Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 73 The End and the Beginning

AS the year of 1825 dawned, the University was still not opened; and a new headache assailed Jefferson. To his troubles over the chair of Ethics was added a long and exasperating search for someone to assume the much more important-to him-chair of Law.

He offered it first to young Gilmer, recently returned from his mission in England. Gilmer turned it down. "What are we to do?" Jefferson asked in despair of Madison. "I abhor the idea of a mere Gothic lawyer who bas no idea beyond his Coke Littleton, who could hot associate in conversation with his Colleagues, nor utter a single Academical idea to an enquiring stranger."1

He also hated the idea of giving the all-important post to a "Richmond" lawyer. They are "rank Federalists,' he cried, "as formerly denominated. and now Consolidationists." But if they had to yield the position to one of them, at least the governing Board had "a duty to guard against danger by a previous prescription of the texts to be adopted."2

He was willing enough to leave the question of the proper textbooks in all other fields to the Professors, but not in Law. Here he felt that it was essential to indoctrinate the students in accordance with what he concieved to be proper principles. He explained his position on the censorship of texts to Cabell: "There is one branch in which we are the best judges, in which heresies may be taught, of so interesting a character to our own state and to the US. as to make it a duty in us to lay down the principles which shall be taught. It is that of Government. Mr. Gilmer being withdrawn, we know not who his Successor may be. He may be a Richm[on]d lawyer, or one of that school of quondam federalism, now Consolidation. It is our duty to guard against the dissemination of such principles among out youth, and the diffusion of that poison, by a previous prescription of the texts to be followed in their discourse."

Indeed, he was preparing a resolution for the next meeting of the Board of Visitors on the subject; but he proposed not to say a word about it in advance, except to Cabell and Madison. "I have always round," he said significantly, that the less such things are spoken of beforehand, the less obstruction is contrived to be thrown in their way."3

The texts which he now proposed for the School of Law and Civil Polity included Locke Essay on Civil Government, Sidney Discourses on Government, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist, the Virginia Resolutions of 1799, and Washington Farewell Address, It is the duty of

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