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V. PRESIDENT JEFFERSON,
If any President could have identified his name with a real national university, undoubtedly it was Thomas Jefferson. He was borne into the Presidential chair by a powerful and enthusiastic party, well accustomed to follow his leadership. The Federal city was now established, and the national revenues increased beyond the wants of the Government. Since 1787 the expectation had been more or less general that a university would be established when the propitious time should arrive, and for several years at the beginning of the century this expectation was materially strengthened. In many respects Mr. Jefferson was the very man to take up and press the plan that Washington had laid down only with his life. He was one of the most liberalminded Americans of the day. His interest in science was so great that he protested time and again his strong preference for study and investigation to the strifes of politics. He held advanced views on higher education. Years before, in company with Chancellor Wythe, he had matured and brought forward an elaborate plan for the establishment of a system of public schools in Virginia. He had carefully studied the subject of education abroad. He had warmly espoused the Geneva removal scheme. And he was yet to found the University of Virginia. This he considered one of his three chief titles to remembrance, the other two being the authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of religious liberty in Virginia. It verily seemed to many that now, since science and philosophy had ascended to the Chief Magistrate's chair, the propitious time to found the national university had come. All such expectations were cruelly disappointed. Mr. Jef ferson mentioned the subject but once in his various communications to Congress. In his sixth annual message, delivered September 2, 1806, discussing the state of the public finances, he said there would be "ere long an accumulation of moneys in the Treasury beyond the installments of public debt which we are permitted by contract to pay," and asked what should be done with the surplus. He thought the public would not consent to a large reduction of revenue, but rather insist upon its "continuance and application to the great purposes of public education, roads, rivers, canals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of Federal powers." He thus continues:
Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation. The subject is now proposed for the consideration of Congress, because, if approved, by the time the State legislatures shall have deliberated on this extension of the Federal trusts, and the laws shall be passed and other arrangements made for their execution, the necessary funds will be on hand and without employment. I suppose an amendment to the Constitution, by
consent of the States, necessary, because the objects now recommended are not among those enumerated in the Constitution, and to which it permits public moneys to be applied.
The present consideration of a national establishment for education, particularly, is rendered proper by this circumstance also, that if Congress, approving the proposition, shall yet think it more eligible to found it on a donation of lands, they have it now in their power to endow it with those which will be among the earliest to produce the necessary income. This foundation would have the advantage of being independent of war, which may suspend other improvements by requiring for its own purposes the resources destined for them.
This feeble outcome will not surprise anyone who is acquainted with the facts of the case. There is no reason to suppose that Mr. Jefferson was at any time interested in a national university in the sense that Washington or Madison was interested in it. His sincere devotion to education is unquestioned; but he wished to gain his ends rather through State than United States agencies. In fact, his idea in urging the Genevan scheme was Virginian rather than national, as his letter to Washington shows. Withal, his constitutional theories stood in his way. His mere mention that a constitutional amendment would be necessary before any portion of the surplus revenue could be devoted to a university was quite enough to put an end for the time to the undertaking.'
VI. JOEL BARLOW'S PLANS.
In 1800 Joel Barlow, poet, politician, and speculator, but then minister in Paris, wrote Senator Baldwin, of Georgia, urging a national scientific institution, of which he proposed that he should be made the head. He wrote to Mr. Jefferson urging the same proposition. In 1805 Barlow returned home, and almost immediately issued his "Prospectus of a national institution to be established in the United States." This prospectus begins with the declaration: "The project for erecting a university at the seat of the Federal Government is brought forward at the happy moment and on liberal principles." It is a review of the state of learning and science in Europe, with accounts of the educa tional and scientific institutions supported by various governments, and especially by that of France. Then follows Barlow's own plan of an institution for the United States, drawn upon the most liberal scale. The paper closes with a strong appeal to Congress and to " opulent citizens" to make a liberal endowment for so great an object. Too much time has already been lost. The National Intelligencer, the Adminis
Mr. Jefferson seems to have thought that the proposition to amend the Constitution in favor of the university would meet with an immediate response. In a letter to Mr. Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, relative to the message of 1806, he wrote: "The university.-This proposition will pass all the States in the winter of 1807-8, and Congress will not meet, and consequently can not act on it, till the winter of 1808-9. The Florida debt will therefore be paid off before the university can call for anything." Gallatin replied two days later that the proposition would certainly be unpopular, while public works would be popular. "I think, indeed," he said, "that the only chance of the adoption arises from the ease with which funds in the public lands may be granted." Adams: The Writings of Albert Gallatin, I, 313–319. It is needless to say which one of the two men had read public sentiment more correctly.
