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resentatives in reply to the President's speech, it does not appear that Congress paid the slightest attention to the subject. Nor do we again hear of it for several years. This fact, apparently surprising in view of Washington's unflagging interest, is explained by a transaction of great national importance.
The permanent seat of the National Government was established on the Potomac by an act of Congress approved June 28, 1790, and the names Columbia and Washington were given, by the commissioners created by the act, to the Federal district and the Federal city, September 7, 1791. The establishment of the capital strengthened Washington's conviction as to the proper seat of a national university. But the Federal district was a forest; ten years was the time allotted to prepare the Federal city for the reception of the Government; and those who have read the contemporary accounts of the condition of Washington in the year 1800 will not be surprised that even Washington's ardor was for the time restrained. Blodget reports a conversation with the President, in which he "stated his opinion that till there were 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants in the city of Washington, and until Congress were comfortably accommodated, it might be premature to commence a seminary. He did not wish to see the work commence until the city was prepared for it."
A longer, though less important, series of transactions must now be related. Washington was always deeply interested in economical and industrial subjects. His views in regard to public improvements, and particularly in regard to uniting the seaboard with what were then called "the western waters," by means of transportation lines, are well known. In 1785 the legislature of Virginia voted him, as a testimonial for his public services, 50 shares of the stock in the Potomac Company and 100 shares in the James River Company, in both of which enterprises he had taken great interest. In obedience to the resolution that he had made in 1775 not to accept compensation or reward for public service, he declined to accept the gift; or, rather, he retained it with a view of devoting it to some object of a public nature which should meet the enlightened and patriotic views of the body that had voted the bounty. How much embarrassed he was by the gift is shown by his numerous letters in relation to the subject.2 Nor was he able readily to make up his mind in regard to its destination. He wrote Mr. Jefferson as follows, September 26, 1785:
I never for a moment entertained an idea of accepting it. The difficulty with which my mind labored was how to refuse without giving offense. Ultimately I have it in contemplation to apply the profits arising from the tolls to some public use. In this, if I knew how, I would meet the wishes of the assembly; but, if I am not able to come at these, my own inclination leads me to apply them to the establishment of two charity schools, one on each river, for the education and support of
'It will be remembered that in the early history of the Government the two houses were accustomed to make formal replies to the President's annual address.
"See Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, IX, 83, 108, 116, 133, 142; XI, 3, 19, 22, 172.
poor children, especially the descendants of those who have fallen in defense of their country.1
How early Washington settled this question in his own mind we can not tell. He wrote to Edmund Randolph, December 15, 1794, inclosing an extract from his will, which Dr. Sparks2 supposes to have been the same in substance as the provisions relating to the same subject found in the will that Washington executed July 9, 1799, quoted hereafter. He asks Randolph in conjunction with Mr. Madison to mature a plan for disposing of the stock. But whether Dr. Sparks's inference on this point is correct or not, it is certain that, about this time, the shares in the improvement companies, or rather the shares in one of them, in Washington's mind, became a part of the endowment of a national university. January 28, 1795, he addressed this letter to the commissioners of the Federal district.
A plan for the establishment of a university in the Federal city has frequently been the subject of conversation; but in what manner it is proposed to commence this important institution, on how extensive a scale, the means by which it is to be effected, how it is to be supported, or what progress is made in it, are matters altogether unknown to me. It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with me that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education. Although there are doubtless many, under these circumstances, who escape the danger of contracting principles unfavorable to republican government, yet we ought to deprecate the hazard attending ardent and susceptible minds, from being too strongly and too early prepossessed in favor of other political systems before they are capable of appreciating their own.
For this reason I have greatly wished to see a plan adopted by which the arts, sciences, and belles-lettres could be taught in their fullest extent, thereby embracing all the advantages of European tuition, with the means of acquiring the liberal knowledge which is necessary to qualify our citizens for the exigencies of public as well as private life; and (which with me is a consideration of great magnitude) by assembling the youth from the different parts of this rising Republic, contributing from their intercourse and interchange of information to the removal of prejudices which might perhaps sometimes arise from local circumstances.
