Thomas Jefferson Papers

Joseph C. Cabell to Thomas Jefferson, 3 January [1822]

From Joseph C. Cabell

Richmond 3d Jan: 1821. [1822]

Dear Sir,

I arrived here on the 30th ult: and took my seat in the senate on 31st. My general health is good, & the disease in my ear considerably diminished. I feel myself in a situation to return zealously & vigorously to the duties of my station, and for that purpose have taken my lodgings at the Eagle Hotel. I trust there will be no relapse in my ear, and as to my general health my morning walks will preserve it, unless the exertion of my mind, and anxious watching of nights should greatly impair it, as they have done heretofore. But I will trust myself to providence, and hope for the best. I have been so long cut off from my accustomed communications with you, that I almost fear you doubt my fidelity and constancy. I intend to write you as I did formerly, and shall endeavor to keep you fully & regularly informed of our proceedings in regard to the University. For, as you will have seen in the papers, the subject has been brought forward to the surprize of us all by Mr Griffin of York. Mr Minor of Spottsylvania had written to me to hasten up: but I did not receive his letter, nor hear of the motion, till my arrival here on sunday. At first Mr Griffin’s motion gave great satisfaction to the friends of the University. Coming from a Quarter deemed so hostile, we thought it a harbinger of a favorable change in the public feeling, & opinion. I confess I had my doubts from the begining, and now those doubts are confirmed. I knew, from information received from Mr Saunders in Wmsburg, that Mr Griffin had been apprized that his course last winter was thought by the friends of the University to have1 for its principal object the depression of that institution, and I thought it not improbable that he sought to redeem himself from the charge of insincerity in the estimation of the more enlightened part of the community. Some supposed he wished to prevent the Literary Board from compleating the Loan. Others, that he wished to force the friends of the University to a premature movement at an inauspicious time. All of us, however, thought that so remarkable a movement from an opponent whatever the motive might be, was calculated to do good. How far it may influence our movements will depend on circumstances. Yesterday Mr Griffin sought a conversation with me which satisfied me that his support would not be given to his own motion. He called on me to know if the Legislature would consent to cancel the bonds of the University, on condition that we should never apply for any further appropriation, whether we would consent to give the pledge. The Question was so ridiculous, I had some difficulty in refraining from laughing in his face. I replied to him, that I could not speak for others, but for myself, I would not hesitate to avow that I would give no such pledge, & I was very confident that the other friends of the University would give a similar answer. Indeed, I told him, that I would sooner see the measure which he had offered rejected, than to accept it on any such condition. All the obvious objections to such a pledge were urged, and I need not repeat them to you. He contended that unless such a pledge was given, he was sure the motion to cancel the bonds would be rejected by an immense majority: & I understood him to say that in such case he would himself vote against it. He furthermore observed that even that pledge would not carry the measure. And, finally, remarked that he should urge the measure no further. Among other things he assured me that he began to feel apprehensions for the safety of the Literary Fund. The University, he said was evidently more & more unpopular, & his motion was opposed by all the leading members of the House. I told him that his measure would of itself enable the University to get into operation in a short time, & to flourish greatly, but individually I was of opinion that future Legislatures shoud go further. I remonstrated with him on the impropriety of his withdrawing himself from the support of his own proposition, because we would not agree with him on ulterior measures not2 necessarily connected with it: and invited him to aid us in removing the popular prejudices. But all would not do. I saw his object, & we separated without coming to any agreement of opinion. In parting, I requested him to converse with Mr Johnson, inasmuch as I did not wish to be singly consulted on the occasion. He declined doing so, as unnecessary after what had passed. This conversation has been a subject of much merriment among our friends: and we are amused at the effort thus gravely made to bind us to our good behaviour for all time to come. Mr Ritchie will come out with an encomium on Mr Griffin’s liberality.—We are not yet decided whether we shall profit of the opening made by Mr Griffin, or let the subject lie over till another session. I am endeavoring to ascertain our best policy, by consultation with our friends. The laborious task again falls to my share to go the rounds, & to endeavor to rekindle the enthusiasm of our friends. In the course of the last three Days, I have seen enough to convince me that the Senate is well disposed, & the House of Delegates perhaps more than usually hostile. The temper & disposition of that House is distressing & alarming. To-day a motion was made & supported by Morris and Blackburn to authorize the Committee of Schools & Colleges to enquire into the expediency of making an appropriation to Washington & Hampden Sidney Colleges, and it was rejected by a large majority. These Colleges have both three or four respectable Agents here, solliciting aid from the Legislature. It is true that there is no money to dispose of: but to refuse enquiry to the Colleges, indicates great hostility to the literary interests of the State, as they are more popular than the University. Indeed it is doubted whether there is not a strong party in the House for the total abolition of the Literary Fund. Our prospects are certainly gloomy in a high degree. I have recommended to our friends to keep back the subject as long as possible, and in the interim to endeavor to make friends. We all agree thus far, that Griffin’s proposition is the proper one, if we make any: and that we should ask for nothing more. I still have hopes that explanation may pave the way to final success, but in all our struggles, never have I seen a more gloomy prospect. Blackburn is said by some to take to heart the removal of the seat of Government to Staunton. I am not sure of this, but I suspect he seeks it with deep anxiety. Is it not possible that calculations may be made on our anxiety to endow the University? May they not say—these men would not oppose us, least we may retaliate? I feel the dilemma—I regret it—but I cannot vote to carry the seat of Government to Staunton. We are committed against Charlottesville: because of the University being there. And I presume our best course is to keep it here. I shall not be busy or noisy, but my purpose is settled, be the consequences what they may.

