to the United States in 1797. Vaughan settled permanently in Hallowell, District of Maine, where he amassed a large personal library, belonged to a number of literary and philosophical organizations, helped found the Maine Historical Society, and kept up a voluminous correspondence. Politically conservative late in life, he opposed the War of 1812 and American efforts to seize the Floridas (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; 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 ; Leonard W. Labaree and others, eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin [1959– ], esp. 21:441–2; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1:613n; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 42 vols. description ends , esp. 10:646–8; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 21 July 1786 [MS in PPAmP]; New-Bedford [Mass.] Mercury, 18 Dec. 1835).

TJ gives the averages of the snow at Monticello and the temperature of the springs in kennebec on pages 5 and 8, respectively, of the manuscript of his Analysis of Weather Memorandum Book, Jan. 1817.

David Hume, citing Jean Baptiste Dubos (abbé du bos), Reflexions Critiques sur la Poesie et sur la Peinture (Paris, 1719), 2:268–9 (for a later ed. see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4696), comments in his essay “Of the Populousness of Antient Nations” that “’Tis an observation of L’Abbe du Bos, that Italy is warmer at present than it was in antient times. … The observation of this ingenious critic may be extended to other European climates” (Hume, Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects [London, 1758; possibly Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1261], 244). Simon Pelloutier (pelletier) writes in his Histoire des Celtes, et particulierement des Gaulois et des Germains; Depuis les Tems fabuleux, jusqu’à la Prise de Rome par les Gaulois (rev. ed., Paris, 1770), 211 (for an earlier ed. see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 242), that “Le Climat des Gaules, de la Germanie, & de la Thrace, doit avoir été autrefois beaucoup plus froid, qu’il ne l’est aujourd’hui” (“The climate of Gaul, Germany, and Thrace must have formerly been much colder than it is today”).

Benjamin Franklin compares the climates of North America’s eastern & western coasts to those found in east Asia and western Europe in a letter to John Pringle of 27 May 1762. For his skepticism about any mitigation of the climate as to cold, see Franklin to Ezra Stiles, 29 May 1763 (Labaree and others, eds., Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 10:90, 264). connecticut phil. trans: Noah Webster criticizes the writings of Dubos, Hume, TJ, the Vermont historian Samuel Williams, and others in “A Dissertation On the supposed Change in the Temperature of Winter,” Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Memoirs 1 [1810]: 1–68.

Around this time Vaughan conveyed to TJ in some way an extract from the minutes of a 2 Feb. 1819 meeting of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, which reads: “‘Dr Hare read a paper on a new instrument by which he considers that it is shewn, that the heat produced by the Galvanic apparatus, is not the effect of electricity; but a collateral result of the laws which produce the motion of this fluid.
 Twenty copper & twenty zinc plates were supported vertically in a frame of copper & zinc, alternating at half an inch distance from each other; & the plates of the same kind of metal are soldered to strips meeting together; so that one set of plates forms a continuous metallic superficies.
When the copper & zinc surfaces thus formed, are united by an intervening wire; & the whole immersed in an acid or aceto-saline solution, in a vessel devoid of partitions; the connecting wire becomes intensely ignited: and when the hydrogen is liberated, it is very often inflamed.
 The instrument is termed Calorimotor, & the process calorimotion; in contradistinction to Electromotor & Electromotion.’
 NB. This minute was substituted for one registered at a former meeting” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 214:38261; in Vaughan’s hand; with concluding note written perpendicularly in left margin; half-circled question mark added adjacent to second paragraph, perhaps by TJ; repeated ampersand early in penultimate paragraph editorially omitted; probably originally accompanied by a visiting card still filed with it, which reads: “Mr B. Vaughan”; endorsed by TJ: “Vaughan Benjamin”).

1Vaughan here canceled “in his work on Criticisms &ca.”

2Reworked from “antient.”

Index Entries

  • Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; meeting minutes of search
  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • Bell, John (author) search
  • books; classical search
  • books; on history search
  • Caesar, Julius; Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars search
  • calorimotors search
  • Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars (J. Caesar) search
  • Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences; Memoirs search
  • Dubos, Jean Baptiste; on climate change search
  • Europe; climate of search
  • Farrar, John; on climate change search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; and climate change search
  • Hare, Robert; and calorimotor search
  • Histoire des Celtes, et particulierement des Gaulois et des Germains (S. Pelloutier) search
  • Hume, David; and climate change search
  • Hume, David; The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688 search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Analysis of Weather Memorandum Book search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Weather Memorandum Book search
  • Pelloutier, Simon; and climate change search
  • Pelloutier, Simon; Histoire des Celtes, et particulierement des Gaulois et des Germains search
  • Philadelphia; Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia search
  • scientific instruments; calorimotors search
  • Shakespeare, William; works of search
  • Swinburne, Henry search
  • The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688 (D. Hume) search
  • United States; climate of search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and calorimotor search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; identified search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; on climate change search
  • weather; and climate change search
  • weather; snow search
  • weather; TJ’s Analysis of Weather Memorandum Book search
  • Weather Memorandum Book (Thomas Jefferson) search
  • Webster, Noah; and climate change search
  • Williams, Samuel (1743–1817); and climate change search