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Home > Document Library > Immigration and the Moral Conditions of Citizenship > Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia

Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson
August 4, 1818

[Public and private education should promote the moral and intellectual qualities of citizenship. — TGW]


[Jefferson outlines the purposes of public education in America, with a view to the qualities of heart and mind that are needed for citizenship and leadership in America.]

…3, 4. In proceeding to the third and fourth duties prescribed by the Legislature, of reporting "the branches of learning, which should be taught in the University, and the number and description of the professorships they will require," the Commissioners were first to consider at what point it was understood that university education should commence? Certainly not with the alphabet, for reasons of expediency and impracticability, as well from the obvious sense of the Legislature, who, in the same act, make other provision for the primary instruction of the poor children, expecting, doubtless, that in other cases it would be provided by the parent, or become, perhaps, subject of future and further attention of the Legislature. The objects of this primary education determine its character and limits. These objects would be,

[1] To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business;

[2] To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing;

[3] To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties;

[4] To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either;

[5] To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment;

[6] And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.

To instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens, being then the objects of education in the primary schools, whether private or public, in them should be taught reading, writing and numerical arithmetic, the elements of mensuration, (useful in so many callings,) and the outlines of geography and history. And this brings us to the point at which are to commence the higher branches of education, of which the Legislature require the development; those, for example, which are,

[1] To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend;

[2] To expound the principles and structure of government, the laws which regulate the intercourse of nations, those formed municipally for our own government, and a sound spirit of legislation, which, banishing all arbitrary and unnecessary restraint on individual action, shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another;

[3] To harmonize and promote the interests of agriculture, manufactures and commerce, and by well informed views of political economy to give a free scope to the public industry;

[4] To develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order;

[5] To enlighten them with mathematical and physical sciences, which advance the arts, and administer to the health, the subsistence, and comforts of human life;

[6] And, generally, to form them to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others, and of happiness within themselves….

[From Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984) 459-60. Bracketed numbers added by the editor.—TGW ]


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