4th Jan. I hear to-day a general concurrence of opinion as to the hostile character of the House of Delegates: & the probability that we ought not to apply for any thing. Yesterday in the debate on the motion to refer the consideration of the College Question to the Committee of Schools & Colleges I understand Genl Blackburn strongly committed himself against any & every proposition to touch the Capital of the Literary Fund. Mr Ritchie’s remarks of this morning will probably carry Mr G. to the point of voting for his own motion. Mr Watkins of P. Edward, one of the Commissioners at Rockfish Gap, is here on a visit. He is a friend to the University & to Hampden Sidney. He strongly advises that we shall make no application this session; he says we should ask for more money & let the debt stand for the present: that by the remission of the debt we shall not get money &c. But I think otherwise. We should get our annuity, & after that the momentum of the institution would carry it along. There is an almost unanimous opinion that if we should move at all, we should present and support Griffin’s proposition. And we generally think that we ought to keep back the proposition, and then be governed by circumstances. Col: Archer of Powhatan has just given his support to this course, & he moves much among the members. He thinks at this time we should meet with a decided repulse. I should be happy to receive any advice from yourself or Mr Madison: but will certainly write you from time to time.

I am inclined to think it would be good policy to show a friendly disposition towards the Colleges. The friends of Hampden Sydney are anxious for aid, and are not so lofty in their tone as they were last winter. I came here disposed, if there should be money to spare, to vote something to them, on conditions not very rigorous: to meet them in friendly consultation; in short to conciliate them. As far as I have had an opportunity to observe, they are disposed to meet us in the same temper.3

4. p.m. Since writing the above I have seen the speaker of the House of Delegates who is warmly our friend. He thinks much may be done to change the minds of members. And so do I. I am going around & solliciting the aid of all the speakers & the more liberal members. I have moved Ritchie, and I will bring the press to bear on the House. I will also get the aid of the Senators. In short, if any exertions of my mind can put a lever under the weight that bears us down, it shall be raised this session. I shall also endeavor to promote the completion of the loan. In four days, I am again fairly out at sea, struggling with the tempest.

