Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Cutbush to Thomas Jefferson, 21 January 1820

From James Cutbush

Philada Jan’y 21st 1820.

Dear Sir.

I acknowlege with pleasure the receipt of your kind and friendly letter of the 5th ultimo. When I wrote to you from Washington, I was under the impression that, as Dr Cooper was engaged in the College of S. Carolina, he had resigned his situation in your college. It appears however, that, in consequence of your buildings not being completed, no particular appointments have been made. From the known talents, zeal, and industry of Dr Cooper; no gentleman is better calculated, nor any better qualified, for the station which he is to fill. I have to lament, at the same time, that with all his worth, he has been superseded in the choice made by the trustees of our university. With respect to myself, I am anxious to obtain some situation of the kind. The bill brought forward at the last session, to authorise a professorship of Chemistry, &c. at the Military Academy will not, I am informed, be taken up this season. Mr Calhoun informed me, that he had introduced that particular section into the bill—a section which contemplates one professor and two assistant professors. I am informed, that notwithstanding such appointments may not be authorised,1 the Sec’ry purposes to create a professorship of the kind, by appointing a post surgeon for that place. I have therefore, through my friend at Washington, made application for the same. It is true, that the object may be accomplished in that way; but I am apprehensive, that the duties of the officer will be too much divided.2 A person should devote all his time to chemical instruction, and experimental enquiry. If the situation of professor of ethics were vacant, I think, under present circumstances, it would be as well to unite that of chemistry with it. As to myself, I have attended more or less to the science of moral philosophy, and formerly gave some lectures on it. Inasmuch, however, as that place is not vacated, nor is there any probability it soon will be, I see no way the object can be effected but through the proposed appointment. Congress, under the present state of our finances, will not increase the army in any shape—there appeared to be a general spirit for retrenchment—: That a professorship of chemistry is wanted at the Academy must be obvious to every one. It is surely of much importance connected with military science, as, for instance, in pyrotechnics of every kind, &c.—Do you recollect having seen in the Aurora, some years ago, a table of pyrotechnical preparations, called the gunners syllabus, in which I gave the component parts, as well as the primary principles of such compounds? All such things are useful, and especially in a military school.—

For your extreme kindness, in answering my letter, in which you have paid me more respect as a scientific person than I have deserved, be pleased to accept the assurances of my especial friendship.

Jas Cutbush.

RC (CSmH: JF); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson. L.l.d. Monticello, near Milton. Virginia”; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 22 Jan.; endorsed by TJ as received 1 Feb. 1820 and so recorded in SJL.

TJ’s letter of the 5th ultimo was presumably that to Cutbush of 7 Jan. 1820. our university: the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1819 the United States Senate considered a bill “for the better organization of the Military Academy,” the proposed budget for which added a professor and two assistant professors of chemistry to the staff of the United States Military Academy at West Point. The bill was reported by the Committee on Military Affairs on 21 Jan. 1819. It was effectively killed on 22 Feb. by postponing debate to 5 Mar. 1819, just after the Fifteenth Congress ended (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , 8:171, 290; In Senate of the United States, January 21, 1819. Mr. Williams, of Tennesse, from the committee on military affairs, submitted the following Estimate, with a Bill for the better organization of the Military Academy … [(Washington, 1819); broadside in MWA]).

Cutbush received an interim appointment as post surgeon at the military academy on 16 May 1820. He was also its acting professor of chemistry and mineralogy from 1 Sept. 1820 until his death in 1823 (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:223, 226 [7, 12 Dec. 1820]; George W. Cullum, Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, N. Y. [1850], 38, 45).

1Cutbush here canceled “yet.”

2Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Aurora (Philadelphia newspaper); prints J. Cutbush’s works on chemistry search
  • Calhoun, John Caldwell; as secretary of war search
  • chemistry; military education in search
  • Cooper, Thomas; academic career of search
  • Cooper, Thomas; professor at South Carolina College search
  • Cooper, Thomas; University of Virginia professorship proposed for search
  • Cutbush, James; and U.S. Military Academy search
  • Cutbush, James; letters from search
  • Cutbush, James; seeks position at University of Virginia search
  • newspapers; PhiladelphiaAurora search
  • Pennsylvania, University of search
  • Philadelphia; Aurora search
  • schools and colleges; University of Pennsylvania search
  • Senate, U.S.; and U.S. Military Academy search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); faculty at search
  • United States Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.); J. Cutbush seeks position at search
  • United States Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.); reorganization of proposed search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; faculty applicants search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; T. Cooper as proposed professor search