James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Madison, Sr., 30 September 1769

To James Madison, Sr.

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

Nassau-Hall, September 30th. 69.

Hond. Sir,

I recieved your letter by Mr. Rosekrans,1 and wrote an Answer; but as it is probable this will arrive sooner which I now write by Doctor Witherspoon,2 I shall repeat some circumstances to avoid obscurity.

On Wednesday last we had the annual commencement. Eighteen young gentlemen took their Batchelors’ degrees, and a considerable number their Masters Degrees; the Degree of Doctor of Law was bestowed on Mr. Dickenson the Farmer and Mr. Galloway, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, a distinguishing mark of Honour, as there never was any of that kind done before in America.3 The Commencement began at 10 O’Clock, when the President walked first into the Church, a board of Trustees following, and behind them those that were to take their Master’s degrees, and last of all, those that were to take their first Degrees; After a short Prayer by the President, the Head Oration, which is always given to the greatest Scholar by the President & Tutors, was pronounced in Latin by Mr. Samuel Smith4 son of a Presbyterean Minister in Pennsylvania. Then followed the other Orations, Disputes and Dialogues, distributed to each according to his merit, and last of all was pronounced the Valedictory Oration by Mr. John Henry5 son of a Gentleman in Maryland. This is given to the greatest Orator. We had a very great Assembly of People, a considerable number of whom came from N. York. Those at Philidelphia were most of them detained by Racis which were to follow on the next day.6

Since Commencement the Trustees have been sitting about Business relative to the College, and have chose for Tutors the ensuing year, for the junior class Mr. Houston7 from N. Carolina in the room of Mr. Periam,8 for the Freshman class Mr. Reeves (a gentleman who has for several years past kept a School at Elizabeth Town)9 in the room of Mr. Pemberton:10 the Sophomore Tutor Mr. Thomsom11 still retains his place, remarkable for his skill in the sophomore Studies having taken care of that class for several years past. Mr. Halsey12 was chosen Junior Tutor but refused. The Trustees have likewise appointed Mr. Caldwel, a Minister at Elizabeth Town,13 to take a journey through the Southern Provinces as far as Georgia to make collections by which the College Fund may be inabled to increase the Library, provide an apparatus of mathematical and Philosophical Instruments & likewise to support Professors which would be a great addition to the advantages of this College. Doctr. Witherspoon’s business to Virginia is nearly the same as I conjecture and perhaps to form some acquaintance to induce Gentlemen to send their sons to this College.14

I am very sorry to hear of the great drought that has prevailed with you, but am in some hopes the latter part of the year may have been more seasonable for you[r] crops. Your caution of frugality on consideration of the dry weather shall be carefully observed; but I am under a necesity of spending much more than I was apprehensive, for the purchasing of every small trifle which I have occasion for consumes a much greater sum than one wou[ld] suppose from a calculation of the necessary expences.

I feel great satisfaction from the assistance my Uncle Beale has recieved from the Springs, and I flatter myself from the continuance of my mother’s health that Dr. Shore’s skill will effectually banish the cause of her late indisposition.15

I recollect nothing more at present worth relating, but as often as opportunity and any thing worthy your attention shall occur, be assured you shall hear from your

Affectionate Son

James Madison

1Probably Alexander Rosecrants (Rosegrant), an infantryman in the Continental Army from Orange County during the Revolutionary War (Orange County Minute Book, No. 2, p. 109, microfilm in Virginia State Library).

2John Witherspoon (1723–1794), president of the College of New Jersey, 1768–1794, visited the South in the fall of 1769 to raise money and recruit students for the college (see n. 14).

3In addition to honoring John Dickinson and Joseph Galloway, the college also conferred the master’s degree on John Hancock. Dickinson and Hancock were popular heroes of the American resistance to the Townshend Acts (Varnum L. Collins, President Witherspoon, I, 125). Following Harvard’s award of an honorary A.M. to Benjamin Franklin in 1753, that degree was quite often conferred by American colleges, but the College of New Jersey in 1769 was apparently the first of them to grant a doctorate of laws, honoris causa (Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century [Cambridge, Mass., 1936], p. 491; and Charles F. Thwing, A History of Higher Education in America [New York, 1906], pp. 427–28). For a general description of this commencement, see New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XXVI, 520–24.

4Samuel Stanhope Smith (1751–1819) was a tutor at the College of New Jersey during most of JM’s residence there. Resigning in 1773 to preach in Virginia, he quickly made his mark by his scholarship, piety, and eloquence. By 1775, when he married Dr. Witherspoon’s daughter Ann, he and others were ready to found in Prince Edward County the Academy (the College, 1783 ff.) of Hampden-Sydney, of which he was the first president. In 1779 he returned to the College of New Jersey as professor of natural and moral philosophy. In 1795 he succeeded Witherspoon as president, and held that office seventeen years. The close and long friendship of JM and Smith, probably beginning when JM was in Princeton, may have helped to shape JM’s religious views. Smith never wavered in his conviction that his Presbyterian faith squared with right and reason and hence was impregnable against any assault whose force depended upon a new philosophy or new scientific discoveries (Alfred J. Morrison, The College of Hampden Sidney: Calendar of Board Minutes, 1776–1876 [Richmond, 1912], p. 11; Samuel Holt Monk, “Samuel Stanhope Smith: Friend of Rational Liberty,” in Willard Thorp, ed., The Lives of Eighteen from Princeton [Princeton, 1946], pp. 86–110).