I presume Governor Randolph has written you fully on the subject of his difference with the Council. I am sorry to inform you that he has injured himself extremely in the popular mind here by the first letter which he published in the Daily Compiler. Indeed the style of his answer to the Committee was lamented by his friends as rather too severe: & as calculated to produce a similar style on the other side. The Question as to the boundary of power seems to have been lost sight of, and the attention drawn only to the manner. He contemplates publishing again: I have taken the liberty to request him to be as moderate in his style as possible: & I shd be extremely glad if you could look over any thing he may send to the press. He has to cope with many persons & their4 numerous friends & connections. You are aware of my sincere respect & regard for him, & I am sure will consider these remarks as dictated only by friendship.—This controversy is unfortunate for the University.   I am, Dr Sir, faithfully yours

Joseph C. Cabell

RC (ViU: TJP-PC); misdated; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 3 Jan. 1822 received three days later and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with Dft of TJ to Samuel Parr, 26 Apr. 1824, on verso; addressed: “Mr Jefferson Monticello”; franked; postmarked Richmond, 3 Jan.

mr griffin’s motion: on 28 Dec. 1821 Thomas Griffin moved in the Virginia House of Delegates “That the committee of Schools and Colleges be instructed to inquire into the expediency of cancelling the bonds given by the rector and visitors of the University of Virginia, to the president and directors of the Literary Fund, and of releasing to the University of Virginia, the debts and interest now due thereon” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1821–22 sess.], 76; Richmond Enquirer, 1 Jan. 1822). On 2 Jan. 1822, not the date of Cabell’s letter, Richard morris made his unsuccessful resolution in the House of Delegates “That the committee for Schools and Colleges, be instructed to enquire into the expediency of giving some aid from the Literary Fund, to the colleges of Hampden Sidney and Washington, in common with other colleges and academies, asking aid from the said fund, and that they report by bill or otherwise” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1821–22 sess.], 97).

The Virginia House of Delegates received petitions on 22 Dec. 1821 calling for the removal of the seat of government from Richmond to a more central location. It rejected the proposal on 22 Jan. 1822 (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1821–22 sess.], 70, 137–8). Thomas Ritchie’s Richmond Enquirer actually printed the remarks of this morning on 3 Jan. 1822, in a column that advocated “releasing the University from the debt it had contracted; and devoting the whole of its annuity to its immediate assistance,” so that it might open more quickly and “avail itself of the assistance of Mr. Jefferson while he lives to give it.” Observing that other southern states were already opening universities, the editor lauded Griffin’s recent resolution as “liberal and disinterested.” The speaker of the house of delegates was Linn Banks.

In an undated letter accepting his reelection as governor that was reported to the Virginia House of Delegates on 14 Dec. 1821, Thomas Mann Randolph criticized the Council of State’s “unwarrantable latitude of construction” in its invocation of a 1792 law allowing the council to act in the absence of the governor and complained more generally of “the unconstitutional encroachment, now so long continued as to threaten to become permanent, of the plural branch of the Executive department, upon the single branch” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1821–22 sess.], 40). The council defended its interpretation of the 1792 law in a letter to the House of Delegates dated 19 Dec. 1821, which the Richmond Enquirer printed the next day. Randolph aired further grievances against the council in a letter of 20 Dec. 1821 to the editors of the daily compiler that was reprinted two days later by the Richmond Enquirer. He lamented that “the Governor of Virginia, for the last five years, has been no more than a reading and signing clerk to the Council” and vowed that “he never would lose an occasion of giving his testimony against the usurpations of the Council, which deprive the Governor, of all his constitutional importance in the Government.”

A letter to Cabell from his brother William H. Cabell dated Richmond, 20 Dec. 1821, stated that “You will perceive that the Governor has got himself into an unprofitable contest with his Council, in which I think he is likely to be much worsted—I do not know who drafted the communication from the Council—It is coarse in some of its parts, but very strong—Perhaps it is not coarser, however, than ought to be expected considering the unnecessary attack made on them by the Governor—He is a high minded, independent & honourable man; but greatly deficient in good sense and discretion” (RC in ViU: JCC).

