JEFFERSON, Thomas, President. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") to Ferdinand R. Hassler, Monticello, 25 December 1819. 1 full page, 4to, trace of mounting on right margin of verso, tiny marginal repair, otherwise in very fine condition.
THE SLOW PACE OF CONSTRUCTION OF THE UNIVERSITY: "OUR BUILDINGS ARE AS YET NOT HALF COMPLETED, AND IT DEPENDS ON OUR LEGISLATURE..."
An excellent letter to the Swiss-born geodesist and topographer Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (1770-1843). With Jefferson's support, a coastal survey of the United States had been launched in 1807, but suspended until 1816, when Hassler brought the necessary instruments from Europe. In 1819 the survey was again suspended and Hassler left unemployed; he offered himself as an instructor to the newly formed University of Virginia. Here, the former President thanks Hassler for "tendering us the benefit of your acknoleged [sic] talents for the Mathematical professorship in the University we are establishing...I regret that our unforwardness puts it out of my power to give you an answer..." He adds: "Our buildings are as yet not half compleated [sic], and it depends on our legislature, now in session whether we shall be able to finish them in 1. or 2. years more, or must be contented, with inadequate funds, to proceed at a snail's pace...but until they are compleated our funds must be all devoted to that object."
Hassler had journeyed to London in 1811 to procure the necessary instruments for the U.S. Coastal Survey. In light of the survey's suspension, Jefferson writes: "Dr. Patterson was so kind as to send me sometime ago a list of Mathematical and Astronomical instruments procured by you in London for the U.S. for the purpose of their survey of the coast. As this object seems to be relinquished, they might possibly be willing to cede these instruments at a reasonable price for our University. Will you be so good as to inform me whether they remain uninjured, and what was the amount of their original cost, in the shop?" In conclusion, he notes that Hassler had been "instrumental" in finding an excellent watchmaker for "our neighboring town": "Mr Leschot is perfect in that art, is a most correct and excellent citizen, and I am glad to be able to assure you he is doing as well as himself wishes." He adds that: "I am confident that a silversmith of equal worth would fine full employment in the same place..."
Hassler's career "is interesting...as an instance of the transfer of scientific skills across the Atlantic and for the study of attitudes toward science in the early United States." (Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 6:165) The survey commissioned by the Jefferson administration was interrupted several times. Unable to secure a post at the University of Virginia, Hassler spent the next ten years farming and teaching (at West Point and Union College). Finally, in 1832 the survey was revived under Hassler's energetic direction, but during field work in 1843 he became ill and died. Hassler's work was of the highest scientific standards and the extension of the survey of the coast follows his plan; his field work was of such high precision that it still forms part of the coast survey.