Thomas Jefferson Papers

Alexander Keech to Thomas Jefferson, 12 January 1822

From Alexander Keech

Waverly, near Bladensburg Md, January 12th 1822

Venerated Sir,

I have been solicited by several Gentlemen of considerable influence and standing in this section of Maryland, to solicit information relative to “the University of Virginia.” I have therefore, taken the freedom to request of you, information as to the time, when it is probable, the University will go into operation, the nature of its government, who have or will be selected as Professors and any other facts and circumstances in relation to its state and contemplated commencement of exercises, which you may have leisu[re] and inclination to communicate? The cause of literature and Science is retrograding1 in Maryland; which is in a great measure, attributable to the withdrawing of the funds from St John’s College. And altho’ the Legislature is tolerably liberal in its patronage of learning, their liberality is at present confined to elementary Institutions; leaving those who aspire to a thorough Collegiate education, without a College of character and capacity, to which they can resort for the attainment of pure classical lore, modern literature and extensive scientific acquirements. Nor is it very probable that the time will soon arrive, when this great evil will be removed; altho a proposition will be submitted to the legislature, during the present session for this object. Its failure2 is inevitable, from the present3 embarrassed state of the Finances and the sentiments of rigid economy, which generally prevail. In the present state of things, we are compelled to have recourse to the Eastern Colleges, for the higher branches of Education; where our youth are reared under the influence of manners and customs essentially different from those of the circle in which they are destined to revolve; and generally on their return to the active duties of real life; if they do not provoke the censure and disgust of those with Whom they associate, are but little calculated to conciliate attachment and4 obtain esteem. These reasons superadded to the remoteness of the Eastern Institutions the necessary travelling expences and resident expenditures preclude the possibility of the advantages of Eastern Education being recieved by many. Another reason which operates with many is, that, Collegiate honors are conferred on all promiscuously, who continue after their matriculation, until the time arrives, when the class to which they are attached is graduated. Under this system of things, genius and stupidity, intense application and confirmed5 indolence in one sense are equally rewarded. I am very far from thinking that our youth in the Southern States should be excluded from those northern nurseries of arts and sciences; for I am persuaded that the frequent intercourse of the states, at a proper period of life, when they6 are established and judgment is matured, is the most effectual mode to conquer sectional prejudices7 and liberalize the mind. But as different manners and customs must necessarily prevail in the different sections of our widely extending confederacy, arising from different8 climates, soils, occupations &c; I cannot help entertaining the opinion, that, it is most desirable to educate youth in the principles, habits and customs of thei[r] own Country, and a youth of Maryland in the manners customs &c of Maryland or those the nearest assimilated to them; as it is not pretended that a perfect similarity is necessary in the different quarter’s of our Country for perfect harmony and union. Upon these principles and convictions I rejoice venerable sir, that you are devoting The eve of your very valuable public and private life in the best of causes—the dissemination of science and literature; upon which the happiness and permanency of our highly favoured Republic so much depends. May your every anticipation be realized, your every effort succeed, and may your valuable life be prolonged to witness the happy effects of your labors.

“The University of Virginia” has my best wishes for its prosperity and usefulness and my limited exertions and influence will be employed in recommending it to my neighbours and acquaintances; and altho’ I have retired from the arduous duties of the superintendance of a public Institution, I still retain my ardor for literary pursuits and scientific research and would gladly co-operate9 in any capacity, I am competent to promote the interest of “the University of Virginia.”

You, I am persuaded, will readily pardon the liberty I have taken. For whatever inequality there may be in other respects in the world—the Republic of letters unite its members in the strongest associations.

with the greatest veneration for your10 public and private character, I am yr obd sert

Alex: Keech


There are about 12 young Gentlemen in this neighbourhood designd for College Next fall—

A K.

RC (DLC); edge trimmed; addressed: “The Honbl Thomas Jefferson Monti-Cello near Charlottes-ville Virginia”; stamped; postmarked Bladensburg, 16 Jan.; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Jan. 1822 and so recorded in SJL. Probably enclosed in TJ to Joseph C. Cabell, 25 Jan. 1822.

Alexander Keech (1797–1864), educator, was a native of Maryland who worked at Charlotte Hall School in Saint Mary’s County by 1812. Two years later he was the president of Rappahannock Academy in Caroline County, Virginia, and by 1818 he was president of Potomac Academy in King George County. In 1822 Keech opened the Waverly Academy at his estate in Prince Georges County, Maryland, which he operated for eleven years and revived again in 1843. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives, as a supporter of William H. Crawford in 1823 and of Andrew Jackson in 1831. Keech was a trustee of the new Bladensburg Academy in 1838, and in 1852 he and his namesake son advertised the opening of an “English and Classical School” in Washington, D.C. Keech is listed in the 1850 Prince Georges County census as a planter owning twenty slaves and with real estate valued at $10,360. In 1860 he was described as a farmer with real estate and personal property worth $40,000 combined (Washington National Intelligencer, 6 Feb. 1812; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 25 June 1814, 11 Sept. 1818, 27 Aug. 1822, 22 Nov. 1823, 6 Oct. 1831, 18 July 1838; Washington Globe, 3 Jan. 1843; Washington Daily Union, 1 Sept. 1852; DNA: RG 29, CS, Md., Prince Georges Co., 1850, 1850 slave schedules, 1860, 1860 slave schedules; gravestone inscription in Saint John’s Episcopal Church Cemetery, Beltsville, Md.).

On 25 Jan. 1806 the Maryland General Assembly withdrew state funding from st john’s college (Laws of Maryland [Annapolis, 1805–06 sess.], ch. 85). A proposition benefitting the school passed the state House of Delegates on 9 Jan. 1822 but was tabled by the Senate three days later (Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the State of Maryland, at December Session, 1821 [Annapolis, 1821], 50; Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of the State of Maryland, December Session, 1821 [Annapolis, (1821)], 23).

1 Manuscript: “retrogading.”

2 Manuscript: “falure.”

3 Manuscript: “preset.”

4 Manuscript: “and and.”

5 Manuscript: “confirned.”

6 Manuscript: “the.”

7 Manuscript: “prejudics.”

8Manuscript: “differnt.”

9 Manuscript: “co-oporate.”

10 Manuscript: “you.”

Index Entries

  • education, collegiate; and sectional differences search
  • education, collegiate; curriculum of search
  • education, collegiate; funding for, in Md. search
  • education; of southern students search
  • Keech, Alexander; identified search
  • Keech, Alexander; letter from search
  • Keech, Alexander; on northern colleges search
  • Keech, Alexander; seeks information on University of Virginia search
  • Maryland; and education search
  • Maryland; economic conditions in search
  • Maryland; legislature of search
  • Saint John’s College (Annapolis) search
  • schools and colleges; northern seminaries search
  • schools and colleges; Saint John’s College (Annapolis) search
  • United States; sectional divisions in search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opening of search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opinions on search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; TJ as founder of search
  • Virginia, University of; Students; prospective students search