Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Constitution of the American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres, 15 June 1820, enclosure no. 2 in William S. Cardell to Thomas Jefferson, 11 January 1821


Constitution of the American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres

Constitution of the American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres.

WE, the subscribers, impressed with the importance of Literature to the moral habits, character and happiness of individuals and nations; wishing to contribute, collectively, our best exertions for the improvement of ourselves and our country; to give to emulation its exciting impulse, on an extended plan; to control its irregularities, and prevent its divisions; to seek as a united body, those advantages, of which, as individuals we feel the want; do hereby agree with each other, to form a Society for Literary purposes, and adopt the following Rules for the government of our Association:


Article 1.—The name of this Institution shall be “The American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres.”

Its objects are, according to its discretion and ability, to collect, interchange and diffuse literary intelligence; to promote the purity and uniformity of the English language; to invite a correspondence with distinguished scholars in other countries speaking this language in common with ourselves; to cultivate throughout our extensive territory, a friendly intercourse among those who feel an interest in the progress of American Literature, and, as far as may depend on well-meant endeavors, to aid the general cause of learning in the United States.


Article 2.—The Members of this Institution shall be divided into three classes, Resident, Corresponding, and Honorary.

The class of Resident Members shall include those who reside within twenty-five miles of the city New-York. They shall not exceed one-fourth of the limited number of members.

Corresponding and Honorary Members may be chosen in any part of the world.

Members residing at more than twenty-five miles distance, from the city of New-York, may send in writing, their votes or resolutions upon any subject before the Society, and votes thus sent to the Corresponding Secretary, shall be admitted as fully as if such members were personally present.

During six months from the date hereof, each member shall pay, on his admission to this Society, ten dollars; and each member admitted after six months shall pay, on his admission, twenty-five dollars. The yearly dues from each member shall be two dollars; provided, that, from honorary members, and from those who are neither residents nor citizens of the United States, no payment shall be required.

A member forfeits his right to vote if his payments are in arrear, and two years total neglect of the Society shall be considered a renunciation of membership.

The whole number of members of this Institution, shall not exceed one hundred and twenty at any time within two years from the date hereof, nor two hundred at any time in ten years

The admission of members shall be as follows: the candidate shall be proposed, in writing, by a member, at a regular meeting: a vote shall then be taken whether the Secretary shall enter his name: out of five or more candidates thus entered, the Standing Committee shall select one to propose for membership at the next quarterly meeting: if seven-eighths of the votes taken shall be in his favor, he becomes a member, and not otherwise.

The votes or opinions of a member concerning the admission of a candidate, shall on no account be communicated to any person who is not a member.


Article 3.—The officers of this Institution shall consist of a President, three Vice-Presidents, Corresponding Secretary, Recording Secretary, and Treasurer; together with thirteen Counsellors; of whom the President and Corresponding Secretary shall be two. They shall be chosen by ballot annually, and shall form the Standing Committee.1 They may meet from time to time by their own appointment, to attend to the concerns of the Institution; to devise and propose such measures as they may think proper to advance its interests; to settle the accounts, and report the state of the funds at each annual meeting. They may appoint a Librarian, and may select from their own number, or other members of the Society, a Committee to superintend the publications of the Institution, whenever in their judgment such measure shall become expedient.

A vacant office may be filled at any quarterly meeting.


Article 4.—The meetings of this Institution shall be on the first Monday in each of the four seasons of the year. Meetings may take place by adjournment, as often as may be thought proper. The annual election shall be the first Monday in June.


Article 5.—A member shall be selected to deliver a public address before the Society at each annual meeting. The Standing Committee will make arrangements for this purpose.


Article 6.—Any addition or amendment may be made to this Constitution, if a proposition in writing for that purpose shall be adopted for consideration, at a regular meeting of the Society, and carried by two-thirds of the votes taken upon it at a subsequent quarterly meeting, and in no other manner.


Article 7.—This Constitution shall become valid when signed, or, in writing agreed to, by fifty persons, whom the members engaged and the committee appointed for that purpose shall accept.

Done at New-York the 15th day of June, 1820.

Printed text (DLC: TJ Papers, 218:38972); on verso of final page of first enclosure. Also printed in Port Folio 11 (1821): 407–9.

1Comma editorially altered to a period.

Index Entries

  • American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres; constitution of search
  • American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres; members of search
  • belles lettres; promotion of search
  • English language; improvement of search
  • United States; literature of search