The Federal city, from its centrality and the advantages which in other respects it must have over any other place in the United States, ought to be preferred as a proper site for such a university. And if a plan can be adopted upon a scale as extensive as I have described, and the execution of it should commence under favorable auspices in a reasonable time, with a fair prospect of success, I will grant in perpetuity 50 shares in the navigation of the Potomac River towards the endowment of it. What annuity will arise from these 50 shares when the navigation is in full operation can at this time be only conjectured; and those who are acquainted with it can form as good a judgment as myself.
As the design of this university has assumed no form with which I am acquainted, and as I am equally ignorant who the persons are who have taken or are disposed to take the maturing of the plan upon themselves, I have been at a loss to whom I should make this communication of my intentions. If the commissioners of the Federal city have any particular agency in bringing the matter forward, then the information which I now give to them is in its proper course. If, on the ther hand, they have no more to do in it than others who may be desirous of seeing so important a measure carried into effect, they will be so good as to excuse my using them as the medium for disclosing these my intentions; because it appears necessary
Sparks, IX, 133.
2 Sparks, XI, 3.
that the funds for the establishment and support of the institution should be known to the promoters of it, and I see no mode.more eligible for announcing my purpose. For these reasons I give you the trouble of this address and the assurance of being,1
The next step soon followed. March 16 Washington wrote to Governor Brooke, of Virginia, in regard to the disposition to be made of the shares:
It is with indescribable regret that I have seen the youth of the United States migrating to foreign countries in order to acquire the higher branches of erudition and to obtain a knowledge of the sciences. Although it would be injustice to many to pronounce the certainty of their imbibing maxims not congenial with republicanism, it must, nevertheless, be admitted that a serious danger is encountered by sending abroad among other political systems those who have not well learned the value of their own.
The time is therefore come when a plan of universal education ought to be adopted in the United States. Not only do the exigencies of public and private life demand it, but if it should ever be apprehended that prejudice would be entertained in one part of the Union against another, an efficacious remedy will be to assemble the youth of every part under such circumstances as will, by freedom of intercourse and collision of sentiment, give to their minds the direction of truth, philanthropy, and mutual conciliation.
It has been represented that a nniversity corresponding with these ideas is contemplated to be built in the Federal city, and that it will receive considerable endowments. This position is so eligible from its centrality, so convenient to Virginia, by whose legislature the shares were granted, and in which part of the Federal district stands, and combines so many other conveniences that I have determined to vest the Potomac shares in that university.
Presuming it to be more agreeable to the general assembly of Virginia that the shares in the James River Company should be reserved for a similar object in some part of that State, I intend to allot them for a seminary to be erected at such place as they shall deem most proper. I am disposed to believe that a seminary of learning upon an enlarged plan, but yet not coming up to the full idea of a university, is an institution to be preferred for the position which is to be chosen. The students who wish to pursue the whole range of science may pass with advantage from the seminary to the university, and the former by a due relation may be rendereá cooperative with the latter.
I can not, however, dissemble my opinion that if all the shares were conferred on a university it would become far more important than when they are divided; and I have been constrained from concentering them in the same place merely by my anxiety to reconcile a particular attention to Virginia with a great good, in which she will abundantly share in common with the rest of the United States.
I must beg the favor of your excellency to lay this letter before that honorable body at their next session, in order that I may appropriate the James River shares to the place which they may prefer.
The Virginia legislature, responding to the President's views, December 1, 1795, declared it highly disadvantageous for American youth to go to foreign countries to complete their education. It not only ratified the use to which he proposed to devote the stock, but also resolved that "the plan contemplated of erecting a university in the Federal city, where the youth of the several States may be assembled and their
1 Sparks, XI, 14.
2 Sparks, XI, 23.
course of education finished, deserves the countenance and support of These are the two principal resolutions in full:
Resolved, therefore, That the appropriation by the said George Washington of the aforesaid shares in the Potomac Company to the university intended to be erected in the Federal city is made in a manner most worthy of public regard and of the
approbation of this Commonwealth.
James River Company to a seminary at such place in the upper country as he may Resolved, also That he be requested to appropriate the aforesaid shares in the
deem most convenient to a majority of the inhabitants thereof.
