Extract from GW’s Will
It has always been a source of serious reflection, and of sincere regret with me, to see the youth of these United States sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education (perhaps, before their minds are formed, or they have any correct ideas of the blessings of the country they leave)—Where, besides contracting habits of dissipation and extravagance—principles unfriendly to republican government, and to the rights of man, may be imbibed and found difficult to eradicate.
For these reasons, it has long been an ardent wish of mine, to see some plan adopted by which a general & liberal diffusion of learning could be dissiminated, systematically, through all parts of this rising empire; thereby, and as far the nature of the thing will admit, and in itself would be proper, to do away local attachments, and state prejudices from our public councels.
Hoping that so desireable an object will ’ere long be viewed in the important light I think it merits, my mind is unable to contemplate any measure more likely to effect it than the establishment of a University; where young men from all parts of the United States (after having passed through a preparative course of education) may, under Professors of the first reputation in the different branches of literature—arts & Sciences—compleat their studies; and get fixed in the principles of the Constitution—understand the Laws—and the true interests & policy of their Country, as well as the professions they mean to pursue. And moreover (which is not the least, among the advantages of such a plan) by forming acquaintances with each other in early life, avoid those local prejudices & habitual jealousies which, when carried to excess, are never failing sources of disquietude in the public mind, and but too pregnant of mischievous consequences.
Under these impressions I give and bequeath for ever, the shares I hold under an Act of the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the navigations of the Rivers Potomac and James1 towards the endowment of a University to be established within the limits of the Federal district, provided a well digested plan for the same shall be adopted for the purpose before the year 1800. If not then &ca &ca &ca.
1. At this point GW placed an asterisk, which referenced the following note: “The shares in the James River navigation to be otherwise disposed of.” In January 1785 GW was given fifty shares of Potomac River Company stock and 100 shares of James River Company stock by “An act for vesting in George Washington, esq. a certain interest in the companies established for opening and extending the navigation of Potowmack and James rivers.” When he declined that gift, the Virginia legislature responded by passing in their next session “An act to amend the act intituled An act for vesting in George Washington, esq. a certain interest in the companies established for opening and extending the navigation of James and Potowmack rivers,” which stated that “the said shares with the tolls and profits hereafter accruing therefrom, shall stand appropriated to such objects of a public nature … as the said George Washington, esq. by deed during his life, or by his last will and testament, shall direct and appoint.” (Va. Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends [Hening], 11:525–26, 12:42–44; Benjamin Harrison to GW, 6 Jan. 1785, and GW to Patrick Henry, 29 Oct. 1785, Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 2:256–57, 3:326–27). By March 1795 GW had decided to give the James River shares to a seminary in Virginia (GW to Robert Brooke, 16 March 1795), and in his 1799 will he bequeathed those shares to Liberty Hall Academy in Rockbridge County, Va. (Papers, Retirement Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends , 4:483).