5John Henry (1750–1798), later delegate to the Continental Congress, United States senator, and governor of Maryland.

6The horse races in Philadelphia, scheduled by its famous Jockey Club for 25 and 26 September, had been postponed until Thursday and Friday, the 28th and 29th, in order to avoid conflict with the annual meeting of the Society of Friends (The Pennsylvania Journal; and the Weekly Advertiser, 31 August–5 October 1769).

7William Churchill Houston.

8In 1769, after five years of service as a tutor at the College of New Jersey, Joseph Periam (ca. 1742–1780), who had graduated from there in 1762, was dropped from the faculty and became a schoolteacher in Elizabethtown, N.J. (Alexander, Princeton College description begins Samuel Davies Alexander, Princeton College during the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1872). description ends , p. 79). Brant (Madison, I, 74–75) surmises that Periam’s adherence to the Berkeleian system of metaphysics may account for his ouster by President Witherspoon.

9Tapping Reeve (1744–1823), College of New Jersey, ’63, was a tutor there for only one year. In 1784, he founded the Litchfield (Conn.) Law School, an institution which attracted students from all over the Union in the early nineteenth century.

10After less than a year as tutor at the College of New Jersey, from which he had been graduated in 1765, Ebenezer Pemberton (ca. 1745–1835) began a long and distinguished career as a teacher, principally in his native New England. Alexander (Princeton College, p. 100) states that “on one of the public occasions, while he [Pemberton] was a tutor, he was addressed by Madison, then a student, in a Latin address, valedictory and complimentary, on the part of the class, to the teacher.” As late as 28 November 1835, in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, JM referred to this occasion by writing:

“I well recollect Mr. Pemberton in the aspects which his character presented, when I was his pupil; and I readily conceive that your favorable picture is a good likeness of its developements in after life. He must at least have become an adept in the Classics. Being a good scholar at an early day, he could not fail in a long course of teaching others, to be a successful tutor to himself. I have no distinct recollection of the Latin address to him from his pupils including myself, nor of my share in the preparation of it, I suspect that its merit, if it has any, consists rather in the just and grateful feelings of the authors, than in the Latinity which conveys them, if otherwise the greater the merit of our Preceptor” (Harvard University Schools of Medicine and Public Health Library).

11During his eight years (1762–1770) as a tutor at the College of New Jersey, where he had graduated in 1761, James Thompson occasionally preached in a Presbyterian church at nearby Trenton (Alexander, Princeton College description begins Samuel Davies Alexander, Princeton College during the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1872). description ends , p. 75).

12Contrary to JM’s statement, Jeremiah Halsey (1733–1780), College of New Jersey, ’52, declined the College’s professorship of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1769. He had been chosen a tutor in 1757, the same year in which he was licensed for the ministry, and when he resigned ten years later to become a missionary in the South, he was the school’s eldest tutor. In 1770 he became pastor at Lamington and at Bedminster, in Somerset County, N.J. (John Lafayette Halsey and Edmund Drake Halsey, Thomas Halsey of Hertfordshire, England … with his American Descendants … [Morristown, N.J., 1895], pp. 60–61; Alexander, Princeton College description begins Samuel Davies Alexander, Princeton College during the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1872). description ends , pp. 17–18; John Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey [2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1877], I, 273).

13For many years, James Caldwell (1734–1781), College of New Jersey, ’59, was a distinguished Presbyterian minister at Elizabethtown, N.J. During the Revolution his eloquence helped to stiffen resistance to England and to recruit soldiers for the patriot army (Sprague, Annals description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (9 vols.; New York, 1857–69). description ends , III, 222–28).

14The southern tours of Witherspoon and Caldwell were highly successful. The latter netted £1,000 for the College of New Jersey and also so much produce that he had to ship it north from Georgia in a vessel chartered for that purpose. Witherspoon’s overflow audience in Williamsburg, Va., provided for the college £66, not including the £20 given by Governor Botetourt (Virginia Gazette[Purdie and Dixon], 2 November 1769). Although Witherspoon persuaded Henry Lee to send two of his sons to the college, he found that the Anglican influence of Reverend Jonathan Boucher weighed too heavily with George Washington to lure his stepson to the collegiate “nest of Presbyterians” in New Jersey (Varnum L. Collins, President Witherspoon, I, 124–29). As a result of his financial drive, Witherspoon, in April 1770, was enabled to purchase David Rittenhouse’s ingenious orrery for use in teaching natural philosophy. This scientific apparatus reached the campus of the College of New Jersey one year later (New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XXVII, 144–45, 426; John Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey, II, 22–23).

15Probably Richard Beale (1723–1771), whose wife Elizabeth was a sister of JM’s father. Frances, another of JM’s aunts on his father’s side, was the widow of Taverner Beale. Dr. John Shore (ca. 1731–ca. 1802) was a prominent physician of Hanover County (Eugenia G. Glazebrook and Preston Glazebrook, comps., “Virginia Migrations, Hanover County, 1723–1871” [2 vols.; mimeographed; Richmond, 1943–49], II, 48). JM’s mother, Nelly Conway Madison (1732–1829), although frequently in ill health, long outlived her husband, James Madison, Sr. (1723–1801). He and Nelly Conway were married on 13 September 1749.

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