Martha Jefferson Randolph wrote from Monticello on 8 Jan. 1822 of her husband’s situation in a letter advising Nicholas P. Trist that “If you take the Enquirer, you will see that the Governor and his council have brought their quarrel to an issue at last. his cause might have stood by it’s own merit, for every body who understands the subject at all, says that his construction of the constitution was unquestionably the true one. but during the reigns of the many Rois fainéants [i.e., kings, rulers, or leaders with only nominal power (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends )] who come into office, they have been in the habit of taking the reins of government entirely into their own hands, and thereby reducing the Governor to a mere signing clerk. when therefore a Governor is elected who is really competent and determined to do his duty and to permit them only to advise upon such business as he thinks proper to lay before them, there will allways be a struggle more or less according to circumstances. they are con[s]titutionally insignificant and useless therefore as a body they always have been, and always must be, contemptible. no young man of talents will accept of a place where neither reputation nor money can be acquired. the members of the Assembly who appoint, and scratch them out, are unacquainted with them personally, which makes the whole business a thing absolutely of chance, as I heard many of the members say, $1000 a year by so frail a tenure is worth nobody’s acceptance unless it be some person residing in or near Richmond and who pockets the salary without permitting the duties of the office to interfere with their private business. that fact is so notorious that I have known Mr Randolph detained three weeks unable to make up a council, although it requires but four members of the eight, the Governor himself making a majority. his friends regret the occurrence from the warmth he has carried in to it. self command you know was never his characteristick virtue” (RC in NcU: NPT; one word editorially corrected).

In another letter to Trist dated Liberty, 15 Feb. 1822, his grandmother Elizabeth Trist also mentioned the controversy: “as you take the Enquierer you will see an account of … the Governors dispute with his Council he has lost ground with the People and is so unpopular that the general opinion prevailing is that he will never be elected to any Office in the Goverment a gain I think it will be a mortifying circumstance to his family tho I believe it wou’d have been better for him self and them if he had never been elected” (RC in NcU: NPT).

1Preceding ten words interlined in place of “had.”

2Word interlined.

3Cabell here canceled “of mind.”

4Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Archer, William; as Va. legislator search
  • Banks, Linn; as speaker of Va. House of Delegates search
  • Blackburn, Samuel; as Va. legislator search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and funding for University of Virginia search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; as Va. state senator search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; health of search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; letters from search
  • Cabell, William H.; correspondence with J. C. Cabell search
  • Cabell, William H.; on T. M. Randolph search
  • Eagle Tavern (Richmond) search
  • Griffin, Thomas; and University of Virginia search
  • Griffin, Thomas; as Va. legislator search
  • Hampden-Sydney College; funding for search
  • Johnson, Chapman; and funding for University of Virginia search
  • Literary Fund; and annuity for University of Virginia search
  • Literary Fund; and loans for University of Virginia search
  • Literary Fund; funds of search
  • Literary Fund; support for search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and establishment of University of Virginia search
  • Minor, Garrett (of Fredericksburg) search
  • Morris, Richard; as Va. legislator search
  • newspapers; Richmond Commercial Compiler search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); correspondence of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); and Va. Council of State search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); as governor of Va. search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); described search
  • Richmond, Va.; Eagle Tavern search
  • Richmond, Va.; state capitol at search
  • Richmond Commercial Compiler (newspaper) search
  • Richmond Enquirer (newspaper); and T. M. Randolph’s dispute with Va. Council of State search
  • Richmond Enquirer (newspaper); prints articles on University of Virginia search
  • Richmond Enquirer (newspaper); T. Ritchie as editor of search
  • Ritchie, Thomas; and University of Virginia search
  • Ritchie, Thomas; as editor ofRichmond Enquirer search
  • Saunders, Robert; and funding for University of Virginia search
  • Staunton, Va.; potential location for state capital search
  • Trist, Elizabeth House; correspondence with N. P. Trist search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; correspondence with E. Trist search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; correspondence with M. J. Randolph search
  • Virginia, University of; Administration and Financial Affairs; funding for search
  • Virginia, University of; Board of Visitors; and loans for University of Virginia search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opening of search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opinions on search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opposition to search
  • Virginia; Council of State search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; governor search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search
  • Virginia; Senate of search
  • Washington College (later Washington and Lee University) search
  • Watkins, Henry Edward; as Va. legislator search