tration organ, commented favorably upon Barlow's scheme. The prospectus was circulated throughout the country, meeting with much favor. Barlow drew up a bill for the incorporation of the institution which, introduced into the Senate, passed to a second reading, was referred to a committee, and never heard of again.'
VII. PRESIDENT MADISON.
On becoming President, Mr. Madison did not forget the interest he had taken in the university twenty years before. On this subject, at least, he did not share Mr. Jefferson's constitutional views. He had no trouble in finding constitutional authority for a national university in the Federal district. Three times he brought the proposition forward. In his second annual message he said:
While it is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people, and while it is evident that the means of diffusing and improving useful knowledge form so small a proportion of the expenditures for national purposes, I can not presume it to be unreasonable to invite your attention to the advantages of superadding to the means of education provided by the several States a seminary of learning instituted by the National Legislature, within the limits of their exclusive jurisdiction, the expense of which might be defrayed or reimbursed out of the vacant grounds which have accrued to the nation within those limits.
Such an institution, though local in its legal character, would be universal in its beneficial effects. By enlightening the opinions, by expanding the patriotism, and by assimilating the principles, the sentiments, and the manners of those who might resort to this temple of science, to be redistributed in due time through every part of the community, sources of jealousy and prejudice would be diminished, the features of national character would be multiplied, and greater extent given to social harmony. But above all, a well-constituted seminary, in the center of the nation, is recommended by the consideration that the additional instruction emanating from it would contribute not less to strengthen the foundations than to adorn the structure of our free and happy system of government.
The war with England over, President Madison in 1817 returned to the subject. He said in his seventh annual message:
The present is a favorable season, also, for bringing again into view the establishment of a national seminary of learning within the District of Columbia, and with means drawn from the property therein, subject to the authority of the General Government. Such an institution claims the patronage of Congress as a monument of their solicitude for the advancement of knowledge without which the blessings of liberty can not be fully enjoyed or long preserved; as a model instructive in the formation of other seminaries; as a nursery of enlightened preceptors; as a central resort of youth and genius from every part of their country, diffusing on their return examples of those national feelings, those liberal sentiments, and those congenial manners, which contribute cement to our union and strength to the political fabric of which that is the foundation.
And again in his last annual message he said:
The importance which I have attached to the establishment of a university within this District, on a scale and for objects worthy of the American Nation, induces me to renew my recommendation of it to the favorable consideration of Congress.
'I am indebted to Dr. Goode's monograph for the above facts in relation to Barlow's scheme. He prints the prospectus in full. See also Todd's Life of Joel Barlow.
And I particularly invite again their attention to the expediency of exercising their existing powers, and, where necessary, of resorting to the prescribed mode of enlarging them, in order to effectuate a comprehensive system of roads and canals, such as will have the effect of drawing more closely together every part of our country by promoting intercourse and improvements, and by increasing the share of every part in the common stock of national prosperity.
VIII. PRESIDENT MONROE.
Mr. Monroe shared the constitutional scruples of Mr. Jefferson. In his first message he recommended such amendment of the Constitution as would admit of internal improvements being made by Congress. He flattered himself that "the benign spirit of conciliation and harmony" prevailing throughout the Union promised to such a recommendation the most prompt and favorable result. He added:
I think proper to suggest, also, in case this measure is adopted, that it be recommended to the States to include in the amendment sought a right in Congress to institute, likewise, seminaries of learning, for the all-important purpose of diffusing knowledge among our fellow-citizens throughout the United States.
