Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Cooper to Thomas Jefferson, 14 February 1822

From Thomas Cooper

Columbia Feb. 14. 1822

Dear Sir

I send you the history of a College rebellion (an annual case here) which may be put by among the memoires pour servir à l’histoire du gouvernement academique; facts that furnish some useful conclusions. You are to consider as true in addition the following facts: viz That the Professors have never been absent from a single recitation, so far as I know, since I have been at this College.

That the Students are repeatedly invited & requested to apply to any of the professors at any time for a repetition of instructions, or a solution of difficulties in the course of their Studies.

That so far as I know, the Students have been treated with unabated & uniform kindness & respect by all the Professors: this manner of behaving to them has been deliberately & systematically adopted—and pursued. And every proper indulgence has been conceded at all times to the Students individually & collectively.

On the other hand

The senior Class have adopted as their guiding system of morality, that they are under no obligation to obey the Laws of the College, but merely to abide by the punishment inflicted on disobedience if they should be discovered. They distinguish openly avowedly & professedly between malum prohibitum, & malum in se.

They have prohibited every Student of that class from applying to any Professor for information, or for the explanation of any difficulty; regarding it as evidence of a design to curry favour with the faculty, and as taking an unfair advantage. Hence also the students are forbidden to visit at the Professor’s houses or to have any intercourse with them—Mr Eppes cannot pay a visit of common civility to Mrs Cooper. Every student in College, holds himself bound to conceal any offence against the Laws of the Land as well as the Laws of the College: the robbing of henroosts, the nightly prowling about to steal Turkies from all the houses in the neighbourhood are constant practices, among a set of young men who would never forgive you, if you doubted their honour, altho’ I know this form of declaration is little else than an insolent cover for falsehood among many1 of them.

Mr Baker of Richmond is a strong advocate for the distinction between malum prohibitum & malum in se; and he led off the revolt.

After consenting to refer the dispute to the Trustees convened by the Governor, they were guilty the next night of every outrage that they had the power to commit. The Professors were threatened, pistols were snapt at them, guns fired near them, Col. John Taylor (formerly of the Senate from this place) was in company with myself burnt in Effigy; the windows of my bed room have been repeatedly shattered at various hours of the night, & guns fired under my window. If we were to ask any young man, who did so, he wd feel insulted at the Question, and deem his honour injured by being asked if he knew the perpetrator of a crime, altho’ he stood near the offender at the time.

Of the junior class, we have suspended about 20, and reported for expulsion 4 or 5 others. The senior class, at present knowing our full determination not to give way, are very regular now & probably will continue so.

The trustees resident in this neighbourhood, are determined to recommend that no Student be hereafter admitted, but on condition of signing the paper which we required the Junior class to sign; and also to apply to the legislature to make it a penal offence cognizable before a magistrate for any student to remain in College 12 hours after being ordered by the faculty to leave it. A provision now seen to be of the first necessity.

Republicanism is good: but the “rights of boys, and of girls” are the offspring of Democracy run mad. No Professors of any reputation will stay at an institution where their authority is to disputed2 inch by inch, and their lives put in jeopardy if they resist the encroachments of a hot headed set of boys, whom no kindness can conciliate, and who regard all exertions made to promote their improvement as mere matters of duty for which no thanks are due. Some of3 The very young men, to whom last season I gave a daily lecture more than I was bound to give—who were incited and tempted to attend that lecture as an extra duty—to whom I continued to give instruction to the last day of their remaining in College, stole my horse out of the stable shaved its tail & mane, and rode it about in the night till it was nearly exhausted. I found them out & forgave them, but it produced no amelioration in some of their accomplices who remained, and are now suspended.

Dr Dwight prophesyed that no collegiate institution could be permanent south of Potowmack. In my own opinion the parental indulgence to the south, renders young men less fit for college government, than the habits of the northern People; and the rigid discipline of the northern seminaries must be put in force inexorably in the south, or the youths who are sent for instruction, will permit their teachers to give it them, only when the student condescends to be taught.

In all these proceedings, about 10 or 12 lead the rest astray, and the defect of moral courage—that courage which determines a man to do his duty at all hazards—renders the peaceable, the tools of the turbulent.

I know little how Mr Eppes is going on: we have no intercourse for the reasons abovementioned; but his habits are studious, regular, and kind. All the Professors speak well of him, & in my opinion deservedly.

 Accept dear sir my best and kindest respects and good wishes for your welfare.

Thomas Cooper

RC (DLC); second through fourth pages numbered by Cooper as 4, 5, and 6, respectively; endorsed by TJ as received 3 Mar. 1822 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with Dft of TJ to John Browne Cutting, 2 July 1824, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esq Montecello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Columbia, S.C., 16 Feb. Enclosure: Cooper, An Address delivered before the Medical Board of S. Carolina, at Columbia, December, 1821 (Columbia, 1821), praising the establishment of the South Carolina Board of Examiners, “which, ere long, will ensure to S. Carolina, a Medical class of society, worthy to be entrusted with the lives of their fellow citizens” (p. 3), particularly as it can insure that physicians trained in the North are capable of detecting and treating southern diseases; criticizing medical instruction at northern schools, which require students to attend too many lectures in too short a time to be effective; proposing that South Carolina open its own institution of this kind, which would keep young medical students under closer parental supervision and guard against the acquisition of “northern habits, propensities, prejudices and modes of thinking” (p. 6); arguing that a medical school in the state would not only keep local money at home but also draw additional income from students farther south; outlining the five professorships and course of study proposed for such a school; and urging that pecuniary concerns not deter South Carolina from spending money on the education and health of its citizens. Other enclosure printed below.

