Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Short to Thomas Jefferson, 27 March 1820

From William Short

Philadelphia March 27. 1820

Dear sir

It has been a long time indeed since I have had the pleasure of hearing from you, or of your health. Since my last of Dec: 1. I have remained betwixt the desire of writing to you & the fear of giving you trouble; knowing how much of this, the correspondence of your friends imposes on you. I remember well how independent you formerly kept yourself of an amanuensis. At present an aid of this kind would be of great relief to you—And I, for one, have it much at heart that you should have this relief. I would then have no scruple in begging you to send me the syllabus of the Philosophy of Jesus, which you found too long to copy; & which indeed I would not have at the price of that trouble to you. From the little I saw, & from the great deal I have heard of one the members of your own family, I think you would find a most ready & willing & able amanuensis in her & I wish indeed both for your sake & hers that you would accept this service at her hands.

I learned from Correa a few days ago that he had not heard from you either for a long time. We know nothing therefore of the state of your health but by inference—& not hearing anything to the contrary, we flatter ourselves that you are well. Correa told me at the same time, which I was very sorry to hear, that there is a combination forming in Virginia against the University—composed of the Presbyterian interest, wch he says has much increased—of the Tramontane people, disappointed at its not being located among them—& of the old Metropolis, wishing to retain the seat of education there. I did not understand from him whether he had recieved this in the way of positive information, or had formed it by way of induction in his own mind—If the latter, I should still have hope of his being mistaken—for I have found that when he quits the Botanical atmosphere & speculates on the moral & political, he is like the rest of us, subject to miscalculation.

The last time I have heard mention made of you, was the letter you wrote to Mr Nelson on the Missouri business. The letter was not given to us; so that we only know that that question had excited in your bosom, the most gloomy apprehensions, but we do not learn in what way. I did wish very much, as I do still, to know your sentiments on that momentous subject, big with the fate of this Union. Like every other American, I too reflected much on it during its agitation. A compromise which I had much at heart was, that Independence should be now given to all the Transmississipian region, retaining only the right of selling the soil to the emigrants so as to repay us our purchase money—If necessary I would have guaranteed to these people the same form of government, that would have been, had they remained in our Union, & have formed a treaty offensive & defensive with them, & secured all the offices of good neighborhood reciprocally. Thus parting as good friends, the most friendly sentiments would have grown up with their growth & strengthened with their strength. What better or what more can we desire? How many inconveniences also would this have avoided?

For at the next session of Congress when the State of Missouri shall come forward with its constitution & ask for admission into the Union, you will probably see the whole of the same ground & with the same heat gone over again—The parties in the lower house are so nearly divided, & the members from the non slave-holding States will return with such lessons as will probably make them unanimous including those from Maine—In this case it is calculated that they will have a majority against admitting the new State &c. &c. This is what is now contemplated—what more will turn up no one can say. If these apprehensions be well founded, would it not be well to prepare for a friendly compromise & separation?

I contemplate with much more satisfaction what I observe in several of the States towards an improvement of what they possess—How much more wise is it to bend our energies towards internal improvements than external extension. It is a noble & grand conception in the State of Virginia to unite the Ohio, & thus, the whole Western Country with James River. I hope they will persevere, & if so, I am sure they will succeed in this magnificent enterprize. There is more of the grandiose in the New York undertaking, but perhaps not more of real utility. The State of Pennsylvania unites in itself the advantages both of Virginia & of New York, as you will see by an attentive examination of the waters of the Alleghaney, the Susquehanna & the Schuylkill—but the majority of their legislature is composed of ignorant Germans or descendants of Germans, who fear much more the improvement of Philadelphia, which they consider dangerous to liberty, than they desire the improvement of Pennsylvania. They have however at this session carried through the lower house by some dexterity, the grant of a large sum for internal improvements—It is now with the Senate where, there is little doubt, it will be destroyed.

