"TO PROHIBIT US FROM THE BENEFIT OF FOREIGN LIGHT, IS TO CONSIGN US TO LONG DARKNESS": SPLENDID 1821 SIGNED THOMAS JEFFERSON LETTER, DISCUSSING DUTIES ON THE IMPORTATION OF BOOKS AND SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE FROM OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES, NOTING "SCIENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT IN A REPUBLICAN THAN IN ANY OTHER GOVERNMENT"
JEFFERSON, Thomas. Letter signed. Monticello, Virginia, September 28, 1821. One leaf of wove paper, measures 8 by 9-3/4 inches, penned on both sides for two pages, signed by Jefferson and with four emendations in his hand. $40,000.
Fantastic Thomas Jefferson signed letter, with four corrections also in his hand, a circular letter addressed to Dr. Samuel Brown, the first professor of medicine west of the Alleghenies at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, with wonderful content regarding the effect of high import tariffs on books on American education and scholars. "Science is more important in a republican than in any other government… Of many important books of reference there is not perhaps a single copy in the United States; of others but a few, and these too distant often to be accessible to scholars generally."
In this circular letter designed to be sent to faculty and presidents of colleges and universities around the country, Jefferson urges Dr. Samuel Brown of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, to petition his representatives in Congress to repeal tariffs imposed on imported books, citing the added expense as making the books too expensive and too scarce to be of use to scholars in the United States, and detrimental to schools and colleges as well. The tariffs were initially imposed "to encourage manufactures within ourselves"—i.e., to encourage domestic printers. "This was useful at first, perhaps," he writes, "towards exciting our printers to make a beginning in that business here. But it is found in experience that the home demand is not sufficient to justify the reprinting of any but the most popular English works, and cheap editions of a few of the classics for schools. For the editions of value, enriched by notes, commentaries, etc., and for books in foreign living languages, the demand here is too small and sparse to reimburse the expense of reprinting them. None of these, therefore, are printed here, and the duty on them becomes consequently not a protecting, but really a prohibitory one."
Removing those tariffs would help our "infant country" to access knowledge and research from abroad, which would allow our budding scholars to advance their own knowledge, and thereby our nation's progress and growth, a benefit to all. Jefferson also points out that the tariff was currently having the effect of preventing the growth of American industry as certain technical works specific to various professions were not being published or accessible in the United States. "Science is more important in a republican than in any other government, and in an infant country like ours we must much depend for improvement on the science of other countries, longer established, possessing better means, and more advanced than we are," Jefferson writes. "To prohibit us from the benefit of foreign light, is to consign us to long darkness." In addition to signing the letter, Jefferson has added the name of the college in question—"Transylvania" [Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky]—and has corrected three words by crossing out a word or part of a word and penning its replacement: "important," "essential," and "-tec."
The letter reads, in full: "Monticello, Sep 28, 1821. Sir, The government of the United States, at a very early period, when establishing its tariff on foreign importations, were very much guided in their selection of objects by a desire to encourage manufactures within ourselves. Among other articles then selected were books, on the importation of which a duty of fifteen per cent. was imposed, which, by ordinary custom-house charges, amount to about eighteen per cent., and adding the importing bookseller's profit on this, becomes about twenty-seven per cent. This was useful at first, perhaps, towards exciting our printers to make a beginning in that business here. But it is found in experience that the home demand is not sufficient to justify the reprinting of any but the most popular English works, and cheap editions of a few of the classics for schools. For the editions of value, enriched by notes, commentaries, etc., and for books in foreign living languages, the demand here is too small and sparse to reimburse the expense of reprinting them. None of these, therefore, are printed here, and the duty on them becomes consequently not a protecting, but really a prohibitory one. It makes a very serious addition to the price of the book, and falls chiefly on a description of persons little able to meet it. Students who are destined for professional callings, as most of our scholars are, are barely able for the most part to meet the expenses of tuition. The addition of eighteen or twenty-seven per cent. on the books necessary for their instruction, amounts often to a prohibition as to them. For want of these aids, which are open to the students of all other nations but our own, they enter on their course on a very unequal footing with those of the same professions in foreign countries, and our citizens at large, too, who employ them, do not derive from that employment all the benefit which higher qualifications would give them. It is true that no duty is required on books imported for seminaries of learning, but these, locked up in libraries, can be of no avail to the practical man when he wishes a recurrence to them for the uses of life. Of many important books of reference there is not perhaps a single copy in the United States; of others but a few, and these too distant often to be accessible to scholars generally. It is believed, therefore, that if the attention of Congress could be drawn to this article, they would, in their wisdom, see its impolicy. Science is more important in a republican than in any other government. And in an infant country like ours, we must much depend for improvement on the science of other countries, longer established, possessing better means, and more advanced tahn we are. To prohibit us from the benefit of foreign light, is to consign us to long darkness.