These resolutions settled the question. September 15, 1796, Washington wrote to Governor Brooke that after careful inquiries to ascer. tain the place in the upper country most convenient to a majority of its inhabitants, he has destined the James River shares to the use of Lib. erty Hall Academy, in Rockbridge County. We accordingly find this
item in his will:
The 100 shares which I hold in the James River Company I have given, and now confirm in perpetuity, to and for the use and benefit of Liberty Hall Academy, in the county of Rockbridge, in the Commonwealth of Virginia.3
Before the disposition of the shares in the improvement companies was finally closed, Washington was called upon to consider the boldest scheme recorded in our educational history. The faculty of the College of Geneva, Switzerland, were ill at ease under the political conditions then existing in that country growing out of the French Revolution, and one or more of its members originated the brilliant proposal of migrating in a body to the United States, provided suitable encouragement were offered. In a word, it was a proposition to transplant to America one of the most famous of European seats of learning. In view of the facts already stated, it was natural that the scheme should be laid before Washington. It reached him by two different channels.
John Adams, while on foreign duty, had become acquainted with M. D'Ivernois, one of the professors of the college, and he was very appropriately made a medium for transmitting the Genevan idea. Adams submitted the papers to Washington, and Washington replied under date of November 27, 1794, neither accepting nor declining the proposition.*
Thomas Jefferson, while minister at Paris, had also made M. D'Ivernois's acquaintance. He was known to be deeply interested in science and in the College of Geneva, and was also in close sympathy with French ideas and the French spirit. Very naturally, the Genevan professor sounded him also on the subject. More definitely, he pro
'Sparks, XI, 25, note.
'Sparks, XI, 172.
Augusta Academy was founded by the Hanover Presbytery, at Mount Pleasant, about the year 1772. After a few years, it was located at Lexington and its name changed to Liberty Hall Academy. Later its name was changed to Washington College, and still later to Washington and Lee Univer sity. The legislature has watched carefully over Washington's donation, and it now yields 6 per cent on $50,000. See a sketch of the institution in H. B. Adams's "Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia," Chapter XXII, by Professors White and Harris.
posed the transplantation of the college to Virginia and to Jefferson's own county. November 22, 1794, Jefferson laid the scheme before Wilson Nicholas, a member of the Virginia assembly, requesting him to consult privately such members of the assembly as he thought proper, and then to follow his own judgment in the premises. Jefferson spoke of the expense and of the difficulty of communicating instruction to American youth in French and Latin, but added that owing to his long absence from the State he was not a competent judge of the force of these objections. In due time Nicholas informed him that a canvass had been made, and that the scheme was pronounced impracticable. Mr. Jefferson accordingly explained the situation to M. D'Ivernois in a letter dated February 6, 1795.2
Apparently, this should have been the end of this extravagant project. But Jefferson now bethought him of the fund that Washington held in trust for an educational purpose; and February 23 he wrote the President an extremely interesting letter in relation to the subject, sketching the members of the Genevan faculty, one by one, and discussing the question of removal, especially in its economical aspect. He thinks that if Washington will devote the shares to the carrying out of the scheme, it will give it "in the outset such an eclat, and such solid advantages, as would insure a very general concourse to it of the youths from all our States, and probably from the other parts of America which are free to adopt it." It is perfectly clear that Mr. Jefferson did not think the scheme impracticable. Still, he did not indorse the proposition in the terms that D'Ivernois had made it.
The composition of the academy can not be settled there. It must be adapted to our circumstances, and can therefore only be fixed between them and persons here acquainted with those circumstances, and conferring for the purpose after their arrival here. For a country so marked by agriculture as ours, I should think no professorship so important as one not mentioned by them, a professor of agriculture, who, before students should leave college, should carry them through a course of lectures on the principles and practice of agriculture; and that this professor should come from no country but England. Indeed, I should mark Young as the man to be obtained. These, however, are modifications to be left till their arrival here.
The reply that he received, dated March 15, left him in no doubt as to Washington's view of its practicability. After recounting the advantages that would accrue to the national university from locating it in the Federal city, and stating that he has already decided to devote the James River shares to some Virginia seminary, Washington continues thus:
Hence you will perceive that I have in a degree anticipated your proposition. I was restrained from going the whole length of the suggestion by the following considerations: First, I did not know to what extent or when any plan would be so matured for the, establishment of a university as would enable any assurances to be given to the application of M. D'Ivernois. Secondly, the propriety of transplanting the professors in a body might be questioned for several reasons; among others,
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson; IV, 109.
2 Ibid., IV, 113.
Sparks, XI, 475.