A private company here, of which I am one, has begun the improvement of this end of the chain, the River Schuylkill. They use the bed of the river, in opposition to the idea of the Duke of Bridgewaters engineer, who thought rivers were only destined to feed canals. Our engineer is a most ingenious self taught Yankee, who seems to have no doubt of making this river perfectly navigable, & is now at work on it, as he has been for some time, with great apparent effect. I have subscribed $10000—many others have done the same, & one of my friends, not a man of great wealth either, & not at all a bold adventurer, has subscribed upwards of $40,000. The link which would connect this River with the Susquehanna is a very short one & would be easily made—& when done every part of the State would send its productions to market through the Schuylkill.

When you can without inconvenience, I beg the favor of you to let me know the present state of your health—I have lately read over again Dr Franklin’s plain & simple narration of the events of his own life. It has renewed my desire to see the same kind of work from yourself—but I will not be importunate in asking it at your hands against your own inclination, notwithstanding the great gratification it would give to your invariable & faithful friend

W: short

RC (MHi); endorsed by TJ as received 9 Apr. 1820 but recorded in SJL as received two days earlier; with additional notation by TJ beneath endorsement relating to his response of 13 Apr. 1820: “Syllabus opposn to Univy Missour. canal. health.”

one the members of your own family: Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge). the old metropolis: Williamsburg. For the act by the Virginia General Assembly to unite the ohio and James rivers, see note to Joseph C. Cabell to TJ, 17 Feb. 1820. The new york undertaking was the Erie Canal.

A bill introduced on 22 Feb. 1820 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, “An act for the improvement of the state,” proposed the grant of a large sum for internal improvements. It was passed on 11 Mar. and sent to the state senate, which voted on 28 Mar. 1820 not to postpone its business to vote on the bill and rejected a plea from the house to extend the legislative session so as to have sufficient time to discuss it. The legislation died when the session adjourned (Journal of the Thirtieth House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [Harrisburg, 1820], 661–2, 883–4; Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [Harrisburg, (1820)], 448, 563–4, 566–7).

The private company was the Schuylkill Navigation Company, which was chartered in 1815 (Edward J. Gibbons, “The Building of the Schuylkill Navigation System, 1815–1828,” Pennsylvania History 57 [1990]: 18). Beginning late in the 1750s, Francis Egerton, 3d duke of Bridgewater, employed the engineer James Brindley to construct the first arterial canal in England. Brindley proposed that the Bridgewater Canal be routed into Manchester in order to connect with other potential canals (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ). The ingenious self taught yankee may have been Ariel Cooley, of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, who was engineer of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, 1817–19, and a contractor with the company until 1821 (Gibbons, “Building of the Schuylkill Navigation System,” 21, 23; Mortimer Elwyn Cooley, The Cooley Genealogy [1941], 245).

Index Entries

  • Allegheny River; navigation on search
  • Bridgewater, Francis Egerton, 3d Duke of; canal of search
  • Brindley, James; as engineer search
  • canals; Bridgewater search
  • canals; Erie search
  • clergy; influence of in colleges search
  • Cooley, Ariel; and Schuylkill Navigation Company search
  • Coolidge, Ellen Wayles Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); as TJ’s amanuensis search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and University of Virginia search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; personality of search
  • Erie Canal search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; autobiography of search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and Missouri question search
  • James River; connection of with Ohio River search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; fatiguing or painful to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; syllabus of Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Missouri question; W. Short on search
  • Nelson, Hugh; and Missouri question search
  • Ohio River; connection with James River search
  • Pennsylvania; and internal improvements search
  • Pennsylvania; legislature of search
  • Presbyterians; and education search
  • religion; Presbyterians search
  • Schuylkill Navigation Company search
  • Schuylkill River; navigation of search
  • Short, William; and internal improvements search
  • Short, William; and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Short, William; and Missouri question search
  • Short, William; and TJ’s syllabus on Jesus’s doctrines search
  • Short, William; and University of Virginia search
  • Short, William; letters from search
  • Short, William; urges TJ to write memoir search
  • Susquehanna River; navigation on search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opposition to search
  • Virginia; internal improvements in search
  • William and Mary, College of; and University of Virginia search