memoires pour servir à l’histoire du gouvernement academique: “memoirs illustrating the history of academic government.” malum prohibitum: “an act that is a crime merely because it is prohibited by statute, although the act itself is not necessarily immoral.” malum in se: “a crime or an act that is inherently immoral, such as murder, arson, or rape” (Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner and others, eds., Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed., 1999 description ends ). The rights of boys, and of girls likely alludes to a pseudonymous work by “Launcelot Light” and “Lætitia Lookabout,” A Sketch of the Rights of Boys and Girls (London, 1792), which satirized Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London, 1792).

Cooper most likely also enclosed here his Address to the Graduates of the South-Carolina College, December, 1821 (Columbia, 1821; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 6 [no. 226]; TJ’s copy in DLC: Rare Book and Special Collections, inscribed by Cooper: “With the Author’s kind & sincere respects to Thomas Jefferson”), exhorting the graduating students “to cultivate the religious part of your education,” not least because society relies on religion to create “better men and better citizens” (p. 3); advising students to pursue industriously “a sufficient income to support ourselves and our families in reasonable comfort” (p. 4), to avoid debt, and to seek good and wise companions; acknowledging that the students “will be destined to the pursuits of agriculture, or commerce, or manufactures: or to the professions of law, physic, or divinity” (p. 6), and showing how the liberal education they received at South Carolina College is applicable to each; urging those intent on legal or medical work to continue to study widely and, if possible, delay the commencement of their practice until they are twenty-four years old; and admonishing those without large fortunes to avoid politics and oratory and seek more reliable careers in civil life instead.

On 27 Feb. 1822 TJ’s granddaughter Mary J. Randolph wrote to her sister Virginia J. Randolph (Trist) from Monticello: “we had heard that the students at Columbia & Wayles [i.e., John Wayles Baker] among the number which I could scarcely believe were suspended for not attending school, I am glad to hear that the religious zeal of the professors was in part the cause of it. have you got a letter from Francis lately? Grand papa got one the other day with an account of the affair already mentioned from which he seemed to understand the thing as I have told it but I was sure that the professors must have been to blame as well as the young men which is pretty generally the case in these disputes, in this instance the [whole] college has been threatened with suspension which was still h[anging] over the heads of some when Francis wrote” (RC in NcU: NPT; torn at seal). The letter from Francis Eppes to TJ was presumably that of 6 Feb. 1822, the address cover only of which has been found (RC in DLC; with Dft of TJ to William Gray, 11 July 1824, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr near Charlottesville Albemarle Virginia”; franked; postmarked), recorded in SJL as received 16 Feb. 1822 from Columbia.

1Word interlined in place of “most.”

2Thus in manuscript.

3Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Address to the Graduates of the South-Carolina College, December, 1821 (T. Cooper) search
  • An Address delivered before the Medical Board of S. Carolina, at Columbia, December, 1821 (T. Cooper) search
  • A Sketch of the Rights of Boys and Girls (“Launcelot Light” and “Lætitia Lookabout”) search
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (M. Wollstonecraft); satirized search
  • Baker, John Wayles (TJ’s grandnephew); suspended from South Carolina College search
  • Bennett, Thomas; as governor of S.C. search
  • chickens search
  • Cooper, Elizabeth Pratt Hemming (Thomas Cooper’s wife); mentioned search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); Address to the Graduates of the South-Carolina College, December, 1821 search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); An Address delivered before the Medical Board of S. Carolina, at Columbia, December, 1821 search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); and student misbehavior at South Carolina College search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); letters from search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); on F. W. Eppes search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); on legal education search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); on medical education search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); on religious education search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); president of South Carolina College search
  • Dwight, Timothy; on colleges in southern U.S. search
  • education, collegiate; and student misbehavior search
  • education; of southern students search
  • education; religious search
  • Eppes, Francis Wayles (TJ’s grandson); and student misbehavior at South Carolina College search
  • Eppes, Francis Wayles (TJ’s grandson); education of, at South Carolina College search
  • Eppes, Francis Wayles (TJ’s grandson); letters from accounted for search
  • horses; theft of search
  • law; study of search
  • medicine; education in search
  • Randolph, Mary Jefferson (TJ’s granddaughter); correspondence with siblings search
  • schools and colleges; student misbehavior at search
  • South Carolina; governor of search
  • South Carolina; medical education in search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); and J. W. Baker search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); faculty at search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); influence of clergy at search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); student conduct at search
  • South Carolina College (later University of South Carolina); trustees of search
  • Taylor, John (of South Carolina); burned in effigy search
  • Trist, Virginia Jefferson Randolph (TJ’s granddaughter); correspondence with siblings search
  • turkeys; theft of search
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman search
  • “Lætitia Lookabout” (pseudonym); A Sketch of the Rights of Boys and Girls search
  • “Launcelot Light” (pseudonym); A Sketch of the Rights of Boys and Girls search