IX. THE SECOND PRESIDENT ADAMS.
The second President Adams, in breadth of intellectual attainments and sympathies, was inferior to no man who has filled the Presidential office. He had acted for many years with the Virginia school of politics, but he did not regard their constitutional subtleties. He was, in fact, a broad constructionist, holding large views on all subjects of a national character. As Secretary of State he had made a celebrated report on weights and measures, which is still considered one of the most valuable documents on that subject ever written. As the recommendations of that report had not been enacted into law, he naturally took occasion, in his first annual message, to draw the attention of Congress to the subject again, connecting it with the profound, laborious, and expensive researches into the figure of the earth and the comparative length of the pendulum vibrating seconds in various latitudes from the equator to the poles which had been made in Europe. He thought it would be honorable to the country to share in these investigations, and as a means of making this possible he went on to say:
Connected with the establishment of a university, or separate from it, might be undertaken the erection of an astronomical observatory, with provision for the support of an astronomer, to be in constant attendance of observation upon the phenomena of the heavens, and for the periodical publication of his observations. It is with no feeling of pride, as an American, that the remark may be made that on the comparatively small territorial surface of Europe there are existing upward of 130 of these light-houses of the skies, while throughout the whole American hemisphere there is not one. If we reflect a moment upon the discoveries which in the last four centuries have been made in the physical constitution of the universe, by the means of these buildings and of observers stationed in them, shall we doubt of their usefulness to every nation? And while scarcely a year passes over our heads without bringing some new astronomical discovery to light, which we must fain receive at secondhand from Europe, are we not cutting ourselves off from the means
of returning light for light, while we have neither observatory nor observer upon our half of the globe, and the earth revolves in perpetual darkness to our unsearching eyes?
He referred in fitting terms to the interest that his first predecessor had taken in institutions and seminaries of learning, saying that if he could now survey the city which had been honored with his name, he would see the spot of earth which he had destined and bequeathed to the use and benefit of his country as the site for a university still bare and barren.
If possible, John Quincy Adams's recommendations had less weight with Congress than his father's had had, and this one was perhaps the least fortunate of all. It was received with shouts of derisive merriment that show, not merely the furious partisan rancor of 1825, but also the low state of science in the United States. With March 4, 1829, American politics took a new departure, and the national university passed out of sight. The first six Presidents had recommended such an institution more or less warmly, and it is painful to think that, whatever its merits, it should have expired amid the inextinguishable laughter with which the recommendation of a "light-house in the skies" was greeted.
The main purpose of the compiler of these documents is to exhibit the views of the early Presidents concerning a national university, and not to give a full history of the subject. Those who wish to pursue the subject more fully are referred to the bibliography following the documents. Dr. F. W. Blackmar, in his Federal and State Aid to Higher Education, tells us that in 1796 a memorial was before Congress praying for the foundation of a university; that again in 1811 the subject was considered by a Congressional committee, which reported that it would be unconstitutional for Congress to found, endow, and control such a seminary; and that another Congressional committee considered the subject in 1816, but with no practical results. (His references are Ex. Doç. Fourth Congress, second session; Ex. Doc. Eleventh Congress, third session; Ex. Doc. Fourteenth Congress, second session.) He also remarks, as others have done, that Congress has founded and supported the National Museum, the Library of Congress, the National Observatory, and the Bureau of Education, which in some sense take the place of a university. In fact, the old National Observatory stood on "University Square," which Washington had chosen as the site of the university. Dr. Blackmar also draws attention to the fact that although the university question was considered practically settled after 1816, it was reopened for discussion when Congress came to dispose of the Smithson bequest, and again in 1873 following the Paris Exposition. At this time a bill was before the House of Representatives providing for a university at Washington, endowed by Congress to the amount of $20,000,000, yielding 5 per cent interest, the income to be used for buildings, furnishings, and for the general support of