"The Northern seminaries following with parental solicitude the interests of their lives in the course for which they have prepared them, propose to petition Congress on this subject, and wish for the cooperation of those of the South and West, and I have been requested, as more convenient in position than they are, to solicit that cooperation. Having no personal acquaintance with those who are charged with the direction of the college of Transylvania, I do not know how more effectually to communicate these views to them, than by availing myself of the knowledge I have of your zeal for the happiness and improvement of our country. I take the liberty, therefore, of requesting you to place the subject before the proper authorities of that institution, and if they approve the measure, to solicit a concurrent proceeding on their part to carry it into effect. Besides petitioning Congress, I would propose that they address in their corporate capacity, a letter to their delegates and Senators in Congress, soliciting their best endeavors to obtain the repeal of the duty on imported books. I cannot but suppose that such an application will be respected by them, and will engage their votes and endeavors to effect an object so reasonable. A conviction that science is important to the preservation of our republican government, and that it is also essential to its protection against foreign power, induces me, on this occasion, to step beyond the limits of that retirement to which age and inclination equally dispose me, and I am without a doubt that the same considerations will induce you to excuse the trouble that I propose to you, and that you will kindly accept the assurance of my high respect and esteem. [signed] Th:Jefferson." The letter is accompanied by a 1990 letter from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, reporting that the text is in the hand of Nicholas Trist, who had married Jefferson's granddaughter, and was in fact a circular. While Jefferson would regularly mail an original letter and retain a pantograph for his records, in this case the Library of Congress owns Jefferson's original manuscript draft, with a space left open for the insertion of a college name as here, and had Trist copy the letter from the draft for dispersal. The recipient of this letter, Dr. Samuel Brown, was sponsored by Thomas Jefferson in his election to the American Philosophical Society, and was well-acquainted with the issues Jefferson raises in this letter. "In 1799 he was appointed professor of chemistry, anatomy, and surgery at Transylvania University in Lexington and was allocated funds for the purchase of books for the library… In 1800 Brown was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, reportedly having been sponsored by Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson… In May 1801 Brown and Transylvania University professor Frederick Ridgely vaccinated two young men against smallpox, and by August of the following year they had vaccinated more than 500 persons, far more than had been vaccinated in any other American city up to that time. The French botanist François-André Michaux traveled to Lexington in 1802 in order to meet Brown, and Michaux wrote in his Travels to the West of the Alleghany Mountains that Brown was 'in the first rank of physicians settled in that part of the country,' that he subscribed to the scientific journals from London, and that he was 'always in the channel of new discoveries, and turns them to the advantage of his fellow-citizens'… In November 1819 Brown returned to Transylvania University as professor of theory and practice of medicine… Brown's reputation as a physician rests on his being a pioneer vaccinator and medical educator in the West and the founder of a national medical society" (ANB). Dr. Brown died in 1830.
Age-toned with occasional light handling marks, professional conservation repair to minor separations at folds and tiny pin holes of paper loss. Near-fine condition, signature bold and clear.