Papers of John Adams, volume 16

From Thomas Cushing

To C. W. F. Dumas

John Adams to Matthew Clarkson, 18 August 1784 Adams, John Clarkson, Matthew
To Matthew Clarkson
Sir Auteuil near Paris Aug. 18. 1784

I wish well enough to the University of New York, to give you every Letter of Recommendation to Gentlemen in Holland which I can give with Decency, if you should determine to go there: But I have already tryed Such an Experiment, in favour of Dr Wheelock, the President of Dartmouth Colledge, with so little Success, that I cannot advise you to make an Attempt. It is unnecessary to enter into the Enquiry concerning the Causes, which have and will prevent the People of that Country as well as this from contributing any Thing considerable upon such Occasions. It is sufficient to say that the Dr did not obtain more than enough to defrey his Expences, and I have reason to fear that you upon a Repetition of the Essay would obtain Still less.1

with much Respect and Esteem I have / the Honour to be, Sir your most / obedient and most humble / Servant

John Adams

RC (NNC:Columbiana Coll.); internal address: “Coll Clarkson”; endorsed: “18 Augt. 1784. / John Adams.” and “1784.”


On 10 June, William Livingston of New Jersey wrote nearly identical letters to JA, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to introduce Clarkson, “who is appointed by the Directors of the University of New York to solicit donations in some parts of Europe, for that Institution” (Adams Papers; PPAmP: Franklin-Bache Papers; Jefferson, Papers , 7:304). This letter to Clarkson, as well as one by Jefferson of 17 Aug. (Jefferson, Papers , 7:398–399), indicate that Clarkson had reached France and delivered the Livingston letters. Clarkson (1758–1825) was socially prominent and later president of the Bank of New York. During the Revolution he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, serving as aide to both Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Lincoln. His current mission to Europe was in his capacity as regent of the State University of New York, but the money to be raised almost certainly was intended for Columbia College, the recently rechartered and renamed King’s College. This is because the State University was not itself a university but rather a body that would exercise oversight over colleges granted charters by the state ( DAB ; Heitman, Register Continental Army ; David C. Humphrey, From King’s College to Columbia, 1746–1800, N.Y., 1976, p. 271–277). No letters of recommendation by JA for Clarkson have been found, but for John Wheelock’s unsuccessful mission to Europe from 1782 to 1784, see vol. 15:ix.